A DIVIDED HEART
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
With an Introduction
CONSTANCE STEWART COPELAND
CHICAGO PARIS WASHINGTON
C. S. C.
A Divided Heart
Rothenburg on the Tauber
It occasionally happens that a reader expecting to find the customary
account of an author's early struggles for bread and knowledge, his
bitter disappointments, his late and almost joyless success, is
surprised by the record of a singularly fortunate life; of a life which
advances easily and naturally from a peaceful and promising childhood
to an equally peaceful, famous old age. Goethe's was such a life; and
reading it, one feels that sharp encounter with the hardest facts of
existence would have lessened his greatness, would have disturbed that
perfect serenity of soul which made him philosopher as well as poet,
and fostered his fidelity to high ideals of life and art.
A countryman of Goethe's, Paul Heyse, born in Berlin in 1830, two years
before the great poet's death, was no less fortunate in the lot to
which fate assigned him. Heyse's power was unlike Goethe's in kind and
degree, but the opportunities for its development were equally
favorable. His father was a philologist and lexicographer, whose home
was comfortable and refined, and whose friends were cultured and
literary. He took charge of his son's early education, and naturally
laid great stress on language, inculcating the love for purity and
exactness in its use, which is one of Heyse's best qualities.
Stimulated by the atmosphere of his home, and by these studies in
literary technique, Heyse began to try his skill in original work at
a very early age, and was only seventeen years old when his first book,
"Jungbrunnen: New Tales by a Travelling Scholar," appeared. Although
this production encouraged his friends in the belief that a great
future lay before him, it made no impression whatever on the world at
large, and the young author pursued his studies at the Berlin
University without astounding anyone by phenomenal brilliancy or
Finishing at Berlin, he betook himself to Bonn, and spent a year
studying Romance and philology with the famous Diez. So great was the
interest in mediaeval languages which Diez succeeded in awakening in
the young man, that in 1850 Heyse travelled to Italy and employed a
year in examining the precious manuscripts of the old Italian
libraries. The results of these researches were afterwards published
under the title "Romanische Jnedita auf italienischen Bibliotheken
gesammelt;" and a book of Italian songs was also presented to the
Upon his return to Germany, Heyse at once began serious literary work,
and put the first rung in the traditional ladder to fame. Although his
present place in literature is due to his work as a novelist, his first
creations were dramas in verse. He aspired to become a poet; not a
singer of songs and lyrics, but a great dramatic poet, whose lines
should chant, and whose thoughts should create a new era. To this end
he experimented with the various styles of dramatic composition and
tried the Shakespearian, the Greek, and the late French, in rapid
succession. His work was so beautiful in form and so faultless in
finish that it attracted immediate attention. A master's hand was
evident in every line, and albeit there was a subtle something lacking
of the true poetic fire, a certain circle of fastidious and critical
literati found the dramas highly satisfactory and hailed Heyse as a
rising poet. In 1854, King Maximilian II. of Bavaria, whose court was a
veritable literary academy, called him to Munich and assured to him an
audience and an income. After a time the income was discontinued, but
Heyse's works were then amply remunerative, and he has lived in Munich
to this day. No environment could be imagined more congenial to a man
of Heyse's tastes than that of the court at Munich; and once settled
there, he began to fulfil the hopeful prophecies of his friends. In
1857, his drama, "The Sabine Women," took the prize offered by the
king, and was produced on the royal stage. Notwithstanding that it
satisfied the literary sense of the court, it failed to please the
people. There was too much finish, too much studied elegance, and too
little warmth of feeling, to appeal to their sympathies. Not until
"Colberg," "Elizabeth Charlotte," and "Hans Lange" had appeared, would
the general public acknowledge Heyse as a great dramatist. Even then
they found a flaw; for, although the characters were strong and
interesting, and some of the situations were intensely dramatic,
Heyse's dramas, as a whole, were lacking in one essential quality,
action. They were more suitable for the study than the stage; more
interesting to one appreciative reader who could enjoy the beauty of
the workmanship and feel the strength of the conception, than to an
indifferent audience expecting to be amused or excited by actual
In fact, they were dramatized novels, instead of true dramas, or
dramatic poems. "Not deep the poet sees, but wide," and Heyse's view
was not wide. He lacked a poet's objectivity, the power to create the
type from the individual, the power to discern the universal and
essential beyond the particular and accidental. He studied life
attentively and described it vividly and truthfully, but he saw no new
message, created no new thought.
Evidently, Heyse was neither a great dramatist nor a great poet; and
although he was a man of unquestionable power, he reached forty years
of age without having made any permanent impression on his time. But
the good fortune which had attended his youth did not desert him in
middle age. He lived amid congenial surroundings; wrote constantly and
with increasing power; and gradually attained a self-knowledge which
enabled him to recognize the true field for his exertions.
He began writing novels in verse, then short stories in prose, and at
length, in 1873, he wrote his great novel, "Children of the World." In
this he expressed his philosophy of life. The man Heyse, with his
intense admiration of physical beauty, his love of nature, his utter
disregard of conventionality, his keen insight into the uttermost
corners of human hearts, looks out of every page. The reader, whoever
he may be, and however strongly he may disagree with much that he
reads, is spellbound from first to last. The scenes between Edwin and
Toinette in the first part of the book are as idyllic and unworldly as
those between Marius and Cosette in "Les Miserables." Toinette herself,
so exquisitely beautiful, so courageously true to her conception of her
own nature, and so pitifully mistaken in that conception, fascinates us
as she does Edwin, and excites our deepest compassion. Edwin, too,
grave, and thoughtful, and warm-hearted as he is, seems no mere
"character," but a living man. They are all children of the world,
living entirely in the present without hope or desire for a future
life. The existing world supplies them with all they ask. As Edwin
says: "O beloved, a world in which we may attain such triumph over
fate, over our own and that of those we love; in which the tragical is
glorified by a gleam of the beautiful; in which intense joy of life
sweeps through us, bringing softening tears, even as we shudder in the
presence of death--such a world is not desolate." It is Heyse's own
creed, this of the all-sufficiency of the present life. In one of his
lyrics he has expressed it more explicitly--"Kein Ernst und Drüben, nur
ein Jetzt und Hier!", and later on in the same poem he says:
"Das eine wissen wir:
Auch wir vergehen, und das ist Trotz genug."
Since this was written at the time of his son's death, his disbelief in
immortality must be at least sincere.
Having now abandoned his aspirations towards poetic and dramatic fame,
Heyse worked as his own nature dictated, and soon made for himself a
distinctive place in German literature. In 1876, his other long novel,
"In Paradise," a story of artist life in Munich, appeared. Unlike
"Children of the World," "In Paradise" is full of humor and has little
But the short story is Heyse's favorite form of expression, and it is
in the short story that his power is best revealed. With the exception
of a few essays, dramas, and one-act pieces, he has written nothing but
short stories for the last fifteen years, and in that time he has
produced so many that they would fill several shelves in a large
Since Heyse believes that every story should embody some specific
thought, something to distinguish it absolutely from every other, it is
easily comprehensible that many of his tales are morbid and unreal. But
the best of them are veritable bits of life; life viewed not only from
the outside as any keen observer may see it, but life as the
philosopher knows it, the inner life which gives value and purpose to
this "fleeting show." He spares no detail of common experience, which
may give strength and vividness to his stories, but he chooses the
themes themselves from the world of ideas. His stories are not
primarily character studies, though the men and women produce the
impression of actual life; nor are they stories with plots and
thrilling events. They are histories of crises in human lives, of
strange problems and situations, of subtle influences working
unexpected issues. The majority are stories of love, psychological,
like most modern love tales, but picturesque and human as well.
Although the hero and heroine are separated, if separation must be, by
some obstacle in their own natures rather than by any untoward
circumstance of life, they are not dissected and analyzed till they
lose all human semblance. They are as unconsciously true to themselves
as living beings, and are not less difficult to comprehend. Heyse has
searched human hearts to the depths; he has read the motive behind the
act; he has seen the thousand thoughts and feelings which make that
motive complex; but he has not made his great knowledge an excuse for
writing semi-scientific treatises in the guise of fiction. His
characters never lose personality; they give fascinating glimpses of
their deeper selves, but they make no full confessions; they are
elusive and surprising, and therefore indescribably charming and real.
All classes of German society have contributed to enlarge Heyse's world
of fiction, but it is of the educated middle class that he most often
writes. While a certain sameness in type is noticeable in his
characters, there is no marked sameness in the individuals. The men are
usually cultured, thoughtful, and passionate; the women are beautiful,
noble-minded and vivacious; but each man and each woman has traits
which make his or her personality distinct from all others. The women
are strangely captivating. Toinette, in "Children of the World," Lucile
and L.'s wife in "A Divided Heart," Christel and the Governor's lady in
"Rothenburg on the Tauber,"--they all claim our interest and sympathy
as they do that of the people about them. In fact, Heyse always forces
us to feel what he wishes to tell us. He is never guilty of writing
about a character; the men and women are before us and we are left to
draw our own conclusions. Yet we inevitably sympathize with him, and
blame or praise as he would have us do.
Heyse uses nature merely as a background for human beings. He never
indulges in long rhapsodies over sunsets and beautiful views, or in
lengthy descriptions of any scenes whatever; but he has Thomas Hardy's
power of making places absolutely real in a few vivid words. Nature
must be very dear to him, and he must understand her very thoroughly,
or he could never reproduce her charm so truly. "Rothenburg on the
Tauber" is a story of the spring-time; and reading it, we breathe the
cool air of spring, see her pale tints, live through her sunny days and
misty, moonlit nights. In "Minka," the gloom of a sombre autumn day
depresses us as it does Eugene, and lends some of its own unearthly
sadness to the strange story.
All of Heyse's writings have atmosphere, that indefinable quality which
no amount of mere description of places and people can give, but which
comes of itself from the heart of the sympathetic writer. And Heyse is
evidently deeply in sympathy with every subject which he treats.
Feeling intensely himself, he wishes his readers to share his feeling,
and he is so consummate a master of his art that he is sure of this
effect. From the first word it is plain that he has something important
to say, and the reader has no choice but to read on to the end. Nor is
it possible by reading ten of Heyse's stories to divine what the
eleventh may be. He is true to his principle of making each one utterly
unlike all the others. This, perhaps, is one of Heyse's greatest
charms. Prolific as he is, he never wearies one with sameness; his
twentieth volume is as interesting and surprising as his first.
Whether or no Heyse's works will live is a problem which must be left
to its own solution. They are purely modern products, tales of
nineteenth-century people, actuated by nineteenth-century thoughts and
feelings; and though many of them are artistically perfect, they are
saturated with the author's own personality, and have not that
universal truth of application which usually characterizes the world's
classics. "L'Arabbiata," "On the Banks of the Tiber," "The Maiden of
Treppi," "The Mother's Picture," "A Divided Heart," and "Rothenburg on
the Tauber," are among the best of the short stories. His "Tales of the
Troubadours" are very beautiful, but are somewhat marred by a freedom
of speech which approaches actual vulgarity. It is this unfortunate and
unnecessary frankness which has brought against Heyse the accusation of
immorality, although all his stories have an "upward tendency," and are
time to the highest ideals. No one reading "A Divided Heart," or
"Rothenburg on the Tauber," could doubt the rectitude of the writer's
moral sense, or his love for the best in human nature.
Since Heyse is still living, the thousand and one interesting facts and
anecdotes which come to the world's knowledge only after a great man's
death are not yet told of him. His life has been even and uneventful;
poor in those startling changes of fortune which make the usual
attractive biography, but rich in inner experience, in the vivid
impressions, intense feelings, and great thoughts, which make actual
life full of interest and meaning.
A number of Heyse's works have been translated into English, but many
more deserve wider popularity than their own language can give them.
Their great writer, realistic as Balzac, analytic as Tolstoi,
picturesque as his own countryman, Ebers, should become as famous here
as he is in Germany, and add one more to the increasing list of great
men whose writings are precious, not alone to their own countries, but
to the world. C. S. C.
A DIVIDED HEART
A DIVIDED HEART.
It was still early when I left, although the company was one of those
which do not become lively until after midnight. But a gloomy
uneasiness which I had brought with me, would not yield to the good
wine and tolerable humor which seasoned the bacchanal; so I seized a
favorable moment and took French leave. As I came out of the house and
inhaled the first breaths of the pure, night air, I heard some one
following me and calling my name.
It was L., the eldest and gravest of our circle. I had heard his voice
scarcely twice the whole evening among the noisy chatter of the others.
I esteemed him very highly, and was usually delighted to meet him. But
just then I desired no man's company.
"It has driven you out also," he said, as he caught up to me, and,
stopping for breath, glanced at the starlit spring heavens. "We were
neither of us at home among those hardened bachelors. When I saw you
slipping out, a melancholy envy, which you must pardon, came over me.
Now, thought I, he is going home to his dear wife. She has been
sleeping for some time; he steps on tip-toe to her bedside; she at once
awakens from her dream, and asks--'Is it you already? Did you enjoy
yourself? You must tell me about it to-morrow.' Or, she has been
interesting herself in a book, and opens the door herself when she
hears your footstep. To be so received means to be at home somewhere in
this world. In my lonesome cell there is no one waiting for me. But I
enjoyed that good fortune for twelve whole years, and am far better for
it than our young friends yonder, who have no perception of the best
things life can offer, and who speak of women as the blind do of
colors. Are you not of my opinion, that one only half knows them when
one speaks merely from hearsay, and says, with the usual irony, a
He put his arm in mine, and we walked slowly along the deserted
"You know, my dear friend," said I, "that I am a marriage fanatic, with
good reason. If I neglected to preach its gospel to the heathen this
evening, it was only from a general disinclination to speak where I am
not altogether at ease. I feared, too, that my usual eloquence on the
subject might leave me in the lurch. But, truly, it would not be the
first time that I have argued alone against a whole gang of obstinate
"I admire your courage," he replied. "For my part, I am always hindered
from contradicting the scoffers by an absurd heart-beating; it seems to
me a desecration to gossip of the school in which one learns to fathom
the deepest and most beautiful secrets of human life."
"You are quite right," said I, "and I have often reproached myself for
being beguiled into discussing in prose, after the manner of a
scientific problem, what one may properly confess only in verse. And
yet certain silly speeches always excite me to protest again. When I
hear it said that marriage is the death of love; that the obligation to
fidelity quenches passion; and that, since no man can master his heart,
even the best should hesitate before forming a life-tie, my vexation at
the foolish babble runs away with my reason, and I begin to speak of
things which one regards as mere exaggeration unless he has himself
To this he did not reply, and we walked silently side by side. I
observed that he was lost in recollections which I did not wish to
disturb. I knew nothing of his marriage, except that he had lost his
wife many years before, and mourned her as if it were but yesterday. An
old lady who had known her told me that she was an irresistible person,
with eyes which no one who had once looked into them could ever forget.
Her daughter, lately married, I had met once at a social affair; she
impressed me as an amiable, but very quiet, young woman.
L. had been a military man in his younger days; but being severely
wounded in the Schleswig-Holstein war, he had withdrawn to a country
estate and passed his best years there with his wife and child. After
he became a widower, a spirit of unrest seemed to drive him over the
earth, and it was only from time to time that he made a brief
appearance among his old friends. He was a stately, handsome man even
yet. His hair, although streaked with gray, stood thick and curly above
his high, bronzed forehead, and in his eyes there gleamed a quiet fire
which told of imperishable youth.
At the next crossing he stopped.
"My way properly leads down there," said he, "but, if you do not
object, I will accompany you for a distance. My sleep has not been
worth much for some time, and 'In that sleep what dreams may come'
seldom amount to anything. Besides, I am going away in a few days. Who
knows when we can chat with each other again."
We set forth on our, or rather on my way, but for a long while the talk
would not take the right channel.
The warm, night wind was as soothing as the murmur of a cradle-song;
the stars blinked like eyes which can scarcely keep themselves open. A
fine mist moved slowly across the heavens, weaving a veil over the
"Bear in mind," said I, "we shall be wakened from our first sleep by a
He neither answered nor glanced at the heavens, but continued to look
fixedly at the ground. Suddenly he began, "Do you know what I have
always lamented? That Spinoza was never married. How that would have
improved his ethics! He had no conception of certain problems; and I
have always wondered how he would have regarded them if they had come
under his observation."
"Which do you mean?" I asked.
"You know he was the first to deny the power of reason over our
passions, and to advance the profound thesis that a passion can be
displaced only by one stronger. But what happens if two equally strong
passions together rule the same soul?"
"Are there then two precisely similar passions?" I asked; "I myself
have never experienced anything of the kind, and am inclined to be
sceptical until I see it proved in another man."
"There are certainly no test-scales for feeling," he replied, "but
whoever has had such an unfortunate experience will have no doubt of
its reality. But one can scarcely make it comprehensible to a third
person, because the psychological constellation under which alone this
situation arises seldom comes into position, and can almost never be
observed as quietly as other phenomena. Even you as a novelist would
hardly be able to make use of such an occurrence. You must have heard
often enough that you novelists search for psychological problems and
dispense with probability. Wonderful people! They wish to learn
something, and yet, if one tells them of what is not to be found on
every highway, they refuse to believe it. If a botanist discovers and
describes a new plant accidentally bearing blossoms on the root instead
of the stalk, no one doubts his veracity. But a new growth of human
flora, heretofore unnoticed by the thoughtless observer, is immediately
designated as a daring invention."
"You forget," I broke in, "that people wish to enjoy fiction with the
heart alone, not with the intellect, and that the heart refuses
everything which is not closely akin to it. Therefore I feel very
lenient toward the average reader. In real life he is interested only
in certain things which he understands, prizes, and considers
desirable; such as money and land, social reputation, family happiness,
and more of the same sort. Consequently, he likes in books only such
stories as deal with rich and poor, rogues and honest men, and, for a
sort of relish, with a little of the so-called love necessary to
complete a happy marriage. Whatsoever there is beyond that, is evil.
Yet in every human breast there lives a still presentiment that there
is something glorious about the unusual, about a feeling, for instance,
that fills the heart to overflowing, even to the breaking of all
conventional bonds. But my poor wise Leopardi was right; the world
laughs at things which it otherwise must admire, and, like the fox in
the fable, blames what it really envies. A great love, for example,
with its passionate joys and sorrows, is universally envied, and
therefore unsparingly condemned. They consider it dangerous, and I have
found this view sanctioned everywhere in men's judgments of life and
fiction. 'Do not destroy my home!' cries the peaceful citizen to the
passion which is breaking into his house like an armed man. And if he
feels himself adequately protected by his armor of conventionality,
more invulnerable than iron or steel, he fears for children and
parents, and the tender heart of his wife. Although the danger may not
have been great after all. Only what we recognize as true has power
over our souls; and surely you yourself have seldom encountered in this
cold world of ours any strong passion or heart-instinct out of the
catechism, and yet truly felt."
"That is true," he said, "and therefore I have never yet discovered,
either in psychology or romance, a trace of that peculiar situation
which I mentioned. Once I imagined that, in the writings of one whom I
consider a true artist, I had found something similar when, in looking
over Alfred Musset's short stories, I came across the title 'Les Deux
Maîtresses.' But no, the hero loved one and flirted with the other.
That happens thousands of times. But what I mean--"
He broke off, seeming to regret that he had gone so far. I allowed only
a slight word to betray my intense interest. I did not wish to elicit
any confidence which he would not freely give me. I knew also that
there is a midnight hour for long-buried histories, when they burst the
bars of the closed breast and rise up to walk about once more in the
pale light of a starry heaven. One must then guard his tongue well, for
a careless word may frighten the timid ghosts back to their graves.
So I remained silent and waited. We were approaching a little
enclosure, a grove of ash-trees, and on the seats under the wind-tossed
branches several homeless men lay sleeping peacefully. In the darkest
corner of the shaded place stood an empty bench.
"If it suits you," said L., "let us sit here a moment. I would like
best of all to imitate yonder vagabonds and spend the night here sub
divo. The south wind possesses me."
Then, after we had been sitting dumbly side by side for some time, "Of
what were we speaking?" he began; "was it not of people's inability to
imagine situations which they themselves have never been through? How
can one expect it of them, since even the individual himself cannot
always comprehend what he has too undeniably felt?
"And when I now look back on that time and observe everything calmly
from a distance, does not my own heart oftentimes seem to me a riddle?
To you, indeed, that which is unintelligible to most people will seem
natural enough; namely, that the love I bore my wife was strengthened
instead of weakened by the years of unclouded happiness. One might say
that every deep and earnest affection is artistic. As the artist and
the poet bear and cherish the burning thought within them, ever
striving to approximate it to their highest ideal, so love, if not
mistaken in its object, is a ceaseless advance. But I see this
comparison halts a little. Let it be. Only you must know that I was one
of those fortunate beings who consider the possession of a beloved wife
as a daily gift from the gracious gods; and that I was still feeling a
sort of lover's devotion when the young likeness of the dear woman had
already outgrown childhood.
"I do not know that you would have understood this better, if you had
known the woman. Many passed her by without suspecting what a rare
spirit looked out upon the world from those quiet, all-understanding
eyes. I myself, in our first hour of meeting, felt indissolubly bound
to her. But I shall not attempt to describe her. At this moment, as is
always the case with those whom I hold dearest, I see her picture only
in uncertain outlines, although I could draw any indifferent face even
to the wrinkles. It was so even when she was living; I carried with me
the feeling of her personality as a whole, and when she appeared it was
like a new revelation.
"Many did not consider her a beauty, and she had not the slightest
desire to please in that way. But to others she seemed supremely
charming, and far beyond comparison with any merely pretty woman. I
often pondered over this mysterious charm of hers. I came to the
conclusion that, while the good qualities of the average lovable person
affect us at different times, with her the whole character revealed
itself every moment. Goodness, cleverness, earnestness and
cheerfulness, grace and firm strength,--her entire treasure was always
at hand. But I see I am still praising and describing. I will only say
that the first meeting decided my fate.
"I immediately realized that it was not one of those sudden,
short-lived passions which I had often experienced during my frivolous
officer-life. Until now I had never, even in the warmest love-affair,
been able to think of a union for life without feeling a quiet aversion
to the loss of my freedom. In the first hour I knew that this love
concerned my soul's welfare; that I could never again be my own master,
even though I should be obliged to remain away from her forever. I
could not long endure the uncertainty as to her feeling for me. I was
somewhat spoiled by previous successes. Yet it scarcely distressed or
surprised me, when, though she acknowledged that my presence was
pleasant to her and that she would be glad to see me often, she said
she did not return my passionate feeling, and thought too highly of a
union for life and death to enter into it half-heartedly, as into
something of little moment.
"She became still dearer to me through this refusal, although from any
one else such treatment would have sorely wounded my vanity. Before her
all mean and petty feelings disappeared, and a man's best nature was
aroused, as alone worthy of her.
"It never occurred to me to withdraw myself, grumbling and pining, in
order to make myself missed. After the first pain was over, I seemed to
myself rashly presumptuous in having proposed at all. I believed that I
could not better atone for this ridiculous hastiness than by remaining
unassumingly near her. Her parents kept open house; and, being always
welcome, I exerted myself to be cheerful, and to suppress every feeling
of jealousy toward my companions in misery. But my nights were
wretched, and I often brooded over the darkest resolves.
"Now imagine my feeling when one morning I received a note from her; I
might call upon her during the day. She had something important to say
"I found her alone. She met me in the greatest agitation, stretched
both hands to me, and cried, 'You live! God be thanked!' Then she told
me that toward morning she had had a frightful dream, in which she had
seen me lying dead before her with a deep wound in my forehead. An
unspeakable grief had suddenly seized her, almost as though a hot,
buried spring had burst forth from her inmost soul and gushed from her
eyes in an inexhaustible stream of tears. In that instant she knew that
she loved me, and must die if I did not revive. When she awoke from the
dream and reflected upon it, her happiness at finding it untrue was
nearly fatal to her; her heart beat as violently as if it would leap
from her, and she was scarcely able to write the note to me.
"From that morning until her death, that warm spring of love was never
exhausted. Whenever I remember--no, I dare not. I would seem to you a
strange visionary, or, at best, weary you with confessions that could
give you nothing new. I am no poet; and even Dante, with all his
display of color and sound, could not save Paradise from monotony.
"Every day we experienced some new happiness, especially after our
child was born. She was a lovable child; and yet it was a long time
before I could learn to love her for her own sake. During the first
years, I loved her because of her mother, and she pleased me only so
far as she resembled her. It was, so to speak, only an additional charm
of this dear woman's that she had given life to such a child. I tell
this to you, that you may know what a boundless love filled me, and how
it never grew cool or more rational with years.
"Indeed, she even succeeded in displacing another passion, to which I
had formerly given all my spare time, but which now scarcely ever
manifested itself. Even in the cadet school, I had been an enthusiastic
violinist, and believed that I could not live without music. And when I
realized that my wife was a stranger to the true nature of music, it
pained me for a moment. But I would have renounced as unnecessary or
troublesome, anything in which she had no part. Indeed, I easily
convinced myself that this lack was but one perfection the more. Her
true, simple nature, always at one with itself, shrank from the
mysterious depths, the spiritual twilight, into which music lures us.
It troubled her that she could not find the key to this fascinating
riddle; but she seemed to fear that she might be drawn into a moral
perplexity which would admit of no redemption. It was not indifference
toward the musical world, but rather a lack of sensitiveness, which
barred her way to the heart of it. She thoroughly enjoyed a folk-song
or dance melody. A Beethoven symphony pained her--indeed, could drive
her to despair.
"All her artistic sense was in her eyes. She enjoyed every visible
thing with the most exquisite feeling, and would study the lines of a
face, a landscape, or a building, for hours together. Her hand was
well-trained, but she placed little value on her sketches and
aquarelles. Her technical skill did not equal her power of artistic
perception. Besides, within the limits of our country estate, amid
entirely commonplace surroundings and unattractive people, she had
little opportunity to perfect herself.
"Thus, for different reasons, both our talents remained dormant. But,
occasionally, the desire to take my violin from its case and play
through my old favorites once again, would seize me like a physical
necessity. This I would do in perfect secrecy in some distant part of
the woods. When the longing was satisfied, and I returned to the house
like some penitent sinner, we would both laugh if she chanced to meet
me with the violin under my arm. She often implored me to ignore her
weakness; perhaps I might cure her of it. But her untroubled
cheerfulness was more to me than all the sonatas in the world.
"For nearly eight years we lived thus, entirely for ourselves, and
reminded only by little excursions and visits to the city, that any
world existed beyond our pine woods. Then our child sickened with the
measles, and retained from them a bad throat-trouble, which our
physician advised us to check at once by a sojourn in milder air.
Although it was harvest-time, we soon decided to leave home and take
our child to Lake Geneva, for which place my wife had always preserved
a tender feeling since her school-days at a French pension there.
"In Vernex, where, as yet, the hotels had not rendered the beautiful
shore unsafe, we found an excellent house, entirely after our own
hearts. It was arranged for only a dozen guests, and was situated in
the midst of a beautifully green garden, with a most glorious view of
the lake and the mountains on the south shore. We settled ourselves in
two spacious rooms on the second floor. My wife and child slept in the
small room; the large one adjoining it served as the sitting-room, and
at night my bed was made on the divan. The corresponding rooms on the
ground floor beneath us were occupied during the first day by an
English couple, who disturbed us by continual playing on the piano; but
when they departed on the following day, they left such stillness
behind them that we might have considered ourselves the only persons in
the paradise, had not the usual meals, in an elegant dining-room,
reminded us that we still had half-gods near us.
"On the first evening I was surprised by a tender stratagem of my
wife's. As I unpacked the great trunk belonging to her and the child,
which she herself had filled at home, I struck something hard, which
proved to be my violin-case.
"I embraced her heartily as I saw her smile with pleasure because she
had accomplished this so cleverly and secretly.
"'As I brought my color-box,' she said, 'there was no need for your
instrument to remain at home. I know a hundred places by the lake and
on the road to Montreux, where I can carry on my daubing by the hour,
while you are conjuring your uncanny spirits up here.'
"Yet it happened otherwise than I had first thought in my excitement
over her loving forethought. The case remained unopened, and for a full
week not one musical thought occurred to me. I would sit by the hour on
the balcony with an unopened book in my hand, wholly absorbed in the
nobly beautiful picture before me. Or I would accompany my wife and
child on their walks; and when my wife had settled down to sketch the
magnificent chestnut-trees, or the white houses surrounded with
fig-trees and vineyards, glimmering on the slopes in the ravines
between Montreux and Veytaux, I would stretch myself in the shade near
by; chat with the child, who was visibly improving; and feel so
completely satisfied with God and man, that that sultan who vainly
searched the world for the happiest man would finally have found him in
"One morning I allowed them to go out alone, for I had several
necessary letters to write. It was a quiet, beautiful day; not a breath
of air ruffled the mirror-like lake; I had moved my table before the
open balcony door, and was congratulating myself on the deep stillness
of the house, when, in the room beneath me, I suddenly heard that
fateful piano, which I had so often cursed, sound again, and so loudly
that I knew the lower balcony door must also be open. In my vexation I
at first closed mine; but after listening a moment or two, I reopened
the door and stepped outside, in order not to lose the slightest tone.
The ten fingers playing Bach's Prelude on the little piano below me
belonged to no Englishwoman. Late last evening new guests had moved
in--so the chambermaid had announced--a French man and woman, brother
and sister. Which of the two was then playing I naturally did not know.
But from the touch, although it was firm and strong when necessary, I
decided upon the sister. I have seldom heard such beautiful, distinct,
and, as it were, mature playing; yet it had no trace of so-called
classic objectivity, but rather a very personal charm, as if the
player's deepest nature were speaking to me. I would have wagered my
head that the musician was a brunette, with those gray eyes which
Spaniards call 'green.' I know it is folly; but it is not the only one
of which you will find me guilty, and it had not less power over me
because a sound human intelligence might resist it.
"You know that Gounod composed a violin accompaniment for this Prelude.
The purists and Bach-pedants reject it. But it has such an irresistible
melody that every violinist learns it by heart. It was not long before
I had taken my instrument from its case, tuned it sufficiently, and
placed the bow in position. And then began a most wonderful duet on two
floors, played with as much calmness and precision as if it had been
well practised. There was not the slightest hesitation; my violin was
never in better condition, and the little piano rang as full and soft
as if it had been changed over night into a powerful concert grand.
"After we finished there came a pause, and I wondered with some
trepidation if another approach than that of sounds would be proper. I
stepped out on the balcony, hoping that the player would appear on the
terrace. But a new piece which she began drew me forthwith back into
the room. This time it was a Chopin Impromptu which I knew perfectly.
Since I had been unable to play much, I had read an unlimited quantity
of music, and my memory was very well trained.
"Again seizing my bow, I attempted a modest accompaniment to the
somewhat quaint, but passionately musical, confession. Then came
something from Schumann, and so on ad infinitum. I believe we played
three full hours at one stretch. When my wife finally returned--it was
the second breakfast--hour she found me much overheated, and bathed in
"She even listened to the last bars of a Beethoven sonata, to which I
was playing the treble. 'What duet have you arranged for yourself?' she
asked, smiling, and when I told her that I knew the pianist as little
as she did, she laughed outright. 'I did not bring the violin in vain,
after all, and if I sketch chestnut-trees by the hour, I shall know
that you are busy and happy.'
"I attempted to reply somewhat jokingly, but made a miserable failure.
The music had moved me exceedingly; and, although I never believed in
presentiments, I was unable to shake off a premonition of something
unusual and uncanny. I longed to remain away from dinner, but felt
ashamed of such a boyish feeling. But my shyness about making the
player's acquaintance was unnecessary. She did not appear at table; so
we met only her brother, a slender, serious young Frenchman, whose hair
and complexion at once proclaimed his southern origin. In fact, we
learned later that his home was at Arles. His father had been an
Alsacian from an old German family, a merchant, who, conducting a
branch business in that city of beautiful women, had finally lost his
heart to the most charming one. He had afterward settled there and
founded a great banking-house, that the son, who was inclined toward a
diplomatic career, might find the way easily open to him. Both parents
had died recently, and the son was still in mourning for them; but he
seemed either very reserved for his age, or oppressed by some secret
trouble, so that, beyond a few courteous words of greeting, we heard
little from him. His sister, after whom my wife immediately inquired,
was still tired from the journey, and also from the music, he added,
with a side glance at me. Her physician had forbidden her to play, but
she could not refrain from it. In the register, which was brought to
him after dinner, he wrote a simple, commonplace name, but beneath it
that of his sister--Countess So-and-so.
"So she was married, and perhaps we should meet her husband also. I do
not know why this thought affected me unpleasantly, since I had never
yet seen the lady herself. I awaited the evening in strange suspense.
On entering the dining-room we saw the brother and sister seated
directly opposite us. I was not in the least surprised. The young woman
appeared precisely as I had imagined; beautiful dark hair, slightly
curly, and bound in a simple knot at the back of her head; a face far
from regular, but charming for its pale ivory-color and beautiful
teeth; and, truly, gray eyes, the iris inclosed with a dark ring and
shot through with golden lights, exactly as I had fancied from her
"She talked little, addressing herself only to my wife when she did
speak. It was nothing new to me to see that the latter could at once
attract even this shy and reserved heart.
"After dinner, when we went out into the garden, over which the stars
were twinkling, it was not long before I observed the two sitting
together absorbed in earnest conversation. One could hardly have
imagined anything lovelier than this pair, so unlike, yet so truly
equal in charm and nobility of appearance and manner. They were nearly
the same size, although my wife was stately and well-developed, while
the stranger was girlishly slight; but her arms and neck, which I saw
later in lighter clothing, were perfectly rounded, and resembled
those of some Arabian women whose pictures I had seen in a friend's
sketch-book. The brother had withdrawn; I walked to and fro on the
lower part of the terrace, smoking my cigar, gazing absent-mindedly
over the shimmering lake, and now and then hearing a detached word from
the conversation of the women. The child was sleeping quietly upstairs,
for she was put to bed every evening before we went to dinner.
"'She is extremely charming,' my wife afterwards said to me, 'but even
more unhappy than she is beautiful and lovable. She has been separated
for two years from her husband, who is a mauvais sujet, a gambler and
spendthrift, who has already wasted her whole dowry. When she realized
that she had married a worthless man, she insisted upon returning to
her parents. So you may imagine that when her mother and father both
died, it was much harder for her to bear than for many other loving
daughters, who find comfort in their husbands. She is now living with
her brother, but, although he adores her, she cannot have him with her
forever. Sometime she will be entirely alone and dependent on herself,
and, since she is a Catholic and cannot release herself from her
hateful tie, she looks forward to a hopeless future. When I showed
active sympathy because of her mourning, she told me all this without
the least sentimentality, and with the calmness of a strong soul. But
when she mentioned that the Count occasionally came to see her to
extort money, although he no longer has the slightest claim on her
property, her voice trembled, the mere thought of the villain is so
repulsive to her. Her health has suffered under all these emotions. I
promised to care for and pet her like a loving sister, and you should
have heard how prettily she laughed. The poor young woman! I am much
pleased that your violin travelled with us. She said your playing
seemed so sympathetic.'
"She never wearied of talking about her new friend. I teased her
because, contrary to her usual habit, she had allowed herself to be so
"'Only beware of yourself!' she replied, laughing. 'I certainly do not
understand the language of tones, but I know that with them one can
confess far deeper secrets than we revealed to-day with words.'
"'As long as there is a solid floor between us, there is no danger,' I
interrupted, jokingly. But I knew very well the first evening that it
would not be safe to jest with those dangerous gray eyes.
"For a long while I could not sleep. The theme from the Prelude sounded
constantly in my ears. At midnight I arose, and, going softly into the
neighboring room, gazed at the beloved faces of my wife and child by
the light of the little night-lamp. The charm worked, and I passed a
perfectly quiet, dreamless night. But my first waking thought was
"You will understand why the matter seemed so serious to me, when I
tell you, that I am one of those with whom all spiritual crises
complete themselves on the instant, without delay or hesitation, with
the calm fatality of a natural law. Although it is often well to
understand one's self at once without being obliged to question mind or
heart--like the commander of some fortress, who, recognizing the
superiority of the besieger, needs no council of war--yet, in either
case, if time can be won, everything may be saved, and the relief may
come which would have been too late, if there had been a premature
"Thus, perhaps, it might have been better for me, and I might have
acted more wisely that morning, if I had not regarded the matter as an
unavoidable decree of fate. The symptoms were indeed precisely the same
as when I fell so suddenly and violently in love with my wife. But
the situation was different. With a wife and child, and eight added
years--acknowledge that you find it inexcusable to yield thus passively
to a passion, instead of opposing it with all my strength, and calling
the good spirits of house and home to my aid.
"Strange to say, notwithstanding this new affection, I was not for a
moment untrue to what I had previously loved; neither did I think
coldly of my wife, nor wish her absent that I might have only that
other face before my eyes. It was as if one of my heart's chambers had
been empty and was now occupied; but between it and the next the door
was standing open, and the two occupants were on the best of terms,
even crossing the threshold now and then to visit each other.
"That may seem to you merely an idle fancy. It is only a miserable
attempt to explain the remarkable condition in which I found myself--a
condition not quite so clear then as to-day, since at first it seemed
treason towards my dear wife, and I bitterly reproached myself for it.
Soon, however, I reassured myself that I took nothing from her by this
division of my heart; that, on the contrary, my strong, pure love for
her received new nourishment through this quickening of my inner life.
"All this I tell to you alone. Thousands would consider it
self-deception or morbid extravagance. Knowledge of the human heart is
still in its swaddling-clothes, notwithstanding the age of the world,
and most people never go beyond the A B C, even though they consider
"As I said, the situation was new to me, and I needed time to
understand and pardon myself. I remained at home again that morning,
for, on the day before, I had not written a single letter.
"'I shall not disturb the duet,' said my wife, smiling, as she went out
with the child. But I did not touch the violin, although the little
piano beneath seemed to demand it. The pen remained unmoistened. I lay
motionless in my hammock, listening. It sounded even more magical than
before. Now I had the player's face definitely before me: the
beautiful, unvarying pallor of the cheeks; the sensitive mouth, with
its full, red lips, always slightly apart; the small, white hands.
Often it seemed to me as if my wife, stepping behind the player, looked
at the music over her shoulder. Then, calmly comparing them, I could
not decide which was the more charming; they agreed as well in life as
in my heart.
"When my wife returned--she brought an extremely clever study, and the
child had her hands full of harvest flowers--she was much surprised to
hear that I had not touched the violin. She urged me to arrange a
regular practice hour with the Countess; I objected that the little
piano stood in the room where she lived and slept, and that I would not
accompany her if she played on the miserable instrument in the salon.
At table there was some talk about it, but since she herself failed to
encourage it, and especially since the brother, who believed music
injurious to her health, showed no interest, the matter was not
mentioned again. Altogether, it seemed as if the beautiful 'danger' and
I were never to become better acquainted. If I began any conversation
whatsoever with her, it soon came to a pause; and she on her part never
addressed me without some obvious reason. On our walks she took my
wife's arm, and went ahead; I followed with her brother; the child,
running from one couple to the other, soon attached herself trustfully
to the quiet, strange lady who was so friendly to her. Often we all
chatted together, and on these occasions my wife was always conspicuous
for her charming gayety. She persuaded the Countess to try the broken
German which she had learned from an old Alsacian nurse. This gave
occasion for much lively joking and teasing, and even enlivened the
serious brother. He was working hard at a statistical paper, through
which he hoped to obtain a place in the ministry. For the rest, he was
a most pleasant companion, paid court to my wife in all honor, gave
fruits and sweetmeats to the child, and, in a weak, but pleasing voice,
sang Provençal folk-songs, the only music for which he had taste or
"Thus we were very sorry to hear one day that his chief had
unexpectedly recalled him. He was obliged to depart at once, but would
not allow his sister to accompany him. He begged us to persuade her to
remain a few weeks longer in the glorious air and scenery of the lake,
for she had visibly improved during the past eight days, and had slept
better and suffered less from headache than usual.
"My wife embraced her warmly, and declared she would not allow her to
leave her care as yet. She had wagered with her that it would not be
impossible to entice a little color into her velvety cheeks, and, for
at least four weeks longer, she would use all her arts to win the bet.
The little one, clinging about her neck, insisted that she would forget
all her beautiful French if 'Aunt Lucile' went away. But when I heard a
brief 'Eh bien! Je reste,' from her, it was as if a hand which had
been clutching my throat suddenly freed me again. I promised her
brother to supply his place conscientiously, and, although I was fond
of him, saw him depart with a certain sense of relief, as if he had
stood between his sister and me, and had now left the field clear.
"Yet his departure changed nothing whatever. To be sure, his room being
empty, she had her bed taken in there, and arranged the other, where
the instrument stood, as a sitting-room. We visited her there now and
then, and she often came up to our room; but duets were not mentioned.
"Indeed, she herself seemed to have lost all desire for music.
Occasionally I heard her open the piano and begin this or that
well-known piece. In the midst of it she would break off, often with a
bad discord, as if in some unusual, ill-tempered mood. It seemed as
though she began only to demand my violin as accompaniment, and proving
unsuccessful in this, found the music suddenly distasteful. Once or
twice I yielded to the temptation. But the playing excited me to such a
feverish pitch that I, too, broke off in the midst of a passage,
excusing myself afterward with an awkward pretence of an interruption,
which she did not seem to believe.
"In truth, it was just as my wife had said, I knew how much could be
confessed in music, and shuddered before the sin of betraying to this
stranger that I had lost half of my heart to her.
"I was better able to guard my words and looks. We were scarcely ever
alone together longer than a few seconds. She stayed in her room or on
the terrace outside most of the time, and in our walks in the cool of
the evening, she never left my wife's side; so that I, leading my child
by the hand, often remained a long distance behind the two women, and
pondered my strange fate without addressing a single word to her during
the entire walk.
"The evenings grew longer. The general sitting-room was not pleasant to
us; so, after dinner, we assembled alternately in her room and our own;
she and my wife with their handiwork, chatting or reading, while I
either smoked my cigar on the balcony, or read aloud from some book.
She liked to hear me read German poetry.
"My wife sketched her in many different positions. A profile sketch,
with the head sorrowfully drooping, was especially good, and I could
never look at it enough. I still remember when, at one of these
sittings, I for the first time touched her hair; until then I had not
once felt so much as the tips of her fingers in my hands. It went
through my nerves like an electric shock. There was a peculiar
fragrance about her from some costly French perfume that she used. I
knew even long afterwards if she had lingered in a place, either been
sitting in my hammock, or standing by the bookcase in the salon.
"One evening, as we were preparing to visit her for a little chat
before bedtime, our door suddenly opened; she rushed in, the very
picture of terror, bolted the door after her, and sinking on the
nearest chair, broke into such a storm of tears that she could not
speak. We were extremely anxious about her, but my wife at length
succeeded in calming her so far that she could tell what had occurred,
with tolerable composure.
"Somebody had come into her room without knocking; and, as she had
looked around, she had seen her husband standing in the middle of the
chamber. He had greeted her politely, asked after her health, and, when
she made no reply, seated himself on the divan, as if perfectly at
home. In spite of his subdued voice and quiet manner, she had noticed
an air of suppressed excitement about him; but, owing to her own
agitation, could not determine whether wine or some other cause
rendered his look unsteady and his voice grating and harsh. Then he had
commenced in a listless way; he would tell her the motive of his visit;
he had been robbed in a gambling house in Geneva, and was sans le
sou. A good friend had paid his steamer fare here. He now wished
nothing more than the means of escaping from his guignon, and
hospitality for that night. He would be satisfied with the sofa.
"She had given him whatever she could spare at the moment, a not
inconsiderable sum, and commanded him to leave on the instant.--Did she
expect any one? He would remember her situation, and not embarrass her.
With this he had tried to take her hand, and had looked at her with a
smile which almost congealed her blood. And as he appeared firmly
determined not to yield, she had gone out under pretence of making
arrangements for the night. She implored us to assist her, and protect
her from the rascal.
"I exchanged a glance with my wife, who had taken the weeping woman in
her arms like some sick child; and leaving them thus, I hurried
"I found the Count indulging in a quiet doze on the soft couch. Since
he did not hear me enter, I had sufficient leisure to observe him. His
face showed that irresistible drowsiness so apt to seize gamblers after
long excitement; the lips were pale; eyelids and nostrils, reddened.
Beyond this the perfect type of a bel homme, faultlessly attired and
"Finally comprehending where he was, and that a stranger was facing
him, he arose composedly, and asked what I wished. I had to impart to
him only his wife's desire, that he should leave her room and the house
without delay or further sensation.
"And if he would not?
"Then the Countess would use her house-right. He regarded me with a
certain cold-blooded insolence, which, even in that painful moment,
struck me as amusing.
"He asked if I were the hotel porter; meanwhile adjusting his eye-glass
to his right eye.
"I replied that the Countess's reason for asking this service of me was
not his concern--I lived in number so-and-so, and would be at his
service next day for any satisfaction he required. For the present, I
would simply execute my commission, and hoped, for his own sake, that
he would avoid any unnecessary disturbance.
"He reflected for a while; now looking at me doubtfully with a cold,
impudent smile, now appearing resolved to remain. At length he took his
hat, murmured several unintelligible words, brought out a cigar and
lighted it from the candle on the table, bowed very civilly, and with a
'To-morrow, then,' left the room.
"I immediately closed the balcony door, and carefully fastened the
shutters. After which I returned upstairs and announced the quick
result of my mission, of course without mentioning the parting words.
The two women were sitting together on the sofa, and the Countess was
motionless and silent. She was trembling nervously from the effect of
her fright; but this ceased when my wife, who dabbled in homeopathy,
forced her to take a few of her 'wonder-drops.' Taking up a book which
we had been reading the day before, I attempted to go on with it. Not
one of us understood a word that I read.
"At ten o'clock the Countess bade my wife good-night, and allowed me to
escort her downstairs. She was tormented by the fear that he might yet
find some way of slipping in.
"'You see, the field is clear,' I said, with a smile, after I had
inspected both rooms. 'You can rest in peace!'
"'In peace!' she said, shuddering throughout her slender body--'in
peace! And at what price!' And then, coming closer to me, 'You ordered
him out. Oh, I am sure of it, otherwise he would not have gone so
quickly! And now for my miserable sake'--
"I sought to comfort her as well as I could, promising to do nothing
without her knowledge; but her distress only increased. 'Think of your
wife, of your daughter! O God! if I should be the cause--'
"I seized her hand; she sank on my breast in uncontrollable emotion;
and as if in a dream, I held her thus embraced, and felt her slender
figure trembling in my arms, yet did not even touch her hair with my
lips; in that moment all passionate impulses yielded to the deep pity
which I felt for her.
"And so, drawing myself away, I bade her a cheerful 'Good-night!' and
went to my room.
"I was obliged to quiet my wife also, for she feared that the affair
would have consequences. I myself did not believe it. I knew that in
professional gamblers all feelings, even those of honor, become
completely deadened. And I judged correctly.
"I remained at home all the following day. He neither appeared himself,
nor sent a messenger. The Countess took refuge with us, for she was in
constant fear of a surprise. The two women sat together on the balcony
with their embroidery, apparently engaged in careless conversation, but
in reality watching me. Not a word was said of that which occupied our
thoughts. When the day had passed without bloodshed, my wife
accompanied her friend to her room, and remained with her that night.
On the next day, we heard that the Count was again in Geneva, whence he
soon afterward disappeared to some other German gambling house.
"You will comprehend that this intermezzo bound us still more closely
to each other. We were together nearly all day long, and I occasionally
wondered that my wife, who had formerly known all my thoughts even
before they were clear to myself, allowed, indeed, unmistakably
favored, this harmful playing with fire. She did not hesitate to leave
us tête-à-tête, although, as a fact, there was no enjoyment in such a
talk. I usually took refuge at such times in a stubborn silence, which,
to any third person, would have seemed veritable rudeness. I often
denied myself the pleasure of seeing her by pretending indolence,
absence of mind, or pressing business; all of which excuses were
accepted without comment. At first mild-tempered and somewhat
melancholy, she gradually became irritable and capricious. My wife,
noticing this, often reproved her gently, and, with sisterly patience
and kindliness, tried to calm her wild moods of rebellion against fate.
"My wife and I no longer spoke of her. Yet often, when I looked up from
my reading unexpectedly, I encountered a strange, questioning look in
my wife's eyes; a look such as a physician casts upon a mortally sick
man by whose bedside he watches.
"I was certainly ill, yet not so desperately but that I still sought
for a cure, though with ever-lessening hope of finding one. Music, to
which I resorted in the hope of relief, poured oil upon the flames.
After I had played an hour or two alone, the piano below would begin
its reply, so it was not a conversation or duet, but a discourse in
long monologues. Surrendering to this dangerous comfort on two
mornings, I ended in a species of intoxication. I then tried the effect
of separation, and arranged a climbing party which kept me away over
night. Then I felt the truth of what I told you at first; the new
passion was equal to the old, but not stronger. I missed them both with
the same longing--indeed, could no longer separate them in my thoughts.
When I saw them again, I felt the same heart-throbs twice. I was not
then so philosophical that I could accept this as something rational
and ordinary; it was strange and unprecedented, yet I felt that it was
not immoral. It harmed no one, and far from estranging me from myself,
rather enriched my inner life. No, it was not immoral, though I
realized, at the time, that it was a great misfortune, and would become
a sin if it undermined my dear wife's peace and happiness. I tried to
find some way of escape, though I knew it would be at the price of
killing or forever stifling half of my heart.
"We lived thus for about fourteen days after her brother's departure,
each day bringing something new, either a trip on the boat or a walk to
a neighboring place, when, one afternoon, we arranged to meet at the
landing-place below the garden, and make a boat-trip to Chillon. I was
first. I had hired a boat in Vernex from a boatman who allowed me to
take his son, a powerful fellow, fourteen years of age, as rower. The
Countess came soon after, dressed in a black barége-cloth garment
through whose fine meshes her beautiful arms and shoulders were plainly
visible; she wore a flower in her hair, and carried her straw hat on
her arm. I had never seen her so beautiful, or so pale.
"'You are ill,' I said; 'you are suffering from the sultriness.'
"'What does it matter?' she replied; 'I am suffering from something
worse--from living. Where is your wife?'
"My wife came as I was helping her friend into the boat, but came
without the child. She was not well, my wife said. She complained of
headache, and wished her mother to remain at home with her; then, too,
the weather was uncertain. We immediately arose, preparing to get out
of the boat. But this my wife would not allow. There was not a shadow
of danger or cause for worry; I knew how our darling was troubled; she
would sit with her and read something aloud; and she wished us a
pleasant day. After giving the skiff a little push with her foot, she
went back to the house; and although neither of us, as we glided out
over the waves, felt pleased or at ease in this forced tête-à-tête,
neither one had the ready courage to confess it at once and return to
"I took the second pair of oars and pulled as vigorously as if for a
wager, though in reality it was in order to be excused from
conversation. She was sitting nearly opposite me, but I could see only
her little feet and the edge of her dress, for I kept my eyes
obstinately cast down. Suddenly she began to speak of my wife, making a
long, passionate declaration of love for her. She spoke at first of her
goodness and warm-heartedness, of her fine mind, her strong and ready
will; every word was true, a perfect portrait of her deepest nature.
Then she described her appearance, feature by feature, with the
idealizing penetration of a lover, and after I had listened for a long
while, she asked me how I had learned to know her. I then told her of
our first meeting; and as I recalled everything, I felt deep gratitude
and happiness that nothing had changed; that my good star had given me
even more than it had then promised; that even the woman opposite me
could alter nothing. We were speaking French, and the words almost
escaped me, 'Rien n'est changé; il n'y a qu'un amour de plus.'
"I restrained myself, however, and, instead, rose from my seat,
extended my hand to her, and said, 'I thank you for having learned to
know and love her so.'
"Her hand lay in mine like that of a corpse. We did not venture far out
into the lake, for it was already beginning to roughen. You know how
quickly it breaks from the deepest calm to the wildest uproar; and a
dark cloud, toward which our boatman from time to time cast a watchful
glance, was even then appearing above the Savoyard mountains.
Therefore, as we stepped out upon the rocks near the Castle of Chillon,
and saw the first breakers with their narrow silvery crests surging
against the shore, I proposed to return on foot. She regarded me with a
look which strangely transformed her face, but which had still greater
power over me than her usual gentle and kindly expression.
"'Do you fear the storm?'
"'Not for myself,' I said, 'I can swim like a fish. But it is my duty
to bring you home in safety.'
"'I release you from that obligation. Whoever is to suffer, does not
die. Come! Turn, the boat around.'
"'Very well,' said I, 'vogue la galère!'
"And then we pushed out through the angry, swelling waves, while the
air about us grew ever darker, and the houses at Montreux gleamed above
us in dazzling sunshine. Muffled thunder came from the peaks beyond,
but as yet no drops fell. As we were then rowing, we would reach home
in half an hour. No one spoke a word. She had drawn her veil half over
her face. I could see only her pale mouth. Her lips were slightly
parted, and I saw them quiver now and then, more from scorn than pain.
Suddenly she arose and hurried over the seats to the stern, where the
boatman sat at the rudder.
"'What are you going to do?' I cried.
"'Nothing wrong. I merely wish to relieve the boatman for a while. I
understand how, perfectly well.'
"Before I could interfere, she had taken the rudder from the boy's hand
and seated herself in his place. I was somewhat disturbed at this, as
her voice sounded unnatural. But, in order to lose no time, I let her
remain there, and redoubled my own exertions. In a short time, I saw
that she had given the boat a direction which drove it into the very
midst of the raging lake. Yet her delicate arms had so much strength
that, in spite of my efforts, I could not turn the boat back again.
Suddenly I realized that she was doing this with a clear purpose.
"'You are steering falsely,' I cried to her. 'I beg you, for God's
sake, give up the rudder. We are in the very centre of the storm.'
"'Do you mean it?' she answered softly. 'I thought you had no fear.
Only look at the beautiful waves. They do nothing unkind; they receive
one in their arms more gently than mankind. Look, look! Could anything
"A large wave broke over us; we were instantly wet to the skin.
The first sharp flash of lightning darted down from the black
"I could not leave the oars; I bade the boy take the rudder again; he
shrugged his shoulders, and pointed to the Countess. Undisturbed by
everything about her, she was staring wildly into the distance. We were
already so far from shore that the houses were scarcely distinguishable
through the gray storm-twilight. Some action was imperative. Standing
up, I motioned the boatman to take my oars, and strode, wavering and
staggering, to the other end of the skiff. Her eyes met mine through
the veil with a stubborn, threatening look.
"'Be reasonable!' I said in German; 'I shall not suffer this any
longer. Give me the rudder, will you? Well then--' Seizing her hands
with a quick movement, I pressed them so hard that she released the
rudder. I held her thus for a moment, although I must have hurt her.
She gave no sign of pain, but gazed steadily into my eyes with a look
of hate or the deepest rage. Then her face changed; her month trembled;
her eyes closed with an expression of unutterable misery and despair;
as I freed her hands, she threw herself at my feet, and I heard a
stifled sob and the words, 'Pardonnez-moi! Je suis une folle!'
"I seized the rudder, and, in my distress and bewilderment, could only
whisper to her that she must control herself and rise again. In a few
moments she was once more seated on the bench, but this time with
averted face and bowed head. I did not speak to her again, for I was
obliged to exert all my strength to bring the boat back into the right
course, and to steer for the land. But the brief scene affected me so
powerfully, that one thought was continually uppermost in my mind--what
rapture it would have been, amid this wild upheaval of the elements, to
clasp her close, and with her go to the bottom!
"The storm helped us, and we landed much sooner than I had expected.
Springing out first, I offered to assist her, but she refused my aid
and jumped out on the beach without help. She was trembling through and
through in her wet clothes. I asked if she were ill, but she shook her
head. Yet she took my arm as I accompanied her back to the house.
"My wife was standing on the balcony, and welcomed us cheerily. She had
been greatly worried about us. She would come down and help her friend
"'Oh, no, no!' cried the Countess, withdrawing her arm from mine, 'I
need nothing, thank you--good-night!'
"Thereupon she hurried away from me, without so much as a backward
glance or a wave of the hand. I followed slowly; I felt very much
exhausted, and went upstairs still staggering from the motion of the
boat. The storm was entirely over; a crimson sunset glow filled our
room. My wife had already laid out dry clothing for me; she received me
in her usual quietly affectionate manner and then left me alone, for I
had to dress myself from head to feet. It did not occur to me that she
said very little, and asked for no detailed account of our adventure in
the boat. My own feelings were absorbed by my recent experience, and I
changed my clothes mechanically, as if in a dream.
"Then I remembered the child. As I entered the other room, I saw the
little one sleeping in an arm-chair near the open window. My wife
whispered to me that she had given her some medicine, which had caused
her to fall asleep during the reading. I might go to dinner alone; she
herself had no appetite, and would content herself with a cup of tea.
"So I went down, although I also would have preferred to remain away
from the table. I had no wish to sit alone opposite Lucile. But this
ordeal was spared me. She too remained in her chamber. I did not speak
a word during the lengthy dinner. I usually smoked my after-dinner
cigar in the garden. By doing so I did not separate myself from the
women, but could chat back and forth with them; for though of late both
had been together, the Countess usually sat at her window or on the
terrace, and my wife on the balcony above. Tonight, balcony and terrace
were empty, and I soon withdrew to the most remote part of the garden.
"I would lie if I should say that I had seriously considered my
condition. I endured it that was all. I had a definite feeling that
things could not remain so; that something must happen, be decided, or
expressed, if I were not to be stifled by the suppression. But what the
something would be I could not imagine. My cigar had long gone out; yet
I remained on the parapet of the little pavilion and gazed out over the
dusky surface of the lake, which appeared like some vast, metallic
mirror framed in black mountains. Not till the first stars began to
glimmer forth could I decide to return to the house. For the first
time, the thought of meeting my wife was painful to me. Therefore it
was an actual relief when, knocking gently at her door, I heard instead
of 'Come in!' the whispered request not to enter then; she had just put
the little one to bed and did not wish to disturb her. She bade me
good-night. So for the present I was alone with my troubled soul.
"I lighted the lamp and attempted to read. The letters danced before my
eyes. I took up my wife's portfolio and looked at her drawings leaf by
leaf; but when I came to the portrait sketch I closed the folio
hastily, as if I had caught myself entering upon forbidden paths. Then,
for a long while, I sat perfectly passive before my writing-table with
my head resting on my hand, and sank ever deeper into an abyss of
hopeless wishes, sorrows, and self-reproaches.
"By and by the door was opened softly, and my wife entered. She had on
her night-cap, but was otherwise completely dressed. Evidently in the
act of going to bed she had suddenly resolved on something else.
"Her face was unusually pale; her beautiful eyes glistened strangely as
if a slight shower of tears had passed over them. A certain air of
timidity made her seem ten years younger, indeed, almost girlish. I had
never felt so clearly what a treasure she was to me.
"'I shall not trouble you long,' she said, 'but I must talk with you.
Perhaps we shall both sleep better.'
"She seated herself with her back toward the open balcony-door.
"'Shall I close the window?' I asked.
"'Why? It is nothing secret. I could say it as well before a third
person. It has been clear and comprehensible to you yourself for a long
"'What?' I asked, looking past her out into the night.
"'That you love her. One can see it easily enough. And she too is no
longer an inexperienced child. I would only like to know if you have
told her, and how she received it.'
"I sat before her as if in a spiritual swoon, or as when one dreams of
being almost naked in a gorgeous company, and would perish for shame.
"'How can you imagine----' I stammered.
"'It has not been easy for me,' she continued with a sad smile; 'but it
will not be otherwise, because I wish it so. I saw it coming, and had
time enough to become used to it, if it is ever possible to accustom
one's self to certain experiences. It is always best not to close the
eyes and seal the lips when people love each other. And you love me
yet, I know, in spite of everything.'
"'Thank you for those words!' I exclaimed, and rushed to take her in my
arms. But she repelled me with gentle firmness.
"'No, stay there,' she said; 'we will talk it over calmly. I am no
heroine, and this discussion is very hard for me. But tell me.'
"I assured her, on my honor, that no word had passed my lips which
could have betrayed the state of my feelings. Then I told her, even to
the smallest detail, all that had happened on the lake that day, and
also everything which I had felt.
"'I suspected something of the sort,' she replied quietly. 'She avoided
my eye, and you--you had no thought for our child. It is a passion;
that we cannot hide from ourselves. You will not think me so childish
as to surrender to a miserable jealousy, overwhelm you with reproaches,
or make any scene which might show our friend how much harm she has
done me. Can I blame you for loving her? She is so lovable, that I
myself, even yet, love her as an only sister. It does not surprise me.
I knew it at the first sight of her charming face. If, in spite of
that, I did nothing to keep her away from us, indeed, rather brought
her into closer intimacy, it was because I have always considered that
old proverb--'Out of sight, out of mind--' perfectly false. No, the
absent are preferred to all present people; our hearts idealize them;
love and longing grow with separation. I hoped that the first witchery
would be paled and effaced by frequent meeting. It has certainly
happened otherwise, and the future is very dark to me.'
"'Let us go away!' I said. 'We could pack this evening and go to
Lausanne tomorrow at dawn. I promise you, this sickness will leave my
blood with change of air.'
"She shook her head gently.
"'Out of sight, in mind,' she said. 'Yes, even if it were only a
whim; you a light-minded, fickle-hearted man, and she a pretty theatre
princess. But consider how everything about her touches you--her
unhappiness, her loneliness, the nobility of her whole character, and
her music. At the first sound of a violin you would live it all over
again. No, my dear friend, we dare not flee, and I dare not appear
cowardly in your eyes. I am not so. I know that we are too firmly
united to be parted by any power whatever. But I am not so high-minded
that I can share you with another. I would rather die!'
"We sat facing each other in sorrowful silence. I felt that any word,
any assurance of my good faith, would be trivial, a desecration of the
situation which she regarded so purely and nobly. At length she arose.
"'I feel much better now,' she said, smiling with an indescribably
brave and beautiful expression. 'Do not think any more about it. Good
counsel comes in the night. But promise that you will keep your
confidence in me, and that you will never hide anything for fear of
hurting me. The concealment itself would pain me. Are we not human, and
therefore poor creatures unable to master our own hearts? No one is
responsible for his inclinations, but only for his deeds. And you, I
know, will never do anything which could really divide us. Good-night!'
"She gave me her hand. I wanted to take the noble woman in my arms;
but, retreating, she bade me farewell with her eyes, and disappeared
into her room.
"You can imagine that I fell asleep late. But this time it was not
because of the fever of an unreasoning, godless passion, like that
which had kept me dreamily half-awake for so many nights. The clear,
quiet words which I had just heard dropped upon my burning wound like a
powerful balsam. I felt myself already in a sort of convalescence,
because of whose great charm I could not sleep. I could scarcely
conceive how any other woman than my own wife could ever have gained
power over me. More than once I longed to steal into her chamber, kneel
by her bedside, and, if she awoke, declare my love to her. But I was
forced to remember that she had pushed me away, and that my warmest
protestations might perhaps find no belief. Thinking thus, I finally
"I awoke before sunrise. You know that, on that shore, it is day some
time before the sun appears above the Dent-du-Midi. Downstairs, all was
already awake and astir. In the neighboring room nothing was moving.
She, too, did not close her eyes till late, and needs the morning
sleep, thought I.
"But I myself felt impelled to go out. I dressed noiselessly and
stepped softly down stairs. I longed for a bath in the lake; the blood
was burning in my veins. As I came down and approached her door, I saw
that it stood ajar; and within, seated upon a chair in the middle of
the room, and surrounded by locked trunks, I saw Lucile herself, her
bill and its amount in gold lying on the table before her.
"Involuntarily I stood still. At the same instant she glanced up and
recognized me. I crossed the threshold in intense excitement.
"'You intend to go away, Countess?' I exclaimed; 'why this sudden
"'My brother telegraphed for me last evening,' she said hurriedly,
without looking at me. 'He is worried about the affair with the Count,
which I did not conceal from him. He wishes me to come at once to
Paris--he is perfectly right--it is best in every respect--'
"She stopped and bent over a small satchel in her lap. I went to the
piano and lingered some music lying on it, merely to make a noise. If
it remained so still, I feared that she would hear my heart beat. I
could not speak a word.
"'Remember me to your wife,' I heard her say. 'It is so early--she must
be asleep--I will not disturb her to say good-by. I shall write to her
from Paris--meanwhile, tell her--'
"She faltered again. Her voice sounded so timid and humble, she was so
perfect a picture of contrition and helplessness as she sat there,
afraid to look up, that I could not bear to let her suffer alone.
"I turned quickly toward her.
"'Shall we seek to deceive each other at this hour?' I said. 'It is
generous of you, but it shames me too much. I know why you wish to
leave us so suddenly; your brother has nothing to do with it; no, there
shall be no falsehood between us. I alone drive you away. You know that
I love you passionately. Listen to me patiently; I shall say nothing
unworthy of either of us. We three know it, therefore we can no longer
remain together. No one has been to blame. You esteem my wife too
highly, and me also--I know that you are my friend--to wish to bring
any trouble into our lives. Nothing is changed between my wife and me,
we live for each other as always before; but you are right, one should
not presume on such good fortune, and in time, even with the purest
"I do not know what more I said. I was looking down at her, and I can
see her head before me even yet, the narrow white part in the curly,
blue-black hair, and at the neck, the simple, heavy knot with a silver
pin. I saw that her bosom heaved painfully, and that the small hands on
the satchel trembled slightly. But I could not see her face.
"Suddenly she looked up, and her eyes as they met mine were full of
gratitude, but streaming with tears.
"'Lucile!' I cried, and falling on my knees before her, I drew her head
down with my hands. 'Farewell!' I stammered. She did not speak. I
pressed my lips to both her eyes, then tore myself away and fled from
the room. I hastened out of the house, down the nearest street, and up
the steep road toward Montreux. About half way there was a bench
standing against a vineyard wall. Halting there, I remained seated for
awhile with my eyes closed, in that stupefied state between pain and
pleasure, which usually comes to one who has done his duty at the cost
of a deep heart's need, or has renounced forbidden fruit.
"The morning remained sunless; a strong south wind wrapped the Savoyard
mountains in mist, and at length a slight rain began to fall. Looking
around, I saw the steamer which had landed at Vernex already well on
its way toward Vevey. I vainly strained my eyes to discover, among the
figures wrapped in rain-cloaks on the forward deck, her who was leaving
me forever. Then I slowly retraced my steps to the house, intending to
tell my wife of what had happened. But, first, I could not resist
entering the small salon below, for the door was still open.
"The traces of a hasty departure were still visible--torn bills,
flowers withered and scattered, and on the piano-stool a single sheet
of music torn through the centre. I picked it up. It was the first
music I had heard from the little piano, that prelude through which we
had learned to know each other--Galeotto fu il libro! It was a
sorrowful hour indeed when she vented her defiance and misery on the
innocent music. I carefully pocketed it.
"Then I went upstairs. Still no sound from my wife's sleeping-room.
Finally I knocked softly at the door, and when no one answered, entered
the room. Neither mother nor child were to be seen; the windows were
open; hats and wraps had disappeared.
"I do not know why this seemed so strange to me. Nothing was more
natural than that they should start on their morning walk when they
failed to find me. I called the chambermaid; she had seen my wife and
child going in the direction of Chillon; she had received no message
for me. As it had begun to rain, I imagined they would soon return, and
decided to wait for them. But I could not endure this half an hour.
"I strode down the street which, following the shore, between houses
and vineyards, leads to Chillon. At every bend in the road I expected
to see them. Each time I was disappointed. Finally reaching the isle of
Chillon, I asked the guard on the bridge if a lady and child had gone
into the castle. Excepting a few Englishmen, there had been no visitors
during the whole morning. I shall not attempt to describe my feelings
at this information. Immediately turning about, I returned in half the
usual time. Drenched, exhausted, and feverishly excited, I once more
reached the house.
"Dinner-time was past, and they had not arrived.
"For the time being I was incapable of going out and renewing my search
for the fugitives. I searched her chamber and my own, her desk, each of
her trunks and boxes, in the hope--or rather in the fear--of finding a
note which might give some clue to this mysterious disappearance. I
found nothing. That completely disheartened me. I stretched myself on a
sofa, and for a full hour was tormented by the most incredibly horrible
fancies, and suffered the bitterest distress in my poor soul, a
purgatory wherein I richly expiated my sins.
"At length I arose.
"It was about two o'clock, and the rain was lighter. Although I felt
lame and exhausted, I nevertheless resolved to go out again and search
in the direction of Montreux, where she had often sketched. Perhaps the
rain had surprised her there, and for the child's sake she had taken
shelter under some hospitable roof until the rain should cease.
"Just as I was ready to go, the door opened, and a man in a coachman's
blouse entered. He asked my name, and gave me a note. She wrote from
Vevey, whence the man had just come in his wagon. She had suddenly
decided that morning to carry out her plan, and visit the principal of
the pension where she had lived as a girl. She begged me to excuse
her for not informing me before. She would tell me about it when she
saw me. She meant to remain there for the night; the room which she had
formerly occupied was empty, and she wished to sleep once more in the
bed where she had dreamed her girlish dreams, and to show the child all
the places which were dear to her in her youth. She would return next
"While I was reading, the messenger related in his patois a rambling
story about a Fräulein from the pension whom he was obliged to take
to Vevey, and about the strange lady who had given him the note just as
he was harnessing; and now he must go. I listened with little
attention, gave the man his fee, and was once more alone.
"I could not believe it had happened so accidentally. I recognized a
little stratagem of my wife's, a ruse to make me feel what it meant
when she failed me. 'Out of sight, in mind' was indeed her maxim. She
proved it only too cruelly.
"I did not wish to prolong my penance unnecessarily. It was two hours
before another steamer left. The railroad was then only a subject for
conversation. Little time would be gained by taking a carriage, and I
knew that the slow movement would madden me.
"To be brief, I arrived in Vevey about seven o'clock, and was at once
driven to the pension. They sent me into the garden. It had become a
perfectly clear and beautiful evening, and although the sun had
long since set, the light was still so strong that one could read
out-of-doors. I saw the fugitives in the distance. My dear child ran to
meet me with a cry of joy, and threw herself as impetuously about my
neck as if she suspected what suffering the separation had caused me.
My wife approached more slowly, for she was walking with the old
directress; but her face wore a most loving expression, and she blushed
slightly, as if ashamed of being caught in a trick. She presented me to
her old friend, an excellent little spinster with snow-white hair,
merry black eyes, and an obstinately black and visible mustache. I went
the rounds of the house and garden, saw all the historical places, and,
finally, my wife's narrow, neat little room, where a bed for the child
had just been made on the sofa. It was then vacation, and most of the
scholars were visiting their parents. I was invited to dine; but
although we remained by ourselves and chatted about many things, what
had taken place in the morning was not once mentioned. When I departed
at nine o'clock, intending to spend the night in a hotel, my wife
pressed my hand warmly, yet, at the same time, with a look which
forbade any further tenderness--I remained in uncertainty whether out
of respect for the half-cloister-like house-customs or from another
"I brooded over it for a time. But I was so extremely tired by my hard
day, that I fell asleep almost instantly in my cheerless hotel room,
and was awakened by the morning sun.
"We took a carriage to return to Vernex. Since our little daughter sat
opposite us, any expression of deep feeling was of course impossible.
On arriving at the house, the child at once ran out into the garden
with a playfellow. We two ascended the stairs, passing our friend's
"'I have regards for you,' I said; 'she went away early yesterday
morning. She will write to you from Paris.'
"My wife looked at me with a charming smile, half shy and half roguish.
"'I too have a greeting for you,' she said; 'at any rate, the last
hand-clasp, after we had embraced three times, was certainly intended
for you. But the letter from Paris will be omitted. We made no
arrangements for a correspondence. Yes,' she continued, as I looked
wonderingly at her, 'I do not have fine ears in vain. I heard very
plainly how my lord and master paid his morning call below, and knew
from the unusual stir and movement that her departure was decided upon.
I wished to accompany her a little distance. Why should we part so
silently and secretly? Did we think unkindly of each other? I, at
least, was not vexed because she found you lovable; she shared that
weakness with me. And how could she help it that I had met you first?
For a moment I even thought of begging her to remain. But that would
have been a foolish challenge to fate. But I sat by her side as far as
Vevey, and we explained ourselves as well as we could without calling
things by name. Are you satisfied with me?'
"She held out her hand. I took it somewhat hesitatingly. 'If you were
only satisfied with me!' I exclaimed. 'I found her miserably unhappy,
as if she had done something for which she could never forgive herself.
It seemed unknightly to let her believe that I was cold to her feeling.
So I expressed myself, and truly, called things by their right names.
Indeed, at the last, I kissed her on both eyes, and she suffered it.
This is all I have on my conscience.'
"'It is little--and yet, quite enough,' she replied softly; 'let us
speak of it no more.'
"And so it was. Indeed, I not only ceased to speak of her, but in an
unexpectedly short time forgot to think of her. Many things aided me in
this. I was hastily called home by a letter from my inspector, for my
presence on the estate had become imperative. Then came an early winter
which brought me many cares, since I was occupied with the purchase of
a small neighboring estate. In these cares of house and field, my wife,
with her prudent forethought and encouraging cheerfulness, was of the
greatest assistance, and no one, seeing us together, would have
suspected any change in our admirably sympathetic life. And yet there
was a change.
"A sword lay between us, invisible, but not unfelt.
"At first I bore it calmly, when she quietly but firmly resisted any
show of tenderness on my part. In other ways she was not cold or
distant towards me; in fact, her loving care increased, and she
constantly endeavored to fulfill even my unexpressed wishes. But a
certain shy reserve never left her. When I finally asked if my presence
was distasteful to her, or if she wished to punish me by denying these
innocent caresses, she shook her head earnestly and blushed like a
"'I am not sure that you will understand me,' she said. 'But it seems
to me as if we were never alone, as if some one else were looking in on
our privacy, and even you--it seems as if you saw me and another at the
same time. Let us wait awhile. We shall somehow succeed in being alone
"The winter and part of the summer passed by. The letter from Paris did
not come. Politics were added to my usual occupations, and my head was
full of symbols and party programmes. When, now and then, I had time to
observe my inner self, I found only one of the two heart-chambers
occupied, and that one filled with the most ardent love. The other was
as empty and musty as a room which has not been aired or opened to the
sun for a long time. On the wall hung a picture whose frame was dusty
and whose colors were faded.
"I was scarcely surprised that this had happened so quickly. In the
strange second courtship in which I was living with my wife, my
passionate nature was completely engrossed by distress at our
estrangement. But I knew that she was not to be won 'with prayers, and
with whinings, and with self-exalting pains.' Perhaps another dream
will come to your aid, thought I. The transformation occurred in the
"One morning we were sitting at breakfast alone, for the child had a
study hour with the pastor. Among the papers which we were looking over
was a French one, which a neighbor received and shared with us. I was
glancing mechanically down the columns, when my eyes suddenly fastened
on a name.
"'Look!' said I; 'at length we have the explanation of the missing
Parisian letter. Have you read it?'
"She looked at me searchingly, but did not reply.
"'In court circles they are talking of the betrothal of the Duke of C.
to the beautiful Countess Lucile of ----, who, as is well known, enjoys
the intimacy of the imperial court, and whose husband met such a sad
end three months ago after a great loss in play at Monaco. They say the
empress has given the bride a magnificent ornament, and so on. I own,'
I added, 'that no news has given me greater pleasure for a long time.
Poor Lucile! She certainly deserved imperial reparation for her
"My wife still remained silent. Then, rising, she came and threw her
arms around me, and kissed me on both cheeks. 'I have known it since
yesterday,' she said. 'Will you believe that I was weak enough to fear
how you might receive it?'
"'Oh, child,' I said, 'you have always seen ghosts. Will you now
believe that we are alone?'
"From that day there was never a shadow between us. Our happiness, like
every other real happiness, was never exhausted. Our motto might have
been those beautiful words:
"'The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.'
"And when the end came--after three short years--the effect was
immeasurable, as in all true endings. But of that I cannot speak."
He stood up. Just then the clock struck one.
"I have detained you a long time," he said; "Now I shall take you home
by the shortest way. You will be wet through."
In fact, a light, warm rain was beginning to fall.
"And do you know nothing more about the Countess?" I asked. "I confess,
her hasty marriage touches me strangely. Perhaps she wished to end all
"You wrong her," he said; "there is something more to be told. I myself
thought that, but must humbly apologize for it. You know that when I
became a widower I could find no rest anywhere. I leased my estates,
and took my daughter to that excellent dame at Vevey, who had been such
a true friend to her mother. People often congratulated me upon
possessing in the child a perfect likeness of the mother. But this
resemblance affected me peculiarly. I was pained that she should
resemble her mother physically, without showing a trace of spiritual
likeness. She was much like me, and had my love of music. But this did
not make me happy; indeed, rather sharpened my pain; and it is only
recently that I have been able to recognize and enjoy the many good and
lovable traits which she possesses.
"Only by continual movement, by ceaseless journeying from place to
place, could I conquer my uneasiness. I had been a homeless and joyless
man for nearly two years, and had advanced to the limits of the
thirties. I had tried occasionally, from a sense of duty, to interest
myself in business. I scarcely need to say that I had replied with a
mere shrug of the shoulders whenever solicitous friends, especially
women, urged me to a second marriage.
"It happened one autumn day that, much against my will, I was obliged
to stop in Switzerland and look after one of my estates which was to
have a new tenant. After staying for several weeks in Engelberg, I came
down the road to Stansstad on a most beautiful, sunshiny day, to cross
the lake to Luzerne.
"About half way down there is a pleasant spot under magnificent
walnut-trees, where the wagons coming up from the valley usually stop
for a quarter of an hour to breathe their horses. As I reached the
first houses I saw a carriage stop in front of the inn, and two ladies
presently alight from it. One of them, dressed entirely in black,
attracted my attention by her graceful bearing. She had already
vanished into the house, when I suddenly remembered who it was that had
carried herself so. A slight depression fell upon me. But I at once
determined to pass on without attempting to confirm my suspicions.
"As my light open wagon was rolling by the inn, a face only too well
known to me looked from an upper window. She recognized me at once; I
saw it by the startled way in which she drew back, as if a phantom from
some long-buried past had suddenly risen before her. In the next
instant she controlled herself sufficiently to bow to me. There was
nothing else to do. I stopped and hastened to her.
"She met me perfectly unchanged; her beauty was only heightened by an
additional fulness; her cheeks, with their ivory color, were slightly
flushed from the excitement of this meeting.
"She took my hand in both of hers and pressed it warmly, as if I were
an old friend.
"'I know everything about you,' she said; 'I sorrowed with you, and how
deeply! Although you did not know. I tried several times to write--but
the words always failed me.'
"At first I could say nothing in reply. I felt with too much
consternation that her power over me was as strong as in those first
days. The tones of her voice; her dark, often passionately burning
eyes; the beautiful lips that seemed to have forgotten to smile; the
whole witchery of long ago was again active. We walked up and down the
empty room; her companion did not appear. I could hardly preserve a
"Instead of personal things, I spoke about her journey, and learned
that she was to remain a week or two in Engelberg. Her nerves were
unstrung; she suffered from insomnia. Then her brother was to come for
her, as she had decided to accompany him to his embassy at Madrid.
"'And your husband?' I asked carelessly. She looked at me distantly,
almost reproachfully. 'He has not been among the living for some
years,' she said in a monotone; 'I thought you knew it. Were not the
sad circumstances of his suicide at Monaco in all the papers?'
"'Certainly,' I replied; 'but I read of a new marriage--'
"'It was a foolish rumor,' she said, staring gloomily at the ground; 'I
would never have left my brother to play a rôle in the farce of the
Second Empire. Could you really believe that of me?'
"I was unable to answer. A storm was raging in me which swept away all
power of thought. She was free, and I? Was I still bound? How was it
that her power over me died in the very moment when I might have
yielded without hesitation? I saw the beautiful, once-loved woman near
me; it seemed as if I had but to hold out my arms and take her, and--my
arms hung heavily at my sides. Did a sword lie between us then, as
before between my beloved wife and me? While we were standing silently
side by side near the window, gazing down into the glorious valley, my
mind became calm and clear. I realized distinctly and sadly that if I
now offered her half of my heart I should act immorally. Strangely
enough, these words sounded always in my ears, 'She sleeps, that we may
be happy;' and even while I felt all the magic of her warm, breathing
life, a cold shudder ran through me, as if a corpse were standing near,
a past far mightier than the most warm-blooded present.
"Out of sight is indeed in mind.
"She must have perceived my feeling. She too was silent, and I saw her
bosom heaving painfully. She asked about my daughter, but evidently did
not hear my answer. An intense pity seized me as I looked at her--the
beautiful, noble, unhappy woman, with so long a life before her still
and so little hope of happiness. Was it a foolish, unreal fear that
prevented me from taking her in my arms? Do you believe that I could
possibly have been happy with her? Who can know how the years will
change one! But at that time it would have been a lie and a crime.
"The companion came with a glass of milk. Lucile drank a little and
returned the glass with a gesture of aversion. 'I am no longer
thirsty,' she said; 'is the carriage ready?'
"I offered my arm to escort her down. On the stairs she stopped an
"'Do you play much now?' she asked.
"'I have not touched the violin since I became a widower,' I replied.
'Music is a pleasure only when one is cheerful and sociable. In
solitude it revives all buried sorrows.'
"'Yes,' she said, 'it does, and one is grateful for it. There are
people so poor that their only possessions consist of old griefs,
without which they could not live. They remind one that there was once
a time when the heart was living, for only a living heart can feel
misery. You have the advantage of me in not feeling this truth.'
"I felt her hand trembling on my arm. 'Lucile!' I cried, pressing her
arm to me. Who knows what might have happened then if, her pride being
suddenly roused, she had not drawn away from me and hastened down the
remaining steps alone. Before I could reach her she was seated in the
"'Farewell! Remember me to your daughter. And--no! I was about to say
Au revoir! But we shall probably never meet again.'
"She extended her hand to me from the carriage with a look that hurt
me, for it seemed to ask whether I had either hope or desire to see her
again. I bent over the small, white hand, and kissed it. Then the
horses started, and I stood alone in the sunny street, until her veil,
fluttering in the fresh mountain breeze, vanished from my sight."
It was a few years after the French war. The fall review had
incidentally brought together again a number of young officers who had
earned their iron crosses in the array of the Loire, and they had
invited good comrades from other regiments to join them and celebrate
the reunion from an inexhaustible bowl. Midnight was past. The talk,
which for some time had concerned personal recollections and
experiences, had taken a thoughtful turn and was becoming profound. It
was impossible to realize how many were absent without touching on the
everlasting riddle of human life. Besides, the horrible death of a
popular young hero, who had fallen into the hands of the Franc-tireurs,
and been killed in the most revolting manner, and the consequent
destruction of a treasure of brilliant gifts and talents, hopes and
promises--had brought again to the front the old problem, whether
universal destiny and the fate of the individual will be according to
our idea of justice; or whether the individual's weal or woe will be
quietly subordinated to the vast, mysterious design of the universe.
All the well-known reasons for and against a providence ruling morally
and judging righteously, as human beings conceive it, were discussed
again and again; and at length the oldest and most distinguished
of the young soldiers formulated, from the animated argument, this
result:--that even the most enthusiastic optimist, in face of the
crying horrors to which poor humanity is exposed, cannot prove the
existence of a compensating justice on earth; indeed, can only save his
belief in a righteous God by hoping for a world to come.
"But will donkeys go to heaven, too?" suddenly asked a calm, rich voice
from a quiet corner.
For a moment all were silent. Then followed an outburst of gay
laughter, agreeably enlivening to the majority, who were tired of the
"Hear! hear!" cried some.
"One will not be able to understand his own speech at doomsday if all
the resurrected donkeys bray to one another," said a lively young
captain. "Although, Eugene, if the sainted Antonius's pig is in
"And so many pious sheep!" another broke in.
"You forget that the question is long since decided," said a third;
"one has only to read Voltaire's 'Pucelle' in so many cantos!"
"Were you merely joking, Eugene?" then asked the senior president, who
had not joined in the laugh, "or was the question seriously meant,
because it is certainly not yet decided whether or no an immortal soul
lives in animals also?"
The person thus addressed was a young man about thirty years of age,
the only one at the banquet who wore civilian's dress. A severe wound
had forced him to give up a military career. Since then he had lived on
his small estate, more occupied with the study of military science than
with the tilling of his fields. He had come to the city on the occasion
of the review in order to see his old friends.
"The question," he now said very earnestly, "is really not my own, but
is a quotation, whose brusque simplicity embarrassed me myself not long
ago. A strange little story, certainly not a cheerful one, depends on
it. But since we have again soared into speculations which are beyond
jesting, it may perhaps be fitting if I tell where the quotation
originated. I can hardly maintain that the story is calculated to throw
any light on the dark problem."
"Only tell it," cried one after another.
"Who knows whether the donkey that you will ride before us may not
finally open his mouth, like Balaam's prophetic ass, and teach us the
system of the world."
Eugene shook his head with a peculiar smile, and began. "You know that
I suffered from my wound during the entire winter of '71 and '72, and
could only limp around with a cane. When spring came, I surrendered
myself to the care of my married sister. My brother-in-law's manor is
surrounded by endless pine forests, in which I was to take air baths.
Whatever I gained in physical strength, as I wandered about each day in
those lonely thickets, or lay lazily buried in cushions of deep,
luxuriant moss, I lost again in my moral condition. Even in the
hospital I had not seemed to myself such a miserable cripple as here.
Everything about me was overflowing with life and strength; every old
knot bore countless bright-green shoots; even a rotten stump made
itself useful as barracks for a swarming army of ants--and I, condemned
to detestable idleness at twenty-four--enough! I moped about half the
time, and was on very bad terms with God and the world.
"About this time, too, I lived through a sickness which might have
ended my brooding. The neighborhood is thinly populated; the people are
very poor; the women frightfully ugly,--Bohemian types degenerated by
crossing with the Saxons, pinched and rendered half savage through
privation and suffering. But I was perfectly contented that nothing
charming crossed my path. It would have made the consciousness of my
invalidism still more painful. You know, indeed, how long it takes for
the last trace of the typhoid poison, so paralyzing to all energy, to
disappear from one's system. The North Sea was to do me this service.
"Well, for several weeks, like mad Roland, though somewhat more
mildly, I roamed through pine and fir-covered ravines without making a
shot, although a hunting-piece was slung at my back. It was truly, in
spite of all world-griefs, a heavenly time; never have I had such
intimate acquaintance with nature, never felt so vividly what is meant
by 'our mother earth' and 'our father air.' But that does not belong
here. I will come to the point.
"One afternoon I allowed myself to be lured farther than usual from the
house by a most beautiful path winding among young woods, whose slender
trees, scarcely taller than I, allowed the May sunlight to stream
through unchecked. When I found myself entirely astray, I decided to
strike through to the edge of the forest, in order to regain an open
view. A gentle slope, sparsely covered with birches and berry-bushes,
led upwards. Beyond, through the tall firs which enclosed the clearing
like a fence, I could see blue mountain-tops shimmering in the
distance, and knew that I might thence easily find my way. But as I
came out of the forest, I realized for the first time how far I had
wandered. From the forest edge the land sank by a tolerably steep slope
to a plain; and far below lay a small town, well known to me on the
map, but so distant from our estate, that in all my reconnoitring I had
never seen it till now. I was startled when I realized where I was,
for, with my lame leg, I could not possibly undertake to return on
foot. But I thought I might obtain a team in the village.
"I seated myself on a newly-fallen trunk to rest a little before
descending to the town. The land beneath me lay in the deep calm of
afternoon; thin clouds of smoke drifting up from the chimneys of the
old houses announced that the good housewives were making their coffee.
The broad, level plain, gayly checkered with fields of promising, green
crops, stretched beyond; while almost exactly half way between the
forest-edge and the first houses, and bordered by a few bushes and
elders, lay a great fish-pond, peculiarly dark in color, although the
purest spring-heaven was mirrored therein. The ground about it was
marshy, and it seemed as though all the water of the neighborhood
flowed into the depression as into some monstrous cistern. I do not
know why the black basin appeared so uncanny to me, for the birds
nesting in the shrubbery on its banks flew over it continually with
cheerful twitterings. But my gloomy humor drew nourishment just then
from the most innocent sources.
"When I finally raised my eyes to look about for some smooth,
gradually-descending path, I noticed at the right, scarcely a stone's
throw from my seat, a forlorn, mean little house standing in shadow
close by the roots of the foremost trees. The old, tumbled-down fence
surrounding a bit of ground; the dove-cot, in which no living thing was
stirring; the tiled roof, whose damages had been poorly repaired with
shingles and stones from the fields--all looked desolate and
dilapidated, but since a path must surely lead thence to the town, I
arose and dragged myself slowly towards the hut.
"As soon as I perceived the extreme desolation of the old barracks, I
gave up my conjecture that a lumberman dwelt there. All the mortar had
fallen away from the wall on the weather side, and the rain must have
had free entrance through the holes in the deeply sunken roof. The
piece of land behind the crumbling fence, which in times past might
have supported a little garden or a few vegetable beds, had become a
waste rubbish heap, upon which a single black hen tripped about,
excitedly scratching between the weeds and nettles for something
eatable. The north side, turned towards the slope, had two small
windows with broken panes; and in the middle, a door standing wide
open. I glanced into the unattractive entrance. No human being was to
be seen or heard. I was about to go back and follow a little foot-path
which seemed to wind down into the valley, when I was startled, indeed,
truly frightened, by a donkey's bray; for never in my life have I heard
that odd cry given so passionately, and with such peculiarly mournful
modulation, as at that moment.
"The cry of pain came from the other side of the house. As I turned the
corner, I saw in the meadow, close to the wall, an idyllic group
crouched in the young grass: an old woman, clothed in a torn jacket of
flowered calico and a coarse woollen petticoat, and wearing wound about
her head a gray handkerchief, from beneath which her black hair,
thickly sprinkled with gray, hung down in disorder; and near her,
stretched upon the ground, a young donkey with noticeably slender
limbs, dark-edged ears, and a coat of silver-gray, adorned on the back
with a black stripe extending to the head. It was a fine animal, an
honor to its race, and it would certainly have taken a prize at any
show. But I immediately perceived why the poor creature relieved its
oppressed heart in so particularly doleful a manner. A hand's-breadth
on its left shoulder-blade was disfigured by a foul wound; this the old
woman was attempting to cover with wet bandages, although the wounded
brute restively tried to prevent her merciful ministrations with kicks
and stampings of its forelegs. A shallow bowl by the woman's side held
some dark liquid, with which she saturated the rag in order to cool the
wound. She quietly continued this operation as I approached her.
"'Good-morning, dame!' said I. She merely nodded her head wearily.
Beginning to speak of the wound, I asked how it had been received, and
what remedy she was using. No answer. It occurred to me that she did
not understand German. But as I turned away, exclaiming half to myself,
'What a pity! Such a beautiful brute!' her gray eyes suddenly flashed
so powerfully upon me from under her bushy, black brows, that the whole
withered, leather-colored face seemed ten years younger.
"'Yes indeed, sir!' she said in notably pure German, with but a slight
Bohemian accent. 'It is truly a pity, and Minka is certainly beautiful.
If only you had seen her before she was hurt! She could jump about
almost like a young horse, and her coat was like silk and velvet. Now,
for seven months she has lain thus miserably on her belly, and if she
gets up on her legs, how her knees bend, poor creature! Besides, what
use is she? "Betty Lamitz," said the forest warder only yesterday, as
he passed and saw the trouble I had with the brute--for now one must
bring even its bit of fodder close to its muzzle--"you should have her
killed," said he; "the skinner will give you a thaler for the hide."
But no! said I; it's only a beast, but it shall have care like any
other Christian being, or like an honest servant fallen sick in
service! Yes, so I said. Whoa, whoa, Minka! don't roll about so! Look,
sir, she lies on her back and rubs her wound all the time, so no
plaster holds, and it spreads farther and farther. Whoa! Be still!'
"Then, fairly embracing the beast, she tried to quiet it, and keep it
in its bed. Suddenly she released it, ran to a wooden well standing in
shadow back of the house, and having filled a low pail from the old
stone trough into which the water was trickling down, she thrust it
under her charge's pink muzzle. Minka drank in long draughts, and her
feverish excitement visibly abated. The old woman sat near her, looking
on with great contentment, and seeming once more entirely oblivious to
"At length I repeated my inquiry as to the origin of the bad wound
between the shoulder-blades. But the old woman again remained silent;
she merely sighed, and scratched her lean arms with her withered
lingers till white streaks stood up on the brown skin.
"'Yes, yes!' she said absently, after a long while--'such a poor
female! What matters beauty against bad luck? And how she has worked,
always cheerfully and willingly! I could load her as much as I wished,
she never once kicked, or even shook her ears at me. To be sure, I have
brought her up from her tenth day. She was a twin. The forester at
Freithof had a she-ass that presented him one morning with Minka and
her sister. "Would you like to have a handsome nursling, Mother
Lamitz?" said he, just for a joke. Well, I held him to his word. He
owed me a little gold for a piece of linen that I had woven for him. A
couple of florins were still lacking, and for them I took the young
ass. I had trouble enough, first in getting it home, and then in
raising it, for milk was scarce with us. But we have never rued it. A
hard worker, sir, this Minka! We have had to drag many things from the
woods, berries and mushrooms down to market in summer, then our winter
wood, and whatsoever else was needful. I--good heavens! I can trace all
my bones, although I am barely fifty, and Hannah--well, she was still
too weak. And look you, such a faithful beast, a god-send, our only
help--to be so hurt and disgraced in its young years--oh!'
"'Dame,' said I, 'look at me! I too am still young, yet I limp through
the world, and my food must be brought to me because I can no longer
gain it by my own strength; and whoever gives a thaler for my hide is
a fool and a spendthrift. Yet who knows, but that sometime we shall
both prance gayly about once more.'
"I chatted in this strain for some time to cheer her, but, without
heeding me, she stared fixedly at the wound. She had meanwhile covered
it with a firm plaster, since the brute would no longer suffer the
"'Tell me once for all,' she suddenly commenced, and by the gleam
of her eyes I saw that when young she must have been far from
homely--'tell me once for all, sir, do you believe that donkeys go to
"Why do you ask that, mother?
"'I once asked our parson about it. He said it was a foolish question;
that only Christian people go to heaven; and that animals have no
immortal souls. "But, parson," said I, "if the great God is just and
merciful, why doesn't He pity the beasts too, as human beings do if
they are not scoundrels? For instance, why does Minka's sister live
like a princess, have nothing to do but draw a little play-wagon in
which the young masters take an occasional pleasure drive, always
receive kind words and the best fodder, and even have a love-affair
with the valley-miller's donkey? And our Minka, who has just as good a
character, who wears herself out with work, and is often on her legs
with a load for ten hours together, now has all four struck from under
her, and if she should die to-morrow, what pleasure in life has she
had? Is that just, parson? And if it is not sometime paid back to her
there above--" But then he forbade me to speak, and said such blasphemy
led straight to hell. You tell me, sir, do you know anything about it?'
"You can imagine that I did not have the most spirited expression, when
the pistol was thus placed against my breast, and the explanation of
the world-secret demanded of me. Fortunately, however, just at that
moment a woman's clear voice began to sing within the house, and with
it one heard a child's feeble crying, which the song was evidently
intended to still.
"'Who is singing there, Mother Lamitz?' I asked.
"'Who should it be but Hannah?' she grumbled.
"'Your daughter? May I venture to look in at her?'
"The old woman did not reply; muttering to herself, she took the pail
and carried it back to the well; then she rolled forward a wheelbarrow
piled high with grass and weeds, and busied herself in giving handfuls
to the sick beast, almost shoving the food into its mouth. I did not
wait long for an expressed permission, but approached the house, and,
after knocking, entered by the door at the left.
"A suffocating steam greeted me, mixed with the smell of some drying
clothes, which hung across the room on a tightly stretched rope. I saw
immediately that there were only a few miserable swaddling-clothes and
baby-frocks, coarse and much patched.
"In one corner stood a great loom, thickly covered with dust; in the
other, upon a heap of straw, distinguishable from the bed of an animal
only by a woollen covering, sat a fair-haired young woman, holding a
half naked babe at her breast. She herself had nothing on her body but
a shirt, which had fallen far down on her shoulders, and a red woollen
petticoat, which left her white feet visible to the ankles.
"As I entered, she gazed at me searchingly, and for an instant ceased
her singing. She seemed to have expected someone else; but, seeing that
I was an entire stranger, she at once recommenced her cradle-song,
though somewhat more softly, apparently not at all disturbed because I
had surprised her in the performance of a mother's most sacred duty,
and in such incomplete attire.
"As she sang she occasionally smiled at me, showing the pretty teeth in
her large mouth; and I noticed that she clasped the child closer to her
bared breast, and tried to draw the shirt up over her shoulders.
Therewith a slight redness tinged her round, white face, and her blue
eyes assumed a half imploring, half simple and dreamily vacant,
"I excused myself for intruding; her mother had allowed me to come in;
I would immediately go out again if she wished. She hummed her song
without appearing to notice me; but from time to time she would
suddenly lift her eyes, as if to see whether I were still there; then
bite her full, red under-lip; rock the child back and forth; and, with
her bare feet in the straw, beat time to her song.
"The child, which was but a few months old, had drunk and cried itself
to sleep. The cradle-song grew ever softer; at length the young mother,
kneeling down, wrapped the little one, which lay before her like some
rosy, waxen doll, in a great woollen shawl. In the corner near the
pillow I observed a little couch made of old rags and tatters. On this
the baby was gently and carefully laid, and, in spite of the heat,
covered yet again.
"Then the mother, always as if entirely alone in the room, began to let
down and rebraid her tangled, yellow hair. The rest of her toilet
seemed to be perfectly satisfactory.
"Indeed, no elegant costume could have displayed the poor young woman's
charming figure to more advantage. The face was too like the old
woman's to be considered pretty. Yet in the coloring and youthful
contour of that round little head lay a charm, which was not lessened
even by an evident trace of absent-mindedness, or downright imbecility.
I felt intense sympathy for the poor, half-foolish creature, singing
her lullaby so contentedly in such pitiable deprivation of all usual
"She did not answer any of my questions even by a gesture. Since they
had plenty of wood and did not grudge it, the oven was heated almost to
bursting; although the air without was mild enough, even here on the
windy height. So I did not wait until she finished arranging her heavy
braids, but laid a shining thaler on the edge of the loom, nodded
kindly to the harmless creature, and left the room.
"I found the old woman no longer by her sick darling, but at the well,
where she was cleaning a handful of turnips and cutting them into a
"'Mother Lamitz,' said I, 'you have a very pretty daughter. But she
would not speak a word to me. Is she always so silent with strangers?'
"The old woman contracted her brows and stared gloomily at the pot
which she held between her knees. In this attitude she might have
served an artist as model for a witch preparing some noxious potion.
"'Silent?' she asked after a pause. 'No, sir; it is not her tongue that
is lacking. When she will, she can chatter like a starling. The lack is
above. She was so even as a child. Well, it was not such a great shame.
If she had had the best sense, would that have helped a poor,
fatherless thing like her? Did it matter to me that I had all my five
senses right? I was cheated in spite of them, and therefore I care not
a whit whether the brat to which she has given life takes after her, as
people say, or after me. Either way, the little Mary will sometime
become a mother on the sly, as it came into the world on the sly. It is
in the family, sir, it is in the family.'
"And then, after a pause, for I knew not what to say to this frank
worldly wisdom--'Besides, the child will hardly grow old. Hannah treats
it too foolishly. Indeed, reason has nothing to do with her actions.
And when the winter comes, and we all must hunger--it is said, though,
that God lets no sparrow fall from a roof without His will--I am
curious to see whether He will trouble Himself about us four poor
females up here.'
"Therewith she gazed pityingly at the donkey, which was now crouching
quietly in its bedding. I could have laughed to see her so
unconcernedly consider gray, long-eared Minka as the fourth in the
family; but the horrible cold-bloodedness with which she spoke of her
child and grandchild was not humorous.
"'You seem to care much more tenderly for the donkey than for your
poor, little grandchild,' I said severely.
"She nodded her head calmly.
"'So it is,' she said; 'Minka needs me more. If I die to-day, she must
come to a miserable end. Do you think Hannah would throw her even an
armful of grass, although the poor beast can no longer seek it herself?
No; she has no thought except for her baby, and beyond that, for the
rascal who is its father. She waits for him every evening at sunset,
although it is already a half year since he last crossed our threshold.
And withal she is as happy as any one can wish to be, considers the
dear God a good man, and lets her old mother do all the housework
without any help. Why should I pity her or her brat? Both are already
as if in heaven, and if it goes hard with them, and they must hunger
and freeze, can they not make that good hereafter in Paradise? But
Minka, look you, sir, has had no lover, and brought no young one into
the world, and when she dies she will be thrown in the flaying-place,
and on doomsday, when we other poor sinners gather our bones together,
of her nothing at all will be left, and it will never be credited to
her that she had a harder life than her twin sister. Look you, some
other poor Christian mortal must pity the beasts if our Lord Jesus
Himself cannot bring Himself to do it.'
"This logic allowed no reply. But I confess that the future of the
little human being was more momentous to me, in spite of its immortal
soul, than the question whether Minka would lose or not in the final
distribution of justice. If to-morrow the only person among these 'four
females' who had sound human sense should be struck by lightning, what
would then become of the poor fool and her baby?
"'Does the father do nothing at all for the little one?' I asked at
last. 'The child is as beautiful as if carved out of ivory, and it is
by no means certain that it will become like the mother. Has he never
shown himself again?'
"'He!' exclaimed the old woman, thrusting the knife with which she had
been cleaning the turnips deep into the wooden well-spout. 'If I should
drag him to justice, he would swear himself free, that he would,
although he is the town-judge's own son. Do you think I did not see it
in him, even the first time when he came into our little house to
kindle his pipe at the hearth--so he said, the villain! He is
unfortunately as pretty to look at as he is bad within, and the stupid
thing, Hannah she was still innocent, and I could let her wander all
day long in the woods alone with Minka, filling the two panniers with
berries and mushrooms--she thought of no man then, and I--God knows how
it came about! Just because she is so foolish and weak in her head, I
imagined that no one would trouble about her. But she pleased the
judge's son, and was herself instantly carried away with him. After
that I had trouble enough with her. She had worked bravely till then in
the house and garden, and no work was too hard for her. Now, of a
sudden, half the day her hands in her lap, and if I began to scold she
would smile at me like a child waking from a lovely dream. If I sent
her to the woods, she would bring the baskets back to the house
scarcely a quarter full. It was Minka's misfortune too. You cannot
believe, sir, how the beast clung to Hannah; it had human sense, anyway
more than Hannah, and realized that the smart fellow with the black
mustache had nothing good in mind. It always ran after the stupid girl,
and gave a loud bray to warn her. I saw everything well enough, but
what could I do? Scoldings and warnings were useless; she did not
understand. And one cannot shut up a grown woman, who will use force to
get out. She would have climbed from the window or even the chimney to
rush into the very arms of ruin. Well, and so it happened. But the
worst of it was that Minka suffered for it too. One evening she
followed the girl into the woods, and soon afterward came limping home
alone, with the wound in her neck, groaning and crying like a human
being. Hannah came back an hour later. I questioned her closely as to
how the brute had received the wound. "Ha!" said she, laughing
insolently, "she screamed all the time and crowded between us, although
Frank tried to drive her back with blows; so he suddenly became angry,
drew his knife, and gave her a thrust." I struck the shameless thing
for laughing about it, and put salve on the wound. But Minka rolled on
her back as if crazy, and would bear no bandage, and so it has grown
worse with her every day, and with Hannah too. Well, at least she has
had her way, and nothing much better could have happened to her. Who
would take one like her for his honest wife? And if sometime she
realizes that it is useless to wait for her lover, and becomes crazy
with grief at his wickedness, then she has little wit to lose. Whereas
Minka, sir, who is cleverer than many people, believe me, she lies for
days pondering why good and bad are so unequally divided on the earth;
why she has nothing but a ruined life, while her sister trots about
elegant and happy; and why our good Lord did not arrange it so that
donkeys might go to heaven, and obtain their reward for all the flaying
and toiling, beating and kniving, they have to bear.'
"She uttered these last words with such violence that she was obliged
to stop for breath. Then, brushing back the loose hairs at her neck,
she tied her head-cloth more firmly, and took the pot of turnips on her
"'I must go in, sir,' she said hoarsely, 'or I shall go to bed hungry.
Do you know the town-judge and his fine son? It does not matter. He
will not have to pay for what he did to my girl and to Minka until he
stands before God's throne. And for the rest, why should his conscience
prick him? She wished nothing better; indeed, we all wish nothing
better; if we were not silly, you men could not be bad. So it will be
as long as the world lasts. At doomsday I shall not complain of that,
but I shall ask our Lord whether donkeys go to heaven too, of that you
may be sure--of that you may certainly be sure!'
"She nodded her head vigorously, passed by without another look at me,
and disappeared in the house.
"You can imagine that, as I descended the slope, passing the black
water, and finally reaching the village, all that I had seen and heard
continually pursued me. Even when I had secured a carriage at the inn,
and was rolling along the highway towards my brother-in-law's house,
the figure of the old woman, and especially that of her blonde daughter
with the naked babe clasped to her breast, seemed actually before my
eyes. It chanced that my driver was an elderly man, who could give
trustworthy answers to my questions about the inmates of the little
house on the hill. He remembered Betty Lamitz's sudden appearance there
twenty years ago very well. Her own home was in a neighboring place,
where, her mother having died without leaving any property, the parish
refused to receive her. She was a servant in an aristocratic house in
Prague, and behaved properly enough until one of the sons of the house,
an officer home on a furlough, noticed her. She had been a fine-looking
person even at thirty, in spite of her flat nose and broad cheeks, a
maid with unusual eyes, and when she laughed--which to be sure she
seldom did--she could cut out many younger women even then. But things
simply went the usual way, in spite of her cleverness, and although she
had always said she would never do as her own mother had done. Of
course her master did not keep her in the house. He gave her a suitable
sum of money, with which she bought the forsaken hill-house and the bit
of garden plot, and since then, as she would not go into service again,
perhaps could not, she had lived there and brought Hannah up, in
perfect retirement. For the first few years the young count remembered
her, and sent her something. After awhile he failed to do this, and she
was obliged to struggle along by herself. She had done so; and
certainly no one could accuse her of grief at her child's lack of
"Then my driver spoke of the sad affair with the judge's son, against
whom he expressed himself in very strong terms. Every one knew about
it. But he was the only son of a most respectable family, and no one
could expect him to make amends for the foolish mis-step by an honest
marriage. A wild, insane thing! Why didn't the old woman watch her
better? If he did a little something for the child, no one would blame
him much for this youthful sin.
"I listened without entering into any discussion of the moral aspect of
the case. In my heart--I know not why--I felt such intense sympathy for
the poor creature, that if her betrayer had come in my way, I would
have thrashed him with much pleasure.
"My first action, when I saw my people again, was to tell them of my
experience, and induce my good sister to take some interest in the
neglected young woman. She was true to her sympathetic nature. The next
day she sent her 'Mamselle,' an experienced, elderly person, in a
carriage to Mother Lamitz's hut, with a basket containing all sorts of
good things--provisions for several weeks, baby-clothes, and several
uncut dress pieces to provide for the winter. To this I added a trifle
in cash, fully intending to go in person very soon, and see if this
feeble attempt to make up the deficiencies of the world-system had been
at all effectual.
"But I did not go. Our physician ordered me to take sea-baths earlier
than I expected. I merely heard that our gifts were received by the old
woman with but moderate thanks, and by the young mother with child-like
exultation. Then I departed, remaining away the entire summer, and the
inmates of that forest hut soon became of as little moment to me as any
beggar into whose hat one tosses a groschen.
"Even when, after having washed away in the sea my invalidism and its
accompanying world-sickness, I returned to the estate in the autumn for
hunting, it did not occur to me for several weeks to inquire about the
'four females.' My sister and her husband had themselves been away, and
been occupied with entirely different things. On a lonely tramp which I
undertook one cold, cloudy, disagreeable day in the middle of October,
I suddenly recollected that I had wandered over the same forest-path
five months before, and that it had finally led me to the donkey with
the 'immortal soul.' What might have happened to Minka in the meantime?
"I stepped along more briskly, for evening was already coming on. It
was dark and comfortless in the forest; the moisture dripped heavily
from the pines; the little clearings, with their bushes and birches,
were not so cheerful, in spite of the red berries hanging plentifully
on their faded branches, as on that day in May, when I alone wore a
troubled face. When I finally emerged from the pines at the edge of the
height, the land below me and the purplish peaks on the horizon looked
as strange as if a terrible storm were impending. The air was perfectly
still; one heard each drop falling on the dry leaves, and, from time to
time, the crows, very numerous in that locality, cawing in the
treetops. The noise was so hateful to me that, in a sort of sudden
fury, I snatched my gun from my shoulder, and fired into the
unsuspecting flock. A single bird fell fluttering and quivering at my
feet. I felt ashamed of this childish outburst and hurried towards the
hut, which, standing in its old place, and in the same condition,
looked extremely desolate in the murky evening mist.
"The enclosed space had beautified itself with half a dozen tall
sunflowers and with several rows of pumpkin-vines growing over the
rubbish-heap; but the black hen had evidently failed to outlive the
summer. On the side of the house where the brook flowed, and where
Minka had lain, there was no longer any trace of her. Possibly it was
now too cold on this damp couch for the poor, wounded beast. But where
had she gone? I laughed to myself as I realized that the fate of the
brute creature was more interesting to me than that of the hut's human
inmates. Of them nothing was to be seen or heard.
"In the room where the loom stood, excepting that the straw-bed was
empty, everything appeared as at my first visit. But the oven was cold
and all the windows were open. I pressed the door-latch of the single,
mean chamber on the right of the narrow hall. Here I was amazed to find
one at least of the 'four females,' the good Minka herself. She lay on
a litter of yellow leaves, moss, and pine-needles, close to a low
hearth, whereon coals were still glowing; and as she saw me enter, she
lifted her head wearily.
"The old woman must have housed here, since, besides cooking utensils,
all sorts of woman's trumpery was lying about, while on the other side
of the hearth stood an ancient, grandfather's chair, with torn
cushions, plainly Mother Lamitz's bedstead. She had evidently brought
her sick darling into her immediate vicinity.
"I approached the poor creature and stroked her coat, for which
attention her ears wagged a doleful gratitude. The wound had grown
worse; indeed, her whole condition was serious, and for the first time
I saw on an animal something like the hippocratic face. Seeing that I
was friendly, she made a painful effort to unburden her distressed
heart; but no longer able to express herself satisfactorily, she soon
became silent again, and with an indescribably piteous look let her
tongue loll from her mouth, thus taking away her last trace of beauty
in my eyes. As I could not help her, I went out in a few moments,
leaving the door open; for the close air, which I could scarcely
breathe, must have been equally unbearable for a sick donkey.
"Outside I looked about in all directions. Of grandmother, mother, or
child--not a trace. In the forest--but what could they be seeking there
so late, and in such horrible weather? They have gone down to the town,
thought I, to make some purchases. But nobody knows when they will
"To await them in the damp hut was out of the question. I thought that
perhaps I might meet them on the way down, as I intended to descend and
return by the highroad, instead of the dark, slippery forest path. So
once again I took the little path between the meadows, and heard then,
for the first time, a muffled sound of musical instruments, principally
clarionets and contrabasses, evidently coming from the inn in the town
below. Although dance music, it was far from merry; indeed, it seemed
but a proper accompaniment to the melancholy song heaven and earth were
singing together; as if cloud spirits were playing a waltz to which
they might whirl madly over the cold mountain-tops.
"The neighborhood is not musical. Only occasionally, when a band of
wandering Bohemians strays into this corner of the hills, does one hear
merry tunes in lively time; but even a Bohemian band can seldom set in
motion the clumsy feet of the men and maids.
"However, that scarcely belongs to my subject. I will be brief. I had
not taken twenty steps when I saw, down by the fishpond, sitting on a
mossy stone, a woman's motionless figure, with the back turned toward
me. She seemed to be staring into the black water. I could scarcely see
the outline, yet I recognized her at once.
"'Mother Lamitz!' I cried, 'Mother Lamitz!'
"At the third call, and when I was very close to her, she slowly turned
her head, but I could not see her eyes.
"'Why do you sit here on a wet stone, Mother Lamitz?' I asked. 'Have
you thrown a net and do you wish to haul your catch? Or for whom are
you waiting in this unhealthy fog?'
"She looked straight into my face, evidently trying to remember the
person to whom these features and this voice belonged. But it dawned on
her very slowly.
"I helped somewhat by recalling to her mind my spring visit, and
telling her that since then I had often considered whether or no
donkeys would go to heaven, and had never arrived at any conclusion.
She listened silently, but I was not certain that she rightly
understood my meaning, for she nodded continually, even when I asked a
question demanding a negative answer.
"But when I mentioned her daughter's name, she became suddenly alert,
looking suspiciously at me from under her thick brows.
"'What do you want with Hannah?' she said. 'She is not at home. But she
is very well, she and her brat. Did I tell you she was a trifle weak in
the head? In that I lied. She had more sense than most of the foolish
geese. Oh, I wish that I might have gone away so, but there are
different gifts, and how does the Testament say? Those who are poor in
spirit--yes, yes. O thou merciful One!'
"Stopping suddenly, she spread her hands on her knees and let her head
fall upon her breast.
"She seemed more and more uncanny to me. It was ghastly there by the
bank; the bats were beginning to flit among the low bushes, and the
rising wind brought a musty swamp odor. From below came the unceasing
music of the clarionets and basses.
"Merely to break the silence, I said, 'There seems to be high festival
in the inn down yonder. Is it a feast?'
"She sprang to her feet, again looking distrustfully at me. 'Have you
only just heard it? They have piped and fiddled so since noonday, and
will go on till midnight. I have stopped my ears, but it is useless.
Weddings are not funerals--one knows that very well--but if they knew,
if they knew! To be sure they would not have one waltz the less. O thou
"'Whose wedding is it?'
"Spitting violently, she cast a furious look across the pond towards
the house from which the sounds arose.
"'Go down there and look at the pair for yourself,' she snarled; 'they
suit each other well. He is bad and handsome, and she is stupid and
rich. A brewer's daughter, she measures her money by the bushel. But
she has reason enough to answer a question correctly, and she did not
say no when the parson asked her if she wished the judge's son for a
"'The judge's son! He?' Now, indeed, I knew the cause of the old
"'Poor Hannah! And does she know what is going on down there?'
"'How could she help knowing, sir? Do you think there are not
sympathetic souls enough to carry such news wherever they are likely to
earn God's blessing for it? She sat just before the door with her baby
on her lap; she was decked out in her best clothes, that blue dress,
you know, which the lady baroness sent her; and her baby was dancing to
the music. Then the druggist's maid came down, pretending that she
passed by accident, but it was the wickedest curiosity, dear sir, to
see how the poor fool would act when she heard that her lover was
holding his wedding feast down there. She did not tell it to Hannah.
"Mother Betsey!" she screamed in to me, "the judge's son! What do you
say to that?" and then she abused the badness of the world. I merely
blinked at her, for I thought I should sink into the earth. I never
believed he would marry Hannah, but she waited for him every evening,
and was so happy doing so, that she might have expected him for all
eternity, and sung her cradle-songs contentedly. And now the whole
baseness of it, and the news of the marriage with the brewer's
daughter, to come on her so suddenly--as if a trusted friend had thrust
a knife in her breast. The words stuck in the spiteful tell-tale's
throat as she saw what she had done. She said she must hurry; her
mistress expected her, and she ran off. I went out and saw the poor
thing sitting on the bank, with her head leaning back on the wall as if
too heavy for her, and her eyes and mouth wide open.
"'"Hannah!" I coaxed, "do not believe it--she lied," and as much more
as I could bear to say. She did not speak, but all at once laughed
aloud, and stood up, holding her child fast in her arms.
"'"Where are you going?" I said. "Come into the house. I will brew you
some elder tea." But it was as if she did not hear me. She went slowly
away from the house, down the path. I followed, trying to hold her back
by her clothing, but there was something superhuman in her; her face
was rigid and deathly pale. "Hannah," said I, "you are not going to
him? Think what they would say if you went to the wedding. They would
say you were out of your wits, and by and by the law would come and
take away the child, because they dare not leave it with an idiot."
"'That brought her to her senses for a moment. She stood still,
clasping the child silently, and sighing as if her soul would leave her
body. I thought I had won, and that she would turn back with me and
gradually give in. If she could have cried it would have been her
salvation, but her eyes were perfectly dry, and I saw her stare
continually at the house down there, as if she would pierce the walls
and destroy that bad man and his bridge with the wreath and veil. I
begged her to come into the house. I realized then that I had nothing
in the world but her, and I told her so, asking her to forgive me for
all my roughness and unkindness to her. Dear God, when one is so
miserable, and another hungry mouth comes into the house! But she heard
nothing. The music seemed to bewitch her; she began to rock the child
back and forth; then of a sudden she gave a loud cry, as if her heart
had broken, and before I knew what she meant to do, she was rushing
down to the pond. Her loose hair streamed after her, the blue clothes
fluttered, she ran so fast, and--O thou merciful One!--with my own eyes
I saw it--child and grandchild! I tried to scream, I was choking; I ran
like a madman; as I came down, I saw only the black water, bubbling
like a kettle at the place where--'
"She sprang up, and stood half bowed among the damp marsh grasses like
a picture of despair, both arms outstretched toward the now motionless
"I could not speak a word. Every instant I thought she would throw
herself in after them. The spot where we were standing seemed
peculiarly suitable for a suicide. The bank shelved perpendicularly
into the depths; no rushes grew out of the water; the alder bushes,
retreating, left a gap several feet in width; and even close to shore
the water was as dark as if the depths were bottomless.
"But the old woman seemed to intend nothing violent. Her body relaxed
again and her arms fell loosely on her hips.
"'Do you see anything there?' she asked suddenly, in an undertone.
"'Down there by the willow? No; it is nothing. I thought her hair came
to the surface. But she is lying at the bottom. At first something
yellow floated out on the water--I would swear it was her hair--and the
long rake there, left since haying-time--if I had taken it, and fished
for the hair with it, and twisted it fast around the prongs, I believe
I could have pulled her to land even then. But say for yourself, sir,
what would it have mattered? She would have jumped in again. And
wouldn't it have been wicked to rob her of the rest she has found down
there? Who knows that I should have drawn out the poor brat with her!
And without her only plaything, what could she do in the world?'
"She stopped again, rubbing her lean shoulders with her crossed arms as
if she felt a fever-chill. The music paused in the inn below; I heard
the old woman's quick, gasping breaths, and now and then a disconnected
word as if of prayer. This sad stillness was suddenly interrupted by a
hoarse bray from the woods above. We both looked around.
"Lame Minka stood before the hut's door, giving her most doleful signal
of distress. Against the dark background the outline of the beast's
gray form was plainly visible; we could even see her shake her drooping
ears. She must have noticed us, for though we did not call her, she
started down the rough and tiresome road to her old nurse.
"'Are you coming, too?' said the old woman. 'Are you thirsty, because I
forgot to fill your pail? Do you see, sir, that I am right? Minka has
human reason. She too would make an end of her trouble and misery. And
it is better so; it will take her at once from her suffering, and I--do
you know, that I believe even yet that donkeys go to heaven? If not,
why have they human reason? Who knows, when he fears to die, that it is
really the end? And now look at Minka, how steadily she trots toward
the black water. Come, Minka, come, poor fool! We will help you down.'
"The brute came to the stone where the old woman was crouching. It
thrust its large head in her lap, and fell on its knees. The old woman
helped it up again.
"'Come, Minka,' she repeated, 'it will do no harm, and perhaps may help
you to eternal happiness. Hannah has gone before, with little Mary.
Mother Betsey will soon follow.'
"She drew the reluctant animal to the edge of the pond and tried to
force it in. But entreaties and caresses were as vain as the pushes and
blows to which she finally resorted. The poor victim, its whole body
trembling, braced all four feet against the bank and gave a piteous
cry. The old woman cast an imploring glance at me.
"'You have a gun at your back, sir. Will you not do my Minka this last
kindness, and help her to her salvation? The Lord God will repay you
the little powder and lead which you spend on a tortured creature; and
if there is justice, and we meet again up yonder, Minka, too, will not
be wanting, and then you shall see that, after the ass that bore our
Lord into Jerusalem, there will be none more beautiful than Minka in
"How could I withstand such a touching request? I cocked my gun, came
close to the good creature, and shot a bullet through its head. It fell
headlong into the water; the gray head appeared for an instant, then
sank and left no trace.
"The old woman fell upon her knees; I saw her fold her withered hands
and move her lips silently. Undoubtedly, she breathed a prayer for
Minka's departed soul.
"Then she arose wearily. 'I thank you, sir,' she said. 'You have just
done me a greater kindness than when you sent me the money. When you go
home give my respects to the lady baroness. Tell her I need nothing
more. Three are already at rest, and the fourth will not delay long.
And so may God preserve you. I am freezing. I shall go back to the
house and warm myself a little. The night will be cold and the house is
empty. May God reward you a thousandfold, sir! No; you shall not go
with me! I have no one, and the cursed music will let me sleep very
well if I stop my ears tightly enough. Good-night, sir! Rest well. And
the Lord God above will understand and deal kindly with us. Amen!'
"She crossed herself and bowed quietly. Then she climbed the slope
across the meadow, and I watched her until she reached her hut above
and closed the door behind her.
"I myself returned to the path in a state of mind that baffles
description. The universal misery of mankind was about the drift of it.
But other elements mingling with it gave the peculiar experience
something at once grotesque and awful. A professional psychologist
would have had difficulty in understanding it.
"Fortunately the weather took care that I did not lose myself in this
bottomless pit of fruitless speculation. Just as I reached the first
houses, the rain began to fall in such torrents that I was obliged to
seek shelter and wait until the storm should abate before attempting to
return to the estate. Naturally, I hastened to the inn. I had a certain
curiosity to see the famous judge's son on this day, when his old
sweetheart had quietly taken herself out of the world to make room for
his new one.
"It was a middle-class wedding of the usual sort. I looked through
the open door into the hall, where the table had been removed to
make room for the dancers. The wedding pair immediately struck my eyes,
not unfavorably either; he was precisely such a man as I imagined,
curly-headed, therefore popular among women, and with a frivolous,
insolent face; on the whole, a good-looking rascal of the most common
type. The young wife in her myrtle wreath, a provincial beauty,
appeared much in love with her husband, but, from continual dancing
with him, was too red and overheated to be lovely. Since she was rich,
the husband had in fact obtained a better lot than his villainous deed
warranted, and it was hardly to be expected that compensating justice
would make him do penance for his sins through this marriage. He did
not seem to be a man who would endure such penance calmly, much less
pass even one sleepless night in useless thoughts upon the moral system
of the world.
"The wretch disgusted me. Joining the peasants in the bar-room below, I
drank my glass of beer in a very bitter mood, while the floor above
creaked and trembled under the stamping and springing of the dancers,
and the rain beat against the windows. This continued for more than an
hour; then the rain ceased, the clouds moved towards the mountains, and
the moon appeared. I decided to look about for a team, since the roads
were now unfit for walking, and the wedding uproar made the prospect of
a night here intolerable.
"Fortunately, just as I was going out to inquire for a teamster,
I found my brother-in-law's coachman before the door with the
hunting-wagon, my sister having sent him to bring me home. Both he and
his horses needed a rest and a thorough drying. The homeward journey
was so slow that I found everyone at the house asleep, and could not
tell my horrible experience of the previous day till the following
morning as we three sat at breakfast.
"We were still under the influence of the strange tragedy--my sister,
who had visited the 'four females' once during the summer, being
affected even to tears--when the door opened, and my brother-in-law's
steward entered. 'I merely wish to announce, Herr Baron,' he said,
'that there has been a fire during the night. God be thanked, it has
not spread, and was not on our estate. But Mother Betsey's house is
"We looked at one another confounded.
"'How did the fire start, and was any one injured?' asked my
"The man shook his head.
"'They know nothing positively, Herr Baron,' he said. 'At midnight, as
the last dance was being played down in the inn--the judge's son was
holding his wedding feast--they suddenly heard the fire-bells ring from
the towers, and, rushing out, they saw Mother Lamitz's old hut up on
the forest edge in bright flames. The fire streamed as quietly into the
sky as if from a wood-pile, and although half the village was on foot,
and the fire engine was dragged up the mountain, they could do nothing
whatever, the flames having already devoured the last corner of the old
rookery. It was only when there was nothing left to save that they
mastered the fire; the ground walls, about a man's height, alone remain
standing, if they too have not fallen by this time. At first there
seemed to be nothing left of the women and the child. At length some
one discovered in the corner where the loom had stood a ghastly heap of
ashes and blackened bones, undoubtedly the remains of old Betsey, who,
as old women can never be warm enough, probably heated the oven so hot
that the rotten thing burst and the flames reached the rafters of the
loom. She must have been quickly suffocated by the smoke and have died
without further pain. But what became of her daughter and the little
one nobody knows, and as for the donkey, which she esteemed so highly,
not the smallest piece of its hide or bones can be discovered!'"
ROTHENBURG ON THE TAUBER
ROTHENBURG ON THE TAUBER.
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!"