“Some say, ‘A queen discrowned,’ and some call it ‘Woman’s shame.’ Others name it ‘A false step,’ or ‘Social suicide,’ just as it happens to strike their minds, or such understanding as they may be blessed with. In these days one rarely hears seriously mentioned such unruly words as ‘Love,’ or ‘Wretchedness,’ or ‘Despair,’ which may nevertheless be important factors in bringing about that result which stands out to the light of day for public inspection.”
The three days which I passed alone and in suspense were very terrible ones to me. I felt myself physically as well as mentally ill, and it was in vain that I tried to learn anything of or from Adelaide, and I waited in a kind of breathless eagerness for the end of it all, for I knew as well as if some one had shouted it aloud from the house-tops that that farewell in the Malkasten garden was not the end.
Early one morning, when the birds were singing and the sunshine streaming into the room, Frau Lutzler came into the room and put a letter into my hand, which she said a messenger had left. I took it, and paused a moment before I opened it. I was unwilling to face what I knew was coming—and yet, how otherwise could the whole story have ended?
“Dear May,—You, like me, have been suffering during these three days. I have been trying—yes, I have tried to believe I could bear this life, but it is too horrible. Isn’t it possible that sometimes it may be right to do wrong? It is of no use telling you what has passed, but it is enough. I believe I am only putting the crowning point to my husband’s revenge when I leave him. He will be glad—he does not mind the disgrace for himself; and he can get another wife, as good as I, when he wants one. When you read this, or not long afterward, I shall be with Max von Francius. I wrote to him—I asked him to save me, and he said, ‘Come!’ It is not because I want to go, but I must go somewhere. I have made a great mess of my life. I believe everybody does make a mess of it who tries to arrange things for himself. Remember that, May.
“I wonder if we shall ever meet again. Not likely, when you are married to some respectable, conventional man, who will shield you from contamination with such as I. I must not write more or I shall write nonsense. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye! What will be the end of me? Think of me sometimes, and try not to think too hardly. Listen to your heart—not to what people say. Good-bye again!
I received this stroke without groan or cry, tear or shiver. It struck home to me. The heavens were riven asunder—a flash came from them, descended upon my head, and left me desolate. I stood, I know not how long, stock-still in the place where I had read that letter. In novels I had read of such things; they had had little meaning for me. In real life I had only heard them mentioned dimly and distantly, and here I was face to face with the awful thing, and so far from being able to deal out hearty, untempered condemnation, I found that the words of Adelaide’s letter came to me like throes of a real heart. Bald, dry, disjointed sentences on the outside; without feeling they might seem, but to me they were the breathless exclamations of a soul in supreme torture and peril. My sister! with what a passion of love my heart went out to her. Think of you, Adelaide, and think of you not too hardly? Oh, why did not you trust me more?
I saw her as she wrote these words: “I have made a great mess of it.” To make a mess of one’s life—one mistake after another, till what might have been at least honest, pure, and of good report, becomes a stained, limp, unsightly thing, at which men feel that they may gaze openly, and from which women turn away in scorn unutterable; and that Adelaide, my proudest of proud sisters, had come to this!
I was not thinking of what people would say. I was not wondering how it had come about; I was feeling Adelaide’s words ever more and more acutely, till they seemed to stand out from the paper and turn into cries of anguish in my very ears. I put my hands to my ears; I could not bear those notes of despair.
“What will be the end of me?” she said, and I shook from head to foot as I repeated the question. If her will and that of von Francius ever came in contact. She had put herself at his mercy utterly; her whole future now depended upon the good pleasure of a man—and men were selfish.
With a faint cry of terror and foreboding, I felt everything whirl unsteadily around me; the letter fell from my hand; the icy band that had held me fast gave way. All things faded before me, and I scarcely knew that I was sinking upon the floor. I thought I was dying; then thought faded with the consciousness that brings it.