The Cloaks by M. Loeve Veimars
The following tale is taken from a work by M. Loeve Veimars, entitled 'Les
Manteaux.' The scene is laid in Germany, and the story opens with the
election of a magistrate of the little city of Birling. Full of his new
dignity, he repairs to his home, where he acquaints his patient wife, to
whom he is in the habit of playing the tyrant, with the accession to his
importance. His old friend, Waldau, the town clerk, comes to ask him if he
has any commands for Felsenbourg, the seat of the administration, whither
he is about to repair. The new councillor requests him to deliver a letter
to his younger brother, Maurice, who had quitted his home suddenly, and of
whom he has heard nothing until very recently, and who has now applied to
him for a share of their father's property, or some pecuniary assistance.
The answer of the elder brother is at once unsatisfactory and unfeeling:
he tells him that their parent died without any fortune, and concludes
with a sneer at his youthful irregularities. The councillor's amiable
spouse is affected by her husband's cruelty; Waldau's dress is more
consistent with his scanty means than adapted to the inclemency of the
weather, and she expresses a hope that his travelling costume is a warmer
'Alas! no,' replies Waldau; 'I had a cloak, but I have given it to my
grandmother, who is confined to her arm-chair with the gout, and I am in
truth, setting off like the prodigal son.'
'Dear Philip,' said Marie to her husband, in a supplicating tone, 'lend
'Mine!' replied the councillor, 'indeed I cannot; but my late father's is
somewhere upstairs, and I will look it out for you, Waldau.'
Marie blushed at her husband's selfishness. 'It is old, indeed,' said she,
'but it is large and stout. There is nothing splendid about it, Waldau; it
is simple and useful, like its former possessor; and I beseech you, when
you shall see our brother Maurice, give it to him in my name. It may be
useful to him, notwithstanding its homely appearance; at all events, while
it must recall to Maurice's recollection the memory of his father, it may
also bring him wise reflections.'
She bids him also tell Maurice how much she feels for him, and regrets
that she is unable to offer him any assistance. Waldau wraps himself in
the cloak, and proceeds to Felsenbourg, which he reaches, but not without
being overturned on the road. He is rather hurt by the fall, but not so
much as to prevent his repairing immediately to find Maurice.
The evening was somewhat advanced, and the streets of the city, very
different from those of the obscure but peaceful town in which Waldau
dwelt, were crowded still with passengers on horseback and on foot. Waldau
observed directly before him a portico well lighted, over which he saw
inscribed, in large characters, "The Palace of Felsenbourg." He entered
with some timidity, and looked around for some one who might direct him in
this vast building, when a young man, passing close by him, attracted his
attention. He was clothed in a court dress, glittering with embroidery,
and held in his hand the hat of a noble, adorned with large white plumes.
The old town-clerk drew himself up hastily, but who can describe his
surprise when he saw, in the half glance which his awe permitted him to
cast upon this person, that he was the banished son, his early friend; in
short, Maurice himself? Waldau was petrified with astonishment: could he
believe his eyes, or did they abuse him? He wished to speak, but the words
died upon his lips; all that he could do was to follow with his eyes this
When he recovered the use of his faculties, the object who had deprived
him of them, was no longer before him; but he saw him as he withdrew
beneath the shadows of the columns, by the splendour of his garments, the
gems on which glittered beneath the lamps which filled the vault. A little
man dressed in black now approached, and dispelled the ideas which were
bewildering his brain. 'Will you be so obliging,' he said to this person,
'as to tell me the name of the gentleman who passed us just now?'
'It is Mr. Wiesel.'
'It is Maurice, then! Good heavens! but tell me what part does he play
'A very important part, Sir: nothing less than that of the prince's
confidant,' replied the little man, gravely, and with a low bow.
The honest old man is overjoyed, and, without pressing his inquiries any
further, he writes in all haste to the councillor, to inform him of his
brother's good fortune. Upon the receipt of the letter, the elder Wiesel
sets out for Felsenbourg, frightened to death lest Waldau should have
delivered the unkind epistle, which he now wishes he had never written.
Poor Waldau is, in the mean time, suffering from the effects of his fall;
and, on the day following his arrival, he finds himself unable to rise
from his bed. To crown his misfortunes, his money is exhausted; and,
relying upon the generosity of Maurice's temper, and ever doubting that
the prince's confidant is well able to assist him, he writes to him for a
loan, requests an introduction to the minister, and his interest in
procuring the remission of a tax. Maurice hastens to him immediately, and,
after the first congratulations are over, the following conversation
'To speak seriously, my dear Waldau,' said Maurice, 'your request for
money distresses me, because I am not in a situation to comply with it;
but, as to your other request, I have laughed heartily at it. That I
should introduce you to the minister! that I should procure the remission
of a tax! pray, for whom do you take me?'
'For whom? Good heaven!' replied the old man, cursing in his heart all
courtiers and their impudence; 'why, for the favorite of his highness, for
his Jonathan, for the elect of the tribe, the primus a rege.'
'My poor friend,' said Maurice, 'is more ill than I thought; and the joy I
feel at meeting him again, is damped at this discovery. It must be the
fever, dear Waldau, which has thus troubled your judgment.'
'Oh, yes,' said Waldau, 'I suppose so; aegria somma? said Waldau
bitterly. 'It was one of those delusions which a fever works upon sick
brains, that I beheld yesterday traversing the palace of Felsenbourg to go
to the court; it was in a delirium that I beheld him shining in gold and
jewels, gemmis atque auro.'
'I, going to the court V 'You, or who else is the prince's favorite?
'The prince's favorite! Dear Waldau, am I to laugh or to weep at these
'Auri sacra fames, the thirst of wealth will soon render you
incapable of doing either the one or the other.'
'How can you thus deceive yourself!'
'He deceived himself too, then—the little man in black, who followed
the glittering Weisel under the portico of the palace.'
'Ha, ha, what charming simplicity!' cried Maurice, laughing heartily.
'Still the same honest, excellent, innocent Waldau.—I a courtier, I
a favourite! this is indeed an everlasting joke. Know, then, my poor
credulous friend, that I am a member of a strolling company who are
engaged to play in the hotel of the Count of Felsenbourg. I played
yesterday the part of the Confidante, in the new piece; and the
little man in black, of whom you speak, is the head tailor, who had just
been fitting me with a coat of scarlet serge, covered with tinsel and
spangles, and to which habit I am indebted for the respect with which you
have overwhelmed me.'
'God bless me!' cried Waldau, 'and are you then a player?'
'A player, it is true, but of the prince's company; and, I swear to you,
vanity apart, not one of the worst.'
'Then am I ruined—totally undone,' ejaculated the town-clerk; 'the
councillor will certainly kill me.'
Maurice ceased to laugh when he saw the terror of Waldau. He soon saw his
brother's letter, which lay upon the table, and, opening it, found not
only that Pierre was still the same, but that his last hope—the
share of his father's fortune—was for ever gone. He was burdened
with debts, the payment of which could no longer be postponed. 'Ah! my
Louisa—ah, my promised happiness—farewell,' cried he,
This Louisa, of whom Maurice spoke, was the preserving angel of an infirm
mother and two sisters, for whom she procured, by her own exertions, the
necessaries of life. The obscure chamber which they occupied was near that
of the player; and they frequently saw each other, and the innocence of
the young girl, her simple candour, and the boyish good temper of Maurice,
soon gave rise to a tender and reciprocal feeling. Poverty has at least
this good effect, that it breaks down some of those obstacles which beset
the more exalted ranks. Wiesel soon became the assiduous and indispensable
friend of the family. Louisa, daily more attracted by his amiable
character, and charmed by the frankness with which he expressed his
affection, did not seek to conceal that she loved him. The deplorable
condition of their fortunes alone stood in the way of their union they
swore eternal constancy, and resolved to wait for better times; but the
letter of Pierre seemed to make that time more distant than ever.
Maurice is obliged to quit the sick man to go to the theatre, and an old
woman comes to take his place. The weather is excessively severe, and
Waldau requests him to put on the old cloak which his brother has sent,
and in which, he adds, 'Your father breathed his last.' Maurice seizes it,
and, kissing it respectfully, goes out.
The councillor arrives, and, finding from Waldau that his brother has had
his letter, he runs, without waiting for an explanation, to the hotel
Felsenbourg, where the porter, in answer to his inquiries for M. Wiesel,
tells him he is in the theatre. He enters, and is first terrified by
seeing an old man on the stage dressed in the gray cloak of his dead
father; and no sooner has he recovered from his terror than he finds that
his brother is a player. He rushes out of the theatre, half mad with rage.
Maurice, in the meantime, has returned to his sick friend, where he finds
his brother's wife, for whom he has a warm affection. Quitting the
chamber, to fetch some medicine from a neighbouring apothecary, he sees an
old woman, who, looking at him very attentively, passes her shrivelled
hand several times over the collar of his coat.
Maurice, not quite understanding this familiarity, draws back, and looks
at her attentively. Her thin and colourless features were strangely
contrasted with the benevolent vivacity which seemed to animate them. She
asks him to sell his cloak, and, on his refusal, expresses some surprise
that he can be attached to such a rag.
'No matter,' he replies; 'rag as it is, it is dear to me.'
'Not for its beauty, surely?'
'No; but if you must know, it's my father's legacy.'
'Your father's! Oh, my child, you ought to honour his memory; for no one
can deny that you are his son. Every feature resembles him, excepting that
you have a good-natured sort of smile in the corner of your mouth, which
he never had.
'Oh, yes, he had once, but the world had deprived him of it?'
'Say rather, that years had, child; for they do every thing in this world;
and even I, who now talk to you, if I had some few scores of years less,
would you have let me stand here in the snow so long? Oh, no; you would
have whipped this precious cloak over my shoulders.'
'Go along, you old gipsey; such nymphs are not to my taste.'
'Well, my son, the frankness of your heart pleases me, and I will reward
'Oh, pray keep your rewards: I am not in want of them.'
'How naturally that word want comes out of your mouth; and merely because
your head is full of it.'
'Who are you, infernal sybil?' said Maurice, drawing her towards the
'The sight of my wrinkled face will give you no great pleasure, my child,
but, perhaps, my advice may. Listen to me, then. Go home to your own
chamber, lock the door, and rip up the collar of your cloak, and when you
have done so you will have nothing more to do but to pray to God, as the
great king Solomon did, to grant you wisdom.' As she spoke thus, the old
woman hobbled hastily away.
Maurice put his hand to the collar of his cloak, and thought he heard a
noise like the rustling of paper. He hastened back to Marie and the town
clerk, and told them of his adventure.
'Just heaven!' cried Waldau, 'it must be so. You remember your late
father, Maurice, and his eternal apprehensions, which all the locks in the
world could not have quieted. You know, too, that he was often obliged to
come to this city for the purpose of receiving large sums of money. What
would a suspicious man do in such a case? He would convert his money, not
into gold, but into paper, because they might easily be concealed.
I do not doubt, from the story of the old woman, who has perhaps been his
hostess, his housekeeper, or some faded flower of the mysterious garland
of the past, that this cloak served your father for a strong box. Better
acquainted with handling ducats than a needle, he probably had recourse to
this old woman. You know it was upon his return from a journey that he
died. Marie, open the collar quickly—Maurice, take my scissors, they
are in my bag—quick.'
Marie uttered a joyful exclamation, as she felt papers through the fold of
the cloth. At the same moment, a loud noise was heard, and Maurice rose.
The unhappy Pierre, upon quitting the theatre in a state of distraction,
had fallen into the canal, and, although he was quickly extricated, he had
only time to mention the place of his abode before he died. The noise was
caused by persons bringing home his corpse. In the confusion which
followed, the cloak, now become so important an object, was stolen, and
all searches and inquiries for its recovery were fruitless.
When the first grief for the death of Pierre is over, Maurice finds that
his father's property, which he divides with his brother's widow, is
enough to enable him to marry his Louisa: he returns to Berling, and on
the day fixed for the wedding, on which also Waldau is married to Marie,
the old woman appears at the door in the old cloak. Maurice brings her
into the middle of the room.
'Who are you?' said he, 'and whence did you get this cloak?—What
brings you here?—Quick—speak—explain yourself.'
'You put a great many questions at once,' said the old woman. 'What brings
me here?—your good stars. As to the cloak—it is mine, for I
While she spoke, Maurice looked at her, distrustingly. 'This old woman,'
said he to himself, 'has duped me once, and would willingly do so again.
She has found the money in the cloak, and has now come to make a merit of
restoring just so much of it as she thinks fit.'
The old woman seemed to comprehend what was passing in his mind. 'I see
what you think,' said she; 'but why, Mr. Giddybrain, did you despise my
advice? why did you so easily abandon this precious cloak? Did I not find
it one fine day hanging up before the shop of my neighbour, the old
clothesman, who told me he bought it of a porter? and what would become of
the bills for twenty thousand florins which are sewed up in it, if I had
not bought them at the exorbitant price of three silver pieces? There,
take your own; keep it more safely for the future, and thank heaven for
having preserved the life of your father's nurse.'
Maurice embraces the old woman, who receives the praises and thanks of
every body present. 'Well, children,' said she, 'since you are all happy,
you must find some little corner among you for me, where I may end my days
'O, yes!' said Marie, with warmth, 'you shall never quit us.'
A few days afterwards you might have thought that the old woman had never
quitted the ancient dwelling, so much did the two families seem to look
upon her as a mother. Their happiness was such as springs from humble
virtue. Piety, innocence, and gentleness, adorned their lives, and their
days had passed in an uniform and peaceable manner, when, about a year
after the return of the old nurse, she appeared one morning before Maurice
in the same attitude as on the day of his marriage, and covered with the
same old cloak. He offered to embrace her, but, repulsing him, 'Gently,'
said she, 'take care.'—'Do you bring me another treasure, then, my
good mother?' She smiled as she opened the cloak;—it was a son,
which his Louisa had just given him.