Rothenburg on the Tauber
by Paul Heyse
It was Easter Tuesday. The people who had celebrated this feast of
resurrection by an open-air excursion in the gayly blossoming
springtime were thronging back to their houses and the work-day
troubles of the morrow. All the highroads swarmed with carriages and
pedestrians, and the railroads were overcrowded in spite of the extra
trains; for it was many years since there had been such continuously
lovely Easter weather.
The evening express, standing in the Ansbach station ready to depart in
the direction of Würzburg, was twice as long as usual. Nevertheless,
every seat appeared to be occupied, when a straggler of the second
class, trying to enter at the last moment, knocked in vain at every
door, and peered into each coupé, meeting everywhere a more or less
ungracious or mischievous shrug of the shoulders. Finally, the guard at
his side made a sudden decision, opened a coupé of the first class,
shoved the late-comer into the dim interior, and slammed the door just
as the train began to move.
A woman who, curled up like a black lizard, had been slumbering in the
opposite corner suddenly started up and cast an angry look at the
unwelcome disturber of her solitude.
However, the blonde young man in plain Sunday clothing, with a
portfolio under his arm and a worn-out travelling satchel with
old-fashioned embroidery in his hand, seemed to strike her as nothing
remarkable. She replied to his courteous greeting and awkward excuse
with a haughty, scarcely perceptible inclination of her head; drew her
wrap's black silk hood once more over her forehead, and prepared to
continue her interrupted slumber as unconcernedly as if, instead of a
new fellow-traveller, merely one more piece of luggage had been put in
The young man, feeling that he was regarded as an intruder, took good
care not to remind her of his presence by any unnecessary noise;
indeed, for the first five minutes, although he had been running
violently, he held his breath as long as he could, and remained
steadily in the uncomfortable position which he had at first assumed.
He merely took off his hat, and wiped the perspiration from his brow
with a handkerchief, looking discreetly out of the window the while, as
if he could only atone for his appearance in a higher sphere by the
most modest behavior. But since the sleeper did not stir, and the
passing landscape outside had no charm for him, he finally ventured to
turn his eyes toward the interior of the coupé; and, after having
sufficiently admired the broad, red plush cushions and the mirror on
the wall, he even dared to look more closely at the stranger, slowly
and cautiously surveying her from the tip of the tiny shoe peeping from
beneath her gown, to her shoulders, and at length to the fine lines of
the face turned towards him.
Undoubtedly a very high-born dame--that was instantly clear to
him--and, furthermore, a Russian, Pole, or Spaniard. Everything she had
on and about her bore the stamp of an aristocratic origin;--her gown;
the fine red travelling satchel against which she placed her tiny feet
so regardlessly; the elegant tan gloves whereon she was resting her
cheek. Moreover, a peculiar fragrance, not of any aromatic essence, but
of Russia leather and cigarettes, surrounded her, and on the carpet of
the coupé there actually lay several white half-smoked stumps,
scattered about with their ashes and some Russian tobacco. A book had
also fallen on the floor. Unable to content himself with letting it lie
there, he picked it up carefully and saw that it was a French novel.
All this filled him with that secretly pleasing horror apt to seize
young men who have been brought up in provincial circles, when they are
unexpectedly brought into contact with a woman of the fashionable
world. To the natural power of woman over man is then added the
romantic charm which the unknown and independent customs, the imagined
passionate joys and sorrows of the upper classes, exercise over a
fledgeling of the lower. The gulf yawning between the two classes
merely increases this attraction; for, the opportunity sometime
offering, the man probably feels a visionary, foolhardly desire to show
his strength and cross the seemingly impassable abyss.
To be sure, the young traveller did not contemplate any such
adventurous boldness. But when he was sufficiently convinced that the
sleep of his strange neighbor was unfeigned, he quietly drew from his
vest pocket a small book bound in gray linen, and furtively began to
sketch the sleeper's fine and pale, though somewhat haughty, profile.
It was no light undertaking, although the rapid motion of the express
helped him over several difficulties. He was obliged to keep himself
half-poised on the seat and make each stroke with unerring certainty.
But the head was well worth the trouble; and as, peering through the
dim light, he studied the quiet face lightly framed by the folds of the
hood, he said to himself that he had never seen such classic features
on any living being. She seemed somewhat past her first youth, and the
mouth with its delicate lips occasionally assumed, even in sleep, a
peculiar expression of bitterness or disgust; but the brow, the shape
of the eyes, and the rich masses of soft, wavy hair were still
He had drawn zealously for about ten minutes and had almost finished
the sketch, when the sleeper roused herself calmly, and demanded in the
best of German:
"Do you know, sir, that it is not allowable to rob travellers in their
The poor offender, greatly confused, let the book sink upon his knee,
and said, blushing furiously: "Pardon me, my lady, I did not think--I
believed--it is merely a very hasty sketch--merely for remembrance."
"Who gave you the right to remember me, and to assist your memory so
obviously?" replied the woman, measuring him somewhat coldly and
scornfully with her keen blue eyes.
She gradually raised herself to an upright position; and as the hood
fell upon her shoulders, he saw the fine contour of her head, and in
spite of his embarrassment, continued to study her with an artist's
"In truth, I must confess that I have behaved like a veritable
highwayman," he replied, trying to turn the matter into a jest; "but
perhaps you will allow mercy to precede justice, when I return my
booty, not with intent to propitiate justice, but to show you how
little it is that I have appropriated."
He offered her the open sketch-book. She cast a hasty glance at her
picture; then nodded kindly, though with a quick gesture of rejection.
"It is like," she said, "but idealized. You are a portrait painter,
"No, my lady; in that case I could have made the sketch really
characteristic. I paint architectural pictures mainly. But just because
my eyes are sharpened for beautiful proportions and graceful lines, and
as they are not found in a human face every day--"
At a loss for a conclusion, he stared at the tip of his boot, attempted
to smile, and blushed again.
Without noticing this, the stranger said, "Doubtless you have some of
your sketches and paintings in that portfolio there. May I see them?"
"Certainly." He handed her the portfolio, and spread the contents sheet
by sheet before her. They were mere aquarelles, representing in a
versatile manner and with thoroughly artistic conception old buildings,
Gothic turrets, and streets of gabled houses. The stranger allowed one
after the other to pass, without addressing any questions to the
artist. But she studied many pages for a long time, and returned them
with a certain hesitation.
"The things are not perfectly finished yet," said he, excusing this and
that hasty study, "but they all belong to the same cycle. I availed
myself of Easter day to talk them over with an art-dealer in Nuremberg.
I wish to publish all these sketches in chromo-lithographic work. To be
sure, I have many predecessors, but Rothenburg is not even yet as well
known as it deserves to be."
"Certainly. These are all views from Rothenburg. I thought you knew it,
my lady, as you did not ask."
"Rothenburg? Where is it?"
"Oh, on the Tauber, not many hours' journey from here. But really, do
you not know it? Have you never even heard the name?"
"You must pardon my ignorance," she replied, with a slight smile, "as I
am not a German. But I have been with Germans very often, and confess
to you, I never heard the name of Rothenburg on the--how was it?--on
the Tauber?--until now."
He laughed, losing his timidity at once as he realized his advantage
over this elegant woman on such an important point.
"Pardon me," he said, "for having behaved to you as all Rothenburgers
do to strangers, even though my cradle did not stand on the banks of
the Tauber. We are all so infatuated with our city, that we can
scarcely imagine how our feeling appears to people who know nothing of
Rothenburg. When I went there for the first time nine years ago, I
myself knew little more of the old 'imperial' town than that it stood,
like Jerusalem, upon a high plateau rising from the river valley; was
even yet fortified with walls and towers as for the last half-thousand
years; and had the honor, once upon a time, to count the founder of my
race among its citizens. Permit me to introduce myself to you: my name
is Hans Doppler."
He bowed smilingly, looking at her as if he expected that this name
would arouse in her a joyful excitement, somewhat as if he had confided
that his name was Hans Columbus or Gutenberg. But her expression did
not change in the least.
"Doppler," he continued, somewhat hesitatingly, "is merely the new
version of the name Toppler, and was introduced during the last century
in the collateral line to which I belong. Yet it is authentically
certain that the founder of our family was no less a person than the
great burgomaster of Rothenburg, Heinrich Toppler, of whom you have
She shook her head, evidently amused by his naïve confidence.
"I regret that my historical knowledge is just as defective as my
geographical. But what did your ancestor do, that it is a disgrace not
to know of him?"
"Do not fear, my lady," said he, now laughing at his own pretensions,
"that from mere family pride I would bore you with a piece of
Rothenburg history. That pride has good reason to be humbled; for I
myself, as you see me, have nothing at all to govern in my ancestral
home; but, for that very reason, I need not expect to be imprisoned and
delivered up to death from hunger or poison by my fellow-citizens, as
my ancestor was, after he had increased the good old town's military
renown. A horrible end, was it not, my lady? A fine return for so many
brave deeds! And all because of a mere slander. He was said to have
lost the town to a certain prince in a game of dice; but not a word of
it was true. In the ancient language, Doppler, to be sure, meant dice,
and in our family arms--"
He stopped suddenly, for it seemed to him that the lady's delicate
nostrils were trembling in the effort to conceal a yawn. Somewhat
mortified, he turned his attention to his aquarelles, and arranged them
in the portfolio which he was still holding in his hand.
"And how did it happen," she then asked, "that you inherited this
unjustly murdered man's estate? Did they wish to repay to you the wrong
they did your ancestor?"
"You err, my lady," he said, "if you believe that Rothenburg would feel
any honor about having a Doppler once more among them, or would allow
this honor to cost them anything. When I, as I told you, merely curious
to see the old fortress, strolled through the ancient gateway nine
years ago, not a person there knew me, and even when I mentioned my
name, they made little fuss about it. Indeed, as I was born in
Nuremberg, and no longer have the T in my name, they greatly doubted
that I really belonged to them. But, as the poet says, the history of
the world is the final judgment; and what the magistrate of Rothenburg
neglected to do--that is, to meet me ceremoniously, surrender to me for
my sole possession the houses which the great burgomaster had owned,
and support me for my lifetime as a living part of the city--fate, or
providence, whichever you wish, did in another way.
"I came to Rothenburg merely to make a few studies and to take a look
at the old-fashioned nest, and I found there my life's happiness and a
warm, new nest of my own, to which I am now returning."
"May I know how it happened?"
"Why not, if it interests you at all. My parents sent me to the academy
at Munich. They were not rich, but yet their means were sufficient to
educate me suitably and to allow me to go through all the classes. I
wished to become a landscape painter, and, after finishing school, to
travel in Italy for several years. When I became twenty-one years of
age I felt impelled, before undertaking the great art-journey, to visit
my good mother at Nuremberg--father had been dead for some time.
'Hans,' said she, 'before you make your pilgrimage to Rome, you ought
to take a trip to the place where the roots of our family tree stood
before they were torn up and transplanted here from eastern Franconia.'
She was a worthy old patrician, my good mother, and laid great stress
on grand genealogical expressions. Well, there was nothing to hinder; I
took my pilgrim's staff in hand and set out slowly toward the west,
sketching industriously on the way; for this German landscape of ours
was already far dearer to me than the unknown scenes of the south. Now,
since you have looked through the portfolio, you may perhaps comprehend
that the German Jerusalem impressed me strongly, and that I did not
have hands and eyes enough to note all the remarkable things. But there
was something in Rothenburg which won my approval even more than its
dear antiquity; namely--I shall not treat you to any detailed love
story--at one of the weekly balls given by the so-called 'Harmonic
Society,' I became acquainted with the young daughter of a fine old
citizen who had formerly been an alderman. She was full three years
younger than I, and--I may surely say so--the prettiest child in the
whole town. After the second waltz I knew my own mind well enough, but,
unfortunately, neither hers nor her father's. And so it might have been
a very sorrowful story, and the descendant of the great Toppler might,
like him, have pined away in chains in this old 'imperial' town, if the
before-mentioned fate had not interfered, and allowed me to cast a
lucky throw with my family dice. In three days I was satisfied that the
maiden liked me; and in three weeks, that the father would overlook my
extreme youth and former misdoings, for he too--God knows why--had
taken a foolish liking to me. It was especially pleasing to his
Rothenburg heart that my name was Doppler, and that I knew how to paint
the beautiful ruined walls, the wonderful turrets and strange
fountains, of the old fortress. So, after a short year of probation, he
gave me the hand of his only child, under the condition, to be sure,
that I should leave her in her old home during his lifetime, and should
devote my art principally to the glorification of his beloved town. You
comprehend, my lady, that I did not struggle much against this. My
father-in-law was not only a reputable man, who owned house and
gardens, vineyards and farm lands, but the best soul in the world as
well, and never failed to see a joke except when some one praised other
ancient towns unduly, or placed Nuremberg or Augsburg above the 'Pearl
of the Valley.' He lived with us for four years; and whenever I sold
any picture of Rothenburg at a foreign exhibition, he always brought a
flask of Tauber wine from the cellar and drank my health. When he
finally died, I myself was altogether too much at home in the
primitive, angular old house to think of moving. Then, too, there was
no lack of commissions and work just commenced. But if the old man had
lived to see my colored prints published, I believe he would have lost
his reason for joy."
Becoming silent after this long narrative of his short life, he looked
out of the window into the ever-deepening darkness, and lost himself in
quiet revery. It finally occurred to him that the stranger had not said
one syllable in reply; and at the same time he felt her eyes steadily
regarding him from her dusky corner. "I am afraid," he said, "that
after all, I have wearied you with these petty stories. But you
yourself drew them from me, and if you knew--"
"You are greatly in error," she interrupted. "If I remain silent, it is
merely because I am pondering a riddle."
"A riddle? That I have given you?"
"Yes, you, Herr Hans Doppler. I am asking myself, how I can reconcile
the artist whom I recognize from this portfolio, with the staid,
home-loving man--you have children too?"
"Four, my lady--two boys and two little girls."
"Well then--with the young husband and father who has settled down in
his monotonous, commonplace happiness as in a snail-shell, and at most
takes an occasional journey to Nuremberg--your drawings show unusual
talent, for that you can take my word. I have seen the work of
Hilderbrandt and Werner, and the whole Roman aquarelle club, and assure
you yours would make a sensation among them. So much freedom and
spirited ease, with such grace in the landscapes and staffage! And
then to think that this unusual talent is doomed for the next thirty or
forty years to no other expression than an endless variation of the
towers, balconies, vaulted doors, and gabled roofs of a medieval nest
which appears in our world like an excavated German Pompeii--But pardon
me this criticism of your plan of life. I am not fitted to criticise
it. However, as you wish to know the subject of my meditation, it was
this problem: can a noble, liberal, artistic soul be so completely
filled by commonplace family happiness? It must certainly be possible.
Only to me, as I am accustomed to absolute freedom of existence, to
boundless liberty, it is incomprehensible that you, scarcely thirty
"You are right," he interrupted, his frank, youthful face suddenly
clouding. "You have expressed something which I often said to myself at
first, but always thrust back again into a secret corner of my heart.
Do you really find that my drawings show power for something greater
and better? At the best I would fall far short of a great artist!
Meanwhile, you know Schiller's poem, 'Pegasus in Harness.' A horse that
suffers itself to be harnessed to the plough, even though it may be of
good blood, proves that it has no wings. But perhaps it might have
served for something better than ploughing. And yet, if you knew--if
only you knew my Christel and the children!"
"I do not for an instant doubt that you have a charming wife and lovely
children, Herr Hans Doppler; and nothing is farther from my thoughts
than to render you suspicious of your domestic happiness. But that you,
being so young, can regard it as final, as something never to be
interrupted, never to be laid aside even temporarily for the sake of a
higher aim--and you were even on the way to the beloved land of art,
and had certainly heard and seen enough of it at the academy to have
some presentiment of the joys awaiting you there--and nevertheless--"
"Oh, my lady!" he cried, suddenly starting up as if the narrow coupé
had become too close and prison-like for him, "you are repeating my own
thoughts! How often in the night, especially in clear spring nights,
when I have awakened and heard my dear wife's quiet breathing near me;
while the children were lying asleep in the neighboring room, and the
moonlight was moving so weirdly and quietly over the low walls; and the
ancient clock, which the old man wound so regularly, and which dates
from the Thirty Years' War, was ticking drowsily to and fro--how often
I have been forced to spring out of bed and look down into the valley
through the little window with the round pane! And when I have seen the
Tauber flowing along in its narrow bed as hastily as if it could not
escape too soon from its restraining banks and throw itself into the
Main, and with it into the Rhine, and thence into the ocean--how much I
have suffered, as I ground my teeth together and slunk back to bed
tired and saddened, I have never told a human soul. It seemed the
blackest ingratitude against the kind fate which had dealt with me so
gently. But the day after I could never touch a brush; and if I saw in
a paper the word Rome or Naples, the blood rushed to my head as though
I were some deserter caught on the road, and dragged handcuffed back to
He thrust his hand through his curly hair, and fell back in his seat.
She had regarded him during his excited speech with a keen, fixed look,
and, for the first time, his face interested her. The innocent,
youthful expression had disappeared; his clear, beautifully formed eyes
blazed; and his slender figure, in spite of the common black coat,
gained something animated, almost heroic, as well beseemed the
descendant of the "great burgomaster."
"I understand your mood," said the stranger, composedly taking a
cigarette from a small silver box and lighting it with a waxen taper,
"but just so much the less do I comprehend your action. To be sure, I
myself have always been accustomed to do only what satisfies my
nature's deepest needs. I acknowledge no chains. Either they are too
weak, and I break them; or they are too strong, and strangle me. To
remain in them alive is for me an impossibility. Do you smoke? Do not
be embarrassed. You see, I set the example."
He shook his head, thanked her, and became all attention.
"As I said," continued the lady, blowing the smoke slowly before her
with her beautiful, expressive lips, "I have no right to criticise your
plan of life. But you must allow me to wonder how a man can complain of
a difficulty rather than help himself out of it, especially where it
would be so easy. Do you fear that your wife would be untrue to you if
you should take an art journey?"
"Christel? Untrue to me?" In spite of his gloominess he laughed aloud.
"Pardon!" she said calmly; "I forgot that she is a German, and,
moreover, a Rothenburg woman. But just so much less do I comprehend why
you condemn yourself to a lifetime of such work; representing only the
church and klimperthor, or, as it is called--"
"Klingerthor, my lady."
"Well, then, all this trashy masonry and commonplace Gothic rubbish, as
if there were no Colosseum, no baths of Caracalla, no theatre at
Taormina! And what vegetation, what luxuriant growths there are among
the ruins of those old temples; what pines and cypresses, what distant
glimpses of ocean and mountains! Believe me, I myself, although I am
not yet an old woman, would have been dead and buried long ago if I had
not escaped from narrow, maddeningly lifeless surroundings, and found
salvation in that land of beauty and freedom."
"Madame is not married?"
She threw the glowing cigarette stump out of the window, pressed her
regular, little white teeth together an instant, and then said, in an
indescribably indifferent voice--
"My husband, the General, was governor of a moderately large fortress
in the interior of Russia, and naturally could not accompany me. Then,
too, at his age, it would have been hard for him to forego his home
comforts. So we decided to arrange a rendezvous somewhere on the
frontier for every two years, and since then each has lived much more
"I well know," she continued, as he looked at her with some
disapproval, "that this conception of married happiness is revolting to
sentimental German prejudices. But, believe me, in many respects, we
barbarians are in advance of your highly refined civilization; and we
make up for our lack of political liberty by our greater social
freedom. If you were a Russian, you would have emancipated yourself
long ago, and followed the lead of your Tauber, though in the opposite
direction. And what would you have lost by it? When you returned in a
year or two as a well-developed artist, would you not find your house
on the same spot, your wife as domestic and youthful as ever, your
children, perhaps half a head taller, but as clean and pretty as you
"You are right! It is only too true," he stammered, pushing his hands
nervously through his hair. "Oh, if I had but seen it so clearly
"Before? A young man like you, not yet beyond thirty! But I see it now;
you are too fond of the flesh-pots of Rothenburg. You are right; remain
at home and earn an honest living. The proposition which I was just
about to make would appear to you less rational than if I commanded you
to travel in a desert and hunt tigers and crocodiles, instead of
She flung the sharp-pointed dart at him with so much quiet grace that
he felt at once charmed and wounded.
"No, my lady," he cried, "you must tell me the proposition you had in
mind. Although it is only a short time since I had the good fortune to
make your acquaintance, I can nevertheless assure you that your
appearance, each of your words, has made a deep and lasting impression
on me. It is, to be plain, as if a complete change were going on in me,
and these hours with you--"
He reddened and became silent. She noticed it, and came to his aid,
although she was apparently looking beyond him.
"My proposition," she said, "will not by any means suffice to make an
entirely different man of you, but only to release the true one from
his narrow shell. I am now going to Würzburg to visit a sick friend.
After staying with her for two days, I shall return on this same road,
making no halt before Genoa, where I shall take passage on a steamer
bound for Palermo; for as yet I have not seen Sicily.
"Now, what Goethe has written in his 'Italian Journey' about his
companion, the artist Kniep, whom he engaged to sketch any wayside
scene which pleased his fancy, has always filled me with envy. I am no
great poet, and no rich princess. Yet I am not so poor but that I too
may grant myself such a travelling companion. Of course we now have
photography. But to you at least I need not explain how much better it
is to have an artistic hand at disposal than any photographic apparatus
whatever. I also thought it would be well for you to be introduced into
this paradise by some one who understands the language perfectly and is
no novice in the art of travelling. You would be entirely free to
remain with me as long or short a time as you pleased. The first
sentence of our compact should read: Freedom even to inconsiderateness.
And if, on the return, you should wish to linger at Rome or Florence,
the means for doing so--"
"Oh, my lady," he broke in, excitedly, "I would not think of
trespassing on your kindness and generosity under any condition. I can
well afford to spend a year in the south, and if I perceive in your
proposal a sign from heaven, it is only because your suggestion, the
prospect of seeing all these world wonders in your company, makes the
determination so much easier. For that I shall be unceasingly grateful
to you. It is indeed just as you say; my wife, my dear children--in
fact, I shall offend them less than I now imagine. Christel is so
intelligent, so self-reliant, she herself, when I explain it to
her--or better, if you could say it to her as you have to me--truly,
after Würzburg you must--I cannot expect you to take a trip to
Rothenburg--whoever has seen the Colosseum and the baths of Caracalla
must regard our modest, commonplace, medieval--"
The whistle of the locomotive interrupted him. The train was moving
more slowly, and lights were beginning to glimmer by the roadside.
"Steinach!" said the artist, rising and picking up his satchel and
portfolio; "our ways part here. You go farther north; I shall take the
little local train, and be home in half an hour. Oh, my lady, if you
would set a day and hour, when you are on your return--"
"Do you know," she said suddenly, looking at her watch, "I have
reflected that it would be more sensible for me to spend this night in
Rothenburg, and continue my journey to-morrow morning. I would arrive
in Würzburg too late to see my friend. Instead, since I am for once so
near, I will make up the deficiencies of my historical and geographical
education, and take a look at your Jerusalem on the Tauber. You will be
so good, if your wife does not object, as to be my guide to-morrow for
"Oh, my lady," he cried in joyful excitement, "I would never have dared
to ask so much! How happy you make me, and how shall I ever--"
The train stopped and the door of the coupé was opened. Having
reverentially assisted his newly won patroness to alight, Hans Doppler
accompanied her to a carriage of the second class. There she spoke
several Russian words to a small, odd-looking person in a plumed hat,
who, laden as she was with numerous boxes, satchels, and baskets,
worked her way out of the overcrowded interior into the open air,
and regarded her mistress's blonde companion with a not altogether
friendly glance of her small, Tartar eyes. The lady appeared to
explain the altered condition of things to her maid, although that
overburdened creature did not answer a word. Then, taking her young
fellow-traveller's arm, she strolled with him up and down the dark
platform in lively conversation; talking of Italy, of Russia, of the
German cities which she knew, so easily and cleverly, and with such an
agreeable spice of wickedness, that her companion felt he had never
before been so well entertained, and could never weary of listening to
this irresistible Scheherezade.
In truth, was it not like a fairy tale, that he should be walking
beside this beautiful woman, whom he had seen for the first time an
hour before; that she should have decided to follow him to his little
nest, far out of the usual route; and that such a fascinating future
should be in store for him?
They knew him very well at the little station, but when they saw him
appear in such elegant company, they doffed their hats more
respectfully than ever before.
In the light of the swinging lanterns, her pale face seemed even more
unreal and princess-like. She wore a peculiarly shaped cap of black
velvet bordered with reddish fur, and a short hooded wrap with the same
trimming. She had drawn off her gloves; and her young escort glanced
down furtively from time to time upon the large sapphire gleaming on
her little finger. He had scarcely ever seen such a slender, lily-white
hand, every part of which seemed so expressive and elegant.
But when they boarded the little local train, which had only two small,
second-class compartments besides the two-and-a-half horse-power
engine, he became somewhat uncomfortable. All three seated themselves
in one second-class carriage, since there was none of the first; and
the train began to move slowly on through the softly enveloping
moonlight. The maid betook herself to the darkest corner, and crouched
there beneath her mountain of bundles. The full light from the lamp on
the ceiling fell upon her mistress's face, and the young artist
opposite became more and more devoutly absorbed in contemplating the
nobly formed features, which corresponded so perfectly to the ideal of
beauty that he had vaguely conceived in the model classes at the
academy. But as the train approached the journey's end, he became
disheartened and depressed by the thought that the rustic nooks of his
old Rothenburg would appear very uninteresting to these wonderful eyes
which had seen half the world.
Everything that he had known and admired for so long seemed suddenly
mean and despicable; and he thought with dismay how disdainful her
delicate face would look on the morrow, when she saw all that famous
magnificence on which he had laid so much stress. His overawed fancy
flew even into his own home, and, unfortunately, things did not seem
much better there. How would his little unsophisticated wife compare
with this world traveller; and his boys, usually running about with
dishevelled heads; and his baby girls, as yet with so little knowledge
He regretted intensely having meddled with this pleasant adventure, and
the storylike atmosphere suddenly vanished.
Fortunately, he did not need to act just then. The stranger's eyes were
closed, and she seemed to sleep in good earnest. The narrow-eyed
Tartar, to be sure, was watching him steadily from her ambush, but she
did not speak.
At last the train stopped; the sleeper awoke, seemed to find trouble in
determining where she was, and then asked if there were any endurable
hotels in Rothenburg. Her companion, whose patriotic pride was aroused
by her contemptuous tone, recommended, with admirable reserve, the
"Golden Stag," whose omnibus was waiting at the station. Was not his
wife there to receive him? He had forbidden it, as the hour was so
late--ten o'clock--and she did not like to leave the children alone
with the maid. The next day he hoped to have the pleasure of presenting
his family to her.
To this the Russian--no longer in her former friendly mood, and
seeming, like him, secretly to regret her over-hasty decision--made no
All three, without exchanging another word, climbed into the close
hotel omnibus; and, driving through the sombre gateway, jolted over the
uneven pavement into the sleeping city.
They reached the market-place just as the moon was emerging from a mist
of clouds, and the stranger, looking out of the carriage window,
expressed herself as well pleased with the majestic town-hall, now
showing to the best advantage in the silvery moonlight. This revived
her companion's sinking spirits, and he began to speak of the building,
Rothenburg's especial pride, and its foundation after a great fire. It
was an edifice of the best Renaissance style, and in summer-time, when
the extensive space along the front was decorated with flowers, one
could hardly imagine anything more majestic and delightful.
He was still talking when they stopped before the open door of the
"Golden Stag." Hans Doppler sprang out first; then after having
assisted the stranger to alight, he bade the host good-evening, and
whispered to him to prepare his best chamber.
"Numbers 15 and 16 are empty," replied the host, bowing with great
"You will have a beautiful outlook into the Tauber valley, my lady,"
said the artist. "When the moon is higher, you will be delighted with
the double bridge below and the little Gothic church. Early tomorrow
morning I shall presume to inquire how you have slept, and when you
wish to make your trip through the town."
She noticed that he was a trifle cool and ill-humored. Immediately she
gave him her hand, pressed his as he respectfully kissed her slender
fingers, and said: "Until to-morrow, dear friend! Do not come too
early. I am a night-bird, and your Rothenburg moonlight in addition to
the Tauber-nixy will not allow me to rest just yet, I am sure."
With this she followed the landlord into the house; and the maid,
relieved of some of her burdens by a servant, hurried after her.
Hans Doppler set out on his way home with much less eagerness than was
usual with him when returning from some short trip; indeed, he was like
an extremely tired, thoughtful man who is uncertain of the welcome he
may receive. His house, built close to the town-wall near the Burgthor,
faced the northwest; while the windows of the inn which he was leaving
looked towards the southwest. He racked his brains on the way in the
effort to decide which would be better: to make a full confession that
evening, or postpone it till the morrow. As soon as he had escaped from
the dangerous stranger's influence, the whole matter seemed to him
extremely unpleasant, if not fairly dishonest and wrong. Yet he had
already gone too far to extricate himself without dishonor. The next
day must be lived through; after that he would feign some pressing
obligation, which, by forcing him to remain at home, would prevent him
from accompanying her just then.
Having thus satisfied his conscience with regard to his unsuspecting
young wife, he became more at ease. Yet it was with ever-decreasing
haste that he ascended the steep street above the market-place, till he
reached the tower of the Burgthor. As he turned into the narrow alley
leading to his house, he saw in the distance a dark figure standing
beneath the round arch of the garden wall; and he scarcely had time to
recognize his little wife before a pair of soft firm arms were thrown
around his neck and a warm mouth sought his in the darkness.
As he was carrying a satchel and portfolio, he could neither return the
embrace nor prevent it, as he was inclined to do; for he noticed that
some of the neighboring windows were open, and feared that the tender
welcome might be observed.
She saw his embarrassment, however, and calmed him by saying that they
were only some old people, who knew long ago that she was still
sentimental after seven years of marriage. Then, chatting softly and
pleasantly of many small occurrences, she led him into the house, where
every one was already asleep. It was an ancient ark, whose walls had
outlasted many severe storms and severer wars. Its age was even more
evident within, where all the woodwork was black and cracked, the
stairs were steep and crooked, and the walls were parted at the seams,
in spite of numerous props. But in order to remedy all these evils, it
would have been necessary to demolish the old structure and build it
afresh, and this the former owner could as little persuade himself to
do as his daughter and her young husband, in whose veins the blood of
the "great burgomaster" still flowed.
As Hans Doppler ascended the narrow, crooked stairs of this historic
house, he for the first time found fault with it, although he was
discreetly silent. As he entered the sitting-room, the low, raftered
ceiling, the extremely old-fashioned furniture, and the family
portraits on the walls struck him as shabby and ordinary; though the
little brass lamp with its green ornaments looked very cheerful on the
covered table, and lighted up the bright plates and dishes set out for
his modest evening meal. At such home-comings he was usually bubbling
over with merry speeches; tonight he was perfectly quiet, and, to
conceal it, forced a continual smile, and stroked his pretty wife's
cheeks in a fatherly manner which caused her much secret wonder.
But in the chamber where the children were sleeping the seal seemed to
break from his heart and lips; especially when the younger boy, the
favorite because of his close resemblance to his mother, awoke and
threw his arms about his father's neck with a cry of joy.
Hans immediately gave him a toy which he had bought in Nuremberg and a
large piece of gingerbread, both merely for a hasty look, as the lamp
was soon removed again. Then, sitting on the old sofa, whose hair-cloth
covering had never before seemed so cold and hard to him, he ate his
supper, drank some of the red Tauber wine from his own vineyard, and
told the fortunate result of his business trip to his young wife.
Christel sat opposite, eating nothing, but resting her elbows on the
table. And then he had chanced to journey from Ansbach with a Russian
lady, the wife of an old general, and she had wished to see Rothenburg,
and was stopping at the "Stag." Unfortunately, he could not avoid
escorting her around somewhat the next day; indeed, he was considering
if it would not be necessary to invite her to dinner.
"You know, Hans," said the young wife, "that our Mary understands very
little about cooking; and I myself, unless I know beforehand, cannot do
things by magic. But why do you wish to invite this utterly strange old
lady ceremoniously to our house so soon? She has not called upon us as
yet. Is it in some way important for you to entertain her especially?
Is she an old acquaintance of your Munich days? Then, indeed, I must do
"No," he said, bending his head rather low over his plate; "she is
neither a former acquaintance, nor is she particularly old. And you are
right, child; we must let her come to us. She will certainly come, for
I have told her so much about you and the children. You will see--an
interesting woman--very artistic. Her goodwill may be very useful to me
some time, for she knows half the world."
"Well, I am eager to see her," replied the young wife. "For the rest,
that even Russians should become interested in Rothenburg--"
He reddened, knowing best what had caused the suddenly awakened
interest in Rothenburg. "Child," he said, "go to bed now. Your bedtime
hour struck long ago. I am still somewhat excited by my journey, but I
shall soon follow you."
"You are right," she said, yawning heartily, thereby showing her large,
but pretty, red mouth, with its shining teeth; "I noticed at once that
you were not feeling like yourself; your eyes wander restlessly. Open
the window and sit awhile in the cool air. Good-night."
She kissed him hastily and went into the neighboring bedroom, leaving
the door open. Then he arose, pushed back the shutters, and opened the
window with the small round pane. The night wind had scattered the
mists from the moon; the winding valley, with its blossoming trees and
freshly ploughed fields, lay beneath him in silvery dimness; and in the
deep hush he could hear the whispering of the Tauber's waves as they
rushed past the little, white water-tower which his forefather had
built. He became very contented and peaceful; this time his thoughts
did not follow the course of the little stream to the limitless ocean,
although the conditions were as often before; he could hear at his
right the quiet breathing of his children, on his left the gentle tread
of his little wife, who before retiring had still this and that task to
do. He felt as if he had merely dreamed the Russian fairy tale; at
least, it would not disturb his sleep that night.
When Hans Doppler awoke in the early morning and found that his little
wife, who had been busy in the children's room for some time, was no
longer near him, his first thought was of all that lay in store for him
with his elegant patroness. In sober morning light, his dwelling, his
historical furniture, his dear wife and rosy-cheeked children seemed
even less charming than on the previous evening. He found Christel's
neat house-dress much too provincial in cut, and noticed for the
first time that Heinz's trousers were patched with a piece of cloth
unlike the rest of the stuff in color and pattern. His own attire of
yesterday displeased him exceedingly. It was as respectably black as an
office-seeker's; for it had seemed suitable to the young artist to
conduct his business with the Nuremberg gentlemen in clothing which
should sufficiently prove his business solidity. Moreover, he always
dressed like every one else in the town, since, being the only one of
his class, he would have been conspicuous everywhere if arrayed as an
artist. But he had no wish to reappear before that cosmopolitan woman
in the garb of a young Philistine; so from the deepest recesses of his
clothes-chest he drew forth a velvet jacket, the same in which he had
first come to Rothenburg, a broad-brimmed, black felt hat, and a pair
of light trousers. Christel opened her eyes when he appeared thus
attired. It was a shame for the good coat to hang in the closet for the
moths, he declared. Moreover, now, when his fellow-citizens would soon
learn that they were destined to become famous far and wide through
him, he was no longer going to appear ashamed of his art.
To this the discreet little wife made no rejoinder, but regarded him
with quietly critical eyes. She herself might well do a little extra
to-day, he called back as he went out. It was uncertain when the
general's wife would call. She would be welcome at any time, replied
Christel. Moreover, she was always in a condition to be seen, and
the children too. Those who did not find them pretty enough in their
every-day clothes had bad taste. In Russia, as she had read, they ran
about perfectly ragged, and unwashed besides, like very beasts.
With this she lifted little Lulu on her arm, stroked back her curly,
blonde hair, and kissed her with quiet pride on the bright blue eyes
which she inherited from her father. Christel's eyes were brown.
Hans Doppler, suppressing a slight sigh, exerted himself to smile back
at his little family; then hurried on his way to the "Golden Stag."
He knew it was still too early to call there, but he could not endure
the narrow house and his secretly wicked thoughts. He had intended to
stroll about a little before visiting the stranger, but as he came to
the market-place and looked down the street towards the inn, he saw the
lady standing in the centre of the street below, opposite the little
Church of St. John, attentively studying through her lorgnette its
Gothic windows and ancient carvings, among which a black
Christophorus was especially prominent.
He was dismayed at his tardiness. But as she saw him hastening towards
her, she greeted him from the distance with a cheerful nod, and called:
"You see, dear friend, the spirit of Rothenburg possesses me already. I
am even now deep in admiration of the good old times. From mere
impatience I could not sleep longer than seven o'clock, to Sascha's
horror, for she is a marmot. I sprang out of bed in my bare feet in
order to admire by morning light the Cadolzeller, no Codolzeller
church, and the double bridge down in the valley; for they had already
enchanted me by moonlight. Your Tauber-nixy is a maiden of very good
taste. I have also learned some Rothenburg stories and sayings. When I
praised the baking at breakfast, the head-waiter quoted to me the old
'In Rothenburg on the Tauber,
Both milling and baking are clean;'
and as I came out of the house to reconnoitre a little by myself, the
landlord immediately remarked to me that this was the famous
Schmiedegasse, where, during the peasant revolt, blood had flowed
like a brook when sixty rebellious leaders were executed on the place
before the market by some Margrave. If I remain here three days I shall
become a perfect Rothenburger. For truly, everything that I see pleases
me. You too please me better than yesterday. Do you know that your
artist costume is very becoming? But come, we must not linger so long
in one spot. Do not take pains to show me the so-called remarkable
sights, but rather the nooks that no Baedecker has noticed and marked.
And as I am a commandant's wife, I will look first of all at the towers
and walls, so that if Russia sometime lays siege to Rothenburg, I may
revenge myself for its present conquest of me."
He gazed at her steadily, as she chattered on with easy volubility. She
wore the travelling gown of yesterday, but with a more coquettish air,
and the fur cap rested provokingly over one ear. Then he offered her
his arm, and leading her through little side streets to the still
well-preserved wall which enclosed the entire town, he told her that
the town formerly had as many towers as there are weeks in the year;
that most of them were still standing; and that in war-time, during
many hundred years, both friends and foes had rushed to these towers
either to seek refuge there with goods and families, or to seize them
as points of vantage. She listened to his statements in decorous
silence, glancing to and fro with her sharp eyes and occasionally
interrupting him by an exclamation of pleasure, whenever they came to
any unusual masonry, any artistic hovel hidden away among the
buttresses, or the end of some street through which they could look
back into the crooked old town. Then, climbing up some ancient steps
leading to the top of the town-wall, they continued their way beneath
the low, sheltering roof under which the worthy burghers had so often
stood and returned the enemy's fire. Now and then stopping at a
loophole, she would look out and ask him to tell her the names of the
surrounding country places, and of the roads that led through them.
Thus they went from the dark tower on through the "Röderthor" to the
white tower, where she finally declared that she had satisfied her
curiosity about the fortifications and wished to return to the town.
But an image of the holy Wolfgang claimed her attention for a while
longer. He stands in a niche near his little church, one hand resting
on a model of the church, the other meekly and sorrowfully uplifting
his broken crosier.
"If I should remain in Rothenburg," she said, "this holy man would
become dangerous to me. See what a lovely, innocent, and yet wise face
he has! I have always wished to meet a living saint and play the
temptress for a while. Do you believe that this one could have
withstood me if I had disregarded his soul?"
He awkwardly stammered some jesting reply. In reality it seemed to him
that neither worldlings nor saints could escape this fascinating woman,
if she wished to cast her nets about them. As he beheld her slender
figure gliding through the shadowy passages, her face now and then
lighted by a gleam of sunshine, his heart throbbed with a strange
excitement, which he attributed to artistic feeling. But it estranged
and mortified him that she did not once refer to yesterday's plan of
the Sicilian trip. And notwithstanding all yesterday's resolutions, in
spirit he already saw himself climbing the steps of the ampitheatre at
Taormina by her side, and heard her express her delight in terms very
different from those of to-day over an old watchtower or postern-gate.
Once more she leaned upon his arm, and they returned to the town. Then
he led her directly to the old Church of St. James, the town's only
cathedral. However, she regarded the beautiful Gothic structure with
much less interest than he had expected, and was coldly indifferent to
the three famous altars with their admirable carving.
But she looked long at the glass case wherein the holy blood is kept,
and crossed herself. He thought to impress her by telling her that
Heinrich Toppler set up the high altar and collected the pictures by
Michael Wohlgemuth, and by showing her the great burgomaster's arms
with the two dice; but, stifling a little yawn, she requested to go
into the streets again. There her interest was reawakened by the black
stain on the arch of the gateway, beneath which a street passes through
the church. A peasant, he told her, having cursed as he was driving his
team through the place, was seized by the devil and flung high against
the arch; the body fell down, but the poor soul stuck fast.
At this she laughed heartily.
"You are foolish antiquaries, you gentlemen of Rothenburg!" she cried,
"and now let me see your town-hall, and then enough for to-day."
"Do you know," she said, as they were retracing the short way to the
market-place, "that it really seems to me as if this German Pompeii
were inhabited by nothing but good people, whose truth and honesty,
having been covered up like the old stones for several hundred years,
has now come to light again? As yet I have not seen one evil face. They
all greet each other; it is like a large, well-bred family, wherein
each one behaves politely because he is observed by all the others.
You, too, once out in the world would seem more merry and enterprising.
Now you have the same pious look. You must not take offence if I am
often a trifle critical."
He eagerly assured her that, quite the contrary, her frank, witty
comments on everything interested him very much. Soon afterwards in the
court-room of the town-hall he was subjected to a severe test. While
the castellan was relating the story of the great draught, that
celebrated saving deed of the old burgomaster, Nusch, who redeemed the
forfeited lives of the whole council, and obtained mercy for the
townsfolk from wicked Tilly, their harsh conqueror, by performing the
almost impossible feat of emptying a flagon of thirty Bavarian quarts
at one draught--the haughty lady broke into merry laughter. The pretty
story itself, she afterwards explained, did not seem so absurd to her
as the solemn and affected manner of its narration, which inflated this
mere feat of strength to a deed of the most noble heroism; and it had
also occurred to her that this legend somewhat resembled the story of
the Roman knight Curtius, except that he had jumped into an abyss for
his country's sake, whereas the Rothenburg Curtius had the abyss in
himself--and several other irreverent jests.
He sadly acknowledged to himself that this woman, whom he considered a
creature of unusual perfection in other respects, was completely
lacking in the historical spirit.
"Do you wish to ascend the tower?" he asked. "It is a trifle appalling,
but perfectly safe. The walls, from the ground to the highest point,
are all fastened with iron braces, so that the hollow four-cornered
pillars hold fast together; but often in a storm the tall, slender
tower sways to and fro like a shaken tree."
"I am sorry the air is so quiet to-day," she replied; "of course we
must go up."
He preceded her up the steep wooden steps until they reached the
topmost part, where, after they had knocked, a trap-door was opened,
and a little gray-headed man, the tower-keeper, greeted them kindly.
She looked observantly about the airy room, through whose four small
windows the bright noonday sun was streaming, seated herself on the
footstool from which the lonely, little tower-keeper had arisen, and
commenced a lively conversation with him. On the table lay several
sewing implements and a half-finished waistcoat; for the watchman was
evidently a tailor, and adorned not only an official position, but his
fellow-citizens as well. Putting on the steel thimble, in which her
delicate finger tip was fairly lost, she took a few stitches, and asked
whether he would not surrender his office and his work to her. He was
the only man in the world whom she envied; since, in spite of his high
position, he was not annoyed with visits; and if he happened to be
struck by lightning in some thunder-storm, he would not be far from
heaven. To this the little man replied that he had a wife and children,
with a daily salary of only sixty pennies, so his life was not
care-free after all. Then he showed her the signal apparatus for fires,
and complained of the distress he often suffered when the tower swayed
so that the water spilled over the edge of his keys. Then she inquired
if they could go out upon the gallery surrounding the top of the tower.
The watchman at once lowered a little ladder from the ceiling, climbed
it, and opened a metal trap which covered a small triangular opening.
Would the gracious lady risk crawling through there? Certainly she
would; she was slim enough even yet; but the gentlemen should go first.
Hans Doppler, who had never been able to persuade his little wife to
force herself through the narrow hole, gave expression to his
admiration of her spirit by an ardent look, and promptly clambered out
after the watchman. The next instant he saw the beautiful woman
appearing from the opening, and offered his hand to assist her. Then,
separated from the dizzy depths below merely by a slender railing, they
stood shoulder to shoulder in the narrow passage near the belfry,
drawing deep breaths of the glorious air. The city lay at their feet as
neatly spread out as a Nuremberg box of toys; the towers of the Church
of St. James, with the swallows circling about them, were far below;
they saw the silvery Tauber winding through the country, and the smoke
from a hundred chimneys eddying upwards in thin spirals. It was midday,
and the streets were almost deserted.
Suddenly she turned towards her companion. "If two people should kiss
each other up here, could any one below see it?" she asked.
His face became darkly red.
"It would depend on whether they had good eyes or not," he said; "but
as far as I know, no one has ever observed anything of the sort."
"Truly not?" she said, with a little laugh. "Do lovers never come up
here on the tower, or even people who are tempted by the lofty point of
view into some trifling madness? Only imagine how it would scandalize
the good simpletons down there if, half squinting in the afternoon
light, they should look up here and suddenly see such merry misconduct.
Then perhaps the magistrate would cause a bill to be posted: 'Kissing
is officially forbidden under a penalty of three marks.'"
He laughed in great embarrassment.
"I once ascended the dome of St. Peter's," she continued, "with a young
Frenchman, who, as we were sitting in the great copper sphere, insisted
that he positively must embrace me--that it was a venerable old custom.
But I forbade it, just because up there one is perfectly safe from
prying eyes. The danger of being seen might have attracted me. One must
have spirit in foolish pranks, else they are nothing more than foolish.
Do you not think so?"
He nodded violently. He was becoming more and more embarrassed and
uncomfortable. Yet at the same time he realized this woman's great
power over him.
"You are born for the high places of life," he stammered; "in your
presence I feel so free and light that if I remained near you long I am
sure I should have wings to carry me far beyond the conventionalities
She glanced sidewise at him with a keen, penetrating look." "Well,
then, why will you not let yourself be carried?"
He gazed perplexedly down into the depths below them. At this instant
the clock at the Church of St. James struck twelve, and immediately the
little watchman gave twelve strokes to the great, dark bell behind
The woman shrugged her shoulders and turned away. "Come," she said
coldly; "it is late, and your wife will keep the soup waiting for you."
Then drawing her gown smoothly about her hips till it clung tight to
her knees and ankles, she once more disappeared in the narrow opening,
seeking the ladder rounds cautiously with her little feet. He came to
her aid too late. When he arrived in the tower-room below she was
already standing before the tailor's little mirror arranging her hair.
She seemed to have lost some of her friendliness, and he privately
acknowledged that it was his fault. He reproached himself severely for
having behaved like a blockhead, in neglecting to seize his good
fortune by the forelock. Not that he intended any harm, any
faithlessness whatever to his good wife! It was only meant for a merry
pastime, like ransoming forfeits, and he had spoiled the game. What
must she think of his Rothenburg stiffness! And would she trouble
herself further about such a clumsy boor?
She bade a brief good-by to the tower watchman, and almost petrified
him by pressing a thaler into his hand. On the way down neither spoke a
word. And even in the broad, quiet Herrengasse he walked dumbly
beside her; although a while before he would certainly have explained
to her that the tablets which she saw on some of the houses announced
where and how long this and that great monarch had lodged during the
old-time imperial feasts. She divined that regret and vexation sealed
his lips, and as his penitence pleased her very well, she began to chat
in her old familiar way again.
As they came through the Burgthor, out upon the narrow ledge covered
with trees and flowers, which hundreds of years before had supported
the real Rothenburg, she expressed a vivid pleasure in the old trees,
with their still blossomless branches, and in the view at the right and
left. Then he too became more cheerful, and pointed out to her the
little water-tower down in the valley, which Heinrich Toppler had
built, and in whose modest interior he had entertained King Wenzel.
"And up there," he said, "where you see four small windows--the house
wall forms a part of the town wall--there I live, and if you will do me
"Not now," she said hastily; "I have dragged you around too long
already. I shall go back to the inn alone, for I could now find my way
through the town in clouds and darkness; and if I should lose my way,
so much the better. La recherche de l'inconnu--that has always been
my life purpose. You too go home now; I invite myself to your house
this afternoon for a cup of coffee. But, understand, you are not to
call for me. Adieu!"
She gave him her hand, but after having scorned her lips, he could not
persuade himself to kiss a mere glove. So, strangely agitated, he left
When Hans Doppler arrived at his house, he found that, instead of
delaying dinner, Christel had saved his portion for him. She thought he
would dine at the hotel with his ancient friend, and the children were
hungry. She brought out the simple fare, now so distasteful to him, and
then, seating herself opposite, prattled on in her calmly cheerful way;
talking of many things which seemed thoroughly insipid and worthless to
him to-day, after his glimpse of the "high places of life." All the
children, except the oldest, who was now attending school, were playing
in the garden, and were not in their best clothes.
"Listen, child," he said. "You might as well put another bow in your
hair, and dress Lulu in her blue frock. The general's wife is coming to
take coffee with us."
"Is this bow no longer good enough?" she replied, regarding herself in
the mirror. "I made it only eight days ago. Why should we put on so
much ceremony because an old Russian wishes to know us?"
"Hm!" said he. "I have already told you she is far from old--between
thirty and forty--and very elegant, and since we have the things, why
should we appear poorer than necessary? To be sure, we cannot change
the old furniture, but you might at least put away those thin, brittle
spoons, and have the new ones instead; and if you will not dress in
He faltered, although she had not interrupted him by a word. But her
look, seeking to read the depths of his heart, troubled him.
"Listen, Hans!" she said. "You amaze me. Hasn't everything seemed
pretty and suitable to you until now? And didn't you yourself say that
this old sofa, where we sat when our betrothal was celebrated, should
never leave the house? And wasn't the little coffee-spoon good enough
for you, when I put my first preserved cherries into your mouth with
it? The new ones, you know very well, belong to Heinz, whose god-mother
is to send him one each year until the dozen is complete. Ought I to
borrow anything from our boy in order to make a display before a
strange lady? My coffee is famous throughout the town. Mary shall run
to the baker's for some fresh pastry; then, if we do not please your
Russian, I am very sorry. For the rest, you appear to have studied her
baptismal record more closely to-day. All the better, that she is no
old woman. Tell me, has she children?"
"I believe not. She has not spoken of them."
"No matter. Her silver spoons may be more beautiful than mine. As for
our children, they, I think, could compare with any general's children.
I shall merely wash their hands a little, as they dig in their garden.
But earth is not dirt."
Then she went out into the garden, while he, glad to be alone,
pried about the room, rearranging and disposing things after his own
mind in a more artistic fashion. Bringing a few aquarelles from the
garret--which he had converted into an atelier by means of a
half-covered north window--he hung them on the wall in place of the
crayon portrait of some forgotten great-aunt. He put an easel in the
corner near the little window, and placed a study in oils upon it. He
heartily desired to remove a certain shelf loaded with glasses, cups,
artificial flowers, and alabaster figures, and he would have had no
objection to throwing it out of the window upon the wall; but he knew
that this treasure house of tasteless keepsakes was too dear to his
wife for her ever to forgive such an act of violence. At length he
regarded his work with a sigh; the room did not look very much changed;
he acknowledged that the stamp of provincial simplicity was too deeply
impressed on his life to be erased by a mere wave of the hand.
But in truth this cage was too narrow for an aspiring artist. He must
leave it at once, or the veil which had until now hidden all this
pettiness from his eyes would soon envelop him completely.
Just then Christel returned; and, casting a wondering glance at the
easel and the new pictures, she smiled slightly, but said not a word.
After spreading a pretty coffee-cloth on the table, she took from the
shelf several cups--her best, though long out of fashion both in shape
and decoration; then, between the two plates which the maid had
filled with cakes, she placed her principal piece of silver, a small
sugar-bowl bearing on its lid a swan with outspread wings. Hans,
meanwhile, sat at the window, apparently absorbed in a book. The little
woman evinced no surprise at his seeming lack of interest in the
preparations, though she laughed softly to herself now and then. Her
pretty mouth looked very bewitching when she smiled, but Hans had no
eyes to see this, and she soon left him alone again.
Thus a short hour glided by, and as he heard her working outside in the
kitchen and talking with the servant, her calm, soft voice, formerly so
pleasing to him, pained him; he himself did not know why. Suddenly he
heard the door-bell ring, and, starting up, he rushed out into the
hall. There he encountered Christel.
"Must you actually receive her on the threshold like a princess?" she
asked calmly. "We are not such extremely humble people."
"You are right," he said, somewhat confused. "I only wished to see if
you were there."
She preceded him into the room. Immediately afterward the stranger
entered. Christel met her with graceful cordiality; the young artist
merely bowed in silence. The lady almost ignored him, and devoted
herself exclusively to the young wife. Christel invited her to sit
beside her on the stiff little sofa, and thanked her for having found
time during her short stay to visit them.
"Our little old house is not one of the noteworthy sights of
Rothenburg," she said. "We have no such beautiful wainscoting as in the
hall of the Weissbacher house; and, although everything is old, it is
not therefore beautiful. To be sure, it pleases me, because I have
known it from childhood, and have seen people whom I loved sitting on
all those ugly chairs. But my husband," and she glanced roguishly at
him, "would look on without a pang, if all our furniture went to the
second-hand dealer, or was thrust into the stove. The best that we have
is free to all, and is there outside of the window. You must see our
view, my lady. Then you will find it comprehensible, that even an
artist can be contented with this old nest--but who knows for how
Once more she glanced mischievously at Hans, who was pushing back the
table in order to show the view to their guest. But the lady remained
seated, saying that she had studied the Tauber valley thoroughly from
the castle, and was now here solely on Christel's account. She had
evidently intended to be very gracious and affable, and to encourage
the shy young wife in every way; but when she realized that there was
no need of this, her own manner became somewhat constrained. She was
unusually quiet, and listened in silence to Christel's ingenuous
prattle and the husband's occasional comments. The maid brought the
coffee, and Christel served her guest without any ado. Meanwhile, she
observed, the stranger's face closely, and seemed to become more and
more confident and cheerful in consequence. Then she inquired about the
lady's journey, about her husband; and asked if she had any children.
As the stranger hastily answered this in the negative, the subject was
dropped. Soon afterwards Christel's three oldest children rushed
upstairs into the room; the larger boy held his younger sister, just
two years old, in his arms; all four looked pretty and rosy, and were
only a trifle abashed when their mother bade them shake hands with the
stranger. The latter regarded them through her lorgnette with apparent
good-will, but evidently did not know what to say to them. So, with a
glance at the shabby little piano standing against the wall, she at
once asked if Christel played.
She had played as a girl. Now she had too many household duties, and
opened the old instrument only occasionally to accompany her children
in a song.
Of course the guest desired to hear one of these family concerts, and,
although the father remarked that it would be a very moderate pleasure,
the young wife was soon persuaded. Gently lifting the youngest child
from her lap, she placed it in the sofa corner. Then, seating herself
at the piano, she struck several chords with an unpractised but musical
hand, and played the melody of the song "In einem kühlen Grunde." The
two boys and little Lulu came softly behind her, and began to sing
somewhat shyly. But by the second stanza the young voices sounded fresh
and courageous; and the mother sang with them, in a voice whose
charming quaintness lent peculiar strength and meaning to the tender
Hans, sitting by the window, cast furtive glances at the stranger,
whose face assumed a more and more bitter and unhappy expression, the
longer she listened. When the song was finished, she did not speak.
Christel arose and whispered something to the children, whereupon,
after a courteous bow, they left the room. Then she took the youngest,
which had fallen asleep, and carried it out to the maid. When she
reentered, the two were still sitting in silent absorption.
"Will you not show your friend the atelier?" she asked brightly.
"There is more to be seen there than down here."
He at once stood up, and the stranger also arose. "You do not know how
well you sing!" she said, offering her hand to Christel. "Music always
makes me sad; not the great roaring operas and concerts, but a pure,
sympathetic human voice. And now let us go to this work-room of art."
He conducted her up a small, dark staircase, and opened the door of the
so-called atelier. The whitewashed walls of the spacious garret were
covered with sketches and studies from his academic years; close to the
window stood the table where he painted his water-colors, and on a
couple of easels were two oil paintings, one completed and one but just
commenced, naturally views of Rothenburg. But she appeared to take
little interest in these works to-day; for she spoke only occasionally
of some study, and soon turned to the window, whence one could look far
beyond the soft, green slopes, down the Tauber, where, in the slightly
misty spring air, a little town lifted its ancient tower among the
tall, blossomless trees.
"There is nothing remarkable about those colors and outlines," he said,
"but as a frame for the whole picture they are not bad. How different
it must be to stand on the Capitol and see the beautiful, classic lines
of the Alban mountain beyond the Forum and the imperial palaces! To be
sure, I know it only from pictures!" he concluded with a sigh.
"You will certainly see the reality sometime; that and still more
beautiful things. Meanwhile, this too is not to be despised, each in
Then she spoke of other things. But he was contented because she had
thus referred to his southern trip, for the first time during the whole
day. He was reflecting how to continue this theme which she had
started, when she turned from the window and asked him to take her
downstairs again. Before departing, she had a few letters to write,
since she would find more time for them here than in Würzburg. When did
the evening train leave?
"At eight o'clock," he replied.
"Good. We shall see each other once more at the station? Now I must go
When they came down into the house, Christel was no longer there; the
mistress was in the garden, said the maid, turning red and refusing
what the stranger tried to force into her hand. Christel met them in
the garden, her hands full of hyacinths and spring flowers, which she
had just cut and made into a simple nosegay.
"You must be contented with these," she said, "for as yet I cannot
offer you any of my roses, of which I am very proud. But I myself have
raised these yellow hyacinths with the greenish calyxes, and more
beautiful ones are not easily found. I have a skilful hand with
children and flowers--that is my only talent."
The stranger accepted the nosegay and embraced the giver, kissing her
cheek. She then walked about the garden, which was surrounded with high
walls, and, at this time of the year, had but little sunlight. A thick
ivy covered the black walls, clothing them with a dusky green tapestry,
against which the young shoots of the fruit-trees, and the beds of
primroses, crocuses, and hyacinths stood out in pleasing contrast. The
children were playing in one corner, and labored on in their own
irregular little garden without noticing the visitor.
"I must now say farewell," said the stranger. "Unfortunately, I cannot
invite you to return my visit in my so-called home. In our castle it is
not so green and cheerful as here; and I have never found out whether I
have a skilful hand with children and flowers. But I thank you for
these beautiful hours. I shall never forget them; they have both
pleased and pained me as nothing has done for a long tune. Adieu!"
She embraced Christel again, and this time kissed her mouth. Then,
nodding to the young husband with a scarcely audible "We meet again!"
she quickly left the garden through the old arched gateway.
It was only half-past seven, and the sun had scarcely set, when the
omnibus of the "Golden Stag" rolled through the eastern town-gate, and
soon afterward halted at the little station. But before the porter
could open the carriage-door, a young man who wore a black artist's
cap, and who had been waiting there for some time, sprang forward and
assisted the lady out first, then the Tartar maid, laden with the usual
boxes and bundles.
He himself carried a large sketch-book under his arm, and over his
shoulder a light overcoat from whose pocket a thick packet protruded.
His face was somewhat flushed; his eyes were restless and excited. He
inquired if the tickets had been purchased; then hastened to the
office. Returning quickly, he gave two tickets to his patroness; a
third he placed in his own pocket.
"You travel with us?" asked the stranger, suddenly standing still,
while Sascha carried her baggage to the waiting-room.
He merely nodded, looking at her with astonishment and some agitation.
"Where are you going? You returned only yesterday."
"Where? I hope to learn that from you, my lady."
She regarded him for a moment as if he were a madman.
"Did you not urge it upon me," he commenced with a beating heart, "that
I owed it to myself to see a little of the world before settling down
forever in this narrow place? And were you not kind enough to desire me
as your travelling companion, that I might sketch scenes that
especially pleased you? I have given it mature consideration, and find
that you are right; that I have no time to lose if I wish to take up my
neglected life-plan once more; and so I am here at your service."
She still remained silent, but looked away from him into the darkening
sky, where Venus, softly splendid, was just rising.
"Does your wife know of this decision, and does she agree to it?"
"My wife?--I merely told her I wished to bid you good-by at the
station. I mean to telegraph her from Steinach that she need not expect
me immediately, that I am going on a little sketching-trip. I shall
write more to her from Würzburg, and explain my reasons for stealing
away from her thus. A formal parting would have pained us both
unnecessarily; and, God willing, we shall see each other again in a
year or so. She is a very intelligent woman, much quicker and surer
than I in all determinations, and she loves me too well not to wish for
my good. I have considered all this during the past twenty-four hours.
Have you changed your mind in the mean time? I have brought only the
most necessary things with me," he continued hesitatingly--"I did not
wish to cause any delay. I am sufficiently provided with money; I shall
buy a trunk on the road--but why do you look at me so strangely, my
"Dear friend," she said gently, "do you know that if I were not wiser
than you, you would now commit an act of actual madness, in fact, a
crime against yourself and your life's happiness?"
"For heaven's sake, my lady--"
"Be still! Do not speak a word, but listen to me. Only first answer me
a little question honestly and frankly; is it not true that you are a
little in love with me?"
"My lady!" he stammered, in extreme embarrassment. He let his
sketch-book fall, stooped for it, and occupied a long time in picking
it up and dusting it.
"You are right," she said, without smiling; "it was an artful question,
and you need not answer it, for I know the truth already. Of course I
am not angry with you for it, and you are not the first. It has come to
me often enough when I have had less reason to be vain of it. But what
have you imagined as the result?"
He was silent. She, glancing sidewise at him, amused herself a little
with the spectacle of his helpless confusion.
"I will tell you," she continued; "it seems to you very romantic to
allow yourself to be somewhat carried away, and to perform a little
travel-romance in easy chapters, with pretty Italian landscapes for
illustrations. To me also--I confess it--you are pleasing enough for me
to find your company really desirable, as I am a lonely, discontented,
and still unresigned woman. Indeed, that you may know it--for I shall
claim no virtue which I do not possess--I have given myself some
trouble--very little was needed--to turn your head. In fact, you seemed
to me too good for a petty, provincial life in dressing-gown and
slippers by the side of a worthy little goose such as I imagined your
wife to be. I even represented to myself that I had a sort of mission
to fulfil in saving an artistic soul from the curse of narrowness, or
however you wish to express it. But I have become terribly ashamed."
"My wife--" he said.
"Do not speak of her!" she exclaimed passionately. "Do you know that
you are unworthy of her? that, from the way in which you spoke of her,
I expected to see a good, respectable, uninteresting creature? and
instead all your famous Rothenburg has nothing to show more charming
than this little woman! And you would forsake her to run after an utter
stranger? Do not take it unkindly of me; you have been on the point of
becoming a perfect fool, and I am not vain enough to find any
particular excuse for mildness in the fact that you are infatuated with
Her voice sounded hard and shrill, and he perceived that she was
speaking with painful effort. Then he strove to collect himself;
seizing her hand, and pressing it slightly in his own, he said:
"I thank you, my lady, for all the kind and unkind words you have just
said to me. I will not be less frank than you; yes, you have turned my
head, truly not in the ordinary way, but because you gave me a glimpse
of the ideals of life and art which I renounced so early to seek
happiness in a modest, middle station. I have indeed found it, and am
really not so blind and ungrateful as to think it worthless. But ought
not a man to strive for the highest things? Ought he to be contented
with a Rothenburg happiness--you yourself called it so--and especially
if he devotes himself to art, should he not seek the unknown--"
"To strive for the highest," she interrupted him--"the unknown? Praise
your fate that it has never made those beautiful words real to you.
They are will-o'-the-wisps which lead one astray into pits and swamps.
Shall I tell you a story? There was once a beautiful young girl, the
daughter of a humble serf; and a young man, the tutor at the great
house, was in love with her; he resembled you a little, only his hair
and beard were less artistic. He wished to marry the girl, and as he
had a little property, it would have been a very good match. But the
proud thing aspired to the 'highest,' and although as yet she knew no
French, she had even then an inclination towards the recherche de
l'inconnu. Then a general came to the estate, and he too found the
girl strikingly pretty, paid court to her, and finally asked her to
marry him. Well, there was the 'highest' of which she had dreamt, and
the 'unknown' also, as the great world of St. Petersburg would be open
to her. And so she forsook her humble suitor and became a general's
wife; and when she saw the 'highest' by daylight it was mean and low;
and when she learned to know the 'unknown' it was but insipid
commonplaceness. Probably her heart would not have been filled with
happiness beside a simple magister; but yet she would not have been
quite so miserable nor made others so unhappy. Of course there were
many who wished to help her atone for her error, and one of them might
have succeeded. It was a pity that the general was such a sure hand
with a pistol, and was not too proud to give a personal lesson to one
of his young officers, thus striking the poor fellow out of the ranks
of the living. But the woman, the fool--since then she has become
restless, and seeks the 'unknown' throughout the world, or--if she
feels herself in the mood for self-deception--the ideal. Do you know
that, so far, she has found nothing more ideal than the quiet, wise,
warm glance of your little wife, the peace of your old-fashioned home,
and that skilful hand with children and flowers, which charms both into
such fresh colors?
"So! Now I have nothing more to say to you. If you still believe that
you cannot be happy without copying the old stones of the castle of St.
Angelo instead of the old stones of the white tower, and without
venturing upon grand and lofty themes, although you have scarcely the
stuff for a Raphael, then come with me. The way is free, and perhaps
long enough for my extremely unselfish mood to pass away once more. But
if you are wise, you will postpone your art journey until the children
are old enough to be left in another's charge for a few months. Then
take Christel on your arm, and cross the Alps with her; and, I
promise you, even if she is only a Rothenburg child, you could
present her at Monte Pincio without being ashamed of her. Only beware
that you yourself do not undervalue her. Always let her share your
life and ambitions; for we are what you make of us, if we are good;
otherwise--we are certainly what we make of ourselves, but neither good
nor happy. Enough of this! Adieu, and remember me to Christel. And when
your work on Rothenburg is published, send it to me at Rome, under the
address of the Russian embassy. I subscribe for three copies. I will
spread the fame of the German Pompeii."
She gave him her hand, which he pressed to his lips with intense
feeling. Then, drawing her veil over her face, she hurried to the
train, which was standing ready for departure. When she was seated in
the coupé she nodded to him once more. The little engine whistled,
and the black serpent glided out on the bare rails. But the stranger
drew back into her dark corner, and for a long time stared before her
like a statue. Suddenly opening one of her Russian leather satchels,
she rummaged around in it, and finally drew out a case. "There, take
it," she said in Russian to her maid. "You have always admired this
bracelet so much, Sascha, I will give it to you. I am moved to
generosity. I wish it never cost me more than such a shining toy."
Sascha fell on her knees before her, and kissed her hand. Then, playing
with the gift, she withdrew to her corner. She believed she heard her
mistress crying softly under her veil, but did not dare ask why.
About this time Hans Doppler returned to his little wife. The children
were already asleep. He was strangely softened and moved to tenderness.
Again and again he stroked her wavy, brown hair, which she arranged so
prettily over her ears. He gave her the stranger's last greeting
without telling her anything more about the parting. Yet several times,
as they were sitting together at their evening meal, he attempted to
begin a full confession. At length he said:
"Do you know, my darling, that the general's wife actually planned to
take me with her on an art journey through Sicily and Italy? What would
you have said to that?"
"Well, Hans," she replied, "I would not have restrained you, if it had
really been your wish. It is true, I do not know how I could have stood
it. I can no longer imagine my life without you. But if your happiness
had depended on it--"
"My happiness? That depends only on you!" protested the crafty fellow,
endeavoring to conceal a blush. "You should have heard the general's
wife comparing my unworthiness and your superiority. But you did you
not become a little jealous?"
"Of whom? Of the old Russian?"
"Old? With that hair and complexion!"
"Oh, you blind Hans!" she cried, laughing, as she pulled his hair;
"then you did not see that this dangerous Muscovite was powdered over
and over, and had a thick false braid? But even if everything were all
right about her, do you believe I would not trust myself to hold my own
with her? And then the Tiber may be a perfectly beautiful river but it
is certainly not to be compared with the Tauber!"