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Mara by Emil Strauss

(1909)

TRANSLATED BY WILLIAM GUILD HOWARD
Assistant Professor of German, Harvard University

It was in a Brazilian city. One morning I awoke early and felt my heart so full of repugnance to all life that I shut my eyes again and wondered what sort of dream could have left me in this feverish state of mind. But I could not recollect that I had had any dream; in the middle of the night, aroused by a creaking casement, I had started up out of a dreamless slumber. Whence came, then, for the second and the third time this darkness in me, this torturing feeling of oppression at every breath, this piteous longing never to have waked up and never again to have to wake up? I had gone contentedly to bed, and had slept a deep and peaceful sleep.

Confidingly and unguardedly you yield to fatigue and give yourself over to rest—what demon is it that then enters through the open portal, inoculates your heart with a black drop, stirs up and discolors and poisons with it all your blood until, foul and heavy as lead, it forces its way through your heart?

Or is it I—I who am that demon! As the dark bottom of a deep well is lighted up and revealed by the perpendicular rays of the sun only when the water above is quiet and clear as crystal—is it thus that the true color of my being stands forth from deep sleep when the will-o'-the-wisps of waking and dreaming are banished, and that color irradiates and fills its domain, and is just grazed by the abrupt ray of suddenly awaking consciousness?

There it is once for all, and there is no escaping it! What is this darkness? Is it a phantom and a weakness? Is it only an enemy who challenges you and vanishes away in proportion as your own self enlarges? Is it death slowly developing in you?

It is intolerable. If this pillow were saturated with mortal poison, you would take the corner between your lips as the infant takes his mother's breast, and would drink release from your troubles. But if the poison stood over there in the other corner of the room, the mere ten paces to reach it would carry you too far back into life again! And yet tomorrow, or a few days hence, there will be moments when this darkness will suddenly surge up in you and consume you as though it were fire, so that you shrivel up within yourself and cannot excuse in your own eyes the shame of living. Yes, even though you can calmly look back upon this thing, smile at it like a reasonable man and joke about it, even then there is a secret fibre in your being which yearns for that darkness, which shudders in pride and awe of it, which has a premonition that in it there is something purer than all light and all joy.

In search of protection from such worrying phantasms I finally opened my eyes and turned toward the open window. But what I saw outside was so surprising that I closed my eyes again and cried, “What the devil is that?”

Having recovered my composure and the consciousness that I had senses, I opened my eyes once more and peered out: but on the ridge-pole of the adjacent farm building, like doves on a German stable, there still sat at regular intervals five vultures, immovable and waiting. As though cut out of black paper, they seemed pasted on the gleaming blue morning sky.

“Shameless fellows!” I ejaculated. “I must admit that I have been philosophizing here to myself like a dead dog; but I am not yet ready for you by a good deal!” They remained quietly sitting there.

[Illustration: BACK FROM THE FAIR] Franz Wilhelm Voigt

Then I jumped out of bed, took an orange from the fruit plate on the table, and threw it at the creatures. The orange flew neatly between two of them; the vulture perched nearest to its path straightened up, inquisitively turned his head with the greedy eyes to right and left, and then drew his head back again. And in their imperturbable, diabolical serenity the old fellows remained sitting on their perch, as uncanny as the stone gargoyles on the towers of Notre Dame in Paris.

I was not disposed to let these amiable beasts feast their eyes on me any longer; so I quickly took my bath, and dressed.

Although this day was still vacation, I made my rounds through the empty bedrooms and said to the only boy who—because his tuition had not been paid—had been required to spend the holidays at the boarding school, that he might as well roll over on his other side; on the morrow he should have once more to get under the douche at six o'clock in the morning. He really did not need, in vacation time, to pull the wool over my eyes, but even today he tried to make me believe he was fond of bathing. Not to be outdone in courtesy, I pretended to be convinced of the fact. And so we separated with mutual satisfaction.

Now I stepped up to the housekeeper's chamber door. As yet, the resounding report—one could hear it all over the house—with which at evening her bolt was drawn, and in the morning drawn back, had not announced to us that Donna Leocadia de Silva Soares e Pimentel had arrayed herself for contact with the hostile sex; therefore I cautiously approached the door and listened. But when I heard the sound of footsteps within, going back and forth with a tread appropriate to the name as well as to the bodily frame of the Senhora, I plucked up courage, knocked, and, retreating a pace, reported that I should breakfast in town. At the moment I could have said little that would have been more agreeable to the lady. Now she was most happily relieved of the necessity of dressing decently, early this blessed morning, merely in order to place a cup on the table before me and fill it with coffee; nevertheless, she assured me in the most touching tones of her regret that she must dispense with my agreeable company and drink her coffee alone. I replied that her regret was a source of pride to me, made a bow to the door, and departed.

In the courtyard I found the five black brethren still perching on the shed roof; I tried to scare them away by clapping my hands; they did not refer this action to themselves.

When I passed under the window of Donna Leocadia, it opened with a crash, and in a white dressing jacket that had been kept out of the wash for quite too long a time, the overflowing forms of the upper part of the lady's body settled into an easy position in the window frame. She bowed her head of black hair done up in blue and red curlpapers, and rolled her fine great stupid brown eyes. I merely waved my hat and strode on. At the garden gate I met the mulatto boy Alcides, who was just bringing the breakfast rolls in an open basket from the main house of the institution, across the street. I stopped him and asked why he was again carrying the bread in an open basket, instead of throwing a napkin over it, as he was supposed to do.

“Forgot it,” he replied with an unconcerned shrug; for one had to speak to him more emphatically. I therefore selected from the Portuguese vocabulary of abuse, which is as massive and opulent as that of any Romance language whatever, a few juicy morsels, and swore that if this carelessness happened again I would shut the fellow up in the dark chamber and give him twenty-four hours to fix his duty in mind. He made a grimace.

“You may thank God,” I cried, “that I haven't any gloves on. If I had, I would pound your face until you hadn't an eye or a tooth left in the right place!”

He contemptuously showed his two porcelain rows of white teeth.

In anger I made for him—he turned round, and I drew back for a mighty kick; but to my disgrace, the mishued curmudgeon knew how to frustrate my effort; the heel of my boot came in all too slight touch with the hostile posterior, I was hurled about by the momentum of my shot that missed its mark, and suddenly stood facing in the opposite direction. I had to laugh at myself. But Alcides made a quick move round the corner of the house. Donna Leocadia, whose corpulence still filled the window, called to me that I was always too good-natured; I ought not to have let the rascal run away, but ought to have banged his head several times against the wall. Then with an undulating lurch she got up and stepped back from the window, to receive the fellow in her room; she was not so squeamish as I, and she generally, moreover, had not washed her hands.

In the most cheerful frame of mind I now walked along the streets, which were still fairly cool with the freshness of the morning. I bought a copy of the latest newspaper, seated myself in the cane chair of a bootblack, got a shine, and read my paper. Then I entered a café and in deliberate European comfort sipped a cup of coffee with cream, and pitied the Brazilians, who hastily sat down at the nearest table they could find, stirred an enormous quantity of sugar in their thimbleful of coffee, poured the mixture down their throats, and rushed out into the street again, as though there or elsewhere they had anything whatever to do. I enjoyed my coffee as much as one can enjoy good coffee, and did not commit the impropriety of ordering a second cup, but bought of the tobacconist in the establishment a package of those cigarettes—not so much good, as genuine, Brazilian—which are rolled in corn straw instead of in paper. Leaning against a door-post, I remained standing there, gazed across the street, unrolled one of the cigarettes, poured the granular black tobacco into the palm of my hand, decanted it back into the corn leaf, and lighted the preparation. I looked across the street and was infinitely happy, though there was not much to see. Only a few people were passing in one direction or the other, for the most part with a newspaper fresh from the press in their hands. One man stood at the curb and had his boots blacked. A street car went rumbling by; the driver lashed his mules, one of which kicked out behind and struck the dashboard with both hoofs a thwack that resounded the length of the street.

Throwing away the stub of my cigarette, I now started off and loitered along. What should I do? Go to the book store and look at French books—continue my reading in Faubert's letters? No hurry; nobody will buy them anyway! The air is still too fine.

Or shall I go to the editorial rooms of the German newspaper and see my friend from Vienna, smoke a decent cigar, talk over the news, talk about young Vienna, about Hermann Bahr who in his furor teutonicus smashed a beer mug on the head of a Bohemian? About Loris, who is still a very young man, not permitted as yet to go alone to join his literary friends at the café—his father insists upon accompanying him—“I tell you what, a marvelous genius!”—?—But the upshot of the matter will be, he will lock me in when I am not noticing, and will keep me there until I have ground out an article for his paper. And the weather is really too fine for that.

Thereupon I was roused from my revery by a breath of sultry fragrance. I turned in the direction from which I heard footsteps, and caught sight of the tropical profile of a young lady, who with eyes looking straight ahead was going her way. Her simple, handsome face was not yellow, but of a hot-blooded, fine brown, which as the sign of aboriginal vitality is charming, and immediately made me breathe hard. Now, as if by chance, a calm glance of the great dark eye, the white of which was as soft as mother of pearl, fell upon me, and then a second, quick glance, which toppled me over like a stroke of lightning; thereupon the profile was turned somewhat rigidly forward again. Never losing sight of the daintily plump figure in the white lace gown, I gradually made way for her to pass by me; and if I had taken pleasure in contemplation of the face, I took, if possible, still more pleasure in contemplation of the easy walk which animated her whole body with its graceful rhythm.

In this manner we approached a cross street.

Then, as she stepped down from the sidewalk, she made a false calculation and swung herself somewhat too far forward; her foot came down hard upon the pavement, her whole body felt the shock, she stumbled, and her beauty was gone as quickly as a house built of cards collapses. I stood still for a moment, then I turned in my tracks, saying, “What a B[oe]otian and Hyperborean you are! Is there anything more fragile than enjoyment? Is there anything more sensitive to injury than grace? Did you not know that? If you had not followed this poor girl, she would have cleared the barrier as gracefully as a kitten; now she is as much ashamed as though you had seen her in her petticoat.” I looked once more in her direction; sure enough, she too was looking round, with a flushed face and stupid, anxious eyes. O these soulful eyes, eyes like the roe, the antelope, the gazelle, or any other creature known to zoology. God be with them, and spare me!

Now I at once knew where to go and turned my steps toward the new streets farther out in the country, which are occupied principally by Germans. There I had a kind of sweetheart, all for the sake of her eyes. This had come to pass as follows:

After I had been several months in this beautiful and affluent country, and, whether in the midst of my boys at school or among the people at the theatre, in the circus, or in the café, kept seeing in the women, to whom I paid eager attention, always the same great dark eyes, these eyes began to pall upon me. Why? In Germany, by contrast to our cerulean blue, steel blue, greenish, and iron gray eyes, brown ones had often seemed to me especially beautiful and touched my heart as nothing else could do. Now they bored me. Always the same apparent expression of strength, which goes back to the contrast between the dark pupil and the surrounding white, and in turn between this white and the dusky skin; always, even on the most indifferent occasions, this pregnant glance, this rolling and melting! “Anyhow,” I asked myself one day, “why have all these people replaced their human eyes with the eyes of animals?” I began, when on the streets, to look about for light-colored eyes, for glances which had something of the clearness of the sky or the wave in spring time, something of the lustre and translucency of a November mist, something of the keen brilliancy of an ice crystal. I paid attention once more to the people of the Northern Hemisphere, whom heretofore I had avoided, and these people of the North are, of course, mostly Germans.

Now it happened that one morning in those days I was going my way, and, in order to keep in the shade, sticking as closely as might be to the houses. Then out of a low window in the ground floor of one of these houses a hand shot out right before me, holding a dust-cloth, which it was about to shake; and I should naturally have got the full benefit of the operation. With a quick grasp I seized the hand by the wrist; and not until I had so secured myself could I look up to see to whom the hand belonged. The girl stood inclined somewhat forward, leaning on her other hand, and stared at me with great startled eyes, the most transparent, silvery-gleaming eyes that I remember ever to have seen.

I was so surprised that I lost all my audacity; but I still kept a firm hold of her hand. And so she was after all the first to recover her power of speech, and she said, “Pardon me.”

“On the contrary, I thank you,” I replied, rising on my toes, kissing her hand, and then releasing it.

She made no answer, her expression became troubled, she struggled with herself, her eyes filled with tears, and I felt that I had done violence to an innocent heart. That pained me and I blurted out, “Shake the cloth in my face! I have offended you. It was not my intention; but let me have my punishment.”

“Not for the world!” she responded. “How can a man say such a thing!”

I looked at her in amazement and curiosity. Was that meant to be a reprimand? Did she strike a blow and pretend the while to put far away from her any such intention? No. Her eyes beamed appeasement and also appeasingly; surrendering myself to her, I had disarmed her resentment. Nevertheless, I continued, “He who can say such a thing has no right, then, to wear hair on his face? I shall presently go straight to the barber's. I have been so proud of my manliness! But—repulsed with loss! And, to make a clean breast of it, for an opportunity like this I would gladly remain a foolish youth a long while yet; like silly Jack, you know, in the fairy tale, who is always doing foolish things; but the princess with the blue eyes does not think any the worse of him on that account!”

Pricking up her ears and collecting her thoughts, she looked at me half roguishly out of the corner of her eye; then she shook her head with its heavy braids and said, “I do not understand you. You are so comical. You must talk quite simply to me.”

She looked so charmingly simple that I forgot my speech and watched her standing there, so youthful and radiant in the window frame, against the dark background of the room. Everything about her was healthful and strong: her figure in the blue washable dress, her round throat, her well formed face, in which eyes and teeth gleamed brightly; but the abundance of her chestnut braids was so heavy that her neck seemed hardly able to support them.

“What sort of follies did silly Jack commit?” she asked when I became silent.

“I don't know myself; but when he came to woo the princess, and was asked what present he had brought her, he pulled a handful of mud out of his pocket and filled her white hands with it. She liked that so well that she took him for her husband.”

“A handful of mud! Such a dirty fellow! Did she marry him?”

“Yes, indeed! The other suitors had brought her jewels and crowns—she had plently of those already. But with mud she would have been glad to play, like other children, if the court ladies had allowed her to. Therefore she now rejoiced in her childish heart, and she thought he would certainly be the pleasantest husband for her.”

“Yes, yes—the fact of the matter is, she was right.”

Thus it began, and so it continued.

She was the daughter of a German cabinet-maker, who had developed his business until he had a prosperous furniture factory. Two years before, her mother had died, and since that time she had run the household with the most complete devotion, in the way that she had learned, and as befitted her single-minded, unsophisticated nature. She did all her work as though it were a benefaction, with whole-souled joy and boundless happiness in her ability. As often as my way led me near to where she lived, and that was almost daily at the same hour, I looked in at her window and found her always occupied with some sort of work. We chatted for a quarter of an hour; she told me what animated her day, asked me about everything that interested her in my existence, and initiated me into the sphere of her domestic cares. It pleased her that my needs were few; but that I did not even feel the need of damming up the briskly flowing stream of my income and making a little lake of it, this appeared to her as frivolity, indeed as unrighteous, and she endeavored to reform me, to make me more aware of the value of money, of the money that I had earned, and in some measure to guide my expenditures. I do not mean to say that she ever made tiresome reprimands or admonitions. Simple and innocent as her mind was,—whenever she had resolved to bring pressure to bear upon my indifference or my wilfulness, she pondered the possible method with such affectionate patience that she did not fail to find a delicate or a touchingly irresistible form. I once brought her a rare orchid, whose fantastic form and brilliant colors I had so much admired in the shop window that I was unwilling to allow any other human being to possess it than Mariandel—by this name I called my friend. She did not say anything so commonplace as that I ought not to have done it, or I ought not to have spent so much money; she showed the honest joy of a child who is proud to have received such a costly gift; but she added to her praise of the flower, “It is sacred!”

The expression seemed to me somewhat pompous, as many of her expressions were; nevertheless, I could not but nod assent, thinking of the virgin forest in which this flower first gleamed forth through the twilight, as a new miracle rising out of the ruins of innumerable generations of trees. But Mariandel then continued, “It is a part of your life.”

I smiled in astonishment.

“Perhaps you have given for it the hardest and unhappiest of your days of toil.”

Such a thought as that did not come into her head on the spur of the moment. I knew at once that she had excogitated it, and kept it in reserve for a good opportunity of impressing upon my mind what my money was. And then for days at a time I strove not to employ my money in ways that ran counter to her honest feeling.

Neither in the city nor in the country did I know anything that afforded me a purer, more genuine joy than my meetings with this imperturbable, self-contained woman. We had rapidly come to confidential terms with one another, so that one day without consultation or emotion we said “Du” to each other—I do not even know whether it was she or I who began the practice.

And now I was once more walking along the broad, hot street with the one-storied houses, once more on the same side in the shade, which today, to be sure, was deeper than the first time; for it was still early morning. And now I stood by the window, put my arms on the window-sill and said, “Good morning, Mariandel, sweetmeats!” And she stood before an ironing board which rested on the windowsill and the table, and was ironing with a charcoal flat-iron. She put the iron down on the rest, gave me her firm, warm hand, and said, “Bom dia, senhor doutor! Passa bem?” and her eye seemed to beam more cordially than ever, and yet could not express more cordiality than it had expressed before.

She seated herself by the window, put her right hand on the sill, above which my head and shoulders protruded, and began to speak, turning her head in such a way that I saw now her profile, with the inconspicuous but firm lines of her nose, mouth, and chin, and the heavy braids of her lustrous hair about her neck, now her full face beaming upon me; then, however, I forgot all her other, beauty, in contemplation of the incomprehensibly reposeful and unsullied blue of her eye. I was never in love with her; never had the sight of her or thoughts of her taken my breath away; but never was I so full of joyous love for a human being as then for her.

After she had asked questions about this and that and had told me all sorts of things, she said, “Professor, don't let me forget to tell you: George Bleyle down there at the Mercadinho is not having very good trade, they say; if you need anything, just bear him in mind. He has bought at bottom prices a whole invoice of men's furnishings that was put up at auction down at the dock, and things are very cheap at his shop just now.”

And she told what she had purchased for her father, and what her sister-in-law had got for her husband, named the prices, and praised the quality of the goods. I gazed first at her eyes, then at the glowing coals within the flat-iron, listened to the tones of her dear, faithful voice and thought of my home of long ago, of brothers and sisters and friends, of a home of my own with wife and children in it, of things dear and compelling, for which I could stake my life; and I tasted the sweetness of one of those moments which do their best to broaden our hearts, to strengthen them and renew their allegiance.

All at once she stopped speaking, and when I did not notice this she cried out, “Senhor, are you again failing to listen to me!” “Oh, yes. Henrique Bleyle has put up at auction a cargo of furnishing goods—”

O não, senhor, not at all! But you are a discourteous good-for-nothing; you think, 'Just let her talk!'”

“Missed by a mile, my child! I have been listening to you without hearing what you said. Look, when I sit down on the curb of a fountain and let myself be enveloped and captivated by its splashing and tinkling, its silvery spraying, and forget everything, even the fountain, and think uncommonly pure and good thoughts—don't these thoughts come from the fountain? Do I not hear them in its plashing, even though I no longer hear the sound of it, and am I, in this absentmindedness, not more the bondman of the fountain than if I had counted its drops of water? That is how it was just now. While I listened to your voice and felt your eye upon me, I learned something better from you than that Bleyle has socks for sale. Nevertheless, I shall buy the socks from him. But that you help me in my vanity and hastiness not merely to let serious thoughts enter my mind when they come like a stroke of lightning, but also quietly and modestly to admit them, to await them, and to attain to the inner core of their sweetness—that is to me more delightful and more important than all the cargoes of all the continents.”

She looked at me with childlike confidence, put her little, warm hand on mine, and said, “You are not angry with me, Erwin?”

“How could I be angry with you for that? Is there a human being who could be angry with you? See, Mariandel, the only pain you cause me is the fact that I am not the only one who can take nothing ill of you!”

“Oh!” she cried, laughing down her shamefacedness like a school-girl, “just ask my brother and his wife whether they cannot take anything ill of me!”

“Then they are not human beings. There aren't so very many.”

“No, my brother is good,” she replied, “and Anna too.”

“In any case, I shall prove to you that I am ready to help my fellow-man. I shall buy of Henrique Bleyle a complete new outfit from head to foot, and hope thereby to save him from bankruptcy.”

“Not Henrique Bleyle, but George Bleyle at the Mercadinho, and there is no question of bankruptcy. For Heaven's sake don't say anything of the kind!” She looked at me in the utmost confusion and with guilty eyes; she had of course emphasized the fact that business was bad—as it was in general at that time—merely in order to induce me to buy of George Bleyle, since she feared she could not make me budge by speaking only of the cheapness of his wares.

Now I gave her great pleasure by inquiring at exactly what prices she had made her purchases, and by asking for advice of various sorts. I did not get much profit from this; the effort to distinguish between linen, cotton-warp linen, cotton, shirting, and fil d'Écosse caused me something of a headache. But she was all joy and eagerness.

Then she had to use her iron while it was hot. She lifted one end of the ironing board, drew a light calico gown over it like a ring, put the board down again, and ironed, gradually letting the whole of the gown travel across the board.

The shade in which I stood grew smaller, the heat penetrated markedly nearer to me and awakened my daily desire to go to the city park and sit in the shade of its giant trees and bamboo bushes. I lighted a cigarette at one of the little glowing eyes of the charcoal flat-iron, and started away.

Ate logo, senhor!” said she, using a phrase that corresponds exactly to the Rhenish “So long!” Since she did not know much Portuguese, she took pleasure in seizing all opportunities to use the most current expressions; but she used these with such perfect pronunciation that you would suppose she had complete command of the language.

As was always the case, I was in a peaceful frame of mind when I left her, I was filled with a sense of cosy comfort which gained all the more piquancy because flavored with an infinitely delicate bitterness that I could not understand. In a revery I strolled along through the streets which, because the diminutive houses cast so little shadow, became hotter every minute, and passed slowly out of the city.

When I looked up again, I had already passed through the great gate in the wall and felt as though immersed in the more expansive and, from the intermittent shade of shrubs and trees, more invigorating atmosphere of the great park. I stood still and peered into the depth of the garden through the silver-gray columns of two gigantic palms. Thickly surrounded by dark shrubs with a silvery sheen, enormous hedges, and groves of bamboo, a fountain reared the fluttering banner of its spray from the midst of a black pool confined within a white curb; but the bubbling pillar did not attain to the height of its dark sylvan background. In the dim background, however, above the cold deep green of the park, rose a mighty erythrina like a rose-colored flame into the rich blue air, like a monstrous, fiery syringa. The light coursed hotly down the smooth trunks of the palms, golden white it curled about the gentle curve of their slender hips, like frozen silver it weighed upon the serrated palm-leaves, often seeming to slip down and fall, so that the liberated leaf gave a little leap upward into a new bath of silver; the rigid leaves of black-green bushes were sown with immobile, penetrating scintillations; above the masses of dagger-sharp leaves in the grove of bamboo the light swarmed like a golden vapor rolling up, as it were, in itself; red and white and deep violet and yellow and iridescent blue flowers of gigantic size cowered in the dark green; the erythrina stood quietly there upright like a mountain of fire; everything rested voluptuously, or overwhelmed, in the glow of the higher-mounting sun—only the snowy importunity of the fountain wore itself out in impotent resistance to his sway. I too stood motionless in an unshaded opening; I no longer felt the glow as a burden; with rapture, with awe, with rapture I felt its untamable creative energy—just as years before, one cold winter night, I had felt its lust of destruction at a conflagration in a village of my mountain home,—the one as wild, as inexorable as the other.

For a long while I stood thus absorbed in meditation, until suddenly I became conscious that something or other disturbed, disquieted, irritated me. I spied about, and found that at quite a distance away, near a low bosket of light green, a head covered by a yellow straw hat emerged and vanished again in rhythmical alternation. I recognized the chief gardner of the city park, a German with whom I was well acquainted. I went slowly up to him and was about to ask him what game he was playing—I had almost taken him for a ghost—when I observed in his hand a small basket nearly half filled with leaves. The handsome, well preserved old man with the shrewd, kindly, white-bearded face told me now that these bushes with the grayish green, lanciform little leaves were Chinese tea, and that he was picking the two or three outside leaves on each twig in order to dry them for his domestic consumption. I listened while he informed me of the details of tea culture and the curing of the crop; then, having at the moment to take off my hat and wipe the sweat from my brow, I said, “How would it be, do you think, if, just for a change, one could follow one's nose to Germany and bury it in snow or hoarfrost? At this instant perhaps the sleighs are jingling along and the skaters are on the ice, or the south wind is driving its blue-gray mist over the Alps—”

He interrupted me with a shake of his head, and added: ”—and everybody is coughing and spitting and wiping his nose, while the rich are wrapped in furs like the Greenlanders and the poor are starving and freezing. That is no joke, especially for such old bones as mine. I no longer hanker for it. Not in this life! When you are as old as I am you will realize what a blessing the sun is. You complain of the heat; but I feel its benefit in the marrow of my bones and still deeper. I no longer run away from the sun. I have been more than forty years in Brazil, and I too often wonder how things look in the old town—whether they still loiter about the well, whether Hannah is still living, and how this one and that one is getting along. But—they have probably got along very much as I have myself, well and ill; they have grown old, if they are not dead already, and they are probably glad to be where it is warm. No, no! Not in this life!”

“You are quite right! Later! It will be much more convenient when we are spirits. But then you must come to see me sometime; promise me, and do not forget your promise! I shall be established somewhere in the Black Forest, high up in the snow, alone in a great house. The storm is raging and the old timbers and wainscoting are creaking and groaning. I am smoking my pipe on a bench by the stove and staring into the flame of the burning candle. All of a sudden I hear some one clapping his hands outside, and as I listen there comes a call, O da casa! O da casa!'

“'Hello!' I say, standing up, 'the Brazilian! He has kept his word. And he is just as courteous and respectful as ever!' I open the door for you, prepare a fine place for you on the bench, so that you may warm your tropical astral body, and give you the fur robe to wrap your poor spiritual feet in. Then you shall have coffee and cigarettes and fruit-cakes and a glass of genuine cherry brandy—anything you want! Then we will talk Portuguese, long for the Brazilian sun, and sing, I in a hoarse bass and you in a sweet spiritual tenor,

                     Minha terra tem palmeiras,
                     onde canta o sabia,
                     minha terra tem primores,
                     que eu nunca encontro ca.

He smilingly listened to me, smilingly shook his head and said, “You are an enviable youth! Every time I think of you I think that. As a child amuses himself at an annual fair, you scamper through the world, feast your eyes on what you like to look at, take your pleasure in what you see, and build air-castles out of these materials.”

He continued to pluck his tea leaves; I stood silently by and marveled at his words, their truth and their error.

“Yes, there are such favorites of fortune,” he continued. “As children build castles of sand, demolish them, and build them up again, so you build air-castles. When one of them has occupied you long enough, you turn your back upon it and build another; this is your pleasure, and you never tire of it. We others, when at the age of fifteen or sixteen we have come to our senses, we build a single air-castle: one sees himself as a prosperous farmer—as far as the eye can reach all the land is his; the other sees himself as a merchant, with a heavy golden chain on his paunch, standing at his shop-door; the third means to cultivate black roses and incidentally become a millionaire—and this castle in the air we cherish, and care for, and prop up, and support as long as we live, and for the most part we do not in the least notice that it has long since collapsed beyond repair. I have long thought I must tell you this some time, in order that you might know it and thank God!” He straightened up, looked me in the face, and nodded to me with kindly seriousness. With a smile I returned his nod.

He continued plucking leaves. In silence I watched him a while longer; for anything that I could have said in answer was no concern of his.

“Since my bones are as yet somewhat younger than yours,” I remarked finally, “I will keep them fresh, and now take them into the shade.”

We separated.

“Every one sees you in a different light from every one else,” I said to myself as I walked along, “and even the wisest fails to see you as you are; for even the humblest human soul is like the sun, which one can gaze upon only through a dull medium.”

Along shady paths I meandered toward the bamboo alley, which was like a grove, in that it formed a high vaulted way under closely interwoven branches, and its twilight was cool. Here I strode back and forth, sat down, wandered on again, in physical discomfort and mental instability. The old man had excited and aroused me; I pondered this and that, I could not stick to any subject whatever, I hurried from the hundredth to the thousandth thing and took some hurt from every one.

I sat down again, and again walked back and forth.

All at once I found myself at a cross path; I stopped involuntarily and thought, “I have stood here before; what is there here?” So it was. Two days before, I had here been struck by the fact that just above the knot on the bamboo stem there was a broad ring of blue-white hoarfrost, which blended imperceptibly with the greenish-yellow of the stem. In this fine congealed breath, I had thought at that time, one ought to write a secret message to one's sweetheart, in dainty characters, with a feather from a humming-bird's wing! Since I could not find a hummingbird, I had sharpened the end of a twig of bamboo, and with that had scribbled in the fragrant circlet the words, “Where art thou, beloved?”

Since then I had not again thought of the matter; but now I sought out the thick stem once more, and thought I ought to have written a poem on it, began to compose verses, and murmured:

                     A saudade no coração
                    
mi e doce como o teu bejo—

then I stood a long time with my head down, trying to formulate the following verses; and finally I added:

                     vivrei d'esta consolacão,
                    
de ti, e se nunca te vejo!

and once more looked for the stem bearing the inscription from the previous visit. I found it, and was almost terrified when underneath my words, “Where art thou, beloved,” I read inscribed in the dainty hand of a woman, “Here I am.”

I was amazed; then I smiled with joy, and my heart beat violently, as on the eve of an adventure. My Portuguese verses did not fit now, and I meditated a jolly, German answer; but I was too unskilful in my excitement and could not compose anything with any sense to it. I had to think too much of the writer. Who was she, and what did she look like?

Finally I took out my dagger, sharpened a twig of bamboo to the finest of points, and after I had assured myself that I was unobserved, I wrote simply,

                     Whether there or here,
                     Be with me, dear!

Once more I strode back and forth. Then it occurred to me that so long as I remained in the park I could observe from some hiding-place whether any one read the inscription.

My bamboo stood right at the intersection of a smaller path and the bamboo alley, and could be seen from a distance. I accordingly followed the cross path and came thus into the dark green bosket out of which the erythrina stood towering. From a distance it seemed as though the flowering giant were closely surrounded by the smaller trees and bushes; but if one stepped through the green hedge, one found in the centre of it a great open circle, like the hallowed precinct of a sacred tree; out of the ground rose massively the mighty trunk, showing in clear outline its flower-laden branches, of which the lower ones were far extended and dipped their fiery burden deep in the surrounding thicket. Beneath the tree was a bench; from it I could, to the left, look back along the path and into the bamboo alley, while straight ahead an opening in the bushes afforded a view of the fountain and the middle of the garden.

I seated myself in the hedged-in sultry air, which seemed to have been very little cooled by the night, and dreamed of the expected sweetheart. I gazed to the left and saw the sunbathed stems and twigs of bamboo stand out clearly and prettily on the dark shady background; and looked straight ahead and saw the fountain spraying and foaming, and often in the tea plantation observed the old man bend forward and rise erect again.

What did she look like? Like this woman and that woman who had before now found favor in my sight? Hardly; in that case those other women would have held me captive. How must she be? Black, white, or red—that cannot matter. Her eyes will take me, her lips will intoxicate me, because they are hers! She will be such that my eye will no more estimate and compare, that my mind will no more dream and desire, that I shall feel she is she, and acknowledge her as the only power outside myself; so that my heart, my brain, and every fibre of my flesh will glow under the same compulsion to take from itself this body and spirit now subject to another will than mine, to transform it, to engraft it upon my being, whether for life or for death, to consume it, to drain it up as the sole valid increase of my existence! I shall feel myself to be a force nevermore divisible!

Her hair will be curly and of the soft brown of an old walnut, and, like the shell of a walnut, her twisted braids will surround the back of her head—and her eyes gray as a German lake in May, when clouds hover over it and the wind chases bright electric sparks over the waves ... her hair may also be black, and her eyes brown like snuff; but her heart must be strong, so that a man may succumb to it!

My eyes watched the bamboo alley and saw the littlest leaves and the tiniest twigs gently quiver in the heat. Nothing else. She did not come.

I peered into the park through the opening in the bushes: in the purest brightness the fountain waved its spray over the tops of the shrubs and palms up into the blue, vibrating air. And the old gardener continued his plucking of tea leaves, rising a little and bending again at every short step, almost unreal in this noiseless, torrid realm. I turned my eyes back to the bamboo. I was aglow with heat, perhaps also with expectation; my heart throbbed convulsively and irregularly—and reminded me of a telegraphic key in an empty, sun-heated railway station, which, left to itself, ticks incessantly.

For a long while I sat occupied with my thoughts and staring at the same spot. Suddenly I had a feeling as though there were a shaking of twigs in the upper part of my particular bamboo. I looked sharply; there was another gentle agitation, a quiver of the stems and leaves, as though some one had struck against the trunk below;—only at this one spot. Then all was calm again.

I grew impatient. She is not coming! Mayhap she will come as soon as I am gone, and when I return I shall find an answer. I stood up, stretched myself, and walked slowly toward the bamboo alley.

In passing, I glanced once more at the place of the inscription, and looked fixedly at it, and examined it still more closely, and breathed audibly, and my heart thumped. Beneath my words,

                     Whether there or here,
                     Be with me, dear!

there were now written in dainty characters the words,

                     I am.

The green avenue was empty. Nobody had passed through here; I had seen nobody stop at this spot. And yet she was here, and had written her answer! In sudden embarrassment I took a step backward, and involuntarily asked, “You are here? Here with me?” My voice was so hollow that I myself noticed its unnaturalness. “With me?” I repeated, sighing, unable to comprehend. And then, like a liberation, a feeling of terror and awe thrilled my whole being, and I looked down upon myself cautiously, almost timidly, as though thereby I might injure somebody. In vague apprehension I turned quite around until I again faced the inscribed bamboo trunk.

“You are here—with me—?” I whispered. “Verily—I saw how you took hold of the bamboo to write on it, and let it go again, so that it quivered. I saw that you were here, even though at present I cannot see you. You—are—with me?” I could speak no more; my heart beat slowly and hard, like a rubber hammer that I could feel even up to my throat and ears; a mute, voluptuous rapture filled my soul, a pride, a sense of triumph, such as peradventure the chosen one feels when in the midst of the multitude he realizes his good fortune and reveals it to no man.

“Come!” I said finally, waited a moment to let her take the lead, and then strode composedly back to the erythrina; and leaving the place at my right vacant for her, I seated myself upon the bench. I did not stir, I sat there quietly, shuddering with rapture and expectation, and at the same time depressed by the impotence of my clumsy senses, to which I yielded only with difficulty.

I waited—I waited. Was she there? Had she not followed me at all? Have I driven her away? Must I act otherwise?

Then I felt a brushing of my right cheek, and my whole body fluttered upward. I looked down in her direction and saw that an erythrina blossom had grazed my cheek and fallen close beside me upon the bench. I gazed at it lying fiery there upon the gray wood; I quieted myself and collected my faculties. I said to myself, “Do not lose your self-control! Do not let yourself be submerged! No anxiety! No terror! There is nothing contrary to nature! All being is spirit. If she is here, she will reveal her presence again, more plainly, as distinctly as you can bear.—”

I looked straight ahead and perceived that the gray-garbed old man with the little basket in his hand was slowly traversing the quivering glassy air of the garden; I saw him disappear behind the snowy spray of the fountain, reappear again on the other side, and then vanish in the bushes. I felt as though I had been left alone in the world and were about to be lost forever; I listened for some bird or other creature, and was happy to hear the shriek of a parrot and the hissing of the fountain through the ardent air.

I waited immovably.

Suddenly, whether because a breath stirred the air or because weary ripeness released them, suddenly a shower of blossoms descended from the branches, and erythrina flowers rained down upon my head, neck, shoulders, and arms, into my lap, upon the grass at my feet, like heavy drops of fire from burning torches. I surveyed their resting places round about; the space at my right had remained empty; not a single blossom had lighted upon the bench on this side of me, while to my left a handful lay scattered. I turned again toward the right: before and behind the bench the blossoms gleamed from the grass; unless some one were sitting there, the place could not but have been covered with blossoms! I drew a deep breath of excitement—bliss—sweet awe. The weary blossoms continued to fall; and now I was aware how, above the place at my right, they scattered in the air in every direction, how they were pressed to the right and left, front and back, and how some trickled down slowly and hesitatingly, as though impeded by garments.—

I forcibly released myself from the strange spell, stood up, took a step forward, and turned round. Where I had just been sitting, four or five blossoms were already gleaming from the gray wood—next to that place the bench was still uncovered.

In wonderment I stood there and gazed. And now I felt, I saw, how, gradually, as from a delicate haze, outlines and shadowy forms emerged and rounded out. With my bodily eyes I saw, like a colorless picture mirrored in running water, the forms of a head and oval face, fine, gently sloping shoulders, arms symmetrically bent, with clasped hands; and, as though through a gray veil, I saw crystal clear eyes beam upon me.

My heart was almost broken with happiness and intolerably growing desire; lifting my hands, I sank down before her and kissed the place where the shadow of her feet fell upon the grass. Then I looked upon the crystal orbs of her eyes, lifted my hands high in supplication, and stammered, “Dearest, help me! Appear to me! Come forth to me! Let me hear the sound of your voice! Let me know your heart and learn what is your will!”

She did not stir; the cold gleam of her eyes did not turn away from me; methought two sharp rays of icy air pierced me; I froze, I froze, and in torture I cried, “What is your wish? What shall I do?”—

My cry sounded to me as horrible as a crime; her eyes flashed white and were extinguished; and I saw her no more. Shivering with cold and despair I remained on my knees and waited to see whether she would not come again.

An eternity of time passed by.

Then I perceived that another rain of fiery blossoms descended, and covered her place too.

I arose painfully and groaning; hopeless, I left the bench and hastened with weak tottering steps to get into the sun. Warmth, burning heat was the only thing I was still able to wish for. Near to the rustling of the water, I lay down on a bench in the glaring sun; and when I there, as it were, felt the icy frame within me slowly melt, when the cold sweat on my skin dried up, and the cold shivers ebbed away in warmth—then I breathed easily, with infinite inspirations of rapture which were near to bursting my lungs; then I inwardly rejoiced, as though I had barely escaped death and after the last leap of my strength had sunk down exhausted by the gate of the promised land. Have patience; the gate will be opened. Confidence in this hope surged through me like blood newly revived.

Whence came she? Where is she now? Have I driven her away?

Was the happiness passing all understanding, the rapture like unto none ever experienced, was this not enough? Oh, that I could not refrain from asking more and urging for more! Did she not give me more than I had believed possible only an hour before? Was it weakness, that I felt her eyes pierce me like icy arrows? Must I not have frightened and driven her away by that shriek of the weak beast in me? What a wretched creature I am! Have I not always found cause for discontent in women; were they not always in my sight too much of the earth earthy—mothers from the first? And now, when one who steals away to me from who knows what distant body, a thrilling emotion, an unearthly powerful light, then I tremble in terror like a child before the evil one! I have wounded her, have frightened her away with my shriek for flesh and blood!

But she will come again! From the far distance something has impelled her to come hither, I have drawn her here to me; for only in me on earth does she find her portion, as also I only in her; and if we miss each other, we shall forever suffer the penalty. She will come again. I shall learn patience; I shall purify my strength of all gross capacity for feeling pain; I shall endure to stand in the presence of her strength, and shall grow to be like unto her!

I did not now expect her again on this day, and the garden was desolate to me; but I could not leave it. For hours long I lay here, sat there, went hither and thither along the untraveled paths; and only when visitors became more numerous, so that I could no longer avoid them, late in the afternoon, I turned toward home.

Returning from their vacation, the scholars soon began to reoccupy the boarding school; I had to answer inquiries, make arrangements, and take counsel with the housekeeper and the director. My heart and mind were, however, so full of other matters and so far away from these, that I performed all my duties with the greatest good-nature and serviceableness, very much as, while at work, you stroke and scratch your dog with your free hand.

In this manner I passed the evening hours.

The night, however, I passed with little sleep, and much meditation and wakeful dreaming. Then it became evident to me that I was just beginning an apprenticeship to love. And the first lesson showed me that a weak, deluded, selfish heart must suffer pain and torture through love. For love is not yielding, pitiful, indulgent, self-surrendering; it is proud, compelling, inexorable as beauty, as God Himself, who certainly does not love those to whom He is gracious and merciful, and who has never yet taken pity on His elect. In such thoughts I bathed, as in the icy morning dew of the mountains, for the coming day.

When my duties of the forenoon were over, I hastened through the already scorching heat to the park, into the bamboo alley, under the erythrina, where I sat down.

For a long while I waited, and saw and felt nothing indicative of her presence, and was nevertheless sure she would come. The bamboo scarcely trembled in the blue heat of the sky. The dark trees and shrubs kept still, as though not to frighten away the swarm of silver lights that had descended upon them for rest. Unchangeable, flowing only back upon itself, stood the pillar of spray of the distant fountain dazzlingly in the air; its splashing resounded indistinctly. Only rarely, as though waved by an indolent fan, a hot current of air rolled over to me and eddied about me, sweet and comforting.

I looked over toward the fountain, and there she sat on the marble curbing of the pool.

Briskly I arose and went toward her with measured steps. She had disappeared. I seated myself upon a shady bench over against the place that she had occupied. Soon she returned with flowers in her hand, and without looking at me, seated herself once more upon the marble. She was as delicate as a shade. An oval face with severe profile, surrounded by nut-brown hair; I could not see her eyes. Her drapery was of cobweb-colored gauze, the clasp of her girdle a simple buckle of soft, shaded vermilion. Face and hands were bloodlessly pale; her figure tall, slight, and fine. Thus she sat there; delicately, and yet with color and warmth, she contrasted with the spraying banner of foam of the fountain. She did not stir. I did not take my eye from her. Once something whirred through the air before her and I saw a humming-bird descend upon the lily blossoms in her hand. And darting back and forth, the gleaming little bird flew several times back to her flowers, so still was she.

This motionlessness filled me with sadness on account of my folly of the preceding day, and oppressed me. I cautiously stepped up to her and remained standing in front of her, to see whether she would not raise her eyes; but she made no sign. Then I could not help falling upon my knees, and my eyes sought hers. Her transparent face, her half-closed eyes made no movement. Without a sound I got up from my knees and returned to my bench. Then she arose, walked slowly round the glowing white marble ring of the pool, and vanished in the shrubbery beyond, without my venturing to follow her.

I remained at my place and recalled again and again to my eyes how she sat there at the edge of the water, could not be forced to lift up her countenance upon me, and still gave me so much happiness. Could I have endured more?—how she, noiselessly and gracefully waving the folds of her soft flowing garment, slowly glided about the fountain, like a fairy of old, and bestowed upon my last glance the never-failing comfort of beauty.

Not until the hour of my duty at the boarding school drew near in the late afternoon did I drag myself away and forsake the park.

I performed my duty according to my custom.

As soon as duty was over on the following morning I found myself on the way to the city park.

Suddenly I was aroused at hearing my name called. I looked up and saw Mariandel standing in her window, stared at her, and came to my senses, and felt the desiccating heat of the day.

“Do you mean to run by again?” the girl asked in surprise.

“I was thinking,” I answered.

“And yesterday you were thinking so hard that you did not even hear me call after you!—How you look!” she cried in sudden apprehension.

“I do not know of anything. How do I?”

“Worn out! Terribly! Have you been revelling all night?”

“Revelling!” I murmured with a smile, and relapsed into my revery.

“But what is the matter with you? Erwin!”

“I don't sleep well.”

“Are you writing verses again all night long?”

I shook my head.

“And in what condition you come along here! You neither see nor hear anything!”

I grew impatient and said, “I am thinking; excuse me!” and went on quickly, paying no more attention to what she called after me.

I entered the gate of the park, and stopped. My eye took in the welcome sight of all the familiar things, the sparkling sandy paths, the silvery sheen of the grass, the dark shrubbery, the ragged umbelliform palms, the ceaselessly foaming gush of water, the feathery forest of bamboo, the blossoming of the giant trees—I breathed the heat-refined, insinuating air, heavy with perfume, and suddenly I felt my heart relieved, and delighted, and secure, as though I were entering my home.

I went right through the garden, past the pool, to the bamboo alley. There came Mara from the brightness at the other end, slowly through the green vault to meet me. So long as she was at a distance she looked at me. I saw only the penetrating, mighty gleam of her eyes, and nothing more; almost as unbearable as two stars they shone out from under the shade of her great straw hat. Approaching, she cast down her eyes; and now the winsome swaying of her tall figure, as she easily moved along, caused such a rush of rapture to surge through me that I would have prostrated myself on the ground, merely that she might pass over me. But I restrained myself. I said, “God greet you,” and stepped up to her side. Without another word we wandered on together.

To adapt my pace to hers, to be able with my hand to stroke the soft folds of her garment, to have the privilege of gazing at the sharp profile of her white face, the shade of her dark lashes, the pale redness of her lips—this happiness was so great that for a long time the desire to speak did not come over me.

Finally I asked, and my heart beat anxiously, “Who are you? Are you called Mara? Whence do you come? Counsel me!”

Now she raised her hand slightly, with a deprecating gesture; we went silently on again, and I was not again able to escape the dominance of her will. Could anything better befall me than being with her? Can one sign of love give more happiness than another? It may be a different one, but not meant to be more genuine.

Suddenly she got somewhat ahead of me. I started to catch up with her, but did not exert myself especially, and the distance between us grew still greater. Mara crossed the garden; try as I might, I remained farther and farther behind; she strode ever farther from me, disappeared in the bushes, appeared again, then vanished never to return.

Oh, that I might at least have said good-by to her, have touched her garment only once more, have looked once more into her mysterious eyes!

I sought for her in the whole gigantic park. I sat for a long time on the marble curbing of the pool, where yesterday she had tarried, under the erythrina also for a long time; in the green light of the bamboo alley I walked and dreamed—dreamed of the solution of this riddle.

I stayed away from a class with which I was supposed to resume work this afternoon, and did not return to the boarding school until the wonted hour had struck.

On this night I could get no more real sleep than on the nights before. Whether I lay awake or dozed, my thoughts incessantly hovered about the mystery of these days, endeavored to overcome its fascination, and to see clearly. Was the rapture which this maiden's beauty gave me not a danger? Had I the right to let my pain at Mara's disappearance pass away in this rapture? Was the pain not just and rightful? Every love is a test of love, and one must meet the test! What must I nourish and justify within me, Mara's love or my love? If I yield and bow to the will of her love, how can I be faithful to mine? The love of man and woman shall be like two linden-trees which grow separately side by side, their tops only forming a single indistinguishable dome; but if one trunk leans upon the other, they will wound each other in the storm and will become crippled. Let the love of man and woman be like a sword with two edges; neither edge may grow dull out of love for the other, else they cannot unite to form a point. Let the love of two be the untroubled unity of the man and of the woman of purest essence, so that the man shall admit nothing womanish, and the woman nothing mannish into her being; else they will become a puzzling confusion, not a unity.

“Let the morrow be governed by my will!” I said to myself; and a dream, the only one to abide with me from among the fugitive half-dreams of the night—a dream confirmed my resolution, although it flowed like a tributary into the stream of the thoughts that I thought I had, and brought nothing surprising.

I saw Mara walking amidst the mountains of my home on a snowy night. Neither moon nor stars shone in the heavens, there was merely the faint gleam of the snow in contrast to the edge of the dark forest; but Mara's figure was bright and of distinctive color, as she had appeared to me under the tropical sun. In red shoes she strode down the snow-clad river valley, stepped up to the dark houses, and peered in at the windows; immediately all the windows of the house were illumined as with the rays of a bright light, and became dark again when the maiden wandered on. Tirelessly she did the same thing at every house that faced toward the river, in every hamlet, the length of a long road. At last she came to my native town and to the house of red sandstone in which my mother lay in travail. Mara stretched, and grew, and looked in at the window; the house lighted up within and grew more and more light, flames flickered within, burst forth at all the windows, and united together above the high roof. Like a great scarlet flower the house stood there in the night, the light of the fire flowed over the snow in the yard and across the ice of the river, and illumined the snow-covered houses of the city on yonder side. From all the church steeples the clocks struck the first hour of the day, one after the other; when the sound of the last stroke died away, the fire in the house was suddenly extinguished, and once more I caught sight of Mara, who had eluded my eyes. She came out upon the highway, placed a naked baby boy on his feet in the snow beside her, and strode back the way she had come. The boy kept hold of a fold of her garment, and with his poor little legs trotted along beside her; his heavy head tottered in every direction, his eyes were tightly closed, and he uttered a plaintive croaking. Mara too had closed her eyes, a quiet joy animated her countenance, her feeling seemed to be far off from the poor little creature which, side by side with her, tramped up into the snowy forest.

With a shudder I had awaked, and after long pondering I had returned to my thoughts of the previous evening: yes, this day should be subject to my will!

And so in the morning I went at the wonted hour not into the park but into the city. Reading the paper, I stood in squares and at cross-roads and waited. Ill at ease, I goaded myself through the streets, as though dragged hither and thither in a stream of molten metal; I loitered in the café and the bookshop. But my mind was so absorbed that the waiter or dealer who brought me what I had ordered startled me as if from sleep. My eye saw Mara wandering in the park, resting at the fountain, sitting beside me on the bench under the erythrina, transparent, like a figure formed of water, in a rain of drops of fire; and my heart was filled with a longing to which I had willed it should not yield.

At noon when, unheeding the shadeless heat, I sauntered toward a bridge which spanned the deep valley of the river—there in the middle of the road, engulfed by the undulating air, there walked Mara! The desire of my conceit, to avoid her, was of no avail against my overpowering joy. I stepped up to her. How daintily she moved in the obedient folds of her brownish-gray garment, beneath the hem of which the tip of her red shoe peeped out and disappeared again. Like a blossom of the softest red the clasp of her girdle shone beneath her breast. Her eyes seemed to me full of the joy of meeting again, as they gleamed forth from the shade of her hat. My will gave itself up and died, as shame dies. Whispering her name as a greeting, I turned round when I reached her, and by her side I retraced my steps. She looked straight ahead, a childlike smile softened the expression of her mouth, heretofore so serious, and her lips blossomed red in her white face. I strode along beside her and lost myself. Why do I not snatch her to my bosom? Why do I not kiss myself to death on her lips?

Yes—why did I not do that?

When I chanced to become aware that she avoided the populous streets, then indeed there came to me a fleeting consciousness, an angry pain at my weakness, and I turned into the main street. She remained by my side. If you do not do her will, then she will do yours. Because you did not go to her, she came to you! And as I had purposed, I meant now to subject her to my will. But in my distracted excitement I could think out no plan; nothing occurred to me but to go aimlessly hither and thither, to turn back, and to stand still. And in this very inability I recognized how fully I was under her spell.

I began to speak.

“Mara, if you wish to put me to the test, give me a task that I can comprehend, that I can struggle with! This is playing a game that tortures me. You know my heart. It wears a mantle of pride, but under the mantle lurks melancholy; many a time it rises in its might, tears off the mantle, and treads its starched purple in the dust, and—” Mara gently placed her left hand, which was as cool as the folds of her garment, upon my right hand, so that my will retreated in fear within me. I thought, “How ridiculous to talk like that! In what poor taste—how did you come to do it? It was well that she interrupted you. And she knows everything; she knows more about you than you know about yourself.” Ashamed, not daring to look at her, I walked along a short distance.

But soon I once more revolted against her power. In some way or other I must subdue her.

At a street corner I suddenly remained one pace behind her, turned into a side street, darted into a shop, and observed through the window how she, searching, came back the way that we had gone. Then I ran farther down the side street and through a passage way into another street, hastily, excitedly, almost beside myself.

All of a sudden I saw Mariandel standing amazed and waiting for me a few paces in advance. Her fine blue eyes were filled with tears, she held out her hand to me, and called out reproachfully and compassionately at the same time, “Erwin—!”

I barely touched her hand, whispered that I was in a hurry, and fled past her into another street. Mara, I thought, will surely know where I am; but by the time she gets here, I shall be somewhere else. And spying around on all sides, I rushed on.

Behold, on the same road ahead of me there walked a lithe maiden of middle size, whose unexpected sight took my breath away and robbed my knees of their strength. In a dark-green woolen dress, as I had last seen her in Germany, she walked apparently absent-minded whithersoever her footsteps carried her. How many a time I had seen before me this childishly slender brown neck, this knot of dark hair; how often this hat on her arm as now, or in her slender brown hand. I longed to see her familiar face, but I feared to meet her glance. I crossed the street, outdistanced her as she slowly advanced, and then walked slowly to meet her. “How far away from me that seems!” I thought, “God preserve us, I cannot avoid her!” With her head bent slightly, as though in a revery, she came along. Her dark hair was as of yore combed far back from her forehead; the dainty lines of her mouth had the same expression of silent sorrow. Alas, how well I knew every line and feature of this kindly countenance, the soft cheeks, the great eyes, which were not fortunate when they looked upon me—and how far away that all lay! I could not go furtively by; little strength though I had, I stopped. Then she raised her gravely animate, dark eyes and gazed at me with the glance of a stranger; she did not recognize me, and passed on undisturbed. I groaned aloud and watched her as she went, shook my head in resignation to a power greater than I, and reeled along the way I was going.

But I did not reflect on this incomprehensible meeting; like the meeting with Mariandel, it was immediately blotted out of my consciousness, and I asked myself after Mara. Where was she? Where was she seeking me! What is she likely to be doing? I ran every which way and, seeking to escape her, I hoped to find her.

At last I felt fatigued and wanted a resting place, where in the stillness I could dream of her and, after the pitiful confusion of this foregathering, could try to understand her and myself. I turned again toward the main street; I knew of a great restaurant there, in which there was a quiet palm room with marble walls and a fountain.

When I arrived in front of the building a gray-veiled figure was crouching on the steps. I stopped in dismay. With her hat pushed back behind her shoulders, she sat cowering forward. Her head, covered by her gray cloak, rested upon her right arm bent at the elbow; her right hand clasped the back of her neck and gleamed forth incredibly white and fine from under the dull folds and wrinkles of her garment; her left hand she stretched toward me beneath her right arm, in supplication. A beggar, it seemed, had collapsed here exhausted, and even in sleep did not forget her necessity. I stood still and thought: “Take her in your arms! Carry her away!” But that was not what her hand wanted.

“Do you beg for my heart?” I whispered to her. “I can put my heart into your heart, but not into your hand!” I hurried past her into the palm room and seated myself in the darkest corner.

Mara did not follow me.

I ordered a sherbet. But for the same reason that the restless running about in the noon-day glow had not heated me, the cool of the marble walls now made me shiver, and the sherbet gave me such an icy thrill that I hardly touched it. Nevertheless, I did not dare to go out again. I could not another time pass the figure on the steps. I sat there in agony, and against my will gazed into the little fountain, though the eternal tossing of its little ball and its splashing were a torture to me. So I was a captive. Had she come in, she would have seen me prostrate at her feet, and that was my sole desire.

Against what, then, was I struggling? Does one struggle against love? Is not that insanity?

When my time was up, I forced myself to arise, and stepped out, in deep shame and anxiety. She was no longer there. I stared in amazement at the spot where she had sat and hastened despairingly for home.

The evening passed and my work with it. The boys went to bed, Donna Leocadia disappeared in her quarters, her bolt snapped like a gun-shot into its socket, and I did not even smile. Voices could still be heard coming from the bedroom, and I did not call for silence.

I was as wide-awake as I had hardly been in the morning; to what end should I lie down to rest? After I had turned out the light, I seated myself in the large reading room—its windows and door opening on the courtyard had not been closed—on a little school bench, and abandoned myself to my thoughts.

Where was I? Was I sitting here, watching the first moonbeam glide across the floor? Was I roaming in the park? Was I loitering about the city? Was my heart beating within me, so gently? Was it not beating from some place far distant in the abyss of time? Was there not in my breast a yearning emptiness, a painfully anxious void? Oh—I had fancied that Mara was holding out her hand for my heart, and I must keep it: was it not in fact lying in the hollow of her hand, unsubstantial, a shade, a particle of dust? The wind may have blown it away and dissipated it.—

And where is she? Where must I now seek her, now that I cannot dream of her?

In a broad stream the moonlight came through the windows and drove the shadows of the table and chairs slowly and noiselessly through the room. Little mice darted out of the crevices and around in the light and the shadow under the table, looking for crumbs; their coats glistened often like soft silk, and their little eyes gleamed like black diamonds. They scampered helter-skelter, they squeaked, they sat upon their hind legs, and feasted merrily. Suddenly they scattered and disappeared. In from the courtyard came rushing a great rat with a great pattering of his claws on the floor; he dragged his tail behind him as though it were some lifeless thing. He went hither and thither. his greedy eyes shone like black glassy beads; finally he crossed the threshold to the corridor, and remained sitting hard by, but invisible; only the naked tail lay like a piece of string across the threshold. I did not move. I looked away, and forgot the rat.

I stared at the moonlight on the floor, and my thought was always one and the same. I have never been so at my wits' end, so tortured with yearning, so wretched as at this time.

When I looked up again, Mara stood in the doorway, and fastened the splendor of her eyes upon me. I thought that all human discontent was purged out of me. I felt no further desire, so liberating was her appearance. If she had stayed there throughout the night, I should have remained steadfast in her sight.

Soon she glided on, stopped in the corner opposite to me, and contemplated me with her head strangely bowed. I did not understand her, and kept still. She came along the wall the whole length of the room; only the hem of her garment and the tips of her red shoes glistened in the moonlight. Now she stood before me, and looked down upon me. My eye avoided hers; for my will was trembling heavily as a rain drop that is about to fall to earth from the tip of a leaf. “O speak a word!” I thought fervently; “give me a sign, help me!” She remained silent. Then I plucked up courage, looked up at her, and endured her glance, and did not yield. Finally, she turned her eye away in sadness, shook her head, slowly turned around, and walked past the windows, now shrouded in the sheen of blue light, now gleaming out of the shade, and left the room.

For a considerable time I sat there in horror, stared vacantly into the air, and thought, “This is the end—the end!”

Then suddenly I felt my heart beat as hard and painfully as when a fist desperately beats upon a gate, and covers itself with bloody wounds thereby; I jumped up, and rushed after her. Like a shade she was already gliding through the street far in advance of me. I meant to follow her at a certain distance; for at once the will to solve her riddle came back to me.

With no apparent end in view she walked through several streets, which were filled with the smoke of the nightly rubbish fires; then she turned out of the city in the direction of the park. I thought to myself, “She knows that you are following her, and will not give herself away.” And that pleased me with a new sense of community with her.

I found the gate to the park, through which she had just passed, only half closed. I could not catch sight of her in the silvery twilight of the umbrageous garden. Hastily I ran across grass plots and flower beds to the fountain, which filled the air with the mighty noise of its waters, and heavily as silver splashed down into the black pool.

She was not here.

Oppressed with eagerness I circled the pool and searched at the erythrina. Here my footstep roused her; like a gray moth she fled to the bamboo alley, and through the nocturnal vault farther and farther away. I could not overtake her; and when we were once more in the bright moonlight, I sank exhausted by my mad hurry, and in despair I cried, “Mara!”

Then she paused, turned about, and, holding the palms of her hands at her breast, as though carrying something, she slowly drew near. Her eyes gleamed in soft pearly lustre, and rolled anxiously. When she stood before me I felt my strength sweetly restored to me; I kissed Mara's shadow in the grass and got up groaning. Then I saw something in her hands glowing like purple wine, and knew at once that it was my heart. I tried to seize it. She drew back and glided away from me.

“Give it me!” I cried in frightful need, “Give it me!”

But she fled. Then I snatched my dagger from its sheath, and with the last ounce of my strength hurled it after her; it whirred like a silver arrow through the moonlight and pierced her back. Seeing her fall, I myself plunged down; my senses left me.

I awoke in a strange room. Traversing the park in the early morning, the head gardener had found my dagger sticking in the ground, and farther on had found me; and when he failed to rouse me, had had me taken to his home and put to bed. Two days and nights I had lain in a heavy sleep; now they had by force to prevent me from rising from bed, and had to compel me to take nourishment and submit to nursing. Raising myself on my stiff arms, I sat upright in bed, and gazed with wide-open, restless eyes out among the trees in the park, until, exhausted, I once again sank back and fell asleep.

 
 
 

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