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Lottka by Paul Heyse

 

I was not quite seventeen years old, an over-grown pale-faced young fellow, at that awkward and embarrassing age which, conscious, of having out-grown boyish ways, is yet very unsteady and insecure when seeking to tread in the footsteps of men. With an audacious fancy and a timid heart; oscillating between defiant self-confidence and girlish sensitiveness; snatching inquisitively at every veil that hides from mortal eyes the mysteries of human life; to-day knowing the last word of the last question, to-morrow confessing the alphabet has still to be learnt, and getting comfort after so restless and contradictory a fashion that one would have been intolerable to one's very self if not surrounded by fellows in misfortune—-that is in years—who were faring no better, and yet continued to endure their personality.

It was at this time that I became intimate with a singular fellow who was some two years older than I, but like myself doomed to spend nearly another year as upper-class student. He did not attend the same gymnasium, nor were his relations, who lived out of Berlin, at all known to mine. I am really puzzled how to explain the fact that in spite of these obstacles we two became so friendly, that scarcely a day passed without his coming up the steep stairs that led to my rooms. Indeed even then a third party seeing us together might have found it hard to say what made us so essential to each other. He was in the habit of entering with a mere nod, walking up and down the room, now and then opening a book, or looking at a picture on the walls, and finally throwing himself into my grandfather's armchair—my substitute for a sofa—where, legs crossed, he would sit for hours, speaking not a word, until I had finished my Latin essay. Often when I looked up from the book before me I met his quiet, dreamy, brown eyes resting on me with a gentle brotherly expression, which made me nod to him in return; and it was a pleasure to me just to feel him there. If he chanced to find me idle, or in a communicative mood, he would let me run on by the hour without interruption, and his silent attention seemed to encourage and comfort me. It was only when we got upon the subject of music that he ever grew excited, and then we both lost ourselves in passionate debate. He had a splendid deep bass voice, that harmonized well with his manly aspect, dark eyes, and brown satin-smooth skin. And as he was also zealously studying the theory of music, it was easy for him to get the better of my superficial lay-talk by weighty arguments; yet whenever he thus drove me into a corner he always seemed pained at my defeat. I remember him, on one occasion, ringing me out of bed, formally to apologise for having, in the ardour of controversy, spoken of Rossini's Barbiere which I had been strenuously upholding, as a wretched shaver whose melodies, compared with those of Mozart, were of little more account than the soap-bubbles in his barber's basin.

In addition too to the extreme placidity that characterized him, he was always ready to do me a number of small services, such as the younger student usually renders to his senior, and there were two other things that helped to rivet our friendship: he had initiated me in the art of smoking, and set my first songs to music. There was one, I remember, which appeared to us at that time peculiarly felicitous both as to words and melody, and we used to sing it as a duet in all our walks together—

                 “I think in the olden days
                  That a maiden was loved by me;
                  But my heart is sick and troubled,
                  It is all a dream may-be.

                 “I think in the olden days,
                  One was basking in sunny bliss;
                  But whether I or another?
                  I cannot be sure of this!

                 “I think in the olden days
                  That I sang—but know not what;
                  For I have forgotten all things
                  Since I've been by her forgot.”

Dear and ridiculous season of youth! A poet of sixteen sings of the “old myth” of his lost love-sorrow, and a musician of eighteen with all possible gravity, sets the sobbing strophes to music with a piano-forte accompaniment that seems to foreshadow the outburst of the world's denunciation on the head of the inconstant fair!

We were, however, as I have already said, so especially pleased with this melancholy progeny of our united talents, that we were not long content to keep it to ourselves; we burned with desire to send it forth to the public. At that time the “Dresden Evening Times” under the editorship of, as I believe the late Robert Schneider, admitted poems over which my critical self-esteem could not but shrug its shoulders. To him, therefore, we sent our favourite—anonymously, of course—in the full persuasion that it would appear in the forthcoming number, text and music both, with the request that the unknown contributor would delight the Evening Times with other admirable fruits of genius. Full of a sweet shyness, spite of our incognito, we accordingly took to haunting the eating-houses where that journal was taken in, and blushingly looked out for our first-born. But week after week passed by without satisfying our expectations. I myself after twice writing and dignifiedly desiring the manuscript to be returned, gave up all hope, and was so wounded and humiliated by this failure, as first to throw down the gauntlet to an ungrateful contemporaneous world, and contribute to the pleasure of more enlightened posterity in the form of a longer poem; and then gradually to shun all mention of our unlucky venture, even requesting Bastel (my friend's name being Sebastian) to leave off humming the tune which too vividly recalled to me the mortifying history.

He humoured me on this point, but he could not refrain from privately carrying on his investigations in pastry-cooks' shops, the more that he was devotedly addicted to cakes and sweet things. It was then midsummer, and the small round cherry tarts were wonderfully refreshing to an upper class student's tongue, parched and dry with Latin and Greek. Bastel most seriously asserted that sweets agreed with his voice; he was only able to temper the harshness of his bass notes by plenty of sugar and fruit-juice. I on the contrary, despised such insipid dainties, and preferred to stick to wine, which at that time did very little indeed to clear up any mind I had. But in virtue of my calling I was bound to worship “wine, women, and song,” and in the volume of poems at which I was working hard, there was, of course, to be no lack of drinking-songs.

We had now reached July, and the dog-days were beginning, when one afternoon Bastel made his appearance at the usual hour, but in very unusual mood. He lit his cigar indeed, but instead of sitting down to smoke it, he stood motionless at the window for a full quarter of an hour, drumming “Non più andrai” on the panes, and from time to time sighing as though a hundredweight lay on his heart.

“Bastel,” said I, “what's wrong?”

No answer.

“Are you ill?” I went on; “or have you had another row with the ordinary? or did the college yesterday give you a bad reception?” (He belonged to a certain secret society much frequented by students, and wore in his waistcoat pocket a tricoloured watch-ribbon which only ventured forth at their solemn meetings.)

Still the same silence on the part of the strange dreamer, and the drumming grew so vehement that the panes began to ring ominously.

It was only when I left off noticing him, that he incoherently began to talk to himself, “There are more things in heaven and earth—” but further he did not carry the quotation.

At last I jumped up, went to him, and caught hold of his hand. “Bastel!” I cried, “what does this fooling mean? Something or other is vexing you. Tell it out, and let us see what can be done, but at least spare my window-panes and behave rationally. Will you light another cigar?”

He shook his head. “If you have time,” said he, “let's go out, I may be able to tell you in the open air. This room is so close.”

We went down stairs and wandered arm-in-arm through quiet Behren Street, where my parents lived, into Frederick Street. When he got into the full tide of carriages and foot-passengers, he seemed to be in a measure relieved. He pressed my arm, stood still a moment, and broke out: “It is nothing very particular, Paul, but I believe that I am in love, and this time for life.”

I was far from laughing at the declaration. At the age of sixteen one believes in the endless duration of every feeling. But I had read my Heine and considered it bad taste to become sentimental over a love-affair.

“Who is the fortunate fair?” I lightly enquired.

“You shall see her,” he replied, his eyes wandering absently over the crowd flowing through the street. “I will take you there at once if you are inclined.”

“Can one go thus unceremoniously without being better dressed? I have actually forgotten my gloves.”

“She is no countess,” said he, a slight blush shewing through his dark complexion. “Just think! yesterday when I wanted to look once more through the Evening Times—yes, I know we are not to speak of it, but it has to do with the whole thing—chance, or my good star led me to a quite out-of-the-way little cake-shop, and there—”

He stopped short.

“There you found her eating cherry-tarts, and that won your affection,” laughed I. “Well, Bastel, I congratulate you. Sweets to the sweet. But have you already made such way as to be able to calculate upon finding her again at the very same place?”

He gave no further reply. My tone seemed to be discordant with his mood. So indeed it at once became with my own, but my principles did not allow me to express myself more feelingly. Minor chords remained the exclusive property of verse; conversation was to be carried on in a harsh and flippant key, the more coldblooded and ironical the better.

We had walked, in silence for the most part, all the length of Frederick Street to the Halle Gate, I, for all my air of indifference, actually consumed with curiosity and sympathy, when my friend suddenly turned up one of the last side streets that debouch into the main artery of the great city. Here were found at the time I am speaking of, several small one-storied private houses of mean exterior, a few shops, little traffic, so that the rattling of cab wheels sufficed to bring the inhabitants to their windows; and numbers of children who played about freely in the street, not having to take flight before the approach of any heavily-laden omnibus. When almost at the end of this particular side-street we came to a halt before a small house painted green, and having above its glass-door a large and dusty black board with the word “Confectionery” in tarnished gilt letters. To the right and left of this door were windows, with old brown blinds closely drawn, although the house was not on the sunny side of the street. I can see the landscape on those blinds to this hour! A ruined temple near a pond, on which a man with effaced features sat in a boat angling, while a peacock spread his tail on the stump of a willow tree. The glass door in the middle looked as though it had not been cleaned for ten years, and its netted curtain, white once no doubt, was now by reason of age, dust, and flies, pretty much the colour of the blinds.

I was startled when Sebastian prepared to enter this un-inviting domicile: however I took care not to ruffle him again, and followed his lead in no small excitement.

We were greeted by a hot cloying smell, which under ordinary circumstances would instantly have driven me out again, a smell of old dough, and fermenting strawberries, mingled with a flavour of chocolate and Vanilla, a smell that only an inveterate sweet-tooth or a youth in love could by possibility have consented to inhale! Added to this, the room was not much more than six feet high, and apparently never ventilated, except by the chance opening of the door. How my friend could ever have expected to find the Dresden Evening Times in such an out-of-the-way shop as this was a puzzle to me. Very soon, however, I discovered what it was that had lured him again—spite of his disappointment—into this distressing atmosphere. Behind the small counter on which was displayed a limited selection of uninviting tarts and cakes, I could see in the dusky window-seat behind the brown blind, a young girl dressed in the simplest printed cotton gown possible, her thick black hair just parted and cut short behind, a piece of knitting in her hands, which she only laid down when after some delay and uncertainty we had determined upon the inevitable cherry-tarts. My friend who hardly dared to look at her, still less to speak, went into the narrow, dark, and most comfortless little inner room, where the “Vossische Journal,” and the “Observer on the Spree” outspread on a round table before the faded sofa, kept up a faint semblance of a reading-room. A small fly-blinded mirror hung on the wall between the two wooden-framed lithographs of King Frederick William III. and Queen Louise, over which was a bronzed bust of old Blücher squeezed in between the top of the stove and the low ceiling and looking gruffly down.

Sebastian had thrown himself in feverish haste into one corner of the sofa, I into the other, when the young girl came in with the small plates for the tarts. I was now able to look at her leisurely, for she waited to light a gas-burner, it being already too dark to read. She was rather short than tall, but her figure was so symmetrical, so round, yet slender, that the eye followed her every movement with rapture, spite of her unbecoming, and almost ugly dress. Her feet, which were made visible to us by her standing on tip-toe to reach the gas burner, were daintily small as those of a child of ten, her little deft snow-white fingers looked as if they had always rested on a silken lap. What white things she had on, a small upright collar, cuffs, and a waitress's apron, were so immaculately clean as to form a striking contrast with the stained carpet, dusty furniture, and traces of the flies of a hundred summers visible on all around.

I ought, I am aware, to attempt some sketch of her face, but I despair beforehand. Not that her features were so incomparably beautiful as to defy the skill of any and every artist. But what gave the peculiar charm to this face of hers, was a certain spirituality which I found it no easy matter to define to myself, a calm melancholy, a half-shy, half-threatening expression, a springtide bloom, which, having suddenly felt the touch of frost, no longer promised a joyous fruitful summer; in short, a face that would have puzzled and perplexed more mature decipherers of character, and which could not fail to make an irresistible impression upon a dreamer of sixteen.

“What is your name, Fräulein, if I may venture to ask?” said I, by way of opening the conversation, my friend seeming as though he had no more important object than the mere consuming of tartlets.

“Lottka,” replied the girl without looking at me, and already preparing to leave the room.

“Lottka!” cried I. “How do you come to have this Polish name?”

“My father was a Pole.”

And then she was back again in the shop.

“Would you have the kindness, Miss Lottka, to bring me a glass of bishop.” I called after her.

“Directly,” was her reply.

Sebastian was studying the advertisements in the “Vossische Journal” as though he expected to meet with the real finder of his lost heart there! I turned over the “Observer.” Not one word did we exchange.

In three minutes in she came again, bringing a glass of dark red wine on a tray. I could not turn my eyes away from her white hands, and felt my heart beat while gathering courage to address her again.

“Will you not sit a little with us, Fräulein?” said I. “Do take my place on the sofa, and I will get a chair.”

“Thank you, sir,” she replied, without any primness, but at the same time with almost insulting indifference, “my place is in the shop. If there is anything I can do for you—”

“Do remain where you are,” I insisted, venturing to catch hold of one of her hands which felt cool and smooth, and instantly slipped out of my grasp. “These newspapers are horribly dull. Allow us to introduce ourselves. My friend here, Mr. ——”

At that moment the shop-door opened, a little girl pushed shyly in, with two copper coins in her small fist, for which she wanted some sweeties. Our beauty availed herself of this opportunity of declining our acquaintance, and after having served the child, sat down again in her window-corner and took up her knitting.

Our position grew more and more unbearable. As to the tarts they were eaten long ago, and I had, partly out of embarrassment, and partly to give myself the air of an experienced wine-bibber, tossed off my glass of bishop at a draught, and now sat with burning brow and wandering mind, looking at the flies crawling along the glass's edge, and intoxicating themselves with the crimson drops. Sebastian was as silent as an Indian Fakir, and seemed to be listening intently to what was going on in the shop, where indeed there was not a sound to be heard, except now and then the click of the knitting-needles against the counter.

“Come, you trappist,” said I at length, “we will pay our bill and get some fresh air. My lungs are as it were candied. For any one but a fly this atmosphere is insupportable.”

“Good-bye, pretty child,” said I at the counter with all the importance of a roué of sixteen, who has a volume of lyrical poems at home written in the style of Heine, and ready for the press. “I hope that we may improve our acquaintance at some future time when you are less absorbed. Au revoir!”

I should no doubt have indulged in greater absurdities, but that she looked at me with so strangely absent an expression that I suddenly felt ashamed of my impertinence, made her a low bow, and hurried out into the street. Sebastian followed me instantly; he had hardly dared to look at her.

“Now then,” he said, as we rushed along through the silent street, “what do you say?”

“That the bishop is very fair, but the tarts execrable. I cannot understand how you forced your portion down as well as half of mine. I suspect that confectioner's shop of only selling old cakes bought second-hand.”

“What of that?” growled he. “I did not ask about such things. I want to know what you think of her.”

“My good friend,” I returned in an authoritative and fatherly tone. “What can one say about a girl who is able to breathe in that atmosphere! Woman is ever an enigma as you well know.”

(He nodded assent and sighed; I had contrived—God knows how—to pass with him as a great discerner of feminine spirits, and was fond of introducing into my generalisations the word “Woman,” which has always a mystical charm for youths of our age.)

“This monosyllabic creature—that she is enchanting it is impossible to deny! But I warn you against her, Bastel. Believe me, she has no heart.”

“You think so?” he interpolated in a horrified tone without looking at me.

“That is to say she has either never had one, or destiny has changed it into stone in her breast. Otherwise would she so coldly have turned away when I addressed her? She has a past I tell you, perhaps a present also, but no future.”

This stupendous sentence of mine thrown off in mere thoughtlessness produced an unexpected effect upon my chum. He started as though a snake had bitten him, snatched his arm out of mine and said—

“You think then that she—that she no longer—in a word you doubt her virtue?”

I saw now the mischief I had done. “Be easy, child,” said I, throwing my arm over his shoulder. “Come, we must not have a scene here. We have agreed woman is an enigma. But as to character I have no grounds for suspecting hers. I only meant to say, take care that you do not get involved in an unpromising affair. For she looks like one from whom a victim would not easily escape! If you like I will keep an eye upon her, and I promise to render you every assistance that one friend can to another.”

We had now reached a dark and deserted street-corner. Suddenly he embraced me, squeezed my hand as though bent on fusing it with his own, and instantly vanished up the nearest side-street.

I for my part walked home very slowly in order to grow cool and collected, but the singular form I had seen never left me for a moment. I was so feverishly abstracted at the home tea-table that my good mother grew alarmed, and sent me early to bed. When I went to my class the following morning, I found I had not prepared my Plato, and was obliged to put up with many mocking remarks from the lecturer on history in consequence of my having pushed the date of the battle of Cannæ a good century too far back. The day was wet, and I lounged down the street full of depression and ennui. Sebastian kept himself out of sight. I stood an hour at the window on which he had drummed “ Non più andrai” the day before, and looked meditatively at the rain-pools in the street below, out of which the sparrows were picking a few oat-husks. I heard the horses stamping in the stable, and the stable-boy whistling Weber's “Jungfern Kranz” and found myself suddenly whistling it too, and stamping the while. I felt so absurd and pitiable that tears nearly came. At length I armed myself with an umbrella, and ran out into the wet and windy street.

I had been invited to a party at a friend's house for that evening, but I had an hour to spare. And this hour, I thought, could not be better spent than in sauntering through the street where the confectioner's shop stood, and patrolling a short time on the other side to watch who went in. As it was already growing dusk I felt pretty well concealed under my umbrella, but all the same I was conscious of a certain agreeable mysterious sensation as though playing an important part in some deed of honour. In point of fact, however, there was nothing remarkable to be seen. The shop seemed to be pretty well frequented, but only by a humble class of customers, children, schoolboys intent upon devouring their pocket money, coughing old women going in for a penny-worth of lozenges. Dangerous young men did not seem aware that behind those brown blinds lurked a dangerous young girl.

Much relieved by the result of my observation, I finally crossed the street just to find out whether there were any possibility of peeping in. The gas was lit in both rooms, but the shop-window was so well-protected that one could see nothing whatever from without. But on the other hand the blind of the reading-room had a crack just across the back of the angler. So I stood and looked in, a good deal ashamed of myself for spying. And there, on the very same corner of the sofa that he occupied yesterday, sat my poor friend Sebastian before an empty plate covered with flies, his eyes wandering beyond the newspaper into empty space. A singular thrill came over me, half jealousy, half satisfaction, at his having got on no further. Just as I was watching him, he made a movement as if to take up his cap and leave. I drew back from the window, and crept along the houses like a thief who has had the narrowest escape of capture. When I got to the house where I was expected, I had of course to collect my wits. I was more lively than usual, and paid my court to the daughters of the house with all the awkward nonchalance of a man of the world of sixteen, nay, I even allowed myself to be persuaded to read out my last poem, and drank several glasses of strong Hungarian wine, which made me neither wiser nor more modest. When ten o'clock struck, I suddenly took my departure under the pretext of an appointment with a friend. To keep late hours seemed to me congruous with the character of a youthful poet. Had people but known that the real engagement was the copying out fair a German essay, all the halo would have vanished!

And as it was that luckless essay fared badly enough. The night was wondrously beautiful. After long-continued rain, the air was as soft and exquisitely still as a human heart just reconciled to a long-estranged friend (I involuntarily fall back into the lyrical style of those early days!), and the sky sparkled and shone with thousands of newly-washed stars. In spite of the lateness of the hour, girls and women went chattering through the streets without hat or shawl, with merely a kerchief thrown over their heads, as though the lovely night had enticed them out just to inhale, before going to bed, one draught of fresh air after the discomfort of the day. Every window stood open, the roses gave out their fragrance; one heard Mendelssohn's “Songs without words” played on the piano, or some sweet female voice quietly singing to itself.

How it happened I did not know, but all of a sudden there I was again at the little shop, and had hold of the door handle before I could make out even to myself what it was that led me there.

As I entered, Lottka raised her head from the counter where it had been resting on her arm. Her eyes shewed that she had been asleep. The book, over which she had been tiring herself, fell from her lap as she rose.

“I have disturbed you, Miss Lottka,” said I. “Forgive me, I will go away at once. I happened to be passing by—and as the night was so beautiful—as since yesterday you—Would you be so kind as to give me a glass of bishop, Miss Lottka?”

Strange that my usually reckless eloquence should so regularly fail me in the presence of this quiet creature!

“What have you been reading?” I began again after a pause, walking the while up and down the shop. “A book from the lending library? Such a torn shabby copy is not fit for your small white hands. Allow me—I have a quantity of charming books at home—romances too—”

“Pardon me,” she quietly rejoined. “I have no time to read romances. This is a French Grammar.”

“You are studying by yourself then?”

“I already speak it a little, I wish to understand it more thoroughly.”

She relapsed into silence, and began to arrange the plates and spoons.

“Miss Lottka,” said I after an interval, during which I had regained courage from a contemplation of the gruff old Blücher in the smaller room. “Are you happy in the position that you occupy at present?”

She looked at me out of her large weary eyes with the amazement of a child in a fairy-tale when suddenly addressed by a bird.

“How come you to put such a question?” she enquired.

“Pray do not attribute it to heartless curiosity,” I went on, in my excitement upsetting a small pyramid of biscuits. “Believe that I feel a genuinely warm interest in you—If you need a friend—if anything has happened to you—you understand me—Life is so sad, Miss Lottka—and just in our youth—”

I was floundering deeper and deeper, and the drops stood on my brow. I would have given a good deal if that old Blücher had not encouraged me to make this speech.

However I was spared further humiliation. The door leading from the interior of the house opened, and the person to whom the shop belonged made her appearance. She seemed a good-natured square woman, with a thick cap-border, who explained to me as civilly as she could, that I had already remained a quarter of an hour beyond the usual time of shutting up, for that she was in the habit of putting out the gas at half-past ten. Accordingly I paid in all haste for my half-emptied glass, threw an expressive and half-reproachful glance at the silent girl, and went my way.

That night my couch was not one of roses. I made a serious attempt to finish my German essay:—“Comparison between the Antigone of Sophocles and the Iphigenia of Goethe,” but what were either of these Hecubas to me? I began to scribble verses on the margin of the book, and their melody had so lulling an effect that not long after midnight I fell asleep in my chair, and in spite of the uncomfortable position never woke till morning, though in my verses I had confessed myself once more in love; and what of all the untoward circumstances of the case was the darkest, in love with the heart's choice of my best friend!

This too was my first waking thought on the following morning. I remember distinctly, however, that the misfortune which I clearly saw to be ours, did not after all make me actually miserable, nay that it rather exalted my self-complacency and rendered me very interesting in my own eyes, as I had now a chance of personally experiencing all that I had hitherto merely read of. I was never tired of conjuring up the disastrous and heartrending scenes to which this complication must necessarily lead, and an indefinably pleasurable kind of pity for myself, for Sebastian, and for the innocent source of our woes suffused all my thoughts.

Instead of going to the gymnasium, where I should have had to appear without the German essay, I preferred to visit the “hedge-school” as the French say, that is to lounge about the park, and there on a lonely bench in the most out-of-the-way corner, commit my youthful sorrows to paper. Heine and Eichendorff were at that time contending for my immortal soul. On that particular morning I was not yet ripe for the irony of the “Buch der Lieder,” and the tree-tops rustled too romantically above my head for the utterance of any tones but such as suited a youthful scapegrace. About noon I saw with melancholy satisfaction that the poem entitled “New Love,” begun that morning, would form a very considerable addition to my volume, if it went on long at this rate.

In the afternoon when I sat, thinking no evil, in my room, and attempting to draw the profile of my secretly beloved one from memory, I heard Sebastian's step on the stair. I hastily hid away the sheet of paper, and dipped my pen in the ink-stand to seem as though I were interrupted at my work. When he entered I had not the heart to look up at him.

He too gave me a very cursory greeting, stretched himself out as usual in my arm chair, and began to smoke a short-pipe.

In about half-an-hour he asked,

“Have you been there again?”

“Yes,” I replied, and seemed to be very busy looking out a word in my lexicon.

“And what do you think of her now?”

“What I think? I have not yet found out the riddle. So much, however, I know, that she is not a flesh and blood girl, but a water-nixie, a Melusina, 'cold even to her heart,' and who knows whether her very figure does not end like a mermaid's 'desinit in piscem?'”

He sprang up. “I must beg you not to speak in such a tone!”

“Patience, old boy,” said I. “Do not go and suppose that I think lightly of her. A past history she has that is quite clear. But why need there be any harm in it? Suppose there were only some misfortune, a great grief, or a great love?”

“You think so?” and he looked at me anxiously and sadly.

“I should not be at all surprised,” I continued, “if she, with those precocious eyes and that wonderful composure, had already traversed the agonies of hopeless love. Do not forget her Polish father. Polish girls begin early both to excite and to feel passion. How the poor child ever got into that fly-trap, God knows. But you and I together should find it difficult to deliver her out of it.”

After that followed a silent quarter of an hour, during which he turned over my MS. poems.

“I should like to copy out this song,” he suddenly said, reaching out a page to me.

“What for?” asked I. “Bastel, I half suspect you want to pass it off as your own.”

“Shame upon you!” returned he with a deep flush, “I give myself out for a poet! But I have a tune running in my head; it is long since I have composed anything.”

“Look out something better and more cheerful. What could you make of that feeble-minded whimper? That song is half a year old” (dated from that 'olden time' that I could not myself distinctly remember!)

He had taken back the sheet, and was now bending over it, being somewhat short-sighted, and singing in a low voice the following verses to a simple pathetic melody:

          “How could I e'er deserve thee,
            By serving long years through;
            Though thou wert fain to own me,
            Most stedfast and most true.
            Or what though high exalted,
            Though glory were my meed:
            Love is a free gift from above,
            Desert it will not heed.

          “Thou tree with head low bending,
            Thy blossoms may prove vain;
            Who knows if God will send thee
            The blessing of his rain?
            Thou heart by joy and anguish
            Proved and refined indeed:
            Love is a free gift from above,
            Desert it will not heed.”

He sprang up, just gave me an absent nod, and rushed out of the room.

Not long after I went out myself. I had no particular object, except to quiet the tumult in my veins by bodily fatigue.

After walking with great rapidity about the town for an hour or so, I found myself unintentionally in the neighbourhood of the mysterious street. It attracted and repelled me both. I had a dim consciousness of not having played a very creditable part the night before. I was pretty sure that the young stranger who had so zealously offered himself as her knight, would be greeted by a satirical smile by Lottka. But that was reason the more, I argued, for seeking to give her a better impression of me. And therefore I plucked up courage, and rapidly turned the corner.

At the same moment I was aware of my friend and rival, his cap pressed down on his brow, advancing with great strides towards the small green house, from a contrary direction. He too was aware of me, and we each of us came to a halt and then turned sharp round the following moment as though we had mistaken our way.

My heart beat wildly. “Shame upon our ridiculous reserve and suspicion of each other!” I inwardly cried, feeling that if this went on I should soon hate my best friend with my whole heart.

I was in the angriest of moods while retracing my steps, and reflected whether the wisest and most manly course would not be to turn round again and take my chance even if a whole legion of old friends stood in my way. Had I not as much right as another to make a fool of myself about the girl? Was I timidly to draw back now after speaking out so boldly yesterday and offering myself as champion to the mysterious enchantress? Never! I'd go to her at once though the world fell to pieces!

I turned in haste—there stood Sebastian. In my excitement I had not even heard his quick steps following me.

“You here!” I cried in counterfeit amazement.

“Paul,” he replied, and his melodious voice slightly trembled. “We will not act a part. We—we have been fond of each other, you and I. But believe me if this were to go on I could not stand it. I know where you are going: I was bound the same way myself. You love her—do not attempt to deny it. I found it out at once.”

“And what if I do love her?” cried I, half-defiant and half-ashamed. “I confess that the impression she has made on me—”

“Come here under the gateway,” said he. “We are blocking up the way, and you speak so loud you will attract attention. You see I was right; indeed I should have been surprised if it had not turned out thus. But you will agree that it is impossible to go on. One or other must retire.”

“Very well,” returned I, endeavouring to assume an inimical and dogged expression. “One of us must retire. Only I do not see why it should be I. Just because I am the younger by two stupid years, though as advanced a student as yourself.”

I had hardly spoken the hasty heartless words before I regretted them. At that moment they sounded like a humiliating boast.

“Besides,” I hastily added, “it does not signify so much which of us takes precedence, as who it is she cares for. At present you and I seem to have equally poor prospects.”

“That is true,” he said. “But none the less I cannot find it in my heart to enter into a contest with you; and then you are the bolder, the more fluent, I should give up the game beforehand if we were both to declare our feelings for her: you know what I mean.”

“If this be so,” I rejoined, looking with artificial indifference through the dark gateway into a garden where a lonely rose-tree blossomed; “if you have not more confidence in yourself than this, you cannot after all be so much in love as you suppose, and as I can fairly say I am. I have spent a sleepless night” (I did not reckon those seven hours snatched in a chair) “and a wasted day. And so I thought—”

I could not end my sentence. The pallor of his good, true-hearted face shewed me how much more deeply he was affected by this conversation than I, for whom indeed it had a certain romantic charm. I felt fond of him again.

“Listen,” said I, “we shall never get on this way. I see that neither of us will retire of his own free will. Fate must decide.”

“Fate?”

“Or chance if you prefer it. I will throw down this piece of money. If the royal arms are uppermost, you have won; if the inscription—”

“Do so,” he whispered. “Although it would be fairer—”

“Will you cry done?”

“Done!”

The coin fell to the ground. I stooped down in the dim light we were standing in to make sure of the fact.

“Which is uppermost?” I could hear him murmur, while he leaned against the door-post. He himself did not venture to look. “Bastel,” said I, “it cannot be helped. The inscription is uppermost. You understand that having once appealed to the decision of Providence—”

He did not move, and not a sound escaped his lips. When I drew myself up and looked at him, I saw that his eyes were closed, and that he stood as if in a trance.

“Don't take it so to heart,” said I. “Who knows but that in two or three days I may come and tell you that she does not suit me, that the field is open for you, and that—”

“Good night,” he suddenly whispered, and rushed away at full speed.

I only remained behind for a moment. At this abrupt departure the scales fell from my eyes. I was conscious that my feelings for the mysterious being were not to be compared with his, and that I should be a villain if I were to take advantage of this foolish appeal to chance.

In twenty yards I had caught him up, and had to employ all my strength to keep hold of him, for he was bent on getting away.

“Hear me,” I said. “I have changed my mind. Nay, you must hear me, or I shall believe you were never in earnest in your friendship for me. I solemnly swear, Bastel, that I make way for you. I resign utterly and for ever, every wish and every hope. I see it all clearly. You could not recover it if she were to prefer me. I—why I should make up my mind! You know one does not die of it even if all one's dream-blossoms do not come to fruit. Give me your hand, Bastel, and not another word about it.”

He threw himself on my breast. I meanwhile feeling very noble and magnanimous, as though I had renounced a kingdom to which I was heir, in favour of some cousin belonging to a collateral line. Any one who had seen us walking on for an hour hand in hand, and been aware that we were disposing of a fair creature who had probably never given either of us a thought, could hardly have refrained from laughing at so shadowy an act of generosity. I insisted upon accompanying him at once to the shop. I was bent upon proving that my sacrifice did not exceed my strength. “Success to you!” I cried, as he turned the handle of the door, and I shewed him a cheerful face. And then I went away wrapped in my virtue, whose heroic folds were full compensation for all that I had resigned.

I slept so soundly that night, that I felt ashamed of myself the next morning for not having dreamed of her. Could it be that the flame of this “new love” had gone out thus suddenly, not leaving so much as a spark behind? I would not allow it to myself, and thereby diminish the importance of so tragic a collision. As it was Sunday I had plenty of time to give myself up undisturbed to my happy-unhappy sensations. A few verses written down that morning still linger in my memory:

          “Sad and consumed by envious desire,
            A Cinderella sits beside the fire:
            The hearth grows cold, the ashes fly about,
            There is no sunshine in the air without.

          “Oh strange that friendship should so cruel prove
            As to inflict a pang on yearning Love:
            Pale and half-blind she weeps the long hours thro',
            Yet are they children of one mother too!

          “Love decks herself and proudly lifts her head;
            More and more glows her cheek's soft rosy red:
            The pale one bears the weight of household care,
            In games and dances never claims a share.

          “Yet when her sister comes home late at night,
            Poor Cinderella laughs and points with spite:
            'Blood's on your shoe for all you're gaily drest,'
            And thus she robs the proud one of her rest!”

And yet people persist in calling youth the time of unclouded bliss—youth, which through mere mental confusions and self-invented tortures lets itself be cheated out of heaven's best gifts; counterfeits feelings in order to achieve unhappiness, and passionately presses the unattainable to its heart!

                     * * * * *

About a fortnight may have sped away without my ever seeing my fortunate rival except by accidental glimpses. From some delicate scruple, for which I gave him full credit, he left off climbing the stair to my study as heretofore, and if we met in the streets we soon parted with a commonplace word or two, and a pretty cool shake of the hand.

However, by the time we reached the third week, this estrangement became intolerable to me. It was holiday time; the days were too hot for work or exercise, and I even found the Castalian fount run dry. I became aware that the silent presence of my friend had grown to be a positive want. I longed even to hear his deep voice sing once more, “I think in the olden days,” and was as uncomfortable in my isolation as Peter Schlemihl when he had lost his shadow.

At last I determined to seek him out. He lived the other side of the Spree in an upper room of a house belonging to a tailor's wife, by whom his cooking was done, and his few wants attended to. I must just mention here that he received a very small allowance from his family, and made up the deficit by giving music-lessons, for which indeed he was but poorly paid.

When I entered his little room he was sitting at an old, hired piano, and writing down some notes in a music-book on his knee. He jumped up with an exclamation of pleasure, let the book fall, and caught hold of my hand in both his. He made me sit down on the hard sofa and light a cigar, and spite of all I could say, would have me drink a glass of beer which the tailors wife fetched from the nearest tavern. At first we said but little, as was our wont, but often looked at each other, smiled, and were heartily glad to be together again.

“Bastel,” said I at length, shrouding myself as completely as I possibly could in tobacco-smoke, “I have a confession to make. You need no longer keep up any reserve with me about—you know what. The wound inflicted by a certain pair of eyes” (again the old lyrical style, this time with a touch of Spanish colour), “either was not so deep as I at first believed it, or else absence has done wonders. Suffice it that I am perfectly recovered, and if you have turned these last weeks to good account and been made happy, I shall rejoice with you unqualifiedly.”

He looked at me with beaming eyes. “Is it really so?” he said. “Well, then, I can tell you, you remove a great weight from my heart. I have reproached myself a hundred times for accepting your sacrifice, and my best hours with her have been embittered by the thought of having done you wrong. I did not indeed feel sure that you would have been satisfied with what made me so happy. And besides I felt that it would have been wholly impossible for me to have renounced her. But now—now all is right.”

And again he pressed my hand, his joy so genuine and touching that I felt myself and my artificially excited feelings, very small indeed in comparison.

He then went on to tell me how far matters had advanced. It certainly did require a modest nature, and a very sincere affection, not to be rather disheartened than encouraged by the amount of progress made in the course of three entire weeks. He had gone evening after evening, to spend an hour in that small reading-room. It was plain that his silent reverential homage had touched her, and the last few evenings she had permitted herself to sit with him, and keep up an innocent chat. Once even, when he was two hours later than usual, she received him with evident agitation, and confessed that his delay had made her anxious. She had become, she said, so accustomed to their daily talk, and as there was no one else who took the least interest in her; and then she stopped—perhaps because he too vehemently expressed his delight at this her first kind word. He, for his part, had told her all about his relations, and everything connected with himself that could in any way interest her. But she had not confided to him the very slightest particulars about her family or her past history, had only said how she was pining in this dark shop-corner, and longed to go far away into foreign lands. She had been putting by, she told him, for a year past to meet travelling expenses; and privately teaching herself both French and English in order to go into the wide-world at the first opportunity. “If you had only seen her, Paul,” said he at the end of his narrative, “and only heard her voice, how sadly and resignedly she told me all this, you would have pledged your life that no evil thought had ever stirred her heart, that she was as pure and innocent as saints and angels are said to be, and you would understand my resolve to leave nothing undone in order to make her happy.”

“You really then mean to marry her?”

“Can you doubt it? That is if she will accept me. She must have plainly seen that my intentions were honourable, although, as to any formal declaration, you know that my heart overflows least when it is fullest. And besides there is no hurry. She cannot be thinking of leaving for some time to come, and as for me—if I make great efforts in four or five years—”

“Four or five years? Why, you will scarcely have passed your legal examination.”

“True,” he rejoined. “But I have given up the idea of it. I shall not seat myself on the long bench of law students, which is but a rickety one after all. I think I can in a shorter time make something of music, and at the worst if we are not able to get on here—and indeed my parents would hardly be pleased at the marriage—we can seek our fortune in America.”

I looked at him sideways with pride and amazement. He seemed to me to have suddenly grown ten years older, and I confessed to myself that all the lyrical enthusiasm of my views of life, would not have rendered me capable of so bold a plan.

“And she,” I asked; “will she consent to this?”

“I do not know,” he replied, looking straight before him. “As I told you before, I have never asked her point-blank. Our talk once turned on marriage. She said most positively she should never marry. 'Not if the right man appeared?' I ventured to put in. 'Then least of all,' said she suppressing a sigh. So one of us is wise it seems.”

“Nonsense,” said I. “All girls say the same to begin with. Afterwards they think better of it.”

“It seems, too, that she is a year older than we thought—only a month younger than I am. Apropos, I have a request to make to you; that is, if you are able—”

“Come, no preamble. You know that I am never shy of asking you to do me a favour.”

“To-morrow is her birthday. I had just contrived to find out the date, when she said that she already felt herself very old, and was weary of life. That if she knew she were to die on the morrow it would give her no regret. I was busy just when you came in, writing out the air of one of your songs: you know the one beginning, 'How could I e'er deserve thee?' and I meant to give her a nosegay with it. But it does grieve me to think that I have nothing better to offer her. She has her dress fastened with an old black pin, and its glass head is cracked. A little brooch would be sure to please her—only unluckily my piano and singing lessons are over just now, most of my pupils are away, and so I cannot get at some fees that are owing; and to sell any of my effects is impossible, since all the superfluities I had—”

He looked with sad irony around his bare apartment.

“We must contrive something,” I said. “It stands to reason that the birthday must be duly honoured. Certainly I am no Croesus at this moment,”—and therewith I drew out a very small purse from my pocket, in which rattled only a few insignificant coins—“but at all events I have some superfluities. It now occurs to me that I have not used the great Passow for some months, never indeed, since I accidentally discovered little Rost at my father's, in which one can hunt out words so much more conveniently. Come! The old folios will help us out of a difficulty.”

After a few weak endeavours to prevent my laying this offering upon the altar of friendship, he accompanied me to my room, and then we each loaded ourselves with a volume of the thick lexicon. And an hour later, richer by five dollars, we betook ourselves to the shop of a small working-goldsmith, as we had not courage to make our intended purchase at one of the great jewellers of Unter den Linden.

It is probable that our man taxed us no less heavily. But, however, he treated us like two young princes, who in Haroun-al-Raschid mood had chosen to knock at a lowly door. For a gold snake which after a few coils took its tail into its mouth, and glared at us with two square ruby eyes, he asked ten dollars, but let himself be beat down to seven, the pin being probably worth about half that sum. It was I who had to carry on the whole transaction. Sebastian was so embarrassed, and absorbed himself so persistently in the contemplation of the other ornaments on the counter, that the shopkeeper evidently grew suspicious, and kept a sharp look out after him, as though he might be having to do with pickpockets.

“Here is the trinket,” said I, when we got into the street, “and now good night, and I say—you may just congratulate her from me too to-morrow. But indeed I ought to hope that she has forgotten all about me. I certainly did not display my best side to her. Let me see you again soon, and come and tell me what effect the snake has produced in thy Paradise, happy Adam that thou art.”

And so I left him, conscious of a faint glimmer of envy. But I manfully trod out the first sparks, and as I walked along the park in the cool of the evening, sang aloud the following song, which apart from the anachronism of budding roses in the dog-days, gave a pretty faithful description of the mood I was then in:

          “The roses are almost full-blown,
            Love flings out his delicate net:
            'Thou butterfly fickle and frail
            Away thou shalt never more get.'

          “'Ah me! were I prisoner here,
            With roses all budding around,
            Though satisfied Love wove the bands,
            My Youth would repine to be bound.

          “No musing and longing for me—
            I stray thro' the woods as I will.
            My heart on its pinions of joy
            Soars beyond and above them still!'”

The following evening I was sitting innocently and unsuspiciously with my parents at the tea-table, when I was called out of the room: a friend it seemed wished to speak to me. It was about ten o'clock, and I wondered who could be paying me so late a visit.

When I entered my room I found Sebastian as usual in the grand-paternal arm-chair, but I started when, turning the light on his face, I noticed his pallor and look of despair.

“Is it you?” cried I. “And in such agitation? Has the birthday celebration come to a tragic end?”

“Paul,” said he, still motionless, as though some heavy blow had stretched him out there. “All is over! I am a lost man!”

“You will find yourself again, my good fellow,” I replied. “Come, let me help to look for you. Tell me all about it to begin with.”

“No jesting if you would not drive me out of the room. I tell you it is all too true. I have only now fully discovered what an angel she is, and I have seen her for the last time.”

“Is she gone away—gone to a distance?”

He shook his head gloomily. Only by very slow degrees could I extort from him the cause of his despair. Briefly it was as follows: He had found himself in the presence of his beloved at the usual hour, and after eating an extra tart and drinking a glass of bishop in honour of the day, he had brought out the gifts with which he meant to surprise her in a sequence which seemed well advised. First he had freed the bouquet from its paper coverings, and she had thanked him with a kindly glance, and put it at once in a glass of water. Then he gave her the song, and sang it for her under his voice, she sitting opposite with downcast eyes, and giving not the slightest sign by which to judge whether she saw its application or not. Only when he had ended she held out her hand—a favour of which she was chary—and said in a cordial tone: “It is very kind of you to have thought of my birthday, and to have brought me such beautiful flowers and such a charming song. There is nothing I love so much as flowers and music, and I very seldom come in for either. I shall soon know the tune; indeed I half know it now.” He could not part with the hand given him, and as her graciousness had inspired him with courage, he now brought out the serpent-pin, and placed it in her hand. “Here is something else,” he said; “it is but a humble offering, but I should be very happy if you would not disdain to wear it.”

She looked full at him, opened the little case slowly and with evident reluctance, and as soon as she saw the shining of the gold, dropped it on the table as though the metal had been red-hot. “Why have you done this?” she said, hastily rising. “I have not deserved it from you—at least I do not think I have behaved in such a way as to authorise you to make me a present like this. I see I have been mistaken in you. You, too, think meanly of me because I am poor and dependent. I cannot conceal that this pains me, from you of all people,” and her eyes grew moist. “Now I can only request that you will instantly leave me, and never return,” and with that she laid the flowers and song down before him on the table, and spite of his distracted assurances and entreaties, with burning face and tearful eyes she contrived to elude him, and not only left the little inner room, but the shop as well.

It was in vain that he awaited her return; in her stead the square-built woman entered, but apparently without the least idea of what it was that had scared the young girl away. A full half-hour he continued in a most miserable state of mind to occupy his accustomed seat on the sofa. But as she remained invisible, he at length took his departure, and once in the street, plucked the nosegay to pieces, and tore up the song into shreds, and—“There,” he cried, “is that wretched pin that has made all the mischief, you may take it, and give it to whom you will! I could hardly resist the temptation as I came along to open a vein with it.”

“And is that all?” enquired I coolly, when he had come to an end of his shrift.

He sprang up as if to rush away. “I see I might have spared myself this visit!” he cried. “You are in so philosophical a mood that a friend expiring at your side would seem nothing to wonder at. Good-night.”

“Stay,” I remonstrated. “You ought to be very glad that one of us at least has the use of his five senses. The story of the pin is a mere trifle. Who knows whether she did not reject it after all from the superstitious fancy that pins pierce friendship. Or even if there were more in it, if she actually felt a suspicion that you meant it as a bribe, that is still no cause for desperation; on the contrary she has proved that she is a good girl, and respects herself; and if you go to her in the morning as though nothing had happened, and in your own true-hearted way explain—”

“You forget she has forbidden me to return.”

“Nonsense! I would bet anything that she is already very sorry she did so. Such a faithful Fridolin is not to be met with every day, and whatever she may think she feels for you—whether much or little—she would be conscious of missing something if you left off eating your two cherry tarts daily, and she no longer had to strew the sugar over them with her little white hand. Teach me to understand women indeed!”

He gazed for a long time at the lamp. “You would do me a kindness by going there with me and explaining matters for me. She would at least allow you to speak; and if you were to bear witness for me—”

“Willingly. I shall say things to her that would melt a heart of stone. Trust me, this serpent will not long exclude thee from thy Paradise, or Miss Lottka is not that daughter of Eve, which hitherto much to her honour I have held her to be.”

He pressed my hand as if somewhat relieved, but was still gloomy, and I soon lighted him down the stairs.

                     * * * * *

I had a very beautiful and touching address all ready composed when we set out the next evening on our common mission, and my poor friend gave me plenty of time to rehearse it, for he never said a word. When we approached the shop he drew his arm out of mine, I was not to find out that he was beginning to tremble!

I myself was not thoroughly at ease. To see her again after so long an interval, and now to address her on behalf of another—I was fully conscious of the difficulty of the position, but my honour was pledged to play my part well, and to guard against any selfish relapse into my old folly.

When we entered she was not alone. For the first time we found a fashionable-looking man in the shop, sitting on a stool close to the counter, and while drinking a glass of lemonade, trying apparently to make himself agreeable to the young attendant. Sebastian's melancholy visage darkened still more at this spectacle, although the calm manner and monosyllabic replies of the girl might have convinced him that the conversation of this coxcomb was as displeasing to her as to us.

“We shall soon drive him away,” whispered I, and ordering wine and cakes with the air of an habitual customer, I together with my mute companion took possession as usual of the familiar inner-room.

I had, however, reckoned without my host. The stranger, who now carried on his conversation in a lower tone, appeared to have no idea of vacating his place in our favour. I was able to contemplate him at leisure in the small mirror that hung between the royal pair. His hair cut short round a head already bald at the top, his light whiskers, and the gold spectacles on his pinched nose, were all highly objectionable to me; and I wondered too at the insolent familiarity of his manner, and the careless way in which he crumbled a heart-shaped cake in his white effeminate hands, as if to typify his facility in breaking hearts. I took him for a young nobleman or landed proprietor, and little as I feared his making an impression upon the girl, yet it was annoying to me to see her exposed in her position to the attentions of such a man. I was even concocting some bold plan of getting rid of this incumbrance, when I felt Sebastian convulsively clutch my arm.

“What is the matter?” I said. “Are you going mad?” Instead of answering, he pointed to the mirror, in which he too could see a portion of the shop reflected. “Impudent fellow!” he muttered between his teeth, “he shall not do that a second time.”

I had just time to see that the stranger was bending over the counter, and trying to take the girl—who had retreated as far as ever she could—under the chin, when my friend, having noisily pushed away the table before us, confronted him with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes.

“What do you mean, sir!” he began, and his deep voice put out all its strength. “Who are you that you dare to take a liberty with a blameless girl—a girl who—”

His rage actually choked him. He stood with hand raised, as if determined to punish any fresh act of audacity on the spot, while the stranger, who had drawn back a step, measured this unexpected champion from top to toe with a look, half amazement, and half compassion.

“The bishop is too strong for your head, young friend,” said he in a sharp tone, while he twirled his smart cane between finger and thumb. “Go home before you talk further nonsense, and be more careful another time, for you may not always meet with persons who can take your greenness into proper account. What I was saying to you, Lottka—'”

And therewith he turned as if his opponent had already vanished out of sight and mind, and addressed the girl, who, pale as death and with eyes closed, was leaning back in the furthest corner between the window and the wall.

I had followed Sebastian, and whispered to him to take care what he was about, but he never heard me.

“I only wanted to ask you, Fräulein,” he said in a hollow voice, “whether it is with your consent that this gentleman allows himself to take such liberties with you as are not generally permitted by respectable young ladies; whether you know him sufficiently well to justify him in using your Christian name, and whether it is agreeable to you that he should remain talking to you so long?”

She did not answer. She only raised her large eyes entreatingly to the angry lover who did not understand their glance.

“Who is this amiable youth, who plays the part of your knight, Lottka?” now asked the stranger in his turn. “I begin to suspect that I have interfered with some tender relations between you. I am sincerely sorry for it, but still, my child, without venturing to impugn your taste, I would advise you in future to pay more attention to solid advantages in the choice of your adorers. The declamations of schoolboys are no doubt pretty to listen to, but they may lead as you see to awkward consequences. What do I owe?”

He threw a dollar on the table.

“You can give me the change another time. I will not disturb you further just now.”

He took his hat and was about to leave when Sebastian barred the way.

“You shall not go,” said he in a constrained voice, “before you have in my presence apologised to this young lady, and given your word of honour never again to forget the respect due to her. I hope you understand me.”

“Perfectly, my young friend,” replied the other, his voice now trembling with excitement. “I understand that you are a crazy enthusiast, and take the world for a raree-show. I do not grudge you your childish amusement, and esteem you accordingly; but I have no wish further to prosecute your acquaintance, lest a joke should turn to earnest, and I should be forced—spite of the lady's presence—to treat you like a young whippersnapper who—”

Here he made a pretty unequivocal movement with his cane. I had just time and sense enough to interfere.

“Sir,” said I, “I have to request your card; we can best settle this matter in another place.”

He laughed loud, drew out his pocket-book with an ironical bow, and reached me a visiting-card. Then he nodded familiarly to the girl, shrugged his shoulders, and pressing his hat low down on his brow, left the shop.

We three remained for several moments in the same position as if we had been touched by a magic wand.

I as the least deeply implicated was the first to recover myself.

“For God's sake, Fräulein,” said I to the pale statue in the window, “tell us who this man is. How comes he to behave so to you? Since when have you known him?” Then in a lower tone. “I pray you by all that is good, speak, if but one word. You see the state my friend is in; this concerns him more deeply than you are aware. You do not perhaps know that there is nothing more sacred to him than yourself; you owe it to him—”

He seemed to have heard what I said. With a sudden gesture as though shaking off some heavy weight, he tottered to the counter, behind which she stood entrenched and unapproachable.

“Only one word, Lottka,” he murmured. “Do you know that insolent man? Have you ever given him cause so to think of and speak to you? Yes or No, Lottka?”

She was silent, and her hands hung down helplessly by her side. I could plainly see two great tears forcing their way between her lashes.

“Yes or No, Lottka,” he repeated more urgently, and his breast heaved fast. “I wish to know nothing further. Do not imagine that the first rude fellow I come across, has any power to shake my holiest convictions. But how was it you had not a word to crush him with? Why are you silent now?”

A convulsive shiver passed over the young girl's frame. With eyes still closed she felt for her chair in the window, but did not seat herself—sank down on her knees beside it, and hid her face against it. “I beseech you,” she murmured in an almost inaudible voice, “do not ask anything about me—go away—never come here again. If it can in any way comfort you, I am innocent so surely as God lives; but so unfortunate that it is almost worse than if I were a sinner too. Go away. I thank you for all you have done, but go, and forget that I am in the world. I would I were in another!”

“Lottka!” cried Sebastian wildly, about to rush in and raise her up, but that she put out her hands to ward him off with such a lamentable gesture that I held him back; and after a struggle, during which I represented to him that they were both too excited at present to understand each other, I persuaded him to leave the poor child to herself, and we went off, promising to return on the morrow.

We walked in silence through the streets. It was impossible to tell him that the scene we had witnessed had considerably shaken my faith in his beloved. For the rest I was perfectly satisfied with the part he had played, and owned to myself that I should have done just the same in his place.

It was only when we reached the door of my house that he broke silence. “You must do me the favour,” he said, “to go to that man very early in the morning” (we had read his name and address on his card; he was an assessor at the Town Court). “I leave all details to you.”

“Of course,” I returned, “it stands to reason that I should do all I can for you; but in this matter—I have never delivered a challenge, and have only twice seen a duel of any kind; and in this case, as I believe, we must employ pistols. If you knew any one more conversant with such matters?—one would like to do things in the regular way with a fellow like this, who treats us both like schoolboys.”

“You are probably right,” said he. “But there is no help for it. I can have no third party admitted into this affair. It is possible that he may make some disclosures to you—invent more calumnies—how should I know? So everything must be kept to ourselves. I shall be at home all the morning, and as soon as you have done with him you will come straight to me, will you not.”

That I promised, and we parted. What my parents must have thought of me that evening, when I gave crooked answers to every question put, Heaven only knows.

                     * * * * *

That night in good truth I really slept very little. I kept thinking of all that might ensue, hearing pistol-shots fired, and seeing my poor friend fall. But I was also much engaged in puzzling over Lottka's conduct, and came more and more strongly to the belief that she was not worth an honest true-hearted youth throwing down the gauntlet in her cause, and answering for her virtue with his life.

The day had scarcely dawned before I was up, but on this occasion I had no idea of verse-making. I dressed myself at first entirely in black like an undertaker's assistant; then it occurred to me it might be better to be less carefully got up, and rather to treat the matter with indifference, as though such things daily occurred to me. So I merely put on a comfortable summer attire, just substituting a black hat for the cap I usually wore, and drawing on a pair of perfectly new gloves. When I looked in the glass, I viewed myself as decidedly grown up, and also decidedly easy-going and dignified. But for all that I could make nothing of my breakfast. I had a bitter taste on my tongue.

About nine o'clock I set out. The house in which our enemy lived stood in the best part of the town, and the porter told me he did not think it would be easy to get an interview with the assessor. Nevertheless a footman, although certainly treating me rather de haut en bas, ushered me into a small room, and signified that his master would soon appear.

I had plenty of time to look about me, and firmly resolved as I was not to be cowed by outward circumstances, I could not help feeling, while silently comparing this elegant bachelor's snuggery with the four bare walls of my friend's room, that the game was very unequal. Two raw half-fledged novices pitted against a thorough man of the world, and not even perfectly certain that we had the right on our side. I owned to myself that we were in a fair way to act a ridiculous part, and all my lyrical idealism was powerless against the awkwardness of prosaic facts.

The longer I waited, the more I made up my mind to see our enemy enter with a mocking smile, and asked myself how to meet it with becoming dignity. But to my surprise there was nothing of the kind.

In about ten minutes the door opened, and the assessor just put in his head, saying in the most urbane tone possible, that he was very sorry to be obliged to keep me waiting, not being quite dressed, but that he begged me in the meantime to use his cigars and make myself at home.

Another five minutes, and in he came, shook my hand like an old acquaintance, and begged me to be seated on his silk-covered divan. I had to light a cigarette, but declined to share his breakfast which the footman brought in on a silver tray, and I was looking out for the pleasantest introduction possible to our affair, when he anticipated me, and while pouring out his tea began in quite a friendly tone—

“I am very glad you have come. I can easily imagine what brings you, and I may frankly tell you that yesterday's scene to which I owe your acquaintance, made upon me a most painful impression. You will easily understand that it is by no means pleasant to have a youth—an utter stranger—fall upon one out of a clear sky with a perfect torrent of invective. But on the other hand, I am sufficiently versed in human nature to be able to explain the very peculiar conduct of your Hotspur of a friend. He is in love with the little girl, and in that shows very fair taste. He has diligently read romances and old legends, and thinks he has gained from them a knowledge of the world. This sweet illusion will vanish all too soon, but while it lasts it makes so happy, that it is positive cruelty to blow away its soap-bubbles prematurely. I at least would never deprive any one of his innocent enjoyment. And so I am sincerely sorry to have disturbed any tender tie. I hope your friend will be content with this explanation, and for my part I wish him pleasant dreams, and when the time comes as gentle a waking as possible. The cigar does not seem to draw well? Try another. What are you studying if I may ask? You are still a student, are you not?”

I felt myself blush crimson. For a moment I doubted whether I would not deny my position. However I stuck to the truth. “We shall pass our final examination at Easter,” I said.

He was magnanimous enough not to misuse his superiority.

“So young,” he said, with a good-natured shake of the head, “and already such Don Juans! You seem entitled to fair hopes, my young friend, and if you would only accustom yourself to more self-restraint—”

“Forgive me,” said I, “but I must return to the matter in hand. My friend, as you rightly perceive, has a serious affection for this girl, and feels himself deeply aggrieved by the disrespectful manner in which you behaved to her. I believe he might be satisfied by a few lines in your handwriting, expressing your regret for your conduct to Fräulein Lottka. If not—”

He looked askance at me with such amazement, that I felt suddenly paralysed.

“Are you really in earnest?” he said. “You look too intelligent for me to believe that you can approve of this commission you have undertaken for your friend. My conduct to Fräulein Lottka! That is going a little too far! No, my good friend, let us make ourselves as little absurd as we can. Have you considered what you are proposing to me? With all the respect to the honourable feelings and true-heartedness of a student of the upper class, can he seriously imagine that I owe him reparation, because in a public shop I chanced to stroke a girl under the chin.” He burst out laughing, and threw the end of his cigarette out of the window.

I rose. “I doubt,” I said, “that this will satisfy my friend. If you would at least declare that you know nothing of Fräulein Lottka, which casts a shadow on her reputation.”

“Just sit down, and hear me out,” he broke in.

“Now that I see you are really in earnest, it is my duty to tell you the truth in the interests of your friend who takes up the case so tragically, that he is sure to commit himself to some folly. About ten years ago I was acquainted with a lady of a certain character here in Berlin. She was a German, but bore a Polish name, that of her first lover, a Polish nobleman, who had left her, plantée là, with one child. As she was beautiful and not inconsolable, she found plenty of adorers, and lived in wealth, keeping a small gambling-house too; and I can well remember the strange impression it made on me when first I entered it, to see a child of eight years old sitting at the faro table, looking at the gold heaps with her great sleepy eyes, and then at her mother and her friends, till the Champagne, of which she seemed to like a sip, took effect, and she fell asleep on a sofa amidst laughter, the rattling of money, and very free talk indeed. I was sorry for the pretty child, and it crossed my mind that she could have little respect for her mother, who exercised no sort of self-control even in her presence. After a few years I broke off the connection, which proved a very expensive one, but I heard in a roundabout way that the Polish Countess—as we used to call her—went on still in her old course, except that she relied less on her own attractions, and called in younger faces to her aid. I enquired casually after her daughter, but the conversation had turned, and I received no answer.

“Well—yesterday as I chanced to be passing by that miserable cake-shop, thinking of anything else than of this old story, I saw an old lady getting into a cab at the door, while the shop-girl put in the various parcels of purchases. When she turned round to re-enter the shop, I recognized the child with the weary eyes, now grown up into a beauty, who might, if she chose, enter into formidable competition with her mother. As I had nothing particular to do, I followed her into the shop, reminded her of our old acquaintance, and was not a little surprised to find her just as rigid and unapproachable as her lady-mamma was the reverse. With all my long practice in cross-examination, I was only able to get out from her that she had parted from her mother three years ago, but as to what she had been doing since, or through how many hands she had passed, or whether her icy manners were artificial or natural, that I had not been able to unravel, when our Orlando Furioso, your excellent friend, suddenly burst in upon us. And now, after I have given you this explanation, you may yourself judge, whether the idea of my coming forward to vouch for the poor child's character or having to fight with an enthusiastic boy about her virtue is not quite too absurd!

“No, no,” he continued, “if you have any influence over your friend, my dear fellow, do warn him not to go too far. For even if the daughter were as yet perfectly pure, what good could come of it with such antecedents, and such a mother? Your friend is the son of respectable people, tell him that he must not compromise his parents and himself—a mere passing liason, à la bonne heure! but to stake his very heart's blood, and to interfere with fire and sword, allons donc! —I do hope you may be able to bring him to reason; and now you must excuse me, I have a case coming on.”

He had risen, while I still sat petrified by such a revelation; then he called his servant, and after reciprocal assurances of high esteem, had me shewn out. I tottered down the steps like a drunkard.

                     * * * * *

It was not for an hour afterwards—I needed a long circumbendibus before I could take heart to bring this melancholy business to an end—that I found myself knocking at Sebastian's door. A faint voice bade me come in, and then I found the unhappy fellow lying dressed upon his bed, and one glance at his disordered hair and attire shewed that he had spent the night in that fashion. Before I could say a word, he held out a letter that was open beside him on the pillow. A boy had brought it very early in the morning, but had not waited for an answer.

Of course I do not pretend to give the exact words in which it was couched, but their purport was as follows:

“You had scarcely left me when the idea struck me that the dispute of which I was the miserable cause, might have fearful consequences. I write to you to entreat and beseech you, if there were any earnestness in the feelings you professed for me, to let the matter drop, and to believe that in reality I am not worthy” (these words were doubly scored) “that you should sacrifice yourself for me. Promise me that you will try to forget me utterly. I am a poor lost creature, and only death can deliver me. But I shall not die yet, so have no anxiety on that head. I will try whether it be possible for me to live without my misfortune dogging every step I take. I thank you for all your love and kindness, and I never shall forget you. But do not attempt to find me out. I am firmly resolved never to see you again, and you will only increase my misery if you do not obey my wishes, but attempt to force a meeting.”

The letter had neither address nor signature, it was firmly written, and there was not a mistake throughout.

I silently returned him the letter, not liking at that moment to tell him that under the circumstances nothing could be more propitious than such a decided step on her part. But I gradually discovered that nothing in the letter impressed him so much as the pretty clear confession of her own liking for him. This it was he dwelt on; their separation seemed to him comparatively unimportant, probably not seriously resolved upon, and practically impossible.

I therefore felt myself bound no longer to keep back my information, and gave him an exact account of my interview with his enemy. To my surprise it did not seem to produce on him the overwhelming effect I had dreaded. He told me he had himself conjectured something of the kind, and much as he regretted it, it could in no way change his feelings, rather it could only increase his love to positive worship to find that she had worked herself free from such degrading relations, and was high-hearted enough to wish to bear alone a sorrow she had never deserved. He knew indeed, that he should have some obstacles to confront, as regarded his parents, friends, home, &c. But since she had plainly told him that he was dear to her, no cowardly scruples would prevent his making up to her for the sufferings brought on her by a cruel fate. If the world bespattered her pure life, he would wash it all away in his heart's blood.

He ran on in this half-feverish way, and his high-wrought enthusiasm, his innocent brave spirit so carried me along, that not only did I keep all objections to myself, but actually became of opinion that this was all exactly as it should be, and the one important matter now was to find out the young girl, and induce her to change her mind. I threw myself into a cab, and drove to the shop, hoping to get upon her track there. Sebastian remained at home; he did not venture contrary to her expressed command, to take any part in the search. We had settled to meet again at noon. Alas! I came back as ignorant as I went. The mistress of the confectionery business had only been apprised of the departure of her young shopwoman early that morning by an open note found on her table. None of the neighbours had seen her go away. Most of her effects were left behind, she had only taken with her some linen and a travelling-bag which the good woman knew her to possess, and could not now find. She had instantly given information to the police. But all in vain as yet—the poor child had utterly disappeared.

It was now that grief and the after effects of the excitement of weeks, began to tell severely upon my poor friend. He was in such utter despair that I at first feared for his reason; not because of his frantic outbursts, or delirious grief, but from a certain suppressed wildness that tried to smile while the teeth chattered, a quite aimless way now of walking, now standing still; speaking to himself and laughing loud, while the tears, of which he seemed unconscious, rolled down his cheeks. It was the first time that I had ever seen the elemental throes of a true and deep passion, and I was so shocked that I forgot all besides, and at all events never presumed to attempt consoling the poor fellow by commonplaces.

I remained with him the whole day and a good part of the night. It was only about midnight, when I saw that he was quite exhausted (he had not closed his eyes the previous night), that I yielded to his entreaties, and consented to leave him alone, after exacting a solemn promise from his landlady to listen how he went on, for that he was very ill. I knew he had no weapons of any kind, and I hoped that sleep would do him some good.

The next morning, however, I could not rest, reproached myself for having left him, and anxiously hurried to his lodgings. But there he was no longer to be found. His landlady gave me a note of two lines, in which he bade me farewell for the present. He could not rest till he had found her, but he would do nothing rash, for he was not unmindful of his other duties, and so I might confidently expect his return.

He had packed his knapsack, and taken his walking-stick with him. And the landlady told me he seemed to have had two or three hours sleep, for that his eyes looked clearer.

This was but meagre information, but I had to content myself with it. And moreover I was about to accompany my parents on a tour which kept me absent for several weeks. To the letters I wrote—for I was always thinking of him—no answers ever came, so on my return when my first walk led me to his lodgings, I was fully prepared to find an empty nest. I was the more rejoiced, therefore, when he himself opened the door, and I met a sad face, it is true, but free from the morbidly strained expression which had so much pained me.

That he had failed to meet with any traces of the lost one I guessed rather than actually heard from him. A melancholy indifference seemed to pervade him; he set about whatever was proposed, as one who took no part in it, whether for or against,—and what to me was most striking of all, his passion for music seemed completely over. He never sang a single note, never alluded to any composition, and would willingly have given up his music-lessons, had he been able to live without them. The mainspring of his nature seemed hopelessly broken, something had got wrong which there was no repairing.

In the following spring, when we both went to the University, I used to see him almost daily. He regularly attended law lectures, and had become member of a society in which his admirable fencing and his now proverbial taciturnity rendered him prominent, and I was hoping that the incident which had so deeply affected him would after all leave no bad results in his healthy nature, when something occurred that tore open every wound anew.

I will for the sake of brevity relate the sad tale consecutively, and not as I learned it from him, bit by bit, and at long intervals.

                     * * * * *

It was the Christmas of 1847. He had resolved upon spending the holidays—not as usual, in paying a visit to his parents, but in the strenuous study of his law-books, a long indisposition having thrown him back considerably. I had in vain attempted to coax him to come to us for this Christmas Eve. Indeed as a rule he avoided parties, and if he ever did appear at a social gathering, he usually made an unfavourable impression, especially on ladies, because of his silence and his obstinate refusal to sing.

On this particular 24th of December, he spent the whole day hard at work in his own room, got his landlady to give him something to eat, and only went out at five o'clock when it had grown too dark to write, leaving instructions to keep up his fire, as he should only spend an hour or so looking at the Christmas market, and then return, and go on writing late into the night. When he got into the street, he felt the winter breeze refresh him. The intense cold of the last few days had somewhat abated, snow was falling lightly in large flakes, which he did not shake off, but liked to feel melting on his flushed face. His beard, which had grown into a very handsome one during the last year, and much improved his looks, was white with them.

Slowly he went through Königsstrasse to the Elector's Bridge. There were crowds of well-wrapped figures flitting about, who having made their purchases at the last moment, were now hurrying home fast, for already the windows were beginning to shine with Christmas candles. The solitary student worked his way through the throng, without that melancholy yearning for home which would, on this particular evening, have oppressed most youths, if compelled to spend it away from their own people. He had sent off presents to his parents and sisters two days ago, and this very evening expected a Christmas box from them, which, however, he felt no impatience about. No one could care less for any addition to his possessions than he did; indeed, since he had lost the one thing to which he had passionately clung, he had grown indifferent to all besides.

He stood for a while before the equestrian statue of the great elector, who in his snow mantle looked even more majestic and spectral than usual against the pale winter sky. Below, the stream, hemmed in by ice on either side, flowed darkly and silently on, and in one of the barges the bargeman had already lighted up a small Christmas tree, which sent out a radiance through the open door. A couple of red-cheeked children were standing by the lowly table, one blowing a penny trumpet, the other eating an apple, and the solitary observer on the bridge might have stood there long in contemplation of this humble idyll but that the human stream swept him along with it, and landed him in the very centre of the busy noisy Christmas market going on in the Schlossplatz.

He walked awhile up and down the chief passages between the booths, looking at the cheerful traffic of buyers and sellers, listening to the chattering of the monkeys, and the shrill screams of boys advertising their various wares; and silently he sighed, reflecting that he had positively no connection with the world in which the festival was so joyously kept, that it would be all one to him if he were suddenly transported to Sirius, amongst whose inhabitants he could not feel more alone than here. Then he suddenly resolved to cheer up, and actually hummed the tune “I think in the olden days.” A garrulous saleswoman in a booth of fancy-goods now interrupted him, entreating him to look out some pretty trifle for his “lady-wife.” At that he hurriedly turned off, and made for one of the less frequented alleys where small dealers were offering their penny-worths as bargains.

He had not proceeded far when a singular spectacle caught his eye. Before a booth of cheap toys stood a lady in an elegant fur-trimmed polonaise, such as were then worn, a square Polish hat on her head, and a thick veil drawn over her face to protect her from the snow, so that there was no seeing her features. She had put down her large muff on the counter before her, and with tiny hands in daintiest gloves was busy picking out various toys, and dividing them amongst a number of street-children who crowded closely about her, and struggled for these unexpected gifts in a very tumult of delight. A few expressive words on the part of the seller in the booth reduced them to something like order, and at length they all dispersed, their treasures tightly clutched in their little fists, but it was only a minority that said “thank you” to the giver.

“And now what have I to pay you for them all?” said the lady.

Her voice ran like an electric shock through the youth, who had approached unobserved.

“Lottka,” he said in a whisper.

The lady turned round quickly, and her first impulse was to draw her veil closer about her face. Then, however, by the light of the booth lamps and the glare from the snow, she was able to recognize the figure that only stood two paces off. She hurriedly paid the sum required, turned to Sebastian, and held out her hand.

“It is you,” she said, without showing any special excitement. “I had not expected ever to see you again. But I am only the more glad of it. Have you any engagement? Are you expected anywhere this evening? No? Then give me your arm. I too am free—quite free,” she added with a singular expression. “It is so pleasant to walk about in the snow, and see so many happy faces. It seems to me sometimes as though it could not be necessary to take any great pains to be happy since so many are so, and so cheaply too. Do you not agree with me?”

He did not reply. The utterly unexpected meeting had positively stupefied him, and the quick way in which she spoke and moved was perplexing. She had at once hung upon his arm, whereas formerly she carefully avoided every touch, and now she walked on beside him, daintily putting down her little feet in the snow, her head bent, with a bright thoughtful expression, as though planning some mysterious surprise. He only dared to steal glances at her now and then. She had evidently grown, her features were rather more marked, but that added to her beauty, and her fur cap was wonderfully becoming.

“Fräulein Lottka,” said he at length, “that I should find you here! You do not know—you would not believe how I have sought for you—how ever since—”

“Why should I not believe it?” she hastily replied. “Do you suppose I have not known that you were the only human being in the world who ever really loved me? That was the very reason why I was obliged to part from you. Your love and goodness deserved something better than to be made unhappy for my sake. It is enough that one wretched life should be destroyed, and even that is not very intelligible when one thinks that there is a Providence—but why should we talk of such melancholy subjects? Tell me what you have been doing all this while. Do you know that you are much better looking than you were? Your beard becomes you so well, and with it you have the same innocent eyes that would better suit a girl's face, and yet they can look brave and resolute enough too when they flash out at a villain.

“Forgive me,” she went on, “for being so talkative, but you cannot guess how long I have been silent—almost always, since we parted. I had too much to think about. But now I have arranged it all, and since then I am quite happy. It is not very long ago that I have done so. Last night even I had quite too horrible thoughts; they actually pierced my brain like needles of ice. So I said to myself, 'there must be an end to this.' Neither man nor God can require any one to live on with thoughts like these. And after becoming quite clear about that, my spirits returned, and even my tongue is loosed again. But you are all the more silent. What is the matter with you? Are not you a little tiny bit glad that we can wander about together so confidentially, and feel the snow on our faces, and see so many poor men enjoying their Christmas Eve? I too wanted to make a festival for myself, and so I spent my last two dollars in an improvised Christmas gift. But it did not answer so very well either: unless one loves the person one gives to, there is not much pleasure in giving. Now I am sorry that I have no more money. You and I might so well have made presents to each other.”

“O Lottka,” said he, “now that I have found you again—that you are so kind to me—that you know how I love you—”

“Hush!” interposed she, “this may be felt, but not spoken of. For to-day everything is as sad as it ever was, and as utterly hopeless.”

He stopped suddenly and looked full at her. “Hopeless,” he groaned. “But are you aware that I know everything, and no more heed it than if it were some story going on in the moon. That I have no one in the world to consult but myself, and if my own father and my own mother—”

“For God's sake do not go on,” she cried, with a look of distress, and placing her hand on his lips. “You do not know what you are saying, how horrible it is, and how you would one day repent it. You have a mother whom you can love and revere, and who loves nothing on earth better than you, and who is proud of you, and you would bring sorrow and shame on her? If you had rightly considered what that means—but we will say no more about it. Come—I will confess to you that I am hungry; since yesterday evening I have eaten nothing out of sheer disgust. I thought, indeed, I should never have a pure taste in my mouth any more, but since I have chatted so pleasantly with you, I feel much better. Take me where there is something to eat. And then we can still go on chatting away for a couple of hours, and you really must treat me, for as I said I have spent the last money I had in those toys.”

At once he turned off into a side street, and rapidly led her to a small eating-house that he knew, which was generally empty at this hour. They were both lost in thought, and he was wondering, half in terror, half in rapture, at the way things had come about, and asking himself what turn they would take now. For although her dark allusions made him very anxious, yet on the other hand he found comfort in her free and frank manner towards him, and her clear recognition of his feelings for her.

“Here,” said he, throwing open a small door over which a blue lamp was burning.

They entered a bright comfortable dining-room in which was only an elderly waiter with a green apron of the good old fashion, sitting half-asleep in a corner. He looked at the pair with some surprise, and then hastened off to bring what Sebastian had ordered.

“He takes us for brother and sister,” whispered the young girl.

“Or for a newly-married pair on their travels. Ah, Lottka!” and he seized one of her little hands which she had just ungloved.

She heartily but without any embarrassment returned his passionate pressure. “It is charming here,” said she, beginning to free herself from her warm wraps. “I do so rejoice to be for once with you thus before I—” She stopped short.

“What are you thinking of?” he enquired in great agitation. “This is not really to be the last time—”

“Do not ask me,” said she. “I am provided for, you need have no anxiety for me. When I wrote you that little note I really did not know what would become of me. It was only at first that I was safe. While you and perhaps others were looking everywhere for me, I sat up in the attic of an old friend not far from that shop—the only friend I had, an asthmatic sempstress who used often to buy cough-lozenges from me, and got fond of me because I would put in a stitch for her now and then. The poor thing when at her worst was unable for weeks together to earn anything. It was at her door that I knocked in the night, and actually I remained a couple of months hidden there, for no one concerned himself about her, and I used to help her with her sewing, and to cook our frugal meals; but at last I could no longer endure life in such a cage. I had saved a little money, and meant to cross over into France, where no one would have known me. But I was stopped on the way, there was something wrong in my passport, and so I was of course transported back like a vagrant; and here in Berlin—but we will say nothing about it. I already feel that nausea coming back, and here is our supper, and I must not let that be spoiled.”

He poured out for her a glass of the wine the waiter had brought, and pledged her. “Thou and I,” he whispered gently.

“No, thou alone,” she replied, and sipped at the glass.

“Is the Rhine wine too strong for thee?” asked he. “Shall I order Champagne?”

She shook her head vehemently. “I could not touch a drop of it. I drank it too early, and in too bad company. But you must eat with me if I am to enjoy my supper.”

He put something on his plate, though he could not get a morsel down, and kept watching her while she did full justice to their simple meal. Her hair was cut as short as ever, her dress was quite as plain, her form so full and so supple that each movement she made was enchanting to contemplate. Every now and then she apologized for her appetite.

“It is only,” she said, “because I am for once happy, and everything is so good, and we are so delightfully alone—you and I. There”—and she put a bit of game from her plate on to his—“you must positively eat that, or I shall believe you have a horror of eating from the same dish even as I. If things had been different, and we could really have travelled off together through the world—that would have been beautiful! But it cannot be, and some day you will be happy with some one else, and she with you; lots are very unequally divided, and one must put up with one's own till it gets too bad. But do pour me out some wine—I drank that last glass off unconsciously. Thanks—and now—to thy mother's health! And that shall be the last.”

She emptied the glass, and as she put it down again, he noticed that she shuddered as if some ice-cold hand had suddenly grasped hold of her.

“Let us go,” she said.

He paid the bill and again offered her his arm. When they got out they found that the large soft flakes had changed into a driving snow-storm, that met them full in the face.

“Where shall we go now?” asked he.

“It is all the same to me. I have no longer any home. I thought indeed—but it is quite too boisterous and wretched to take leave of each other in the open air. Are we far from your lodgings?”

“I am in the old quarters still. Over the bridge, and then only a hundred yards. Come.”

“That is—” said she, holding him back as if considering. “What will the people you lodge with think if you suddenly bring a girl back with you?”

“Have you not your veil on!”

“I? I do not care about myself. To-morrow I shall be—who knows how far away, where I can defy all comments. But it might get told to your mother, and give you trouble hereafter.”

“Have no fear,” he said, pressing the hand that rested on his arm. “My room has a private entrance, and the people of the house burn no light on the stairs. We shall not meet any one.”

With rapidly beating heart, he led her along the now deserted streets, and often they were obliged to stand still and lean against each other, while the icy blast swept by. Once when he turned his back to the storm and drew her closer to his breast, he bent down and hurriedly kissed her through her veil. She made no resistance—only said, “I think the worst is now over, we may go on.” After that they did not speak another word till they reached the house.

                     * * * * *

The steep staircase was—as he had said it would be—quite dark, and as they went up it, on tip-toe, he first, holding her hand so that she might not miss a step, no one came across them. Only they heard children's voices through the door, and saw a light shine through the key-hole of the room in the upper story, telling of a Christmas tree there.

He carefully closed his door, and let her precede him into the small dark room, which was only lit by the glow in the stove, and the reflection of the snow. He then bolted both doors. “The kitchen is next to us,” he said, “but there is no one there now. We need not talk in a whisper. But the landlady may just come back once to enquire whether I want anything.”

She answered nothing; she had placed herself on a chair in the window, and was looking out at the whirls of snow.

When he had lit his small student's lamp with its green shade he noticed a box on the table. “Look,” said he, “that is my Christmas box from home, we can put that in a corner for the present. Will you not take off some of your wraps, and seat yourself here on the sofa? You must be too warm in your furs.”

“I shall soon be going,” said she. “But thou art right, the stove does burn well.” And she began to draw off her polonaise, and put away her fur cap and gloves—he helping her.

“But now shall we not begin to unpack?” said she, shaking back her hair. “I should much like to know what is in the box.”

“I am in no hurry,” he laughingly replied. “I have just been unpacking something far more precious to me.”

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” returned she, suddenly assuming a colder tone (she had been saying thou). “You do not deserve that people should be planning how to give you pleasure. I—if a mother had sent me such a Christmas box from a distance—give it me—I will undo the string.”

She hastily began cutting open the cover with a little knife of hers, and he gazed in carefully suppressed emotion at every movement of her exquisite hands.

“Lottka,” said he; “if you and I were both together in America, and this box had come over the sea—”

She shook her head. “No box would have come then.”

“And why not, Lottka? If my mother knew thee as I know thee, dost thou suppose she would hold thee guilty for circumstances over which thou art powerless. Naturally she has her prejudices—like all good mothers. But I know that she loves me more than any of her prejudices.”

The girl left off her unpacking, and with her little knife cut all sorts of patterns on the lid of the box.

“Do you call that a prejudice?” said she, without looking at him. “Could you eat an apple that you had found lying in the dirt of the streets? You might wash it ten times over, the repugnance would be all the same. And who knows what foot might have trodden on it, who knows that some slime might not have penetrated the rind, even though it should still be sound at the core? No, no, no! It is so once for all, bad enough that so it should be—but it must not be made even worse.”

He wound his arm about her, but rather like a brother than one passionately in love. “Lottka,” he said, “it is impossible that this can go on. You cannot waste your life in unavailing regrets.” He stopped short—he could not find words that expressed his meaning without fearing to pain her.

“In regrets,” she repeated, looking at him firmly and sorrowfully. “Oh no! Who is thinking of it? I have already told you that you may be quite easy about my future. I am provided for. I am not so forsaken as I appear, provided my courage does not desert me—my courage and my disgust. And why must every one be married? If I chose I might be so, and very well too. All possible pains have been taken to make me fall in love, and I have had a choice of very desirable wooers, rich, young, and handsome, and some were really willing regularly to marry me in a regular church, with a regular clergyman in gown and bands. There was only one hitch.”

“What was that?” he eagerly asked.

“It is unnecessary to mention it. But no—I will tell it to you straight out, that you may never judge me wrongly. Do you know what has given me a horror of all men except perhaps yourself! I will whisper it in your ear. It is because I did not know whether the proposed bridegroom might not have stood too high in the mother's favour before he concerned himself about the daughter.”

She turned away and went hastily to the window.

After a time she again felt his arm around her. “What you must have had to endure, dear heart!” he faintly whispered.

She nodded slowly and significantly. “More than you would suppose so young a creature could have survived. About seven years ago, when I first understood it all, I still thought I could change my lot. I would not remain another day in the house. I went out to service. I cut off all my beautiful long hair to prevent any one admiring me, and the ugliest clothes were good enough for me so only they would restore my respectability. How little it has availed me thou knowest. Later, when I was taken up as a vagrant, I was brought back to the house, to her who naturally had a legal right over me. I had to bear it. I was powerless against the law. But I at once declared that I would destroy myself if I were not left in peace. And so I have sat nearly a year in my own room, and as soon as any one came near it I bolted the door. But still as I was obliged sometimes to breathe the air, people saw me, and she herself—though I never would speak a word to her—pretended that she loved me very much, and only yesterday—it was to be a Christmas treat—she sent me in a letter; guess from whom?”

“How can I guess?”

“You are right. No mortal ever could suppose it. But you remember the creature with whom you quarrelled on my behalf?”

“Lottka!” he cried beside himself. “Is it possible—”

She nodded. “It was a very affectionate letter, the most beautiful things were promised me in it—the paper smelt of Patchouli: since then I have had that nausea, that loathing which only passed off when you and I met again. But I have but to think of it, and—fie!—there it comes again!”

She wiped her lips, and the same strange shudder passed over her. He seized her hands—they were stiff and damp.

Suddenly she shook her head as if to get rid of some importunate thought. “But we were going to unpack,” said she. “Pretty subjects these for Christmas Eve! Come to our box—ours I say. You have bewitched me with your dream about America.”

“We will make it come true,” he impetuously cried. “I shall remind you on some future day of our first Christmas Eve, and then you will be obliged to confess that I have more courage, and am a better prophet than you.”

She made no reply, but cut the last string and opened the box. All sorts of small presents came to view, a pair of woollen gloves that his eldest sister had knitted for him, a watch-chain woven of the fair hair of the younger, with a pretty little gold key hanging to it, home-made gingerbread, and finally a large sealed bottle.

“Have you vineyards?” asked she playfully.

He laughed in spite of all his sadness. “It is elder wine, and the grapes grow in our little garden. As a child I thought it the best of all things, and ever since my good mother believes she cannot please me better than by sending me on every Christmas Eve, and every birthday, a sample at least of her last year's making.”

“I hope it tastes better to you than the most costly Rhine wine,” said she earnestly, “or you would not deserve it. Look—there are letters.”

“Will you look them over? I am too much distracted. I should not know what they were about if I read them.”

She had seated herself on the sofa, and taken the letters on her knee; one after the other she read them with most devout attention, as though their contents were wonderful and sublime, yet they were only made up of sisters' chat; little jests, apologies for the insignificance of their offerings; and in the lines written by the mother, there was traceable, together with her pride in having so good a son, her sorrow at being unable to embrace him at such a time, and her anxious fear that it was not so much work that kept him away, but rather the melancholy unsocial mood which even made his letters short.

“Are you still reading them?” he at length asked. “They are simple people, and when they write, the best that is in them does not always get put on paper. Good God! thou art weeping, Lottka!”

She laid the letters on the box, rose hurriedly, and pressed back the tears that still welled from between her long eye-lashes. “I will go now,” she faintly said. “I shall be better out of doors.”

“Go? now? and where? The storm would blow you down. Remain here for to-night, and if you like—the kitchen is close by—two chairs will do for me—and besides I have not a thought of sleeping.”

She shook her head, and looked down. Then she suddenly raised her eyes, and looked full at his with an expression that made his heart beat wildly.

“Not so,” she said. “But it is true that the storm without would blow me down, and where too could I go? Is this not Christmas Eve, and the last that we shall ever spend together. And I must give thee something, my presents to the children gave me no real pleasure, and why should I not on this day at least think of myself as well? Am I not right, Sebastian?”

She had never before called him by his name.

“Thou wilt give me something?” enquired he, amazed and uncertain.

“The only thing I still possess—myself,” she gasped, and wound her arms about his neck.

                     * * * * *

When he woke in the dark on the morrow, and half raised himself from bed, still uncertain whether it had been real or only the most wondrous of dreams, the chamber was empty, not a trace remained of the last night's visitor. He felt all round his little sitting-room, called her gently by name, thinking she had perhaps stolen into the kitchen just for a freak, and would soon return. But all was silent. The intense cold overcame him, and with teeth chattering he slipped back into bed, and there, propped by pillows, tried to collect his thoughts.

Before long a horrible fear sprung up within him. With burning brow, despite the icy air, he hastily drew on his clothes, and kindled a light. The Christmas gifts of his family were still on the table, and he suddenly discovered a sheet written over in pencil pushed between the letters from his mother and sisters. The characters were uncertain and tremulous, as though written in the dark. The words ran as follows:—“Farewell, my beloved friend, my only friend! It grieves me much that I must grieve you so, must leave you so! But there is no other way. You would never let me go there where I needs must go, unless both are to be made unhappy. I thank thee for thy true love. But all the sweetness in thy soul can never wash away the bitterness from mine. Sleep well—farewell! I kiss thee once more in sleep. I know not whether thou wilt be able to read this. Do not grieve; believe that all is well with me now. Thy own loving one even in death.”

The maid who was in the habit of coming about this time to light the kitchen-fire, heard a hollow cry in the next room, and opened the door in her terror. She there saw the young student lying on the sofa as though prostrated by some heavy blow. When she called him by name, he only shook his head as if to say she need not concern herself about him, and then stooped to pick up the paper that had fallen out of his hand.

“What o'clock?” he enquired.

“It has just struck six.”

“Give me my cloak and stick. I will—”

He tottered to the door.

“You are going out bare-headed in all this cold? All the shops are closed, there is not a creature in the streets: you know this is a holiday?”

“A holiday,” he said, repeating the syllables one by one as though trying to make out their meaning. “Give me—”

“Your cap? Here it is. Will you not first of all have a cup of coffee? The water will soon boil.”

He made no further reply, but went out with heavy steps, and stumbled down the dark staircase. The snow crunched under his feet, and thick icicles hung in his beard. Far and near there was not a living creature to be seen in the dim streets; the sentinels in the sentry-boxes looked like stiff snow men. As he passed the bridge he saw that the river had frozen over during the night. He followed its course a long way, his eyes riveted on the ice as though looking for something there. Then he plunged into the neighbouring streets, quite aimlessly, like one walking in his sleep. For he could not expect to find what he was searching for by any pondering or thinking of his own. But the fever of an immeasurable agony drove him restlessly on, until he was utterly exhausted.

He might have been wandering a couple of hours or more, for the streets were beginning to look alive, when he reached the Potsdam Gate. He there saw a cab stopping in front of the small toll-house, coming as it seemed from the park. The toll-keeper came out in his furs, and as he reached out his snuff-box to a policeman who sat by the driver, asked laughingly—

“Anything that pays duty?” pointing to the closed cab windows.

“Not anything that pays duty here,” was the reply. “I must give up my contraband to the proper authorities. She has smuggled herself—not into, but out of the world, but she is a rare piece of goods all the same. I was making my first round this morning yonder there by Louise-island, when I saw a well-dressed lady sitting on a bench, her head drooping as though she were asleep. 'My pretty child,' said I, 'look out some warmer place than this to sleep in, in such bitter cold as this.' But there was no waking her. Her hand still held a small bottle—it smelt like laurel leaves. She must have drunk it off, and then tout doucement have fallen to sleep! Good morning. I must make haste to deliver her up!”

The driver cracked his whip. At that very moment they again heard the toll-keeper's voice.

“Stop!” (he called out). “You can take another passenger. A gentleman looked into the cab window—and bang!—there he lies in the snow. Do get down, comrade, he is quite a young man; he must have weak nerves indeed to be knocked down in a second at the sight of a dead woman! How if you put him in beside her? They seem much of a muchness.”

“No,” returned the policeman, “that is contrary to regulations. Dead and living are not to be shut in together. Wait, we will carry him into the toll-house. If you rub his head with snow, and give him something strong to smell at, he'll come round in five minutes. I am up to these cases.”

They bore the unconscious figure into the house: then the cab set out on its way again. But the policeman's prognostics were not fulfilled. Sebastian's consciousness did not return for five weeks instead of five minutes. It was only when the last snow had melted away that the miserable man began to creep about a little with the aid of his stick. Then he went off to his parents, who never knew what a strange fate had desolated his youth, and cast a shadow over his manhood, that was never entirely dispelled. When he died at the age of five-and-thirty he left behind him neither wife nor child.

 
 
 

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