Autumn by Hermann Sudermann
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 ...