The Spike or Victoria College Review 1942
This is the letter of a fortunate man and an unfortunate lover. What I expected with every new spring has happened at last: little Gratiana has vanished leaving us an unopened copy of the poems of Tennyson and a dirty shoelace I wound round my finger at school when I was thirteen. This is her testament to culture; she has lived in it with intelligence for a few years in disguise; she page 10 talked with us about theatres and picture galleries and especially during the winters I could have supposed at times that her barbaric past had faded from her and that she was at home with us. However she has not abandoned much by leaving us King Arthur and this shoelace, she never really profited by our poetry and judged badly. In summers when her face was darker and stronger her subdued wildness was undeniable and my fears yearly increased until last year she vanished and no one, not even her parents, knows where and with whom, in the dark of the night among the half lighted lanterns in a poor district. I waited for this like a peasant and in the meantime have tried (how dully!) to tie her to this place with books and discussions.
Yet I have been changed greatly by her, begin to speak her simple, rounded sentences and the styleful popular idioms, plastic and peculiar; acquired much of her wild, unsystematic ways, but never mastered as much of the barbaric as he must have done who found her at the moment of her flight. From his wildness I could not hate him but saw how everything came out as it was long before determined.
Then, Gratiana and a life of emotion gone, I settled down and found the distance to philosophise my desire away. It had been more beautiful than anything I was to attain to afterwards, but I gradually thought to see the error of always struggling for what I was not, for the Grace of Gratiana, for what I called my liberty, and of seeking lighter ways. I wished to move to some state of peace between the poles and I found a new community there: the community rejecting all senseless yearning for freedom and lightness, rejecting desire and rejecting repulsion, sprung horn a heaven of laziness or, perhaps, of poetry. It was the order of the fancy free.
At that moment I made a discovery that greatly pleased me then, but seems futile to me now. Maybe Gratiana did never belong to that world where they kill the sick, beat the neurotic, despise the melancholy and yet are fragrant and only desirable. I still remember the phantasies of that. No one could ever imagine Gratiana unhappy. When she entered our friends stopped from their disputes and quarrels. She belonged to the order of the lazy fortunate ones, of the seriously trivial, of the fancy free. When she tried to tell of her troubles her friends patted her on the shoulder and said: Is it necessary for you, Gratiana, to be worried about having no worries? We would not value you the more for being like us and besides, we do not take your complaint very seriously. You seem to possess your tie with the eternal naturally (they would copy Kafka) without striving you belong half to Happiness. But we of this earth—we have no natural connection with Grace, we have to fight hard for it. And if we honour you it is for that reason, and so we don't like you to say that. It disappoints us.—So we would be all for the natural, and with primitive waterblue eyes would muse upon the blessings of the problemless. We misunderstood her: she must have belonged to my new world the fortunate lovers spurn and the fortunate ones do not know; part of the order of the earnestly earnest, whose symbol is the dance: belonging half to earth and half to heaven. There seemed to be some evidence of that in the stories that still penetrate to us. For scattered messages and mutilated anecdotes sometimes still try to disturb my rest.
They tell me how she appears at dances, suddenly striking with unknown movements and strange exotic rhythms; how everyone then looks for her and calls her but she has suddenly vanished, to some place miles distant where desires were playful, no deep thoughts were evoked, to escape the sickness of the striving. For she had learnt that that sickness bred malice. She was like a smile in a moment passing and fading, determining the fates of many.
Other strange things are told of her that reach us as confused legends. Some of them are fantastic and I think untrue. One tells that she was born upside down and that it is prophesied she will die by choking on her tongue. A poetic lover may have made the tale up because he thought that no terrestrial cause could affect her. But the most delightful is the following.
It is the story of a Scavenger Hunt and it occurred on a big liner. With the list of objects as it was presented to the players something was strange, that was clear. The articles weren't just ordinary attributes of the passengers that had been lying around on board for some time: there was a size 13 shoe amongst them. Nobody had even been observed to shovel so large footwear over thepage break page break page 11
decks. Stranger still, there was a tomahawk, the complete works of Juvenal, a Tiroler Hat with a green feather, a Woolworth bead and an old boys ring of Athens Yokohama high school wrapped in violet paper, a half smoked Balkan Sobranie cigarette stained with sealing wax, a green loin cloth Symmetrically adorned with two deep yellow parrots, various exotic cosmetics and other luxuries, and a picture of the Axenstrasse (you know, the famous lake view near Lucerne, where my aunt was photographed on her honeymoon trip) painted by a girl in her teens. It will not amaze you to hear that none of these could be found and that at midnight the searchers were as near to their aim as at the beginning. The intelligent fathers, the sons of thirteen who have already an opinion on everything, the cunning mothers wishing to emulate their husbands, the old maids seeking a refuge in card games and cross puzzles, the imitation detectives—they had all returned to their very own berths; the lovers who wanted to impress their sweethearts, the sweethearts who wished to substantiate their contempt for their lovers, the ones who sought in pairs and laughted and flirted and did not care a button for the articles on the list—the happy ones insusceptible to new exotic charms—they had all finished their search through the boat at the upper deck hidden in darkness and abandoned themselves to what some call our lower and others our higher nature.
Only a few young men were left, charming aristocrats, men of the vaguely seeking mind who have no special fancy. They had determined to stick to it. And when it had grown very late and nothing yet was found, one of them looking over the items on the list in a dreamy way remarked: Does not it sound like a novel? A small mutilated tale, just clear enough, by its exotic names of little common luxuries of far off women—women enveloped in the same colourful strangeness as the articles on the list—to evoke a kind of longing after unexplainable ecstasies. Clearly all these articles were reminiscences of some past glory: glories of a proud mistress of Peru's bravest Indian chief, clues to a mysterious murder in Calcutta.
The other interrupted him and said there were no dozens of such women aboard anyway.
There is more than I read in this list, the young man replied. All these women have very much the same character: they seem to move equally beyond human trouble. Youthful pictures of the Axenstrasse are the awkward expression of a hidden wildness in a girl we tamed only for a short while. The Woolworth bead, and a high school ring perhaps left by error I credit to a soldier somewhere in the South Sea Islands (for that is the price commonly paid in those districts). There may have been "platonk" friends in her weak moments to account for the quaint books and so on. My only conclusion is that these articles belong to one woman.
And as it was late in the night and these young men were very susceptible to new attractions they accepted this fantastic version—a thing the lovers on the deck could never have done, and reading through the fragments of their queer novel discovered more and more about their new nixy. They realised that they needs had to find her, that their liberty was at stake. Some appearance had struck them, entirely independent from their own life, utterly refusing to accept any truce with the striving, leading a dancing existence. Love is always adventure, they loved her as born from a new element, as Peleus loved the daughter of the unsailed sea: an exploration, aimless and absolute.
In this way Gratiana's dreadful power was established and the wild search began, more desperate than ever, quaint, romantic and with the laughter of every adventure that is still only half understood. She was not amongst the passengers, nor in the passages, nor in the lounges. The tension grew. They ran to the provision rooms, through the kitchens, past the stupid stewards who understood nothing, charming young men as alien to hysteria as to any irregular behaviour, opened cupboard after cupboard, only to find terrified cooks there protecting their heads with saucepans. "Where is the green loin cloth with the yellow parrots?" Beg your pardon? . . . This was fatal.
Suddenly they saw a figure coming up the main stairway. There were parrots in her eyes and a childlike admiration for Indian chiefs and in her face infinite gentleness and chastity and the ruthlessness of the Calcutta murder and indifference to human fate and ignorance of human morals and an insufferable grace and frightful happiness.page 12
They had never seen her that way though they had known her; there was no time to observe her accurately; so rapidly she ran up the stairs; and when they recovered from the lightning of her grace and followed her she had long vanished. Maybe a sparrow drawn wagon had taken her off from the top deck.
So they saw liberty itself leaving them just like a bird who narrowly escapes the salt on its tail. The story goes that they afterwards started a colony for natural men in Tahiti. (I don't know whether they were amongst those who dressed once a week before going to the movies, but it is not impossible)
Gratiana's cruelty moved me more than than her liberty in that story, the cruelty of every ideal not yet longed for. For if we see what in some future time will be our desire we think it barbarous, ruthless because of natural conservatism. Gratiana, feeling that, and also from resentment perhaps of her life amongst us, planned some revenge. I will not stay long in that careless order, for how then could I so much admire that malice? And also—most difficult of things—one should be entirely unmoved if at the end of the dance the partners again sever. To some it is their nature to be fancy free, to others it is a passing period, and after that the admirations become painful again. The illusions, the fantastic images like larvae from a poisoned pond rise in unsuspected ways and penetrate their lives.
A happy period in a way but very immoral. The only thing that creates morals is a fancy and we have none. Few things deter us since few attract us. The fancy free stray among all men, chancing and advancing, and they all arouse the same fantasies. They appear and disappear as simply an immaterial fragrance. Yet some of them are all the time awaiting some new desire, a new sadness, a new object for their inactive fancy.
Now I can admire malice once again. I feel the urge for new affections, a new period at hand. The radiomicrometer detects the light of a candle, however hidden, at a distance of miles. So I detect what may perhaps attract me. Emotions within me grow for any trace of beauty, as yet all smothered. There may be a fertile one soon and it will grow very large and make me forget, maybe spurn the realm of Gratiana. That will give us a moral foundation too, and all we need to be a good citizen.
And will you miss us Gratiana?