Mara by Emil
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 restwhat 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 II 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 crystalis 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
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 whobecause his tuition had
not been paidhad 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 reportone could hear it all over the housewith 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 himhe 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 cigarettesnot so much good, as genuine, Brazilianwhich 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 bookscontinue 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 caféhis father insists upon accompanying himI 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
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
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! Butrepulsed 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
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
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
crownsshe 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, yesthe 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 Mariandelby 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
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 otherI 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
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 thoughtsdon'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
sweetnessthat 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 badas it was in general at that timemerely 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
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 sunonly 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 energyjust 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 playingI had almost taken him for a ghostwhen 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 townwhether
they still loiter about the well, whether Hannah is still living, and
how this one and that one is getting along. Butthey 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
'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 brandyanything 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 farmeras 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
millionaireand 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
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
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.
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,
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
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
redthat 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 headand 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
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 irregularlyand
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,
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 herewith me? I whispered. VerilyI 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. Youarewith 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 waitedI 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 excitementblisssweet 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 woodnext 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
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
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
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 warmththen 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
earthymothers 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
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
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 treesI 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
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 lipsthis 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
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 dreameddreamed of the solution of this
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 nighta 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
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 riverthere 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?
Yeswhy 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
tastehow 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
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 meand 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
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 roomits windows and door opening on the
courtyard had not been closedon 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? OhI 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
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 endthe 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
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
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.