Ch1-C

My hero, a man fond of complete effects (we are all moderns), felt that something was lacking, as he beheld that attitude of the fair girl. ‘Tis true, he felt a sympathetic pity, but that sympathy was only hunger (do you know, my reader, that the sufferings and sorrows of others are soothing to our nerves?) and he was the more hungry, since she had permitted him to taste a piece of her suffering soul. He wanted to have all of her, he again asked for her past, and he asked it in a sympathetic and subdued voice, looking all the time earnestly into her eyes.

 

She spoke softly, in short, abrupt sentences.

 

Her father had been a teacher in a country town. Her mother had died young. Lucy grew up by herself, without guidance or surveillance. Her father began to dissipate. He played at cards through whole nights, drank, and gave himself up to debauches. She, in the meantime, at home, read anything that fell into her hands.

 

While still young she allowed herself to be misled, — not from love or passion, but simply from curiosity. Then her father was discharged. They went to Prague. Here she became a governess to two children of a rich townsman. Her master was a man of the world, and her mistress pursued her at every step with groundless jealousy.

 

Her father took every penny from her, all the time complaining that it was too little. . . . Oh, that father! In all her life she had not heard one word of love from his lips. She held her mother in pious memory, and did not believe in the love of fathers. In three months that house was a veritable hell to her. She left. Her father found her a place as a saleswoman in a shop. A new hell. She did not manage to earn sufficient wages there. Her companions tormented her with biting remarks. Her employer scolded her with coarse words. She soon left the place. Her father held a lengthy discourse with her upon the whole misery of life and upon so-called virtue which, he said, was but a word with women; then he hinted to her that she should walk upon another road.

 

So she did. She was now living better than in that other world: her father was satisfied, the old madam loved her, — what else could she wish? Of course, she understood the motives of the madam’s love, but she accepted it gratefully, for love had, indeed, been a rare thing in her life. My hero was satisfied. With his right hand he drummed upon the table, with his left he supported his chin. They both remained silent for quite a while. Finally he arose. He pressed her hand and dryly remarked:

 

“It will be well, if today I leave you thus. . . .”

 

He went.

 

Reader, I see you looking with misgivings at the author of these lines! In fact, I am telling you of this hero, drag out hundreds of verses on him, analyze his soul for you, — and yet, contrary to all proprieties, I have forgotten to describe him or at least to introduce him! You have probably said ten times: behold, the older generation is right when it says that the younger is slovenly in everything! Reader, I ask you in all earnestness, recall all the books that you have read, recall all the descriptions of people, which authors have given with praiseworthy minuteness! Your word of honor, tell me: are you able to reproduce a single one of them? I am not.

 

If I told you that my hero had scanty hair, as is the case with modern youths, a pointed moustache, dark eyes with nothing in them to attract you, his nose not more characteristic, a swarthy face, a not more distinctive figure, long nails on short fingers, that he was fashionably dressed, — tell me, would you know him any better? Then that is superfluous. His given name was Jifi.

 

That name is not my poetic license, though it may seem to be so: we have not a poem, romance, sketch, or novel, in which the hero’s name is not “Jifi.” His deceased father, — he had a large estate, extensive fields, and a mill in the country, two league from Prague, — was a reader of Bohemian history, and with his whole soul loved our Podebrad[1], so his son had to be called Jifi.

 

He was early sent to school. The kind eyes of an aunt watched over him; the old widow was childless and soon became the slave of the small despot. He passed the Gymnasium with honors, drank deeply from the ancient well of the eternally fresh classics, as we have drunk; and there were permanent traces of it in his soul: he knew that Caesar was a great Roman with a big bald head, and that, alas! He had written dreadfully insipid memoirs; that he had kept his poems for nine years in his desk (Jifi, by the way, thought they ought to have remained there forever); that Lucullus was sweet-tongued; that Cicero had spoken a great deal. The refined youth had with difficulty carried away from the Greek world an equally valuable store of information. Besides, he remembered the jokes and anecdotes about all the funny professors, — in short, he brought as much from school into life as we once did. . . .

 

Then he studied law, during which time he danced at all the great balls, talked in students’ circles, dragged the carriages of famous singers, and in the morning thundered with his companions the national air in the sleeping streets, proudly wearing the Pan Slavic tricolor under his laced coat.

 

He had read a little. He remembered best such passages as he could use to interlace his talk with speeches. Finally he said forever “vale” to his studies and entered life. Being rich, he became the master of his time. He rose late, and cursed the tiresome forenoons which he passed in the deserted Prikopi. After dinner he sat with his companions in the coffeehouse, where jokes, jests, anecdotes were told, and the daily papers run over, and then he went back to the Prikopi.

 

Here Jifi was in his element. A chain of lamps flickered in the darkness. Feminine eyes glistened from behind curtains. The rustling of dresses, the conversation, the clatter of steps, the passing of various forms gave him a pleasant thrill. He exchanged greetings with his feminine friends. Here and there he dropped a few words in passing: a new debauch, a new scandal, sometimes a new toilet. . . .

 

Then, towards seven, he visited the theatre, — not from any predilection, but because some of his friends went there, and because the next day he could wittily criticize the play and the actors. The ballet, in particular, was honored by his hearty applause.

 

A year before, his father had died. He had buried him with ostentatious pomp (five priests, fine music, all kinds of societies), — at once ordered for the tomb a marble monument with a gilt inscription, jumped into a coach, and had himself driven back to Prague. . . .

 

So he walked through the damp night. The gaslight merged upon the wet sidewalk with the pale reflection of the moon. The rows of houses were hid in a grey darkness. The windowpanes glistened with a feeble light. Nearby rattled a coach, dully resounding in the empty street; a citizen, stepping heavily on the sidewalk, muttered something to himself; a woman rushed by in the shadow of the walls.

 

Jifi strolled on with bent head. He was not meditating. He saw there in the room the slender maiden looking into the lamp light.

 

Her lips said, “There is not time for such a foolish thing as thinking.”

 

Jifi softly and unconsciously repeated these words.

 

Suddenly a crowd of persons crying, bellowing, scolding, rushed out of a small inn in front of him. In the stream of light which burst forth from the open door gleamed heavy fists; laughter resounded, — they were beating someone. Then the light and the disturbance disappeared, and from the interior of the inn were borne the deadened sounds of singing and the wailing of an accordion.

 

From the dark pavement arose the figure of a man, who kept on cursing:

 

“Mob! Rascals! Rascals! Scoundrels! I’m not a cheat at cards! . . . You, sir,” turning to Jifi, “you know yourself how easily a card will fall from your hands upon the ground! Serves me right, serves me right! Why do I, an educated man, have anything to do with such scoundrels!”

 

He walked by the side of Jifi.

 

“There you have our people! What a race we are! Eh? A cancer which destroys us nationally and politically, — no foundation . . .” he coughed. “I know the people. … I, sir, have been a teacher . . . you are surprised? I now no longer wonder . . . the product of circumstances and of the times . . . thus does fate hurl a man down. . . . ‘Tis my good luck, sir, that I have a daughter. … A good child . . . she is the Antigone of my misery. . . . No doubt, sir, your heart is in the right spot, and you sympathize with me, — I thank you. Permit me to make you acquainted with my daughter, — there in that house, — don’t be surprised.”

 

Jifi quickened his steps, and he at once turned around the corner of the first street. He shook himself, as if a spray of mud had fallen upon him.

 

In some tower a clock droned out the hours in even measure. … At the distant railroad station a locomotive whistled . . . Again quiet . . . quiet. . . .

 

“The daughter a prostitute, her father a scoundrel of the worst type, — today I have had the honor of making the acquaintance of a charming family . . .” Jifi said ironically to himself, but immediately came the head with the unbraided hair, and those eyes, those pure eyes looked long at him with an unspeakable reproach.

 

 

 

[1] Horace of Podebrad, born 1420, was the last and most famous of Bohemia’s native kings (1458-1471).

 

 

 

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This entry was posted in Anarchist World, decadence, J S Machar, Joe Bandel, love, occultism. Bookmark the permalink.

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