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قراءة كتاب Letters to an Unknown

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Letters to an Unknown

Letters to an Unknown

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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nothing. I do not know Amsterdam. However, it is for you to decide. Here your vanity will lead you to say: “A great sacrifice, indeed, not to prefer me to those fat Flemish women, with their white caps and baskets of fish, and in a picture gallery besides!” Yes, it is a sacrifice, and a great one too. I give up the certainty, that is, the very great pleasure, of seeing the paintings of a master, to the very uncertain chance that you will compensate me. Observe, that leaving out of consideration the impossible supposition that you might not please me, if I were to prove a disappointment to you, I should have good reason to regret my works of art and my fat Flemish women.

You seem to be devoutly superstitious even. I am reminded at this moment of a pretty little Grenada girl, who, on mounting her mule to go through a mountain pass at Ronda (a spot notorious for robbers), piously kissed her thumb, and struck her breast five or six times, absolutely certain after that that the robbers would not show themselves, provided the Inglés (meaning myself, for every traveller must be an Englishman) would not swear too much by the Holy Virgin and the Saints. This shocking manner of speaking becomes necessary on bad roads in order to persuade the horses to go.

Read “Tristram Shandy.” I should enjoy immensely your opinion of the story of that person. You are unjust and jealous—two admirable qualities in a woman, two faults in a man. I have them both. You ask me about the affair which preoccupies me. To tell you that, it would be necessary to describe my life and my character, of which no one has the least idea, because I have never yet found any one who inspired me with sufficient confidence to tell it. After we have met often we may perhaps become good friends, and you will understand me. To have a friend to whom I could express all my thoughts, past and present, would be to me the greatest blessing. I am becoming sad, and I must not end this letter in such a mood. I am consumed with the desire to have an answer from you. Be kind, and do not make me wait long.

Good-bye. Do not let us quarrel again, and let us be friends. With respect I kiss the hand which you extend to me in sign of peace.

V

September 25.

Your letter found me ill, and very dreary, busily engaged with some extremely troublesome affairs, so that I have not had time to take care of myself. I have, I think, inflammation of the lungs, which makes me exceedingly irritable. In a few days, however, I propose to take myself in hand and get well.

I have decided not to leave Paris in October, in the hope that you will come then. You shall see me or not, at your pleasure. It will be your fault if you do not. You mention particular reasons which prevent you from trying to meet me. I respect secrets, and do not ask your motives; only, I beg you to tell me, really and truly, if you have any. Are you not moved, rather, by some childish notion? Perhaps some one has read you a lecture on my account, and you are still under its spell. You should have no fear of me. Your natural prudence, doubtless, counts for much in your disinclination to see me. Be reassured, I shall not fall in love with you. A few years ago that might have happened; now I am too old, and I have been too unfortunate. I can never fall in love again, because my illusions have caused me many desengaños.

When I went to Spain I was on the point of falling in love. It was one of the beautiful acts of my life. The woman who was the cause of my voyage never suspected it. Had I remained, I might have committed, possibly, a great blunder, that of offering a woman worthy of enjoying every happiness that one may have on earth, in exchange for the loss of all that was dear to her, an affection which I realised was far inferior to the sacrifice that she would probably have made. You recall my maxim, “Love excuses all things, but one must be sure that it is love.” You may be sure that this precept is more rigid than those of your Methodist friends. In conclusion, I shall be charmed to see you. You, perhaps, may gain a real friend, and I, it may be, shall find in you what I have long sought—a woman with whom I shall not be in love, but one whom I may have for a confidante. We shall both gain, probably, by a closer acquaintance. Still, you must act as your lofty sense of prudence dictates.

My monk is ready. At the first opportunity, therefore, I shall send you the picture framed. The child Marguerite, still unfinished and too badly begun to be ever completed, will remain just as it is, and will serve as a blotting-pad for a sketch I shall do for you when I have time. I am dying of curiosity to see the surprise you have in store for me, but in vain do I rack my brain to guess it. When writing to you I omit all transitions, with me a very necessary trick of style.

You will find this letter, I fear, terribly disconnected. The reason is, that while writing one sentence another comes to my mind, and this occasions a third before the second one is finished. I am suffering greatly to-night. If you have any influence Above, try to obtain for me a little health, or, failing in that, resignation; for I am the most impatient invalid in the world, and treat my best friends abominably.

Stretched on my couch, I think of you, of our mysterious acquaintance, with pleasure, and it seems to me that I should be very happy to chat with you in the same desultory way that I write; besides, there is this advantage, that words vanish, but writing remains. I am not tormented, however, by the thought that some day my words, either living or posthumous, may be published. Good-bye. Let me have your sympathy. I would I had the courage to tell you a thousand things that make life sad. But how can I, when you are so far away? When are you coming? Again good-bye. If your heart prompts you, you have an abundance of time to write to me.

P.S.—September 26.—I am even more low-spirited than I was yesterday. I suffer tortures, but if you have never had gastritis you can have no conception of what it means to suffer pain that is indefinite and at the same time intense. It has this peculiarity, that it affects the entire nervous system. I should like to be in the country with you. I am sure you would cure me. Good-bye. If I die this year, you will be sorry that you did not know me better.

VI

Do you know that you are sometimes very kind? I do not say this as a reproach veiled by a cold compliment, but I should be glad indeed to receive frequent letters like your last one. Unfortunately, you are not always so charitably inclined towards me. I have not replied earlier, because your letter was only delivered to me last night, on my return from a short trip. I spent four days in absolute solitude, without seeing a man, much less a woman, for I do not call men and women certain bipeds who are trained to fetch food and drink when they are ordered to do so. During my retreat I made the most dismal reflections about myself and my future, about my friends, and so on. If I had had the wit to wait for your letter it would have given quite another turn to my thoughts. “I should have carried away happiness enough to last me at least a week.”

The way in which you came down on that worthy Mr. V. is delightful. Your courage pleases me immensely. I should never have supposed you capable of such capricho, and I admire you all the more for it. It is true that the remembrance of your splendid black eyes counts for something in my admiration. However, old as I am, I am almost insensible to beauty. I say to myself that “it amounts to nothing”; but I assure you that when I heard a man of very fastidious taste say you were very pretty, I could not repress a feeling of sadness. This is the

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