The Indian Lily and Other Stories
by Hermann Sudermann
THE INDIAN LILY
AND OTHER STORIES
LUDWIG LEWISOHN, M.A.
THE SONG OF
THE INDIAN LILY
It was seven o'clock in the morning when Herr von Niebeldingk opened
the iron gate and stepped into the front garden whose wall of
blossoming bushes separated the house from the street.
The sun of a May morning tinted the greyish walls with gold, and
caused the open window-panes to flash with flame.
The master directed a brief glance at the second story whence
floated the dull sound of the carpet-beater. He thrust the key rapidly
into the keyhole for a desire stirred in him to slip past the porter's
“I seem almost to be—ashamed!” he murmured with a smile of
self-derision as a similar impulse overcame him in front of the house
But John, his man—a dignified person of fifty—had observed his
approach and stood in the opening door. The servant's mutton-chop
whiskers and admirably silvered front-lock contrasted with a repressed
reproach that hovered between his brows. He bowed deeply.
“I was delayed,” said Herr von Niebeldingk, in order to say
something and was vexed because this sentence sounded almost like an
“Do you desire to go to bed, captain, or would you prefer a bath?”
“A bath,” the master responded. “I have slept elsewhere.”
That sounded almost like another excuse.
“I'm obviously out of practice,” he reflected as he entered the
breakfast-room where the silver samovar steamed among the dishes of old
He stepped in front of the mirror and regarded himself—not with the
forbearance of a friend but the keen scrutiny of a critic.
“Yellow, yellow....” He shook his head. “I must apply a curb to my
Upon the whole, however, he had reason to be fairly satisfied with
himself. His figure, despite the approach of his fortieth year, had
remained slender and elastic. The sternly chiselled face, surrounded by
a short, half-pointed beard, showed neither flabbiness nor bloat. It
was only around the dark, weary eyes that the experiences of the past
night had laid a net-work of wrinkles and shadows. Ten years ago
pleasure had driven the hair from his temples, but it grew
energetically upon his crown and rose, above his forehead, in a
The civilian's costume which often lends retired officers a guise of
excessive spick-and-spanness had gradually combined with an easier
bearing to give his figure a natural elegance. To be sure, six years
had passed since, displeased by a nagging major, he had definitely hung
up the dragoon's coat of blue.
He was wealthy enough to have been able to indulge in the luxury of
that displeasure. In addition his estates demanded more rigorous
management.... From Christmas to late spring he lived in Berlin, where
his older brother occupied one of those positions at court that mean
little enough either to superior or inferior ranks, but which, in a
certain social set dependent upon the court, have an influence of
inestimable value. Without assuming the part of either a social lion or
a patron, he used this influence with sufficient thoroughness to be
popular, even, in certain cases, to be feared, and belonged to that
class of men to whom one always confides one's difficulties, never
John came to announce to his master that the bath was ready. And
while Niebeldingk stretched himself lazily in the tepid water he let
his reflections glide serenely about the delightful occurrence of the
That occurrence had been due for six months, but opportunity had
been lacking. “I am closely watched and well-known,” she had told him,
“and dare not go on secret errands.” ... Now at last their chance had
come and had been used with clever circumspectness.... Somewhere on the
Polish boundary lived one of her cousins to whose wedding she was
permitted to travel alone.... She had planned to arrive in Berlin
unannounced and, instead of taking the morning train from Eydtkuhnen,
to take the train of the previous evening. Thus a night was gained
whose history had no necessary place in any family chronicle and the
memories of which could, if need were, be obliterated from one's own
consciousness.... Her arrival and departure had caused a few moments of
really needless anxiety. That was all. No acquaintance had run into
them, no waiter had intimated any suspicion, the very cabby who drove
them through the dawn had preserved his stupid lack of expression when
Niebeldingk suddenly sprang from the vehicle and permitted the lady to
be driven on alone....
Before his eyes stood her picture—as he had seen her lying during
the night in his arms, fevered with anxiety and rapture ... Ordinarily
her eyes were large and serene, almost drowsy.... The night had proven
to him what a glow could be kindled in them. Whether her broad brows,
growing together over the nose, could be regarded as a beautiful
feature—that was an open question. He liked them—so much was certain.
“Thank heaven,” he thought. “At last, once more—a woman.”
And he thought of another who for three years had been allied to him
by bonds of the tenderest intimacy and whom he had this night betrayed.
“Between us,” he consoled himself, “things will remain as they have
been, and I can enjoy my liberty.”
He sprayed his body with the icy water of the douche and rang for
John who stood outside of the door with a bath-robe.
When, ten minutes later, shivering comfortably, he entered the
breakfast-room, he found beside his cup a little heap of letters which
the morning post had brought. There were two letters that gripped his
“Berlin N., Philippstrasse 10 a.
DEAR HERR VON NIEBELDINGK:—
For the past week I have been in Berlin studying agriculture, since,
as you know, I am to take charge of the estate. Papa made me promise
faithfully to look you up immediately after my arrival. It is merely
due to the respect I owe you that I haven't kept my promise. As I know
that you won't tell Papa I might as well confess to you that I've
scarcely been sober the whole week.—Oh, Berlin is a deuce of a place!
If you don't object I will drop in at noon to-morrow and convey
Papa's greetings to you. Papa is again afflicted with the gout.
With warm regards,
Your very faithful
FRITZ VON EHRENBERG.”
The other letter was from ... her—clear, serene, full of such
literary reminiscences as always dwelt in her busy little head.
I wouldn't ask you: Why do I not see you?—you have not called for
five days—I would wait quietly till your steps led you hither without
persuasion or compulsion; but 'every animal loves itself' as the old
gossip Cicero says, and I feel a desire to chat with you.
I have never believed, to be sure, that we would remain
indispensable to each other. 'Racine passera comme le cafe,'
Mme. de Sevigne says somewhere, but I would never have dreamed that we
would see so little of each other before the inevitable end of all
You know the proverb: even old iron hates to rust, and I'm only
Come once again, dear Master, if you care to. I have an excellent
cigarette for you—Blum Pasha. I smoke a little myself now and then,
but c'est plus fort que moi and ends in head-ache.
Joko has at last learned to say 'Richard.' He trills the r
cunningly. He knows that he has little need to be jealous.
He laughed and brought forth her picture which stood, framed and
glazed, upon his desk. A delicate, slender figure—“blonde comme les
bles”—with bluish grey, eager eyes and a mocking expression of the
lips—it was she herself, she who had made the last years of his life
truly livable and whose fate he administered rather than ruled.
She was the wife of a wealthy mine-owner whose estates abutted on
his and with whom an old friendship, founded on common sports,
One day, suspecting nothing, Niebeldingk entered the man's house and
found him dragging his young wife from room to room by the hair....
Niebeldingk interfered and felt, in return, the lash of a whip.... Time
and place had been decided upon when the man's physician forbade the
duel.... He had been long suspected, but no certain symptoms had been
alleged, since the brave little woman revealed nothing of the frightful
inwardness of her married life.... Three days later he was definitely
sent to a sanitarium. But between Niebeldingk and Alice the memory of
that last hour of suffering soon wove a thousand threads of
helplessness and pity into the web of love.
As she had long lost her parents and as she was quite defenceless
against her husband's hostile guardians, the care of her interests
devolved naturally upon him.... He released her from troublesome
obligations and directed her demands toward a safe goal.... Then, very
tenderly, he lifted her with all the roots of her being from the old,
poverty-stricken soil of her earlier years and transplanted her to
Berlin where, by the help of his brother's wife—still gently pressing
on and smoothing the way himself—he created a new way of life for her.
In a villa, hidden by foliage from Lake Constance, her husband
slowly drowsed toward dissolution. She herself ripened in the sharp air
of the capital and grew almost into another woman in this banal,
disillusioned world, sober even in its intoxication.
Of society, from whose official section her fate as well as her
commoner's name separated her, she saw just enough to feel the
influence of the essential conceptions that governed it.
She lost diffidence and awkwardness, she became a woman of the world
and a connoisseur of life. She learned to condemn one day what she
forgave the next, she learned to laugh over nothing and to grieve over
nothing and to be indignant over nothing.
But what surprised Niebeldingk more than these small adaptations to
the omnipotent spirit of her new environment, was the deep revolution
experienced by her innermost being.
She had been a clinging, self-effacing, timid soul. Within three
years she became a determined and calculating little person who lacked
nothing but a certain fixedness to be a complete character.
A strange coldness of the heart now emanated from her and this was
strengthened by precipitate and often unkindly judgment, supported in
its turn by a desire to catch her own reflection in all things and to
adopt witty points of view.
Nor was this all. She acquired a desire to learn, which at first
stimulated and amused Niebeldingk, but which had long grown to be
something of a nuisance.
He himself was held, and rightly held, to be a man of intellect,
less by virtue of rapid perception and flexible thought, than by virtue
of a coolly observant vision of the world, incapable of being
confused—a certain healthy cynicism which, though it never lost an
element of good nature, might yet abash and even chill the souls of
His actual knowledge, however, had remained mere wretched patchwork,
his logic came to an end wherever bold reliance upon the intuitive
process was needed to supply missing links in the ratiocinative chain.
And so it came to pass that Alice, whom at first he had regarded as
his scholar, his handiwork, his creature, had developed annoyingly
beyond him.... Involuntarily and innocently she delivered the keenest
thrusts. He had, actually, to be on guard.... In the irresponsible
delight of intellectual crudity she solved the deepest problems of
humanity; she repeated, full of faith, the judgments of the ephemeral
rapid writer, instead of venturing upon the sources of knowledge. Yet
even so she impressed him by her faculty of adaptation and her shining
zeal. He was often silenced, for his slow moving mind could not follow
the vagaries of that rapid little brain.
What would she be at again to-day? “The old gossip Cicero....” And,
“Mme. de Sevigne remarks....” What a rattling and tinkling. It provoked
And her love! ... That was a bad business. What is one to do with a
mistress who, before falling asleep, is capable of lecturing on
Schopenhauer's metaphysics of sex, and will prove to you up to the hilt
how unworthy it really is to permit oneself to be duped by nature if
one does not share her aim for the generations to come?
The man is still to be born upon whom such wisdom, uttered at such
an hour—by lips however sweet—does not cast a chill.
Since that philosophical night he had left untouched the little key
that hung yonder over his desk and that give him, in her house, the
sacred privileges of a husband. And so his life became once more a hunt
after new women who filled his heart with unrest and with the foolish
fires of youth.
But Alice had never been angry at him. Apparently she lacked
And his thoughts wandered from her to the woman who had lain against
his breast to-night, shuddering in her stolen joy.
Heavens! He had almost forgotten one thing!
He summoned John and said:
“Go to the florist and order a bunch of Indian lilies. The man knows
what I mean. If he hasn't any, let him procure some by noon.”
John did not move a muscle, but heaven only knew whether he did not
suspect the connection between the Indian lilies and the romance of the
past night. It was in his power to adduce precedents.
It was an old custom of Niebeldingk's—a remnant of his half
out-lived Don Juan years—to send a bunch of Indian lilies to those
women who had granted him their supreme favours. He always sent the
flowers next morning. Their symbolism was plain and delicate: In spite
of what has taken place you are as lofty and as sacred in my eyes as
these pallid, alien flowers whose home is beside the Ganges. Therefore
have the kindness—not to annoy me with remorse.
It was a delicate action and—a cynical one.
At noon—Niebeldingk had just returned from his morning canter—the
visitor, previously announced, was ushered in.
He was a robust young fellow, long of limb and broad of shoulder.
His face was round and tanned, with hot, dark eyes. With merry
boldness, yet not without diffidence, he sidled, in his blue cheviot
suit, into the room.
“Morning, Herr von Niebeldingk.”
Enviously and admiringly Niebeldingk surveyed the athletic figure
which moved with springy grace.
“Morning, my boy ... sober?”
“In honour of the day, yes.”
“Shall we breakfast?”
“Oh, with delight, Herr von Niebeldingk!”
They passed into the breakfast-room where two covers had already
been laid, and while John served the caviare the flood of news burst
which had mounted in their Franconian home during the past months.
Three betrothals, two important transfers of land, a wedding, Papa's
gout, Mama's charities, Jenny's new target, Grete's flirtation with the
American engineer. And, above all things, the examination!
“Dear Herr von Niebeldingk, it's a rotten farce. For nine years the
gymnasium trains you and drills you, and in the end you don't get your
trouble's worth! I'm sorry for every hour of cramming I did. They
released me from the oral exam., simply sent me out like a monkey when
I was just beginning to let my light shine! Did you ever hear of such a
thing? Did you ever?”
“Well, and how about your university work, Fritz?”
That was a ticklish business, the youth averred. Law and political
science was no use. Every ass took that up. And since it was after all
only his purpose to pass a few years of his green youth profitably, why
he thought he'd stick to his trade and find out how to plant cabbages
“Have you started in anywhere yet?”
Oh, there was time enough. But he had been to some
lectures—agronomy and inorganic chemistry.... You have to begin with
inorganic chemistry if you want to go in for organic. And the latter
was agricultural chemistry which was what concerned him.
He made these instructive remarks with a serious air and poured down
glass after glass of Madeira. His cheeks began to glow, his heart
expanded. “But that's all piffle, Herr von Niebeldingk, ... all this
book-worm business can go to the devil.... Life—life—life—that's the
“What do you call life, Fritz?”
With both hands he stroked the velvety surface of his close-cropped
“Well, how am I to tell you? D'you know how I feel? As if I were
standing in front of a great, closed garden ... and I know that all
Paradise is inside ... and occasionally a strain of music floats out
... and occasionally a white garment glitters ... and I'd like to get
in and I can't. That's life, you see. And I've got to stand miserably
“Well, you don't impress me as such a miserable creature?”
“No, no, in a way, not. On the coarser side, so to speak, I have a
good deal of fun. Out there around Philippstrasse and
Marienstrasse there are women enough—stylish and fine-looking and
everything you want. And my friends are great fellows, too. Every one
can stand his fifteen glasses ... I suppose I am an ass, and perhaps
it's only moral katzenjammer on account of this past week. But
when I walk the streets and see the tall, distinguished houses and
think of all those people and their lives, yonder a millionaire, here a
minister of state, and think that, once upon a time, they were all
crude boys like myself—well, then I have the feeling as if I'd never
attain anything, but always remain what I am.”
“Well, my dear Fritz, the only remedy for that lies in that
'book-worm business' as you call it. Sit down on your breeches and
“No, Herr von Niebeldingk, it isn't that either ... let me tell you.
Day before yesterday I was at the opera.... They sang the
Goetterddmmerung.... You know, of course. There is Siegfried, a fellow like myself, ... not more than twenty ... I sat upstairs in
the third row with two seamstresses. I'd picked them up in the
Chausseestrasse—cute little beasts, too.... But when Brunhilde
stretched out her wonderful, white arms to him and sang: 'On to new
deeds, O hero!' why I felt like taking the two girls by the scruff of
the neck and pitching them down into the pit, I was so ashamed.
Because, you see, Siegfried had his Brunhilde who
inspired him to do great deeds. And what have I? ... A couple of hard
cases picked up in the street.”
“Afterwards, I suppose, you felt more reconciled?”
“That shows how little you know me. I'd promised the girls supper.
So I had to eat with them. But when that was over I let 'em slide. I
ran about in the streets and just—howled!”
“Very well, but what exactly are you after?”
“That's what I don't know, Herr von Niebeldingk. Oh, if I knew! But
it's something quite indefinite—hard to think, hard to comprehend. I'd
like to howl with laughter and I don't know why ... to shriek, and I
don't know what about.”
“Blessed youth!” Niebeldingk thought, and looked at the enthusiastic
boy full of emotion. ...
John, who was serving, announced that the florist's girl had come
with the Indian lilies.
“Indian lilies, what sort of lilies are they?” asked Fritz overcome
by a hesitant admiration.
“You'll see,” Niebeldingk answered and ordered the girl to be
She struggled through the door, a half-grown thing with plump red
cheeks and smooth yellow hair. Diffident and frightened, she
nevertheless began to flirt with Fritz. In front of her she held the
long stems of the exotic lilies whose blossoms, like gigantic narcissi,
brooded in star-like rest over chaste and alien dreams. From the middle
of each chalice came a sharp, green shimmer which faded gently along
the petals of the flowers.
“Confound it, but they're beautiful!” cried Fritz. “Surely they have
quite a peculiar significance.”
Niebeldingk arose, wrote the address without permitting John, who
stood in suspicious proximity, to throw a glance at it, handed cards
and flowers to the girl, gave her a tip, and escorted her to the door
“So they do mean something special?” Fritz asked eagerly. He
couldn't get over his enthusiasm.
“Yes, my boy.”
“And may one know....”
“Surely, one may know. I give these lilies to that lady whose lofty
purity transcends all doubt—I give them as a symbol of my chaste and
Fritz's eyes shone.
“Ah, but I'd like to know a lady like that—some day!” he cried and
pressed his hands to his forehead.
“That will come! That will come!” Niebeldingk tapped the youth's
“Will you have some salad?”
Around the hour of afternoon tea Niebeldingk, true to a dear, old
habit, went to see his friend.
She inhabited a small second-floor apartment in the
Regentenstrasse which he had himself selected for her when she came
as a stranger to Berlin. With flowers and palms and oriental rugs she
had moulded a delicious retreat, and before her bed-room windows the
nightingales sang in the springtime.
She seemed to be expecting him. In the great, raised bay, separated
from the rest of the drawing-room by a thicket of dark leaves, the
stout tea-urn was already expectantly humming.
In a bright, girlish dress, devoid of coquetry or pouting, Alice
came to meet him.
“I'm glad you're here again, Richard.”
That was all.
He wanted to launch out into the tale which he had meant to tell
her, but she cut him short.
“Since when do I demand excuses, Richard? You come and there you
are. And if you don't come, I have to be content too.” “You should
really be a little less tolerant,” he warned her.
“A blessed lot it would help me,” she answered merrily.
Gently she took his arm and led him to his old place. Then silently,
and with that restrained eagerness that characterised all her actions
she busied herself with the tea-urn.
His critical and discriminating gaze followed her movements. With
swift, delicate gestures she pushed forward the Chinese dish, shook the
tea from the canister and poured the first drops of boiling water
through a sieve.... Her quick, bird-like head moved hither and thither,
and the bow of the orange-coloured ribbon which surrounded her
over-delicate neck trembled a little with every motion.
“She really is the most charming of all,” such was the end of his
reflections, “if only she weren't so damnably sensible.”
Silently she took her seat opposite him, folded her white hands in
her lap, and looked into his eyes with such significant archness that
he began to feel embarrassed.
Had she any suspicion of his infidelities?
Surely not. No jealous woman can look about her so calmly and
“What have you been doing all this time?” he asked.
“I? Good heavens! Look about you and you'll see.”
She pointed to a heap of books which lay scattered over the window
seat and sewing table.
There were Moltke's letters and the memoirs of von Schoen, and Max
Mueller's Aryan studies. Nor was the inevitable Schopenhauer lacking.
“What are you after with all that learning?” he asked.
“Ah, dear friend, what is one to do? One can't always be going about
in strange houses. Do you expect me to stand at the window and watch
the clouds float over the old city-wall?”
He had the uncomfortable impression that she was quoting something
“My mood,” she went on, “is in what Goethe calls the minor of the
soul. It is the yearning that reaches out afar and yet restrains itself
harmoniously within itself. Isn't that beautifully put?”
“It may be, but it's too high for me!” In laughing self-protection,
he stretched out his arms toward her.
“Don't make fun of me,” she said, slightly shamed, and arose.
“And what is the object of your yearning?” he asked in order to
leave the realm of Goethe as swiftly as possible. “Not you, you
horrible person,” she answered and, for a moment, touched his hair with
“I know that, dearest,” he said, “it's a long time since you've sent
me two notes a day.”
“And since you came to see me twice daily,” she returned and gazed
at the floor with a sad irony.
“We have both changed greatly, Alice.”
“We have indeed, Richard.”
A silence ensued.
His eyes wandered to the opposite wall.... His own picture, framed
in silvery maple-wood, hung there.... Behind the frame appeared a bunch
of blossoms, long faded and shrivelled to a brownish, indistinguishable
These two alone knew the significance of the flowers....
“Were you at least happy in those days, Alice?”
“You know I am always happy, Richard.”
“Oh yes, yes; I know your philosophy. But I meant happy with me,
She stroked her delicate nose thoughtfully. The mocking expression
about the corners of her mouth became accentuated.
“I hardly think so, Richard,” she said after an interval. “I was too
much afraid of you ... I seemed so stupid in comparison to you and I
feared that you would despise me.” “That fear, at least, you have
overcome very thoroughly?” he asked.
“Not wholly, Richard. Things have only shifted their basis. Just as,
in those days, I felt ashamed of my ignorance, so now I feel
ashamed—no, that isn't the right word.... But all this stuff that I
store up in my head seems to weigh upon me in my relations with you. I
seem to be a nuisance with it.... You men, especially mature men like
yourself, seem to know all these things better, even when you don't
know them.... The precise form in which a given thought is presented to
us may be new to you, but the thought itself you have long digested.
It's for this reason that I feel intimidated whenever I approach you
with my pursuits. 'You might better have held your peace,' I say to
myself. But what am I to do? I'm so profoundly interested!”
“So you really need the society of a rather stupid fellow, one to
whom all this is new and who will furnish a grateful audience?”
“Stupid? No,” she answered, “but he ought to be inexperienced. He
ought himself to want to learn things.... He ought not to assume a
compassionate expression as who should say: 'Ah, my dear child, if you
knew what I know, and how indifferent all those things are to me!' ...
For these things are not indifferent, Richard, not to me, at least....
And for the sake of the joy I take in them, you ...”
“Strange how she sees through me,” he reflected, “I wonder she
clings to me as she does.”
And while he was trying to think of something that might help her,
the dear boy came into his mind who had to-day divulged to him the
sorrows of youth and whom the unconscious desire for a higher plane of
life had driven weeping through the streets.
“I know of some one for you.”
Her expression was serious.
“You know of some one for me,” she repeated with painful
“Don't misunderstand me. It's a playfellow, a pupil—something in
the nature of a pastime, anything you will.”
He told her the story of Siegfried and the two seamstresses.
She laughed heartily.
“I was afraid you wanted to be rid of me,” she said, laying her
forehead for a few moments against his sleeve.
“Shame on you,” he said, carelessly stroking her hair. “But what do
you think? Shall I bring the young fellow?”
“You may very well bring him,” she answered. There was a look of
pain about her mouth. “Doesn't one even train young poodles?”
Three days later, at the same hour of the afternoon, the student,
Fritz von Ehrenberg entered Niebeldingk's study.
“I have summoned you, dear friend, because I want to introduce you
to a charming young woman,” Niebeldingk said, arising from his desk.
“Now?” Fritz asked, sharply taken aback.
“Why, I'd have to get my—my afternoon coat first and fix myself up
a bit. What is the lady to think of me?”
“I'll take care of that. Furthermore, you probably know her, at
least by reputation.”
He mentioned the name of her husband which was known far and wide in
their native province.
Fritz knew the whole story.
“Poor lady!” he said. “Papa and Mama have often felt sorry for her.
I suppose her husband is still living.”
“People all said that you were going to marry her.”
“Is that what people said?” “Yes, and Papa thought it would
be a piece of great good fortune.”
“I beg your pardon, I suppose that was tactless, Herr von
“It was, dear Fritz.—But don't worry about it, just come.”
The introduction went smoothly. Fritz behaved as became the son of a
good family, was respectful but not stiff, and answered her friendly
questions briefly and to the point.
“He's no discredit to me,” Niebeldingk thought.
As for Alice, she treated her young guest with a smiling, motherly
care which was new in her and which filled Niebeldingk with quiet
pleasure.... On other occasions she had assumed toward young men a tone
of wise, faint interest which meant clearly: “I will exhaust your
possibilities and then drop you.” To-day she showed a genuine sympathy
which, though its purpose may have been to test him the more sharply,
seemed yet to bear witness to the pure and free humanity of her soul.
She asked him after his parental home and was charmed with his naive
rapture at escaping the psychical atmosphere of the cradle-songs of his
mother's house. She was also pleased with his attitude toward his
younger brothers and sisters, equally devoid, as it was, of
exaggeration or condescension. Everything about him seemed to her
simple and sane and full of ardour after information and maturity.
Niebeldingk sat quietly in his corner ready, at need, to smooth over
any outbreak of uncouth youthfulness. But there was no occasion. Fritz
confined himself within the limits of modest liberty and used his mind
vigorously but with devout respect and delighted obedience. Once only,
when the question of the necessity of authority came up, did he go far.
“I don't give a hang for any authority,” he said. “Even the mild
compulsion of what are called high-bred manners may go to the deuce for
Niebeldingk was about to interfere with some reconciling remark when
he observed, to his astonishment, that Alice who, as a rule, was
bitterly hostile to all strident unconventionality, had taken no
“Let him be, Niebeldingk,” she said. “As far as he is concerned he
is, doubtless, in the right. And nothing would be more shameful than if
society were already to begin to make a featureless model boy of him.”
“That will never be, I swear to you, dear lady,” cried Fritz all
aglow and stretching out his hands to ward off imaginary chains.
Niebeldingk smiled and thought: “So much the better for him.” Then he
lit a fresh cigarette.
The conversation turned to learned things. Fritz, paraphrasing
Tacitus, vented his hatred of the Latin civilisations. Alice agreed
with him and quoted Mme. de Stael. Niebeldingk arose, quietly meeting
the reproachful glance of his beloved.
Fritz jumped up simultaneously, but Niebeldingk laughingly pushed
him back into his seat.
“You just stay,” he said, “our dear friend is only too eager to
slaughter a few more peoples.”
When he dropped in at Alice's a few days later he found her sitting,
hot-cheeked and absorbed, over Strauss's Life of Jesus.
“Just fancy,” she said, holding up her forehead for his kiss, “that
young poodle of yours is making me take notice. He gives me
intellectual nuts to crack. It's strange how this young generation—”
“I beg of you, Alice,” he interrupted her, “you are only a very few
years his senior.”
“That may be so,” she answered, “but the little education I have
derives from another epoch.... I am, metaphysically, as unexacting as
the people of your generation. A certain fogless freedom of thought
seemed to me until to-day the highest point of human development.”
“And Fritz von Ehrenberg, student of agriculture, has converted you
to a kind of thoughtful religiosity?” he asked, smiling good-naturedly.
In her zeal she wasn't even aware of his irony.
“We're not going to give in so easily.... But it is strange what an
impression is made on one by a current of strong and natural
feeling.... This young fellow comes to me and says: 'There is a God,
for I feel Him and I need Him. Prove the contrary if you can.' ...
Well, so I set about proving the contrary to him. But our poor
negations have become so glib that one has forgotten the reasons for
them. Finally he defeated me along the whole line ... so I sat down at
once and began to study up ... just as one would polish rusty weapons
... Bible criticism and DuBois-Reymond and 'Force and Matter' and all
the things that are traditionally irrefutable.”
“And that amuses you?” he asked compassionately.
A theoretical indignation took hold of her that always amused him
“Does it amuse me? Are such things proper subjects for amusement?
Surely you must use other expressions, Richard, when one is concerned
for the most sacred goods of humanity....”
“Forgive me,” he said, “I didn't mean to touch those things
She stroked his arm softly, thus dumbly asking forgiveness in her
“But now,” she continued, “I am equipped once more, and when he
“So he's coming to-morrow?”
“Naturally, ... then you will see how I'll send him home sorely
whipped ... I can defeat him with Kant's antinomies alone.... And when
it comes to what people call 'revelation,' well! ... But I assure you,
my dear one, I'm not very happy defending this icy, nagging
criticism.... To be quite sincere, I would far rather be on his side.
Warmth is there and feeling and something positive to support one.
Would you like some tea?”
“Thanks, no, but some brandy.”
Rapidly brushing the waves of hair from her drawn forehead she ran
into the next room and returned with the bottle bearing three stars on
its label from which she herself took a tiny drop occasionally—“when
my mind loses tone for study” as she was wont to say in
A crimson afterglow, reflected from the walls of the houses
opposite, filled the little drawing-room in which the mass of feminine
ornaments glimmered and glittered.
“I've really become quite a stranger here,” he thought, regarding
all these things with the curiosity of one who has come after an
absence. From each object hung, like a dewdrop, the memory of some
“You look about you so,” Alice said with an undertone of anxiety in
her voice, “don't you like it here any longer?”
“What are you thinking of,” he exclaimed, “I like it better daily.”
She was about to reply but fell silent and looked into space with a
smile of wistful irony.
“If I except the Life of Jesus and the Kantian—what do you
call the things?”
“Aha—anti and nomos—I understand—well, if I except
these dusty superfluities, I may say that your furnishings are really
faultless. The quotations from Goethe are really more appropriate,
although I could do without them.”
“I'll have them swept out,” she said in playful submission.
“You are a dear girl,” he said playfully and passed his hand
caressingly over her severely combed hair.
She grasped his arm with both hands and remained motionless for a
moment during which her eyes fastened themselves upon his with a
strangely rigid gleam.
“What evil have I done?” he asked. “Do you remember our childhood's
verse: 'I am small, my heart is pure?' Have mercy on me.”
“I was only playing at passion,” she said with the old half-wistful,
half-mocking smile, “in order that our relations may not lose solid
“What do you mean?” he asked, pretending astonishment. “And do you
really think, Richard, that between us, things, being as they are—are
“I can't imagine any change that could take place at present.”
She hid a hot flush of shame. She was obviously of the opinion that
he had interpreted her meaning in the light of a desire for marriage.
All earthly possibilities had been discussed between them: this one
alone had been sedulously avoided in all their conversations.
“Don't misunderstand me,” he continued, determined to skirt the
dangerous subject with grace and ease, “there's no question here of
anything external, of any change of front with reference to the world.
It's far too late for that. ... Let us remain—if I may so put it—in
our spiritual four walls. Given our characters or, I had better say,
given your character I see no other relation between us that promises
any permanence.... If I were to pursue you with a kind of infatuation,
or you me with jealousy—it would be insupportable to us both.”
She did not reply but gently rolled and unrolled the narrow, blue
silk scarf of her gown.
“As it is, we live happily and at peace,” he went on, “Each of us
has liberty and an individual existence and yet we know how deeply
rooted our hearts are in each other.”
She heaved a sigh of painful oppression. “Aren't you content?” he
“For heaven's sake! Surely!” Her voice was frightened, “No one could
be more content than I. If only——”
“If only it weren't for the lonely evenings!”
A silence ensued. This was a sore point and had always been. He knew
it well. But he had to have his evenings to himself. There was nothing
to be done about that.
“You musn't think me immodest in my demands,” she went on in hasty
exculpation. “I'm not even aiming my remarks at you ... I'm only
thinking aloud.... But you see, I can't get any real foothold in
society until—until my affairs are more clarified.... To run about the
drawing-rooms as an example of frivolous heedlessness—that's not my
way.... I can always hear them whisper behind me: 'She doesn't take it
much to heart, that shows ...' No, I'd rather stay at home. I have no
friends either and what chance had I to make them? You were always my
one and only friend.... My books remain. And that's very well by day
... but when the lamps are lit I begin to throb and ache and run about
... and I listen for the trill of the door-bell. But no one comes,
nothing—except the evening paper. And that's only in winter. Now it's
brought before dusk. And in the end there's nothing worth while in
it.... And so life goes day after day. At last one creeps into bed at
half-past nine and, of course, has a wretched night.”
“Well, but how am I to help you, dear child?” he asked thoughtfully.
He was touched by her quiet, almost serene complaint. “If we took to
passing our evenings together, scandal would soon have us by the
throat, and then—woe to you!”
Her eager eyes gazed bravely at him.
“Well,” she said at last, “suppose——”
“Never mind. I don't want you to think me unwomanly. And what I've
been describing to you is, after all, only a symptom. There's a kind of
restlessness in me that I can't explain.... If I were of a less active
temper, things would be better.... It sounds paradoxical, but just
because I have so much activity in me, do I weary so quickly. Goethe
He raised his hands in laughing protest.
She was really frightened.
“Ah, yes, forgive me,” she cried. “All that was to be swept out....
How forgetful one can be....”
Smiling, she leaned her head against his shoulder and was not to be
persuaded from her silence.
“There are delicate boundaries within the realm of the eternal
womanly,”—thus Niebeldingk reflected next day,—“in which one is
sorely puzzled as to what one had better put into an envelope: a poem
or a cheque.”
His latest adventure—the cause of these reflections—had blossomed,
the evening before, like the traditional rose on the dungheap.
One of his friends who had travelled about the world a good deal and
who now assumed the part of the full-blown Parisian, had issued
invitations to a house-warming in his new bachelor-apartment. He had
invited a number of his gayer friends and ladies exclusively from
so-called artistic circles. So far all was quite Parisian. Only the
journalists who might, next morning, have proclaimed the glory of the
festivity to the world—these were excluded. Berlin, for various
reasons, did not seem an appropriate place for that.
It was a rather dreary sham orgy. Even chaperones were present.
Several ladies had carefully brought them and they could scarcely be
put out. Other ladies even thought it incumbent upon them to ask after
the wives of the gentlemen present and to turn up their noses when it
appeared that these were conspicuous by their absence. It was upon this
occasion, however, that some beneficent chance assigned to Niebeldingk
a sighing blonde who remained at his side all evening.
Her name was Meta, she belonged to one of the “best families” of
Posen, she lived in Berlin with her mother who kept a boarding house
for ladies of the theatre. She herself nursed the ardent desire to
dedicate herself to art, for “the ideal” had always been the guiding
star of her existence.
At the beginning of supper she expressed herself with a fine
indignation concerning the ladies present into whose midst—she assured
him eagerly—she had fallen through sheer accident. Later she thawed
out, assumed a friendly companionableness to these despised individuals
and, in order to raise Niebeldingk's delight to the highest point,
admitted with maidenly frankness the indescribable and mysterious
attraction toward him which she had felt at the first glance.
Of course, her principles were impregnable. He mustn't doubt that.
She would rather seek a moist death in the waves than.... and so forth.
Although she made this solemn proclamation over the dessert, the
consequence of it all was an intimate visit to Niebeldingk's dwelling
which came to a bitter sweet end at three o'clock in the morning with
gentle tears concerning the wickedness of men in general and of himself
An attack of katzenjammer—such as is scarcely ever spared
worldly people of forty—threw a sobering shadow upon this event. The
shadow crept forward too, and presaged annoyance.
He was such an old hand now, and didn't even know into what category
she really fitted. Was it, after all, impossible that behind all this
frivolity the desire to take up the struggle for existence on cleanly
terms stuck in her little head?
At all events he determined to spare the possible wounding of
outraged womanliness and to wait before putting any final stamp upon
the nature of their relations. Hence he set out to play the tender
lover by means of the well-tried device of a bunch of Indian lilies.
When he was about to give the order for the flowers to John who
always, upon these occasions, assumed a conscientiously stupid
expression, a new doubt overcame him.
Was he not desecrating the gift which had brought consolation and
absolution to many a remorseful heart, by sending it to a girl who, for
all he knew, played a sentimental part only as a matter of decent form?
... Wasn't there grave danger of her assuming an undue self-importance
when she felt that she was taken tragically?
“Well, what did it matter? ... A few flowers! ...”
Early on the evening of the next day Meta reappeared. She was
dressed in sombre black. She wept persistently and made preparations to
Niebeldingk gave her to understand that, in the first place, he had
no more time for her that evening, and that, in the second place, she
would do well to go home at a proper hour and spare herself the
reproaches of her mother.
“Oh, my little mother, my little mother,” she wailed. “How shall I
ever present myself to her sight again? Keep me, my beloved! I can
never approach my, mother again.”
He rang for his hat and gloves.
When she saw that he was serious she wept a few more perfunctory
tears and went.
Her visits repeated themselves and didn't become any more
delightful. On the contrary ... the heart-broken maiden gave him to
understand that her lost honour could be restored only by the means of
a speedy marriage. This exhausted his patience. He saw that he had been
thoroughly taken in and so, observing all necessary considerateness, he
sent her definitely about her business.
Next day the “little mother” appeared on the scene. She was a
dignified woman of fifty, equipped as the Genius of Vengeance,
exceedingly glib of tongue and by no means sentimental.
As she belonged to one of the first families of Posen, it was her
duty to lay particular stress upon the honour of her daughter whom he
had lured to his house and there wickedly seduced. ... She was prepared
to repel any overtures toward a compromise. She belonged to one of the
best families of Posen and was not prepared to sell her daughter's
virtue. The only possible way of adjusting the matter was an immediate
Thereupon she began to scream and scold and John, who acted as
master of ceremonies, escorted her with a patronising smile to the
Next came the visits of an old gentleman in a Prince Albert and the
ribbon of some decoration in his button-hole.—John had strict orders
to admit no strangers. But the old gentleman was undaunted. He came
morning, noon and night and finally settled down on the stairs where
Niebeldingk could not avoid meeting him. He was the uncle of Miss Meta,
a former servant of the government and a knight of several honourable
orders. As such it was his duty to demand the immediate restitution of
his niece's honour, else—Niebeldingk simply turned his back and the
knight of several honourable orders trotted, grumbling, down the
Up to this point Niebeldingk had striven to regard the whole
business in a humorous light. It now began It now began to promise
serious annoyance. He told the story at his club and the men laughed
boisterously, but no one knew anything to the detriment of Miss Meta.
She had been introduced by a lady who played small parts at a large
theatre and important parts at a small one. The lady was called to
account for her protegee. She refused to speak.
“It's all the fault of those accursed Indian lilies,” Niebeldingk
grumbled one afternoon at his window as he watched the knight of
various honourable orders parade the street as undaunted as ever. “Had
I treated her with less delicacy, she would never have risked playing
the part of an innocent victim.”
At that moment John announced Fritz von Ehrenberg.
The boy came in dressed in an admirably fitting summer suit. He was
radiant with youth and strength, victory gleamed in his eye; a hymn of
victory seemed silently singing on his lips.
“Well Fritz, you seem merry,” said Niebeldingk and patted the boy's
shoulder. He could not suppress a smile of sad envy.
“Don't ask me! Why shouldn't I be happy? Life is so beautiful, yes,
beautiful. Only you musn't have any dealings with women. That plays the
deuce with one.”
“You don't know yourself how right you are,” Niebeldingk sighed,
looking out of the corner of an eye at the knight of several honourable
orders who had now taken up his station in the shelter of the house
“Oh, but I do know it,” Fritz answered. “If I could describe to you
the contempt with which I regard my former mode of life ... everything
is different ... different ... so much purer ... nobler ... I'm
absolutely a stoic now.... And that gives one a feeling of such peace,
such serenity! And I have you to thank for it, Herr von Niebeldingk.”
“I don't understand that. To teach in the stoa is a new
employment for me.”
“Well, didn't you introduce me to that noble lady? Wasn't it you?”
“Aha,” said Niebeldingk. The image of Alice, smiling a gentle
reproach, arose before him.
In the midst of this silly and sordid business that had overtaken
him, he had almost lost sight of her. More than a week had passed since
he had crossed her threshold.
“How is the dear lady?” he asked.
“Oh, splendid,” Fritz said, “just splendid.”
“Have you seen her often?”
“Certainly,” Fritz replied, “we're reading Marcus Aurelius together
“Thank heaven,” Niebeldingk laughed, “I see that she's well taken
He made up his mind to see her within the next hour.
Fritz who had only come because he needed to overflow to some one
with the joy of life that was in him, soon started to go.
At the door he turned and said timidly and with downcast eyes.
“I have one request to make——”
“Fire away, Fritz! How much?”
“Oh, I don't need money ... I'd like to have the address of your
florist ...I'd like to send to the dear lady a bunch of the ... the
“What? Are you mad?” Niebeldingk cried.
“Why do you ask that?” Fritz was hurt. “May I not also send that
symbol to a lady whose purity and loftiness of soul I reverence. I
suppose I'm old enough!”
“I see. You're quite right. Forgive me.” Niebeldingk bit his lips
and gave the lad the address.
Fritz thanked him and went.
Niebeldingk gave way to his mirth and called for his hat. He wanted
to go to her at once. But—for better or worse—he changed his mind,
for yonder in the gateway, unabashed, stood the knight of several
To be sure, one can't stand eternally in a gateway. Finally the
knight deserted his post and vanished into a sausage shop. The hour had
come when even the most glowing passion of revenge fades gently into a
passion for supper.
Niebeldingk who had waited behind his curtain, half-amused,
half-bored—for in the silent, distinguished street where everyone knew
him a scandal was to be avoided at any cost—Niebeldingk hastened to
make up for his neglect at once.
The dark fell. Here and there the street-lamps flickered through the
purple air of the summer dusk....
The maid who opened the door looked at him with cool astonishment as
though he were half a stranger who had the audacity to pay a call at
this intimate hour.
“That means a scolding,” he thought.
But he was mistaken.
Smiling quietly, Alice arose from the couch where she had been
sitting by the light of a shaded lamp and stretched out her hand with
all her old kindliness. The absence of the otherwise inevitable book
was the only change that struck him.
“We haven't seen each other for a long time,” he said, making a
wretched attempt at an explanation.
“Is it so long?” she asked frankly.
“Thank you for your gentle punishment.” He kissed her hand. Then he
chatted, more or less at random, of disagreeable business matters, of
preparations for a journey, and so forth.
“So you are going away?” she asked tensely.
The word had escaped him, he scarcely knew how. Now that he had
uttered it, however, he saw very clearly that nothing better remained
for him to do than to carry the casual thought into action.... Here he
passed a fruitless, enervating life, slothful, restless and
humiliating; at home there awaited him light, useful work, dreamless
sleep, and the tonic sense of being the master.
All that, in other days, held him in Berlin, namely, this modest,
clever, flexible woman had almost passed from his life. Steady neglect
had done its work. If he went now, scarcely the smallest gap would be
torn into the fabric of his life.
Or did it only seem so? Was she more deeply rooted in his heart than
he had ever confessed even to himself? They were both silent. She stood
very near him and sought to read the answer to her question in his
eyes. A kind of anxious joy appeared upon her slightly worn features.
“I'm needed at home,” he said at last. “It is high time for me. If
you desire I'll look after your affairs too.”
“Well, I thought we were neighbours there—more than here. Or have
you forgotten the estate?”
“Let us leave aside the matter of being neighbours,” she answered,
“and I don't suppose that I have much voice in the management of the
estate as long as—he lives. The guardians will see to that.”
“But you could run down there once in a while ... in the summer for
instance. Your place is always ready for you. I saw to that.”
“Ah, yes, you saw to that.” The wistful irony that he had so often
noted was visible again.
For the first time he understood its meaning.
“She has made things too easy for me,” he reflected. “I should have
felt my chains. Then, too, I would have realised what I possessed in
But did he not still possess her? What, after all, had changed since
those days of quiet companionship? Why should he think of her as lost
He could not answer this question. But he felt a dull restlessness.
A sense of estrangement told him: All is not here as it was.
“Since when do you live in dreams, Alice?” he asked, surveying the
empty table by which he had found her.
His question had been innocent, but it seemed to carry a sting. She
blushed and looked past him.
“How do you mean?”
“Good heavens, to sit all evening without books and let the light
burn in vain—that was not your wont heretofore.”
“Oh, that's it. Ah well, one can't be poking in books all the time.
And for the past few days my eyes have been aching.”
“With secret tears?” he teased.
She gave him a wide, serious look.
“With secret tears,” she repeated.
“Ah perfido!” he trilled, in order to avoid the scene which
he feared ... But he was on the wrong scent. She herself interrupted
him with the question whether he would stay to supper.
He was curious to find the causes of the changes that he felt here.
For that reason and also because he was not without compunction, he
consented to stay.
She rang and ordered a second cover to be laid.
Louise looked at her mistress with a disapproving glance and went.
“Dear me,” he laughed, “the servants are against me ... I am lost.”
“You have taken to noticing such things very recently.” She gave a
“When a wife tells a husband of his newly acquired habits, he is
doubly lost,” he answered and gave her his arm.
The silver gleamed on the table ... the tea-kettle puffed out
delicate clouds ... exquisitely tinted apples, firm as in Autumn,
smiled at him.
A word of admiration escaped him. And then, once more, he saw that
tragic smile on her lips—sad, wistful, almost compassionate.
“My darling,” he said with sudden tenderness and caressed her
She nodded and smiled. That was all.
At table her mood was an habitual one. Perhaps she was a trifle
gentler. He attributed that to his approaching departure.
She drank a glass of Madeira at the beginning of the meal, the light
Rhine wine she took in long, thirsty draughts, she even touched the
brandy at the meal's end.
An inner fire flared in her. He suspected that, he felt it. She had
touched no food. But she permitted nothing to appear on the surface. On
the contrary, the emotional warmth that she had shown earlier
disappeared. The play of her thoughts grew cooler, clearer, more
cutting, the longer she talked.
Twice or thrice quotations from Goethe were about to escape her, but
she did not utter them. Smiling she tapped her own lips.
When he observed that she was really restraining a genuine impulse
he begged her to consider the protest he had once uttered as merely a
jest, perhaps even an ill-considered one. But she said: “Let be, it is
They conversed, as they had often done, of the perished days of
their old love. They spoke like two beings who have long conquered all
the struggles of the heart and who, in the calm harbour of friendship,
regard with equanimity the storms which they have weathered.
This way of speaking had gradually, and with a kind of jocular
moroseness, crept into their intercourse. The exciting thing about it
was the silent reservation felt by both: We know how different things
could be, so soon as we desired. To-day, for the first time, this game
at renunciation seemed to become serious.
“How strange!” he thought. “Here we sit who are dearest to each
other in all the world and a kind of futile arrogance drives us farther
and farther apart.”
He kissed her, as was his wont, upon hand and forehead and noted how
she turned aside with a slight shiver. Then suddenly she took his head
in both her hands and kissed him full on the lips with a kind of
“Ah,” he cried, “what is that? It's more than I have a right to
“Forgive me,” she said, withdrawing herself at once. “We're poverty
stricken folk and haven't much to give each other.”
“After what I have just experienced, I'm inclined to believe the
But she seemed little inclined to draw the logical consequences of
her action. Quietly she gave him his wonted cigarette, lit her own, and
sat down in her old place. With rounded lips she blew little clouds of
smoke against the table-cover.
“Whenever I regard you in this manner,” he said, carefully feeling
his way, “it always seems to me that you have some silent reservation,
as though you were waiting for something.” “It may be,” she answered,
blushing anew, “I sit by the way-side, like the man in the story, and
think of the coming of my fate.”
“Fate? What fate?”
“Ah, who can tell, dear friend? That which one foresees is no longer
“Perhaps it's just the other way.”
She drew back sharply and looked past him in tense thoughtfulness.
“Perhaps you are right,” she said, with a little mysterious sigh. “It
may be as you say.”
He was no wiser than he had been. But since he held it beneath his
dignity to assume the part of the jealous master, he abandoned the
search for her secrets with a shrug. The secrets could be of no great
importance. No one knew better than himself the moderateness of her
desires, no lover, in calm possession of his beloved, had so little to
fear as he....
They discussed their plans for the Summer. He intended to go to the
North Sea in Autumn, an old affection attracted her to Thuringia. The
possibility of their meeting was touched only in so far as courtesy
And once more silence fell upon the little drawing-room. Through the
twilight an old, phantastic Empire clock announced the hurrying minutes
with a hoarse tick.
In other days a magical mood had often filled this room—the presage
of an exquisite flame and its happy death. All that had vibrated here.
Nothing remained. They had little to say to each other. That was what
time had left.
He played thoughtfully with his cigarette. She stared into
nothingness with great, dreamy eyes.
And suddenly she began to weep ...
He almost doubted his own perception, but the great glittering tears
ran softly down her smiling face.
But he was satiated with women's tears. In the fleeting amatory
adventures of the past weeks and months, he had seen so many—some
genuine, some sham, all superfluous. And so instead of consoling her,
he conceived a feeling of sarcasm and nausea: “Now even she carries
The idea did indeed flash into his mind that this moment might be
decisive and pregnant with the fate of the future, but his horror of
scenes and explanations restrained him.
Wearily he assumed the attitude of one above the storms of the soul
and sought a jest with which to recall her to herself. But before he
found it she pressed her handkerchief to her eyes and slipped from the
“So much the better,” he thought and lit a fresh cigarette, “If she
lets her passion spend itself in silence it will pass the more
Walking up and down he indulged in philosophic reflections
concerning the useless emotionality of woman, and the duty of man not
to be infected by it ... He grew quite warm in the proud consciousness
of his heart's coldness.
Then suddenly—from the depth of the silence that was about
him—resounded in a long-drawn, shrill, whirring voice that he had
never heard—his own name.
“Rrricharrd!” it shrilled, stern and hard as the command of some
paternal martinet. The voice seemed to come from subterranean depths.
He shivered and looked about. Nothing moved. There was no living
soul in the next room.
“Richard!” the voice sounded a second time. This time the sound
seemed but a few paces from him, but it arose from the ground as though
a teasing goblin lay under his chair.
He bent over and peered into dark corners.
The mystery was solved: Joko, Alice's parrot, having secretly stolen
from his quarters, sat on the rung of a chair and played the evil
conscience of the house.
The tame animal stepped with dignity upon his outstretched hand and
permitted itself to be lifted into the light.... Its glittering
neck-feathers stood up, and while it whetted its beak on Niebeldingk's
cuff-links, it repeated in a most subterranean voice: “Richard!”
And suddenly the dear feeling of belonging here, of being at home
came over Niebeldingk. He had all but lost it. But its gentle power
drew him on and refreshed him.
It was his right and his duty to be at home here where a dear woman
lived so exclusively for him that the voice of her yearning sounded
even from the tongue of the brute beast that she possessed! There was
no possibility of feeling free and alien here.
“I must find her!” he thought quickly, “I musn't leave her alone
He set Joko carefully on the table and sought to reach her bed-room
which he had never entered by this approach.
In the door that led to the rear hall she met him. Her demeanour had
its accustomed calm, her eyes were clear and dry.
“My poor, dear darling!” he cried and wanted to take her in his
A strange, repelling glance met him and interrupted his beautiful
emotion. Something hardened in him and he felt a new inclination to
“Forgive me for leaving you,” she said, “one must have patience with
the folly of my sex. You know that well.”
And she preceded him to his old place.
Screaming with pleasure Joko flew forward to meet her, and
Niebeldingk remained standing to take his leave.
She did not hold him back.
Outside it occurred to him that he hadn't told her the anecdote of
Fritz and the Indian lilies.
“It's a pity,” he thought, “it might have cheered her.” ...
Next morning Niebeldingk sat at his desk and reflected with
considerable discomfort on the experience of the previous evening.
Suddenly he observed, across the street, restlessly waiting in the same
doorway—the avenging spirit!
It was an opportune moment. It would distract him to make an example
of the fellow. Nothing better could have happened.
He rang for John and ordered him to bring up the wretched fellow
and, furthermore, to hold himself in readiness for an act of vigorous
Five minutes passed. Then the door opened and, diffidently, but with
a kind of professional dignity, the knight of several honourable orders
entered the room.
Niebeldingk made rapid observations: A beardless, weatherworn old
face with pointed, stiff, white brows. The little, watery eyes knew how
to hide their cunning, for nothing was visible in them save an
expression of wonder and consternation. The black frock coat was
threadbare but clean, his linen was spotless. He wore a stock which had
been the last word of fashion at the time of the July revolution.
“A sharper of the most sophisticated sort,” Niebeldingk concluded.
“Before any discussion takes place,” he said sharply. “I must know
with whom I am dealing.”
The old man drew off with considerable difficulty his torn, gray,
funereal gloves and, from the depths of a greasy pocket-book, produced
a card which had, evidently, passed through a good many hands.
“A sharper,” Niebeldingk repeated to himself, “but on a pretty low
plane.” He read the card: “Kohleman, retired clerk of court.” And below
was printed the addition: “Knight of several orders.”
“What decorations have you?” he asked.
“I have been very graciously granted the Order of the Crown, fourth
class, and the general order for good behaviour.”
“Sit down,” Niebeldingk replied, impelled by a slight instinctive
“Thank you, I'll take the liberty,” the old gentleman answered and
sat down on the extreme edge of a chair.
“Once on the stairs you—” he was about to say “attacked me,” but he
repressed the words. “I know,” he began, “what your business is. And
now tell me frankly: Do you think any man in the world such a fool as
to contemplate marriage because a frivolous young thing whose
acquaintance he made at a supper given to 'cocottes' accompanies him,
in the middle of the night, to his bachelor quarters? Do you think that
a reasonable proposition?”
“No,” the old gentleman answered with touching honesty. “But you
know it's pretty discouraging to have Meta get into that kind of a
mess. I've had my suspicions for some time that that baggage is a
keener, and I've often said to my sister: 'Look here, these theatrical
women are no proper company for a girl—'“
“Well then,” Niebeldingk exclaimed, overcome with astonishment, “if
that's the case, what are you after?”
“I?” the old gentleman quavered and pointed a funereal glove at his
breast, “I? Oh, dear sakes alive! I'm not after anything. Do you
imagine, my dear sir, that I get any fun out of tramping up and down in
front of your house on my old legs? I'd rather sit in a corner and
leave strange people to their own business. But what can I do? I live
in my sister's house, and I do pay her a little board, for I'd never
take a present, not a penny—that was never my way. But what I pay
isn't much, you know, and so I have to make myself a bit useful in the
boarding-house. The ladies have little errands, you know. And they're
quite nice, too, except that they get as nasty as can be if their rooms
aren't promptly cleaned in the morning, and so I help with the dusting,
too ... If only it weren't for my asthma ... I tell, you, asthma, my
He stopped for an attack of coughing choked him.
With a sudden kindly emotion Niebeldingk regarded the terrible
avenger in horror of whom he had lived four mortal days. He told him to
stretch his poor old legs and asked him whether he'd like a glass of
The old gentleman's face brightened. If it would surely give no
trouble he would take the liberty of accepting.
Niebeldingk rang and John entered with a grand inquisitorial air. He
recoiled when he saw the monster so comfortable and, for the first time
in his service, permitted himself a gentle shake of the head.
The old gentleman emptied his glass in one gulp and wiped his mouth
with a brownish cotton handkerchief. Fragments of tobacco flew about.
He looked so tenderly at the destroyer of his family as though he had a
sneaking desire to join the enemy.
“Well, well,” he began again. “What's to be done? If my sister takes
something into her head.... And anyhow, I'll tell you in confidence,
she is a devil. Oh deary me, what I have to put up with from her! It's
no good getting into trouble with her! ... If you want to avoid any
unpleasantness, I can only advise you to consent right away.... You can
back out later.... But that would be the easiest way.”
Niebeldingk laughed heartily.
“Yes, you can laugh,” the old gentleman said sadly, “that's because
you don't know my sister.”
“But you know her, my dear man. And do you suppose that she
may have other, that is to say, financial aims, while she——”
The old gentleman looked at him with great scared eyes.
“How do you mean?” he said and crushed the brown handkerchief in his
“Well, well, well,” Niebeldingk quieted him and poured a reconciling
second glass of wine.
But he wasn't to be bribed.
“Permit me, my dear sir,” he said, “but you misunderstand me
entirely.... Even if I do help my sister in the house, and even if I do
go on errands, I would never have consented to go on such an one.... I
said to my sister: It's marriage or nothing.... We don't go in for
blackmail, of that you may be sure.” “Well, my dear man,” Niebeldingk
laughed, “If that's the alternative, then—nothing!”
The old gentleman grew quite peaceable again.
“Goodness knows, you're quite right. But you will have
unpleasantnesses, mark my word. ... And if she has to appeal to the
Emperor, my sister said. And my sister—I mention it quite in
“Is a devil, I understand.”
He laughed slyly as one who is getting even with an old enemy and
drank, with every evidence of delight, the second glassful of wine.
Niebeldingk considered. Whether unfathomable stupidity or equally
unfathomable sophistication lay at the bottom of all this—the business
was a wretched one. It was just such an affair as would be dragged
through every scandal mongering paper in the city, thoroughly equipped,
of course, with the necessary moral decoration. He could almost see the
heavy headlines: Rascality of a Nobleman.
“Yes, yes, my dear fellow,” he said, and patted the terrible enemy's
shoulder, “I tell you it's a dog's life. If you can avoid it any
way—never go in for fast living.”
The old gentleman shook his gray head sadly.
“That's all over,” he declared, “but twenty years ago—” Niebeldingk
cut short the approaching confidences.
“Well, what's going to happen now?” he asked. “And what will your
sister do when you come home and announce my refusal?”
“I'll tell you, Baron. In fact, my sister required that I should
tell you, because that is to—” he giggled—“that is to have a profound
effect. We've got a nephew, I must tell you, who's a lieutenant in the
army. Well, he is to come at once and challenge you to a duel.... Well,
now, a duel is always a pretty nasty piece of business. First, there's
the scandal, and then, one might get hurt. And so my sister
thought that you'd rather——”
“Hold on, my excellent friend,” said Niebeldingk and a great weight
rolled from his heart. “You have an officer in your family? That's
splendid ... I couldn't ask anything better ... You wire him at once
and tell him that I'll be at home three days running and ready to give
him the desired explanations. I'm sorry for the poor fellow for being
mixed up in such a stupid mess, but I can't help him.”
“Why do you feel sorry for him?” the old gentleman asked. “He's as
good a marksman as you are.”
“Assuredly,” Niebeldingk returned. “Assuredly a better one.... Only
it won't come to that.”
He conducted his visitor with great ceremony into the outer hall.
The latter remained standing for a moment in the door. He grasped
Niebeldingk's hand with overflowing friendliness.
“My dear baron, you have been so nice to me and so courteous. Permit
me, in return, to offer you an old man's counsel: Be more careful about
“Well, you sent a great, costly bunch of them. That's what first
attracted my sister's attention. And when my sister gets on the track
of anything, well!” ...
He shook with pleasure at the sly blow he had thus delivered, drew
those funereal gloves of his from the crown of his hat and took his
“So it was the fault of the Indian lilies,” Niebeldingk thought,
looking after the queer old knight with an amused imprecation. That
gentleman, enlivened by the wine he had taken, pranced with a new
flexibility along the side-walk. “Like the count in Don Juan,”
Niebeldingk thought, “only newly equipped and modernised.”
The intervention of the young officer placed the whole affair upon
an intelligible basis. It remained only to treat it with entire
seriousness. Niebeldingk, according to his promise, remained at home
until sunset for three boresome days. On the morning of the fourth he
wrote a letter to the excellent old gentleman telling him that he was
tired of waiting and requesting an immediate settlement of the business
in question. Thereupon he received the following answer:
In the name of my family I declare to you herewith that I give you
over to the well-deserved contempt of your fellowmen. A man who can
hesitate to restore the honour of a loving and yielding girl is not
worthy of an alliance with our family. Hence we now sever any further
connection with you.
With that measure of esteem which you deserve,
KOHLEMAN, Retired Clerk of Court.
Best regards. Don't mind all that talk. The duel came to nothing.
Our little lieutenant besought us not to ruin him and asked that his
name be not mentioned. He has left town.”
Breathing a deep sigh of relief, Niebeldingk threw the letter aside.
Now that the affair was about to float into oblivion, he became
aware of the fact that it had weighed most heavily upon him.
And he began to feel ashamed.
He, a man who, by virtue of his name and of his wealth and, if he
would be bold, by virtue of his intellect, was able to live in some
noble and distinguished way—he passed his time with banalities that
were half sordid and half humorous. These things had their place. Youth
might find them not unfruitful of experience. They degraded a man of
If these things filled his life to-day, then the years of training
and slow maturing had surely gone for nothing. And what would become of
him if he carried these interests into his old age? His schoolmates
were masters of the great sciences, distinguished servants of the
government, influential politicians. They toiled in the sweat of their
brows and harvested the fruits of their youth's sowing.
He strove to master these discomforting thoughts, but every moment
found him more defenceless against them.
And shame changed into disgust.
To divert himself he went out into the streets and landed, finally,
in the rooms of his club. Here he was asked concerning his latest
adventure. Only a certain respect which his personality inspired saved
him from unworthy jests. And in this poverty-stricken world, where the
very lees of experience amounted to a sensation—here he wasted his
It must not last another week, not another day. So much suddenly
grew clear to him.
He hurried away. Upon the streets brooded the heat of early summer.
Masses of human beings, hot but happy, passed him in silent activity.
What was he to do?
He must marry: that admitted of no doubt. In the glow of his own
hearth he must begin a new and more tonic life.
Marry? But whom? A worn out heart can no longer be made to beat more
swiftly at the sight of some slim maiden. The senses might yet be
stirred, but that is all.
Was he to haunt watering-places and pay court to mothers on the
man-hunt in order to find favour in their daughters' eyes? Was he to
travel from estate to estate and alienate the affection of young
chatelaines from their favourite lieutenants?
He went home hopelessly enough and drowsed away the hours of the
afternoon behind drawn blinds on a hot couch.
Toward evening the postman brought a letter—in Alice's hand. Alice!
How could he have forgotten her! His first duty should have been to see
He opened the envelope, warmly grateful for her mere existence.
As you will probably not find time before you leave the city to bid
me farewell in person. I beg you to return to me a certain key which I
gave into your keeping some years ago. You have no need of it and it
worries me to have it lying about.
Don't think that I am at all angry. My friendship and my gratitude
are yours, however far and long we may be separated. When, some day, we
meet again, we will both have become different beings. With many
blessings upon your way,
He struck his forehead like a man who awakens from an obscene dream.
Where was his mind? He was about to go in search of that which was
so close at hand, so richly his own!
Where else in all the world could he find a woman so exquisitely
tempered to his needs, so intimately responsive to his desires, one who
would lead him into the darker land of matrimony through meadows of
To be sure, there was her coolness of temper, her learning, her
strange restlessness. But was not all that undergoing a change? Had he
not found her sunk in dreams? And her tears? And her kiss?
Ungrateful wretch that he was!
He had sought a home and not thought of the parrot who screamed out
his name in her dear dwelling. There was a parrot like that in the
world—and he wandered foolishly abroad. What madness! What baseness!
He would go to her at once.
But no! A merry thought struck him and a healing one.
He took the key from the wall and put it into his pocket.
He would go to her—at midnight.
He had definitely abandoned his club, the theatres were closed, the
restaurants were deserted, his brother's family was in the country. It
was not easy to pass the evening with that great resolve in his heart
and that small key in his pocket.
Until ten he drifted about under the foliage of the Tiergarten. He listened to the murmur of couples who thronged the dark benches,
regarded those who were quietly walking in the alleys and found
himself, presently, in that stream of humanity which is drawn
irresistibly toward the brightly illuminated pleasure resorts.
He was moved and happy at once. For the first time in years he felt
himself to be a member of the family of man, a humbly serving brother
in the commonweal of social purpose.
His time of proud, individualistic morality was over: the
ever-blessing institution of the family was about to gather him to its
To be sure, his wonted scepticism was not utterly silenced. But he
drove it away with a feeling of delighted comfort. He could have
shouted a blessing to the married couples in search of air, he could
have given a word of fatherly advice to the couples on the benches:
“Children, commit no indiscretions—marry!”
And when he thought of her! A mild and peaceable tenderness of which
he had never thought himself capable welled up from his and heart....
Wide gardens of Paradise seemed to open, gardens with secret grottos
and shady corners. And upon one of the palm-trees there sat
Joko—amiable beast—and said: “Rrricharrrd!”
He went over the coming scene in his imagination again and again:
Her little cry of panic when he would enter the dark room and then his
whispered reassurance: “It is I, my darling. I have come back to stay
for ever and ever.”
And then happiness, gentle and heart-felt.
If a divorce was necessary, the relatives of her husband would
probably succeed in divesting her of most of the property. What did it
matter to either of them? Was he not rich and was she not sure of him?
If need were, he could, with one stroke of the pen, repay her threefold
all that she might lose. But, indeed, these reflections were quite
futile. For when two people are so welded together in their souls,
their earthly possessions need no separation. From ten until half past
eleven he sat in a corner of the Cafe Bauer and read the paper
of his native province which, usually, he never looked at. With
childlike delight he read into the local notices and advertisements
things pertinent to his future life.
Bremsel, the delicatessen man in a neighbouring town advertised
fresh crabs. And Alice liked them. “Splendid,” he thought “we won't
have to bring them from far.” And suddenly he himself felt an appetite
for the shell-fish, so thoroughly had he lived himself into his vision
of domestic felicity.
At twenty-five minutes of twelve he paid for his chartreuse and set
out on foot. He had time to spare and he did not want to cause the
unavoidable disturbance of a cab's stopping at her door.
The house, according to his hope, was dark and silent.
With beating heart he drew forth the key which consisted of two
collapsible parts. One part was for the house door, the other for a
door in her bed-room that led to a separate entrance. He had himself
chosen the apartment with this advantage in view.
He passed the lower hall unmolested and reached the creaking stairs
which he had always hated. And as he mounted he registered an oath to
pass this way no more. He would not thus jeopardise the fair fame of
It would be bad enough if he had to rap, in case the night latch was
The outer door, at least, offered no difficulty. He touched it and
it swung loose on its hinges.
For a moment the mad idea came into his head that—in answer to her
letter—Alice might have foreseen the possibility of his coming.... He
was just about to test, by a light pressure, the knob of the inner door
when, coming from the bed-room, a muffled sound of speech reached his
One voice was Alice's: the other—his breath stopped. It was not the
maid's. He knew it well. It was the voice of Fritz von Ehrenberg.
It was over then—for him.... And again and again he murmured: “It's
He leaned weakly against the wall.
Then he listened.
This woman who could not yield with sufficient fervour to the
abandon of passionate speech and action—this was Alice, his Alice,
with her fine sobriety, her philosophic clearness of mind.
And that young fool whose mouth she closed with long kisses of
gratitude for his folly—did he realise the blessedness which had
fallen to the lot of his crude youth? It was over ... all over.
And he was so worn, so passionless, so autumnal of soul, that he
could smile wearily in the midst of his pain.
Very carefully he descended the creaking stairs, locked the door of
the house and stood on the street—still smiling.
It was over ... all over.
Her future was trodden into the mire, hers and his own.
And in this supreme moment he grew cruelly aware of his crimes
All her love, all her being during these years had been but one
secret prayer: “Hold me, do not break me, do not desert me!”
He had been deaf. He had given her a stone for bread, irony for
love, cold doubt for warm, human trust! And in the end he had even
despised her because she had striven, with touching faith, to form
herself according to his example.
It was all fatally clear—now.
Her contradictions, her lack of feeling, her haughty scepticism—all
that had chilled and estranged him had been but a dutiful reflection of
his own being.
Need he be surprised that the last remnant of her lost and corrupted
youth rose in impassioned rebellion against him and, thinking to save
itself, hurled itself to destruction?
He gave one farewell glance to the dark, silent house—the grave of
the fairest hopes of all his life. Then he set out upon long, dreary,
aimless wandering through the endless, nocturnal streets.
Like shadows the shapes of night glided by him.
Shy harlots—loud roysterers—benzin flames—more harlots—and here
and there one lost in thought even as he.
An evil odour, as of singed horses' hoofs, floated over the
city..... The dust whirled under the street-cleaning machines.
The world grew silent. He was left almost alone.....
Then the life of the awakening day began to stir. A sleepy dawn
crept over the roofs....
It was the next morning.
There would be no “next mornings” for him. That was over.
Let others send Indian lilies!
It was a blazing afternoon, late in July. The Cheruskan fraternity
entered Ellerntal in celebration of their mid-summer festivity. They
had let the great wagon stand at the outskirts of the village and now
marched up its street in well-formed procession, proud and vain as a
company of Schuetzen before whom all the world bows down once a
First came the regimental band of the nearest garrison, dressed in
civilian's clothes—then, under the vigilance of two brightly attired
freshmen, the blue, white and golden banner of the fraternity, next the
officers accompanied by other freshmen, and finally the active members
in whom the dignity, decency and fighting strength of the fraternity
were embodied. A gay little crowd of elderly gentlemen, ladies and
guests followed in less rigid order. Last came, as always and
everywhere, the barefoot children of the village. The procession came
to a halt in front of the Prussian Eagle, a long-drawn single
story structure of frame. The newly added dance hall with its three
great windows protruded loftily above the house.
The banner was lowered, the horns of the band gave wild, sharp
signals to which no one attended, and Pastor Rhode, a sedate man of
fifty dressed in the scarf and slashed cap of the order, stepped from
the inn door to pronounce the address of welcome. At this moment it
happened that one of the two banner bearers who had stood at the right
and left of the flag with naked foils, rigid as statues, slowly tilted
over forward and buried his face in the green sward.
This event naturally put an immediate end to the ceremony.
Everybody, men and women, thronged around the fallen youth and were
quickly pushed back by the medical fraternity men who were present in
various stages of professional development.
The medical wisdom of this many-headed council culminated in the
cry: “A glass of water!”
Immediately a young girl—hot-eyed and loose-haired, exquisite in
the roundedness of half maturity—rushed out of the door and handed a
glass to the gentlemen who had turned the fainting lad on his back and
were loosening scarf and collar.
He lay there, in the traditional garb of the fraternity, like a
young cavalry man of the time of the Great Elector—with his blue,
gold-braided doublet, close-fitting breeches of white leather and
mighty boots whose flapping tops swelled out over his firm thighs. He
couldn't be above eighteen or nineteen, long and broad though he was,
with his cheeks of milk and blood, that showed no sign of down, no
duelling scar. You would have thought him some mother's pet, had there
not been a sharp line of care that ran mournfully from the half-open
lips to the chin.
The cold water did its duty. Sighing, the lad opened his eyes—two
pretty blue boy's eyes, long lashed and yet a little empty of
expression as though life had delayed giving them the harder glow of
These eyes fell upon the young girl who stood there, with hands
pressed to her heaving bosom, in an ecstatic desire to help.
“Where can we carry him?” asked one of the physicians.
“Into my room,” she cried, “I'll show you the way.”
Eight strong hands took hold and two minutes later the boy lay on
the flowered cover of her bed. It was far too short for him, but it
stood, soft and comfortable, hidden by white mull curtains in a corner
of her simple room.
He was summoned back to full consciousness, tapped, auscultated and
examined. Finally he confessed with a good deal of hesitation that his
right foot hurt him a bit—that was all.
“Are the boots your own, freshie?” asked one of the physicians.
He blushed, turned his gaze to the wall and shook his head.
“Well, then, off with the wretched thing.”
But all exertion of virile strength was in vain. The boot did not
budge. Only a low moan of suffering came from the patient.
“There's nothing to be done,” said one, “little miss, let's have a
Anxious and with half-folded hands she had stood behind the doctors.
Now she rushed off and brought the desired implement.
“But you're not going to hurt him?” she asked with big, beseeching
“No, no, we're only going to cut his leg off,” jested one of the
by-standers and took the knife from her clinging fingers.
Two incisions, two rents along the shin—the leather parted. A
steady surgeon's hand guided the knife carefully over the instep. At
flesh appeared—bloody, steel-blue and badly swollen.
“Freshie, you idiot, you might have killed yourself,” said the
surgeon and gave the patient a paternal nudge. “And now, little miss,
hurry—sugar of lead bandages till evening.”
Her name was Antonie. She was the inn-keeper Wiesner's only daughter
and managed the household and kitchen because her mother had died in
the previous year.
His name was Robert Messerschmidt. He was a physician's son and a
student of medicine. He hoped to fight his way into full fraternity
membership by the beginning of the next semester. This last detail was,
at present, the most important of his life and had been confided to her
at the very beginning of their acquaintanceship.
Youth is in a hurry. At four o'clock their hands were intertwined.
At five o'clock their lips found each other. From six on the bandages
were changed more rarely. Instead they exchanged vows of eternal
fidelity. At eight a solemn betrothal took place. And when, at ten
o'clock, swaying slightly and mellow of mood, the physicians reappeared
in order to put the patient to bed properly, their wedding-day had been
definitely set for the fifth anniversary of that day. Next morning the
procession went on to celebrate in some other picturesque locality the
festival of the breakfast of “the morning after.”
Toni had run up on the hill which ascended, behind her father's
house, toward the high plateau of the river-bank. With dry but burning
eyes she looked after the wagons which gradually vanished in the
silvery sand of the road and one of which carried away into the
distance her life's whole happiness.
To be sure, she had fallen in love with everyone whom she had met.
This habit dated from her twelfth, nay, from her tenth year. But this
time it was different, oh, so different. This time it was like an
axe-blow from which one doesn't arise. Or like the fell
disease—consumption—which had dragged her mother to the grave.
She herself was more like her father, thick-set and sturdy.
She had also inherited his calculating and planning nature. With
tough tenacity he could sacrifice years of earning and saving and
planning to acquire farms and meadows and orchards. Thus the girl could
meditate and plan her fate which, until yesterday, had been fluid as
water but which to-day lay definitely anchored in the soul of a
Her education had been narrow. She knew the little that an old
governess and a comfortable pastor could teach. But she read whatever
she could get hold of—from the tattered “pony” to Homer which a boy
friend had loaned her, to the most horrible penny-dreadfuls which were
her father's delight in his rare hours of leisure.
And she assimilated what she read and adapted it to her own fate.
Thus her imagination was familiar with happiness, with delusion, with
She knew that she was beautiful. If the humility of her play-fellows
had not assured her of this fact, she would have been enlightened by
the long glances and jesting admiration of her father's guests.
Her father was strict. He interfered with ferocity if a traveller
jested with her too intimately. Nevertheless he liked to have her come
into the inn proper and slip, smiling and curtsying, past the wealthier
guests. It was not unprofitable.
Upon his short, fleshy bow-legs, with his suspiciously calculating
blink, with his avarice and his sharp tongue, he stood between her and
the world, permitting only so much of it to approach her as seemed, at
a given moment, harmless and useful.
His attitude was fatal to any free communication with her beloved.
He opened and read every letter that she had ever received. Had she
ventured to call for one at the post-office, the information would have
reached him that very day.
The problem was how to deceive him without placing herself at the
mercy of some friend.
She sat down in the arbour from which, past the trees of the orchard
and the neighbouring river, one had a view of the Russian forests, and
put the problem to her seventeen-year old brain. And while the summer
wind played with the green fruit on the boughs and the white herons
spread their gleaming wings over the river, she thought out a plan—the
first of many by which she meant to rivet her beloved for life.
On the same afternoon she asked her father's permission to invite
the daughter of the county-physician to visit her.
“Didn't know you were such great friends,” he said, surprised.
“Oh, but we are,” she pretended to be a little hurt. “We were
received into the Church at the same time.”
With lightning-like rapidity he computed the advantages that might
result from such a visit. The county-seat was four miles distant and if
the societies of veterans and marksmen in whose committees the doctor
was influential could be persuaded to come hither for their outings....
The girl was cordially invited and arrived a week later. She was
surprised and touched to find so faithful a friend in Toni who, when
they were both boarding with Pastor Rhode, had played her many a sly
Two months later the girl, in her turn, invited Toni to the city
whither she had never before been permitted to go alone and so the
latter managed to receive her lover's first letter.
What he wrote was discouraging enough. His father was ill, hence the
excellent practice was gliding into other hands and the means for his
own studies were growing narrow. If things went on so he might have to
give up his university course and take to anything to keep his mother
and sister from want.
This prospect did not please Toni. She was so proud of him. She
could not bear to have him descend in the social scale for the sake of
bread and butter. She thought and thought how she could help him with
money, but nothing occurred to her. She had to be content with
encouraging him and assuring him that her love would find ways and
means for helping him out of his difficulties.
She wrote her letters at night and jumped out of the window in order
to drop them secretly into the pillar box. It was months before she
could secure an answer. His father was better, but life in the
fraternity was very expensive, and it was a very grave question whether
he had not better resign the scarf which he had just gained and study
on as a mere “barb.”
In Toni's imagination the picture of her beloved was brilliantly
illuminated by the glory of the tricoloured fraternity scarf, his
desire for it had become so ardently her own, that she could not bear
the thought of him—his yearning satisfied—returning to the gray
commonplace garb of Philistia. And so she wrote him.
Spring came and Toni matured to statelier maidenhood. The plump
girl, half-child, droll and naive, grew to be a thoughtful, silent
young woman, secretive and very sure of her aims. She condescended to
the guests and took no notice of the desperate admiration which
surrounded her. Her glowing eyes looked into emptiness, her infinitely
tempting mouth smiled carelessly at friends and strangers.
In May Robert's father died.
She read it in one of the papers that were taken at the inn, and
immediately it became clear to her that her whole future was at stake.
For if he was crushed now by the load of family cares, if hope were
taken from him, no thought of her or her love would be left. Only if
she could redeem her promises and help him practically could she hope
to keep him. In the farthest corner of a rarely opened drawer lay her
mother's jewels which were some day to be hers—brooches and rings, a
golden chain, and a comb set with rubies which had found its
way—heaven knows how—into the simple inn.
Without taking thought she stole the whole and sent it as
merchandise—not daring to risk the evidence of registration—to help
him in his studies. The few hundred marks that the jewellery would
bring would surely keep him until the end of the semester ... but what
And again she thought and planned all through the long, hot nights.
Pastor Rhode's eldest son, a frail, tall junior who followed her,
full of timid passion, came home from college for the spring vacation.
In the dusk he crept around the inn as had been his wont for years.
This time he had not long to wait.
How did things go at college? Badly. Would he enter the senior class
at Michaelmas? Hardly. Then she would have to be ashamed of him, and
that would be a pity: she liked him too well.
The slim lad writhed under this exquisite torture. It wasn't his
fault. He had pains in his chest, and growing pains. And all that.
She unfolded her plan.
“You ought to have a tutor during the long vacation, Emil, to help
“Papa can do that.”
“Oh, Papa is busy. You ought to have a tutor all to yourself, a
student or something like that. If you're really fond of me ask your
Papa to engage one. Perhaps he'll get a young man from his own
fraternity with whom he can chat in the evening. You will ask, won't
you? I don't like people who are conditioned in their studies.”
That same night a letter was sent to her beloved.
“Watch the frat. bulletin! Our pastor is going to look for a tutor
for his boy. See to it that you get the position. I'm longing to see
Once more it was late July—exactly a year after those memorable
events—and he sat in the stage-coach and took off his crape-hung cap
to her. His face was torn by fresh scars and diagonally across his
breast the blue white golden scarf was to be seen.
She grasped the posts of the fence with both hands and felt that she
would die if she could not have him.
Upon that evening she left the house no more, although for two hours
he walked the dusty village street, with Emil, but also alone. But on
the next evening she stood behind the fence. Their hands found each
other across the obstacle.
“Do you sleep on the ground-floor?” she asked whispering.
“Does the dog still bark when he sees you.”
“I don't know, I'm afraid so.”
“When you've made friends with him so that he won't bark when you
get out of the window, then come to the arbour behind our orchard. I'll
wait for you every night at twelve. But don't mind that. Don't come
till you're sure of the dog.”
For three long nights she sat on the wooden bench of the arbour
until the coming of dawn and stared into the bluish dusk that hid the
village as in a cloak. From time to time the dogs bayed. She could
distinguish the bay of the pastor's collie. She knew his hoarse voice.
Perhaps he was barring her beloved's way....
At last, during the fourth night, when his coming was scarcely to be
hoped for, uncertain steps dragged up the hill.
She did not run to meet him. She crouched in the darkest corner of
the arbour and tasted, intensely blissful, the moments during which he
felt his way through the foliage.
Then she clung to his neck, to his lips, demanding and according
all—rapt to the very peaks of life....
They were together nightly. Few words passed between them. She
scarcely knew how he looked. For not even a beam of the moon could
penetrate the broad-leaved foliage, and at the peep of dawn they
separated. She might have lain in the arms of a stranger and not known
And not only during their nightly meetings, but even by day they
slipt through life-like shadows. One day the pastor came to the inn for
a glass of beer and chatted with other gentlemen. She heard him.
“I don't know what's the matter with that young fellow,” he said.
“He does his duty and my boy is making progress. But he's like a
stranger from another world. He sits at the table and scarcely sees us.
He talks and you have the feeling that he doesn't know what he's
talking about. Either he's anaemic or he writes poetry.”
She herself saw the world through a blue veil, heard the voices of
life across an immeasurable distance and felt hot, alien shivers run
through her enervated limbs.
The early Autumn approached and with it the day of his departure. At
last she thought of discussing the future with him which, until then,
like all else on earth, had sunk out of sight.
His mother, he told her, meant to move to Koenigsberg and earn her
living by keeping boarders. Thus there was at least a possibility of
his continuing his studies. But he didn't believe that he would be able
to finish. His present means would soon be exhausted and he had no idea
where others would come from.
All that he told her in the annoyed and almost tortured tones of one
long weary of hope who only staggers on in fear of more vital
With flaming words she urged him to be of good courage. She insisted
upon such resources as—however frugal—were, after all, at hand, and
calculated every penny. She shrugged her shoulders at his gratitude for
that first act of helpfulness. If only there were something else to be
taken. But whence and how? Her suspicious father would have observed
any shortage in his till at once and would have had the thief
The great thing was to gain time. Upon her advice he was to leave
Koenigsberg with its expensive fraternity life and pass the winter in
Berlin. The rest had to be left to luck and cunning.
In a chill, foggy September night they said farewell. Shivering they
held each other close. Their hearts were full of the confused hopes
which they themselves had kindled, not because there was any ground for
hope, but because without it one cannot live.
And a few weeks later everything came to an end.
For Toni knew of a surety that she would be a mother....
Into the river!
For that her father would put her in the street was clear. It was
equally clear what would become of her in that case....
But no, not into the river! Why was her young head so practised in
skill and cunning, if it was to bow helplessly under the first severe
onslaught of fate? What was the purpose of those beautiful long nights
but to brood upon plans and send far thoughts out toward shining aims?
No, she would not run into the river. That dear wedding-day in five,
nay, in four years, was lost anyhow. But the long time could be
utilised so cleverly that her beloved could be dragged across the abyss
of his fate.
First, then, she must have a father for her child. He must not be
clever. He must not be strong of will. Nor young, for youth makes
demands. ... Nor well off, for he who is certain of himself desires
freedom of choice.
Her choice fell upon a former inn-keeper, a down-hearted man of
about fifty, moist of eye, faded, with greasy black hair.... He had
failed in business some years before and now sat around in the inn,
looking for a job....
To this her father did not object. For that man's condition was an
excellent foil to his own success and prosperity and thus he was
permitted, at times, to stay a week in the house where, otherwise,
charity was scarcely at home.
Her plan worked well. On the first day she lured him silently on. On
the second he responded. On the third she turned sharply and rebuked
him. On the fourth she forgave him. On the fifth she met him in secret.
On the sixth he went on a journey, conscience smitten for having
That very night—for there was no time to be lost—she confessed
with trembling and blushing to her father that she was overcome by an
unconquerable passion for Herr Weigand. As was to be expected she was
driven from the door with shame and fury.
During the following weeks she went about bathed in tears. Her
father avoided her. Then, when the right moment seemed to have come,
she made a second and far more difficult confession. This time her
tremours and her blushes were real, her tears were genuine for her
father used a horse-whip.... But when, that night, Toni sat on the edge
of her bed and bathed the bloody welts on her body, she knew that her
plan would succeed.
And, to be sure, two days later Herr Weigand returned—a little more
faded, a little more hesitant, but altogether, by no means unhappy. He
was invited into her father's office for a long discussion. The result
was that the two lovers fell into each others' arms while her father,
trembling with impotent rage, hurled at them the fragments of a crushed
The banns were proclaimed immediately after the betrothal, and a
month later Herr Weigand, in his capacity of son-in-law, could take
possession of the same garret which he had inhabited as an impecunious
guest. This arrangement, however, was not a permanent one. An inn was
to be rented for the young couple—with her father's money.
Toni, full of zeal and energy, took part in every new undertaking,
travelled hither and thither, considered prospects and dangers, but
always withdrew again at the last moment in order to await a fairer
But she was utterly set upon the immediate furnishing of the new
home. She went to Koenigsberg and had long sessions with furniture
dealers and tradesmen of all kinds. On account of her delicate
condition she insisted that she could only travel on the upholstered
seats of the second class. She charged her father accordingly and in
reality travelled fourth class and sat for hours between market-women
and Polish Jews in order to save a few marks. In the accounts she
rendered heavy meals were itemized, strengthening wines, stimulating
cordials. As a matter of fact, she lived on dried slices of bread
which, before leaving home, she hid in her trunk.
She did not disdain the saving of a tram car fare, although the
rebates which she got on the furniture ran into the hundreds.
All that she sent jubilantly to her lover in Berlin, assured that he
was provided for some months.
Thus the great misfortune had finally resulted in a blessing. For,
without these unhoped for resources, he must have long fallen by the
Months passed. Her furnishings stood in a storage warehouse, but the
house in which they were to live was not yet found.
When she felt that her hour had come—her father and husband thought
it far off—she redoubled the energy of her travels, seeking,
preferably, rough and ribbed roads which other women in her condition
were wont to shun.
And thus, one day, in a springless vehicle, two miles distant from
the county-seat, the pains of labour came upon her. She steeled every
nerve and had herself carried to the house of the county-physician
whose daughter was now tenderly attached to her.
There she gave birth to a girl child which announced its equivocal
arrival in this world lustily.
The old doctor, into whose house this confusion had suddenly come,
stood by her bed-side, smiling good-naturedly. She grasped him with
both hands, terror in her eyes and in her voice.
“Dear, dear doctor! The baby was born too soon, wasn't it?”
The doctor drew back and regarded her long and earnestly. Then his
smile returned and his kind hand touched her hair.
“Yes, it is as you say. The baby's nails are not fully developed and
its weight is slightly below normal. It's all on account of your
careless rushing about. Surely the child came too soon.”
And he gave her the proper certification of the fact which protected
her from those few people who might consider themselves partakers of
her secret. For the opinion of people in general she cared little. So
strong had she grown through guilt and silence.
And she was a child of nineteen! ...
When Toni had arisen from her bed of pain she found the place which
she and her husband had been seeking for months with surprising
rapidity. The “Hotel Germania,” the most reputable hotel in the
county-seat itself was for rent. Its owner had recently died. It was
palatial compared to her father's inn. There were fifteen rooms for
guests, a tap-room, a wine-room, a grocery-shop and a livery-stable.
Weigand, intimidated by misfortune, had never even hoped to aspire
to such heights of splendour. Even now he could only grasp the measure
of his happiness by calculating enormous profits. And he did this with
peculiar delight. For, since the business was to be run in the name of
Toni's father, his own creditors could not touch him.
When they had moved in and the business began to be straightened
out, Weigand proved himself in flat contradiction of his slack and
careless character, a tough and circumspect man of business. He knew
the whereabouts of every penny and was not inclined to permit his wife
to make random inroads upon his takings.
Toni, who had expected to be undisputed mistress of the safe saw
herself cheated of her dearest hopes, for the time approached when the
savings made on the purchase of her furniture must necessarily be
And again she planned and wrestled through the long, warm nights
while her husband, whose inevitable proximity she bore calmly, snored
with the heaviness of many professional “treats.”
One day she said to him: “A few pennies must be put by for Amanda.”
That was the name of the little girl who flourished merrily in her
cradle. “You must assign some little profits to me.”
“What can I do?” he asked. “For the present everything belongs to
the old man.”
“I know what I'd like,” she went on, smiling dreamily, “I'd like to
have all the profits on the sale of champagne.”
He laughed heartily. There wasn't much call for champagne in the
little county-seat. At most a few bottles were sold on the emperor's
birthday or when, once in a long while, a flush commercial traveller
wanted to regale a recalcitrant customer.
And so Weigand fell in with what he thought a mere mood and
Toni at once made a trip to Koenigsberg and bought all kinds of
phantastic decorations—Chinese lanterns, gilt fans, artificial
flowers, gay vases and manicoloured lamp-shades. With all these things
she adorned the little room that lay behind the room in which the most
distinguished townspeople were wont to drink their beer. And so the
place with veiled light and crimson glow looked more like a mysterious
oriental shrine than the sitting-room of an honest Prussian
She sat evening after evening in this phantastic room. She brought
her knitting and awaited the things that were to come.
The gentlemen who drank in the adjoining room, the judges,
physicians, planters—all the bigwigs of a small town, in short—soon
noticed the magical light that glimmered through the half-open door
whenever Weigand was obliged to pass from the public rooms into his
private dwelling. And the men grew to be curious, the more so as the
inn-keeper's young wife, of whose charms many rumours were afloat, had
never yet been seen by any.
One evening, when the company was in an especially hilarious mood,
the men demanded stormily to see the mysterious room.
Weigand hesitated. He would have to ask his wife's permission. He
returned with the friendly message that the gentlemen were welcome.
Hesitant, almost timid, they entered as if crossing the threshold of
some house of mystery.
There stood—transfigured by the glow of coloured lamps—the shapely
young woman with the alluring glow in her eyes, and her lips that were
in the form of a heart. She gave each a secretly quivering hand and
spoke a few soft words that seemed to distinguish him from the others.
Then, still timid and modest, she asked them to be seated and begged
for permission to serve a glass of champagne in honour of the occasion.
It is not recorded who ordered the second bottle. It may have been
the very fat Herr von Loffka, or the permanently hilarious judge. At
all events the short visit of the gentlemen came to an end at three
o'clock in the morning with wild intoxication and a sale of eighteen
bottles of champagne, of which half bore French labels.
Toni resisted all requests for a second invitation to her sanctum.
She first insisted on the solemn assurance that the gentlemen would
respect her presence and bring neither herself nor her house into
ill-repute. At last came the imperial county-counsellor himself—a
wealthy bachelor of fifty with the manners of an injured lady killer.
He came to beg for himself and the others and she dared not refuse any
The champagne festivals continued. With this difference: that Toni,
whenever the atmosphere reached a certain point of heated intoxication,
modestly withdrew to her bed-room. Thus she succeeded not only in
holding herself spotless but in being praised for her retiring nature.
But she kindled a fire in the heads of these dissatisfied University
men who deemed themselves banished into a land of starvation, and in
the senses of the planters' sons. And this fire burned on and created
about her an atmosphere of madly fevered desire....
Finally it became the highest mark of distinction in the little
town, the sign of real connoisseurship in life, to have drunk a bottle
of champagne with “Germania,” as they called her, although she bore
greater resemblance to some swarthier lady of Rome. Whoever was not
admitted to her circle cursed his lowliness and his futile life.
Of course, in spite of all precautions, it could not but be that her
reputation suffered. The daughter of the county-physician began to
avoid her, the wives of social equals followed suit. But no one dared
accuse her of improper relations with any of her adorers. It was even
known that the county-counsellor, desperate over her stern refusals,
was urging her to get a divorce from her husband and marry him. No one
suspected, of course, that she had herself spread this rumour in order
to render pointless the possible leaking out of improprieties....
Nor did any one dream that a bank in Koenigsberg transmitted, in her
name, monthly cheques to Berlin that sufficed amply to help an
ambitious medical student to continue his work.
The news which she received from her beloved was scanty.
In order to remain in communication with him she had thought out a
The house of every tradesman or business man in the provinces is
flooded with printed advertisements from Berlin which pour out over the
small towns and the open country. Of this printed matter, which is
usually thrown aside unnoticed, Toni gathered the most voluminous
examples, carefully preserved the envelopes, and sent them to Robert.
Her husband did not notice of course that the same advertising matter
came a second time nor that faint, scarce legible pencil marks picked
out words here and there which, when read consecutively, made complete
sense and differed very radically from the message which the printed
slips were meant to convey....
Years passed. A few ship-wrecked lives marked Toni's path, a few
female slanders against her were avenged by the courts. Otherwise
nothing of import took place.
And in her heart burned with never-lessening glow the one great
emotion which always supplied fuel to her will, which lent every action
a pregnant significance and furnished absolution for every crime.
In the meantime Amanda grew to be a blue-eyed, charming
child—gentle and caressing and the image of the man of whose love she
was the impassioned gift.
But Fate, which seems to play its gigantic pranks upon men in the
act of punishing them, brought it to pass that the child seemed also to
bear some slight resemblance to the stranger who, bowed and servile,
stupidly industrious, sucking cigars, was to be seen at her mother's
Never was father more utterly devoted to the fruit of his loins than
this gulled fellow to the strange child to whom the mother did not
even—by kindly inactivity—give him a borrowed right. The more
carefully she sought to separate the child from him, the more adoringly
and tenaciously did he cling to it.
With terror and rage Toni was obliged to admit to herself that no
sum would ever suffice to make Weigand agree to a divorce that
separated him definitely from the child. And dreams and visions,
transplanted into her brain from evil books, filled Toni's nights with
the glitter of daggers and the stain of flowing blood. And fate seemed
to urge on the day when these dreams must take on flesh....
One day she found in the waste-paper basket which she searched
carefully after every mail-delivery, an advertisement which commended
to the buying public a new make of type-writer.
“Many public institutions,” thus the advertisement ran, “use our
well tried machines in their offices, because these machines will bear
the most rigid examination. Their reputation has crossed the ocean. The
Chilean ministry has just ordered a dozen of our 'Excelsiors' by cable.
Thus successfully does our invention spread over the world. And yet its
victorious progress is by no means completed. Even in Japan—” and so
If one looked at this stuff very carefully, one could observe that
certain words were lightly marked in pencil. And if one read these
words consecutively, the following sentence resulted:
From this day on the room with the veiled lamps remained closed to
her eager friends. From this day on the generous county-counsellor saw
that his hopes were dead....
How was the man to be disposed of?
An open demand for divorce would have been stupid, for it would have
thrown a very vivid suspicion upon any later and more drastic attempt.
Weigand's walk and conversation were blameless. Her one hope
consisted in catching him in some chance infidelity. The desire for
change, she reasoned, the allurement of forbidden fruit, must inflame
even this wooden creature.
She had never, hitherto, paid the slightest attention to the problem
of waitresses. Now she travelled to Koenigsberg and hired the
handsomest women to be found in the employment bureaus. They came, one
after another, a feline Polish girl, a smiling, radiantly blond child
of Sweden—a Venus, a Germania—this time a genuine one. Next came a
pretended Circassian princess. And they all wandered off again, and
Weigand had no glance for them but that of the master.
Antonie was discouraged and dropped her plan.
She had recoiled from no baseness. She had sacrificed to her love
honour, self-respect, truth, righteousness and pride. But she had
avoided hitherto the possibility of a conflict with the law. Occasional
small thefts in the house did not count.
But the day had come when crime itself, crime that threatened
remorse and the sword of judgment, entered her life. For otherwise she
could not get rid of her husband.
The regions that lie about the eastern boundary of the empire are
haunted by Jewish peddlers who carry in their sacks Russian drops,
candied fruits, gay ribands, toys made of bark, and other pleasant
things which make them welcome to young people. But they also supply
sterner needs. In the bottom of their sacks are hidden love philtres
and strange electuaries. And if you press them very determinedly, you
will find some among them who have the little white powders that can be
poured into beer ... or the small, round discs which the common folk
call “crow's eyes” and which the greedy apothecaries will not sell you
merely for the reason that they prepare the costlier strychnine from
You will often see these beneficent men in the twilight in secret
colloquy with female figures by garden-gates and the edges of woods.
The female figures slip away if you happen to appear on the road....
Often, too, these men are asked into the house and intimate council is
held with them—especially when husband and servants are busy in the
One evening in the beginning of May, Toni brought home with her from
a harmless walk a little box of arsenic and a couple of small, hard
discs that rattled merrily in one's pocket.... Cold sweat ran down her
throat and her legs trembled so that she had to sit down on a case of
soap before entering the house.
Her husband asked her what was wrong.
“Ah, it's the spring,” she answered and laughed.
Soon her adorers noticed, and not these only, that her loveliness
increased from day to day. Her eyes which, under their depressed brows,
had assumed a sharp and peering gaze, once more glowed with their
primal fire, and a warm rosiness suffused her cheeks that spread
marvelously to her forehead and throat.
Her appearance made so striking an impression that many a one who
had not seen her for a space stared at her and asked, full of
admiration: “What have you done to yourself?”
“It is the spring,” she answered and laughed.
As a matter of fact she had taken to eating arsenic.
She had been told that any one who becomes accustomed to the use of
this poison can increase the doses to such an extent that he can take
without harm a quantity that will necessarily kill another. And she had
made up her mind to partake of the soup which she meant, some day, to
prepare for her husband. That much she held to be due a faultless claim
But she was unfortunate enough to make a grievous mistake one day,
and lay writhing on the floor in uncontrollable agony.
The old physician at once recognized the symptoms of arsenic
poisoning, prescribed the necessary antidotes and carefully dragged her
back into life. The quantity she had taken, he declared, shaking his
head, was enough to slay a strong man. He transmitted the information
of the incident as demanded by law.
Detectives and court-messengers visited the house. The entire
building was searched, documents had to be signed and all reports were
carefully followed up.
The dear romantic public refused to be robbed of its opinion that
one of Toni's rejected admirers had thus sought to avenge himself. The
suspicion of the authorities, however, fastened itself upon a waitress,
a plump, red-haired wanton who had taken the place of the imported
beauties and whose insolent ugliness the men of the town, relieved of
nobler delights, enjoyed thoroughly. The insight of the investigating
judge had found in the girl's serving in the house and her apparent
intimacy with its master a scent which he would by no means abandon.
Only, because a few confirmatory details were still to seek, the
suspicion was hidden not only from the public but even from its object.
Antonie, however, ailed continually. She grew thin, her digestion
was delicate. If the blow was to be struck—and many circumstances
urged it—she would no longer be able to share the poison with her
victim. But it seemed fairly certain that suspicion would very
definitely fall not upon her but upon the other woman. The latter would
have to be sacrificed, so much was clear.
But that was the difficulty. The wounded conscience might recover,
the crime might be conquered into forgetfulness, if only that is slain
which burdens the earth, which should never have been. But Toni felt
that her soul could not drag itself to any bourne of peace if, for her
own advantage, she cast one who was innocent to lasting and
The simplest thing would have been to dismiss the woman. In that
case, however, it was possible that the courts would direct their
investigations to her admirers. One of them had spoken hasty and
careless words. He might not be able to clear himself, were the
accusation directed against him.
There remained but one hope: to ascribe the unavertible death of her
husband to some accident, some heedlessness. And so she directed her
unwavering purpose to this end.
The Polish peddler had slipped into Toni's hand not only the arsenic
but also the deadly little discs called “crow's eyes.” These must help
her, if used with proper care and circumspection.
One day while little Amanda was playing in the yard with other
girls, she found among the empty kerosene barrels a few delightful,
silvery discs, no larger then a ten pfennig piece. With great delight
she brought them to her mother who, attending to her knitting, had
ceased for a moment to watch the children.
“What's that, Mama?”
“I don't know, my darling.”
“May we play with them?”
“What would you like to play?”
“We want to throw them.”
“No, don't do that. But I'll make you a new doll-carriage and these
will be lovely wheels.”
The children assented and Amanda brought a pair of scissors in order
to make holes in the little wheels. But they were too hard and the
points of the blades slipped.
“Ask father to use his small gimlet.”
Amanda ran to the open window behind which he for whom all this was
prepared was quietly making out his monthly bills.
Toni's breath failed. If he recognised the poisonous fruits, it was
all over with her plan. But the risk was not to be avoided.
He looked at the discs for a moment. And yet for another. No, he did
not know their nature but was rather pleased with them. It did not even
occur to him to warn the little girl to beware of the unknown fruit.
He called into the shop ordering an apprentice to bring him a
tool-case. The boy in his blue apron came and Toni observed that his
eyes rested upon the fruits for a perceptible interval. Thus there was,
in addition to the children, another witness and one who would be
admitted to oath.
Weigand bored holes into four of the discs and threw them, jesting
kindly, into the children's apron. The others he kept. “He has
pronounced his own condemnation,” Toni thought as with trembling
fingers she mended an old toy to fit the new wheels.
Nothing remained but to grind the proper dose with cinnamon, to
sweeten it—according to instructions—and spice a rice-pudding
But fate which, in this delicate matter, had been hostile to her
from the beginning, ordained it otherwise.
For that very evening came the apothecary, not, as a rule, a timid
person. He was pale and showed Weigand the fruits. He had, by the
merest hair-breadth, prevented his little girl Marie from nibbling one
The rest followed as a matter of course. The new wheels were taken
from the doll-carriage, all fragments were carefully sought out and all
the discs were given to the apothecary who locked them into his safe.
“The red-headed girl must be sacrificed after all,” Toni thought.
She planned and schemed, but she could think of no way by which the
waitress could be saved from that destruction which hung over her.
There was no room for further hesitation. The path had to be trodden
to its goal. Whether she left corpses on the way-side, whether she
herself broke down dead at the goal—it did not matter. That plan of
her life which rivetted her fate to her beloved's forever demanded that
The old physician came hurrying to the inn next morning. He was
utterly confounded by the scarcely escaped horrors.
“You really look,” he said to Toni, “as if you had swallowed some of
the stuff, too.”
“Oh, I suppose my fate will overtake me in the end,” she answered
with a weary smile. “I feel it in my bones: there will be some
misfortune in our house.”
“For heaven's sake!” he cried, “Put that red-headed beast into the
“It isn't she! I'll take my oath on that,” she said eagerly and
thought that she had done a wonderfully clever thing.
She waited in suspense, fearing that the authorities would take a
closer look at this last incident. She was equipped for any
search—even one that might penetrate to her own bed-room. For she had
put false bottoms into the little medicine-boxes. Beneath these she
kept the arsenic. On top lay harmless magnesia. The boxes themselves
stood on her toilet-table, exposed to all eyes and hence withdrawn from
She waited till evening, but nobody came. And yet the connection
between this incident and the former one seemed easy enough to
establish. However that might be, she assigned the final deed to the
very next day. And why wait? An end had to be made of this torture of
hesitation which, at every new scruple, seemed to freeze her very
heart's blood. Furthermore the finding of the “crow's eyes” would be of
use in leading justice astray.
To-morrow, then ... to-morrow....
Weigand had gone to bed early. But Toni sat behind the door of the
public room and, through a slit of the door, listened to every movement
of the waitress. She had kept near her all evening. She scarcely knew
why. But a strange, dull hope would not die in her—a hope that
something might happen whereby her unsuspecting victim and herself
might both be saved.
The clock struck one. The public rooms were all but empty. Only a
few young clerks remained. These were half-drunk and made rough
advances to the waitress.
She resisted half-serious, half-jesting.
“You go out and cool yourselves in the night-air. I don't care about
such fellows as you.”
“I suppose you want only counts and barons,” one of them taunted
her. “I suppose you wouldn't even think the county-counsellor good
“That's my affair,” she answered, “as to who is good enough for me.
I have my choice. I can get any man I want.”
They laughed at her and she flew into a rage.
“If you weren't such a beggarly crew and had anything to bet, I'd
wager you any money that I'd seduce any man I want in a week. In a
week, do I say? In three days! Just name the man.”
Antonie quivered sharply and then sank with closed eyes, against the
back of her chair. A dream of infinite bliss stole through her being.
Was there salvation for her in this world? Could this coarse creature
accomplish that in which beauty and refinement had failed?
Could she be saved from becoming a murderess? Would it be granted
her to remain human, with a human soul and a human face?
But this was no time for tears or weakening.
With iron energy she summoned all her strength and quietude and
wisdom. The moment was a decisive one.
When the last guests had gone and all servants, too, had gone to
their rest, she called the waitress, with some jesting reproach, into
A long whispered conversation followed. At its end the woman
declared that the matter was child's play to her.
And did not suspect that by this game she was saving her life.
In hesitant incredulity Antonie awaited the things that were to
On the first day a staggering thing happened. The red-headed woman,
scolding at the top of her voice, threw down a beer-glass at her
master's feet, upon which he immediately gave her notice.
Toni's newly-awakened hope sank. The woman had boasted. And what was
worse than all: if the final deed could be accomplished, her compact
with the waitress would damn her. The woman would of course use this
weapon ruthlessly. The affair had never stood so badly.
But that evening she breathed again. For Weigand declared that the
waitress seemed to have her good qualities too and her heart-felt
prayers had persuaded him to keep her.
For several days nothing of significance took place except that
Weigand, whenever he mentioned the waitress, peered curiously aside.
And this fact Toni interpreted in a favorable light.
Almost a week passed. Then, one day, the waitress approached Toni at
an unwonted hour.
“If you'll just peep into my room this afternoon....”
Toni followed directions.... The poor substitute crept down the
stairs—caught and powerless. He followed his wife who knelt sobbing
beside their bed. She was not to be comforted, nor to be moved. She
repulsed him and wept and wept.
Weigand had never dreamed that he was so passionately loved. The
more violent was the anger of the deceived wife.... She demanded
divorce, instant divorce....
He begged and besought and adjured. In vain.
Next he enlisted the sympathy of his father-in-law who had taken no
great interest in the business during these years, but was content if
the money he had invested in it paid the necessary six per cent.
The old man came immediately and made a scene with his recalcitrant
daughter.... There was the splendid business and the heavy investment!
She was not to think that he would give her one extra penny. He would
simply withdraw his capital and let her and the child starve.
Toni did not even deign to reply.
The suit progressed rapidly. The unequivocal testimony of the
waitress rendered any protest nugatory.
Three months later Toni put her possessions on a train, took her
child, whom the deserted father followed with an inarticulate moan, and
travelled to Koenigsberg where she rented a small flat in order to
await in quiet the reunion with her beloved.
The latter was trying to work up a practice in a village close to
the Russian border. He wrote that things were going slowly and that,
hence, he must be at his post night and day. So soon as he had the
slightest financial certainty for his wife and child, he would come for
And so she awaited the coming of her life's happiness. She had
little to do, and passed many happy hours in imagining how he would
rush in—by yonder passage—through this very door—tall and slender
and impassioned and press her to his wildly throbbing heart. And ever
again, though she knew it to be a foolish dream, did she see the blue
white golden scarf upon his chest and the blue and gold cap upon his
Lonely widows—even those of the divorced variety—find friends and
ready sympathy in the land of good hearts. But Antonie avoided everyone
who sought her society. Under the ban of her great secret purpose she
had ceased to regard men and women except as they could be turned into
the instruments of her will. And her use for them was over. As for
their merely human character and experience—Toni saw through these at
once. And it all seemed to her futile and trivial in the fierce
reflection of those infernal fires through which she had had to pass.
Adorned like a bride and waiting—thus she lived quietly and
modestly on the means which her divorced husband—in order to keep his
own head above water—managed to squeeze out of the business.
Suddenly her father died. People said that his death was due to
unconquerable rage over her folly....
She buried him, bearing herself all the while with blameless filial
piety and then awoke to the fact that she was rich.
She wrote to her beloved: “Don't worry another day. We are in a
position to choose the kind of life that pleases us.”
He wired back: “Expect me to-morrow.”
Full of delight and anxiety she ran to the mirror and discovered for
the thousandth time, that she was beautiful again. The results of
poisoning had disappeared, crime and degradation had burned no marks
into her face. She stood there—a ruler of life. Her whole being seemed
sure of itself, kindly, open. Only the wild glance might, at times,
betray the fact that there was much to conceal.
She kept wakeful throughout the night, as she had done through many
another. Plan after plan passed through her busy brain. It was with an
effort that she realised the passing of such grim necessities.
A bunch of crysanthemums stood on the table, asters in vases on
dresser and chiffonier—colourful and scentless.
Antonie wore a dress of black lace that had been made by the best
dressmaker in the city for this occasion. In festive array she desired
to meet her beloved and yet not utterly discard the garb of filial
grief. But she had dressed the child in white, with white silk
stockings and sky-blue ribands. It was to meet its father like the
incarnate spirit of approaching happiness.
From the kitchen came the odours of the choicest autumn
dishes—roast duck with apples and a grape-cake, such as she alone knew
how to prepare. Two bottles of precious Rhine wine stood in the cool
without the window. She did not want to welcome him with champagne. The
memories of its subtle prickling, and of much else connected therewith,
If he left his village at six in the morning he must arrive at noon.
And she waited even as she had waited seven years. This morning
seven hours had been left, there were scarcely seven minutes now. And
then—the door-bell rang.
“That is the new uncle,” she said to Amanda who was handling her
finery, flattered and astonished, and she wondered to note her brain
grow suddenly so cool and clear.
A gentleman entered. A strange gentleman. Wholly strange. Had she
met him on the street she would not have known him.
He had grown old—forty, fifty, an hundred years. Yet his real age
could not be over twenty-eight! ...
He had grown fat. He carried a little paunch about with him, round
and comfortable. And the honourable scars gleamed in round red cheeks.
His eyes seemed small and receding....
And when he said: “Here I am at last,” it was no longer the old
voice, clear and a little resonant, which had echoed and re-echoed in
her spiritual ear. He gurgled as though he had swallowed dumplings.
But when he took her hand and smiled, something slipt into his
face—something affectionate and quiet, empty and without guile or
Where was she accustomed to this smile? To be sure; in Amanda. An
And for the sake of this empty smile an affectionate feeling for
this stranger came into her heart. She helped him take off his
overcoat. He wore a pair of great, red-lined rubber goloshes, typical
of the country doctor. He took these off carefully and placed them with
their toes toward the wall.
“He has grown too pedantic,” she thought.
Then all three entered the room. When Toni saw him in the light of
day she missed the blue white golden scarf at once. But it would have
looked comical over his rounded paunch. And yet its absence
disillusioned her. It seemed to her as if her friend had doffed the
halo for whose sake she had served him and looked up to him so long.
As for him, he regarded her with unconcealed admiration.
“Well, well, one can be proud of you!” he said, sighing deeply, and
it almost seemed as if with this sigh a long and heavy burden lifted
itself from his soul.
“He was afraid he might have to be ashamed of me,” she thought
rebelliously. As if to protect herself she pushed the little girl
“Here is Amanda,” she said, and added with a bitter smile: “Perhaps
But he didn't even suspect the nature of that which she wanted to
make him feel.
“Oh, I've brought something for you, little one!” he cried with the
delight of one who recalls an important matter in time. With measured
step he trotted back into the hall and brought out a flat paste-board
box tied with pink ribands. He opened it very carefully and revealed a
layer of chocolate-creams wrapped in tin-foil and offered one to
And this action seemed to him, obviously, to satisfy all
requirements in regard to his preliminary relations to the child.
Antonie felt the approach of a head-ache such as she had now and
then ever since the arsenic poisoning.
“You are probably hungry, dear Robert,” she said.
He wouldn't deny that. “If one is on one's legs from four o'clock in
the morning on, you know, and has nothing in one's stomach but a couple
of little sausages, you know!”
He said all that with the same cheerfulness that seemed to come to
him as a matter of course and yet did not succeed in wholly hiding an
They sat down at the table and Antonie, taking pleasure in seeing to
his comfort, forgot for a moment the foolish ache that tugged at her
body and at her soul.
The wine made him talkative. He related everything that interested
him—his professional trips across country, the confinements that
sometimes came so close together that he had to spend twenty-four hours
in his buggy. Then he told of the tricks by which people whose lives he
had just saved sought to cheat him out of his modest fees. And he told
also of the comfortable card-parties with the judge and the village
priest. And how funny it was when the inn-keeper's tame starling
promenaded on the cards....
Every word told of cheerful well-being and unambitious contentment.
“He doesn't think of our common future,” a torturing suspicion
whispered to her.
But he did.
“I should like to have you try, first of all, Toni, to live there.
It isn't easy. But we can both stand a good deal, thank God, and if we
don't like it in the end, why, we can move away.”
And he said that so simply and sincerely that her suspicion
And with this returning certitude there returned, too, the ambition
which she had always nurtured for him.
“How would it be if we moved to Berlin, or somewhere where there is
“And maybe aim at a professorship?” he cried with cheerful irony.
“No, Tonichen, all your money can't persuade me to that. I crammed
enough in that damned medical school, I've got my income and that's
good enough for me.”
A feeling of disgust came over her. She seemed to perceive the
stuffy odour of unventilated rooms and of decaying water in which
flowers had stood.
“That is what I suffered for,” involuntarily the thought came, “
After dinner when Amanda was sleeping off the effects of the little
sip of wine which she had taken when they let her clink glasses with
them, they sat opposite each other beside the geraniums of the
window-box and fell silent. He blew clouds of smoke from his cigar into
the air and seemed not disinclined to indulge in a nap, too.
Leaning back in her wicker chair she observed him uninterruptedly.
At one moment it seemed to her as though she caught an intoxicating
remnant of the slim, pallid lad to whom she had given her love. And
then again came the corroding doubt: “Was it for him, for him....” And
then a great fear oppressed her heart, because this man seemed to live
in a world which she could not reach in a whole life's pilgrimage.
Walls had arisen between them, doors had been bolted—doors that rose
from the depths of the earth to the heights of heaven.... As he sat
there, surrounded by the blue smoke of his cigar, he seemed more and
more to recede into immeasurable distances....
Then, suddenly, as if an inspiration had come to him, he pulled
himself together, and his face became serious, almost solemn. He laid
the cigar down on the window-box and pulled out of his inner pocket a
bundle of yellow sheets of paper and blue note-books.
“I should have done this a long time ago,” he said, “because we've
been free to correspond with each other. But I put it off to our first
“Done what?” she asked, seized by an uncomfortable curiosity.
“Why, render an accounting.”
“But dear Toni, surely you don't think me either ungrateful or
dishonourable. For seven years I have accepted one benefaction after
another from you.... That was a very painful situation for me, dear
child, and I scarcely believe that the circumstances, had they been
known, would ever have been countenanced by a court of honour.”
“Ah, yes,” she said slowly. “I confess I never thought of that
“But I did all the more, for that very reason. And only the
consciousness that I would some day be able to pay you the last penny
of my debt sustained me in my consciousness as a decent fellow.”
“Ah, well, if that's the case, go ahead!” she said, suppressing the
bitter sarcasm that she felt.
First came the receipts: The proceeds of the stolen jewels began the
long series. Then followed the savings in fares, food and drink and the
furniture rebates. Next came the presents of the county-counsellor, the
profits of the champagne debauches during which she had flung shame and
honour under the feet of the drinking men. She was spared nothing, but
heard again of sums gained by petty thefts from the till, small profits
made in the buying of milk and eggs. It was a long story of suspense
and longing, an inextricable web of falsification and trickery, of
terror and lying without end. The memory of no guilt and no torture was
Then he took up the account of his expenditures. He sat there,
eagerly handling the papers, now frowning heavily when he could not at
once balance some small sum, now stiffening his double chin in
satisfied self-righteousness as he explained some new way of saving
that had occurred to him.... Again and again, to the point of
weariness, he reiterated solemnly: “You see, I'm an honest man.”
And always when he said that, a weary irony prompted her to reply:
“Ah, what that honesty has cost me.” ... But she held her peace.
And again she wanted to cry out: “Let be! A woman like myself
doesn't care for these two-penny decencies.” But she saw how deep an
inner necessity it was to him to stand before her in this conventional
spotlessness. And so she didn't rob him of his childlike joy.
At last he made an end and spread out the little blue books before
her—there was one for each year. “Here,” he said proudly, “you can go
over it yourself. It's exact.”
“It had better be!” she cried with a jesting threat and put the
little books under a flower-pot.
A prankish mood came upon her now which she couldn't resist.
“Now that this important business is at an end,” she said, “there is
still another matter about which I must have some certainty.”
“What is that?” he said, listening intensely.
“Have you been faithful to me in all this time?”
He became greatly confused. The scars on his left cheek glowed like
thick, red cords.
“Perhaps he's got a betrothed somewhere,” she thought with a kind of
woeful anger, “whom he's going to throw over now.”
But it wasn't that. Not at all. “Well,” he said, “there's no help
for it. I'll confess. And anyhow, you've even been married in
“I would find it difficult to deny that,” she said.
And then everything came to light. During the early days in Berlin
he had been very intimate with a waitress. Then, when he was an
assistant in the surgical clinic, there had been a sister who even
wanted to be married. “But I made short work of that proposition,” he
explained with quiet decision. And as for the Lithuanian servant girl
whom he had in the house now, why, of course he would dismiss her next
morning, so that the house could be thoroughly aired before she moved
This was the moment in which a desire came upon her—half-ironic,
half-compassionate—to throw her arms about him and say: “You silly
But she did not yield and in the next moment the impulse was gone.
Only an annoyed envy remained. He dared to confess everything to
her—everything. What if she did the same? If he were to leave her in
horrified silence, what would it matter? She would have freed her soul.
Or perhaps he would flare up in grateful love? It was madness to expect
it. No power of heaven or earth could burst open the doors or demolish
the walls that towered between them for all eternity.
A vast irony engulfed her. She could not rest her soul upon this
pigmy. She felt revengeful rather toward him—revengeful, because he
could sit there opposite her so capable and faithful, so truthful and
decent, so utterly unlike the companion whom she needed.
Toward twilight he grew restless. He wanted to slip over to his
mother for a moment and then, for another moment, he wanted to drop in
at the fraternity inn. He had to leave at eight.
“It would be better if you remained until to-morrow,” she said with
an emphasis that gave him pause.
“If you don't feel that....”
She shrugged her shoulders.
It wasn't to be done, he assured her, with the best will in the
world. There was an investigation in which he had to help the
county-physician. A small farmer had died suddenly of what did not seem
an entirely natural death. “I suppose,” he continued, “one of those
love philtres was used with which superfluous people are put under
ground there. It's horrible that a decent person has to live among such
creatures. If you don't care to do it, I can hardly blame you.” She had
grown pale and smiled weakly. She restrained him no longer.
“I'll be back in a week,” he said, slipping on his goloshes, “and
then we can announce the engagement.”
She nodded several times but made no reply.
The door was opened and he leaned toward her. Calmly she touched his
lips with hers.
“You might have the announcement cards printed,” he called
cheerfully from the stairs.
Then he disappeared....
“Is the new uncle gone?” Amanda asked. She was sitting in her little
room, busy with her lessons. He had forgotten her.
The mother nodded.
“Will he come back soon?”
Antonie shook her head.
“I scarcely think so,” she answered.
That night she broke the purpose of her life, the purpose that had
become interwoven with a thousand others, and when the morning came she
wrote a letter of farewell to the beloved of her youth.
THE SONG OF DEATH
With faint and quivering beats the clock of the hotel announced the
hour to the promenaders on the beach.
“It is time to eat, Nathaniel,” said a slender, yet well-filled-out
young woman, who held a book between her fingers, to a formless bundle,
huddled in many shawls, by her side. Painfully the bundle unfolded
itself, stretched and grew gradually into the form of a man—hollow
chested, thin legged, narrow shouldered, attired in flopping garments,
such as one sees by the thousands on the coasts of the Riviera in
The midday glow of the sun burned down upon the yellowish gray wall
of cliff into which the promenade of Nervi is hewn, and which slopes
down to the sea in a zigzag of towering bowlders.
Upon the blue mirror of the sea sparkled a silvery meshwork of
sunbeams. So vast a fullness of light flooded the landscape that even
the black cypress trees which stood, straight and tall, beyond the
garden walls, seemed to glitter with a radiance of their own. The tide
was silent. Only the waters of the imprisoned springs that poured,
covered with iridescent bubbles, into the hollows between the rocks,
gurgled and sighed wearily.
The breakfast bell brought a new pulsation of life to the huddled
figures on the beach.
“He who eats is cured,” is the motto of the weary creatures whose
arms are often too weak to carry their forks to their mouths. But he
who comes to this land of eternal summer merely to ease and rest his
soul, trembles with hunger in the devouring sweetness of the air and
can scarcely await the hour of food.
With a gentle compulsion the young woman pushed the thin, wrinkled
hand of the invalid under her arm and led him carefully through a cool
and narrow road, which runs up to the town between high garden walls
and through which a treacherous draught blows even on the sunniest
“Are you sure your mouth is covered?” she asked, adapting her
springy gait with difficulty to the dragging steps of her companion.
An inarticulate murmur behind the heavy shawl was his only answer.
She stretched her throat a little—a round, white, firm throat, with
two little folds that lay rosy in the rounded flesh. Closing her eyes,
she inhaled passionately the aromatic perfumes of the neighbouring
gardens. It was a strange mixture of odours, like that which is wafted
from the herb chamber of an apothecary. A wandering sunbeam glided over
the firm, short curve of her cheek, which was of almost milky
whiteness, save for the faint redness of those veins which sleepless
nights bring out upon the pallid faces of full-blooded blondes.
A laughing group of people went swiftly by—white-breeched
Englishmen and their ladies. The feather boas, whose ends fluttered in
the wind, curled tenderly about slender throats, and on the reddish
heads bobbed little round hats, smooth and shining as the tall
head-gear of a German postillion.
The young woman cast a wistful glance after those happy folk, and
pressed more firmly the arm of her suffering husband.
Other groups followed. It was not difficult to overtake this pair.
“We'll be the last, Mary,” Nathaniel murmured, with the invalid's
But the young woman did not hear. She listened to a soft chatting,
which, carried along between the sounding-boards of these high walls,
was clearly audible. The conversation was conducted in French, and she
had to summon her whole stock of knowledge in order not to lose the
full sense of what was said. “I hope, Madame, that your uncle is not
“Not at all, sir. But he likes his comfort. And since walking bores
him, he prefers to pass his days in an armchair. And it's my function
to entertain him.” An arch, pouting voila closed the
Next came a little pause. Then the male voice asked:
“And are you never free, Madame?”
“And may I never again hope for the happiness of meeting you on the
“But surely you may!”
“Mille remerciments; Madame.”
A strangely soft restrained tone echoed in this simple word of
thanks. Secret desires murmured in it and unexpressed confessions.
Mary, although she did not look as though she were experienced in
flirtation or advances, made a brief, timid gesture. Then, as though
discovered and ashamed, she remained very still.
Those two then.... That's who it was....
And they had really made each others' acquaintance!
She was a delicately made and elegant Frenchwoman. Her bodice was
cut in a strangely slender way, which made her seem to glide along like
a bird. Or was it her walk that caused the phenomenon? Or the exquisite
arching of her shoulders? Who could tell? ... She did not take her
meals at the common table, but in a corner of the dining-hall in
company of an old gouty gentleman with white stubbles on his chin and
red-lidded eyes. When she entered the hall she let a smiling glance
glide along the table, but without looking at or saluting any one. She
scarcely touched the dishes—at least from the point of view of Mary's
sturdy appetite—but even before the soup was served she nibbled at the
dates meant for dessert, and then the bracelets upon her incredibly
delicate wrists made a strange, fairy music. She wore a wedding ring.
But it had always been open to doubt whether the old gentleman was her
husband. For her demeanour toward him was that of a spoiled but
sedulously watched child.
And he—he sat opposite Mary at table. He was a very dark young man,
with black, melancholy eyes—Italian eyes, one called them in her
Pomeranian home land. He had remarkably white, narrow hands, and a
small, curly beard, which was clipped so close along the cheeks that
the skin itself seemed to have a bluish shimmer. He had never spoken to
Mary, presumably because he knew no German, but now and then he would
let his eyes rest upon her with a certain smiling emotion which seemed
to her to be very blameworthy and which filled her with confusion.
Thus, however, it had come to pass that, whenever she got ready to go
to table her thoughts were busy with him, and it was not rare for her
to ask herself at the opening of the door to the dining-hall: “I wonder
whether he's here or will come later?”
For several days there had been noticeable in this young man an
inclination to gaze over his left shoulder to the side table at which
the young Frenchwoman sat. And several times this glance had met an
answering one, however fleeting. And more than that! She could be seen
observing him with smiling consideration as, between the fish and the
roast, she pushed one grape after another between her lips. He was, of
course, not cognisant of all that, but Mary knew of it and was
surprised and slightly shocked.
And they had really made each others' acquaintance!
And now they were both silent, thinking, obviously, that they had
but just come within hearing distance.
Then they hurried past the slowly creeping couple. The lady looked
downward, kicking pebbles; the gentleman bowed. It was done seriously,
discreetly, as befits a mere neighbour at table. Mary blushed. That
happened often, far too often. And she was ashamed. Thus it happened
that she often blushed from fear of blushing.
The gentleman saw it and did not smile. She thanked him for it in
her heart, and blushed all the redder, for he might have smiled.
“We'll have to eat the omelettes cold again,” the invalid mumbled
into his shawls.
This time she understood him.
“Then we'll order fresh ones.”
“Oh,” he said reproachfully, “you haven't the courage. You're always
afraid of the waiters.”
She looked up at him with a melancholy smile.
It was true. She was afraid of the waiters. That could not be
denied. Her necessary dealings with these dark and shiny-haired
gentlemen in evening clothes were a constant source of fear and
annoyance. They scarcely gave themselves the trouble to understand her
bad French and her worse Italian. And when they dared to smile...!
But his concern had been needless. The breakfast did not consist of
omelettes, but of macaroni boiled in water and mixed with long strings
of cheese. He was forbidden to eat this dish.
Mary mixed his daily drink, milk with brandy, and was happy to see
the eagerness with which he absorbed the life-giving fumes. The dark
gentleman was already in his seat opposite her, and every now and then
the glance of his velvety eyes glided over her. She was more keenly
conscious of this glance than ever, and dared less than ever to meet
it. A strange feeling, half delight and half resentment, overcame her.
And yet she had no cause to complain that his attention passed the
boundary of rigid seemliness.
She stroked her heavy tresses of reddish blonde hair, which curved
madonna-like over her temples. They had not been crimped or curled, but
were simple and smooth, as befits the wife of a North German clergyman.
She would have liked to moisten with her lips the fingers with which
she stroked them. This was the only art of the toilet which she knew.
But that would have been improper at table.
He wore a yellow silk shirt with a pattern of riding crops. A bunch
of violets stuck in his button-hole. Its fragrance floated across the
Now the young Frenchwoman entered the hall too. Very carefully she
pressed her old uncle's arm, and talked to him in a stream of charming
The dark gentleman quivered. He compressed his lips but did not turn
around. Neither did the lady take any notice of him. She rolled bread
pellets with her nervous fingers, played with her bracelets and let the
dishes go by untouched.
The long coat of cream silk, which she had put on, increased the
tall flexibility of her form. A being woven of sunlight and morning
dew, unapproachable in her serene distinction—thus she appeared to
Mary, whose hands had been reddened by early toil, and whose breadth of
shoulder was only surpassed by her simplicity of heart.
When the roast came Nathaniel revived slightly. He suffered her to
fasten the shawl about his shoulders, and rewarded her with a contented
smile. It was her sister Anna's opinion that at such moments he
resembled the Saviour. The eyes in their blue hollows gleamed with a
ghostly light, a faint rosiness shone upon his cheek-bones, and even
the blonde beard on the sunken cheeks took on a certain glow.
Grateful for the smile, she pressed his arm. She was satisfied with
Breakfast was over. The gentleman opposite made his silent bow and
“Will he salute her?” Mary asked herself with some inner timidity.
No. He withdrew without glancing at the corner table.
“Perhaps they have fallen out again,” Mary; said to herself. The
lady looked after him. A gentle smile played about the corners of her
mouth—a superior, almost an ironical smile. Then, her eyes still
turned to the door, she leaned across toward the old gentleman in eager
“She doesn't care for him,” Mary reasoned, with a slight feeling of
satisfaction. It was as though some one had returned to her what she
had deemed lost.
He had been gone long, but his violets had left their fragrance.
Mary went up to her room to get a warmer shawl for Nathaniel. As she
came out again, she saw in the dim hall the radiant figure of the
French lady come toward her and open the door to the left of her own
“So we are neighbours,” Mary thought, and felt flattered by the
proximity. She would have liked to salute her, but she did not dare.
Then she accompanied Nathaniel down to the promenade on the beach.
The hours dragged by.
He did not like to have his brooding meditation interrupted by
questions or anecdotes. These hours were dedicated to getting well.
Every breath here cost money and must be utilised to the utmost. Here
breathing was religion, and falling ill a sin.
Mary looked dreamily out upon the sea, to which the afternoon sun
now lent a deeper blue. Light wreaths of foam eddied about the stones.
In wide semicircles the great and shadowy arms of the mountains
embraced the sea. From the far horizon, in regions of the upper air,
came from time to time an argent gleam. For there the sun was reflected
by unseen fields of snow.
There lay the Alps, and beyond them, deep buried in fog and winter,
lay their home land.
Thither Mary's thoughts wandered. They wandered to a sharp-gabled
little house, groaning under great weights of snow, by the strand of a
frozen stream. The house was so deeply hidden in bushes that the
depending boughs froze fast in the icy river and were not liberated
till the tardy coming of spring.
And a hundred paces from it stood the white church and the
comfortable parsonage. But what did she care for the parsonage, even
though she had grown to womanhood in it and was now its mistress?
That little cottage—the widow's house, as the country folk called
it—that little cottage held everything that was dear to her at home.
There sat by the green tile oven—and oh, how she missed it here,
despite the palms and the goodly sun—her aged mother, the former
pastor's widow, and her three older sisters, dear and blonde and thin
and almost faded. There they sat, worlds away, needy and laborious, and
living but in each others' love. Four years had passed since the father
had been carried to the God's acre and they had had to leave the
That had marked the end of their happiness and their youth. They
could not move to the city, for they had no private means, and the
gifts of the poor congregation, a dwelling, wood and other donations,
could not be exchanged for money. And so they had to stay there quietly
and see their lives wither.
The candidate of theology, Nathaniel Pogge, equipped with mighty
recommendations, came to deliver his trial sermon.
As he ascended the pulpit, long and frail, flat-chested and narrow
shouldered, she saw him for the first time. His emaciated, freckled
hand which held the hymn book, trembled with a kind of fever. But his
blue eyes shone with the fires of God. To be sure, his voice sounded
hollow and hoarse, and often he had to struggle for breath in the
middle of a sentence. But what he said was wise and austere, and found
favour in the eyes of his congregation.
His mother moved with him into the parsonage. She was a small, fussy
lady, energetic and very business-like, who complained of what she
called previous mismanagement and seemed to avoid friendly relations.
But her son found his way to the widow's house for all that. He
found it oftener and oftener, and the only matter of uncertainty was as
to which of the four sisters had impressed him.
She would never have dreamed that his eye had fallen upon her, the
youngest. But a refusal was not to be thought of. It was rather her
duty to kiss his hands in gratitude for taking her off her mother's
shoulders and liberating her from a hopeless situation. Certainly she
would not have grudged her happiness to one of her sisters; if it could
be called happiness to be subject to a suspicious mother-in-law and the
nurse of a valetudinarian. But she tried to think it happiness. And,
after all, there was the widow's house, to which one could slip over to
laugh or to weep one's fill, as the mood of the hour dictated. Either
would have been frowned upon at home.
And of course she loved him.
Assuredly. How should she not have loved him? Had she not sworn to
do so at the altar? And then his condition grew worse from day to day
and needed her love all the more.
It happened ever oftener that she had to get up at night to heat his
moss tea; and ever more breathlessly he cowered in the sacristy after
his weekly sermon. And that lasted until the hemorrhage came, which
made the trip south imperative.
Ah, and with what grave anxieties had this trip been undertaken! A
substitute had to be procured. Their clothes and fares swallowed the
salary of many months. They had to pay fourteen francs board a day, not
to speak of the extra expenses for brandy, milk, fires and drugs. Nor
was this counting the physician who came daily. It was a desperate
But he recovered. At least it was unthinkable that he shouldn't.
What object else would these sacrifices have had?
He recovered. The sun and sea and air cured him; or, at least, her
love cured him. And this love, which Heaven had sent her as her highest
duty, surrounded him like a soft, warm garment, exquisitely flexible to
the movement of every limb, not hindering, but yielding to the
slightest impulse of movement; forming a protection against the rough
winds of the world, surer than a wall of stone or a cloak of fire.
The sun sank down toward the sea. His light assumed a yellow,
metallic hue, hard and wounding, before it changed and softened into
violet and purple shades. The group of pines on the beach seemed
drenched in a sulphurous light and the clarity of their outlines hurt
the eye. Like
a heavy and compact mass, ready to hurtle down, the foliage of the
gardens bent over the crumbling walls. From the mountains came a gusty
wind that announced the approaching fall of night.
The sick man shivered. Mary was about to suggest their going home,
when she perceived the form of a man that had intruded between her and
the sinking sun and that was surrounded by a yellow radiance. She
recognised the dark gentleman.
A feeling of restlessness overcame her, but she could not turn her
eyes from him. Always, when he was near, a strange presentiment came to
her—a dreamy knowledge of an unknown land. This impression varied in
clearness. To-night she was fully conscious of it.
What she felt was difficult to put into words. She seemed almost to
be afraid of him. And yet that was impossible, for what was he to her?
She wasn't even interested in him. Surely not. His eyes, his violet
fragrance, the flexible elegance of his movements—these things merely
aroused in her a faint curiosity. Strictly speaking, he wasn't even a
sympathetic personality, and had her sister Lizzie, who had a gift for
satire, been here, they would probably have made fun of him. The
anxious unquiet which he inspired must have some other source. Here in
the south everything was so different—richer, more colourful, more
vivid than at home. The sun, the sea, houses, flowers, faces—upon them
all lay more impassioned hues. Behind all that there must be a secret
hitherto unrevealed to her.
She felt this secret everywhere. It lay in the heavy fragrance of
the trees, in the soft swinging of the palm leaves, in the
multitudinous burgeoning and bloom about her. It lay in the long-drawn
music of the men's voices, in the caressing laughter of the women. It
lay in the flaming blushes that, even at table, mantled her face; in
the delicious languor that pervaded her limbs and seemed to creep into
the innermost marrow of her bones.
But this secret which she felt, scented and absorbed with every
organ of her being, but which was nowhere to be grasped, looked upon or
recognised—this secret was in some subtle way connected with the man
who stood there, irradiated, upon the edge of the cliff, and gazed upon
the ancient tower which stood, unreal as a piece of stage scenery, upon
Now he observed her.
For a moment it seemed as though he were about to approach to
address her. In his character of a neighbour at table he might well
have ventured to do so. But the hasty gesture with which she turned to
her sick husband forbade it.
“That would be the last inconvenience,” Mary thought, “to make
But as she was going home with her husband, she surprised herself in
speculation as to how she might have answered his words.
“My French will go far enough,” she thought. “At need I might have
The following day brought a sudden lapse in her husband's recovery.
“That happens often,” said the physician, a bony consumptive with
the manners of a man of the world and an equipment in that inexpensive
courtesy which doctors are wont to assume in hopeless and poorly paying
To listen to him one would think that pulmonary consumption ended in
“And if something happens during the night?” Mary asked anxiously.
“Then just wait quietly until morning,” the doctor said with the
firm decision of a man who doesn't like to have his sleep disturbed.
Nathaniel had to stay in bed and Mary was forced to request the
waiters to bring meals up to their room.
Thus passed several days, during which she scarcely left the
sick-bed of her husband. And when she wasn't writing home, or reading
to him from the hymn book, or cooking some easing draught upon the
spirit lamp, she gazed dreamily out of the window.
She had not seen her beautiful neighbour again. With all the more
attention she sought to catch any sound, any word that might give her a
glimpse into the radiant Paradise of that other life.
A soft singing ushered in the day. Then followed a laughing chatter
with the little maid, accompanied by the rattle of heated curling-irons
and splashing of bath sponges. Occasionally, too, there was a little
dispute on the subject of ribands or curls or such things. Mary's
French, which was derived from the Histoire de Charles douze,
the Aventures de Telemaque and other lofty books, found an end
when it came to these discussions.
About half-past ten the lady slipped from her room. Then one could
hear her tap at her uncle's door, or call a laughing good-morning to
him from the hall.
From now on the maid reigned supreme in the room. She straightened
it, sang, rattled the curling-irons even longer than for her mistress,
tripped up and down, probably in front of the mirror, and received the
kindly attentions of several waiters. From noon on everything was
silent and remained silent until dusk. Then the lady returned. The
little songs she sang were of the very kind that one might well sing
if, with full heart, one gazes out upon the sea, while the
orange-blossoms are fragrant and the boughs of the eucalyptus rustle.
They proved to Mary that in that sunny creature, as in herself, there
dwelt that gentle, virginal yearning that had always been to her a
source of dreamy happiness.
At half-past five o'clock the maid knocked at the door. Then began
giggling and whispering as of two school-girls. Again sounded the
rattle of the curling-irons and the rustling of silken skirts. The
fragrance of unknown perfumes and essences penetrated into Mary's room,
and she absorbed it eagerly.
The dinner-bell rang and the room was left empty.
At ten o'clock there resounded a merry: “Bonne nuit, mon oncle!
Angeline, the maid, received her mistress at the door and performed
the necessary services more quietly than before. Then she went out,
received by the waiters, who were on the stairs.
Then followed, in there, a brief evening prayer, carelessly and half
poutingly gabbled as by a tired child. At eleven the keyhole grew dark.
And during the hours of Mary's heaviest service, there sounded within
the peaceful drawing of uninterrupted breath.
This breathing was a consolation to her during the terrible,
creeping hours, whose paralysing monotony was only interrupted by
anxious crises in the patient's condition.
The breathing seemed to her a greeting from a pure and sisterly
soul—a greeting from that dear land of joy where one can laugh by day
and sing in the dusk and sleep by night.
Nathaniel loved the hymns for the dying.
He asserted that they filled him with true mirth. The more he could
gibe at hell or hear the suffering of the last hours put to scorn, the
more could he master a kind of grim humour. He, the shepherd of souls,
felt it his duty to venture upon the valley of the shadow to which he
had so often led the trembling candidate of death, with the boldness of
a hero in battle.
This poor, timid soul, who had never been able to endure the angry
barking of a dog, played with the terror of death like a bull-necked
“Read me a song of death, but a strengthening one,” he would say
repeatedly during the day, but also at night, if he could not sleep. He
needed it as a child needs its cradle song. Often he was angry when in
her confusion and blinded by unshed tears, she chose a wrong one. Like
a literary connoisseur who rolls a Horatian ode or a Goethean lyric
upon his tongue—even thus he enjoyed these sombre stanzas.
There was one: “I haste to my eternal home,” in which the beyond was
likened to a bridal chamber and to a “crystal sea of blessednesses.”
There was another: “Greatly rejoice now, O my soul,” which would admit
no redeeming feature about this earth, and was really a prayer for
release. And there was one filled with the purest folly of Christendom:
“In peace and joy I fare from hence.” And this one promised a smiling
sleep. But they were all overshadowed by that rejoicing song: “Thank
God, the hour has come!” which, like a cry of victory, points proudly
and almost sarcastically to the conquered miseries of the earth.
The Will to Live of the poor flesh intoxicated itself with these
pious lies as with some hypnotic drug. But at the next moment it
recoiled and gazed yearningly and eager eyed out into the sweet and
sinful world, which didn't tally in the least with that description of
it as a vale of tears, of which the hymns were so full.
Mary read obediently what he demanded. Close to her face she held
the narrow hymn-book, fighting down her sobs. For he did not think of
the tortures he prepared for his anxiously hoping wife.
Why did he thirst for death since he knew that he must not
Not yet. Ah, not yet! Now that suddenly a whole, long, unlived life
lay between them—a life they had never even suspected.
She could not name it, this new, rich life, but she felt it
approaching, day by day. It breathed its fragrant breath into her face
and poured an exquisite bridal warmth into her veins.
It was on the fourth day of his imprisonment in his room. The
physician had promised him permission to go out on the morrow.
His recovery was clear.
She sat at the window and inhaled with quivering nostrils the sharp
fragrance of the burning pine cones that floated to her in bluish
The sun was about to set. An unknown bird sat, far below, in the
orange grove and, as if drunk with light and fragrance, chirped
sleepily and ended with a fluting tone.
Now that the great dread of the last few days was taken from her,
that sweet languor the significance of which she could not guess came
over her again.
Her neighbour had already come home. She opened her window and
closed it, only to open it again. From time to time she sang a few
brief tones, almost like the strange bird in the grove.
Then her door rattled and Angeline's voice cried out with jubilant
laughter: “Une lettre, Madame, une lettre!”
“Une lettre—de qui?“
Then a silence fell, a long silence.
Who was this “he?” Surely some one at home. It was the hour of the
But the voice of the maid soon brought enlightenment.
She had managed the affair cleverly. She had met him in the hall and
saluted him so that he had found the courage to address her. And just
now he had pressed the envelope, together with a twenty-franc piece,
into her hand. He asserted that he had an important communication to
make to her mistress, but had never found an opportunity to address
himself to her in person.
“Tais-toi donc—on nous entend!”
And from now on nothing was to be heard but whispering and giggling.
Mary felt now a wave of hotness, started from her nape and
overflowing her face.
Listening and with beating heart, she sat there.
What in all the world could he have written? For that it was he, she
could no longer doubt.
Perhaps he had declared his love and begged for the gift of her
A dull feeling of pain, the cause of which was dark to her,
oppressed her heart.
And then she smiled—a smile of renouncement, although there was
surely nothing here for her to renounce!
And anyhow—the thing was impossible. For she, to whom such an offer
is made does not chat with a servant girl. Such an one flees into some
lonely place, kneels down, and prays to God for enlightenment and grace
in face of so important a step.
But indeed she did send the girl away, for the latter's slippers
could he heard trailing along the hall.
Then was heard gentle, intoxicated laughter, full of restrained
jubilation and arch triumph: “O comme je suis heureuse! Comme je
Mary felt her eyes grow moist. She felt glad and poignantly sad at
the same time. She would have liked to kiss and bless the other woman,
for now it was clear that he had come to claim her as his bride.
“If she doesn't pray, I will pray for her,” she thought, and folded
her hands. Then a voice sounded behind her, hollow as the roll of
falling earth; rasping as coffin cords:
“Read me a song of death, Mary.”
A shudder came over her. She jumped up. And she who had hitherto
taken up the hymn-book at his command without hesitation or complaint,
fell down beside his bed and grasped his emaciated arm: “Have pity—I
can't! I can't!”
Three days passed. The sick man preferred to stay in bed, although
his recovery made enormous strides. Mary brewed his teas, gave him his
drops, and read him his songs of death. That one attempt at rebellion
had remained her only one.
She heard but little of her neighbour. It seemed that that letter
had put an end to her talkative merriment. The happiness which she had
so jubilantly confessed seemed to have been of brief duration.
And in those hours when Mary was free to pursue her dreams, she
shared the other's yearning and fear. Probably the old uncle had made
difficulties; had refused his consent, or even demanded the separation
of the lovers.
Perhaps the dark gentleman had gone away. Who could tell?
“What strange eyes he had,” she thought at times, and whenever she
thought that, she shivered, for it seemed to her that his hot, veiled
glance was still upon her.
“I wonder whether he is really a good man?” she asked herself. She
would have liked to answer this question in the affirmative, but there
was something that kept her from doing so. And there was another
something in her that took but little note of that aspect, but only
prayed that those two might be happy together, happy as she herself had
never been, happy as—and here lay the secret.
It was a Sunday evening, the last one in January.
Nathaniel lay under the bed-clothes and breathed with difficulty.
His fever was remarkably low, but he was badly smothered.
The lamp burned on the table—a reading lamp had been procured with
difficulty and had been twice carried off in favour of wealthier
guests. Toward the bed Mary had shaded the lamp with a piece of red
blotting paper from her portfolio. A rosy shimmer poured out over the
couch of the ill man, tinted the red covers more red, and caused a
deceptive glow of health to appear on his cheek.
The flasks and vials on the table glittered with an equivocal
friendliness, as though something of the demeanour of him who had
prescribed their contents adhered to them.
Between them lay the narrow old hymnal and the gilt figures, “1795"
shimmered in the middle of the worn and shabby covers.
The hour of retirement had come. The latest of the guests, returning
from the reading room, had said good-night to each other in the hall.
Angeline had been dismissed. Her giggles floated away into silence
along the bannisters and the last of her adorers tiptoed by to turn out
From the next room there came no sound. She was surely asleep,
although her breathing was inaudible.
Mary sat at the table. Her head was heavy and she stared into the
luminous circle of the lamp. She needed sleep. Yet she was not sleepy.
Every nerve in her body quivered with morbid energy.
A wish of the invalid called her to his side.
“The pillow has a lump,” he said, and tried to turn over on his
Ah, these pillows of sea-grass. She patted, she smoothed, she did
her best, but his head found no repose.
“Here's another night full of the torment and terror of the flesh,”
he said with difficulty, mouthing each word.
“Do you want a drink?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“The stuff is bitter—but you see—this fear—there's the air and it
fills everything—they say it's ten miles high—and a man like myself
can't—get enough—you see I'm getting greedy.” The mild jest upon his
lips was so unwonted that it frightened her.
“I'd like to ask you to open the window.”
She opposed him.
“The night air,” she urged; “the draught——”
But that upset him.
“If you can't do me so small a favour in my suffering—”
“Forgive me,” she said, “it was only my anxiety for you—”
She got up and opened the French window that gave upon a narrow
The moonlight flooded the room.
Pressing her hands to her breast, she inhaled the first aromatic
breath of the night air which cooled and caressed her hot face.
“Is it better so?” she asked, turning around.
He nodded. “It is better so.”
Then she stepped out on the balcony. She could scarcely drink her
fill of air and moonlight.
But she drew back, affrighted. What she had just seen was like an
On the neighbouring balcony stood, clad in white, flowing garments
of lace, a woman's figure, and stared with wide open eyes into the
It was she—her friend.
Softly Mary stepped out again and observed her, full of shy
The moonlight shone full upon the delicate slim face, that seemed
to shine with an inner radiance. The eye had a yearning glow. A smile,
ecstatic and fearful at once, made the lips quiver, and the hands that
grasped the iron railing pulsed as if in fear and expectation.
Mary heard her own heart begin to beat. A hot flush rose into her
What was all that? What did it mean?
Such a look, such a smile, she had never seen in her life. And yet
both seemed infinitely familiar to her. Thus a woman must look who—
She had no time to complete the thought, for a fit of coughing
recalled her to Nathaniel.
A motion of his hand directed her to close the window and the
shutters. It would have been better never to have opened them. Better
for her, too, perhaps.
Then she sat down next to him and held his head until the paroxysm
He sank back, utterly exhausted. His hand groped for hers. With
abstracted caresses she touched his weary fingers.
Her thoughts dwelt with that white picture without. That poignant
feeling of happiness that she had almost lost during the past few days,
arose in her with a hitherto unknown might.
And now the sick man began to speak.
“You have always been good to me, Mary,” he said. “You have always
had patience with me.”
“Ah, don't speak so,” she murmured.
“And I wish I could say as full of assurance as you could before the
throne of God: 'Father, I have been true to the duty which you have
allotted to me.'“
Her hand quivered in his. A feeling of revulsion smothered the
gentleness of their mood. His words had struck her as a reproach.
Fulfillment of duty! That was the great law to which all human kind
was subject for the sake of God. This law had joined her hand to his,
had accompanied her into the chastity of her bridal bed, and had kept
its vigil through the years by her hearth and in her heart. And thus
love itself had not been difficult to her, for it was commanded to her
and consecrated before the face of God.
And he? He wished for nothing more, knew nothing more. Indeed, what
lies beyond duty would probably have seemed burdensome to him, if not
But there was something more! She knew it now. She had seen it in
that glance, moist with yearning, lost in the light.
There was something great and ecstatic and all-powerful, something
before which she quailed like a child who must go into the dark,
something that she desired with every nerve and fibre.
Her eye fastened itself upon the purple square of blotting paper
which looked, in the light of the lamp, like glowing metal.
She did not know how long she had sat there. It might have been
minutes or hours. Often enough the morning had caught her brooding
The sick man's breath came with greater difficulty, his fingers
grasped hers more tightly.
“Do you feel worse?” she asked.
“I am a little afraid,” he said; “therefore, read me——”
He stopped, for he felt the quiver of her hand.
“You know, if you don't want to—” He was wounded in his wretched
valetudinarian egotism, which was constantly on the scent of neglect.
“Oh, but I do want to; I want to do everything that might——”
She hurried to the table, pushed the glittering bottles aside,
grasped the hymnal and read at random.
But she had to stop, for it was a prayer for rain that she had
Then, as she was turning the leaves of the book, she heard the hall
door of the next room open with infinite caution; she heard flying,
trembling footsteps cross the room from the balcony.
“Chut!” whispered a trembling voice.
And the door closed as with a weary moan.
What was that?
A suspicion arose in her that brought the scarlet of shame into her
cheek. The whispering next door began anew, passionate, hasty,
half-smothered by anxiety and delight. Two voices were to be
distinguished: a lighter voice which she knew, and a duller voice,
broken into, now and then, by sonorous tones.
The letters dislimned before her eyes. The hymn-book slipped from
her hands. In utter confusion she stared toward the door.
That really existed? Such things were possible in the world;
possible among people garbed in distinction, of careful Christian
training, to whom one looks up as to superior beings?
There was a power upon earth that could make the delicate, radiant,
distinguished woman so utterly forget shame and dignity and
womanliness, that she would open her door at midnight to a man who had
not been wedded to her in the sight of God?
If that could happen, what was there left to cling to in this world?
Where was one's faith in honour, fidelity, in God's grace and one's own
human worth? A horror took hold of her so oppressive that she thought
she must cry out aloud.
With a shy glance she looked at her husband. God grant that he hear
She was ashamed before him. She desired to call out, to sing, laugh,
only to drown the noise of that whispering which assailed her ear like
the wave of a fiery sea.
But no, he heard nothing.
His sightless eyes stared at the ceiling. He was busied with his
breathing. His chest heaved and fell like a defective machine.
He didn't even expect her to read to him now. She went up to the bed
and asked, listening with every nerve: “Do you want to sleep,
He lowered his eyelids in assent.
“Yes—read,” he breathed.
“Shall I read softly?”
Again he assented.
“But read—don't sleep.”
Fear flickered in his eyes.
“No, no,” she stammered.
He motioned her to go now, and again became absorbed in the problem
Mary took up the hymnal.
“You are to read a song of death,” she said to herself, for her
promise must be kept. And as though she had not understood her own
admonition, she repeated: “You are to read a song of death.”
But her hearing was morbidly alert, and while the golden figures on
the book danced a ghostly dance before her eyes, she heard again what
she desired to hear. It was like the whispering of the wind against a
forbidden gate. She caught words:
“Je t'aime—follement—j'en mourrai—je t'adore—mon amour—mon
Mary closed her eyes. It seemed to her again as though hot waves
streamed over her. And she had lost shame, too.
For there was something in all that which silenced reproach, which
made this monstrous deed comprehensible, even natural. If one was so
mad with love, if one felt that one could die of it!
So that existed, and was not only the lying babble of romances?
And her spirit returned and compared her own experience of love with
what she witnessed now.
She had shrunk pitifully from his first kiss. When he had gone, she
had embraced her mother's knees, in fear and torment at the thought of
following this strange man. And she remembered how, on the evening of
her wedding, her mother had whispered into her ear, “Endure, my child,
and pray to God, for that is the lot of woman.” And it was that which,
until to-day, she had called love.
Oh, those happy ones there, those happy ones!
“Mary,” the hollow voice from the bed came.
She jumped up. “What?”
“I'll read; I'll read.”
Her hands grovelled among the rough, sticky pages. An odour as of
decaying foliage, which she had never noted before, came from the book.
It was such an odour as comes from dark, ill-ventilated rooms, and
early autumn and everyday clothes.
At last she found what she was seeking. “Kyrie eleison! Christe
eleison! Dear God, Father in heaven, have mercy upon us!”
Her lips babbled what her eyes saw, but her heart and her senses
prayed another prayer: “Father in Heaven, who art love and mercy, do
not count for sin to those two that which they are committing against
themselves. Bless their love, even if they do not desire Thy blessing.
Send faithfulness into their hearts that they cleave to one another and
remain grateful for the bliss which Thou givest them. Ah, those happy
ones, those happy ones!”
Tears came into her eyes. She bent her face upon the yellow leaves
of the book to hide her weeping. It seemed to her suddenly as though
she understood the speech spoken in this land of eternal spring by sun
and sea, by hedges of flowers and evergreen trees, by the song of birds
and the laughter of man. The secret which she had sought to solve by
day and by night lay suddenly revealed before her eyes.
In a sudden change of feeling her heart grew cold toward that sinful
pair for which she had but just prayed. Those people became as
strangers to her and sank into the mist. Their whispering died away as
if it came from a great distance.
It was her own life with which she was now concerned. Gray and
morose with its poverty stricken notion of duty, the past lay behind
her. Bright and smiling a new world floated into her ken.
She had sworn to love him. She had cheated him. She had let him know
want at her side.
Now that she knew what love was, she would reward him an
hundred-fold. She, too, could love to madness, to adoration, to death.
And she must love so, else she would die of famishment.
Her heart opened. Waves of tenderness, stormy, thunderous, mighty,
broke forth therefrom.
Would he desire all that love? And understand it? Was he worthy of
it? What did that matter?
She must give, give without measure and without reward, without
thought and without will, else she would smother under all her riches.
And though he was broken and famished and mean of mind and wretched,
a weakling in body and a dullard in soul; and though he lay there
emaciated and gasping, a skeleton almost, moveless, half given over to
dust and decay—what did it matter?
She loved him, loved him with that new and great love because he
alone in all the world was her own. He was that portion of life and
light and happiness which fate had given her.
She sprang up and stretched out her arms toward him.
“You my only one, my all,” she whispered, folding her hands under
her chin and staring at him.
His chest seemed quieter. He lay there in peace.
Weeping with happiness, she threw herself down beside him and kissed
his hands. And then, as he took no notice of all that, a slow
astonishment came over her. Also, she had an insecure feeling that his
hand was not as usual.
Powerless to cry out, almost to breathe, she looked upon him. She
felt his forehead; she groped for his heart. All was still and cold.
Then she knew.
The bell—the waiters—the physician—to what purpose? There was no
need of help here. She knelt down and wanted to pray, and make up for
A vision arose before her: the widow's house at home; her mother;
the tile oven; her old maidenish sisters rattling their wooden
crocheting hooks—and she herself beside them, her blonde hair smoothed
with water, a little riband at her breast, gazing out upon the frozen
fields, and throttling, throttling with love. For he whom fate had
given her could use her love no longer.
From the next room sounded the whispering, monotonous, broken,
assailing her ears in glowing waves:
“J'en mourrai—je t'adore—mon amour.“
That was his song of death. She felt that it was her own, too.
Madame Nelson, the beautiful American, had come to us from Paris,
equipped with a phenomenal voice and solid Italian technique. She had
immediately sung her way into the hearts of Berlin music-lovers,
provided that you care to call a mixture of snobbishness, sophisticated
impressionableness and goose-like imitativeness—heart. She had,
therefore, been acquired by one of our most distinguished opera houses
at a large salary and with long leaves of absence. I use the plural of
opera house in order that no one may try to scent out the facts.
Now we had her, more especially our world of Lotharios had her. Not
the younger sons of high finance, who make the boudoirs unsafe with
their tall collars and short breeches; nor the bearers of ancient names
who, having hung up their uniforms in the evening, assume monocle and
bracelet and drag these through second and third-class drawing-rooms.
No, she belonged to those worthy men of middle age, who have their
palaces in the west end, whose wives one treats with infinite respect,
and to whose evenings one gives a final touch of elegance by singing
two or three songs for nothing.
Then she committed her first folly. She went travelling with an
Italian tenor. “For purposes of art,” was the official version. But the
time for the trip—the end of August—had been unfortunately chosen.
And, as she returned ornamented with scratches administered by the
tenor's pursuing wife—no one believed her.
Next winter she ruined a counsellor of a legation and magnate's son
so thoroughly that he decamped to an unfrequented equatorial region,
leaving behind him numerous promissory notes of questionable value.
This poor fellow was revenged the following winter by a dark-haired
Roumanian fiddler, who beat her and forced her to carry her jewels to a
pawnshop, where they were redeemed at half price by their original
donour and used to adorn the plump, firm body of a stupid little ballet
Of course her social position was now forfeited. But then Berlin
forgets so rapidly. She became proper again and returned to her earlier
inclinations for gentlemen of middle life with extensive palaces and
extensive wives. So there were quite a few houses—none of the
strictest tone, of course—that were very glad to welcome the radiant
blonde with her famous name and fragrant and modest gowns—from Paquin
at ten thousand francs a piece.
At the same time she developed a remarkable business instinct. Her
connections with the stock exchange permitted her to speculate without
the slightest risk. For what gallant broker would let a lovely woman
lose? Thus she laid the foundation of a goodly fortune, which was made
to assume stately proportions by a tour through the United States, and
was given a last touch of solidity by a successful speculation in
Dresden real estate.
Furthermore, it would be unjust to conceal the fact that her most
recent admirer, the wool manufacturer Wormser, had a considerable share
in this hurtling rise of her fortunes.
Wormser guarded his good repute carefully. He insisted that his
illegitimate inclinations never lack the stamp of highest elegance. He
desired that they be given the greatest possible publicity at
race-meets and first nights. He didn't care if people spoke with a
degree of rancour, if only he was connected with the temporary lady of
Now, to be sure, there was a Mrs. Wormser. She came of a good
Frankfort family. Dowry: a million and a half. She was modern to the
very tips of her nervous, restless fingers.
This lady was inspired by such lofty social ideals that she would
have considered an inelegant liaison on her husband's part, an
insult not only offered to good taste in general, but to her own in
particular. Such an one she would, never have forgiven. On the other
hand, she approved of Madame Nelson thoroughly. She considered her the
most costly and striking addition to her household. Quite figuratively,
of course. Everything was arranged with the utmost propriety. At great
charity festivals the two ladies exchanged a friendly glance, and they
saw to it that their gowns were never made after the same model.
Then it happened that the house of Wormser was shaken. It wasn't a
serious breakdown, but among the good things that had to be thrown
overboard belonged—at the demand of the helping Frankforters—Madame
And so she waited, like a virgin, for love, like a man in the
weather bureau, for a given star. She felt that her star was yet to
This was the situation when, one day, Herr von Karlstadt had himself
presented to her. He was a captain of industry; international
reputation; ennobled; the not undistinguished son of a great father. He
had not hitherto been found in the market of love, but it was said of
him that notable women had committed follies for his sake. All in all,
he was a man who commanded the general interest in quite a different
measure from Wormser.
But artistic successes had raised Madame Nelson's name once more,
too, and when news of the accomplished fact circulated, society found
it hard to decide as to which of the two lent the other a more
brilliant light, or which was the more to be envied.
However that was, history was richer by a famous pair of lovers.
But, just as there had been a Mrs. Wormser, so there was a Mrs. von
And it is this lady of whom I wish to speak.
Mentally as well as physically Mara von Karlstadt did not belong to
that class of persons which imperatively commands the attention of the
public. She was sensitive to the point of madness, a little sensuous,
something of an enthusiast, coquettish only in so far as good taste
demanded it, and hopelessly in love with her husband. She was in love
with him to the extent that she regarded the conquests which
occasionally came to him, spoiled as he was, as the inevitable
consequences of her fortunate choice. They inspired her with a certain
woeful anger and also with a degree of pride.
The daughter of a great land owner in South Germany, she had been
brought up in seclusion, and had learned only very gradually how to
glide unconcernedly through the drawing-rooms. A tense smile upon her
lips, which many took for irony, was only a remnant of her old
diffidence. Delicate, dark in colouring, with a fine cameo-like
profile, smooth hair and a tawny look in her near-sighted eyes—thus
she glided about in society, and few but friends of the house took any
notice of her.
And this woman who found her most genuine satisfaction in the
peacefulness of life, who was satisfied if she could slip into her
carriage at midnight without the annoyance of one searching glance, of
one inquiring word, saw herself suddenly and without suspecting the
reason, become the centre of a secret and almost insulting curiosity.
She felt a whispering behind her in society; she saw from her box the
lenses of many opera glasses pointing her way.
The conversation of her friends began to teem with hints, and into
the tone of the men whom she knew there crept a kind of tender
compassion which pained her even though she knew not how to interpret
For the present no change was to be noted in the demeanour of her
husband. His club and his business had always kept him away from home a
good deal, and if a few extra hours of absence were now added, it was
easy to account for these in harmless ways, or rather, not to account
for them at all, since no one made any inquiry.
Then, however, anonymous letters began to come—thick, fragrant ones
with stamped coronets, and thin ones on ruled paper with the smudges of
She burned the first batch; the second she handed to her husband.
The latter, who was not far from forty, and who had trained himself
to an attitude of imperious brusqueness, straightened up, knotted his
bushy Bismarck moustache, and said:
“Well, suppose it is true. What have you to lose?”
She did not burst into tears of despair; she did not indulge in fits
of rage; she didn't even leave the room with quiet dignity; her soul
seemed neither wounded nor broken. She was not even affrighted. She
only thought: “I have forgiven him so much; why not forgive him this,
And as she had shared him before without feeling herself degraded,
so she would try to share him again.
But she soon observed that this logic of the heart would prove
wanting in this instance.
In former cases she had concealed his weakness under a veil of care
and considerateness. The fear of discovery had made a conscious but
silent accessory of her. When it was all over she breathed deep relief
at the thought; “I am the only one who even suspected.”
This time all the world seemed invited to witness the spectacle.
For now she understood all that, in recent days had tortured her
like an unexplained blot, an alien daub in the face which every one
sees but he whom it disfigures. Now she knew what the smiling hints of
her friends and the consoling desires of men had meant. Now she
recognised the reason why she was wounded by the attention of all.
She was “the wife of the man whom Madame Nelson ...”
And so torturing a shame came upon her as though she herself were
the cause of the disgrace with which the world seemed to overwhelm her.
This feeling had not come upon her suddenly. At first a stabbing
curiosity had awakened in her a self-torturing expectation, not without
its element of morbid attraction. Daily she asked herself: “What will
With quivering nerves and cramped heart, she entered evening after
evening, for the season was at its height, the halls of strangers on
her husband's arm.
And it was always the same thing. The same glances that passed from
her to him and from him to her, the same compassionate sarcasm upon
averted faces, the same hypocritical delicacy in conversation, the same
sudden silence as soon as she turned to any group of people to
listen—the same cruel pillory for her evening after evening, night
And if all this had not been, she would have felt it just the same.
And in these drawing-rooms there were so many women whose husbands'
affairs were the talk of the town. Even her predecessor, Mrs. Wormser,
had passed over the expensive immorality of her husband with a
self-sufficing smile and a condescending jest, and the world had bowed
down to her respectfully, as it always does when scenting a temperament
that it is powerless to wound.
Why had this martyrdom come to her, of all people?
Thus, half against her own will, she began to hide, to refuse this
or that invitation, and to spend the free evenings in the nursery,
watching over the sleep of her boys and weaving dreams of a new
happiness. The illness of her older child gave her an excuse for
withdrawing from society altogether and her husband did not restrain
It had never come to an explanation between them, and as he was
always considerate, even tender, and as sharp speeches were not native
to her temper, the peace of the home was not disturbed.
Soon it seemed to her, too, as though the rude inquisitiveness of
the world were slowly passing away. Either one had abandoned the
critical condition of her wedded happiness for more vivid topics, or
else she had become accustomed to the state of affairs.
She took up a more social life, and the shame which she had felt in
appearing publicly with her husband gradually died out.
What did not die out, however, was a keen desire to know the nature
and appearance of the woman in whose hands lay her own destiny. How did
she administer the dear possession that fate had put in her power? And
when and how would she give it back?
She threw aside the last remnant of reserve and questioned friends.
Then, when she was met by a smile of compassionate ignorance, she asked
women. These were more ready to report. But she would not and could not
believe what she was told. He had surely not degraded himself into
being one of a succession of moneyed rakes. It was clear to her that,
in order to soothe her grief, people slandered the woman and him with
In order to watch her secretly, she veiled heavily and drove to the
theatre where Madame Nelson was singing. Shadowlike she cowered in the
depths of a box which she had rented under an assumed name and followed
with a kind of pained voluptuousness the ecstasies of love which the
other woman, fully conscious of the victorious loveliness of her body,
unfolded for the benefit of the breathless crowd.
With such an abandoned raising of her radiant arms, she threw
herself upon his breast; with that curve of her modelled limbs,
she lay before his knees.
And in her awakened a reverent, renouncing envy of a being who had
so much to give, beside whom she was but a dim and poor shadow, weary
with motherhood, corroded with grief.
At the same time there appeared a California mine owner, a
multi-millionaire, with whom her husband had manifold business
dealings. He introduced his daughters into society and himself gave a
number of luxurious dinners at which he tried to assemble guests of the
most exclusive character.
Just as they were about to enter a carriage to drive to the
“Bristol,” to one of these dinners, a message came which forced Herr
von Karlstadt to take an immediate trip to his factories. He begged his
wife to go instead, and she did not refuse.
The company was almost complete and the daughter of the mine owner
was doing the honours of the occasion with appropriate grace when the
doors of the reception room opened for the last time and through the
open doorway floated rather than walked—Madame Nelson.
The petrified little group turned its glance of inquisitive horror
upon Mrs. von Karlstadt, while the mine owner's daughter adjusted the
necessary introductions with a grand air.
Should she go or not? No one was to be found who would offer her his
arm. Her feet were paralysed. And she remained.
The company sat down at table. And since fate, in such cases, never
does its work by halves, it came to pass that Madame Nelson was
assigned to a seat immediately opposite her.
The people present seemed grateful to her that they had not been
forced to witness a scene, and overwhelmed her with delicate signs of
this gratitude. Slowly her self-control returned to her. She dared to
look about her observantly, and, behold, Madame Nelson appealed to her.
Her French was faultless, her manners equally so, and when the
Californian drew her into the conversation, she practised the delicate
art of modest considerateness to the extent of talking past Mrs. von
Karlstadt in such a way that those who did not know were not
enlightened and those who knew felt their anxiety depart.
In order to thank her for this alleviation of a fatally painful
situation, Mrs. von Karlstadt occasionally turned perceptibly toward
the singer. For this Madame Nelson was grateful in her turn. Thus their
glances began to meet in friendly fashion, their voices to cross, the
atmosphere became less constrained from minute to minute, and when the
meal was over the astonished assembly had come to the conclusion that
Mrs. von Karlstadt was ignorant of the true state of affairs.
The news of this peculiar meeting spread like a conflagration. Her
women friends hastened to congratulate her on her strength of mind; her
male friends praised her loftiness of spirit. She went through the
degradation which she had suffered as though it were a triumph. Only
her husband went about for a time with an evil conscience and a
Months went by. The quietness of summer intervened, but the memory
of that evening rankled in her and blinded her soul. Slowly the thought
arose in her which was really grounded in vanity, but looked, in its
execution, like suffering love—the thought that she would legitimise
her husband's irregularity in the face of society.
Hence when the season began again she wrote a letter to Madame
Nelson in which she invited her, in a most cordial way, to sing at an
approaching function in her home. She proffered this request, not only
in admiration of the singer's gifts, but also, as she put it, “to
render nugatory a persistent and disagreeable rumour.”
Madame Nelson, to whom this chance of repairing her fair fame was
very welcome, had the indiscretion to assent, and even to accept the
condition of entire secrecy in regard to the affair.
The chronicler may pass over the painful evening in question with
suitable delicacy of touch. Nothing obvious or crass took place. Madame
Nelson sang three enchanting songs, accompanied by a first-rate
pianist. A friend of the house of whom the hostess had requested this
favour took Madame Nelson to the buffet. A number of guileless
individuals surrounded that lady with hopeful adoration. An ecstatic
mood prevailed. The one regrettable feature of the occasion was that
the host had to withdraw—as quietly as possible, of course—on account
of a splitting head-ache.
Berlin society, which felt wounded in the innermost depth of its
ethics, never forgave the Karlstadts for this evening. I believe that
in certain circles the event is still remembered, although years have
Its immediate result, however, was a breach between man and wife.
Mara went to the Riviera, where she remained until spring.
An apparent reconciliation was then patched up, but its validity was
Socially, too, things readjusted themselves, although people
continued to speak of the Karlstadt house with a smile that asked for
Mara felt this acutely, and while her husband appeared oftener and
more openly with his mistress, she withdrew into the silence of her
* * * * *
Then she took a lover.
Or, rather, she was taken by him.
A lonely evening ... A fire in the chimney ... A friend who came in
by accident ... The same friend who had taken care of Madame Nelson for
her on that memorable evening ... The fall of snow without ... A burst
of confidence ... A sob ... A nestling against the caressing hand ...
It was done ...
Months passed. She experienced not one hour of intoxication, not one
of that inner absolution which love brings. It was moral slackness and
weariness that made her yield again....
Then the consequences appeared.
Of course, the child could not, must not, be born. And it was not
born. One can imagine the horror of that tragic time: the criminal
flame of sleepless nights, the blood-charged atmosphere of guilty
despair, the moans of agony that had to be throttled behind closed
What remained to her was lasting invalidism.
The way from her bed to an invalid's chair was long and hard.
Time passed. Improvements came and gave place to lapses in her
condition. Trips to watering-places alternated with visits to
In those places sat the pallid, anaemic women who had been tortured
and ruined by their own or alien guilt. There they sat and engaged in
wretched flirtations with flighty neurasthenics.
And gradually things went from bad to worse. The physicians shrugged
their friendly shoulders.
And then it happened that Madame Nelson felt the inner necessity of
running away with a handsome young tutor. She did this less out of
passion than to convince the world—after having thoroughly fleeced
it—of the unselfishness of her feelings. For it was her ambition to be
counted among the great lovers of all time.
* * * * *
One evening von Karlstadt entered the sick chamber of his wife, sat
down beside her bed and silently took her hand. She was aware of
everything, and asked with a gentle smile upon her white lips:
“Be frank with me: did you love her, at least?”
He laughed shrilly. “What should have made me love this—business
They looked at each other long. Upon her face death had set its
seal. His hair was gray, his self-respect broken, his human worth
And then, suddenly, they clung to each other, and leaned their
foreheads against each other, and wept.
It was on a sunny afternoon in October. Human masses streamed
through the alleys of the Tiergarten. With the desperate passion
of an ageing woman who feels herself about to be deserted, the giant
city received the last caresses of summer. A dotted throng that was not
unlike the chaos of the Champs Elysees, filled the broad, gray
road that leads to Charlottenburg.
Berlin, which cannot compete with any other great European city, as
far as the luxury of vehicular traffic is concerned, seemed to have
sent out to-day all it possessed in that kind. The weather was too
beautiful for closed coupes, and hence the comfortable family
landau was most in evidence. Only now and then did an elegant victoria
glide along, or an aristocratic four-in-hand demand the respectful
yielding of the crowd.
A dog-cart of dark yellow, drawn by a magnificent trotter, attracted
the attention of experts. The noble animal, which seemed to feel the
security of the guiding hand, leaned, snorting, upon its bit. With far
out-reaching hind legs, it flew along, holding its neck moveless, as
became a scion of its race.
The man who drove was sinewy, tall, about forty, with clear, gray
eyes, sharply cut profile and a close-clipped moustache. In his thin,
brownish cheeks were several deep scars, and between the straight,
narrow brows could be seen two salient furrows.
His attire—an asphalt-gray, thick-seamed overcoat, a coloured shirt
and red gloves—did not deny the sportsman. His legs, which pressed
against the footboard, were clad in tight, yellow riding boots.
Many people saluted him. He returned their salutations with that
careless courtesy which belongs to those who know themselves to have
transcended the judgment of men.
If one of his acquaintances happened to be accompanied by a lady, he
bowed deeply and respectfully, but without giving the ladies in
question a single glance.
People looked after him and mentioned his name: Baron von
Ah, that fellow ...
And they looked around once more.
At the square of the Great Star he turned to the left, drove
along the river, passed the well-known resort called simply The
Tents, and stopped not far from the building of the general staff
of the army and drew up before a large distinguished house with a
fenced front garden and cast-iron gate to the driveway.
He threw the reins to the groom, who sat statuesquely behind him,
and said: “Drive home.”
Jumping from the cart, he observed the handle of the scraper
sticking in the top of one of his boots. He drew it out, threw it on
the seat, and entered the house.
The janitor, an old acquaintance, greeted him with the servile
intimacy of the tip-expecting tribe.
On the second floor he stopped and pulled the bell whose glass knob
glittered above a neat brass plate.
“Ludovika Kraissl,” was engraved upon it.
A maid, clad with prim propriety in a white apron and white lace
cap, opened the door.
He entered and handed her his hat.
“Is Madame at home?”
He looked at her through half-closed lids, and observed how her
milk-white little madonna's face flushed to the roots of her blonde
“Where did she go?”
“Madame meant to go to the dressmaker,” the girl stuttered, “and to
make some purchases.” She avoided his eyes. She had been in service
only three months and had not yet perfected herself in lying.
He whistled a tune between his set teeth and entered the
A penetrating perfume streamed forth.
“Open the window, Meta.”
She passed noiselessly through the room and executed his command.
Frowning, he looked about him. The empty pomp of the light woman
offended his taste. The creature who lived here had a gift for filling
every corner with banal and tasteless trivialities.
When he had turned over the flat to her it had been a charming
little place, full of delicate tints and the simple lines of Louis
Seize furniture. In a few years she had made a junk shop of it.
“Would you care for tea, sir, or anything else?” the girl asked.
“No, thank you. Pull off my boots, Meta. I'll change my dress and
then go out again.”
Modestly, almost humbly, she bowed before him and set his spurred
foot gently on her lap. Then she loosened the top straps. He let his
glance rest, well pleased, upon her smooth, silvery blonde hair.
How would it work if he sent his mistress packing and installed this
girl in her place?
But he immediately abandoned the thought. He had seen the thing done
by some of his friends. In a single year the chastest and most modest
servant girl was so thoroughly corrupted that she had to be driven into
“We men seem to emit a pestilential air,” he reflected, “that
corrupts every woman.”
“Or at least men of my kind,” he added carefully.
“Have you any other wishes, sir?” asked the girl, daintily wiping
her hands on her apron.
“No, thank you.”
She turned to the door.
“One thing more, Meta. When did Madame say she would be back?”
Her face was again mantled with blood.
“She didn't say anything definite. I was to make her excuses. She
intended to return home by evening, at all events.”
He nodded and the girl went with a sigh of relief, gently closing
the door behind her.
He continued to whistle, and looked up at a hanging lamp, which
defined itself against the window niche by means of a wreath of gay
In this hanging lamp, which hung there unnoticed and unreachable
from the floor, he had, a year ago, quite by accident, discovered a
store of love letters. His mistress had concealed them there since she
evidently did not even consider the secret drawer of her desk a
sufficiently safe repository.
He had carefully kept the secret of the lamp to himself, and had
only fed his grim humour from time to time by observing the changes of
her heart by means of added missives. In this way he had been able to
observe the number of his excellent friends with whom she deceived him.
Thus his contempt for mankind assumed monstrous proportions, but
this contempt was the one emotional luxury which his egoism was still
He grasped a chair and seemed, for a moment about to mount to the
lamp to inspect her latest history. But he let his hand fall. After
all, it was indifferent with whom she was unfaithful to-day....
And he was tired. A bad day's work lay behind him. A three-year-old
full-blooded horse, recently imported from Hull, had proven itself
abnormally sensitive and had brought him to the verge of despair by its
fearfulness and its moods. He had exercised it for hours, and had only
succeeded in making the animal more nervous than before. Great sums
were at stake if the fault should prove constitutional and not curable.
He felt the impulse to share his worries with some one, but he knew
of no one. From the point of view of Miss Ludi's naive selfishness, it
was simply his duty to be successful. She didn't care for the
troublesome details. At his club, again, each one was warily guarding
his own interests. Hence it was necessary there to speak carefully,
since an inadvertent expression might affect general opinion.
He almost felt impelled to call in the maid and speak to her of his
Then his own softness annoyed him.
It was his wont to pass through life in lordly isolation and to
astonish the world by his successes. That was all he needed.
Yawning he stretched himself out on the chaise longue. Time
Three hours would pass until Ludi's probable return. He was so
accustomed to the woman's society that he almost longed for her. Her
idle chatter helped him. Her little tricks refreshed him. But the most
important point was this: she was no trouble. He could caress her or
beat her, call to her and drive her from him like a little dog. He
could let her feel the full measure of his contempt, and she would not
move a muscle. She was used to nothing else.
He passed two or three hours daily in her company, for time had to
be killed somehow. Sometimes, too, he took her to the circus or the
theatre. He had long broken with the families of his acquaintance and
could appear in public with light women.
And yet he felt a sharp revulsion at the atmosphere that surrounded
him. A strange discomfort invaded his soul in her presence. He didn't
feel degraded. He knew her to be a harlot. But that was what he wanted.
None but such an one would permit herself to be so treated. It was
rather a disguised discouragement that held him captive.
Was life to pass thus unto the very end? Was life worth living, if
it offered a favourite of fortune, a master of his will and of his
actions, nothing better than this?
“Surely I have the spleen,” he said to himself, sprang up, and went
into the next room to change his clothes. He had a wardrobe in Ludi's
dressing room in order to be able to go out from here in the evening
It was near four o'clock.
The sun laughed through the window. Its light was deep purple,
changing gradually to violet. Masses of leaves, red as rust, gleamed
over from the Tiergarten. The figure of Victory upon the
triumphal column towered toward heaven like a mighty flame.
He felt an impulse to wander through the alleys of the park idly and
aimlessly, at most to give a coin to a begging child.
He left the house and went past the Moltke monument and the winding
ways that lead to the Charlottenburg road.
The ground exhaled the sweetish odour of decaying plants. Rustling
heaps of leaves, which the breezes of noon had swept together, flew
apart under his tread. The westering sun threw red splotches of light
on the faint green of the tree trunks that exuded their moisture in
Here it was lonely. Only beyond the great road, whose many-coloured
pageant passed by him like a kinematograph, did he hear again in the
alleys the sounds of children's voices, song and laughter.
In the neighbourhood of the Rousseau Island he met a
gentleman whom he knew and who had been a friend of his youth. Stout of
form, his round face surrounded by a close-clipped beard, he wandered
along, leading two little girls in red, while a boy in a blue sailor
suit rode ahead, herald-like, on his father's walking-stick.
The two men bowed to each other coolly, but without ill-will. They
were simply estranged. The busy servant of the state and father of a
family was scarcely to be found in those circles were the daily work
consists in riding and betting and gambling.
Stueckrath sat down on a bench and gazed after the group. The little
red frocks gleamed through the bushes, and Papa's admonishing and
restraining voice was to be heard above the noise of the boy who made a
trumpet of his hollow hand.
“Is that the way happiness looks?” he asked himself. “Can a man of
energy and action find satisfaction in these banal domesticities?”
And strangely enough, these fathers of families, men who serve the
state and society, who occupy high offices, make important inventions
and write good books—these men have red cheeks and laughing eyes. They
do not look as though the burden which they carry squeezes the breath
of life out of them. They get ahead, in spite of the childish hands
that cling to their coats, in spite of the trivialities with which they
pass their hours of leisure.
An indeterminate feeling of envy bored into his soul. He fought it
down and went on, right into the throng that filled the footpaths of
the Tiergarten. Groups of ladies from the west end went by him
in rustling gowns of black. He did not know them and did not wish to
Here, too, he recognized fewer of the men. The financiers who have
made this quarter their own appear but rarely at the races.
Accompanying carriages kept pace with the promenaders in order to
explain and excuse their unusual exertion. For in this world the
continued absence of one's carriage may well shake one's credit.
The trumpeting motor-cars whirred by with gleaming brasses. Of the
beautiful women in them, little could be seen in the swift gleams. It
was the haste of a new age that does not even find time to display its
Upon the windows of the villas and palaces opposite lay the
iridescent glow of the evening sun. The facades took on purple colours,
and the decaying masses of vines that weighed heavily upon the fences
seemed to glow and shine from within with the very phosphorescence of
Flooded by this light, a slender, abnormally tall girl came into
Stueckrath's field of vision. She led by the arm an aged lady, who
hobbled with difficulty along the pebbly path. A closed carriage with
escutcheon and coronet followed the two slowly.
He stopped short. An involuntary movement had passed through his
body, an impulse to turn off into one of the side paths. But he
conquered himself at once, and looked straight at the approaching
Like a mere line of blackness, thin of limb and waist, attired with
nun-like austerity in garments that hung as if withering upon her, she
stood against the background of autumnal splendour.
Now she recognised him, too. A sudden redness that at once gave way
to lifeless pallor flashed across her delicate, stern face.
They looked straight into each other's eyes.
He bowed deeply. She smiled with an effort at indifference.
“And so she is faded, too,” he thought. To be sure, her face still
bore the stamp of a simple and severe beauty, but time and grief had
dealt ungently with it. The lips were pale and anaemic, two or three
folds, sharp as if made with a knife, surrounded them. About the eyes,
whose soft and lambent light of other days had turned into a hard and
troubled sharpness, spread concentric rings, united by a net-work of
veins and wrinkles.
He stood still, lost in thought, and looked after her.
She still trod the earth like a queen, but her outline was
Only hopelessness bears and attires itself thus.
He calculated. She must be thirty-six. Thirteen years ago he had
known her and—loved her? Perhaps....
At least he had left her the evening before their formal betrothal
was to take place because her father had dared to remark upon his way
He loved his personal liberty more than his beautiful and wealthy
betrothed who clung to him with every fibre of her delicate and noble
soul. One word from her, had it been but a word of farewell, would have
recalled him. That word remained unspoken.
Thus her life's happiness had been wrecked. Perhaps his, too. What
did it matter?
Since then he had nothing but contempt for the daughters of good
families. Other women were less exacting; they did not attempt to
circumscribe his freedom.
He gazed after her long. Now groups of other pedestrians intervened;
now her form reappeared sharp and narrow against the trees. From time
to time she stooped lovingly toward the old lady, who, as is the wont
of aged people, trod eagerly and fearfully.
This fragile heap of bones, with the dull eyes and the sharp
voice—he remembered the voice well: it had had part in his decision.
This strange, unsympathetic, suspicious old woman, he would have had to
What madness! What hypocrisy!
And yet his hunger for happiness, which had not yet died, reminded
him of all that might have been.
A sea of warm, tender and unselfish love would have flooded him and
fructified and vivified the desert of his soul. And instead of becoming
withered and embittered, she would have blossomed at his side more
richly from day to day.
Now it was too late. A long, thin, wretched little creature—she
went her way and was soon lost in the distance.
But there clung to his soul the yearning for a woman—one who had
more of womanliness than its name and its body, more than the harlot
whom he kept because he was too slothful to drive her from him.
He sought the depths of his memory. His life had been rich in
gallant adventures. Many a full-blooded young woman had thrown herself
at him, and had again vanished from his life under the compulsion of
his growing coldness.
He loved his liberty. Even an unlawful relation felt like a fetter
so soon as it demanded any sacrifice of time or interests. Also, he did
not like to give less than he received. For, since the passing of his
unscrupulous youth, he had not cared to receive the gift of a human
destiny only to throw it aside as his whim demanded.
And therefore his life had grown quiet during the last few years.
He thought of one of his last loves ... the very last ... and
The image of a delicately plump brunette little woman, with dreamy
eyes and delicious little curls around her ears, rose up before him.
She dwelt in his memory as she had seemed to him: modest, soulful, all
ecstatic yielding and charming simple-heartedness.
She did not belong to society. He had met her at a dinner given by a
financial magnate. She was the wife of an upper clerk who was well
respected in the business world. With adoring curiosity, she peeped
into the great strange world, whose doors opened to her for the first
He took her to the table, was vastly entertained by the lack of
sophistication with which she received all these new impressions, and
smilingly accepted the undisguised adoration with which she regarded
him in his character of a famous horseman and rake.
He flirted with her a bit and that turned her head completely. In
lonely dreams her yearning for elegant and phantastic sin had grown to
enormity. She was now so wholly and irresistibly intoxicated that he
received next morning a deliciously scribbled note in which she begged
him for a secret meeting—somewhere in the neighbourhood of the
Arkona Place or Weinmeisterstrasse, regions as unknown to
him as the North Cape or Yokohama.
Two or three meetings followed. She appeared, modest, anxious and in
love, a bunch of violets for his button-hole in her hand, and some
surprise for her husband in her pocket.
Then the affair began to bore him and he refused an appointment.
One evening, during the last days of November, she appeared, thickly
veiled, in his dwelling, and sank sobbing upon his breast. She could
not live without seeing him; she was half crazed with longing; he was
to do with her what he would. He consoled her, warmed her, and kissed
the melting snow from her hair. But when in his joy at what he
considered the full possession of a jewel his tenderness went beyond
hers, her conscience smote her. She was an honest woman. Horror and
shame would drive her into her grave if she went hence an adulteress.
He must have pity on her and be content with her pure adoration.
He had the requisite pity, dismissed her with a paternal kiss upon
her forehead, but at the same time ordered his servant to admit her no
Then came two or three letters. In her agony over the thought of
losing him, she was willing to break down the last reserve. But he did
not answer the letters.
At the same time the thought came to him of going up the Nile in a
dahabiyeh. He was bored and had a cold.
On the evening of his departure he found her waiting in his rooms.
“What do you want?”
“Take me along.”
“How do you know?”
“Take me along.”
She said nothing else.
The necessity of comforting her was clear. A thoroughgoing farewell
was celebrated, with the understanding that it was a farewell forever.
The pact had been kept. After his return and for two years more she
had given no sign of life. He now thought of this woman. He felt a
poignant longing for the ripe sweetness of her oval face, the veiled
depth of her voice. He desired once more to be embraced by her firm
arms, to be kissed by her mad, hesitating lips.
Why had he dropped her? How could he have abandoned her so rudely?
The thought came into his head of looking her up now, in this very
He had a dim recollection of the whereabouts of her dwelling. He
could soon ascertain its exact situation.
Then again the problems of his racing stable came into his head. The
thought of “Maidenhood,” the newly purchased horse, worried him. He had
staked much upon one throw. If he lost, it would take time to repair
Suddenly he found himself in a tobacconist's shop, looking for her
name in the directory. Friedrich-Wilhelm Strasse was the
address. Quite near, as he had surmised.
He was not at loss for an excuse. Her husband must still be in his
office at this hour. He would not be asked for any very strict
accounting for his action. At worst there was an approaching riding
festival, for which he could request her cooperation.
Perhaps she had forgotten him and would revenge herself for her
humiliation. Perhaps she would be insulted and not even receive him. At
best he must count upon coldness, bitter truths and that appearance of
hatred which injured love assumes.
What did it matter? She was a woman, after all.
The vestibule of the house was supported by pillars; its walls were
ornately stuccoed; the floor was covered with imitation oriental rugs.
It was the rented luxury with which the better middle-class loves to
He ascended three flights of stairs.
An elderly servant in a blue apron regarded the stranger
He asked for her mistress.
She would see. Holding his card gingerly, she disappeared.
Now he would see....
Then, as he bent forward, listening, he heard through the open door
a cry—not of horrified surprise, but of triumph and jubilation, such a
cry of sudden joy as only a long and hopeless and unrestrainable
yearning can send forth.
He thought he had heard wrong, but the smiling face of the returning
servant reassured him.
He was to be made welcome.
He entered. With outstretched hands, tears in her eyes, her face
a-quiver with a vain attempt at equanimity—thus she came forward to
“There you are ... there you are ... you....”
Overwhelmed and put to shame by her forgiveness and her happiness,
he stood before her in silence.
What could he have said to her that would not have sounded either
coarse or trivial?
And she demanded neither explanation nor excuse.
He was here—that was enough for her.
As he let his glance rest upon her, he confessed that his mental
image of her fell short of the present reality.
She had grown in soul and stature. Her features bore signs of power
and restraint, and of a strong inner tension. Her eyes sought him with
a steady light; in her bosom battled the pent-up joy.
She asked him to be seated. “In that corner,” she said, and led him
to a tiny sofa covered with glittering, light-green silk, above which
hung a withered palm-leaf fan.
“I have sat there so often,” she went on, “so often, and have
thought of you, always—always. You'll drink tea, won't you?”
He was about to refuse, but she interrupted him.
“Oh, but you must, you must. You can't refuse! It has been my dream
all this time to drink tea with you here just once—just once. To serve
you on this little table and hand you the basket with cakes! Do you see
this little lacquer table, with the lovely birds of inlaid
mother-of-pearl? I had that given to me last Christmas for the especial
purpose of serving you tea on it. For I said to myself: 'He is
accustomed to the highest elegance.' And you are here and are going to
refuse? No, no, that's impossible. I couldn't bear that.”
And she flew to the door and called out her orders to the servant.
He regarded her in happy astonishment. In all her movements there
was a rhythm of unconscious loveliness, such as he had rarely seen in
any woman. With simple, unconscious elegance, her dress flowed about
her taller figure, whose severe lines were softened by the womanly
curves of her limbs. And all that belonged to him.
He could command this radiant young body and this radiant young
soul. All that was one hunger to be possessed by him.
“Bind her to yourself,” cried his soul, “and build yourself a new
Then she returned. She stopped a few paces from him, folded her
hands under her chin, gazed at him wide-eyed and whispered: “There he
is! There he is!”
He grew uncomfortable under this expense of passion.
“I should wager that I sit here with a foolish face,” he thought.
“But now I'm going to be sensible,” she went on, sitting down on a
low stool that stood next to the sofa. “And while the tea is steeping
you must tell me how things have gone with you all this long time. For
it is a very long time since ... Ah, a long time....”
It seemed to him that there was a reproach behind these words. He
gave but a dry answer to her question, but threw the more warmth into
his inquiries concerning her life.
She laughed and waved her hand.
“Oh, I!” she cried. “I have fared admirably. Why should I not? Life
makes me as happy as though I were a child. Oh, I can always be
happy.... That's characteristic of me. Nearly every day brings
something new and usually something delightful.... And since I've been
in love with you.... You mustn't take that for a banal declaration of
passion, dear friend.... Just imagine you are merely my confidant, and
that I'm telling you of my distant lover who takes little notice of a
foolish woman like myself. But then, that doesn't matter so long as I
know that he is alive and can fear and pray for him; so long as the
same morning sun shines on us both. Why, do you know, it's a most
delicious feeling, when the morning is fair and the sun golden and one
may stand at the window and say: 'Thank God, it is a beautiful day for
He passed his hand over his forehead.
“It isn't possible,” he thought. “Such things don't exist in this
And she went on, not thinking that perhaps he, too, would want to
“I don't know whether many people have the good fortune to be as
happy as I. But I am, thank God. And do you know, the best part of it
all and the sunniest, I owe to you. For instance: Summer before last we
went to Heligoland, last summer to Schwarzburg.... Do you know it?
Isn't it beautiful? Well, for instance: I wake up; I open my eyes to
the dawn. I get up softly, so as not to disturb my husband, and go on
my bare feet to the window. Without, the wooded mountains lie dark and
peaceful. There is a peace over it all that draws one's tears ... it is
so beautiful ... and behind, on the horizon, there shines a broad path
of gold. And the fir-trees upon the highest peaks are sharply defined
against the gold, like little men with many outstretched arms. And
already the early piping of a few birds is heard. And I fold my hands
and think: I wonder where he is.... And if he is asleep, has he fair
dreams? Ah, if he were here and could see all this loveliness. And I
think of him with such impassioned intensity that it is not hard
to believe him here and able to see it all. And at last a chill comes
up, for it is always cool in the mountains, as you know.... And then
one slips back into bed, and is annoyed to think that one must sleep
four hours more instead of being up and thinking of him. And when one
wakes up for a second time, the sun throws its golden light into the
windows, and the breakfast table is set on the balcony. And one's
husband has been up quite a while, but waits patiently. And his dear,
peaceful face is seen through the glass door. At such moments one's
heart expands in gratitude to God who has made life so beautiful and
one can hardly bear one's own happiness—and—there is the tea.”
The elderly maid came in with a salver, which she placed on the
piano, in order to set the little table properly. A beautiful napkin of
damask silk lay ready. The lady of the house scolded jestingly. It
would injure the polish of the piano, and what was her guest to think
of such shiftlessness.
The maid went out.
She took up the tea-kettle, and asked in a voice full of bliss.
“Strong or weak, dear master?”
“One or two lumps of sugar?”
“Two lumps, please.”
She passed him the cup with a certain solemnity.
“So this is the great moment, the pinnacle of all happiness as I
have dreamed of it! Now, tell me yourself: Am I not to be envied?
Whatever I wish is fulfilled. And, do you know, last year in Heligoland
I had a curious experience. We capsised by the dunes and I fell into
the water. As I lost consciousness, I thought that you were there and
were saving me. Later when I lay on the beach, I saw, of course, that
it had been only a stupid old fisherman. But the feeling was so
wonderful while it lasted that I almost felt like jumping into the
water again. Speaking of water, do you take rum in your tea?”
He shook his head. Her chatter, which at first had enraptured him,
began to fill him with sadness. He did not know how to respond. His
youthfulness and flexibility of mind had passed from him long ago: he
had long lost any inner cheerfulness.
And while she continued to chat, his thoughts wandered, like a
horse, on their accustomed path on the road of his daily worries. He
thought of an unsatisfactory jockey, of the nervous horse.
What was this woman to him, after all?
“By the way,” he heard her say, “I wanted to ask you whether
'Maidenhood' has arrived?”
He sat up sharply and stared at her. Surely he had heard wrong.
“What do you know about 'Maidenhood'?”
“But, my dear friend, do you suppose I haven't heard of your
beautiful horse, by 'Blue Devil' out of 'Nina'? Now, do you see? I
believe I know the grandparents, too. Anyhow, you are to be
congratulated on your purchase. The English trackmen are bursting with
envy. To judge by that, you ought to have an immense success.”
“But, for heaven's sake, how do you know all this?”
“Dear me, didn't your purchase appear in all the sporting papers?”
“Do you read those papers?”
“Surely. You see, here is the last number of the Spur, and
yonder is the bound copy of the German Sporting News.”
“I see; but to what purpose?”
“Oh, I'm a sporting lady, dear master. I look upon the world of
horses—is that the right expression?—with benevolent interest. I hope
that isn't forbidden?”
“But you never told me a word about that before!”
She blushed a little and cast her eyes down.
“Oh, before, before.... That interest didn't come until later.”
He understood and dared not understand.
“Don't look at me so,” she besought him; there's nothing very
remarkable about it. I just said to myself: “Well, if he doesn't want
you, at least you can share his life from afar. That isn't immodest, is
it? And then the race meets were the only occasions on which I could
see you from afar. And whenever you yourself rode—oh, how my heart
beat—fit to burst. And when you won, oh, how proud I was! I could have
cried out my secret for all the world to hear. And my poor husband's
arm was always black and blue. I pinched him first in my anxiety and
then in my joy.”
“So your husband happily shares your enthusiasm?”
“Oh, at first he wasn't very willing. But then, he is so good, so
good. And as I couldn't go to the races alone, why he just had to go
with me! And in the end he has become as great an enthusiast as I am.
We can sit together for hours and discuss the tips. And he just admires
you so—almost more than I. Oh, how happy he'd be to meet you here. You
mustn't refuse him that pleasure. And now you're laughing at me. Shame
“I give you my word that nothing—”
“Oh, but you smiled. I saw you smile.”
“Perhaps. But assuredly with no evil intention. And now you'll
permit me to ask a serious question, won't you?”
“Do you love your husband?”
“Why, of course I love him. You don't know him, or you wouldn't ask.
How could I help it? We're like two children together. And I don't mean
anything silly. We're like that in hours of grief, too. Sometimes when
I look at him in his sleep—the kind, careworn forehead, the silent
serious mouth—and when I think how faithfully and carefully he guides
me, how his one dreaming and waking thought is for my happiness—why,
then I kneel down and kiss his hands till he wakes up. Once he thought
it was our little dog, and murmured 'Shoo, shoo!' Oh, how we laughed!
And if you imagine that such a state of affairs can't be reconciled
with my feeling for you, why, then you're quite wrong. That is
upon an entirely different plane.”
“And your life is happy?”
Radiantly she folded her hands.
She did not suspect her position on the fearful edge of an abyss.
She had not yet realised what his coming meant, nor how defenceless she
He had but to stretch out his arms and she would fly to him, ready
to sacrifice her fate to his mood. And this time there would be no
returning to that well-ordered content.
A dull feeling of responsibility arose in him and paralysed his
will. Here was all that he needed in order to conquer a few years of
new freshness and joy for the arid desert of his life. Here was the
spring of life for which he was athirst. And he had not the courage to
touch it with his lips.
A silence ensued in which their mood threatened to darken and grow
Then he pulled himself together.
“You don't ask me why I came, dear friend.”
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
“A moment's impulse—or loneliness. That's all.”
“And a bit of remorse, don't you think so?”
“Remorse? For what? You have nothing with which to reproach
yourself. Was not our agreement made to be kept?”
“And yet I couldn't wholly avoid the feeling as if my unbroken
silence must have left a sting in your soul which would embitter your
memory of me.”
Thoughtfully she stirred her tea.
“No,” she said at last, “I'm not so foolish. The memory of you is a
sacred one. If that were not so, how could I have gone on living? That
time, to be sure, I wanted to take my life. I had determined on that
before I came to you. For that one can leave the man with whom.... I
never thought that possible.... But one learns a good deal—a good
deal.... And now I'll tell you how it came to pass that I didn't take
my life that night. When everything was over, and I stood in the street
before your house, I said to myself: 'Now the river is all that is
left.' In spite of rain and storm, I took an open cab and drove out to
the Tiergarten. Wasn't the weather horrible! At the Great
Star I left the cab and ran about in the muddy ways, weeping,
weeping. I was blind with tears, and lost my way. I said to myself that
I would die at six. There were still four minutes left. I asked a
policeman the way to Bellevue, for I did remember that the river
flows hard behind the castle. The policeman said: 'There it is. The
hour is striking in the tower now.' And when I heard the clock strike,
the thought came to me: 'Now my husband is coming home, tired and
hungry, and I'm not there. If at least he wouldn't let his dinner get
cold. But of course he will wait. He'd rather starve than eat without
me. And he'll be frightened more and more as the hours pass. Then he'll
run to the police. And next morning he'll be summoned by telegram to
the morgue. There he'll break down helplessly and hopelessly and I
won't be able to console him.' And when I saw that scene in my mind, I
called out: 'Cab! cab!' But there was no cab. So I ran back to the
Great Star, and jumped into the street-car, and rode home and
rushed into his arms and cried my fill.”
“And had your husband no questions to ask? Did he entertain no
“Oh, no, he knows me, I am taken that way sometimes. If anything
moves or delights me deeply—a lovely child on the street—you see, I
haven't any—or some glorious music, or sometimes only the park in
spring and some white statue in the midst of the greenery. Oh,
sometimes I seem to feel my very soul melt, and then he lays his cool,
firm hand on my forehead and I am healed.”
“And were you healed on that occasion, too?”
“Yes. I was calmed at once. 'Here,' I said to myself, 'is this dear,
good man, to whom you can be kind. And as far as the other is
concerned, why it was mere mad egoism to hope to have a share in his
life. For to give love means, after all, to demand love. And what can a
poor, supersensitive thing like you mean to him? He has others. He need
but stretch forth his hand, and the hearts of countesses and princesses
“Dear God,” he thought, and saw the image of the purchasable harlot,
who was supposed to satisfy his heart's needs.
But she chatted on, and bit by bit built up for him the image of him
which she had cherished during these two years. All the heroes of
Byron, Poushkine, Spielhagen and Scott melted into one glittering
figure. There was no splendour of earth with which her generous
imagination had not dowered him.
He listened with a melancholy smile, and thought: “Thank God, she
doesn't know me. If I didn't take a bit of pleasure in my stable, the
contrast would be too terrible to contemplate.”
And there was nothing forward, nothing immodest, in this joyous
enthusiasm. It was, in fact, as if he were a mere confidant, and she
were singing a hymn in praise of her beloved.
And thus she spared him any feeling of shame.
But what was to happen now?
It went without saying that this visit must have consequences of
some sort. It was her right to demand that he do not, for a second
time, take her up and then fling her aside at the convenience of a
Almost timidly he asked after her thoughts of the future.
“Let's not speak of it. You won't come back, anyhow.”
“How can you think....”
“Oh, no, you won't come back. And what is there here for you? Do you
want to be adored by me? You spoiled gentlemen soon tire of that sort
of thing.... Or would you like to converse with my husband? That
wouldn't amuse you. He's a very silent man and his reserve thaws only
when he is alone with me.... But it doesn't matter.... You have been
here. And the memory of this hour will always be dear and precious to
me. Now, I have something more in which my soul can take pleasure.”
A muffled pain stirred in him. He felt impelled to throw himself at
her feet and bury his head in her lap. But he respected the majesty of
“And if I myself desired....”
That was all he said; all he dared to say. The sudden glory in her
face commanded his silence. Under the prudence which his long
experience dictated, his mood grew calmer.
But she had understood him.
In silent blessedness, she leaned her head against the wall. Then
she whispered, with closed eyes: “It is well that you said no more. I
might grow bold and revive hopes that are dead. But if you....”
She raised her eyes to his. A complete surrender to his will lay in
Then she raised her head with a listening gesture.
“My husband,” she said, after she had fought down a slight
involuntary fright, and said it with sincere joy.
Three glowing fingers barely touched his. Then she hastened to the
“Guess who is here,” she called out; “guess!”
On the threshold appeared a sturdy man of middle size and middle
age. His round, blonde beard came to a grayish point beneath the chin.
His thin cheeks were yellow, but with no unhealthful hue. His quiet,
friendly eyes gleamed behind glasses that sat a trifle too far down his
nose, so that in speaking his head was slightly thrown back and his
With quiet astonishment he regarded the elegant stranger. Coming
nearer, however, he recognised him at once in spite of the twilight,
and, a little confused with pleasure, stretched out his hand.
Upon his tired, peaceful features, there was no sign of any sense of
strangeness, any desire for an explanation.
Stueckrath realized that toward so simple a nature craft would have
been out of place, and simply declared that he had desired to renew an
acquaintance which he had always remembered with much pleasure.
“I don't want to speak of myself, Baron,” the man replied, “but you
probably scarcely realise what pleasure you are giving my wife.” And he
nodded down at her who stood beside him, apparently unconcerned except
for her wifely joy.
A few friendly words were exchanged. Further speech was really
superfluous, since the man's unassailable innocence demanded no
caution. But Stueckrath was too much pleased with him to let him feel
his insignificance by an immediate departure.
Hence he sat a little longer, told of his latest purchases, and was
shamed by the satisfaction with which the man rehearsed the history of
He did not neglect the courtesy of asking them both to call on him,
and took his leave, accompanied by the couple to the door. He could not
decide which of the two pressed his hand more warmly.
When in the darkness of the lower hall he looked upward, he saw two
faces which gazed after him with genuine feeling.
* * * * *
Out amid the common noises of the street he had the feeling as
though he had returned from some far island of alien seas into the
wonted current of life.
He shuddered at the thought of what lay before him.
Then he went toward the Tiergarten. A red afterglow eddied
amid the trees. In the sky gleamed a harmony of delicate blue tints,
shading into green. Great white clouds towered above, but rested upon
the redness of the sunset.
The human stream flooded as always between the flickering, starry
street-lamps of the Tiergartenstrasse. Each man and woman sought
to wrest a last hour of radiance from the dying day.
Dreaming, estranged, Stueckrath made his way through the crowd, and
hurriedly sought a lonely footpath that disappeared in the darkness of
Again for a moment the thought seared him: “Take her and rebuild the
structure of your life.”
But when he sought to hold the thought and the accompanying emotion,
it was gone. Nothing remained but a flat after taste—the dregs of a
The withered leaves rustled beneath his tread. Beside the path
glimmered the leaf-flecked surface of a pool.
“It would be a crime, to be sure,” he said to himself, “to shatter
the peace of those two poor souls. But, after all, life is made up of
such crimes. The life of one is the other's death; one's happiness the
other's wretchedness. If only I could be sure that some happiness would
result, that the sacrifice of their idyl would bring some profit.”
But he had too often had the discouraging and disappointing
experience that he had become incapable of any strong and enduring
emotion. What had he to offer that woman, who, in a mixture of passion,
and naive unmorality of soul, had thrown herself at his breast? The
shallow dregs of a draught, a power to love that had been wasted in
sensual trifling—emptiness, weariness, a longing for sensation and a
longing for repose. That was all the gift he could bring her.
And how soon would he be satiated!
Any sign of remorse or of fear in her would suffice to make her a
burden, even a hated burden!
“Be her good angel,” he said to himself, “and let her be.” He
whistled and the sound was echoed by the trees.
He sought a bench on which to sit down, and lit a cigarette. As the
match flared up, he became conscious of the fact that night had fallen.
A great quietude rested upon the dying forest. Like the strains of a
beautifully perishing harmony the sound of the world's distant strife
floated into this solitude.
Attentively Stueckrath observed the little point of glowing fire in
his hand, from which eddied upward a wreath of fragrant smoke.
“Thank God,” he said, “that at least remains—one's cigarette.”
Then he arose and wandered thoughtfully onward.
Without knowing how he had come there, he found himself suddenly in
front of his mistress's dwelling.
Light shimmered in her windows—the raspberry coloured light of red
curtains which loose women delight in.
“Pah!” he said and shuddered.
But, after all, up there a supper table was set for him; there was
laughter and society, warmth and a pair of slippers.
He opened the gate.
A chill wind rattled in the twigs of the trees and blew the dead
leaves about in conical whirls. They fluttered along like wandering
shadows, only to end in some puddle ...
The Christmas tree bent heavily forward. The side which was turned
to the wall had been hard to reach, and had hence not been adorned
richly enough to keep the equilibrium of the tree against the weighty
twigs of the front.
Papa noted this and scolded. “What would Mamma say if she saw that?
You know, Brigitta, that Mamma doesn't love carelessness. If the tree
falls over, think how ashamed we shall be.”
Brigitta flushed fiery red. She clambered up the ladder once more,
stretched her arms forth as far as possible, and hung on the other side
of the tree all that she could gather. There had been very
little there. But then one couldn't see....
And now the lights could be lit.
“Now we will look through the presents,” said Papa. “Which is
Brigitta showed it to him.
This time he was satisfied. “It's a good thing that you've put so
much marchpane on it,” he said. “You know she always loves to have
something to give away.” Then lie inspected the polished safety lock
that lay next to the plate and caressed the hard leaves of the potted
palm that shadowed Mamma's place at the Christmas table.
“You have painted the flower vase for her?” he asked.
“It is exclusively for roses,” she said, “and the colours are burned
in and will stand any kind of weather.”
“What the boys have made for Mamma they can bring her themselves.
Have you put down the presents from her?”
Surely she had done so. For Fritz, there was a fishing-net and a
ten-bladed knife; for Arthur a turning lathe with foot-power, and in
addition a tall toy ship with a golden-haired nymph as figurehead.
“The mermaid will make an impression,” said Papa and laughed.
There was something else which Brigitta had on her conscience. She
stuck her firm little hands under her apron, which fell straight down
over her flat little chest, and tripped up and down on her heels.
“I may as well betray the secret,” she said. “Mamma has something
for you, too.” Papa was all ear. “What is it?” he asked, and looked
over his place at the table, where nothing was noticeable in addition
to Brigitta's fancy work.
Brigitta ran to the piano and pulled forth from under it a paper
wrapped box, about two feet in height, which seemed singularly light
for its size.
When the paper wrappings had fallen aside, a wooden cage appeared,
in which sat a stuffed bird that glittered with all the colours of the
rainbow. His plumage looked as though the blue of the sky and the gold
of the sun had been caught in it.
“A roller!” Papa cried, clapping his hands, and something like joy
twitched about his mouth. “And she gives me this rare specimen?”
“Yes,” said Brigitta, “it was found last autumn in the throstle
springe. The manager kept it for me until now. And because it is so
beautiful, and, one might really say, a kind of bird of paradise,
therefore Mamma gives it to you.”
Papa stroked her blonde hair and again her face flushed.
“So; and now we'll call the boys,” he said.
“First let me put away my apron,” she cried, loosened the pin and
threw the ugly black thing under the piano where the cage had been
before. Now she stood there in her white communion dress, with its blue
ribands, and made a charming little grimace.
“You have done quite right,” said Papa. “Mamma does not like dark
colours. Everything about her is to be bright and gay.”
Now the boys were permitted to come in.
They held their beautifully written Christmas poems carefully in
their hands and rubbed their sides timidly against the door-posts.
“Come, be cheerful,” said Papa. “Do you think your heads will be
torn off to-day?”
And then he took them both into his arms and squeezed them a little
so that Arthur's poetry was crushed right down the middle.
That was a misfortune, to be sure. But Papa consoled the boy, saying
that he would be responsible since it was his fault.
Brueggemann, the long, lean private tutor, now stuck his head in the
door, too. He had on his most solemn long coat, nodded sadly like one
bidden to a funeral, and sniffed through his nose:
“What are you sighing over so pitiably, you old weeping-willow?”
Papa said, laughing. “There are only merry folk here. Isn't it so,
“Of course that is so,” the girl said. “And here, Doctor, is your
Christmas plate.” She led him to his place where a little purse of
calf's leather peeped modestly out from, under the cakes.
“This is your present from Mamma,” she continued, handing him a
long, dark-covered book. “It is 'The Three Ways to Peace,' which you
always admired so much.”
The learned gentleman hid a tear of emotion but squinted again at
the little pocket-book. This represented the fourth way to peace, for
he had old beer debts.
The servants were now ushered in, too. First came Mrs. Poensgen, the
housekeeper, who carried in her crooked, scarred hands a little
flower-pot with Alpine violets.
“This is for Mamma,” she said to Brigitta, who took the pot from her
and led her to her own place. There were many good things, among them a
brown knitted sweater, such as she had long desired, for in the kitchen
an east wind was wont to blow through the cracks.
Mrs. Poensgen saw the sweater as rapidly as Brueggemann had seen the
purse. And when Brigitta said: “That is, of course, from Mamma,” the
old woman was not in the least surprised. For in her fifteen years of
service she had discovered that the best things always came from Mamma.
The two boys, in the meantime, were anxious to ease their
consciences and recite their poems. They stood around Papa.
He was busy with the inspectors of the estate, and did not notice
them for a moment. Then he became aware of his oversight and took the
sheets from their hands, laughing and regretting his neglect. Fritz
assumed the proper attitude, and Papa did the same, but when the latter
saw the heading of the poem: “To his dear parents at Christmastide,” he
changed his mind and said: “Let's leave that till later when we are
And so the boys could go on to their places. And as their joy
expressed itself at first in a happy silence, Papa stepped up behind
them and shook them and said: “Will you be merry, you little scamps?
What is Mamma to think if you're not!”
That broke the spell which had held them heretofore. Fritz set his
net, and when Arthur discovered a pinnace on his man-of-war, the
feeling of immeasurable wealth broke out in jubilation.
But this is the way of the heart. Scarcely had they discovered their
own wealth but they turned in desire to that which was not for them.
Arthur had discovered the shiny patent lock that lay between Mamma's
plate and his own. It seemed uncertain whether it was for him or her.
He felt pretty well assured that it was not for him; on the other hand,
he couldn't imagine what use she could put it to. Furthermore, he was
interested in it, since it was made upon a certain model. It is not for
nothing that one is an engineer with all one's heart and mind.
Now, Fritz tried to give an expert opinion, too. He considered it a
combination Chubb lock. Of course that was utter nonsense. But then
Fritz would sometimes talk at random.
However that may be, this lock was undoubtedly the finest thing of
all. And when one turned the key in it, it gave forth a soft, slow,
echoing tone, as though a harp-playing spirit sat in its steel body.
But Papa came and put an end to their delight.
“What are you thinking of, you rascals?” he said in jesting
reproach. “Instead of giving poor Mamma something for Christmas, you
want to take the little that she has.”
At that they were mightily ashamed. And Arthur said that of course
they had something for Mamma, only they had left it in the hall, so
that they could take it at once when they went to her.
“Get it in,” said Papa, “in order that her place may not look so
meager.” They ran out and came back with their presents.
Fritz had carved a flower-pot holder. It consisted of six parts,
which dove-tailed delicately into each other. But that was nothing
compared to Arthur's ventilation window, which was woven of horse hair.
Papa was delighted. “Now we needn't be ashamed to be seen,” he said.
Then, too, he explained to them the mechanism of the lock, and told
them that its purpose was to guard dear Mamma's flowers better. For
recently some of her favourite roses had been stolen and the only way
to account for it was that some one had a pass key.
“So, and now we'll go to her at last,” he concluded. “We have kept
her waiting long. And we will be happy with her, for happiness is the
great thing, as Mamma says.... Get us the key, Brigitta, to the gate
and the chapel.”
And Brigitta got the key to the gate and the chapel.
A Phantasy over the Samovar
She is a faery and yet she is none.... But she is my faery surely.
She has appeared to me only in a few moments of life when I least
And when I desired to hold her, she vanished.
Yet has she often dwelt near me. I felt her in the breath of winter
winds sweeping over sunny fields of snow; I breathed her presence in
the morning frost that clung, glittering, to my beard; I saw the shadow
of her gigantic form glide over the smoky darkness of heaven which hung
with the quietude of hopelessness over the dull white fields; I heard
the whispering of her voice in the depths of the shining tea urn
surrounded by a dancing wreath of spirit flames.
But I must tell the story of those few times when she stood bodily
before me—changed of form and yet the same—my fate, my future as it
should have been and was not, my fear and my trust, my good and my evil
It was many, many years ago on a late evening near Epiphany.
Without whirled the snow. The flakes came fluttering to the windows
like endless swarms of moths. Silently they touched the panes and then
glided straight down to earth as though they had broken their wings in
The lamp, old and bad for the eyes, stood on the table with its
polished brass foot and its raveled green cloth shade. The oil in the
tank gurgled dutifully. Black fragments gathered on the wick, which
looked like a stake over which a few last flames keep watch.
Yonder in the shabby upholstered chair my mother had fallen into a
doze. Her knitting had dropped from her hands and lay on the
flower-patterned apron. The wool-thread cut a deep furrow in the skin
of her rough forefinger. One of the needles swung behind her ear.
The samovar with its bellied body and its shining chimney stood on a
side table. From time to time a small, pale-blue cloud of steam whirled
upward, and a gentle odour of burning charcoal tickled my nostrils.
Before me on the table lay open Sallust's “Catilinarian Conspiracy!”
But what did I care for Sallust? Yonder on the book shelf, laughing and
alluring in its gorgeous cover stood the first novel that I ever
read—“The Adventures of Baron Muenchausen!”
Ten pages more to construe. Then I was free. I buried my hands deep
into my breeches pockets, for I was cold. Only ten pages more.
Yearningly I stared at my friend.
And behold, the bookbinder's crude ornamentation—ungraceful
arabesques of vine leaves which wreathe about broken columns, a rising
sun caught in a spider's web of rays—all that configuration begins to
spread and distend until it fills the room. The vine leaves tremble in
a morning wind; a soft blowing shakes the columns, and higher and
higher mounts the sun. Like a dance of flickering torches his rays
shoot to and fro, his glistening arms are outstretched as though they
would grasp the world and pull it to the burning bosom of the sun. And
a great roaring arises in the air, muffled and deep as distant organ
strains. It rises to the blare of trumpets, it quivers with the clash
Then the body of the sun bursts open. A bluish, phosphorescent flame
hisses forth. Upon this flame stands erect in fluttering chiton
a woman, fair and golden haired, swan's wings at her shoulders, a harp
held in her hand.
She sees me and her face is full of laughter. Her laughter sounds
simple, childlike, arch. And surely, it is a child's mouth from which
it issues. The innocent blue eyes look at me in mad challenge. The firm
cheeks glow with the delight of life. Heavens! What is this child's
head doing on that body? She throws the harp upon the clouds, sits down
on the strings, scratches her little nose swiftly with her left wing
and calls out to me: “Come, slide with me!”
I stare at her open-mouthed. Then I gather all my courage and
stammer: “Who are you?”
“My name is Thea,” she giggles.
“But who are you?” I ask again.
“Who? Nonsense. Come, pull me! But no; you can't fly. I'll pull you.
That will go quicker.”
And she arises. Heavens! What a form! Magnificently the hips curve
over the fallen girdle; in how noble a line are throat and bosom
married. No sculptor can achieve the like.
With her slender fingers she grasps the blue, embroidered riband
that is attached to the neck of the harp. She grasps it with the
gesture of one who is about to pull a sleigh.
“Come,” she cries again. I dare not understand her. Awkwardly I
crouch on the strings.
“I might break them,” I venture.
“You little shaver,” she laughs. “Do you know how light you are? And
now, hold fast!”
I have scarcely time to grasp the golden frame with both hands. I
hear a mighty rustling in front of me. The mighty wings unfold. My
sleigh floats and billows in the air. Forward and upward goes the
Far, far beneath me lies the paternal hut. Scarcely does its light
penetrate to my height. Gusts of snow whirl about my forehead. Next
moment the light is wholly lost. Dawn breaks through the night. A warm
wind meets us and blows upon the strings so that they tremble gently
and lament like a sleeping child whose soul is troubled by a dream of
“Look down!” cried my faery, turning her laughing little head toward
Bathed in the glow of spring I see an endless carpet of woods and
hills, fields and lakes spread out below me. The landscape gleams with
a greenish silveriness. My glance can scarcely endure the richness of
“But it has become spring,” I say trembling.
“Would you like to go down?” she asks.
At once we glide downward. “Guess what that is!” she says.
An old, half-ruined castle rears its granite walls before me.... A
thousand year old ivy wreathes about its gables.... Black and white
swallows dart about the roofs.... All about arises a thicket of
hawthorn in full bloom.... Wild roses emerge from the darkness,
innocently agleam like children's eyes. A sleepy tree bends its boughs
There is life at the edge of the ancient terrace where broad-leaved
clover grows in the broken urns. A girlish form, slender and lithe,
swinging a great, old-fashioned straw hat, having a shawl wound
crosswise over throat and waist, has stepped forth from the decaying
old gate. She carries a little white bundle under her arm, and looks
tentatively to the right and to the left as one who is about to go on a
“Look at her,” says my friend.
The scales fall from my eyes.
“That is Lisbeth,” I cried out in delight, “who is going to the
Scarcely have I mentioned that farm but a fragrance of roasting meat
rises up to me. Clouds of smoke roll toward me, dim flames quiver up
from it. There is a sound of roasting and frying and the seething fat
spurts high. No wonder; there's going to be a wedding. “Would you like
to see the executioner's sword?” my friend asks.
A mysterious shudder runs down my limbs.
“I'd like to well enough,” I say fearfully.
A rustle, a soft metallic rattle—and we are in a small, bare
chamber.... Now it is night again and the moonlight dances on the rough
“Look there,” whispers my friend and points to a plump old chest.
Her laughing face has grown severe and solemn. Her body seems to
have grown. Noble and lordly as a judge she stands before me.
I stretch my neck; I peer at the chest.
There it lies, gleaming and silent, the old sword. A beam of
moonlight glides along the old blade, drawing a long, straight line.
But what do those dark spots mean which have eaten hollows into the
“That is blood,” says my friend and crosses her arms upon her
I shiver but my eyes seem to have grown fast to the terrible image.
“Come,” says Thea.
“Do you want it?”
“What? The sword?”
She nods. “But may you give it away? Does it belong to you?”
“I may do anything. Everything belongs to me.”
A horror grips me with its iron fist. “Give it to me!” I cry
The iron lightening gleams up and it lies cold and moist in my arms.
It seems to me as though the blood upon it began to flow afresh.
My arms feel dead, the sword falls from them and sinks upon the
strings. These begin to moan and sing. Their sounds are almost like
cries of pain.
“Take care,” cries my friend. “The sword may rend the strings; it is
heavier than you.”
We fly out into the moonlit night. But our flight is slower than
before. My friend breathes hard and the harp swings to and fro like a
paper kite in danger of fluttering to earth.
But I pay no attention to all that. Something very amusing captures
Something has become alive in the moon which floats, a golden disc,
amid the clouds. Something black and cleft twitches to and fro on her
nether side. I look more sharply and discover a pair of old
riding-boots in which stick two long, lean legs. The leather on the
inner side of the boots is old and worn and glimmers with a dull
discoloured light. “Since when does the moon march on legs through the
world?” I ask myself and begin to laugh. And suddenly I see something
black on the upper side of the moon—something that wags funnily up and
down. I strain my eyes and recognise my old friend Muenchausen's
phantastic beard and moustache. He has grasped the edges of the moon's
disc with his long lean fingers and laughs, laughs.
“I want to go there,” I call to my friend.
She turns around. Her childlike face has now become grave and
madonna like. She seems to have aged by years. Her words echo in my ear
like the sounds of broken chimes.
“He who carries the sword cannot mount to the moon.”
My boyish stubbornness revolts. “But I want to get to my friend
“He who carries the sword has no friend.”
I jump up and tug at the guiding riband. The harp capsises.... I
fall into emptiness ... the sword above me ... it penetrates my body
... I fall ... I fall....
“Yes, yes,” says my mother, “why do you call so fearfully? I am
Calmly she took the knitting-needle from behind her ear, stuck it
into the wool and wrapped the unfinished stocking about it.
Six years passed. Then Thea met me again. She had been gracious
enough to leave her home in the island valley of Avilion, to play the
soubrette parts in the theatre of the university town in which I was
fencing and drinking for the improvement of my mind.
Upon her little red shoes she tripped across the stage. She let her
abbreviated skirts wave in the boldest curves. She wore black silk
stockings which flowed about her delicate ankles in ravishing lines and
disappeared all too soon, just above the knee, under the hem of her
skirt. She plaited herself two thick braids of hair the blue ribands of
which she loved to chew when the modesty that belonged to her part
overwhelmed her. She sucked her thumb, she stuck out her tongue, she
squeaked and shrieked and turned up her little nose. And, oh, how she
laughed. It was that sweet, sophisticated, vicious soubrette laughter
which begins with the musical scale and ends in a long coo.
Show me the man among us whom she cannot madden into love with all
the traditional tricks of her trade. Show me the student who did not
keep glowing odes deep-buried in his lecture notes—deep-buried as the
gigantic grief of some heroic soul....
And one afternoon she appeared at the skating rink. She wore a
gleaming plush jacket trimmed with sealskin, and a fur cap which sat
jauntily over her left ear. The hoar frost clung like diamond dust to
the reddish hair that framed her cheeks, and her pink little nose
sniffed up the cold air.
After she had made a scene with the attendant who helped her on with
her shoes, during which such expressions as “idiot,” had escaped her
sweet lips, she began to skate. A child, just learning to walk, could
have done better.
We foolish boys stood about and stared at her.
The desire to help her waxed in us to the intensity of madness. But
when pouting she stretched out her helpless arms at us, we recoiled as
before an evil spirit. Not one of us found the courage simply to accept
the superhuman bliss for which he had been hungering by day and night
Then suddenly—at an awful curve—she caught her foot, stumbled,
wavered first forward and then backward and finally fell into the arms
of the most diffident and impassioned of us all.
And that was I.
Yes, that was I. To this day my fists are clenched with rage at the
thought that it might have been another.
Among those who remained behind as I led her away in triumph there
was not one who could not have slain me with a calm smile.
Under the impact of the words which she wasted upon my unworthy
self, I cast down my eyes, smiling and blushing. Then I taught her how
to set her feet and showed off my boldest manoeuvres. I also told her
that I was a student in my second semester and that it was my ambition
to be a poet.
“Isn't that sweet?” she exclaimed. “I suppose you write poetry
I certainly did. I even had a play in hand which treated of the fate
of the troubadour Bernard de Ventadours in rhymeless, irregular verse.
“Is there a part for me in it?” she asked.
“No,” I answered, “but it doesn't matter. I'll put one in.”
“Oh, how sweet that is of you!” she cried. “And do you know? You
must read me the play. I can help you with my practical knowledge of
A wave of bliss under which I almost suffocated, poured itself out
“I have also written poems—to you!” I stammered. The wave carried
me away. “Think of that,” she said quite kindly instead of boxing my
ears. “You must send them to me.”
And then I escorted her to the door while my friends followed us at
a seemly distance like a pack of wolves.
The first half of the night I passed ogling beneath her window; the
second half at my table, for I wanted to enrich the packet to be sent
her by some further lyric pearls. At the peep of dawn I pushed the
envelope, tight as a drum with its contents, into the pillar box and
went to cool my burning head on the ramparts.
On that very afternoon came a violet-tinted little letter which had
an exceedingly heady fragrance and bore instead of a seal a golden lyre
transfixed by a torch. It contained the following lines:
“Your verses aren't half bad; only too fiery. I'm really in a hurry
to hear your play. My old chaperone is going out this evening. I will
be at home alone and will, therefore, be bored. So come to tea at
seven. But you must give me your word of honour that you do not give
away this secret. Otherwise I won't care for you the least bit.
“Your THEA.” Thus did she write, I swear it—she, my faery, my Muse,
my Egeria, she to whom I desired to look up in adoration to the last
drawing of my breath.
Swiftly I revised and corrected and recited several scenes of my
play. I struck out half a dozen superfluous characters and added a
At half past six I set out on my way. A thick, icy fog lay in the
air. Each person that I met was covered by a cloud of icy breath.
I stopped in front of a florist's shop.
All the treasures of May lay exposed there on little terraces of
black velvet. There were whole beds of violets and bushes of
snow-drops. There was a great bunch of long-stemmed roses, carelessly
held together by a riband of violet silk.
I sighed deeply. I knew why I sighed.
And then I counted my available capital: Eight marks and seventy
pfennigs. Seven beer checks I have in addition. But these, alas, are
good only at my inn—for fifteen pfennigs worth of beer a piece.
At last I take courage and step into the shop.
“What is the price of that bunch of roses?” I whisper. I dare not
speak aloud, partly by reason of the great secret and partly through
diffidence. “Ten marks,” says the fat old saleswoman. She lets the palm
leaves that lie on her lap slip easily into an earthen vessel and
proceeds to the window to fetch the roses.
I am pale with fright. My first thought is: Run to the inn and try
to exchange your checks for cash. You can't borrow anything two days
before the first of the month.
Suddenly I hear the booming of the tower clock.
“Can't I get it a little cheaper?” I ask half-throttled.
“Well, did you ever?” she says, obviously hurt. “There are ten roses
in the bunch; they cost a mark a piece at this time. We throw in the
I am disconsolate and am about to leave the shop. But the old
saleswoman who knows her customers and has perceived the tale of love
lurking under my whispering and my hesitation, feels a human sympathy.
“You might have a few roses taken out,” she says. “How much would
you care to expend, young man?”
“Eight marks and seventy pfennigs,” I am about to answer in my
folly. Fortunately it occurs to me that I must keep out a tip for her
maid. The ladies of the theatre always have maids. And I might leave
late. “Seven marks,” I answer therefore.
With quiet dignity the woman extracts four roses from my
bunch and I am too humble and intimidated to protest.
But my bunch is still rich and full and I am consoled to think that
a wooing prince cannot do better.
Five minutes past seven I stand before her door.
Need I say that my breath gives out, that I dare not knock, that the
flowers nearly fall from my nerveless hand? All that is a matter of
course to anyone who has ever, in his youth, had dealings with faeries
of Thea's stamp.
It is a problem to me to this day how I finally did get into her
room. But already I see her hastening toward me with laughter and
burying her face in the roses.
“O you spendthrift!” she cries and tears the flowers from my hand in
order to pirouette with them before the mirror. And then she assumes a
solemn expression and takes me by a coat button, draws me nearer and
says: “So, and now you may kiss me as a reward.”
I hear and cannot grasp my bliss. My heart seems to struggle out at
my throat, but hard before me bloom her lips. I am brave and kiss her.
“Oh,” she says, “your beard is full of snow.”
“My beard! Hear it, ye gods! Seriously and with dignity she speaks
of my beard.”
A turbid sense of being a kind of Don Juan or Lovelace arises in me.
My self-consciousness assumes heroic dimensions, and I begin to regard
what is to come with a kind of daemonic humour.
The mist that has hitherto blurred my vision departs. I am able to
look about me and to recognise the place where I am.
To be sure, that is a new and unsuspected world—from the rosy
silken gauze over the toilet mirror that hangs from the beaks of two
floating doves, to the row of exquisite little laced boots that stands
in the opposite corner. From the candy boxes of satin, gold, glass,
saffron, ivory, porcelain and olive wood which adorn the dresser to the
edges of white billowy skirts which hang in the next room but have been
caught in the door—I see nothing but miracles, miracles.
A maddening fragrance assaults my senses, the same which her note
exhaled. But now that fragrance streams from her delicate, graceful
form in its princess gown of pale yellow with red bows. She dances and
flutters about the room with so mysterious and elf-like a grace as
though she were playing Puck in the “Midsummer Night's Dream,” the part
in which she first enthralled my heart.
Ah, yes, she meant to get tea.
“Well, why do you stand there so helplessly, you horrid creature?
Come! Here is a tablecloth, here are knives and forks. I'll light the
spirit lamp in the meantime.”
And she slips by me not without having administered a playful tap to
my cheek and vanishes in the dark room of mystery.
I am about to follow her, but out of the darkness I hear a laughing
voice: “Will you stay where you are, Mr. Curiosity?”
And so I stand still on the threshold and lay my head against those
billowy skirts. They are fresh and cool and ease my burning forehead.
Immediately thereafter I see the light of a match flare up in the
darkness, which for a moment sharply illuminates the folds of her dress
and is then extinguished. Only a feeble, bluish flame remains. This
flame plays about a polished little urn and illuminates dimly the
secrets of the forbidden sanctuary. I see bright billowy garments,
bunches of flowers and wreaths of leaves, with long, silken, shimmering
bands—and suddenly the Same flares high....
“Now I've spilt the alcohol,” I hear the voice of my friend. But her
laughter is full of sarcastic arrogance. “Ah, that'll be a play of
fire!” Higher and higher mount the flames.
“Come, jump into it!” she cries out to me, and instead of quenching
the flame she pours forth more alcohol into the furious conflagration.
“For heaven's sake!” I cry out.
“Do you know now who I am?” she giggles. “I'm a witch!”
With jubilant screams she loosens her hair of reddish gold which now
falls about her with a flaming glory. She shows me her white sharp
teeth and with a sudden swift movement she springs into the flame which
hisses to the very ceiling and clothes the chamber in a garb of fire.
I try to call for help, but my throat is tied, my breath stops. I am
throttled by smoke and flames.
Once more I hear her elfin laughter, but now it comes to me from
subterranean depths. The earth has opened; new flames arise and stretch
forth fiery arms toward me.
A voice cries from the fires: “Come! Come!” And the voice is like
the sound of bells. Then suddenly the night enfolds me.
* * * * *
The witchery has fled. Badly torn and scarred I find myself again on
the street. Next to me on the ground lies my play. “Did you not mean to
read that to some one?” I ask myself.
A warm and gentle air caresses my fevered face. A blossoming lilac
bush inclines its boughs above me and from afar, there where the dawn
is about to appear, I hear the clear trilling of larks.
I dream no longer.... But the spring has come....
And again the years pass by.
It was on an evening during the carnival season and the world, that
is, the world that begins with the baron and ends with the stockjobber,
floated upon waves of pleasure as bubbles of fat float on the surface
Whoever did not wallow in the mire was sarcastically said not to be
able to sustain himself on his legs.
There were those among my friends who had not gone to bed till
morning for thirty days. Some of them slept only to the strains of a
world-famous virtuoso; others only in the cabs that took them from
dinner to supper.
Whenever three of them met, one complained of shattered nerves, the
second of catarrh of the stomach, the third of both.
That was the pace of our amusement.
Of mine, too.
It was nearly one o'clock in the morning. I sat in a cafe,
that famous cafe which unacknowleged geniuses affirm to be the
very centre of all intellectual life. No spot on earth is said to have
so fruitful an effect upon one's genius. Yet, strangely enough, however
eager for inspiration I might lounge about its red upholstery, however
ardently aglow for inspiration I might drink expensive champagnes
there, yet the supreme, immense, all-liberating thought did not come.
Nor would that thought come to me to-day. Less than ever, in fact.
Red circles danced before my eyes and in my veins hammered the throbs
of fever. It wasn't surprising. For I, too, could scarcely remember to
have slept recently. It is an effort to raise my lids. The hand that
would stroke the hair with the gesture of genius—alas, how thin the
hair is getting—sinks down in nerveless weakness.
But I may not go home. Mrs. Elsbeth—we bachelors call her so when
her husband is not by—Mrs. Elsbeth has ordered me to be here.... She
intended to drop in at midnight on her return from dinner with her
husband. The purpose of her coming is to discuss with me the surprises
which I am to think up for her magic festival.
She is exacting enough, the sweet little woman, but the world has it
that I love her. And in order to let the world be in the right a man is
not averse to making a fool of herself.
The stream of humanity eddies about me. Like endless chains rotating
in different directions, thus seem the two lines of those who enter and
those who depart. There are dandies in coquettish furs, their silk hats
low on their foreheads, their canes held vertically in their pockets.
There are fashionable ladies in white silk opera cloaks set with
ermine, their eyes peering from behind Spanish veils in proud
curiosity. And all are illuminated by the spirit of festivity.
Also one sees shop-girls, dragged here by some chance admirer. They
wear brownish cloaks, ornamented with knots—the kind that looks worn
the day it is taken from the shop. And there are ladies of that species
whom one calls “ladies” only between quotation marks. These wear
gigantic picture hats trimmed with rhinestones. The hems of their
dresses are torn and flecked with last season's mud. There are students
who desire to be intoxicated through the lust of the eye; artists who
desire to regain a lost sobriety of vision; journalists who find stuff
for leader copy in the blue despatches that are posted here; Bohemians
and loungers of every station, typical of every degree of sham dignity
and equally sham depravity. They all intermingle in manicoloured waves.
It is the mad masque of the metropolis....
A friend comes up to me, one of the three hundred bosom friends with
whom I am wont to swap shady stories. He is pallid with sleeplessness,
deep horizontal lines furrow his forehead, his brows are convulsively
drawn. So we all look....
“Look here,” he says, “you weren't at the Meyers' yesterday.”
“I was invited elsewhere.”
I've got to think a minute before I can remember the name. We all
suffer from weakness in the head.
“Aha,” he cries. “I'm told it was swell. Magnificent women ... and
that fellow ... er ... thought reader and what's her name ... yes ...
the Sembrich ... swell ... you must introduce me there some day....”
Stretching his legs he sinks down at my side on the sofa.
Silence. My bosom friend and I have exhausted the common stock of
He has lit a cigarette and is busy catching the white clouds which
he blows from his nose with his mouth. This employment seems to satisfy
his intellect wholly.
I, for my part, stare at the ceiling. There the golden bodies of
snakes wind themselves in mad arabesques through chains of roses. The
pretentious luxury offends my eye. I look farther, past the candelabrum
of crystal which reflects sharp rainbow tints over all, past the
painted columns whose shafts end in lily leaves as some torturing spear
does in flesh.
My glance stops yonder on the wall where a series of fresco pictures
has been painted.
The forms of an age that was drunk with beauty look down on me in
their victorious calm. They are steeped in the glow of a southern
heaven. The rigid splendour of the marble walls is contrasted with the
magnificent flow of long garments.
It is a Roman supper. Rose-crowned men lean upon Indian cushions,
holding golden beakers in their right hands. Women in yielding
nakedness cower at their feet. Through the open door streams in a
Bacchic procession with fauns and panthers, the drunken Pan in its
midst. Brown-skinned slaves with leopard skins about their loins make
mad music. Among them is one who at once makes me forget the tumult.
She leans her firm, naked body surreptitiously against the pillar. Her
form is contracted with weariness. Thoughtlessly and with tired lips
she blows the tibia which her nerveless hands threaten to drop.
Her cheeks are yellow and fallen in, her eyes are glassy, but upon her
forehead are seen the folds of lordship and about her mouth wreaths a
stony smile of irony. Who is she? Whence does she come? I ask myself.
But I feel a dull thud against my shoulder. My bosom friend has fallen
asleep and is using me as a pillow.
“Look here, you!” I call out to him, for I have for the moment
forgotten his name. “Go home and go to bed.”
He starts up and gazes at me with swimming eyes.
“Do you mean me?” he stutters. “That's a good joke.” And next moment
he begins to snore.
I hide him as well as possible with my broad back and bend down over
the glittering samovar before me. The fragrant steam prickles my nose.
It is time that the little woman turn up if I am to amuse her
I think of the brown-skinned woman yonder in the painting.
I open my eyes. Merciful heaven! What is that?
For the woman stands erect now in all the firm magnificence of her
young limbs, presses her clenched fists against her forehead and stares
down at me with glowing eyes.
And suddenly she hurls the flutes from her in a long curve and cries
with piercing voice: “No more ... I will play no more!” It is the voice
of a slave at the moment of liberation.
“For heaven's sake, woman!” I cry. “What are you doing? You will be
slain; you will be thrown to the wild beasts!”
She points about her with a gesture that is full of disgust and
Then I see what she means. All that company has fallen asleep. The
men lie back with open mouths, the goblets still in their hands. Golden
cascades of wine fall glittering upon the marble. The women writhe in
these pools of wine. But even in the intoxication of their dreams they
try to guard their elaborate hair dress. The whole mad band, musicians
and animals, lies there with limbs dissolved, panting for air,
overwhelmed by heavy sleep.
“The way is free!” cries the flute player jubilantly and buries her
twitching fingers into the flesh of her breasts. “What is there to
hinder my flight?”
“Whither do you flee, mad woman?” I ask.
A gleam of dreamy ecstasy glides over her grief-worn face which
seems to flush and grow softer of outline.
“Home—to freedom,” she whispers down to me and her eyes burn.
“Where is your home?”
“In the desert,” she cries. “Here I play for their dances; there I
am queen. My name is Thea and it is resonant through storms. They
chained me with golden chains; they lured me with golden speeches until
I left my people and followed them to their prison that is corroded
with lust.... Ah, if you knew with my knowledge, you would not sit here
either.... But the slave of the moment knows not liberty.”
“I have known it,” I say drearily and let my chin sink upon the
“And you are here?”
Contemptuously she turns her back to me.
“Take me with you, Thea,” I cry, “take me with you to freedom.”
“Can you still endure it.”
“I will endure the glory of freedom or die of it.”
A brown arm that seems endless stretches down to me. An iron grasp
lifts me upward. Noise and lights dislimn in the distance.
Our way lies through great, empty, pillared halls which curve above
us like twilit cathedrals. Great stairs follow which fall into black
depths like waterfalls of stone. Thence issues a mist, green with
A dizziness seizes me as I strive to look downward.
I have a presentiment of something formless, limitless. A vague awe
and terror fill me. I tremble and draw back but an alien hand
We wander along a moonlit street. To the right and left extend
pallid plains from which dark cypress trees arise, straight as candles.
It is all wide and desolate like those halls.
In the far distance arise sounds like half smothered cries of the
dying, but they grow to music.
Shrill jubilation echoes between the sounds and it too grows to
But this music is none other than the roaring of the storm which
lashes us on when we dare to faint.
And we wander, wander ... days, weeks, months. Who knows how long?
Night and day are alike. We do not rest; nor speak.
The road is far behind us. We wander upon trackless wastes.
Stonier grows the way, an eternal up and down over cliffs and
through chasms.... The edges of the weathered stones become steps for
our feet. Breathlessly we climb the peaks. Beyond them we clatter into
My feet bleed. My limbs jerk numbly like those of a jumping-jack. An
earthy taste is on my lips. I have long lost all sense of progress. One
cliff is like another in its jagged nakedness; one abysm dark and empty
as another. Perhaps I wander in a circle. Perhaps this brown hand is
leading me wildly astray, this hand whose grasp has penetrated my
flesh, and has grown into it like the fetter of a slave.
Suddenly I am alone.
I do not know how it came to pass.
I drag myself to a peak and look about me.
There spreads in the crimson glow of dawn the endless, limitless
rocky desert—an ocean turned to stone.
Jagged walls tower in eternal monotony into the immeasurable
distance which is hid from me by no merciful mist. Out of invisible
abysms arise sharp peaks. A storm from the south lashes their flanks
from which the cracked stone fragments roll to become the foundations
of new walls.
The sun, hard and sharp as a merciless eye, arises slowly in this
parched sky and spreads its cloak of fire over this dead world.
The stone upon which I sit begins to glow.
The storm drives splinters of stone into my flesh. A fiery stream of
dust mounts toward me. Madness descends upon me like a fiery canopy.
Shall I wander on? Shall I die?
I wander on, for I am too weary to die. At last, far off, on a ledge
of rock, I see the figure of a man.
Like a black spot it interrupts this sea of light in which the very
shadows have become a crimson glow.
An unspeakable yearning after this man fills my soul. For his steps
are secure. His feet are scarcely lifted, yet quietly does he fare down
the chasms and up the heights. I want to rush to meet him but a great
numbness holds me back.
He comes nearer and nearer.
I see a pallid, bearded countenance with high cheek-bones, and
emaciated cheeks.... The mouth, delicate and gentle as a girl's, is
drawn in a quiet smile. A bitterness that has grown into love, into
renunciation, even into joy, shines in this smile.
And at the sight of it I feel warm and free.
And then I see his eye which is round and sharp as though open
through the watches of many nights. With moveless clearness of vision
he measures the distances, and is careless of the way which his foot
finds without groping. In this look lies a dreaming glow which turns to
A tremour of reverence seizes my body.
And now I know who this man is who fares through the desert in
solitary thought, and to whom horror has shown the way to peace. He
looks past me! How could it be different?
I dare not call to him. Movelessly I stare after him until his form
has vanished in the guise of a black speck behind the burning cliffs.
Then I wander farther ... and farther ... and farther....
* * * * *
It was on a grayish yellow day of autumn that I sat again after an
interval on the upholstery of the famous cafe, I looked
gratefully up at the brown slave-girl in the picture who blew upon her
flutes as sleepily and dully as ever. I had come to see her.
I start for I feel a tap on my shoulder.
In brick-red gloves, his silk-hat over his forehead, a little more
tired and world-worn than ever, that bosom friend whose name I have now
definitely forgotten stood before me.
“Where the devil have you been all this time?” he asks.
“Somewhere,” I answer laughing. “In the desert.” ...
“Gee! What were you looking for there?”
And ever swifter grows the beat of time's wing. My breath can no
longer keep the same pace.
Thoughtless enjoyment of life has long yielded to a life and death
And I am conquered.
Wretchedness and want have robbed me of my grasping courage and of
my laughing defiance. The body is sick and the soul droops its wings.
* * * * *
Midnight approaches. The smoky lamp burns more dimly and outside on
the streets life begins to die out. Only from time to time the snow
crunches and groans under the hurrying foot of some belated and
freezing passer-by. The reflection of the gas lamps rests upon the
frozen windows as though a yellow veil had been drawn before them.
In the room hovers a dull heat which weighs upon my brain and even
amid shivering wrings the sweat from my pores.
I had the fire started again toward night for I was cold. Now I am
no longer cold.
“Take care of yourself,” my friend the doctor said to me, “you have
worked yourself to pieces and must rest.”
“Rest, rest”—the word sounds like a gnome's irony from all the
corners of my room, for my work is heaping up on all sides and
threatens to smother me.
“Work! Work!” This is the voice of conscience. It is like the voice
of a brutal waggoner that would urge a dead ass on to new efforts.
My paper is in its place. For hours I have sat and stared at it
brooding. It is still empty.
A disagreeably sweetish odour which arises impudently to my nose
makes me start.
There stands the pitcher of herb tea which my landlady brought in at
The dear woman.
“Man must sweat,” she had declared. “If the whole man gets into a
sweat then the evil humours are exuded, and the healthy sap gets a
chance to circulate until one is full of it.”
And saying that she wiped her greasy lips for she likes to eat a
piece of rye bread with goose grease before going to bed.
Irritatedly I push the little pitcher aside, but its grayish green
steam whirls only the more pertinaciously about me. The clouds assume
strange forms, which tower over each other and whirl into each other
like the phantoms over a witch's cauldron.
And at last the fumes combine into a human form, at first misty and
without outlines but gradually becoming more sharply defined.
Gray, gray, gray. An aged woman. So she seems, for she creeps along
by the help of a crutch. But over her face is a veil which falls to the
ground over her arms like the folded wings of a bat.
I begin to laugh, for spirits have long ceased to inspire me with
“Is your name by any chance Thea, O lovely, being?” I ask.
“My name is Thea,” she answers and her voice is weary, gentle and a
little hoarse. A caressing shimmer as of faintly blue velvet, an
insinuating fragrance as of dying mignonette—both lie in this voice.
The voice fills my heart. But I won't be taken in, least of all by some
trite ghost which is in the end only a vision of one's own sick brain.
“It seems that the years have not changed you for the better,
charming Thea,” I say and point sarcastically to the crutch.
“My wings are broken and I am withered like yourself.”
I laugh aloud. “So that is the meaning of this honoured apparition!
A mirror of myself—spirit of ruin—symbolic poem on the course of my
ideas. Pshaw! I know that trick. Every brainless Christmas poet knows
it, too. You must come with a more powerful charm, O Thea, spirit of
the herb tea! Good-bye. My time is too precious to be wasted by
“What have you to do that is so important?” she asks, and I seem to
see the gleam of her eyes behind the folds of the veil, whether in
laughter or in grief I cannot tell.
“If I have nothing more to do, I must die,” I answer and feel with
joy how my defiance steels itself in these words.
“And that seems important to you?”
“Important to whom?”
“To myself, I should think, if to no one else.”
“And your creditor—the world?”
That was the last straw. “The world, oh, yes, the world. And what,
pray, do I owe it?”
“Love? To that harlot? Because it sucked the fire from my veins and
poured poison therein instead? Behold me here—wrecked, broken, a
plaything of any wave. That is what the world has made of me!”
“That is what you have made of yourself! ... The world came to you
as a smiling guide.... With gentle finger it touched your shoulder and
desired you to follow. But you were stubborn. You went your own way in
dark and lonely caverns where the laughing music of the fight that
sounds from above becomes a discordant thunder. You were meant to be
wise and merry; you became dull and morose.”
“Very well; if that is what I became, at least the grave will
release me from my condition.”
“Test yourself thoroughly.”
“What is the use of that now? Life has crippled me.... What of joy
it has to offer becomes torture to me.... I am cut loose from all the
kindly bonds that bind man to man.... I cannot bear hatred, neither can
I bear love.... I tremble at a thousand dangers that have never
threatened and will never threaten me. A very straw has become a cliff
to me against which I founder and against which my weary limbs are
dashed in pieces.... And this is the worst of all. My vision sees
clearly that it is but a straw before which my strength writhes in the
dust.... You have come at the right time, Thea. Perhaps you carry in
the folds of your robe some little potion that will help me to hurry
across the verge.”
Again I see a gleam behind the veil—a smiling salutation from some
far land where the sun is still shining. And my heart seems about to
burst under that gleam. But I control myself and continue to gaze at
her with bitter defiance.
“It needs no potion,” she says and raises her right hand. I have
never seen such a hand.... It seem to be without bones, formed of the
petals of flowers. The hand might seem deformed, dried and yet swollen
as with disease, were it not so delicate, so radiant, so lily-like. An
unspeakable yearning for this poor, sick hand overcomes me. I want to
fall on my knees before it and press my lips to it in adoration. But
already the hand lays itself softly upon my hair. Gentle and cool as a
flake of snow it rests there. But from moment to moment it waxes
heavier until the weight of mountains seems to lie upon my head. I can
bear the pressure no longer. I sink ... I sink ... the earth opens....
Darkness is all about me....
Recovering consciousness, I find myself lying in a bed surrounded by
“One of my stupid dreams,” I say to myself and grope for the matches
on my bed side table to see the time.... But my hand strikes hard
against a board that rises diagonally at my shoulder. I grope farther
and discover that my couch is surrounded by a cloak of wood. And that
cloak is so narrow, so narrow that I can scarcely raise my head a few
inches without knocking against it.
“Perhaps I am buried,” I say to myself. “Then indeed my wish would
have fulfilled itself promptly.”
A fresh softly prickling scent of flowers, as of heather and roses,
floats to me.
“Aha,” I say to myself, “the odour of the funeral flowers. My
favourites have been chosen. That was kind of people.” And, as I turn
my head the cups of flowers nestle soft and cool against my cheek.
“You are buried amid roses,” I say to myself, “as you always
desired.” And then I touch my breast to discover what gift has been
placed upon my heart. My fingers touch hard, jagged leaves.
“What is that?” I ask myself in surprise. And then I laugh shrilly.
It is a wreath of laurel leaves which has been pressed with its rough,
woodlike leaves between my body and the coffin lid.
“Now you have everything that you so ardently desired, you fool of
fame,” I cry out and a mighty irony takes hold of me.
And then I stretch out my legs until my feet reach the end of the
coffin, nestle my head amid the flowers, and make ready to enjoy my
great peace with all my might. I am not in the least frightened or
confounded, for I know that air to breathe will never again be lacking
now for I need it no longer. I am dead, properly and honestly dead.
Nothing remains now but to flow peacefully and gently into the realm of
the unconscious, and to let the dim dream of the All surge over me to
“Good-night, my dear former fellow-creatures,” I say and turn
contemptuously on my other side. “You can all go to the dickens for all
And then I determine to lie still as a mouse and discover whether I
cannot find some food for the malice that yet is in me, by listening to
man's doings upon the wretched earth above me.
At first I hear nothing but a dull roaring. But that may proceed as
well from the subterranean waters that rush through the earth somewhere
in my neighbourhood. But no, the sound comes from above. And from time
to time I also hear a rattling and hissing as of dried peas poured out
over a sieve.
“Of course, it's wretched weather again,” I say and rub my hands
comfortably, not, to be sure, without knocking my elbows against the
side of the coffin.
“They could have made this place a little roomier,” I say to myself.
But when it occurs to me that, in my character of an honest corpse, I
have no business to move at all if I want to be a credit to my new
But the spirit of contradiction in me at once rebels against this
“There are no classes in the grave and no prejudices,” I cry. “In
the grave we are all alike, high and low, poor and rich. The rags of
the beggar, my masters, have here just the same value as the purple
cloak that falls from the shoulders of a king. Here even the laurel
loses its significance as the crown of fame and is given to many a
I cease, for my fingers have discovered a riband that hangs from the
wreath. Upon it, I am justified in assuming, there is written some
flattering legend. The letters are just raised enough to be
I am about to call for matches, but remember just in time that it is
forbidden to strike a light in the grave or rather, that it is contrary
to the very conception of the grave to be illuminated.
This thought annoys me and I continue: “The laurel is given here not
to the distinguished alone. I must correct that expression. Are not we
corpses distinguished per se as compared to the miserable
plebeian living? Is not this noble rest in which we dwell an
unmistakable sign of true aristocracy? And the laurel that is given to
the dead, that laurel, my masters, fills me with as high a pride as
would the diadem of a king.”
I ceased. For I could rightly expect enthusiastic applause at the
close of this effective passage. But as everything remained silent I
turned my thoughts once more upon myself, and considered, too, that my
finest speeches would find no public here.
“It is, besides, in utter contradiction to the conception of death
to deliver speeches,” I said to myself, but at once I began another in
order to establish an opposition against myself.
“Conception? What is a conception? What do I care for conceptions
here? I am dead. I have earned the sacred right to disregard such
things. If those two-penny living creatures cannot imagine the grave
otherwise than dark or the dead otherwise than dumb—why, I surely have
no need to care for that.”
In the meantime my fingers had scratched about on the riband in the
vain hope of inferring from the gilt and raised letters on the silk
their form and perhaps the significance of the legend. My efforts were,
however, without success. Hence I continued outraged: “In order to
speak first of the conception of the grave as dark, I should like to
ask any intelligent and expert corpse: 'Why is the grave necessarily
dark?' Should not we who are dead rather demand of an age that has made
such enormous progress in illumination, which has not only invented gas
and electric lighting and complied with the regulations for the
illumination of streets, but has at a slight cost succeeded in giving
to every corner of the world the very light of day—may we not demand
of such an age that it put an end to the old-fashioned darkness of the
grave? It would seem as if the most elementary piety would constrain
the living to this improvement. But when did the living ever feel any
piety? We must enforce from them the necessaries of a worthy existence
in death. Gentlemen, I close with the last, or, I had better say, the
first words of our great Goethe whose genius with characteristic power
of divination foresaw the unworthy condition of the inner grave and the
necessities of a truly noble and liberal minded corpse. For what else
could be the meaning of that saying which I herewith inscribe upon our
banner: 'Light, more light!' That must henceforth be our device and our
This time, too, silence was my only answer. Whence I inferred that
in the grave there is neither striving nor crying out. Nevertheless I
continued to amuse myself and made many a speech against the management
of the cemetery, against the insufficiency of the method of flat
pressure upon the dead now in use, and similar outrages. In the
meantime the storm above had raged and the rain lashed its fill and a
peaceful silence descended upon all things.
Only from time to time did I hear a short, dull uniform thunder,
which I could not account for until it occurred to me that it was
produced by the footsteps of passers-by, the noise of which was thus
echoed and multiplied in the earth.
And then suddenly I heard the sound of human voices.
The sound came vertically down to my head.
People seemed to be standing at my grave.
“Much I care about you,” I said, and was about to continue to
reflect on my epoch-making invention which is to be called:
Helminothanatos,' that is to say, 'Death by Worms' and which, so
soon as it is completed is to be registered in the patent office as
number 156,763. But my desire to know what was thought of me after my
death left me no rest. Hence I did not hesitate long to press my ear to
the inner roof of the coffin in order that the sound might better reach
Now I recognised the voices at once.
They belonged to two men to whom I had always been united by bonds
of the tenderest sympathy and whom I was proud to call my friends. They
had always assured me of the high value which they set upon me and that
their blame—with which they had often driven me to secret
despair—proceeded wholly from helpful and unselfish love.
“Poor devil,” one of them said, in a tone of such humiliating
compassion that I was ashamed of myself in the very grave.
“He had to bite the dust pretty early,” the other sighed. “But it
was better so both for him and for myself. I could not have held him
above water much longer.” ...
From sheer astonishment I knocked my head so hard against the side
of the coffin that a bump remained.
“When did you ever hold me above water?” I wanted to cry out but I
considered that they could not hear me.
Then the first one spoke again.
“I often found it hard enough to aid him with my counsel without
wounding his vanity. For we know how vain he was and how taken with
“And yet he achieved little enough,” the other answered. “He ran
after women and sought the society of inferior persons for the sake of
their flattery. It always astonished me anew when he managed to produce
something of approximately solid worth. For neither his character nor
his intelligence gave promise of it.”
“In your wonderful charity you are capable of finding something
excellent even in his work,” the other replied. “But let us be frank:
The only thing he sometimes succeeded in doing was to flatter the crude
instincts of the mob. True earnestness or conviction he never
“I never claimed either for him,” the first eagerly broke in. “Only
I didn't want to deny the poor fellow that bit of piety which is
demanded. De mortuis——”
And both voices withdraw into the distance.
“O you grave-robbers!” I cried and shook my fist after them. “Now I
know what your friendship was worth. Now it is clear to me how you
humiliated me upon all my ways, and how when I came to you in hours of
depression you administered a kick in order that you might increase in
stature at my expense! Oh, if I could only.”...
I ceased laughing.
“What silly wishes, old boy!” I admonished myself. “Even if you
could master your friends; your enemies would drive you into the grave
a thousand times over.”
And I determined to devote my whole thought henceforth to the
epoch-making invention of my impregnating fluid called “
Helminothanatos” or “Death by Worms.”
But new voices roused me from my meditation.
“That's where what's his name is buried,” said one.
“Quite right,” said the other. “I gave him many a good hit while he
was among us—more than I care to think about to-day. But he was an
able fellow. His worst enemy couldn't deny that.”
I started and shuddered.
I knew well who he was: my bitterest opponent who tortured me so
long with open lashes and hidden stabs that I almost ended by thinking
I deserved nothing else.
And he had a good word to say for me—he?
His voice went on. “To-day that he is out of our way we may as well
confess that we always liked him a great deal. He took life and work
seriously and never used an indecent weapon against us. And if the
tactics of war had not forced us to represent his excellences as
faults, we might have learned a good deal from him.”
“It's a great pity,” said the other. “If, before everything was at
sixes and sevens, he could have been persuaded to adopt our views, we
could perhaps have had the pleasure of receiving him into our fighting
“With open arms,” was the answer. And then in solemn tone:
“Peace be to his ashes.”
The other echoed: “Peace ...”
And then they went on....
I hid my face in my hands. My breast seemed to expand and gently,
very gently something began to beat in it which had rested in silent
numbness since I lay down here.
“So that is the nature of the world's judgment,” I said to myself.
“I should have known that before. With head proudly erect I would have
gone my way, uninfluenced by the glitter of false affection as by the
blindness of wildly aiming hatred. I would have shaken praise and blame
from me with the same joyous laugh and sought the norm of achievement
in myself alone. Oh, if only I could live once more! If only there were
a way out of these accursed six boards!”
In impotent rage I pounded the coffin top with my fist and only
succeeded in running a splinter into my finger.
And then there came over me once more, even though it came
hesitatingly and against my will, a delightful consciousness of that
eternal peace into which I had entered.
“Would it be worth the trouble after all,” I said to myself, “to
return to the fray once more, even if I were a thousand times certain
of victory? What is this victory worth? Even if I succeed in being the
first to mount some height untrod hitherto by any human foot, yet the
next generation will climb on my shoulders and hurl me down into the
abysm of oblivion. There I could lie, lonely and helpless, until the
six boards are needed again to help me to my happiness. And so let me
be content and wait until that thing in my breast which has began to
beat so impudently, has become quiet once more.”
I stretched myself out, folded my hands, and determined to hold no
more incendiary speeches and thus counteract the trade of the worms,
but rather to doze quietly into the All.
Thus I lay again for a space.
Then arose somewhere a strange musical sound, which penetrated my
dreamy state but partially at first before it awakened me wholly from
What was that? A signal of the last day?
“It's all the same to me,” I said and stretched myself. “Whether
it's heaven or hell—it will be a new experience.”
But the sound that had awakened me had nothing in common with the
metallic blare of trumpets which religious guides have taught us to
Gentle and insinuating, now like the tones of flutes played by
children, now like the sobbing of a girl's voice, now like the
caressing sweetness with which a mother speaks to her little child—so
infinitely manifold but always full of sweet and yearning magic—alien
and yet dear and familiar—such was the music that came to my ear.
“Where have I heard that before?” I asked myself, listening.
And as I thought and thought, an evening of spring arose before my
soul—an evening out of a far and perished time.... I had wandered
along the bank of a steaming river. The sunset which shone through the
jagged young leaves spread a purple carpet over the quiet waters upon
which only a swift insect would here and there create circular eddies.
At every step I took the dew sprang up before me in gleaming pearls,
and a fragrance of wild thyme and roses floated through the air....
There it must have been that I heard this music for the first time.
And now it was all clear: The nightingale was singing ... the
And so spring has come to the upper world.
Perhaps it is an evening of May even as that which my spirit
Blue flowers stand upon the meadows.... Goldenrod and lilac mix
their blossoms into gold and violet wreaths.... Like torn veils the
delicate flakings of the buttercups fly through the twilight....
Surely from the village sounds the stork's rattle ... and surely the
distant strains of an accordion are heard....
But the nightingale up there cares little what other music may be
made. It sobs and jubilates louder and louder, as if it knew that in
the poor dead man's bosom down here the heart beats once more stormily
against his side.
And at every throb of that heart a hot stream glides through my
veins. It penetrates farther and farther until it will have filled my
whole body. It seems to me as though I must cry out with yearning and
remorse. But my dull stubbornness arises once more: “You have what you
desired. So lie here and be still, even though you should be condemned
to hear the nightingale's song until the end of the world.”
The song has grown much softer.
Obviously the human steps that now encircle my grave with their
sullen resonance have driven the bird to a more distant bush.
“Who may it be,” I ask myself, “that thinks of wandering to my place
of rest on an evening of May when the nightingales are singing.”
And I listen anew. It sounds almost as though some one up there were
Did I not go my earthly road lonely and unloved? Did I not die in
the house of a stranger? Was I not huddled away in the earth by
strangers? Who is it that comes to weep at my grave?
And each one of the tears that is shed above there falls glowing
upon my breast....
And my breast rises in a convulsive struggle but the coffin lid
pushes it back. I strain my head against the wood to burst it, but it
lies upon me like a mountain. My body seems to burn. To protect it I
burrow in the saw-dust which fills mouth and eyes with its biting
I try to cry out but my throat is paralysed.
I want to pray but instead of thoughts the lightnings of madness
shoot through my brain.
I feel only one thing that threatens to dissolve all my body into a
stream of flame and that penetrates my whole being with immeasurable
might: “I must live ... live...!”
There, in my sorest need, I think of the faery who upon my desire
brought me by magic to my grave.
“Thea, I beseech you. I have sinned against the world and myself. It
was cowardly and slothful to doubt of life so long as a spark of life
and power glowed in my veins. Let me arise, I beseech you, from the
torments of hell—let me arise!”
And behold: the boards of the coffin fall from me like a wornout
garment. The earth rolls down on both sides of me and unites beneath me
in order to raise my body.
I open my eyes and perceive myself to be lying in dark grass.
Through the bent limbs of trees the grave stars look down upon me. The
black crosses stand in the evening glow, and past the railings of
grave-plots my eyes blink out into the blossoming world.
The crickets chirp about me in the grass, and the nightingale begins
to sing anew.
Half dazed I pull myself together.
Waves of fragrance and melting shadows extend into the distance.
Suddenly I see next to me on the grave mound a crouching gray
figure. Between a veil tossed back I see a countenance, pallid and
lovely, with smooth dark hair and a madonna-like face. About the softly
smiling mouth is an expression of gentle loftiness such as is seen in
those martyrs who joyfully bleed to death from the mightiness of their
Her eyes look down upon me in smiling peace, clear and soulful, the
measure of all goodness, the mirror of all beauty.
I know the dark gleam of those eyes, I know that gray, soft veil, I
know that poor sick hand, white as a blossom, that leans upon a crutch.
It is she, my faery, whose tears have awakened me from the dead.
All my defiance vanishes.
I lie upon the earth before her and kiss the hem of her garment.
And she inclines her head and stretches her hand out to me.
With the help of that hand I arise.
Holding this poor, sick hand, I stride joyfully back into life.
I sought my faery and I found her not.
I sought her upon the flowery fields of the South and on the ragged
moors of the Northland; in the eternal snow of Alpine ridges and in the
black folds of the nether earth; in the iridescent glitter of the
boulevard and in the sounding desolation of the sea.... And I found her
I sought her amid the tobacco smoke and the cheap applause of
popular assemblies and on the vanity fair of the professional social
patron; in the brilliance of glittering feasts I sought her and in the
twilit silence of domestic comfort.... And I found her not.
My eye thirsted for the sight of her but in my memory there was no
mark by which I could have recognised her. Each image of her was
confused and obliterated by the screaming colours of a new epoch.
Good and evil in a thousand shapes had come between me and my faery.
And the evil had grown into good for me, the good into evil.
But the sum of evil was greater than the sum of good. I bent low
under the burden, and for a long space my eyes saw nothing but the
ground to which I clung.
And therefore did I need my faery.
I needed her as a slave needs liberation, as the master needs a
higher master, as the man of faith needs heaven.
In her I sought my resurrection, my strength to live, my defiant
And therefore was I famished for her.
My ear listened to all the confusing noises that were about me, but
the voice of my faery was not among them. My hand groped after alien
hands, but the faery hand was not among them. Nor would I have
And then I went in quest of her to all the ends of the earth.
First I went to a philosopher.
“You know everything, wise man,” I said, “can you tell me how I may
find my faery again?”
The philosopher put the tips of his five outstretched fingers
against his vaulted forehead and, having meditated a while, said: “You
must seek, through pure intuition, to grasp all the conceptual essence
of the being of the object sought for. Therefore withdraw into yourself
and listen to the voice of your mind.” I did as I was told. But the
rushing of the blood in the shells of my ears affrighted me. It drowned
every other voice.
Next I went to a very clever physician and asked him the same
The physician who was about to invent an artificially digested
porridge in order to save the modern stomach any exertion, let his
spoon fall for a moment and said: “You must take only such foods as
will tend to add phosphorous matter to the brain. The answer to your
question will then come of itself.”
I followed his directions but instead of my faery a number of
confusing images presented themselves. I saw in the hearts of those who
were about me faery gardens and infernos, deserts and turnip fields; I
saw a comically hopping rainworm who was nibbling at a graceful
centipede; I saw a world in which darkness was lord. I saw much else
and was frightened at the images.
Then I went to a clergyman and put my question to him.
The pious man comfortably lit his pipe and said: “You will find no
faeries mentioned in the catechism, my friend. Hence there are none,
and it is sin to seek them. But perhaps you can help me bring back the
devil into the world, the old, authentic devil with tail and horns and
sulphurous stench. He really exists and we need him.”
After I had made inquiry of a learned jurist who advised me to have
my faery located by the police, I went to one of my colleagues, a poet
of the classic school.
I found him clad in a red silk dressing gown, a wet handkerchief
tied around his forehead. Its purpose was to keep his all too stormy
wealth of inspiration in check. Before him on the table stood a
glassful of Malaga wine and a silver salver full of pomegranates and
grapes. The grapes were made of glass and the pomegranates of soap. But
the contemplation of them was meant to heighten his mood. Near him,
nailed to the floor, stood a golden harp on which was hung a laurel
wreath and a nightcap.
Timidly I put my question and the honoured master spoke: “The muse,
my worthy friend—ask the muse. Ask the muse who leads us poor children
of the dust into the divine sanctuary; carried aloft by whose wings
into the heights of ether we feel truly human—ask her!”
As it would have been necessary for me, first of all, to look up
this unknown lady, I went to another colleague—one of the modern
seekers of truth.
I found him at his desk peering through a microscope at a dying flee
which he was studying carefully. He noted each of its movements upon
the slips of paper from which he later constructed his works. Next to
him stood some bread and cheese, a little bottle full of ether and a
box of powders.
When I had explained my business he grew very angry.
“Man, don't bother me with such rot!” he cried. “Faeries and elves
and ideas and the devil knows what—that's all played out. That's worse
than iambics. Go hang, you idiot, and don't disturb me.”
Sad at seeing myself and my faery so contemned, I crept away and
went to one of those modern artists in life, who had tasted with
epicurean fineness all the esctasies and sorrows of earthly life in
order to broaden his personality.... I hoped that he would understand
I found him lying on a chaise longue, smoking a cigarette,
and turning the leaves of a French novel. It was La-bas by
Huysmans, and he didn't even cut the leaves, being too lazy.
He heard my question with an obliging smile. “Dear friend, let's be
honest. The thing is simple. A faery is a woman. That is certain. Well,
take up with every woman that runs into your arms. Love them all—one
after another. You'll be sure then to hit upon your faery some day.”
As I feared that to follow this advice I would have to waste the
better part of my life and all my conscience, I chose a last and
desperate method and went to a magician.
If Manfred had forced Astarte back into being, though only for a
fleeting moment, why could I not do the same with the dear ruler of my
I found a dignified man with the eyes of an enthusiast and filthy
locks. He was badly in need of a change of linen. And so I had every
reason to consider him an idealist.
He talked a good real of “Karma,” of “materialisations” and of the
“plurality of spheres.” He used many other strange words by means of
which he made it clear to me that my faery would reveal herself to me
only by his help.
With beating heart I entered a dark room at the appointed hour. The
magician led me in.
A soft, mysterious music floated toward me. I was left alone,
pressed to the door, awaiting the things that were to come in
Suddenly, as I was waiting in the darkness, a gleaming, bluish
needle protruded from the floor. It grew to rings and became a snake
which breathed forth flames and dissolved into flame ... And the
tongues of these flames played on all sides and finally parted in
curves like the leaves of an opening lotus flower, out of whose calix
white veils arose slowly, very slowly, and became as they glided upward
the garments of a woman who looked at me, who was lashed by fear, with
“Are you Thea?” I asked trembling.
The veils inclined in affirmation.
“Where do you dwell?”
The veils waved, shaken by the trembling limbs.
“Ask me after other things,” a muffled voice said.
“Why do you no longer appear to me?”
“I may not.”
“Who hinders you?”
“By what? Am I unworthy of you?”
In deep contrition I was about to fall at her feet. But, coming
nearer, I perceived that my faery's breath smelled of onions.
This circumstance sobered me a bit, for I don't like onions.
I knocked at the locked door, paid my magician what I owed him and
went my way.
From now on all hope of ever seeing her again vanished. But my soul
cried out after her. And the world receded from me. Its figures
dislimned into things that have been, its noise did not thunder at my
threshold. A solitariness half voluntary and half enforced dragged its
steps through my house. Only a few, the intimates of my heart and
brothers of my blood, surrounded my life with peace and kept watch
without my doors.
* * * * *
It was a late afternoon near Advent Sunday.
But no message of Christmas came to my yearning soul.
Somewhere, like a discarded toy, lay amid rubbish the motive power
of my passions. My heart was dumb, my hand nerveless, and even
need—that last incentive—had slackened to a wild memory.
The world was white with frost.... The dust of ice and the rain of
star-light filled the world... cloths of glittering white covered the
plains.... The bare twigs of the trees stretched upwards like staves of
coral.... The fir trees trembled like spun glass.
A red sunset spread its reflection over all. But the sunset itself
was poverty stricken. No purple lights, no gleam of seven colours
warmed the whiteness of the world. Not like the gentle farewell of the
sun but cruel as the threat of paralysing night did the bloody stripe
stare through my window.
It is the hour of afternoon tea. The regulations of the house demand
Grayish blue steam whirls up to the shadowed ceiling and moistens
with falling drops the rounded silver of the tea urn.
The bell rings.
From the housekeeper's rooms floats an odour of fresh baked breads.
They are having a feast there. Perhaps they mean to prepare one for the
A new book that has come a great distance to-day is in my hand.
I read. Another one has made the great discovery that the world
begins with him.
Ah, did it not once begin with me, too?
To be young, to be young! Ah, even if one suffers need—only to be
But who, after all, would care to retrace the difficult road?
Perhaps you, O woman at my side?
I would wager that even you would not.
And I raise a questioning glance though I know her to be far ... and
who stands behind the kettle, framed by the rising of the bluish steam?
Ah child, have I not seen you often—you with the brownish locks and
the dark lashes over blue eyes ... you with the bird-like twitter in
the throbbing whiteness of your throat, and the light-hearted step?
And yet, did I ever see you? Did I ever see that look which
surrounds me with its ripe wisdom and guesses the secrets of my heart?
Did I ever see that mouth so rich and firm at once which smiles upon me
full of reticent consolation and alluring comprehension?
Who are you, child, that you dare to look me through and through, as
though I had laid my confidence at your feet? Who are you that you dare
to descend wingless into the abysms of my soul, that you can smile away
my torture and my suffocation?
Why did you not come earlier in your authentic form? Why did you not
come as all that which you are to me and will be from this hour on?
Why do you hide yourself in the mist which renders my recognition
turbid and shadows your outlines?
Come to me, for you are she whom I seek, for whom my heart's blood
yearns in order to flow as sacrifice and triumph!
You are the faery who clarifies my eye and steels my will, who
brings to me upon her young hands my own youth! Come to me and do not
leave me again as you have so often left me!
I start up to stretch out my arms to her and see how her glance
becomes estranged and her smile as of stone. As one who is asleep with
open eyes, thus she stands there and stares past me.
I try to find her, to clasp her, to force her spirit to see me.
Without repulsing me she glides softly from me.... The walls open. ...
The stones of the stairs break.... We flee out into the wintry
She glides before me over the pallid velvet of the road ... over the
tinkling glass of the frozen heath ... through the glittering boughs.
She smiles—for whom?
The hilly fields, hardened by the frost, the bushes scattering
ice—everything obstructs my way. I break through and follow her.
But she glides on before me, scarcely a foot above the ground, but
farther, farther ... over the broken earth, down the precipice ... to
the lake whose bluish surface of new ice melts in the distance into the
Now she hangs over the bank like a cloud of smoke, and the wind that
blows upon my back, raises the edges of her dress like triangular
pennants. “Stay, Thea.... I cannot follow you across the lake! ... The
water will not upbear a mortal.”...
But the rising wind pushes her irresistibly on.
Now I stand as the edge of the lake. The thin ice forces upward
great hollow bubbles....
Will it suffer my groping feet? Will it break and whelm me in
brackish water and morass?
There is no room for hesitation. For already the wind is sweeping
And I venture out upon the glassy floor which is no floor at all,
but which a brief frost threw as a deceptive mirror across the deep.
It bears me up for five paces, for six, for ten. Then suddenly the
cry of harps is in my ear and something like an earthquake quivers
through my limbs. And this sound grows into a mighty crunching and
waxes into thunder which sounds afar and returns from the distance in
But at my left hand glitters a cleft which furrows the ice with
manicoloured splinters and runs from me into the invisible.
What is to be done? On... on...!
And again the harps cry out and a great rattling flies forth and
returns as thunder. And again a great cleft opens its brilliant hues at
my side. On, on ... to seek her smiling, even though the smile is not
for me. It will be for me if only I can grasp the hem of her garment.
A third cleft opens; a fourth crosses it, uniting it to the first.
I must cross. But I dare not jump, for the ice must not crumble lest
an abysm open at my feet.
It is no longer a sheet of ice upon which I travel—it is a net-work
of clefts. Between them lies something blue and all but invisible that
bears me by the merest chance. I can see the tangled water grasses wind
about and the polished fishes dart whom my body will feed unless a
Lit by the gathering afterglow a plain of fire stretches out before
me, and far on the horizon the saving shore looms dark.
Farther ... farther!
Sinister and deceptive springs arise to my right and left and hurl
their waters across my path.... A soft gurgling is heard and at last
drowns the resonant sound of thunder.
Farther, farther.... Mere life is at stake.
There in the distance a cloud dislimns which but now lured me to
death with its girlish smile. What do I care now?
The struggle endures for eternities. The wind drives me on. I avoid
the clefts, wade through the springs; I measure the distances, for now
I have to jump.... The depths are yawning about me.
The ice under my feet begins to rock. It rocks like a cradle,
heaving and falling at every step ... It would be a charming game were
it not a game with death.
My breath comes flying ... my heart-beats throttle me ... sparks
quiver before my eyes.
Let me rock ... rock ... rock back to the dark sources of being.
A springing fountain, higher than all the others, hisses up before
me.... Edges and clods rise into points.
One spring ... the last of all ... hopeless ... inspired by the
desperate will to live.
Ah, what is that?
Is that not the goodly earth beneath my feet—the black, hard,
It is but a tiny islet formed of frozen mud and roots; it is
scarcely two paces across, but large enough to give security to my
I am ashore, saved, for only a few arm lengths from me arises the
reedy line of the shore.
A drove of wild ducks rises in diagonal flight. ... Purple radiance
pours through the twigs of trees.... From nocturnal heavens the first
stars shine upon me.
The ghostly game is over! The faery hunt is as an end.
One truth I realise: He who has firm ground under his feet needs no
And serenely I stride into the sunset world.