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A play by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Whose Fault?

Title:     Whose Fault?
Author: Henryk Sienkiewicz [More Titles by Sienkiewicz]

A Dramatic Picture in One Act


Jadwiga Karlowiecka.
Leon--A Painter.
A Servant.

In the House of Jadwiga Karlowiecka.


A SERVANT. The lady will be here in a minute.

LEON (alone).--I cannot overcome my emotion nor can I tranquillize the throbbing of my heart. Three times have I touched the bell and three times have I wished to retreat. I am troubled. Why does she wish to see me! (Takes out a letter). "Be so kind as to come to see me on a very important matter. In spite of all that has happened I hope you will not refuse to grant the request of--a woman. Jadwiga Karlowiecka." Perhaps it would have been better and more honest to have left this letter without an answer. But I see that I have cheated myself in thinking that nothing will happen, and that it would be brutal of me not to come. The soul--poor moth--flies toward the light which may burn, but can neither warm nor light it. What has attracted me here? Is it love? Can I answer the question as to whether I still love this woman--so unlike my pure sweetheart of former years--this half lioness, whose reputation has been torn to shreds by human tongues? No! It is rather some painful curiosity which has attracted me here. It is the unmeasurable grief which in two years I have been unable to appease, that desire for a full explanation: "Why?" has been repeated over and over during my sleepless nights. And then let her see this emaciated face--let her look from nearby on that broken life. I could not resist. Such vengeance is my right. I shall be proud enough to set my teeth to stifle all groans. What is done cannot be undone, and I swear to myself that it shall never be done again.


JADWIGA (entering).--You must excuse me for keeping you waiting.

LEON. It is my fault. I came too early, although I tried to be exact.

JADWIGA. No, I must be frank and tell you how it happened. In former times we were such dear friends, and then we have not seen each other for two years. I asked you to come, but I was not sure that you would grant my request, therefore--when the bell rang--after two years--(smiling) I needed a few moments to overcome the emotion. I thought it was necessary for both of us.

LEON. I am calm, madam, and I listen to you.

JADWIGA. I wished also that we should greet each other like people who have forgotten about the past, who know that it will not return, and to be at once on the footing of good friends; I do not dare say like brother and sisters. Therefore, Sir, here is my hand, and now be seated and tell me if you accept my proposition.

LEON. I leave that to you.

JADWIGA. If that is so, then I must tell you that such an agreement, based on mutual well-wishing, excludes excessive solemnity. We must be natural, sincere, and frank.

LEON. Frankly speaking, it will be a little difficult, still.

JADWIGA. It would be difficult if there were no condition: "Not a word about the past!" If we both keep to this, a good understanding will return of itself and in time we may become good friends. What have you been doing during the past two years?

LEON. I have been pushing the wheelbarrow of life, as all mortals do. Every Monday I have thought that in a week there would be another Monday. I assure you that there is some distraction in seeing the days spin out like a thread from a ball, and how everything that has happened goes away and gradually disappears, like a migratory bird.

JADWIGA. Such distraction is good for those to whom another bird comes with a song of the future. But otherwise--

LEON. Otherwise it is perhaps better to think that when all threads will be spun out from the ball, there will remain nothing. Sometimes the reminiscences are very painful. Happily time dulls their edge, or they would prick like thorns.

JADWIGA. Or would burn like fire.

LEON. All-wise Nature gives us some remedy for it. A fire which is not replenished must die, and the ashes do not burn.

JADWIGA. We are unwillingly chasing a bird which has flown away. Enough of it! Have you painted much lately?

LEON. I do nothing else. I think and I paint. It is true that until now my thoughts have produced nothing, and I have painted a very little. But it was not my fault. Better be good enough to tell me what has caused you to call me here.

JADWIGA. It will come by itself. In the first place, I should be justified in so doing by a desire to see a great man. You are now an artist whose fame is world-wide.

LEON. I would appear to be guilty of conceit, but I honestly think that I was not the last pawn on the chessboard in the drawing-room, and that is perhaps the reason why I have been thinking during the past two years and could not understand why I was thrown aside like a common pawn.

JADWIGA. And where is our agreement?

LEON. It is a story told in a subjective way by a third person. According to the second clause in our agreement--"sincerity"--I must add that I am already accustomed to my wheelbarrow.

JADWIGA. We must not speak about it.

LEON. I warn you--it will be difficult.

JADWIGA. It should be more easy for you. You, the elect of art and the pride of the whole nation, and in the mean while its spoiled child--you can live with your whole soul in the present and in the future. From the flowers strewn under one's feet, one can always chose the most beautiful, or not choose at all, but always tread upon them.

LEON. If one does not stumble.

JADWIGA. No! To advance toward immortality.

LEON. Longing for death while on the road.

JADWIGA. It is an excess of pessimism for a man who says that he is accustomed to his wheelbarrow.

LEON. I wish only to show the other side of the medal. And then you must remember, madam, that to-day pessimism is the mode. You must not take my words too seriously. In a drawing-room one strings the words of a conversation like beads on a thread--it is only play.

JADWIGA. Let us play then (after a while). Ah! How many changes! I cannot comprehend. If two years ago some one had told me that to-day we would sit far apart from each other, and chat as we do, and look at each other with watchful curiosity, like two people perfectly strange to each other, I could not have believed. Truly, it is utterly amusing!

LEON. It would not be proper for me to remind you of our agreement.

JADWIGA. But nevertheless you do remind me. Thank you. My nerves are guilty for this melancholy turn of the conversation. But I feel it is not becoming to me. But pray be assured that I shall not again enter that thorny path, if for no other reason than that of self-love. I, too, amuse myself as best I can, and I return to my reminiscences only when wearied. For several days I have been greatly wearied.

LEON. Is that the reason why you asked me to come here? I am afraid that I will not be an abundant source of distraction. My disposition is not very gay, and I am too proud, too honest, and--too costly to become a plaything. Permit me to leave you.

JADWIGA. You must forgive me. I did not mean to offend you. Without going back to the past, I can tell you that pride is your greatest fault, and if it were not for that pride, many sad things would not have happened.

LEON. Without going back to the past, I must answer you that it is the only sail which remained on my boat. The others are torn by the wind of life. If it were not for this last sail, I should have sunk long ago.

JADWIGA. And I think that it was a rock on which has been wrecked not only your boat--but no matter! So much the worse for those who believed in fair weather and a smooth sea. We must at least prevent ourselves from now being carried where we do not wish to sail.

LEON. And where the sandy banks are sure--

JADWIGA. What strange conversation! It seems to me that it is a net, in which the truth lies at the bottom, struggling in vain to break the meshes. But perhaps it is better so.

LEON. Much better. Madam, you have written me that you wished to see me on an important matter. I am listening.

JADWIGA. Yes (smiling). It is permitted a society woman to have her fancies and desires--sometimes inexplicable fancies, and it is not permitted a gentleman to refuse them. Well, then, I wished to see my portrait, painted by the great painter Leon. Would you be willing to paint it?

LEON. Madam--

JADWIGA. Ah! the lion's forehead frowns, as if my wish were an insult.

LEON. I think that the fancies of a society woman are indeed inexplicable, and do not look like jokes at all.

JADWIGA. This question has two sides! The first is the formal side and it shows itself thus: Mme. Jadwiga Karlowiecka most earnestly asks the great painter Leon to make her portrait. That is all! The painter Leon, who, it is known, paints lots of portraits, has no good reason for refusing. The painter cannot refuse to make a portrait any more than a physician can refuse his assistance. There remains the other side--the past. But we agreed that it is a forbidden subject.

LEON. Permit me, madam--

JADWIGA (interrupting).--Pray, not a word about the past. (She laughs.) Ah, my woman's diplomacy knows how to tie a knot and draw tight the ends of it. How your embarrassment pleases me. But there is something quite different. Let us suppose that I am a vain person, full of womanly self-love; full of petty jealousy and envy. Well, you have painted the portrait of Mme. Zofia and of Helena. I wish to have mine also. One does not refuse the women such things. Reports of your fame come to me from all sides. I hear all around me the words: "Our great painter--our master!" Society lionizes you. God knows how many breasts sigh for you. Every one can have your works, every one can approach you, see you, be proud of you. I alone, your playmate, your old friend, I alone am as though excommunicated.

LEON. But Mme. Jadwiga--

JADWIGA. Ah, you have called me by my name. I thank you and beg your pardon. It is the self-love of a woman, nothing more. It is my nerves. Do not be frightened. You see how dangerous it is to irritate me. After one of my moods I am unbearable. I will give you three days to think the matter over. If you do not wish to come, write me then (she laughs sadly). Only I warn you, that if you will neither come nor write me, I will tell every one that you are afraid of me, and so I will satisfy my self-love. In the mean time, for the sake of my nerves, you must not tell, me that you refuse my request. I am a little bit ill--consequently capricious.

LEON. In three days you shall have my answer (rising), and now I will say good-bye.

JADWIGA. Wait a moment. This is not so easy as you think. Truly, I would think you are afraid of me. It is true that they say I am a coquette, a flirt. I know they talk very badly about me. Besides we are good acquaintances, who have not seen each other for two years. Let us then talk a little. Let me take your hat. Yes, that is it! Now let us talk. I am sure we may become friends again. As for me at least--what do you intend to do in the future besides painting my portrait?

LEON. The conversation about me would not last long. Let us take another more interesting subject. You had better talk about yourself--about your life, your family.

JADWIGA. As for my husband, he is, as usual, in Chantilly. My mother is dead! Poor mama! She was so fond of you--she loved you very much (after a pause). In fact, as you see, I have grown old and changed greatly.

LEON. At your age the words "I have grown old" are only a daring challenge thrown by a woman who is not afraid that she would be believed.

JADWIGA. I am twenty-three years old, so I am not talking about age in years, but age in morals. I feel that to-day I am not like that Jadwiga of Kalinowice whom you used to know so well. Good gracious! when I think to-day of that confidence and faith in life--those girlish illusions--the illusions of a young person who wished to be happy and make others happy, that enthusiasm for everything good and noble! where has all that gone--where has it disappeared? And to think that I was--well, an honest wild-flower--and to-day--

LEON. And to-day a society woman.

JADWIGA. To-day, when I see such a sceptical smile as I saw a few moments ago on your lips, it seems to me that I am ridiculous--very often so--even always when I sit at some ideal embroidery and when I begin to work at some withered flowers on the forgotten, despised canvas of the past. It is a curious and old fashion from times when faithfulness was not looked seriously on, and people sang of Filon.

LEON. At that moment you were speaking according to the latest mode.

JADWIGA. Shall I weep, or try to tie the broken thread? Well, the times change. I can assure you that I have some better moments, during which I laugh heartily at everything (handing him a cigarette). Do you smoke?

LEON. No, madam.

JADWIGA. I do. It is also a distraction. Sometimes I hunt _par force_ with my husband, I read Zola's novels, I make calls and receive visits, and every morning I ponder as to the best way to kill time. Sometimes I succeed--sometimes not. Apropos, you know my husband, do you not?

LEON. I used to know him.

JADWIGA. He is very fond of hunting, but only _par force_. We never hunt otherwise.

LEON. Let us be frank. You had better drop that false tone.

JADWIGA. On the contrary. In our days we need impressions which stir our nerves. The latest music, like life itself, is full of dissonances. I do not wish to say that I am unhappy with my husband. It is true that he is always in Chantilly, and I see him only once in three months, but it proves, on the other hand, that he has confidence in me. Is it not true?

LEON. I do not know, and I do not wish to decide about it. But before all, I should not know anything about it.

JADWIGA. It seemed to me that you ought to know. Pray believe that I would not be as frank with any one else as I am with you. And then, I do not complain. I try to surround myself with youths who pretend they are in love with me. There is not a penny-worth of truth in all of it--they all lie, but the form of the lie is beautiful because they are all well-bred people. The Count Skorzewski visits me also--you must have heard of him, I am sure. I recommend him to you as a model for Adonis. Ha! ha! You do not recognize the wild-flower of Kalinowice?

LEON. No, I do not recognize it.

JADWIGA. No! But the life flower.

LEON. As a joke--

JADWIGA. At which one cannot laugh always. If our century was not sceptical I should think myself wild, romantic, trying to drown despair. But the romantic times have passed away, therefore, frankly speaking, I only try to fill up a great nothing. I also spin out my ball, although not always with pleasure. Sometimes I seem to myself so miserable and my life so empty that I rush to my prayer-desk, left by my mother. I weep, I pray--and then I laugh again at my prayers and tears. And so it goes on--round and round. Do you know that they gossip about me?

LEON. I do not listen to the gossip.

JADWIGA. How good you are! I will tell you then why they gossip. A missionary asked a negro what, according to his ideas, constituted evil? The negro thought a while, and then said: "Evil is if some one were to steal my wife." "And what is good?" asked the missionary. "Good is when I steal from some one else." My husband's friends are of the negro's opinion. Every one of them would like to do a good deed and steal some one's wife.

LEON. It depends on the wife.

JADWIGA. Yes, but every word and every look is a bait. If the fish passes the bait, the fisherman's self-love is wounded. That is why they slander me (after a while). You great people--you are filled with simplicity. Then you think it depends on the wife?

LEON. Yes, it does.

JADWIGA. _Morbleu!_ as my husband says, and if the wife is weary?

LEON. I bid you good-bye.

JADWIGA. Why? Does what I say offend you?

LEON. It does more than offend me. It hurts me. Maybe it will seem strange to you, but here in my breast I am carrying some flowers--although they are withered--dead for a long time. But they are dear to me and just now you are trampling on them.

JADWIGA (with an outburst).--Oh, if those flowers had not died!

LEON. They are in my heart--and there is a tomb. Let us leave the past alone.

JADWIGA. Yes, you are right. Leave it alone. What is dead cannot be resuscitated. I wish to speak calmly. Look at my situation. What defends me--what helps me--what protects me? I am a young woman, and it seems not ugly, and therefore no one approaches me with an honest, simple heart, but with a trap in eyes and mouth. What opposition have I to make? Weariness? Grief? Emptiness? In life even a man must lean on something, and I, a feeble woman, I am like a boat without a helm, without oar and without light toward which to sail. And the heart longs for happiness. You must understand that a woman must be loved and must love some one in the world, and if she lacks true love she seizes the first pretext of it--the first shadow.

LEON (with animation).--Poor thing.

JADWIGA. Do not smile in that ironical way. Be better, be less severe with me. I do not even have any one to complain, and that is why I do not drive away Count Skorzewski. I detest his beauty, I despise his perverse mind, but I do not drive him away because he is a skilful actor, and because when I see his acting it awakens in me the echo of former days. (After a while.) How shall I fill my life? Study? Art? Even if I loved them, they would not love me for they are not living things. No, truly now! They showed me no duties, no aims, no foundations. Everything on which other women live--everything which constitutes their happiness, sincere sorrow, strength, tears, and smiles, is barred from me. Morally I have nothing to live on--like a beggar. I have no one to live for--like an orphan. I am not permitted to yearn for a noble and quiet life; I may only nurture myself with grief and defend myself with faded, dead flowers, and remembrances of former pure, honest, and loving Jadwinia. Ah! again I break my promise, our agreement. I must beg your pardon.

LEON. Mme. Jadwiga, both our lives are tangled. When I was most unhappy, when everything abandoned me, there remained with me the love of an idea--love of the country.

JADWIGA (thoughtfully).--The love of an idea--country. There is something great in that. You, by each of your pictures, increase the glory of the country and make famous its name, but I--what can I do?

LEON. The one who lives simply, suffers and quietly fulfils his duties--he also serves his country.

JADWIGA. What duties? Give them to me. For every-day life one great, ideal love is not enough for me. I am a woman! I must cling to something--twine about something like the ivy--otherwise truly, sir, I should fall to the ground and be trampled upon (with an outburst). If I could only respect him!

LEON. But, madam, you should remember to whom you are speaking of such matters. I have no right to know of your family affairs.

JADWIGA. No. You have not the right, nor are you obliged nor willing. Only friendly hearts know affliction--only those who suffer can sympathize. You--looking into the stars--you pass human misery and do not turn your head even when that misery shouts to you. It is your fault.

LEON. My fault!

JADWIGA. Do not frown, and do not close your mouth (beseechingly). I do not reproach you for anything. I have forgiven you long ago, and now I, the giddy woman whom the world always sees merry and laughing--I am really so miserable that I have even no strength left for hatred.

LEON. Madam! Enough! I have listened to your story--do not make me tell you mine. If you should hear it a still heavier burden would fall on your shoulders.

JADWIGA. No, no. We could be happy and we are not. It is the fault of both. How dreadful to think that we separated on account of almost nothing--on account of one thoughtless word--and we separated forever (she covers her face with her hands), without hope.

LEON. That word was nothing for you, but I remember it still with brain and heart. I was not then what I am to-day. I was poor, unknown, and you were my whole future, my aim, my riches.

JADWIGA. Oh, Mr. Leon, Mr. Leon, what a golden dream it was!

LEON. But I was proud because I knew that there was in me the divine spark. I loved you dearly, I trusted you--and nothing disturbed the security around me. Suddenly one evening Mr. Karlowiecki appeared, and already the second evening you told me that you gave more than you received.

JADWIGA. Mr. Leon!

LEON. What was your reason for giving that wound to my proud misery? You could not already have loved that man, but as soon as he appeared you humiliated me. There are wrongs which a man cannot bear with dignity--so those words were the last I heard from you.

JADWIGA. Truly. When I listen to you I must keep a strong hand on my senses. As soon as the other appeared you gave vent to a jealous outburst. I said that I gave more than I took, and you thought I spoke of money and not sentiment? Then you could suspect that I was capable of throwing my riches in your face--you thought I was capable of that? That is why he could not forgive! That is why he went away! That is why he has made his life and mine miserable!

LEON. It is too late to talk about that. Too late! You knew then and you know to-day that I could not have understood your words differently. The other man was of your own world--the world of which you were so fond that sometimes it seemed to me that you cherished it more than our love. At times when I so doubted you did not calm me. You were amused by the thought that you were stretching out to me a hand of courtly condescension, and I, in an excess of humiliation, I cast aside that hand. You knew it then, and you know it to-day!

JADWIGA. I know it to-day, but I did not know then. I swear it by my mother's memory. But suppose it was even as you say. Why could you not forgive me? Oh God! truly one might go mad. And there was neither time nor opportunity to explain. He went away and never returned. What could I do? When you became angry, when you shut yourself up within yourself, grief pressed my heart. I am ashamed even to-day to say this. I looked into your eyes like a dog which wishes to disarm the anger of his master by humility. In vain! Then I thought, when taking leave, I will shake hands with him so honestly and cordially that he will finally understand and will forgive me. While parting my hand dropped, for you only saluted me from afar. I swallowed my tears and humiliation. I thought still he will return to-morrow. A day passed, two days, a week, a month.

LEON. Then you married.

JADWIGA (passionately).--Yes. Useless tears and time made me think it was forever--therefore anger grew in my heart--anger and a desire for vengeance on you and myself. I wished to be lost, for I said to myself, "That man does not love me, has never loved me." I married in the same spirit that I should have thrown myself through a window--from despair--because, as I still believe, you never loved me.

LEON. Madam, do not blaspheme. Do not provoke me. I never loved you! Look at the precipice which you have opened before me--count the sleepless nights during which I tore my breast with grief--count the days on which I called to you as from a cross--look at this thin face, at these trembling hands, and repeat once more that I never loved you! What has become of me? What is life for me without you? To-day my head is crowned with laurels and here in my breast is emptiness and exhaustless sorrow, and tears not wept--and in my eyes eternal darkness. Oh, by the living God, I loved you with every drop of my blood, with my every thought--and I was not able to love differently. Having lost you, I lost everything--my star, my strength, faith, hope, desire for life, and not only happiness, but the capacity for happiness. Woman, do you understand the dreadful meaning of those words? I have lost the capacity for happiness. I have not loved you! Oh, despair! God alone knows for how many nights I have cried to Him: "Lord, take my talent, take my fame, take my life, but return to me for only one moment my Jadwiga as she was of old!"

JADWIGA. Enough! Lord, what is the matter with me? Leon, I love you!

LEON. Oh, my dearest! (He presses her to his breast. A moment of silence.)

JADWIGA. I have found you. I loved you always. Ah! how miserable I was without you! With love for you I defended myself from all temptations. You do not know it, but I used to see you. It caused me grief and joy. I could not live any longer without you, and I asked you to come--I did it purposely. If you had not come, something dreadful would have happened. Now we shall never separate. We shall never be angry--is it not so? (A moment of silence.)

LEON (as though awakening from slumber).--Madam, you must pardon me--I mistook the present for the past, and permitted myself to be carried away by an illusion. Pardon me!

JADWIGA. Leon, what do you mean?

LEON (earnestly).--I forgot for a moment that you are the wife of another.

JADWIGA. Oh, you are always honest and loyal. No, there shall be no guilty love between us. I know you, my great, my noble Leon. The hand which I stretch out to you is pure--I swear it to you. You must also forgive me a moment of forgetfulness. Here I stand before you, and say to you: I will not be yours until I am free. But I know that my husband will consent to a divorce. I will leave him all my fortune, and because I formerly offended your pride--it was my fault--yes, my own fault--you shall take me poor, in this dress only--will it suit you? Then I will become your lawful wife. Oh, my God! and I shall be honest, loving, and loved. I have longed for it with my whole soul. I cannot think of our future without tears. God is so good! When you return from your studio at night, you will come neither to an empty room nor to grief. I will share your every joy, your every sorrow--I will divide with you the last piece of bread. Truly, I cannot speak for tears. Look, I am not so bad, but I have been so miserable. I loved you always. Ah, you bad boy, if it were not for your pride we should have been happy long ago. Tell me once more that you love me--that you consent to take me when I shall be free--is it not so, Leon?

LEON. No, madam!

JADWIGA. Leon, my dearest, wait! Perhaps I have not heard well. For I cannot comprehend that when I am hanging over a precipice of despair, when I seize the edge with my hands, you, instead of helping me--you place your feet on my fingers! No! it is impossible. You are too good for that! Do not thrust me away. My life now would be still worse. I have nothing in the world but you, and with you I lost happiness--not alone happiness but everything in me which is good--which cries for a quiet and saintly life. For now it would be forever. But you do not know how happy you yourself will be when you will have forgiven me and rescued me. You have loved me, have you not? You have said it yourself. I have heard it. Now I stretch out my hands to you like a drowning person--rescue me!

LEON. We must finish this mutual torture. Madam, I am a weak man. I would give way if--but I wish to spare you--if not for the fact that my sore and dead heart cannot give you anything but tears and pity.

JADWIGA. You do not love me!

LEON. I have no strength for happiness. I did love you. My heart throbbed for a moment with a recollection as of a dead person. But the other one is dead. I tell you this, madam, in tears and torture. I do not love you.


LEON. Have pity on me and forgive me.

JADWIGA. You do not love me!

LEON. What is dead cannot be resuscitated. Farewell.

JADWIGA (after a while).--Very well. If you think you have humiliated me enough, trampled on me, and are sufficiently avenged, leave me then (to Leon, who wishes to withdraw). No! no! Remain. Have pity on me.

LEON. May God have pity on us both. (He goes away.)

JADWIGA. It is done!

A SERVANT (entering).--Count Skorzewski!

JADWIGA. Ha! Show him in! Show him in! Ha! ha! ha!

[The end]
Henryk Sienkiewicz's Play: Whose Fault?