Saturday, August 28, 2004
 
One Life

Against the advice of her father and uncle, who remained faithful to the principles of the Age of Reason, she would plunge into sentimental novels, swore by the poetry of Ossian, and admired Byron. She used to dance with ardor at the balls, but what she liked most were solitary horse rides in the forests and the seclusion in which she filled pages with exalted stories in French, the language she knew better than her native Polish. Of course, she had to fall in love. Her chosen one was a handsome Russian officer, Vladimir, the governor?s son. He was involved in liberal organizations but did not figure on the lists of suspects at the trial of the Decembrists.

The insistent demands of her family that she should marry were ineffectual. She pursued only Vladimir, so steadily that at last he could not resist her confession of live. Then she trembled for him when the Russo-Turkish war began and his regiment was sent to the Balkans. The news of his death at the attack on the fortress of Shumla was received by her as a sentence ending her life. Always in mourning, she chose for her only goal to find the grave of her lover and build there a mausoleum. His country was now her country and she did not want to hear of the Polilsh-Russian feud. She moved to Odessa, as it was closer to the Balkans and to the place where her beloved perished.

She was forty when the matter of the projected mausoleum brought her to Istanbul. There she met an emissary of the Polish émigrés in France, the novelist Michael Czajkowski, engaged in intelligence and organizational work against Russia in the Balkans. It happened that they started to live together, though Michael had a French wife in Paris and three children, and on one of his leaves added a fourth. Her dedication to the man was total. Now his country was her country; his work; her work. Money destined for the construction of the mausoleum went for the somewhat crazy purpose recommended by Michael.

Soliciting the protection of the Sultan, and justifying his act by high political considerations, Michael shifted from Roman Catholicism to Islam and adopted the name Mehmed Sadik. Now she became his official wife, though at the price of lowering her status to that of Turkish woman, wearing a veil, and renouncing her cherished horse rides.

Her husband, Sadik Pasha, a politician and soldier in the Crimean War, the commander of Cossack regiments, found in Miss Sniadecka, as she was stubbornly called by the Poles, a confidante, a helper, and a bright adviser in the labyrinth of international diplomacy. She used her literary talents to write innumerable reports, memos, and political letters so that her days and months and years were laborious.

Wild, self-willed, stubborn, indifferent to conventions and decency: so she was seen in her youth and that opinion proved to be correct. Nothing survived of her archive and we will never learn how she conquered Vladimir, what she was doing in Odessa, and in what circumstances her romance with Sadik started. Let us add that the contours of her face were sharp; eyes, black; skin, very white; and her frame, slender. The gossip that was circulated about her would fill volumes. Today, nobody would remember her existence, if not for that short time in her youth when she deigned to dance and ride together with the young Juliusz Slowacki, a future great Romantic poet. She did not pay attention to the boy?s feelings, and when he revealed them, she gave him a severe sermon. And many years later, when she learned that he had written of her as the only love of his life, she shrugged.


Reported by Czeslaw Milosz in Road-Side Dog


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