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 yearswho 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 armchairmy substitute
for a sofawhere, 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
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 sangbut 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 favouriteanonymously, of coursein
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
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?
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
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
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 Timesyes, I know we are not to speak of it, but
it has to do with the whole thingchance, 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 againspite of his
disappointmentinto 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
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
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
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 contrivedGod knows howto
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 creaturethat she is enchanting it is impossible
to deny! But I warn you against her, Bastel. Believe me, she has no
You think so? he interpolated in a horrified tone without looking
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 shethat she no longerin a word you doubt
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
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
I have disturbed you, Miss Lottka, said I. Forgive me, I will go
away at once. I happened to be passing byand as the night was so
beautifulas since yesterday youWould 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 meI
have a quantity of charming books at homeromances 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
She relapsed into silence, and began to arrange the plates and
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 youIf you need a friendif anything has
happened to youyou understand meLife is so sad, Miss Lottkaand
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
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
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
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
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
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 hastethere 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. Wewe 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 herdo 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
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.
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?
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. Iwhy 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
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
blissyouth, 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
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 aboutyou 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
nownow 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
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 stoppedperhaps 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 meif I make great efforts
in four or five years
Four or five years? Why, you will scarcely have passed your legal
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 hereand
indeed my parents would hardly be pleased at the marriagewe 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 thoughtonly 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 heronly 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 coinsbut 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 sayyou 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 awaygone 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 handa favour of which she was charyand 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
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
youat 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, andThere, 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
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.
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 youwhether much or littleshe
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 anotherI 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
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 girlwho had retreated as far as ever
she couldunder the chin, when my friend, having noisily pushed away
the table before us, confronted him with flushed cheeks and flashing
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 girla 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
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
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 forcedspite of the lady's presenceto 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
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
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
herselfsank 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 mego awaynever 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 matterI 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 youinvent more calumnieshow 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
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
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 youthan utter
strangerfall 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
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
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 Countessas we used to call herwent 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.
Wellyesterday 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 himselfa
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 afterwardsI needed a long circumbendibus
before I could take heart to bring this melancholy business to an
endthat 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
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 yetthe poor child had
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 wrotefor I was
always thinking of himno 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
holidaysnot 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
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
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 freequite 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 knowyou would not believe how I have sought for youhow
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 Providencebut 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 silentalmost 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 againthat you are
so kind to methat 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 meansbut we
will say no more about it. ComeI 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
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
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 shopthe 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 Berlinbut 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
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
It is only, she said, because I am for once happy, and everything
is so good, and we are so delightfully aloneyou and I. Thereand
she put a bit of game from her plate on to hisyou 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 worldthat 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 wineI drank that last glass off unconsciously. Thanksand
nowto 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
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
indeedbut 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
Have you not your veil on!
I? I do not care about myself. To-morrow I shall bewho 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 resistanceonly
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 wasas he had said it would bequite 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
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
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 gloveshe 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. Iif
a mother had sent me such a Christmas box from a distancegive
it meI 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 prejudiceslike 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 bebut 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 shorthe 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 memy 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 noI 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 herselfthough I never would speak a word to herpretended that
she loved me very much, and only yesterdayit was to be a Christmas
treatshe 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 itthe 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, andfie!there it
She wiped her lips, and the same strange shudder passed over her. He
seized her handsthey 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 boxours 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
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. Lookthere are
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 likethe kitchen is close bytwo chairs will do
for meand 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
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 possessmyself, 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 wellfarewell! 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
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
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
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,
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 herselfnot
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
bottleit 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 windowand 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
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.