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If you do it that way, you’ll never get over it.” One must not abandon oneself to one’s feelings: they are contrary currents which carry away all real thought

In May 1891, my brother and I, living in Vienna, were staying in a big apartment house on Alserstrasse, with a poor young woman who was almost a widow, because her husband was in a madhouse. She had brought all her furniture from happy times together in our rooms and had squeezed herself into a narrow, bare closet with her daughter, a three-year-old child whom she named Gretinka. This Gretinka cried every time we looked at her without smiling at her. The beautiful furniture in our apartment, and the bare cabinet, and the sensitive Gretinka who found life so terrible without a smile, all that seemed to me very touching at the time.

My brother Antoine was a medical student preparing for his first exam. As for me, I was about to finish my studies at the Faculty of Philosophy and intended to go and spend the next vacation in Innsbruck, to work out there, under the direction of a famous professor of historical law, my thesis. thesis on “Judicial Institutions{42}byzantine laws in the law of the Franks”. In winter, I would take my degrees in Vienna.

We lived simply and quietly, returning home before the door closed, to bury ourselves in our books. Barely if we exchanged a word throughout the long evenings. And when we opened the windows, which overlooked a courtyard as deep and mute as an abyss, the noise of the street reached us over the roofs, weak and confused, and sometimes also a subtle perfume, emanating from some invisible garden or maybe flowerpots that a skinny, blonde girl across from us watered every day. But as I sat at my table, and in the yellow light of the lamp, I blackened little sheets or looked for Latin quotations on the “Mundium” and the “Ecclesiastical Benefits”, bright perspectives on sites blessed opened to the eyes of my soul, countries that I had glimpsed once or never, glorified and now combined into fantastic pictures. It was an incessant and silent flight without fatigue or awareness of the time, essence and perfume of travel. And I sighed deeply out of nostalgic regret for something unimaginable and unheard of. My brother, who noticed my fixed and lost gaze, sometimes said to me, when he decided to speak:{43}

“If you do it that way, you’ll never get over it.” One must not abandon oneself to one’s feelings: they are contrary currents which carry away all real thought.

Early in the morning, when we opened the windows and a fresh, virgin air enveloped us, smelling of summer morning (as you wouldn’t believe in the city), and the roofs opposite were turning golden, this was to me the annunciation of another unsuspected and inaccessible world for which my soul was thirsty.

Our hostess often came into our house to chat. My brother resented this inconvenience, for, even though he had no open book in front of him, he continued, it seemed, to read in his mind. But I lent myself willingly to these expansions, inclined to deceive myself about the passing of time and the petty reality of my own life.

After lunch, I would come home and work, while the sun outside shone so joyfully, and the gardens were so lush and full of flowers—until nightfall. So, each time, a blackbird came, and alighted on the ridge of the roof opposite, and sang, for a long time, in the twilight—always on the same roof, always at the same time, until he and her song would have vanished into the darkness. We were waiting for it with passion,{44}my brother and I. We didn’t talk about it, but I really believe that if Antoine always came home at this time, when he was out, it was only so as not to miss the blackbird.

I said to him one day, while the blackbird was singing:

—Don’t you feel how monotonous and joyless our life goes by? I think I hear it trickling.

And he, to answer me:

“You mustn’t think of such sad things.

For he was always the wisest of us two, and I the exalted one.

Suddenly something quite unexpected, huge happened.

A lackey brought a letter from M. Nicolas Dumba, a very high personage of our acquaintance, and who was even somewhat related to us. I don’t know where the letter went, but there it was, in black and white, that one of us was to go immediately to the Burg to Baron Nopcsa, Grand Master of Her Majesty the Empress’s court, because His Majesty asked for a young Hellene who would teach him Greek and accompany him for a few hours on his walks—and we had been appointed to him.

For a long time, we looked at each other without saying a word. We knew, somewhat vaguely, that the imperial{45}trice was studying Greek; when the Archduke Rudolf died, we had read many details about her in the newspapers. But since then, we hadn’t dealt with him in any other way. Besides, we were short of time.

“You see,” I finally said to my brother, “am I not right to say: Every time the postman knocks on our door, it’s Destiny that’s out there asking to come in?” O the terrible moments when, between Destiny and its victims, there is only the plank of a door!

“It’s certain that you must go,” replied my brother.

-Are you crazy? I exclaimed. You understand that you have to accompany him on walks, for hours on end. No doubt she’s thinking of some Olympic runner. Me, with my size! Of the two of us, you are, at least in appearance, the healthier.

-Me! She’ll be scared when she sees me so skinny!

“But, in any case, you represent better!”

-Just that? said my brother. And then, I don’t have time! All in all, you speak better.

We quarreled for a long time, each highlighting the otherwise unobtrusive qualities of the other to hide behind his own inadequacy.{46}meeting. Finally, I persuaded my brother to go to the Burg. Returning, he was deeply moved by the great kindness that His Excellency Baron Nopcsa had shown him. He told me that from the next day, every day, a court carriage would pass the house around ten o’clock in the morning to pick him up, and would bring him back in the evening. But when he told me that, he sounded like a beaten dog. And I, strange, rejoiced in his happiness, but not without a vague sadness, for, in my fatalistic resignation, I told myself that happiness had entered this room, but that it had slipped by my side, because that it was not meant for me.

The portrait of the Empress that we were accustomed to seeing every day, either at the hairdresser or in the restaurant, and to which, each time, our eyes, involuntarily, remained attached (because She was so unspeakably beautiful), s imposed now, almost everywhere, in my eyes, in a completely different light, and, so to speak, with a deep symbolic meaning. These portraits have always hung there for us, so that we can see them: an incomprehensible omen of what She would become of us, after having touched our lives…

Now it was all over with the fanciful landscapes hatched between the lines of my books, during the{47}evening blackbird concert. And no taste either (oh! at all) for the gossip of our boss.

A great anxiety had entered my life and stirred its still water. I waited impatiently every evening for my brother to return from Lainz…

What a gathering in the street when, for the first time, the court carriage stopped in front of our door! From the bakery, and the tobacconist, from the haberdashery, from all the neighborhood, people came running and formed the hedge. Our hostess, out of breath, told me about this scene. Until the car had disappeared into the distance of the Alsergürtel, the good people had followed it with their eyes; then we remained rooted to the spot, whispering in low voices. I easily imagined my brother’s state of mind in the midst of all this apparatus: so I had not accompanied him on his first and significant outing to the fabulous carriage. With his almost painful sensibility, his morbid fear of the crowd and of all the noisy demonstrations of existence, he was, without a doubt, carried away by his car, half fainting.

When he returned, I read in his features something intensely felt and even painfully borne. His mouth twitched in one{48}a pale smile that looked more like suppressed crying than anything else. And he is always like that, my brother, when the extraordinary happens to him: unexpected news, great misfortune, even the idea of ​​death bring that sinister smile to his lips; while, in the course of common life, he retains a bitter seriousness. I asked him a few questions, but at first he hardly wanted to tell me anything. I sensed that at this moment he instinctively disdained ordinary words as improper, because they didn’t go deep enough. Finally he just says:

“She has been extremely good to me; She is much more beautiful than in her portraits; It is indescribable; She speaks very softly, very slowly, in a singing voice. We walked for two hours in the garden, and we talked about a host of things. She asked me about mom and dad, our brothers and our sister and especially about you. In the end, I didn’t know what to answer. I told him about college and medicine. It interested her a lot. She told me that she did not believe in medicine: at most in the homeopathic method. Men, She said, want to be deceived somehow, and, after all, the smallest doses are the least harmful… She asked me if I worked{49}a lot, and I told him that I still had to pass my exams on twenty subjects and study some ten thousand pages. Thereupon She gently exclaimed: “But that’s terrible!”

I exclaimed reproachfully:

“What did you do there?”

—Well, She can speak to you, if She wants!

We spent this evening as a party evening. At first my brother wanted to make up for lost hours and began to read furiously in his books, but he couldn’t finish a single page. And we decided to go out. Until after eleven o’clock we stayed in the cafe leafing through all the illustrated papers, or others, that were there.

The next morning, same story. The janitor came up to our house to say that the yard car was there once again. “Today is white horses. That’s a car! Oh! there, there! nothing but silk!” she cried from the stairs before entering, out of breath, but radiant with pride and patriotic enthusiasm. In the midst of an even larger crowd than the day before, darting between two rows of piercing looks and gaping mouths, my brother set off to the fat pawing of the beautiful white horses. Around noon a heavy rain began to fall. He came back exhausted, his clothes soaked. He recounted that the{50}rain had surprised them, very far from the castle. He had no umbrella. They had continued their walk under the tall trees in the park. Back at the castle, he was all chilled. The Empress had him given other clothes and ordered a fire to be lit in the room where he was staying. He had to wait there until his clothes were almost dry. The Empress twice sent to ask if he had caught cold.

“Everything has to be put up with,” he would say in the evening, “except this terrible carriage. People look at me like a ghost. At Mariahilferstrasse in particular, on the way back, it’s a real torture!

The next day, when he came back, he cried from the threshold of the door:

“Tomorrow, it is you who will go to the Empress; she wants to meet you.

-You did it on purpose, I said, because you want to work.

—No, only I spoke to her about you, and when we parted, she said to me twice: “Don’t forget to tell your brother that he can come tomorrow, in your place . ” . . . . . .

. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .


A footman, in all black livery, received me at the gate of the park, and informed me that His Majesty invited me to wait for him in the garden. He led me to a place fixed in advance, near the castle, and left me there alone, after drawing me a deep bow.

Suddenly transported from the gray atmosphere and the everyday commonplace of the city into this imperial closed garden where mere mortals never entered, shaken by the expectation of a decisive event, I found myself pushed, so to speak, out of from the limits of my consciousness and of my self. It was as if I was experiencing all of this in another person who was nevertheless me. I had the feeling of dreaming a strange and delicious dream, and I feared that it would vanish too soon; on the other hand, the impatience of what was to come exasperated me, as if I could not wait to wake up.

I only knew the Empress from her portraits, which almost always depicted her with a diadem on her forehead. I was filled with an unspeakable emotion. Near me stood a quivering mimosa bush with innumerable golden flowers. Swarms of bees buzzed around. It was as if from all these little balls in bloom with their sweet intoxicating perfume, a golden smile had radiated.{52} Certainly, they did not know that they were there for me as much as for the bees, so that their gaze, so that their breath would make this fragrant and unforgettable hour for me, as much as to give their honey to the bees. Like the bees, my blood buzzed in my temples, and I said to myself: “Here is a world which lives without me, which does not seem to know me, and which, however, from a distant infinity, tends towards me and awaits me. .”

I still feel, ineffably, the poetry of that hour of marvelous anguish which carried me away from myself towards a horizon of limitless mystery, which precipitated me into an abyss! So much so that when I came to, I was prey to a strange sensation, as if from a twilight and immemorial bottom of the sea, a powerful wave had thrown me onto a foreign and lost beach on the island of life. And as I waited there, my heart filled more and more with the certainty that I was about to see appear what life would have offered me most preciously.

Suddenly, she was in front of me, without my having heard her coming, slender and black.

Even before his shadow had reached me to pull me with a start from the dream in which I was sinking, I felt his approach, and this sensation just with his coming arose and, however, seemed to me to have been born in me.{53}for a very long time, as if I had lived through it for hours and years. She was standing in front of me, leaning forward a little. Her head stood out against the background of a white umbrella irradiating with the sun, from which was born a sort of vaporous nimbus around her forehead. In her left hand, she held a black fan tilted slightly towards her cheek. His clear golden eyes stared at me, scanning the features of my face and as if animated by the desire to discover something there. Did they find what they were looking for? Was it only later that they smiled at me, or did they have for me, from the first sight, these smiling rays?

At that moment, I didn’t have time to think about that, and the feelings that I see so clearly today only existed in me then in germ, unconscious and confused. Only one thing I knew right away was Elle . And also I was greatly surprised: how little she resembled all the portraits I knew of her! She was quite another, and yet she was the Empress. And I felt that this Empress was not only an Empress, but that I was before one of the most ideal and tragic apparitions of humanity. What do I tell him then? I am ashamed to recall it to my imagination. A few sentences em{54}scrambled, stammered about my joy and great honour… However, she rescued me from my first embarrassment, saying, her eyes beaming with infinite sweetness:

—When the Hellenes speak their language, it is music.

And then she added:

—Today we will go to the end of the park: we will see very large and beautiful trees and enjoy a marvelous view.

This first day, the walk in the park of Lainz was prolonged beyond three hours.

What did we talk about that day? When I want to remember it, every detail disappears, as if smothered in a thick cloud of happiness, indescribably. Such is the sensation of the man who wakes up all penetrated with delight, even in the most hidden fibers of his being, his chest as if filled with the breath of flowers, but who no longer knows what he has dreamed. .. And then this unforgettable sensibility of ambient nature, that day! Magnificent park that surrounded us, unforgettable you too because you sang my inner language, because shapes and colors to you were like everything in me that sang, so that I had to believe, almost, the most intimate substance of my being widespread and metamorphosed{55}in all these things: the freshness of the morning, the living net of the rays of the sun, the blue mystery of the wood, and all these musical accents which touched my hearing and my soul. O the walk among the pale trunks of the birches and the beeches, the entry into this dreamy violet shadow, almost bodily, our deaf steps on the damp and black earth, wide expanses of moss from which enormous mushrooms emerged, rotting leaves of past autumn, under which still grew violets. And suddenly, a big lonely tree, which spread a sonorous joy in the tranquillities, singing with all its might, by an orchestra of little birds. Then, from a high clearing, waves of foliage, one inside the other, undulating endlessly, writhing in the wind, loose curls, and singing their desire softly. But beyond the quickset hedge of the forest was the open landscape, verdant in vast meadows down to a dark avenue of trees, where the dusty highway dragged itself, slow and weary, in the distance. And over there, on the horizon, a mist of blood and shadow, pregnant with destiny, smoldering over Vienna.

. . . . . . . .

She walked through the garden, as if she wanted to direct her inner radiance to a goal fixed in advance. And things around her were like{56}initiated into the mystery of this pilgrimage. They changed their appearance as soon as she approached: the physiognomy, the vital tone of things rose a shade, as if they were trying to respond to her own inner music, and to blend harmoniously into it.

I recognized that the springs at its approach sang of another sort, that the contours of the rocks were inflected in pure lines of beauty, that the stones themselves exhaled a fragrant breath, that the leaves of the trees, at its appearance, quivered. , as when waiting for the sun, and, desolate, sank when it went away.

In his presence, all the flowers seemed to me to be in turmoil. Some answered his gaze with a golden smile, others gently shook the bells of their heads, or else opened their marvelous luminous eyes. But there were some who were all trembling, without a breath brushing them; these, for the most part, were white, with diaphanous petals as of silken gauze, and their corollas rose on pale, frail stems and tipped slightly to and fro. Then, countless fresh, rosy little mouths, like a troop of marveling children. Of the roses I do not speak: of each of them the breath (oh delights!){57}was hurrying towards us, before we had seen her, and when we approached, we had the impression of lips kissing softly, secretly. Then there were eyes which, with difficulty, lifted heavy lids of wax, and, from below, from the depths of violet pupils, looked sadly, and further still, there were flowers which, in an adorable swoon, shook their little variegated wings, butterflies writhing.

All these marvels, I attributed them to his approach. . . . .

. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

When the day drew to a close, and the sun behind the great forests sank, and the grassy meadows turned blue, and the exquisite calms of the evening fell from the leaves upon us, then also our course came to an end. By winding detours, to enjoy these belated melancholy as long as possible, we returned to the chateau… On our way, the corollas of the flowers closed like eyelids; a withdrawal into oneself, a recollection betrayed itself in all the objects, frozen and numb which, until then, had given themselves up so fully to light and life. I accompanied the empress to the terrace of the castle, along the shimmering ponds, on the sleep{58}from which the white dreams of the nocturnal water lilies began to condense. There, she dismissed me with a few words which always seemed to me like an echo of those she had addressed to me during our first meeting, so much so that, from their very sound, I drew the certainty that this separation from each day bore itself the promise of renewal…

. . . . . . . .

Twice it was given to me to accompany the Empress through the interior apartments of the chateau, and then it was as if we had not left the garden; for she carried everywhere with her this world of which she seemed to be the projection, like an atmosphere outside of which she could not breathe. To this tour of the castle I owed the furtive and rosy appearance of his daughter, the Archduchess Valérie, who was drawing flowers in a large bright salon. Another time, I saw her through the drowsy sunny windows of a greenhouse, from where she was waving her hand to her mother.

The Emperor also, several times, came from the castle, by the terrace, with a firm and elastic step, to join his wife in the garden. At his side, she was then the incarnation of this idea whose majesty elevates the emperor above other men. And,{59}however, on each occasion I had the feeling that her domain was hardly an imperial castle. The garden and the forest were reserved for her, and when you wanted to get in touch with her, you had to go into her mysterious kingdom.

. . . . . . . .

Then came the day when she had to leave the castle and park of Lainz to transfer her residence, as every year, to Ischl and Gastein. Over there, other woods, other mountains. This periodical departure had the same effect on me as if I had heard that the time to emigrate had come for the birds. Because I had grown accustomed to seeing her with the same eyes that we look at these charming beings who are closer to nature and who behave with her more unconsciously than men. At the time of the farewell, she said to me again:

-Goodbye! I owe you many hours that I would not like to forget. Have a great summer!

And she fixed on me a gaze as serious and as profound as if she wanted to discover all the bitterness that could cling to the roots of my thoughts, to tear them out and to put in their place the hope of goodbye.

The same day, I left for Innsbruck, always{60}as though immersed in these sensations which were to be, as I believed, throughout my life, the only nourishment of my soul.

. . . . . . . .

Thus flew away for me those hours and days of a double and almost unreal existence. Each evening, the sumptuous “silk carriage”, dragged, as if in flight, by large white horses, brought me back from the forest castle. Over the open fields, an unspeakable calm was spread, weariness rather, after this condensed life of dreams, which now receded into the distance, vaporously, in chimerical images, under dazzling veils of fairyland, implausibility and delirium. I then arrived in the city, among the men, those carriers of burdens, so hurried that they seemed to have no time to be upset, dragging, in the meantime, their sadness on their faces and in their gestures. Finally I returned home. Each time I crossed the threshold of my room, my heart sank, bewildered, because every corner,{61}spooky life. This regular alternation of reality and dream in inverted order: waking life as dream and the sleep of the night as the only reality, illumined this period of my life forever with a light of supernatural poetry. In the short intervals of these two states, I tried to realize what was going on within me, but it was almost impossible for me to separate waking from sleep; for, when I slept, it was only the continuation of this nebulous and sobbing ecstasy of which nothing rose to the surface of my consciousness. Everything was indiscernibly deep and distant, dormant as in mists. A woman’s form, black and slender like a cypress, rose alone above everything, a living black lily that would walk in an enchanted garden. As soon as I left this garden, clouds fell on my soul. Of one thing I was sure, only: each time the gate of the Lainz park closed on me, a vague feeling of dread filled me, as if I had moved away from an asylum that would have protected against the threat of the dark life, to enter into unknown perils; and of all the perils I was then running, the most atrociously agonizing was, it seemed to me, that of never finding the way back. Every night I it seemed to me, that of no longer finding the way back. Every night I it seemed to me, that of no longer finding the way back. Every night I{62}I promised to observe, the next day, everything with attention, to seize, with the entire acuity of my pupils, the exterior and bodily details, to engrave them in my memory, so as not to forget them again, and to support my faith in them. in the reality of my visions… What are the elements of its beauty? I asked myself always and incessantly.

But then I could not resolve this question, because the answer was inherent in my very question, uncreated, and dazzled by its brilliance, I could not distinguish it from its source. Now this garden of wonder has receded from my consciousness as if into a mythical distance. Now too, the embodiment of my answer is forever delighted in my sight. But in my soul entered like a reflection of her, a vibrant and disturbing feeling of pain and delight at the same time, breath of something sublime which had hovered over me and vanished. And I draw from this a stronger certainty than if I had then obtained the ardently desired answer. Now I don’t know what we said, but I know what we said. Now I can more clearly discern the permanent elements of its eternal magnificence,HIS metamorphoses. But too dry are my words, to touch the elements{63}fiery elements of its flowing lines without igniting themselves. My words are too heavy, to follow all the fine features of the face of his soul and all his exquisite sadness, without destroying or startling them.

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