The Pole is a short story, that was written in close cooperation with Claire Clairmont.
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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
It was near the close of day that a travelling calèche, coming from Rome, was seen approaching at full gallop towards Mola di Gaeta. The road leading to the inn is rocky and narrow; on one side is an orange grove, extending to the sea; on the other, an old Roman wall, overgrown by blossoming shrubs, enormous aloes, floating tangles of vines, and a thousand species of parasite plants peculiar to the South. Scarcely had the calèche entered this defile, when the careless postillion drove one of the wheels over a protruding ledge of rock, and overturned it; and, in the next moment, a crowd of people came running to the spot. Not one of them, however, thought of relieving the traveler within the fallen vehicle; but, with violent gestures and loud outcries, began to examine what damage the calèche had sustained, and what profit they might derive from it. The wheelwright declared every wheel was shattered; the carpenter that the shafts were splintered; whilst the blacksmith, passing and repassing under the carriage, tugged at every clamp and screw and nail, with all the violence necessary to ensure himself a handsome job. The traveler it contained having quietly disengaged himself from various cloaks, books, and maps, now slowly descended, and for a moment the busy crowd forgot their restlessness, to gaze upon the noble figure of the stranger. He seemed to be scarcely two-and-twenty. In stature he was tall, and his form was moulded in such perfect proportions, that it presented a rare combination of youthful lightness and manly strength. His countenance, had you taken from it its deep thoughtfulness and its expression of calm intrepid bravery, might have belonged to the most lovely woman, so transparently blooming was his complexion, so regular his features, so blond and luxuriant his hair. Of all those present, he seemed the least concerned at the accident; he neither looked at the calèche, nor paid any attention to the offers of service that were screamed from a dozen mouths; but, drawing out his watch, asked his servant if the carriage was broken.
" My Lord, the shafts are snapped, two of the springs are injured, and the linch-pin has flown."
" How long will it take to repair them? "
"It is now four o'clock. See that everything be in order again by tomorrow's daybreak.''
" My Lord, with these lazy Italians, I fear it will be impossible " —
" I will it," replied the traveler coldly, but decidedly. " Pay what you will, but let all be ready for the hour I have mentioned."
Without another word, he walked towards the inn, followed by the crowd, teasing for alms. A few seconds ago they had all been active and healthy beings, so full of employment they could not afford to mend his calèche unless tempted by some extraordinary reward; now the men declared themselves cripples and invalids, the children were orphans, the women helpless widows, and they would all die of hunger if his Eccellenza did not bestow a few grani. " What a tedious race! " exclaimed the traveler, casting a handful of coins upon the ground, which caused a general scramble, and enabled him to proceed unmolested. At the inn new torments awaited him; a fresh crowd, composed of the landlord, the landlady, and their waiters and hostlers, gathered round, and assailed him with innumerable questions. The landlord hoped none of his limbs were broken, and begged him to consider himself master of the house; the waiters desired to know at what hour he would sup, what fare he chose, how long he intended to stay, where he came from, whither he was going; and the landlady led him, ostentatiously, through all the rooms of the inn, expatiating endlessly upon the peculiar and indescribable advantages of each. Ineffably weary of their officiousness, the traveler at last traversed a long and spacious hall, and took refuge in a balcony that looked upon the bay of Gaeta.
The inn is built upon the site of Cicero's Villa. Beneath the balcony, and on each side, along the whole curve of the bay, stretched a thick grove of orange-trees, which sloped down to the very verge of the Mediterranean. Balls of golden fruit, and blossoms faint with odor, and fair as stars, studded this amphitheatre of dark foliage; and at its extremity the liquid light of the waves pierced the glossy leaves, mingling their blue splendor with earth's green paradise. Every rock and mountain glowed with a purple hue, so intense and soft, they resembled violet vapors dissolving into the pale radiance of the evening sky. Far away in the deep broad flood of the ocean rose the two mountain islands of Ischia and Procida, between which Vesuvius thrust in his jagged form, and his floating banner of snow-white smoke. The solitary heaven was without sun or moon, without a star or cloud, but smiled in that tender vestal light which speaks of eternal, immutable peace.
It would be difficult to define the feelings of the traveler as he gazed on this scene: his countenance, uplifted to heaven, was animated with a profound and impassioned melancholy, with an expression of an earnest and fervid pleading against some vast and inevitable wrong. He was thinking of his country; and whilst he contrasted its ruined villages and devastated fields with the splendor and glow of the fair land before him, was breathing inwardly a passionate appeal against that blind and cruel destiny which had consigned Poland to the desolating influence of Russian despotism. His reverie was interrupted by the sound of a female voice singing in Polish among the orange trees at his feet. The singer was invisible; but the sweetness of her voice, and the singular reference of the words (the following prose translation conveys their meaning) to the thoughts of his own mind, filled the traveler with surprise: —
" When thou gazest upon the azure heaven, so mighty in its calm, do not say, bright enchantment, hast thou no pity, that thou dawnest thus in unattainable loveliness upon my world-wearied eyes.
"When the southern wind softly breathes, do not say reproachfully. Thy cradle is the ether of the morning sun, thou drinkest the odorous essence of myrtle and lemon blossoms; thou shouldst bear upon thy wings all sweet emotions, all soft desires; why bringest thou then no healing to the anguish I endure?
"Neither in the dark hour, when thou thinkest upon thy country and thy friends, say not with grief. They are lost! They are not! Say rather with joy, They were illustrious! and it is bliss to know that they have been! "
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