The Romance of the Canoness
by Paul Heyse
OF THE CANONESS.
AUTHOR OF IN PARADISE, ETC.
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY
J. M. PERCIVAL
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.
NOTE BY THE TRANSLATOR.
The title of this book, in the German, is Der Roman der
Stiftsdame, stiftsdame being rendered in this version
canoness. It is desirable to explain that stiftsdame is the
name given to a female member of certain religious communities or
orders, originally Roman Catholic, the members of which lived in common
but without taking monastic vows. After the Reformation, Protestant
houses of a similar kind were organized. The privileges of these
communities are often secured by noblemen for their daughters, who may
at any subsequent period enter the stift or chapter of the order, but
who forfeit this right in case of marriage.
THE ROMANCE OF THE CANONESS.
In June, 1864, a visit I had promised to pay one of the friends of
my youth led me into the heart of the province of Brandenburg. I could
travel by the railway as far as the little city of St. , but from
this place was compelled to hire a carriage for two or three miles, as
the estate, which my friend had owned several years, did not even
possess the advantage of a daily stage. So, on reaching St. , I
applied to the landlord of the Crown-Princewho was also
postmasterfor a carriage, and, as it was past three o'clock in the
afternoon, and the drive over shadeless roads in the early heat of
summer would not be particularly agreeable, I begged him not to hurry,
but give me time to have a glimpse of the little city and its environs.
The landlord replied that the poor little place had no sights worth
looking at. As a native of a great capital who had removed to the
province, he displayed a compassionate contempt for his present
residence. The situation was not bad, and the lake the most
abundantly stocked with fish in the whole Mark. If I kept straight on
in that directionhe pointed across the square marketplace on which
his hostelry stoodI should get a view of the water just beyond the
To a traveler who is less thoroughly familiar with the local history
of the Mart than my friend, Theodor Fontane, and who suddenly finds
himself transferred from the capital to the province, one of these
little cities looks very much like another. The first feeling amid the
neat little housesmost of them only a story high, while walking over
the rough pavement kept as clean as the floor of an old maid's room, or
passing through the quiet squares planted with acacias or ancient
lindens, where nothing is stirring save flocks of noisy sparrowsis a
secret doubt whether real people actually dwell here, people who take
an active interest in the life of the present day, or whether we have
not strayed into a pretty, gigantic toy village, which has merely been
set up here for a time and will soon be taken down and packed into
boxes like Nuremberg carvings.
This impression of fairy illusion and enchantment, which would
speedily vanish, was enhanced by the sultry calm, portending an
approaching thunder-storm, that brooded over the streets and squares
and kept the inhabitants indoors. Here and there I saw behind the
glittering window-panes the face of an old woman or a fair-haired young
girl, not peering out between the pots of geranium and cactus to look
after the stranger with provincial curiosity, but gazing into vacancy
with a strange expression of gentle melancholy. The few persons I met
in the street also wore this pensive look, as if some great universal
calamity had happened, which quenched the cheerfulness of even the most
I therefore pursued my walk somewhat cheerlessly, and not until I
had reached the wall, which rose to a moderate height on both sides of
the ancient city-gate, did the oppression of this sultry afternoon calm
abandon me. Not less than four rows of the most magnificent old trees,
among which several huge maples and chestnuts stretched their gigantic
branches skyward, cast a broad belt of shade over the dreary little
place, and were not only animated by the notes of birds, but by the
shouts and laughter of countless children, who had seen the light of
the world in the silent houses. Their nurses sat knitting and gossiping
on the numerous benches; yet even on their faces I fancied I perceived
the sorrowful expression I had noticed in the other inhabitants of the
It would have been pleasant to linger here in the shade among the
little ones. But I remembered that I must do my duty as a tourist and
see the lake, which even the postmaster had mentioned approvingly. At
the end of a long avenue of poplars, leading from the gate over the
level plain, I saw the white-capped waves sparkling in the sunlight,
and quickened my pace in order to return the sooner to the cool shade
of the dense foliage.
Yet the scene that opened below, before my gaze, was indeed
wonderfully charming. A bright, semicircular basin, as clear as a
mirror, whose circuit it would probably have required a full hour to
make, lay amid the most luxuriant green meadows and a few tilled
fields, in which the lighter hue of the young grain stood forth in
strong relief. The shore was encircled by a dense border of sedges,
whose brown tops, whenever a faint breeze blew, waved gently to and fro
as though stirred by their own weight. The opposite bank, which rose in
a gradual ascent, was clothed with a dark grove of firs, whose reddish
trunks were reflected in the water, and around whose tops hovered
flocks of crows and jays, whose harsh screams ever and anon interrupted
the oppressive silence.
The avenue of poplars led directly to the harbor, which was marked
by half a dozen gayly painted boats. These had been drawn up on the
sand, but their owners had not thought it worth while to fasten them to
a stake, as if it would be quite impossible for them to voluntarily
drift away from the shore. Near these skiffs I was surprised by the
sight of a steamer, similar in size and form to the coasters so much
used in the German Ocean. The light green garlands of fir, with which
it was profusely adorned, formed a strange contrast to its slanting
smokestack and the damaged condition of the deck-rail. But I looked
about me in vain for some person who might have told me how this craft,
which must have once seen better days, had reached the quiet inland
lake and been decked in its gay festal array, like a shame-faced old
man holding a jubilee.
Still keeping my eyes fixed on the opposite grove, I strolled slowly
along the broad path by the shore of the lake, unheeding the sun, as a
refreshing coolness rose from the water. But ere I had advanced a
hundred paces I discovered, half hidden behind some tall lindens,
several lonely buildings, a long, narrow, gable-roofed house, without
any architectural ornamentation, which looked more like a store-house
than a dwelling, yet showed by the little white curtains at the
window-frames, and the flowering plants inclosed by trellis-work
fences, that human beings lived there. A few low huts or sheds adjoined
it in the rear, the long front faced the lake; but the view was here
partly cut off by a little church or chapel, also of the plainest
structure, and so low that a man on horseback might have easily glanced
into the swallows' nests under its weather-beaten roof. Yet the poor
little church, with its four blind arched windows and tiny steeple,
looked cheerful and picturesque, for an ancient ivy had climbed the
narrow rear wall, and, while the trunk clung naked and bare to the
masonry, the luxuriant branches, twining over cornice and roof, had
flung a thick mantle over the shoulders of the shabby building.
Here, too, all was desolate and silent. But a peasant lad, who had
been fishing in the lake and was now running home, answered my queries
so far as to enable me to learn that the long building was the
almshouse, and the chapel belonged to it, but there were no religious
services held there now; and no one, except the paupers, were buried in
the little grave-yard, whose sunken, slanting black crosses gleamed
from under the shadow of the lindens. When I asked if I could go into
the chapel, the child stared at me in astonishment, shook his flaxen
head, and sped away on his little bare feet as swiftly as though the
earth was beginning to scorch them.
I now walked slowly around the chapel, and approached the house.
Standing on a little bench in the flower-garden, before an open window,
was a tall figure clad in black, gazing motionless into the dwelling.
He was apparently a man of middle age, with smooth, brown hair, which
fell slightly over a high forehead. The profile, whose noble lines
denoted marked character, was strongly relieved against the whitewashed
wall; the sun shone fiercely on his head and back, but, without heeding
it, he held his hat before him in both hands, and did not even turn
when I passed. The sound of my steps apparently did not reach his ear.
His coat was old-fashioned in cut, but his appearance was by no means
provincial. I would gladly have accosted him, had it not seemed as if
he were listening to something, inaudible to me, that was being said
inside the room.
So I quietly passed him and went to the gable side of the house. On
the steps in front of the open door sat an aged dame, stooping so far
forward that her big black crêpe cap shaded the tiny old book she held
in her lap. A pair of large horn spectacles rested on the open pages,
and her sharp red nose nodded strangely like the beak of a bird that is
trying to peck at something. She was not asleep, for she sometimes
sighed so heavily that the capstrings under her withered chin trembled.
Then her yellow shriveled hand grasped a small lead box lying on the
stone step beside her, and she took a pinch of snuff.
Can you still read, mother? I asked, stopping before her.
She looked up at me without the slightest sign of surprise. The
stern, withered old face wore the anxious expression of a deaf person.
I repeated my question.
Not so very well, sir, she replied in her Mark dialect. When one
has seventy-seven years on one's back the old eyes are of little use.
But I can still manage tolerably with the hymn-book. I need only see
the numbers and the big letters at the beginning to remember the whole
at once; and if I can't get one verse exactly right, I think of the
next one. Whoever has had experiences, and fears and loves the Lord,
can make a verse for many a hymn in the book.
You have a beautiful spot for your old age, mother, and are well
taken care of, it seems to me.
The aged dame wore a new dark calico dress, and over her thin
shoulders lay a black shawl, which, spite of the heat, she had pinned
It's very comfortable, my dear sir, it's very comfortable, she
replied, taking a pinch of snuff with her trembling hand. The Canoness
said so, too; that's why she didn't wish to go away again, not even
when they wanted to take her to the castle. But she planted the
flowers, and we have only kept our gardens so neat since she has been
here. Well, everything will soon be at sixes and sevens again. You see,
when I first came, thirteen years ago, just after my husband and my
eldest daughter died, and there wasn't a soul to care for Mother
Schulzen, I thought I should lead a wretched life in the almshouse. A
silver groschen every day, free lodging, peat, and light, six groschen
every quarter for beer money, and a bit of land where everybody can
plant potatoesthat was hardly enough for a living. Dear me! A person
who hasn't much is soon satisfied, and there is apt to be something put
by for a rainy day. When the Canoness first came, though she had
nothing herself, yet she always found something to give away. See, she
gave me this woolen petticoatshe pulled her dress up to her knees to
show iton her last birthday, and the shawl at Christmas. That's why
I wear it in her honor to-day, though it's certainly warm; but I want
to look respectable when I follow the body, for a woman like her won't
come again, and, as the hymn says:
'Alas, my Saviour, must Thou die,
That we the heirs of life may be?
Let not Thy woes, grief, agony,
On us be lost, but win to Thee.'
She muttered to herself for a while, with her chin buried in her
shawl, and seemed to have entirely forgotten my presence.
Mother, I began after a time, you are always talking about a
Canoness. Is there a chapter-house in this neighborhood?
The old dame slowly raised her head and scanned me with a
half-suspicious, half-pitying look.
Why, what a question! she said at last. I suppose you don't
belong here, my dear sir; but you must live very far away, for
everybody in the neighborhood knows who the Canoness was, and that she
died three days ago and will be buried to-day. Have you never heard of
Spiegelberg, her husband, who is now standing before the throne of God?
She belonged to a noble family, and her cousin, the baron, when he
visited her, took me aside and said: 'I hope, Mother Schulzen, that you
don't let my cousin want for anything here.' Good Heavens! What we poor
old women could do to make her life easyespecially I! For she always
showed me the greatest kindness, and the teacher and I were with her in
her last hour. Yes! yes! If anybody had told me that such a poor,
useless body would close her eyes, and yet must creep about here on
earth a while longer, while she, who was still in her primeBut
perhaps you would like to see her? There is time enough. She is to be
buried at four, and the whole town will be present, and not a dry eye
in the throng, for nobody else in the whole place had gifts like hers;
and now they will see what we had in her, we old creatures especially,
for no one like her will come againnever againnever again
She shook her head mournfully as she spoke, but her weary, reddened
eyes were tearless, and, rising with some difficulty, she took up her
hymn-book, spectacles, and snuff-box, and, beckoning to me to follow,
hobbled through the entrancethe door stood ajarinto the long
corridor which divided the interior of the dwelling into two equal
It was pleasantly cool inside, only a strong smell of vinegar
tainted the air and enhanced the feeling of uneasiness with which I had
entered. It was uncanny to be conducted to the abode of death by this
old crone, incessantly mumbling her song of Destiny, while out-of-doors
the bright young summer was wandering over the fields. The bare hall,
too, from which opened more than a dozen whitewashed doors, had no
inviting aspect, especially as several dark figures, all dressed very
much like my guide, were crouching on little benches along the walls,
whispering together and casting distrustful glances at me. I afterward
learned that the almshouse had been erected for a pest-house centuries
before, when the Black Death was devastating the land, and afterward
remained a long time vacant and shunned, until it was at last converted
into a poor-house, and the chapel was rebuilt. But how had the Canoness
come under this humble roof?
Mother Schulzen had already opened the first door on the left, and I
entered a large room with two windows. In the center stood a piano, a
number of plain, rush-bottomed chairs were ranged along the walls, a
rack containing music-books stood on the table between the clean white
curtains. She gave her singing-lessons here, the old dame said; the
next room was her sleeping-chamber, where she died.
She opened the door of the adjoining room as gently as if she feared
to wake some sleeper, and let me stand on the threshold.
I saw a light, square chamber, through whose one window the sun was
shining. These walls, too, were merely whitewashed, but they were
adorned with a few engravings in dark wooden frames, and the simple but
tasteful furniture, a sofa with a bright calico cover, a book-case, a
chest of drawers, a bed with white curtains, the flowers on the
window-sill, would have made a cheerful impression, had not a coffin
stood on a low trestle in the middle of the room. Over the shining
boards was flung a large, gayly embroidered rug, whose artistically
wrought flowers and vines were almost entirely concealed by garlands of
natural blossoms. The dead woman was attired in a plain white shroud;
the head was toward the window; at the feet lay a large laurel wreath
tied with a broad white satin bow; the hands, which were large, but
very beautiful in shape, rested on the bosom, but were not clasped; the
head inclined a little to the right, so that I could see it perfectly
from the threshold.
There was nothing to inspire horror; a quiet, mysterious charm
pervaded the features, which, spite of the silvery hue of the smoothly
brushed hair, still wore a look of youth: it was the face of a
beautiful woman in her prime, who had lain down on her last couch in
the full vigor of life. I said to myself that to have known this
sleeper, while living, must have been no ordinary happiness, and those
whom she had chosen for her friends had been most fortunate. A feeling
of regret stole over me that I had never pressed that firm hand, nor
heard a word from those calmly closed lips, never seen the face
brightened by a smile.
Who was she? How had this noble woman condescended to make one of
the number of the inmates of the almshouse, and who had laid the laurel
wreath at her feet?
My eyes quitted the pallid face a moment and wandered to the sunny
window. There I saw the mute figure, clad in black, still gazing
fixedly in. He did not even seem to see me, but stood motionless,
watching the lifeless form, of which only the head and the tips of the
feet were visible to him. I now distinctly saw large tears gush from
his dilated, motionless eyes, and course down his pale cheeks.
Mother, I asked softly, who is the man outside of the window?
I had forgotten that her deafness would prevent her understanding
me. Just at that moment a clear little bell began to ring from the
steeple of the chapel. The old dame looked up.
It is four o'clock, she said; the services will begin. You can't
stay here any longer, sir; the pastor and the others will come
directly. But if you stand by the trellis outside you can see
everything. Oh, dear! Now the sad end is coming! But God's will be
done! Only, may it be my turn soon. Come, sir, there are the bearers.
Six men in long black coats entered, and I was obliged to leave the
room. In the corridor I met the pastor in his robes, and a tall,
broad-shouldered man, with a sorrowful facethe burgomaster, the old
dame whispered. Outside the house a large crowd of people had
assembled, who eyed me with surprise and curiosity. Most of them were
women in mourning-garments, but in their midst was a group of young
girls dressed in white, with large black bows, and black veils on their
heads. Each carried a garland of flowers on her arm, and the eyes of
all were full of tears. I perceived that, as a total stranger, I ought
to keep myself as much out of sight as possible, and hurried around the
house to a post by the garden-fence, whence I could overlook the chapel
and the cemetery.
The solitary man in the black coat had disappeared.
The bell continued to toll, the birds twittered in the linden
boughs, but spite of the surging throng the spot was otherwise so still
that we could distinctly hear the coffin-lid screwed on. A few minutes
after, the funeral procession began to move, headed by the pastor; then
came the bearers with the coffin, over which hung the gay rug covered
with garlands, close behind it the aged paupers, six in number, then
the young girls, two by two, carrying their wreaths, and behind them
the burgomaster and many stately men, evidently the dignitaries of the
little place. Last of all came the women and less important citizens,
in such a throng that the open space between the house and the chapel
was filled with the crowd. But scarcely had the pastor entered the
consecrated ground, when, from behind a dense clump of
elderberry-bushes on the edge of the cemetery, floated the notes of a
chant, a beautiful, simple melody, wholly unfamiliar to me, which did
not sound as if it came from a hymn-book. Clear, boyish voices,
well-trained, fresh, and pure, as children alone sing ere they have
learned to understand the solemnity of death and can not belie their
joyousness even in a dirge.
There were only three verses, then the clergyman began his address,
of which I could distinguish but a few words in my distant corner. But
it must have been very touching, for all present showed the deepest
emotion, and the suppressed sobbing was communicated to the farthest
ranks. I regretted that I had not ventured nearer, I so much desired to
know who this noble woman was, and why she had enjoyed such universal
reverence and love.
But I could only indistinctly see the pastor raise his hand to bless
first the open grave and then the mourning parish, the young girls
approach and throw their wreaths upon the coffin, and the whole
assembly press forward to scatter a handful of earth upon the flowers.
During this ceremony, which occupied some time, the boys' voices were
again raised, and this time I plainly heard the words:
Like her in sweet repose,
All the sainted
and, as a sunbeam now pierced the elder-bushes, I saw the bared head
of the man at the window, who was standing among the young singers,
slowly and solemnly beating time with his hand.
The little bell had stopped ringing, the throng noiselessly
dispersed without the unfeeling buzz and murmur which usually rise at
once when people have merely dutifully paid the last honors to one who
has departed from their midst. I remained quietly in my place watching
the throng move off in the direction of the town, while the old dames,
coughing and panting, returned home. My intention was to approach the
lonely man, who I thought would be the last to quit the grave, and
modestly express my desire to learn some particulars of the dead woman.
But when I entered the cemetery and glanced toward the elder-bushes,
there was no trace of him.
It was now quite time for me to return to the hotel, where my
carriage must already be waiting. I consoled myself by the belief that
the postmaster would undoubtedly be fully informed about the Canoness.
The pale, still face, with the silvery halo around the head, in the
mysterious twilight, still hovered before me, and I quickened my pace
to obtain a solution of the mystery.
The path I took through the grain-fields, along whose edges grew
small cherry-trees, did not lead me back to the city-gate, but to a
different part of the wall, which I found entirely deserted. There was
not a single baby-carriage, nor a pedestrian resting on any of the
benches. Yet it was pleasant to saunter along in the shade, and I
lapsed into a comfortable, dreamy state, which is really the greatest
advantage of travel, because we shake off our daily dull routine of
occupation, and, in some strange manner, feel as if we had just dropped
from the moon and were strangers in this world, to whom the most
trivial thing appears new and wonderful.
Suddenly I stopped. Sitting on the next bench, in front of me, I saw
the man in the black coat whom I had just vainly sought. He was
evidently so much absorbed in his own thoughts that he did not hear me,
but sat gazing out over the open country and the waters of the lake, or
rather at the little chapel and the small portion of the almshouse
cemetery visible from this point. I could now obtain a near view of his
delicate, regular features, and was particularly struck by the
beautiful arch of the brow, and the character expressed in the nose,
which was by no means small. His hat lay on the bench at his side, and
his clasped hands rested on his knee.
He now perceived me, but remained perfectly motionless, as if he
could thereby render himself invisible and induce me to pass on.
But I was not disposed to let the favorable chance slip.
Allow me to sit with you a moment, sir, I said. I am passing
through here on a journey, and am somewhat fatigued by rambling about.
I must set out again in fifteen minutes, much as I regret not becoming
more familiar with the pretty town. A walk on the walls like this can
not be easily found, far or near.
He made no reply, merely bent his head slightly and took up his hat
to give me the other half of the bench. I sat down, and we remained
silent for a time.
Pardon me, I said at last, if I seem intrusive, and perhaps
disturb you in a mood in which one prefers to be entirely alone. But I
was a witness of the funeral that has just taken place, and, as the
image of the lifeless form I saw just before in the coffin has haunted
me ever since, and I fancied I read a remarkable destiny on the noble
brow, you can probably understand that I am reluctant to leave here
without learning some particulars of her fate. One of the old women in
the almshouse below gave me some information which, though very vague
and insufficient, only increased my interest. You seem to have been on
more intimate terms with this universally respected woman. If you would
see a better motive in my question than idle curiosity, I should be
very grateful to you for any details of her life you might be willing
I saw a faint flush mount into his face. He gazed steadily into
vacancy for a while, as if irresolute what to answer. Suddenly he
seized his hat, rose, and, bowing to me, said:
Pardon me, sirI havemy time will not permitI wish you a
Then he turned and walked away with long, but not hurried steps,
while I remained on the bench in a mood of painful discomfiture.
At first I was uncertain whether I had done wrong, or merely applied
to the wrong person. But I soon distinctly perceived that the fault was
mine. This resident of the provinces, on whose deep grief I had
intruded with a bold question, as if he must consider it an honor to
afford a traveler information about anything worthy of note, even if it
concerned his most sacred private feelings, had given me a well-merited
lesson. How indelicate to put the question point-blank, without any
introduction, like a police-officer inspecting a passport, and, ere the
tears were fairly dry on his lashes, request from him an obituary of
the dead woman, such as a newspaper reporter would unfeelingly insert
in a daily journal. Perhaps, had I been more considerate of his
feelings, cautiously gained his confidence without revealing my
object! But, as it was, I ought not to complain of having received a
refusal, whose manner showed that I had addressed a cultivated man.
At last, very much displeased with myself, I rose and tried to reach
my hotel by the shortest cut. Even the desire to question the
postmaster had deserted me. I would gladly have driven the
Canonesswho was now associated with a humiliating
remembranceentirely out of my mind, and, in fact, at that time I was
to learn nothing more about her. My light carriage stood waiting in
front of the house, but the landlord had been suddenly called away on
some business; so I remained no longer than to drink a little wine and
seltzer-water, for my tongue was parched, and then urged the driver to
hurry that I might reach my destination before night.
Even at my friend's house I did not mention my experiences in St.
. As he had only lived in the neighborhood a short time, and was
completely engrossed by his immediate duties and occupations, he had
scarcely had an opportunity to become familiar with the local history
of the place. Only it chanced to be mentioned that the dismantled
coasting-steamer had belonged to a bankrupt firm and been taken by one
of the creditors, who had hoped to sell it again for the value of the
material. As it did not immediately find a purchaser, he had had the
worn-out invalid brought to the inland lake, where it was now enjoying
rest from its labors.
I spent a few refreshing days in my friend's pretty house, which
unfortunately was situated in a most prosaic neighborhood, and when I
returned to Berlin the memory of the hour in the cemetery had already
become considerably fainter.
But, like every reminder of our weaknesses and follies, it never
wholly vanished. So no one will marvel that I was most agreeably
surprised when, a year afterward, I received by mail a heavy parcel,
accompanied by the following lines:
MOST HONORED SIR: Unfortunately, I am not so happy as to be able to
present myself as a total stranger. For I must commence my letter by
apologizing for an offense committed more than a year ago, when I had
the honor of making your acquaintance, if this word can be applied to a
meeting in which both persons remained wholly unknown to each other.
True, I am ignorant whether you have retained any recollection of
the uncourteous person who had no other reply to a friendly question
than to quit you so abruptly. You are living in the current of the
world, which washes away so many trivial things, and effaces old
impressions with a thousand new ones. An inhabitant of the provinces,
of my temperament, has nothing to interrupt him in the unpleasant task
of thrusting still deeper into his flesh, in the endeavor to withdraw
them, the thorns implanted by a fleeting moment.
Directly after leaving you I had, it is true, no other unpleasant
feeling than that a total stranger had disturbed me amid the indulgence
of a fresh sorrow. But at the end of an hour, when I recalled your
words and tones, and the gestures accompanying them, I was seized with
shame for my boorish conduct. You had been present at the funeral, had
even gazed with deep interest at the face of the dead: what was more
natural than that you should marvel how that queenly head could rest on
the hard pillow of an almshouse coffin, though the mourning of a whole
city followed it? And how could you suspect that the man to whom you
applied for information suffered most keenly from the universal loss,
and at that hour had so bitter a taste of the earth-mold on his tongue
that he could not have uttered a word, had his own brother accosted
When I clearly perceived this, and had partly regained my calmness,
I hurried to the hotel, firmly intending to apologize for my incivility
and tell you at least enough to have enabled you to understand my
sorrowful obduracy. You had already continued your journey. I only
found your name in the landlord's book, and doubly regretted my
unseemly conduct. I was familiar with some of your books, and said to
myself that you, of all men, could not have spoken from mere empty
curiosity, but from genuine interest in everything relating to human
nature, and you, if any one, would have been capable of feeling with me
that the death of such a woman is a loss to the whole world.
What had happened could not be altered, but, to somewhat alleviate
the discomfort of my regrets, I began the very next day to write down,
for my justification and penance, everything I had left unsaid,
intending to lay it before you and thereby obtain absolution for the
sin of silence I had formerly committed.
I meant to be very brief. But my heart took possession of my pen,
and the short narrative of this remarkable life has become a shapeless
history in detail, whose swelling daily alarmed me, though I was
unable to confine the overflowing torrent of memories into a narrower
I have spent a whole year in writing, as I only found leisure for it
during a few evening hours, and often for weeks together could not find
courage to summon up the spirits of the departed. Will you have
patience to read to the end? Far more important persons and destinies
have passed before your notice, and you will more than once have
occasion to smile at the value attached to apparently trivial incidents
by a person whose horizon is so limited as that of my insignificant
self. Besides, I am a clumsy writer, and do not understand the literary
art of polishing even a pebble till in the sunlight it looks like a
Yet, even if you merely cast a pitying glance at these memoranda, I
think I can venture to promise that the principal character in this
true story will fix your interest and win from you the acknowledgment
that it was worth while to follow her unusual life-path with the care
of a truth-loving chronicler.
So I trustfully commit to you the clumsy manuscript, which I entreat
you to burn after you have read it. It owes its existence solely to my
purpose of paying my debt to you, and with sincere respect, I am
Johannes Theodor Weissbrod,
I confess that, in spite of this letter, whose simple, amiable style
recalled to me every feature of the writer's face, so full of feeling,
I took up the bulky manuscript with a certain dread. More than three
hundred closely written pageswho could tell with how much theological
speculation the simple life-history had been garnished. But the very
first pages dispelled the doubt, and the farther I read the more eager
was my interest in both contents and narrative. When I laid the last
sheets down, I said to myself aloud: Yes, it was indeed worth while.
With this opinion I instantly wrote to the author, begging him not
to confine this confession to ourselves, but by its publication edify
all who, in our hurried and corrupt age, had preserved minds capable of
appreciating simple grandeur of soul and the natural nobility of
He did not keep me waiting long for his answer.
Dearest sir and friend, he wrotefor the friends of our friends
are ours, and the warmth with which you speak of my departed friend
justifies me in believing that you cherish a kindly feeling toward me
alsono, I can not bring myself to regard this account of my most
private experiences as a literary production, and appear in it before
the cold eyes of the public. Apart from all other considerations,
however, the careless, thoroughly untrained literary style appears to
me an unconquerable obstacle. Yet, if you would undertake to subject
these pages to a thorough revision, provide the splendid kernel which
is no merit of mine, with a new and more fitting husk! But, even then,
I could not wholly conquer my secret reluctance. I live in complete
seclusion; those who know me best, with the exception of one friend of
my youth, regard me as a mere commonplace day-laborer in the shape of a
pedagogue. The publication of such a work would suddenly render me an
'object of notice,' and nothing is less readily forgiven in a
provincial sphere than any departure from the every-day routine of
But I will say this, my honored friend: If my unpretending story
really seems to you so valuable that you desire to save it from a fiery
death, keep the volume till I am no more. You will then be at liberty
to publish itof course, with the abridgment necessary where my
personal interest has made me unwarrantably garrulous, and the omission
of the guide-posts that would point out persons still living, or the
descendants of certain families. The names of cities and communities
ought also in justice to be suppressed. Nothing appears to me more
contemptible than the modern effort to attain, by the disclosure of
actual events, a success which mere skillful literary invention could
not have hoped to secure.
For the rest, I am entirely of your opinion that a life like the
one described here is well fitted to set an example, and that it seems
almost a duty to transmit the memory of so rare and lofty a human
character to future generations.
This was the last direct communication I had from the admirable man.
I did not venture to make any further effort to shake his resolution,
and for two decades his manuscript was carefully treasured in my desk.
Early this year I received a letter, written by an unknown hand, and
bearing the postmark of the city in the Mark. The principal of the
grammar-school there informed me that his friend, after having enjoyed
the best possible health to the last, had been found one morning dead
in his bed! He had been buried, according to the directions of his
will, in the almshouse church-yard, by the side of the Canoness, amid
the sincere grief of the whole community. Among his papers had been
found the request that I should be informed of his demise.
So I may doubtless consider myself as his executor in at least
bringing the following pages from their concealment. While re-reading
them I have made only the most modest use of the authority to erase and
alter at pleasureonly here and there a certain inequality of style
will show that another hand has interposed to make some obscure passage
clearer, or correct some awkward expression. In the main, I have left
everything as I found it; for it seems to me that the unassuming series
of pictures in this biographical romance, as it may be called, would
scarcely have gained greater vivacity and charm by a more careful
grouping or more artistic execution, while the impression of simple
truthfulness might have been impaired. With little art, clear wit and
sense suggest their own delivery; and, I may add, that as the love of a
warm and noble heart transfigures even the most insignificant
countenance from whose eyes it shines, much more does it illuminate
features as expressive and beautiful as those that look forth at us
from between the lines of this narrative.
HERR WEISSBROD'S STORY.
I must preface the following record with the entreaty that it may
not be regarded as puerile vanity if I begin with my insignificant self
and allow my own personality to appear in the course of my story more
frequently than it may deserve. The nature of the case requires it. My
own valueless destiny is as inseparably connected with the life of the
principal personage as the insignificant thread is a part of the pearl
necklace whose costly gems are strung upon it. Unfortunately, there are
some parts where the jewels are missing, and then only the gray thread
appears. But I will try to make these spaces as short as possible; for
I am only too well aware that my own existence has merely gained what
little worth it possesses because Providence brought me into the
vicinity of so rare a creature, and permitted me to move around her and
receive light and warmth, as a planet from the sun.
True, I certainly did not begin life with so modest an estimate of
myself. Nay, I imagined that I was well fitted to let my light shine as
the center of a little planetary system of my own. At a very early age
I was praised in my family and notorious among my school-fellows as a
pattern boy, and the blows I received from the latterand had richly
deserved by my ridiculous boastingonly helped to increase my
arrogance. All exalted minds, I said to myself, have been obliged to
atone for their superiority by calamity and persecution. Nay, I even
went so far as to compare myself with the Son of man, and should not
have been surprised had some Herod yearned for the life of the child
who felt himself destined to redeem the poor, sinful world, and
meanwhile showed his teachers in the town-school contemptible cajolery
and faultlessly written exercises.
When I was fourteen my father, who was a true Christian and a
faithful servant of the Word, was transferred from the town parish to
be superintendent in Berlin. My mother had died young, and my father,
who was completely absorbed in his official duties, left mewith too
much confidenceto myself. An elderly, somewhat weak-minded aunt, who
even in the great city kept house for us, regarded me as a small
miracle, and, therefore, had neither judgment nor power to uproot the
weeds of spiritual arrogance from my heart. The latter had already
flourished so rankly that they continued to grow luxuriantly even in
the freer air of the capital. When, at eighteen, I entered the
university, I instantly formed a pietistical society, which behaved
almost like a students' consistory. We preached to each other to our
hearts' content, debated the most difficult theological points of
controversy, wrote hymns, which I set to music and accompanied on our
harmonium; in short, we were a set of insufferable young saints, not a
single one of whom, had he knocked at the door of heaven with his long
locks and meekly turned-down collar, would Saint Peter have admitted.
I need scarcely state that I held aloof from all worldly amusements,
considered the theatre a vestibule of hell, and the other beautiful
arts as mere pagan jugglery. But the thing that now seems to me the
drollest of all is the relation I then occupied toward the female sex.
With the best intentions, I could imagine pure maids and matrons in no
other guise than as a devout congregation in Sunday attire, gazing
upward in gentle ecstasy at their pastor, and drinking in with fervent
gratitude the heavenly dew that fell from his lips. In some far remote
background of time I beheld one of these humble creatures nestling in
my embrace, trembling in the ecstasy of her bliss, and overwhelmed with
gratitude at the knowledge of being chosen before all her sisters to
stand by the side of the man of Godwhom she had long secretly
worshipedas his unworthy wife, iron his snow-white bands, embroider
his slippers, and write down his sermon every Sunday.
In this state of supernal self-glorification, I considered it only
natural that, as soon as I had passed my examination with special
brilliancy, and crossed the threshold of the position of candidate, the
most advantageous projects should open to me from more than one
direction. My dear father's heart was far too kind, and he practiced
the injunction of Christian charity of his own impulse in too wide a
sense, to permit him to find his salary sufficient either in the little
town or the great capital, and when suddenly summoned from this life he
left me nothing but his blessing and a choice theological library, the
only luxury he had ever allowed himself.
I was now forced to rely, with God's assistance, upon myself, and
as, with all the innocence of the dove, I possessed a sufficient
measure of the wisdom of the serpent, I did not merely examine
superficially the three places offered to me, but made careful
inquiries to discover in which one I should have the softest bed. All
three were tutor's situations in the country, with a prospect of the
pastorate, which would fall vacant in a longer or shorter time. I
decided in favor of the estate of the most aristocratic of the three
employers, who also owned two villages located in a region described to
me as being very fertile and not lacking in rural beauty. The pastor
there was almost eighty; the baron's children, whom I was to teach,
were but two in number, a boy, and a girl twelve or fourteen years old;
my patron was reported to be particularly strict in his religious
views, anda fact by no means least influentialhis letter, which my
dear father received with tears of joy on his death-bed and read aloud
to me in a trembling voice, expressed emphatic praise of my admirable
self, a pleasant report of my gifts and virtues having spread through
So in my heart I praised God, who so paternally provided a fitting
career for his favorites here below, embraced my poor old aunt, who was
left behind in a wretched attic, and set forth on the journey to my
paradise with proud hopes and a joyousness but slightly subdued by my
* * * * *
This exalted mood was somewhat depressed when, on reaching the last
railway-station, I vainly looked for the coach in which I was to make
my entry into the place of my destination. The baron had written that
he would send for me. I expected nothing less than a splendid carriage,
not drawn by four horses, it is true, but perhaps hung with garlands as
befits a young ecclesiastical conqueror. Instead, there was nothing
stopping at the station but an insignificant cart, which I suspected
was generally used for the transportation of calves or sheep, drawn by
two plow-horses, dejectedly switching their long tails to and fro. An
old man-servant, who did not even take the stump of a pipe from his
mouth when he came up to me, asked in his surly Low German dialect if I
was the tutor whom he was to take to the estate, then, with many a
muttered oath, lifted my trunk and three heavy boxes of books into the
cart, and pointed with his whip to the seat, where the sole provision
made for my comfort was a thin leather cushion.
He himselfafter relighting his pipe and starting his horses by a
drawling Hi-i!trudged beside the cart as it creaked slowly along.
I tried to bear my disappointment with Christian resignation, and,
after we had gone a few hundred paces, asked in my gentlest voice how
far the castle was, and whether we were to go the whole distance at a
The horses were plowing all day yesterday, growled the old man, and
the road was too bad for them to trot. We should be two hours at least,
p'raps a bit more; the sand began just beyond the next village, and
then, with the big boxes, we should move still more slowly.
Rustic ways! I thought, to console myself, jolted about on my hard
seat for a while longer, and, at the beginning of the sandy road, which
ran sometimes between fields and meadows, sometimes between low
fir-woods, sprang nimbly from the cart to relieve the panting animals.
It was toward the end of April, a warm spring wind blew over the wide,
quiet country, the crows were perched in dense flocks on the freshly
turned furrows, and the low twittering of birds was heard from the bare
tops of the birches. At three and twenty the theological bark around my
heart was not yet hard enough to prevent all this stir and movement of
Nature from penetrating it. In a very short time, while striding a few
horse-lengths ahead of my vehicle, I was so happy in the thought of my
God that I seemed to myself like King David, and my great wooden trunk
the ark of the covenant, and could scarcely refrain from falling into a
dancing step and letting the hymns I was singing in my heart escape my
Yet I was glad when the two hours and p'raps a bit more were over,
and old Krischan, pointing with his whip to the roof of a tower,
visible between the lofty elms in the avenue, muttered between his
teeth: Here we are!
I had made several vain efforts on the way to question him about the
lord of the castle and his family. I had learned nothing except that
the baron was a bit strict, and the old baroness always very kind
and gracious. Of the heir he only uttered a significant hum! and of
the pastor merely said, He's poorly just now. So my curiosity and
impatience increased with every step the horses took in the grinding
sand; and, as the rural charms of which I had dreamed were nowhere
visible, the village through which I passed differed in no respect from
an utterly unattractive Mark hamlet, and the few women and children who
stared at me from the doors of the houses appeared extremely
indifferent to the great event of my arrival, I climbed back with a
sigh into the cart as we turned into the avenue and traversed the rest
of the way at a trot.
We drove directly up to the castle, which looked very stately
through the bare branches, and, as the road at last passed over a
slight ascent, the horses relapsed into their former comfortable walk.
Yet we overtook a queer little cart, to which theaccording to the
Mark ideasconsiderable hill gave more trouble than to us.
A very old woman had harnessed herself and a spotted dog to a small
hand-cart, heavily laden with a large, well-filled sack, several
bundles of fagots, and various utensils and tools, the whole, tied
together with old ropes, towering so high aloft that the swaying
structure could scarcely keep its balance. The little dog's red tongue
was hanging out of its mouth, and the old dame panted and coughed as
she bent under the drawing-rope, which cut deep into her shoulder.
Spite of her four-footed assistant, she could scarcely have pulled the
load up-hill, had not a vigorous push from behind aided her. This was
given by a tall, slender figure, a young lady dressed in city style,
who, with both hands braced against the back, walked firmly on,
relieving the toiling pair of half the weight.
As we passed she merely turned her face toward us for a moment
without the slightest change of expression. I could not see her
features distinctly, owing to the shifting play of the shadows cast by
the bare branches above, but I perceived that the face was young and
grave. It made a singular impression on me, though she flashed but a
single glance at me and then instantly lowered her eyes. I noticed too
that her smoothly brushed hair, over which she had knotted a black
kerchief, was of a remarkable dark golden hue, somewhat similar to
amber. I perceived also that she wore a blue polonaise of rather
old-fashioned cut, trimmed with a narrow border of gray fur. Then the
old vehicle was left behind, and I did not venture to look back.
That's the Canoness! said Krischan, who had taken his pipe out of
his mouth and lifted his cap respectfully; and the old one is Mother
The Canoness! I repeated in surprise. Has the baron so old a
No, sir. The baron's daughter is only fourteen. She's Fräulein
Leopoldine. But the Canonesshi!
He urged on his bays with a loud crack of the whip, for we were just
turning out of the avenue into the castle court-yard. I was obliged to
repress my curiosity for the present.
* * * * *
The castle really did honor to its name. It was a very large
building, dating back from the commencement of the previous century,
with a lofty lower story, to which led a double flight of broad steps,
above which was a second story richly decorated with stucco
ornamentsa style, however, that did not exactly harmonize with the
peaked roof and irregular attic windows. From this central building a
wing extended at right angles on the left almost to the avenue of elms,
while the right wing, which, as I afterward learned, had been destroyed
by a great fire, was replaced by a clumsy square tower three stories
high. Yet this tower bore above its four gables a gigantic cupola,
garnished with pinnacles and battlements of all sorts, which gave it an
air of chivalrous boldness.
A servant in a light-green livery received me at the top of the
steps, said that his master was expecting me, and ushered me into the
house with condescending familiarity, as if he considered me a sort of
colleague. The cool, dim hall paved with tiles, the broad stone
staircase, the antlers that adorned the walls, the numerous servants of
both sexes, who were peeping curiously from different doors, produced a
strong impression upon me, though I secretly regretted the absence of a
more formal reception by my future patron's assembled family. But I
consoled myself with the thought that this was the genuine aristocratic
demeanor, and resolved to maintain my own dignity and command the
respect due my ecclesiastical character even from high-born laymen.
Meantime I had climbed the steep stairs to the highest story in the
tower till I was fairly out of breath. But when I entered the apartment
the footman showed me as mine, I was instantly reconciled to the
quarters gained by the toilsome ascent. It was a corner room with four
wide, almost square windows, which afforded a most superb view, over
the tops of the trees in the avenue, of fields and moorland, forest and
farms, and the village houses gathered about the handsome village
church like a flock of chickens around the clucking hen. The whole
scene was steeped in the brightest noonday sunlight, and filmy bluish
clouds floated from the chimneys of the low straw-thatched roofs,
pierced by single sunbeams, and swayed to and fro by a fresh April
Dinner would be served in fifteen minutes, the servant said. Did the
Herr Candidate want anything? I asked for my trunks, and had just time
to brush the dust of my journey from my clothing, when a big,
hollow-sounding bell, which roused a welcome echo in my empty stomach,
began to ring in the hall below.
I cast one more glance into the tiny mirror, which, like the rest of
the furniture, did not produce a very magnificent impression, and,
after having combed my hair smoothly, and pushed my long locks neatly
behind my ears, descended the steep tower-stairs, spite of the
consciousness of my ecclesiastical dignity, with a somewhat quickened
pulsation of the heart.
The dining-room was on the lower floor, directly behind the
entrance-hall, a vaulted apartment, whose four high windows looked out
upon the garden. The wide glass door in the center opened on a small
terrace, from which a few steps led to the flower-beds. But I did not
notice all this at my first entrance, as my whole interest was
engrossed by the various persons who were assembled.
A tall, extremely dignified gentleman, with very handsome, regular
features, and mustache and whiskers cut in military fashion, came up to
me, held out his well-kept hand, and said, in a voice whose musical
tones he himself seemed to enjoy: May the Lord bless your coming and
going, Herr Candidate!
I bowed silently, and was led to a little lady attired in a black
silk dress and a large white lace cap, who sat in the depths of a tall
Here, my dear Elizabeth, said the baron, I present to you
Candidate Johannes Weissbrod, who, with God's blessing, will aid us in
the education of our Achatz! Achatz! he called, turning to a
pale-faced boy, evidently backward in mental development, who stood
giggling with a tall young girl at the other end of the hall. The lad
came slowly forward, eying me askance with mingled shyness and
defiance, and only at his father's repeated desire gave me a thin
yellow hand. I noticed at the first glance the striking resemblance
between him and his mother. The latter was remarkably plain; she had a
shrunken, withered face, which strongly reminded me of old General
Zieten, to whom, I afterward learned, the baroness was distantly
related. Even a little Hussar mustache was not lacking, and the sight
of the tiny witch-like scarecrow was so melancholy, especially by the
side of her husband's stately figure, that in my first confusion I
actually forgot the fine speech with which I had intended to present
myself, and could only bow silently and kiss the diminutive hand the
little specter extended to me.
But, as I straightened myself again, a warm, irresistibly kind
glance fell upon me from the small gray eyes, and such a touching,
child-like voice came from the little withered mouth, saying, I shall
be deeply grateful to you, Herr Candidate, for everything you do in
behalf of my dear son, that I lowered my eyes in actual confusion, and
felt a sincere reverence for the little lady, whom I had just held in
such light esteem. I would make every possible effort, I stammered,
laying my hand on the boy's rough fair locks. But he shook off the
friendly touch so rudely that I instantly saw that the effort would
certainly be no easy one.
Meantime his sister had also approached me. She bore as strong a
resemblance to her handsome father as the boy to his mother. I
addressed a pleasant remark to her, which she answered by a haughty
curl of her full red lips. But there was still another feminine member
of the company, a lady, whom I supposed to be about thirty, not so tall
as the young baroness, but of a more elegant figure and with
serpent-like swiftness of motion. This is a beloved member of our
household, Mademoiselle Suzon Duchanel, said the baron, as he led me
to her. She is a true blessing from the Lord to us all, shortening the
long hours to my suffering wife, helping my daughter in her French
lessons, and sometimes chatting my own anxieties away. As he spoke he
bent over the young lady's hand, and, with chivalrous gallantry,
pressed it to his lips.
I know not why the act displeased me. My knowledge of the world and
society was still slight, and nothing could be more natural than an act
of courtesy by which the master of the house endeavored to lighten the
discomfort of a subordinate position to a lady. Nor was there anything
worthy of censure in the Frenchwoman's conduct. She was studiously
polite to every one, not excepting her insignificant fellow-slave,
myself, and, after becoming accustomed to a certain piercing light in
her dark eyes, no one could help thinking her attractive. So I could
only explain my strange aversion by the belief that, in her society, I
was almost always conscious of my defective French, and therefore,
though she spoke to me only in German, I felt her presence as an
We were about to take our places at the table, which, set for eight
persons, stood in the middle of the room. The baron had already
escorted his little wife to her seat opposite to the glass door, and
the young heir had seized his sister's braids to drive her to the table
like a horse, when the door into the hall opened and another person
appeared, a tall, thin man in a plain gray hunting-coat, with horn
buttons, high boots, and a shabby gray felt hat on his head. It was
evident at the first glance that he must be a brother of the master of
the house, only he lacked the elegance that pervaded the latter's whole
He entered noiselessly with a slight smile, half sad, half humorous,
that lent his beautiful beardless lips a very pleasant expression, went
slowly up to the mistress of the house, whose hand he silently kissed,
and nodded to his niece, but without vouchsafing me anything more than
an indifferent glance.
Where is Luise? asked the baron.
The little old lady gazed at him with a look of timid entreaty. I
noticed that he had some angry remark on his tongue, but his son
She harnessed herself to Mother Lieschen's dogcart, he said
loudly, with a jeering laugh, which displeased me extremely; and then
whispered into his sister's ear so that all could hear, I laughed at
her well, and she tried to hit me, but I was spryer.
And the little toad giggled spitefully.
The baron uttered a few words in French, which I did not understand.
Then he clasped his hands on the back of the chair, and said: Let us
thank the Lord.
He asked a blessing, which did not seem to me amiss, only it
appeared somewhat lengthy, especially as Achatz was constantly nudging
his sister in the side with his elbow. Mademoiselle Suzon Duchanel made
the sign of the cross at its beginning and end, which led me to
secretly wonder how a Catholic could have been received into this
rigidly Protestant family. Yet none of the others seemed to find it
The company then took their places at the table, the baroness at the
head between her two children, the master of the house next to Achatz,
then the French governess, by whose side my seat was assigned. There
was a vacant chair opposite, next Fräulein Leopoldine, then came the
baron's brother, to whom he presented me as we were taking our seats:
Herr Candidate Johannes Weissbrodmy brother Joachim.
Just as the soup was being served, the folding-door again opened and
the missing Luise entered, who of course proved to be the Canoness whom
I had passed in the elm avenue outside. She had taken off her blue
polonaise and little black kerchief, and in a plain gray dress, with
snow-white frill, looked even more slender than before, somewhat as
ancient statues represent the goddess of the chase. Her face was
slightly flushed, whether from embarrassment or her hurried walk I
could not determine. Yet she did not hang her head like a penitent, but
went straight up to the old lady, bent down and kissed her cheek, then
bore the baron's reproving glance without lowering her lashes, and
silently took the vacant chair between the daughter of the house and
Achatz stared and giggled, but grew as still as a mouse when she
cast a sharp, quiet look at him across the table. I now saw that she
had sparkling dark-brown eyes, against which the golden lashes stood
forth in strong relief. Yet, on the whole, she did not seem to me so
beautiful as when out-of-doors under the shadow of the elm-trees.
There was a stern, defiant expression in her face, very unlike my
ideal of feminine charm and lamb-like meekness. Moreover, she seemed to
entirely overlook my precious self, which gave me no favorable
impression of her character. Without uttering a word, she exchanged a
hurried clasp of the hand with her next neighbor at table and then
began to eat as indifferently as though she had been entirely alone.
I was somewhat annoyed because I had received no special
introduction to her; but my thoughts were soon directed from this
perplexing young creature by the baron, who commenced a theological
conversation with me, in which he showed himself a zealous Lutheran of
the most rigid type. I was extremely cautious at first, having heard
that he was a remarkably learned man. But I soon perceived that his
knowledge was utterly unsubstantial; he merely scattered broadcast
certain names and titles of books, which had been new years before, and
persistently repeated a few established formulas, on which he set far
too much value. He seemed especially to have received the stamp of the
Schleiermacher school, repeated a pun on the name of its founder two or
three times, but did not appear to have read even a page of his
Dogmatik or of the Discourses on Religion.
The whole conversation was evidently solely intended to inspire me
with a high opinion of his knowledge and spiritual enlightenment,
though he himself did not really feel the slightest interest in the
matter, for he turned a deaf ear to my modest objections, and
asthough I regarded myself a valiant champion of the true faithI
knew how to keep my polished sword in its sheath on occasion, this
first theological tourney passed off with mutual satisfaction. I only
regretted that my position in the house forbade me to stretch my
opponent on the sand and receive from fair hands the prize of victory.
* * * * *
During the whole dinner no one except the baron and myself had
spoken. The mistress of the house gazed into vacancy with a look of
quiet suffering, ate very little, and only showed herself eager to fill
her husband's glass as soon as he had emptied it, which in the zeal of
his debate occurred every moment. The others drank nothing but water,
except Mademoiselle Suzon, whose glass, spite of her coquettish
reluctance, the baron filled twice with Bordeaux. Two liveried servants
moved to and fro as if shod with felt; but for so aristocratic a
household the meal seemed to me rather meager and niggardly.
After dinner the baron, lighting a short hunting-pipe, took me into
his study and discussed the plan of instruction I was to pursue with
the heir. Biblical history, the catechism, the history of his native
country, a little geographythe lessons in the two latter branches
were to be shared with Leopoldine. She was far more talented than her
brother, my patron remarked; but the lad possessed the germ of a
genuine old-school Mark nobleman and an orthodox Christian, though it
was overgrown by all manner of boyish naughtinesses. His affectionate
papa hoped, from my experience in teaching and theological training,
that my pupil would soon visibly grow in favor with God and man.
At the same time the baron allowed me to see that upon my success
would depend my future position and promotion to the living. The
present pastor, with increasing age, would become less and less capable
of maintaining the strict discipline that was desirable, already
displayed a lamentable tolerance in matters of faith, and, if he did
not shortly apply for a discharge from his office, it would be
necessary to obtain his removal.
When I left my patron's study, I should have liked to give my pupil
a short examination at once and commence the training of the young
plant intrusted to my charge. Achatz, however, was neither within sight
nor hearing, but had disappeared, like the other members of the Round
Table. So I went up to my tower-room, and set about unpacking my books.
An old servant, who appeared to be the factotum of everybody in the
castle who wanted help, made meas there was no book-casetwo rude
sets of shelves out of boards, which, however, after they were filled
with my ecclesiastical works, looked very respectable. My pupil's room
adjoined mine. Who occupies the second story under us? I asked. The
young baroness and Fräulein Luise, was the reply. I don't know why
this annoyed me, but I should have preferred to avoid the vicinity of
While thus occupied, twilight had closed in, and I resolved to walk
down to the village and call on the old pastor.
As I entered the long village street, I prepared to assume the most
gracious manner. The worthy folk should have an idea of what they might
expect from their future pastor. But my nods and smiles, greetings and
questions, did not produce the slightest impression. The children ran
shyly away, and the grown people only gave me curt, suspicious answers,
though they knew very well that I was the expected candidate, and
enjoyed the favor of their noble church-patron. So I was not in the
best humor when I reached the little old parsonage, whose dilapidated
condition was revealed, at this early season of the year, by the bare
vine-trellises and empty garden. Even the church, beside which it
stood, only separated by the graveyard, urgently needed repairs, and I
secretly wondered that so pious a man as the baron did not set more
value on the proper preservation of the house of God.
But the interior of the parsonage looked all the brighter and more
home-like. True, the walls of the rooms were only whitewashed, but
there was not even a fly-speck on them; the thin white curtains seemed
to have been freshly ironed only the day before, the floors were strewn
with sand, and the household utensils were dazzlingly clean. A brisk,
plump old lady, the pastor's wife, greeted me with so cordial a
pressure of the hand, that I felt almost ashamed of having crossed her
threshold with the selfish thoughts of a smiling heir.
She led me into a small back room, that was just illumined by the
setting sun. Here, in an atmosphere so oppressive from the heat of the
stove that I could scarcely breathe, an old gentleman was sitting by
the window in a large arm-chair covered with calico. A small black
cloth cap rested on his venerable head, and his gouty, swollen knee was
wrapped in a woolen blanket. His kind, blue eyes gazed so
affectionately at me that I involuntarily bent over his outstretched
hand and would have kissed it, had he not withdrawn it, silently
shaking his head. I was requested to sit beside him, and, while we were
exchanging the first common-place remarks, I had time to again reflect
what a brilliant young light of the church I was compared to this
feebly flickering, almost burned-out tallow stump. For on the little
book-shelf beside the desk stood a scanty group of theological works,
so that, recalling my own abundant store, I seemed to myself, in the
presence of this aged champion of God, like a hero armed to the teeth
and clad in a steel corslet, opposed to an old warrior, who could only
swing a rude iron-spiked club.
But I was not allowed to display my admirable armor, for the old
gentleman subjected me to no theological examination, but merely
inquired about my former life, parents, and relatives. When he heard
that I had lost my mother when a child, he passed his withered hand
over my arm with a gesture of timid kindness, and his old wife, who had
often mingled in our conversation with some little jest, gazed at me
with such maternal compassion that a very strange feeling came over me.
Until then I had never realized my orphaned condition, but felt
perfectly secure in my kinship to God.
To reach a fresher theme, I began to talk of the baron and his
family, praising especially the spirit of genuine piety that pervaded
this aristocratic household. I perceived with surprise that neither the
old pastor nor his more loquacious wife assented to my fervent eulogy.
Only when I paused, the old man nodded gravely, and with his eyes fixed
on vacancy, said: Yes, yes, the baronessshe is a woman after God's
own heart. And don't forget Fräulein Luise! added the old lady
eagerly, then hastily quitted the room, as if summoned by some urgent
necessity, and did not appear again even when I took my leave.
I explained this strange silence to myself by the supposition that
there were dogmatic differences between the pastor and his patron. The
baron had shaken his head over the old gentleman's toleration. Desiring
to avoid any dispute on this first visit, I soon rose to take leave.
The old clergyman apologized for being compelled to remain seated.
He was confined to the chair by a violent attack of his complaint, and
would have been obliged to leave the pulpit vacant on the following
Sunday had not God sent him so able a representative in my person. He
begged me to preach in his stead, and only regretted that he could not
be among my devout listeners.
I was grateful in my heart to his gout for affording me an immediate
opportunity to display my lauded oratorical talent, wished him a speedy
convalescence, and took my leave with a much calmer heart than I had
* * * * *
When I returned to the castle, a servant received me in the hall and
informed me that tea was ready.
I found the whole family, except brother Joachim, assembled in the
dining-room around the tea-table, on which two large old-fashioned
lamps diffused a somewhat dim light. As at dinner, there was no lack of
silver tableware, so that everything looked very stately and splendid,
though the fare was scarcely superior to that of a respectable
The Canoness was making tea, and poured it from a heavy silver pot
into the cups handed around by a servant. Again she did not vouchsafe
me a glance. The others, too, merely bowed silently, as the master of
the house, seated close beside one of the lamps, was absorbed in the
newspapers, which were brought every evening by an errand-woman. The
regular mail came but twice a week.
I, too, now ate, without speaking, a due amount of bread and butter,
my sense of decorum and theological wisdom having prevented my fully
satisfying my appetite at dinner. Achatz giggled and whispered with his
sister, who now sat beside him; Mademoiselle Suzon had the headache and
looked very much bored, but from time to time gave me a glance and
murmured a question, her cold eyes meanwhile wandering to and fro with
a strangely uneasy expression.
When the baron threw aside the papers, the whole party rose from the
table; Fräulein Luise led the baroness to an arm-chair beside the huge
chimney-piece, which, however, spite of the chill evening air, served
merely for ornament; and, after a little table had been pushed before
her seat, and the children had said good-night, the Canoness brought
out a pack of French cards and sat down opposite to play with her.
The baron had taken his place at a small chess-table with the French
governess, who had suddenly recovered her animation, and, turning to me
while arranging the ivory men, he said, You can choose, Herr
Weissbrod, which game you will overlook. It is really against my
principles to allow card-playing in my house, but my wife's game is by
no means an invention of Satan, unless tediousness is considered one of
the torments of hell. I never touch a card myself, and suppose you have
the same ideas. So, if you have no interest in chess, do not feel under
any restraint, but go to your room, if you prefer. You have had a
fatiguing journey to-day.
I thought this implied that my presence was no longer desired, and,
after having watched both games for awhilefor civility's
sakewithout understanding anything about either, I bid the party
good-night and climbed up to my tower-room.
The footman who lighted me seemed strongly inclined to have a little
chat, and I was very anxious to put certain queries about the relations
existing between the different members of the household. But I thought
it was indecorous to question servants about their employers, cut short
the tall rascal's opening remark, which tended in that direction, and
remained alone with my wandering thoughts.
My pupil was already sound asleep. As I looked at him and noted the
resemblance to his mother, which seemed even stronger than when he was
awake, I resolved to struggle against my aversion to the saucy young
lad and honestly strive to develop the half-stifled germ of which his
father had spoken. It seemed as though the impulse was felt through the
little dreaming brain, for the boy opened his eyes, stared at me,
blushed, and then said in an entirely different voice, Good-night,
I returned this good-night, passed my hand over his eyes, and went
softly back to my room.
But I could not yet go to sleep. All the new experiences the day had
brought were surging and seething in my head as if it were a witch's
caldron. Opening the window, I gazed out into the calm, cool night,
where the moon was shining so beautifully over the tree-tops, and gauzy
veils of mist were hovering in the distance above the hills and
Conspicuous among all the figures which glided past me, as if in a
spectral chase, staring at me with questioning eyes, was one which at
last, when the other ghosts had vanished, remained standing before
mea slender girl with tawny hair and brown eyes, whose gaze rested on
me so indifferently that my vain soul grew more and more insulted and
angry, yet without being able to turn my thoughts from her. I said to
myself that if this one woman did not dwell under the same roof I
should be as contented here as though I were in Abraham's bosom. Then I
wondered whether she had gone to rest, and imagined that she was even
now thinking of me with a scornful curl of her lips, which idea
strengthened my hostility still more. To calm myself, I lighted a long
pipe and paced up and down the carpetless floor of my room, thinking of
the sermon I was to preach on the following Sunday, and in which I
meant to say all sorts of offensive things to the arrogant creature's
face. Yet I possessed sufficient good-breeding to remove my squeaking
boots and put on the soft slippers my good aunt had given me as a
I was just going to shut the window, for I was beginning to shiver,
when a low melody rose below me, to which I listened intently. My
little talent for music, as I first learned long after, was at that
time the best and most genuine quality I possessed. So, at the first
notes, I knew that the pure alto voice beneath me was no ordinary one,
but issued from a thoroughly musical nature. But the piano on which the
singer accompanied herself appeared to be a worn-out, tuneless old box,
and she made the least possible use of it. I did not know what she was
singing, but it seemed to me a magnificent piece by some great master,
and I went close to the window that I might not lose a note. I
afterward discovered that it was an aria from Gluck's Orpheus.
This solitary nocturnal singing, which could proceed from no other
lips than those of the Canoness, instantly disarmed me. It sounded very
subdued; Fräulein Leopoldine slept in the next room, and must not be
disturbed. But this mezza voce, in its melancholy gentleness,
contradicted everything I had imagined of the singer's nature. It was
like the lament of a proud, free soul, that disdains to impart its
grief to any one, and only in a secret soliloquy makes the moon and the
night its confidants.
When the singing ceased, it was long ere I could resolve to seek my
bed. I still waited to learn whether it would begin again. Midnight had
passed when I at last shut my window, and, absorbed in thought,
prepared to seek repose.
* * * * *
Yet I was up very early, and had much difficulty in persuading my
pupil, who had hitherto slept below next his mamma's room, to leave his
bed, as among other bad habits he had been accustomed to stretching and
turning lazily on his couch in the morning.
I found it difficult to keep the resolution I had made the night
before over the sleeper, now that he sat wide awake before me with his
impudent little face, especially as I soon perceived with horror that
the young nobleman was deficient in nearly all the rudiments of
knowledge, and, moreover, did not appear to feel at all ashamed of his
ignorance. I found myself obliged to begin from the very commencement
in all the branches except writing, for which he was indebted to the
village school-master, and the catechism, which he could repeat
faultlessly with the volubility of a starling.
Yet, even in the first hour, I succeeded in uprooting some weeds of
error in his head and heart, and at least in conquering his
absent-mindedness, so that we were tolerably well-satisfied with each
other when, toward ten o'clock, the baron entered in his own sublime
person. He merely asked carelessly what I thought of my pupil then,
with an exclamation of surprise, went up to my books and glanced over
their titles. Ah, Neander! Marheineke! he said, as if greeting old
acquaintances. You are certainly a thorough scholar, Herr Weissbrod.
Only don't soar too high! Let us have no unfruitful knowledge.
'Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.' There is this Neander,
for instanceh'm! Yet he's not one of the worst. (Good Heavens!
Candid Neander! That soul of child-like purity!) And yeth'm! Well,
with God's assistance and favor, his day of Damascus will come.
He talked a great deal more of such conceited, equivocal trash; and
though even then some irreverent doubts arose in my mind as to whether
his own theological wisdom was correct, I was impressed by his oracular
speeches, and endeavored to make one answer and another which should
lead to a more professional conversation. But he cut me short by
remarking that there would be time enough for us to come to a clearer
understanding. I might now accompany him down-stairs to his daughter,
and then give the two children their first lesson in history.
We found the young lady's room already in order, and she herself, in
a by no means studious mood, sitting at a table which stood in the
middle of the apartment. The Canoness sat by the window with some
sewing in her hand. At our entrance she rose hastily and returned her
uncle's cold good-morning with a slight bend of the head. I did not
appear to have any existence for her.
Again I felt my blood boil with indignation. But I only strove the
more to do my work well, in order to show her what a remarkable fellow
I was; nor did I succeed badly, in my own estimation. I began to relate
the history of the Mark from its earliest origin, and as I was myself a
native of the country, and, moreover, very familiar with this subject,
I had the satisfaction of interesting not only my two pupils, but their
papa, to such a degree, that the baron remained a full half-hour, and
was first reminded that he had long since outgrown his school-days by
the announcement that the steward was awaiting his orders.
I was especially pleased to see how Achatz fairly hung on my lips
during the narrative of the battles and victories of his ancestors in
this once pagan land. The ice was broken, at any rate, and even
Fräulein Leopoldine, who at first had sat with an insufferably
condescending expression, was evidently excited. Only the grave face at
the window bent like a stone image over the industrious hands, without
any token of interest. I began to doubt whether the beautiful nocturnal
melody could have issued from those obstinately compressed lips.
At dinner, when I again saw the mistress of the house, I could
plainly perceive that my first appearance as a pedagogue had produced a
favorable impression. The little lady, with a kindly glance from her
timid blue eyes, held out her hand to me, and asked whether I had slept
well and if I needed anything for my comfort. Achatz displayed in
motley confusion all sorts of crumbs of his new knowledge, and
Mademoiselle Suzon granted me more than one long look from her Catholic
eyes. When I said that the old pastor had requested me to take his
place the following Sundaywhich was the next daythe baron said he
was very curious about the conception held by the young school of the
preacher's office, but warned me not to drag my Neander and Marheineke
into the pulpit with me, which of course I smilingly promised.
Uncle Joachim, according to his custom, did not utter a word. The
Canoness looked at her plate, and I noticed that she sometimes made a
low remark to her neighbor, who always responded by a quiet smile or a
twinkle in his honest gray eyes.
When, that afternoon, I was again alone in my tower, I prepared to
study my sermon with great composure of mind, for I felt perfectly sure
of myself. I had brought from the university and our religious society
a bundle of outline sermons, one of which I took out and read over
again with constant reference to my new hearers. Of course this
masterpiece seemed a thousand times too good for the rural
congregation, but I had intended it principally for my patron and his
family, not least for the obstinate face that, willing or not, must
listen to me for a full half hour. I changed a few details, repeated
the whole in a low tone, while veiling myself in clouds of
tobacco-smoke, and, when I had finished, patted my stomach caressingly,
as though I had just swallowed a dainty morsel, and resolved to take a
short stroll in the park as an aid to digestion.
Hitherto I had only seen the grounds through the glass door of the
dining-room, and I now marveled at their extent and beauty.
* * * * *
Low farm-buildings, stables, and barns extended on both sides in the
rear of the castle, and were separated from the flower-garden in the
center of the park by dense rows of splendid fir-trees. The dry basin
of a fountain, ornamented by a crumbling sandstone statue, served as an
abode for an aged peacock, which could now spread only a very ragged
and shabby tail, as he constantly circled around it, keeping a
distrustful watch. No one except the Canoness, as I afterward noticed,
was permitted to approach without his uttering a shrill, spiteful
The beds, at this early season of the year, were still empty except
for a narrow border of crocuses and snowdrops, but they were neatly
raked and carefully marked out; even the paths between were free from
dead leaves. From this place ran a broad walk fenced on both sides by
tall, closely clipped hedges in the French style. But the tops of the
ancient elms and oaks soared above them into the air, and the solemn
splendor of a German forest far surpassed the Italian prettiness. Never
in my life had I seen anything so beautiful, for the Berlin
Thiergarten, so far as the size of the trees was concerned, could not
bear the least comparison to it.
When, studying my sermon, I had strolled some distance under the
lofty crowns of foliage, a strange figure came toward me, whom I at
once supposed to be the gardenera short, gray-haired man in a
peasant's jerkin, over which a green apron was tied, a green cap, horn
spectacles on his sharp, hawk's nose, an axe in his bony hand, and with
one foot slightly dragging. I went up to him, greeted him in my affable
manner, and asked if it was due to his care that the beautiful park was
in such admirable order.
At first he nodded silently, scanning me from head to foot with the
air of an expert examining some new plant to see whether it would be
likely to thrive in this soil. Then he said, by no means sullenly, that
he was the gardener Liborius and I was probably the new tutor. As this
was a leisure evening, he would do me the honor to show me the park.
While walking by his side, I had a strange conversation. In the
first place, he modestly refused my praise of his skill in gardening.
He would not be able to accomplish half without Uncle Joachim, who
planned everything that was to be done. True, he himself knew more
about cultivating flowers, because he had been educated for an
apothecary, and, had he not been compelled to enter the army, would
probably be one now. But while serving as the baron's orderlythe
elder brotherhe had been shot in the foot; so, after he had obtained
his discharge, his master had made him gardener on the estate. At that
time the park was a perfect wilderness, everything higgledy-piggledy,
and at first he had only bungled, until at last the younger baron came.
Yes, he added, glancing at me as if somewhat doubtful whether he
might venture to speak openly, many things would go wrong if it were
not for Uncle Joachim. There's no telling all he has on his
shouldershalf the management of the estate, the garden and stables,
and the few cattle, for the larger portion of the land is leased. And
yet he gets small thanks for it. They say that as a young officer he
was what people call a sly chap, ran in debt, gambled, had love
affairs; we know how things are with young noblemen who serve as
officers. Then his brother once helped him out of a scrape and made him
take an oath to lead a regular life, and he has done so too. But they
always treat him like the prodigal son in the gospel, only there is no
fatted calf killed for him. And why? Because he doesn't go to church.
You pull a long face over it, Herr Candidate, but you can believe this:
he's more religious at heart than many a man who can repeat the whole
hymn-book; if he were not, there's much that would look very different
here. For our master, he's not exactly a bad one, but very strict, like
our Lord in the Old Testament, and looks after the pennies and wages,
so, though the heavens should fall, he never abates any of the work the
peasants are obliged to do for him. Unfortunately, he is obliged to
look after his due, for the estate was heavily laden with debt when he
took possession of it, and had he not made the wealthy marriage he
didfor the money comes from herhe could not have lived here,
especially as he, too, in by-gone days, led a jolly life and spent a
great deal. Well, he's tolerably well over that now, but he nips and
saves at all the ends and corners, always saying it is for his
children. Would you believe it, he wanted to send me off six years ago,
after the grounds here were at last in proper order and the park could
be seen again. His brother could attend to it with one of the servants.
Then I said: 'Don't send me away, Herr Baron; I'm no longer a young
man, and have forgotten my training as an apothecary, and my heart
clings to the old trees as we cleave to an old love. If it's only the
wages, I'll gladly give them up, if I can keep my room and have the
little food I eat.' So he let me stay, and I drudge away in Heaven's
name and for the sake of Uncle Joachim, who could not manage it all
alone. And now Fräulein Luise helps us, too.
The Canoness? I interrupted.
Yes, indeed. She has charge of the vegetable-garden, because she
knows best what is wanted in the kitchen. Ah, yes, she is for a woman
what Uncle Joachim is for a man, and gets just as few thanks for it.
You know, of course, Herr Candidate, that she is an orphan, the
daughter of a third brother of our baron, who also squandered his
property and died young. She has lived here at her uncle's since her
eighteenth yearshe will be twenty-four next Whitsuntideand as her
aunt has been an invalid so long, and her uncle is often absent for
months, because he finds the castle tiresome, Fräulein Luise is obliged
to stand in the breach everywhere. Well, she can do it, for she has the
brains, and her heart is in the right place; our Lord will reward her
some day for what she does for her old aunt.
The old man stopped, pushed aside with his hatchet a few dry
branches that lay at our feet, and then drew from under his green apron
a small bone snuff-box, from which he offered me a pinch. I took a few
grains for the sake of courtesy, and then, with the most perfect
innocence, for I had not yet penetrated into the real state of affairs,
Is it possible, Herr Liborius? I thought the French lady took
charge of the housekeeping.
The old man shrugged his shoulders, slowly stuffed the pinch of
snuff into his little hooked nose, sneezed several times, and after a
long delay replied: All that glitters is not gold, Herr Candidate. But
let every man sweep before his own door. See, here we are at Uncle
Joachim's rooms. Will you pay him a call? He'll surely be glad to see
you. Not a human creature ever crosses his threshold except myself, his
dog Diana, and Fräulein Luise.
We had walked the whole length of the park, to where a tall fence
divided it from the open fields, and were again approaching the castle,
when we reached a small summerhouse connected with the outbuildings by
a long hothouse. As I nodded assent, Liborius knocked, and then,
without waiting for the Come in! raised the latch of the crumbling
old door. No one was within. But at first I could not believe that this
utterly cheerless room was occupied by a member of the baron's family.
Against one wall stood a more than plain bed, covered with an old
horse-blanket; a huge arm-chair, from whose worn leather covering the
horsehair stuffing here and there protruded, was at one of the windows,
and at the other a large pine table, without a cloth, on which lay in
excellent order numerous thick account-books, writing-materials, boxes
of seeds, and a leaden tobacco-box; in the corner stood a narrow
wardrobe, and on pegs along the wall hung a few guns and fishing-rods.
This constituted the entire furniture of the yellow-washed room. But
above the bed hung the portrait of a beautiful woman, and a couple of
old copper engravings, representing Napoleon at Fontainebleau, and on
his death-bed, in worm-eaten brown frames.
It is not exactly a princely lodging! said the gardener, but he
chose it himself. Well, it makes little difference where we stretch our
limbs if we haven't spared them from early till late. At night all cats
are gray, and any four walls do well enough for a sleeping-room.
Then he let me out again, and I went back to the castle, often
shaking my head over the many things I had learned, which had
considerably lowered my high opinion of the people and things around
* * * * *
When the church-bells rang the next morning, I went to the window
and looked down into the courtyard. A large old-fashioned coach, to
which two fine horses were harnessed, was standing before the steps.
Almost immediately the baron came out of the doorway, carefully leading
Mademoiselle Suzon and the two children followed. They took their
seats in the carriageAchatz mounting the box, so that if those within
moved a little nearer together there would be room for a slender
person. I waited to see the Canoness, who was always late, come out of
the castle. But the coach-door was closed by the footman, who sprang up
behind, and the vehicle lumbered slowly away.
Is she, too, like Uncle Joachim, no church-goer? I thought, and felt
that this would have chagrined me greatly, for I hoped to impress her
especially by my sermon.
But I had fretted in vain.
I set out at a rapid pace, and, having discovered a meadow-path,
which, intersecting the avenue, led straight to the village and church,
I arrived even before the party from the castle.
The sexton received me, ushered me into the vestry, and helped me
don the black robe in which I always seemed to myself especially trim
and ecclesiastical. While the last verse of the hymn was being sung, I
saw by my pocket-mirror that my locks were parted down the middle of my
head in perfect order, and my hands faultlessly clean, and then entered
the crowded church.
I had carefully examined and tried my voice in it the day before. It
was as plain and bare as most of our village churches in the Mark,
having been hastily rebuilt with scanty means after a conflagration,
and even robbed of the monuments which, as the sexton said, had come
down from Catholic times. On the whitewashed pillars hung nothing but
dusty and faded bridal and funeral wreaths, with long black or white
streamers and tarnished silver spangles. There was also a black tablet
with a few hooks, from which were suspended the war medals of anno '13,
'14, and '15, with the names of their wearers in clumsy white letters
beneath. The organ alone was handsome, its pipes brightly polished, and
its notesfor the schoolmaster understood his businessgreeted me
with a harmonious melody as I climbed the steep stairs to the pulpit.
While the last verse died away I had just time to scan my devout
congregation. Opposite to me, in the baronial pew lined with red cloth,
sat the party that had come in the carriage. In the front seat, at its
left, was the pastor's plump old wife; the lines on her cheerful face
were to-day drawn into a peculiarly intent expression. I told myself
that I should have in her a particularly critical auditor. Behind these
pews, in a dense throng, were the peasants and cottagers of the
village, with their wives and children, whose singing, thanks to the
musical teacher, was far more endurable to hear than is usually the
case in our unmelodious region. Spite of my self-confidence, I was
forced to subdue the quickened throbbing of my heart as I saw the eyes
of all these strangers fixed steadily and not exactly benevolently upon
me. I was really glad not to discover among them one pair that, within
the last few days, had already more than once disturbed my peace of
But just as I was opening the Bible on the pulpit desk to read the
text, the door at the end of the narrow aisle, between the rows of
pews, noiselessly opened, and, amid a stream of sunlight and spring
air, that was instantly shut out again, the Canoness entered. Instead
of passing through the rows to take her seat in the baron's pew, she
unceremoniously sat down on the farthest bench, where an old woman, in
whom I now recognized Mother Lieschen, made room for her with a
friendly nod. No one else in the church noticed her; this late arrival
appeared to be considered perfectly proper.
So I began my sermon in a somewhat unsteady voice, but it soon grew
firmer. The text was: Many are called, but few are chosen.
The doctrine of predestination had frequently been the theme of our
debates at the university, and the sermon as I had brought it in my
trunk bore evident traces of the learned apparatus with which I was
accustomed to defend my views. For my present congregation, however, I
had wisely omitted this, and restricted myself to bringing the kingdom
of God as I had dreamed of it, in vast outlines, but colored with
brilliant hues, before the imagination of my listeners. It resembled,
as it were, a beautiful fairy palace, to which led an immense, broad
staircase. This symbolized the temporal world in which, separated by
steps, the many called and the few chosen hurried on together. For, I
said, as all nature shows a gradual development from a lower to a
higher stage, in which no creature has reason to complain, since thus
alone can the omnipotence of God, which renders everything that might
be possible actual, reveal itself; so it is compatible with the
Creator's infinite righteousness that he does not endow all his
creatures equally, but makes distinctions, and, with apparent severity,
favors one and neglects another. Thus only could he have completed the
wondrous picture of the world, without leaving any step vacant or
overleaping transitions. If dissatisfaction should thereby arise, the
peace that is not of this world will at some future time silence all
complaints and reconcile all contradictions. On the day the portals of
that palace would open at the sound of the last trump, all who were
waiting on the stairs would be invited to celebrate the entrance into
the heavenly mansions. Ay, even those on the lowest step. For it is
explicitly written: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven.
I now adorned this idea of a staircase, which, as the final tableau
of a fairy opera, would have done credit to a scene-painter, with the
necessary lay figures and heroic characters, which I will briefly pass
over here. It is only necessary to say that in the elect on the upper
step I described with tolerable clearness people of the stamp of my
employer and his familyhigh-born, wealthy mortals, endowed with every
advantage of nature and education, and also with the grace of true
religion; while on the lowest step crawled poverty-stricken creatures,
bereft of happiness, like Mother Lieschen, who, however, would also be
saved if they gathered the treasures which moth and rust do not
After I had pronounced the benediction over the congregation and
descended the steep stairs of the pulpit, I felt fairly intoxicated by
my own fiery eloquence, and considered it only natural that the baron
should signify his most gracious approval by a nod of his handsome
head. The pastor's wife, on the contrary, had not changed her
expression in the least, and did not stir even when I passed close by
her. I forgave her from my heart for being unable to feel friendly to
the new star that outshone her husband.
The sexton, however, praised me lavishly. Only I had made my sermon
a little too aristocratic.
* * * * *
I could scarcely wait for the dinner-bell to ring, as I fully
expected that the whole conversation over the Sunday roast would turn
upon my sermon. But in this I was bitterly disappointed.
A guest had arrived who had not witnessed my oratorical triumph, a
thorough man of the world, as I perceived at the first glance. He was
called Cousin Kasimir; I do not know whether the relationship was
through the baron or his wife, for he was so disagreeable to me that I
vouchsafed him no special notice. The young gentleman had ridden over
from a neighboring estate, where he was living as a student of
agriculture, lured less by the aroma of the baronial table, which even
on Sunday promised no choice dishes, than, as everybody knew, by
designs on his cousin, the Canoness, in which he had long obstinately
persisted, though without any form of encouragement. He seemed to have
resolved not to attempt to take the coy fortress by storm, but induce
it to surrender by tenacious persistence. So he sat between Fräulein
Luise and the young girl Leopoldine, without addressing a word to
either, but zealously striving to entertain the whole company by
amusing anecdotes, bits of gossip, and jests with Uncle Joachim. The
latter always gave him sharp, curt replies, whose quiet scorn the young
man did not appear to feel. In the intervals he discussed politics with
his host, of course from the standpoint of the nobility; and
Mademoiselle Suzon was the only lady at table who could boast of a
slight show of gallantry from him.
On the other hand, he did not seem to be aware of the existence of
the mistress of the house, nor of my important self, though the baron
had presented me to him with some flattering words about my
Nothing was said of my sermon.
Wounded vanity naturally led me to cherish a secret, but all the
more bitter, hatred of the new guest. Even now, though I have long
since learned to smile at this pitiable youthful weakness, I must, for
truth's sake, admit that Cousin Kasimir, fine gentleman though he might
be, was an insufferable fellow, and had a face that might aptly be
styled a hang-dog countenance.
Very much annoyed, I went out into the garden as soon as we rose
from the table. I should have been glad to meet my honest friend
Liborius, not to hear him praise my pulpit eloquence, but to question
him about the object of my hate. He was, however, nowhere to be seen.
He spent his Sunday afternoons, as I learned later, in a neighboring
village, where he had placed a daughter, the child of an unlawful
youthful love, in the charge of worthy people. The baron inexorably
banished everything bordering upon unchaste relations from his pure
I sat for a while under the budding trees on one of the most remote
benches in the park, and the worm of unsatisfied vanity gnawed my
heart. At last I consoled myself with the thought that the fitting
opportunity to speak of such exalted subjects had not yet come, and
when the conceited nobleman had taken leave the neglect would be more
than made up.
So I at last rose and resolved to have the church opened again and
improvise a short time on the organ, for I was accustomed to be my own
Orpheus, and quell, by the power of music, the wild beasts which, spite
of my religion, ever and anon stirred in my heart.
But as I approached the little summer-house where Uncle Joachim
lodged, I saw the door open and Fräulein Luise come out, taking leave
of her friend with a cordial clasp of the hand.
I confess that this meeting was not exactly welcome. Her icy
mannereven colder than usualat dinner had told me plainly enough
that I had by no means advanced in her esteem. But in certain moods a
vain man longs to hear himself talked about at any cost, and would
rather endure the most pitiless verdict than the offense of silence.
Therefore, instead of turning into a side-path, I quickened my steps
toward my foe, who, without taking the slightest notice of me, friendly
or otherwise, quietly pursued her way to the kitchen-garden.
I soon came up with her, bowed politely, and asked whether she
objected to my bearing her company a few moments.
Not in the least, she calmly replied. She merely desired to look
at the young plants, which was not an occupation in which one could not
We walked for some distance side by side in silence. She did not
wear the gray dress to-day, but a black one, whose contrast made her
fair face look still whiter. A thin gold chain, from which hung an
old-fashioned locket, was twisted around her neck. I afterward learned
that it contained her mother's miniature. I do not remember ever having
seen her wear any other ornament.
Her expression was even colder and more repellent than usual, yet
she seemed to me more beautiful than on the first day I saw her. She
again wore over her golden hair the little black kerchief I thought her
most becoming head-gear.
You were at church to-day, Fräulein, I began at last, for I felt
that I must hear something about my sermon.
Yes, she answered, gazing calmly at the freshly dug beds by the
path. But I shall not go again when you preach.
Because I will not have the God I love marred by you.
This was too much. I stopped as though a loaded pistol had been
fired under my nose.
Permit me to ask, I said, essaying a superior smile, in what
respect the God you love differs from him whom we all, including
myself, have worshiped in our Sunday service to-day.
Oh, if you wish to know, she replied with a slight curl of the
lip, which, spite of my wrath at her depreciation, I thought
bewitching. You have made a God who reigns in heaven very much as an
aristocratic patron of the church rules his estate. When there is a
harvest festival here, and the peasants come into the court-yard of the
castle to cheer the noble family, they arrange themselves on the steps
very much as, in your imagination, humanity stands on your staircase:
the magistrates at the top, then the villagers, graded according to the
amount of their property and cattle, and at the very bottom Mother
Lieschen, who owns nothing but a wretched hut, a dog, and a goat, yet
nevertheless receives a gracious glance because, as you think, she is
poor in spirit. To certain ears this may have been an admirable
prophecy of the Day of Judgment. In the ears of God it must have
sounded somewhat differently.
Then you do not admit the gradual development of all mortal
Certainly. Who would deny it? Only the image of poor humanity
probably looks somewhat different to the omniscient eyes of God than
when seen through the spectacles of our arrogant prejudices. If there
were such a staircase, reaching to the portals of heaven, Mother
Lieschen might perhaps stand on the topmost step, and certain others,
to whom you have borne such flattering testimony, at the very bottom.
I wished to give the conversation, which was becoming more and more
embarrassing to me, a different turn, and said in the gayest tone I
You seem to be a special patroness of this old dame, who doubtless
possesses a multitude of secret virtues. You preferred the seat by her
side to one in the baron's pew.
She now stopped in her turn, flashing so strange a glance at me from
her brown eyes, that all inclination to jest vanished.
Yes, she said, I like to sit where my heart attracts me. I think
there would be neither patrons' pews in the church, nor hereditary
tombs in the grave-yard, if people did not merely bear God's words on
their lips, but were aware that we are all sinners and lack the grace
we ought to have before God. Their forgetfulness of it is the fault of
the false expounders of the gospel, who value worldly profit more than
the kingdom of heaven. Ay, look at me, Herr Weissbrod. You, too, are
among them, spite of your excellent theological testimonials and St.
John's head. Otherwise you would not speak of the old dame with pitying
contempt, merely because she is the poorest person in the parish. First
learn to know her as I do. Then I hope your derision of her secret
virtues will cease. That she does conceal them is possibly her
greatest merit, and God, who seeth in secret, will perhaps reward her
She turned away with a hasty gesture of indignation, and seemed
about to leave me. But I was not so easily shaken off.
I have irritated you, Fräulein, I said somewhat dejectedly. We
will discuss my theology no further. But I should be very grateful if
you would give me some other particulars of your protégée. I really did
not intend to despise the old dame on account of her poverty.
Really? she retorted. Did you not? Well, I will believe you,
though you don't seem to possess much knowledge of character. But you
would be greatly mistaken if you supposed that Mother Lieschen is one
of the poor in spirit. Let me tell you that I owe all, or at any rate a
large share, of my love and reverence for God, and the small amount of
Christian patience I have acquired, solely to my intercourse with this
sorely tried soul. When I made her acquaintance, six years ago, I had a
defiant, despairing heart. Now I believe, in all humility and
cheerfulness, that my Creator will impose upon me no heavier burden
than I can bear, and know that a human being who possesses genuine
nobility can never lose it, no matter into what society he may be
thrown. Only he must fear God more than men, even those who, in your
opinion, stand on the highest step, next the angels and archangels, as
at court the second rank of nobility is close beside the royal
personage. You wonder to hear a Canoness speak so irreverently of noble
birth. But I have seen too many base and contemptible acts perpetrated
by people with the longest pedigrees, to feel very proud of my
ancestors. There will be quite a different Almanach de Gotha in heaven
from the one here below, I think, and perhaps there Mother Lieschen
will have a nine-pointed coronet over her name.
Wondering more and more, I made no reply. She had hurled these
remarks at me with sharp abruptness, while her fair face flushed, and
the little locks on her temples trembled with repressed excitement. I
had had no idea that an aristocratic young lady could cherish such
democratic ideas and express them as a matter of course.
Tell me more about this rare Christian, I asked at last.
Oh, that is soon done. She lost three fine sons in the war of
liberation; her only daughter was led astray by a dissolute
fellowalso one of those on the highest step; her husband, who until
then had been thoroughly steady, was driven by sorrow to the demon of
drink, and died a wretched death. She herself was at first utterly
crushed by all these troubles, especially as the little property she
possessed was lost through faithless people. But she remembered the
promise, 'All things work together for good, to them that love God,'
and resolved that she would not suffer herself to be overwhelmed, but
in her great desolation constantly sought those who were as sorely
tried, nursed the sick, and shared her last mouthful with a poor
outcast till the girl could maintain herself. While thus employed, her
old heart became at last so cheerful that whenever I am with her all my
own somber thoughts leave me, and I would rather cross her threshold
than stand on the topmost step of your staircase and be invited to
enter by an aristocratic archangel, as the reception of the few elect
was just being held. Now I will bid you good-evening, Herr Weissbrod. I
have something to tell Uncle Joachim.
After passing through the kitchen-garden, we had again reached the
little summer-house. The Canoness nodded haughtily, raised the latch,
and left me standing outside, disturbed and bewildered.
* * * * *
But, strange to say, roughly as the shower-bath had dashed over me,
I did not feel in the least chilled, but revived and strengthened, as
we do after a rain which, though drenching us to the skin, has at the
same time washed all the dust and feverish heat from our limbs, so
that, even while shaking and shivering, we can not help laughing at the
Even had her words been more severe and stinging they would have
inflicted no sharp wounds, for the voice which uttered them soothed me
like balm, though the tones were by no means gentle, but often harsh
with indignation. Yet, when she spoke of the persons and things that
were dear to her, one could imagine no richer melody. I felt in that
hour a strange ambition to have her voice some day pronounce my name
also in that sweet, thrilling tone.
And how her whole appearance had bewitched me, while she lectured me
I was lost in reverie as I returned to the castle. Cousin Kasimir
met me, and asked if I knew where Fräulein Luise was. I shook my head.
Even his hang-dog face did not seem quite so disagreeable when the
pinched lips uttered that name.
And how I felt an hour later when, unable to fix my thoughts upon
any occupation, I sat at my tower-window and suddenly heard beneath me
the piano and then the voice for which I had so passionately longed.
To-day, since the time for sleep had not yet come, there was no
repression, but a power and fullness of melody which, when a note
seemed to soar triumphantly upward, or to sink into the very depths of
the soul, sometimes brought my heart into my throat. It was another
aria by the same composer, who was her special favorite. For nearly an
hour this pure flood of harmony flowed through my penitent soul. I may
truly say that whatever transformation of my nature her words had
failed to accomplish was completed by her singing.
When the supper hour arrived, I sent word by the servant that I
begged to be excused, I was not well.
With this fib my first Sunday ended. I was, on the contrary, so
rapturously well that I could not bear to be confined within four
walls, but slipped out into the open air and sauntered for several
hours, with an overflowing heart, under the waving branches of the
trees, and over the young grain sprouting in the dark fields, until all
the lights in the castle were extinguished.
* * * * *
If, from the foregoing confession of faith, you have drawn the
inference that Herr Johannes Weissbrod had regularly fallen in love
with Fräulein Luise von X., the conjecture might be termed premature.
True, I had had as yet no personal experience in this department,
but I knew from the stories of others, and my own few observations,
that love includes the tender desire to take possession of the beloved
object. Even in its boldest dreams my agitated soul had not felt a
trace of such a yearning. If ever so-called Platonic affection existed,
it was in my case, though some eccentricities would have given a third
person cause to smile.
For, albeit I could not help thinking constantly of her, I did not
feel this constraint, after the manner of lovers, as a sweet bond
imposed upon me, but struggled against my chains, and had moments when
I almost hated them, though even then she seemed to me one of the most
remarkable human beings I had ever met. At such times I would gladly
have practiced some little act of retaliation upon herof course
merely to shame her, and show that I really was no such contemptible
fellow, but with my intellect and learning could have held my own
beside any arrogant young lady.
I also detected in myself a secret envy, which will show you how far
I was from the usual condition of being in love. I would gladly have
been in Uncle Joachim's place, even for a few hours, to feel how it
seemed to be liked and honored by this girl. And, if this could not be,
I would have even consented to be transformed by some magic spell into
At night I dreamed that the beautiful staircase to the portal of
heaven was before me perfectly empty; but when I tried to mount it I
constantly slipped back, till at last I remained with bruised knees on
the lowest step. Just at that moment the door opened and St. Peter came
outwho, however, bore a striking likeness to Uncle Joachimleading
with his right hand the Canoness and with his left Mother Lieschen. All
three looked down at me and suddenly began to laugh. I started up
angrily, and gave them a sharp lecture on the wickedness of malice.
While I was in the midst of it, the little old baroness came up, looked
compassionately at me, and said, Give me your hand, my son. Then she
led me up the stairs with as light a step as if she were no longer an
invalid, saying, You see, Johannes, it is perfectly easy, only we must
leave behind the learned luggage you have dragged with you in your
trunk. And, indeed, it seemed as if I had received winged shoes, like
the messenger of the Greek gods, yet the stairs appeared endless.
Higher and higher I floated, but still saw the three at the same
distance above me, only they were no longer laughing, and the vision
constantly grew paler, till at last I beheld nothing but the horn
buttons on St. Peter's gray coat, glittering like stars, and the
Canoness's golden hair shone like the sun on a winter day, while Mother
Lieschen's gray locks fluttered around her little pale face like the
autumn clouds about the moon. When at last the dread that I should
never get up found utterance in a shrill cry, I woke and felt ashamed
that the sun was shining on my bed.
* * * * *
My first business that morning was to send for the barber who shaved
the baron every day, and have him cut my hair. True, what remained was
still brushed behind my ears, the parting, however, was no longer
exactly in the middle, but a little on the left side. When I went down
with my pupil to the history lesson I was vexed that this important
change in my outer man, symbolical of a transformation of my views, did
not receive a glance from her on whom I hoped it would produce an
impression. Achatz alone made some foolish remark about it, which I
sternly reproved. Fräulein Luise again sat at the window, sewing on a
child's jacket, as completely unmoved as if nothing had passed between
us the day before.
So she remained during the whole week. I did not understand how I
could have fancied, even in a dream, that I heard her laugh, for she
I should have been delighted to meet her again alone, but she never
permitted it. So I had no resource except to continue in my next sermon
our conversation in the kitchen-garden, an expedient which gave me one
advantageshe would be unable to interrupt me.
But, while in the act of connecting my sermon with my cleverly
chosen text, the old pastor sent me word by one of the school-children
that, as his foot was now tolerably well, he intended to occupy the
pulpit himself on the following Sunday.
This greatly annoyed me. When the Sunday came I should have
preferred to stay away from church, especially as I did not know which
would be the most suitable seat for me. I could not take my place in
the baron's pew without a special invitation, which was not given, and
I did not consider it exactly proper to sit among the congregation. So
I chose an excellent expedient by joining the schoolmaster in the
organ-loft, where a dozen towheaded children stared at me. Requesting
the worthy man, by a condescending gesture, not to trouble himself
about me, I sat down on a stool behind the low wooden railing.
From here I could overlook the whole church except the last bench
under the organ-loft, which was the very one that most interested me,
because I supposed Mother Lieschen and some one else to be there. But I
had not much time for such thoughts.
While the hymn was being sung, the door of the vestry opened and the
old pastor appeared, accompanied by the sexton, who carried the Bible,
while his wife walked by his side, supporting his feeble steps with her
strong hand. With trembling knees the old clergyman slowly ascended the
pulpit stairs, and was obliged to rest for a timewhich he passed in
silent prayerin a chair that had been placed for him. Then he rose as
if refreshed, and, when he had opened the Bible and cast a long, gentle
glance over the congregation, he seemed ten years younger, and his
wrinkled but kindly apostolic face glowed as though illumined by the
fire of youth.
He had chosen for his text the words of the seventh psalm: My
defense is of God, which saveth the upright in heart.
I had intended to watch sharply, to endeavor to detect some
reference to my own sermon, as I could well imagine that the pastor's
wife had told her husband about it, and not in the most favorable way.
But after the first few sentences all my vain self-consciousness
vanished, and even my renowned powers of theological criticism, which I
had so often valiantly tested at the university. True, there was no
trace of any controversial disposition in the low words from those
withered lips, which, however, were so distinct that not one remained
unheard. The old man opened his reverent heart to all who had ears to
listen, as a father speaks to the children who cluster around his
knees. I have forgotten what he said. It was anything but what is
termed an intellectual discourse. But the tone of his voice has rung in
my ears all my life, as though I had heard it only yesterday.
I can remember but one thing: that he referred to the calamity of
the preceding year, when floods and stunted harvests had affected the
village; but all this trouble had not been able to depress pious
hearts, only those who did not have God for their shield, and what a
precious thing this shield was, and many more simple, earnest words of
this sort, all appealing with gentle power to every heart, because they
did not merely spring from the lips, but were felt in the depths of the
The dull peasants listened so breathlessly that the fall of a leaf
might have been heard in the church. I glanced once at the occupants of
the red pew. The baron had closed his eyes and bowed his handsome head
on his breastin contrition, as I first thought. Then I perceived, by
the strange nodding, as it drooped lower, that he was indulging in a
little nap. His wife's face, on the contrary, was raised, and she did
not avert her eyes from the venerable bald head and silver locks of the
speaker. As Mademoiselle Suzon was of a different faith, it could
hardly be considered a crime that she was constantly glancing here and
there over the congregation.
When the sermon was over, and the people were just preparing to sing
the last two verses of that day's hymn, I hastily signed to the
schoolmaster to let me take his seat at the organ, and at first
modestly played the accompaniment; afterward, however, I put forth all
my skill, not from the vain desire to make myself talked about, but an
earnest longing to pour forth in music all the emotions of my
A magnificent motet by Graun had been constantly echoing in my ears
during the sermon, a harmony as full of the faith of childhood and the
gentleness of age as the nature of the old clergyman in the pulpit. I
now began to play it with a quiet fervor and triumphant devotion which
finally made the tears gush from my own eyes. At the same time the
image of the maiden whom I revered rose before my mind, and, as I had
so long been unable to communicate with her in words, it was a pleasure
to think: She is hearing you play, and, as her own being is instinct
with music, you will approach her across all the gulfs that yawn
between you, and she must begin to think better of you!
When I at last closed with a bit of improvisation, and rose, glowing
with excitement, I saw close behind me the whole flock of children from
both villages, who had stolen softly up from below and gathered around
with shy reverence, as if I were a magician. But I sought only one pair
of eyes, and enjoyed the first happy moment for several days. The
Canoness was standing beside the old peasant woman, gazing rapturously
into vacancy, as though still under the thrall of the notes she had
just heard. As I passed with a slight bow, she only moved her blonde
lashes a little, while her lips parted in a serene smile. No
enthusiastic eulogy could have rewarded me more highly.
* * * * *
I could scarcely wait to meet her again at dinner. I fully expected
that she would at last break her cold silence, and question me about
what I had played, my musical studies and tastes. But nothing of the
sort occurred. Nay, while all the others were praising and admiring me,
and the Frenchwoman, with studied graciousness, kept her black eyes on
my face, and laid a large piece of roast goose on my plate with her own
hands, Fräulein Luise looked at me so absently and indifferently that I
could not help secretly brooding over this mystery.
I was also annoyed because the baron, who had made no allusion to my
sermon, delivered a long speech about my organ-music, from which I
perceived that he had not taken the slightest interest in it, and was
merely patching together, with a defective memory, certain phrases
about the value of music to religious consciousness and the sin of
considering the old church-hymns antiquated.
But Uncle Joachim vouchsafed me for the first time a brief
conversation in a low tone, which, however, I scarcely regarded as an
honor. I thought him an insignificant, frivolous old nobleman; besides,
he had not been to church at all.
I longed to learn whether I owed the happy moment after my playing
to self-delusion, or what was the reason I had again fallen into
disfavor with the Canoness. So, soon after dinner, I went into the park
and sauntered about within a short distance of the summer-house,
holding in my hand a book, at which I gazed intently without reading a
My friend Liborius had told me that Fräulein Luise drank coffee
every Sunday afternoon with her Uncle Joachim, who made it himself in
his little pot, and ordered the cakes from the town at the next
station. They always enjoyed it very much, and could often be heard
talking and laughing loudly together.
I had seen her go there that day, after giving a Sunday morsel to
the sick peacock and stroking its back as it came up to her, screaming
and fluttering. I did not understand how she could love the spiteful,
disagreeable bird, any more than I could comprehend what attracted her
to her godless uncle, with his sarcastic smile, whom I so greatly
envied on account of her preference. I waited at my post an hour and a
half in a very irritated mood, and was just in the act of turning away,
and driving the arrogant enchantress out of my thoughts, when the door
of the summer-house opened and she herself appeared, evidently in the
But, as she caught sight of me, a shadow instantly flitted over her
face, and only a faint smile of superiority lingered on her lips.
You are waiting for me, Herr Weissbrod, she said, carelessly,
advancing directly to me. You want a compliment for your church
concert, do you not? Well, you played very finely.
I was so bewildered by this address, and still more by the glance
with which she seemed to illumine my inmost heart, and read my most
secret thoughts, that at first I could only stammer a few unmeaning
words. She seemed to pity my awkwardness.
Yes, she repeated, you really played very finely. Where did you
learn? Our organ sounds well, doesn't it? Do you play on the piano
I answered that I had taken lessons at college, but had never made
much progress on the piano, which required greater dexterity. Besides,
there were no such beautiful, solemn melodies for the piano as for the
She again looked at me with so strange an expression that I lowered
Do you love music only when it is solemn? she asked, and turned
away as if to leave me. But I was determined to speak freely and compel
her to confess her grudge against me.
I thought you would be of the same opinion on this point, I
answered, hastily. At least I have only heard you sing slow, solemn
Me? Oh, yes! You are my neighbor in the tower. She smiled faintly,
but instantly grew grave again. Well, would you like to know why I
sing nothing else? Because I have a heavy voice that does not suit gay
airs. Yet 'Bloom, dear Violet,' and 'When I on my Faded Cheek,' or
anything still more light and cheerful, can touch the feelings as much
as the most devout choral, if it only comes from a merry heart and a
pure voice. True, we can not win artistic renown or be considered
specially pious by singing such things; though I think God has the same
pleasure in the chirp of the cricket as in the trills of the
You wound me, Fräulein, I answered, crimson with emotion. You do
me great injustice if you believe that what I do or leave undone is for
the sake of external effect. Who gave you so bad an opinion of me?
She stopped and looked at me again, not into my eyes, but at my
hair, whose parting had meanwhile daily moved farther to the left.
Do you really care to know what I think of you? Well, I believe you
vain and weak, a man who no longer reflects upon anything because he
imagines he has made himself familiar, once for all, with all the
enigmas of life, though he does not yet know even the first word of
them. I don't blame you, for I know that this is the case with most of
those who have pursued your path. But, as I have different ideas of the
one thing needful, we certainly have nothing to share with each other.
I felt a keen pang at these words, but was resolved at any cost to
know more, to know everything.
And what is your idea of the one thing needful? I asked, trembling
with emotion. You say such hard things to me. Are you perfectly sure
that you have a right to do so? Are you certain that you are yourself
in possession of the right knowledge?
Oh, no, she replied, and her voice suddenly sounded strangely low
and earnest, as if she were speaking only to herself; but I know that
I seek truth and allow myself to be led astray by no external delusion,
peril, or reward. No more can be required of any one, but no human
being should demand less from himself. I don't know why I am saying
this to you; I see by your puzzled face that it is a language wholly
unfamiliar. Well, I have neither taste nor talent for converting any
one. I shall thank God if I can conquer myself.
She bent over a bed to straighten a young cabbage-plant that had
just been set out and was half trodden down.
Fräulein, I said, once more fully conscious of my ecclesiastical
dignity, has not God himself pointed out to us the way in which we
must seek him? And is it not boastful to disdain this allotted way and
seek a side-path, merely in order to be able to say to ourselves that
we do not follow the high-road?
She straightened herself, and flashed a glance at me from her dark
eyes, which she always closed a little when angry.
Boastful! she answered. If food that neither satisfies nor
nourishes is offered, and I can break from some bough fruit that suits
me better! Boastful, because I do not wish to starve! That is only
another of those speeches learned by rote. You do not even suspect how
much you yourself suffer from arrogance. Then, after a pause, during
which I persistently asked myself, Good Heavens! what am I to do? how
shall I say anything that does not displease her? she added:
I will tell you why the high-road is so detestable to me: because I
can not bear to hear strangers chatter thoughtlessly about things I
love. If I revere any human being, it always seems to me like a
desecration to hear him approved and praised by others who do not know
him so well; how much more when I hear all sorts of things said about
my Creator, things which distort the image of him I cherish in my
heart! I suddenly turn as cold as ice, and feel as much oppressed as if
he were taken from me, and strangers were pressing between us. Whoever
really loves God keeps that love secretly, does not repeat others'
protestations of affection, nor use worn-out forms of speech already
employed a thousand times. It seems to me like having a love-letter
copied from a letter-writer. You know the passage in the Bible that
says we must go to our closets and shut the door. Yet you come forward
publicly and preach your petty human wisdom, as if you were thereby
doing God a special favor. If you had a wife, would you not be ashamed
to plant yourself in the village street and protest that she was a
paragon of her sex?
Oh, I said, how can you make such a comparison! God belongs to no
one person alone.
Do you really believe so? I think, on the contrary, that God
belongs to every human being alone. He dwells in a special way in each
human soul, and whoever does not feel this has not received him into
his heart at all.
Then you object to all public worship, Fräulein?
No, only that which prevents our coming to ourselves and God within
us. Did you not hear how our old pastor preached to-day? How completely
he forgot that he was in a crowded church, and poured out his heart as
if he were alone with his Creator! So every one had time to do the
same, and also approach God in his own soul. The rest of the old man's
discourse was like a father talking to his children. Even if they did
not all agree with him, they heard him speak from his inmost heart, and
were glad to have him still among them and see his venerable white hair
and his gentle eyes.
Then it surely is not my fault if I can not assume the right
paternal tone, since my hair is not yet white, I answered, trying to
Not your fault, she replied, but the fault of those who believe
young people capable of taking charge of a parish. Well, it is all the
same to me.
Because you will not go to church again when I preach? Oh,
Fräulein, try once more! Don't give me up too quickly! What you have
said has made a deeper impression upon me than you suppose. Perhaps we
may yet understand each other better than you now believe.
She reflected an instant, and then said: Very well, if you lay
stress upon it, I will try once more. At the worst, I can think of
something else. Farewell!
She left me, and walked with her swift, even steps to the castle.
* * * * *
I can not describe the state of mind in which I spent the days until
the following Sunday.
When a house, in which a man has lived safely and happily for years,
suddenly falls under the shock of an earthquake, and he escapes, at
great peril, with bruised head and half-broken limbs into the open air,
his feelings may be somewhat akin to mine.
At first, it is true, the old Adam stirred and tried to reconstruct
the ruined edifice and persuade me that it might be made habitable
again. But I soon felt that the dust floating around it oppressed my
breathing more and more, and the old walls shook at the slightest
motion. Only one little room had escaped the universal destructionthe
one I was to enter and shut the door behind me to be alone with my
Creator and my love for him.
But I am not writing the confessions of my own soul and my
incarnation, but the account of a far better and more interesting human
being. So I will be brief.
My anxiety lest the old pastor should be able to fill his pulpit
again the following Sunday, for which I did not reproach myself at all,
though it showed little love for my neighbor, had been superfluous. His
disease again confined him to the arm-chair by the window. But he
talked long and cordially with me, and, when on my departure he
embraced me, I thought I perceived that he was better satisfied with my
conversation this time than during our first interview. With his wife,
however, I had found no special favor as yet.
When the Sunday had come and I heard the bells ring and the hymn was
sung, I was obliged to drink a glass of the wine kept in the vestry for
the communion service, in order to control the wholly unprecedented
weakness that assailed me. My knees trembled as if I were about to
plead my own cause before a jury, in a case where my life was at stake.
Yet there were only two judges in the church whose verdict I valuedmy
own consciousness, and the grave face beside Mother Lieschen in the
To be brief, the culprit was absolved.
I had chosen the text, I will not let thee go, except thou bless
And when I began to speak it was not long ere I forgot everything
around and was entirely alone in the church with one whom hitherto I
had only known afar off, but who now for the first time drew near me,
clasped my cold, damp hand, and gazed into my eyes with indescribable
goodness, gentleness, and majesty, so that I clung fervently to him and
poured forth all the trouble of my bewildered soul till he raised and
My heart was so melted by the feeling of having at last beheld my
God that I did not even glance at the pew under the organ-loft. But, in
a pause which I was compelled to make to control my emotion, I
perceived two things that satisfied me that I had found the right
words: the pastor's wife was gazing affectionately at me with motherly
love, as if she were listening to her own son, and the baron had again
let his chin sink on his breast and was sleeping the sleep of the just,
as soundly and sweetly as I had seen him on the previous Sunday during
the old pastor's sermon.
* * * * *
I could scarcely wait for dinner. I did not expect a kind word from
any of the others, but I firmly believed that she would grant me a
But, as I entered the dining-room, my first glance fell on the cold,
arrogant face of Cousin Kasimir, and all my pleasure was spoiled.
True, my heart grew warm again. For the first time Uncle Joachim was
not the only one who pressed my hand. Fräulein Luise also extended
hers, which was neither small nor especially white, but, when I
cordially clasped and pressed it, I felt a joy akin to that of the
first man when the Creator stretched out his hand and bade him rise and
It was but a brief happiness; I perceived, by the Canoness's stern
eyes and compressed lips, that she was no longer thinking of me and my
sermon, but of something repulsive and hopeless. Besides, she did not
whisper some confidential remark to her neighbor now and then, as
usual, and a leaden cloud of discomfort rested upon the whole company
Cousin Kasimir alone seemed to be in an unusually cheerful mood,
which, however, did not appear quite natural, and chattered
continually, telling hunting stories, news from Berlin, and
occasionally commencing bits of gossip, which the baron hastened to
interrupt on the children's account.
He was very handsomely dressed, wore a small bouquet of violets in
his new dark-blue coat, and had carefully trimmed his somewhat thin
fair hair and small mustache.
As soon as we rose from the table, the Canoness was retiring as
usual, but her uncle said: Come to my room, Luise. She looked at him
with a steady, almost defiant glance, then stooped to kiss her aunt's
cheek and followed him.
Cousin Kasimir had approached Mademoiselle Suzon, to whom he
constantly paid compliments in French, without receiving any special
encouragement. My pupil had seized his sister's hand and hurried off to
show her a new gun Cousin Kasimir had brought him. The old baroness sat
in her high-backed chair, gazing at the beautiful blue sky as if her
thoughts were far away. I took my leave of her, which roused her from
her abstraction, and she gave me her little wrinkled hand, looked at me
with her sad, gentle eyes, and said: You edified me greatly to-day,
Herr Candidate. God bless you for it.
At any other time this praise would have greatly delighted me, but
to-day all my thoughts were fixed on the person to whom my heart clung,
and I could not shake off the idea that she was now enduring an
unpleasant scene. I went up to my chamber in the tower and paced
restlessly to and fro within its four walls, like a wild beast in a
cage. Sometimes I went to the window and looked down into the
court-yard without knowing what I expected to see there. An hour
probably passed in this way, then a groom led Cousin Kasimir's horse to
the foot of the steps and, directly after, he himself appeared,
accompanied by the master of the house. He was very much excited, he
had cocked his hat defiantly over his left eye, and was lashing his
high boots violently with his riding-whip. I heard his disagreeable
laugh, which now sounded angry and malignant. He shook the baron's hand
and, with a wrathful smile, said a few words I did not understand,
which brought a sullen look to his companion's face. Then he swung
himself into the saddle, driving his spurs into the flanks of his noble
horse so cruelly that it reared high in the air, and then darted like
an arrow down the elm avenue with its savage rider.
I remained standing at the window a little longer; I did not know
myself why I felt so strangely relieved by this speedy departure.
Something decisive, something that had made the hated cousin's blood
boil, had evidently occurred. And I grudged him no vexation.
The air was now pure again, and I determined to go down to the
kitchen-garden in quest of information. But, while passing Uncle
Joachim's open windows, I did not hear the Canoness's voice, and could
nowhere find any trace of her. The peacock screamed so discontentedly
as I passed him that I knew he had not received his usual Sunday
dainty. But in other respects the garden was very pleasant, the beds
were full of spring flowers, and the first light-green foliage was
waving on all the branches in the delightful May air. At last I met my
old friend Liborius.
He was sitting in his clean white sleeves on one of the farthest
benches, with a tattered book in his hand, and a cigar, a luxury he
allowed himself only on Sunday, between his teeth.
I sat down beside him, took the volume, which was nothing worse than
a novel by Van der Velde, now forgotten, and ere ten minutes had passed
I knew everything I desired to learn. For, as the castle afforded no
other entertainment, so thorough a system of watching and listening had
been established that the family might as well have discussed their
most private affairs before the assembled servants as behind closed
The long and short of the matter was that Cousin Kasimir had sued
for the hand of the Canoness; but the latter, on being informed by her
uncle of the flattering and advantageous offer, had curtly replied that
she felt neither love nor esteem for the suitor, and begged once for
all that she might hear no more about him.
A terrible scene had followed, the baron had flown into an
inconceivable fury, upbraided her for her poverty, her impiety, her
defiance of his kindness and wisdom as her guardian, and who could tell
where it might have ended had not the young lady turned away with a
contemptuous shrug of the shoulders and left the room.
Now even her pleasant coffee-drinking with Uncle Joachim was
spoiled. She had locked herself up in her chamber, and would not see
any human being.
I heard all thispart of which I had already conjecturedwith
secret triumph, bade my informant good-evening, and strolled through
the park into the open country.
Never had I been so happy on any day I had spent in the castle. A
small quiet flame was burning in my breast, as if it were some pure
hearthstone, and must have shone from my eyes. At least all who met me
looked at me as if they saw me for the first time, or, rather, were
wondering what change had taken place in me. The peasants in that
neighborhood are not loquacious, but more than one stopped of his own
accord and said something about the crops, the weather, and the need of
a good harvest, in which I thought I heard the assurance that they no
longer considered me a stranger, but would confidently confess their
spiritual wants as well as their external ones.
And the young grain was so beautifully green, the little fleecy
clouds in the bright sky drifted along so gayly, the countless
nightingales were already beginning their evening songs, scarcely a
patch of green was visible in the meadows among the spring flowers, the
dogs lay yawning and stretching in front of the little houses, which
extended from the village to the fir-wood, and the only person who had
been like the Satan of this beautiful spot of earth, Cousin Kasimir,
had departed, gnashing his teeth, leaving the good people to enjoy the
bright Sunday repose.
When I at last approached the little wood, whose narrow border of
young birch-trees bounded the last inhabited tract, I saw a low hut
whose straw roof looked as awry and dilapidated as a moth-eaten fur cap
that has fallen over one of its wearer's ears. I knew that Mother
Lieschen lived here, but had always passed by it on my strolls. To-day
some impulse prompted me to go there.
It was a miserable shelter for a human being, having but one window
by the side of the low door, and only a single room, which had not been
whitewashed for many years. A patch of ground behind it, inclosed by a
low, ruinous fence, contained a few potato-plants and two tiny
flower-beds, both still empty. A lean goat, tethered to the fence, was
grazing on a bit of turf; two pairs of stockings and a much-darned
shirt were hanging on the old palings to dry. Yet this scene of the
deepest poverty seemed to me more beautiful than Gessner's trimmest
idyl, for, on the bench before the house, by the side of the old woman,
whose thin gray hair fluttered unconfined, sat the object of my secret
* * * * *
The Canoness held on her lap a woman's old blue waist, which she was
so busily engaged in darning that she did not notice my approach until
I stood close before her. Mother Lieschen was half blind, and could not
see anything at a distance of more than two paces.
I was greatly astonished, when Fräulein Luise looked up at me, to
see in her beautiful, calm face no trace of the emotions which had
embittered the afternoon.
She greeted me in her usual simple way, but I felt that I was no
longer a disagreeable object. With a slight blush, she told me that she
was helping the old womanwhose stiff fingers could scarcely hold the
needlewith her sewing. I asked if I might join them, and took my seat
on the bottom of a wash-tub turned upside down. The kitten came out of
the hut, rubbed purring against me, and at last jumped confidingly into
my lap. Then a short conversation began, which seemed to me far more
interesting than the most profound debates at our college.
I do not know what we talked about, but I can still remember that
the old dame, who spoke the purest Low German, sometimes made brief,
droll remarks, which greatly amused all three of us. She had asked
Fräulein Luise to tell her about Berlin, where, though nearly seventy,
she had never been. But the Canoness did not relate all the marvels as
if she were talking to a child, but as though she expected from Mother
Lieschen's wisdom a decisive verdict upon people and things. I rarely
mingled in the conversation between the two friends, but gazed intently
at the Canoness's beautiful bowed face and amber hair, and then at the
slender fingers that used the needle and thread so nimbly. Sometimes
the goat bleated, and the kitten arched her soft back to rub it against
At last the difficult task was finished, and Fräulein Luise rose,
pressed the old dame's shriveled fingers, pushed back from her face a
few gray hairs that had fallen over her eyes, and prepared to return
I asked if I might accompany her, and she silently nodded assent.
Yet at first we said nothing. I cast stolen side-glances at her. She
wore a dark summer dress, very simple in style, which, like all her
clothesas I knew through friend Liboriusshe had made herself. But
it fitted her so well. Her figure, which afterward became somewhat too
stout, was then in its most perfect symmetry.
At last I said, You are becoming a deaconess, Fräulein, after all.
At least, I am constantly meeting you engaged in some work of charity.
She looked calmly at me. I hope you don't say that in mockery,
because you do not believe in works, and think salvation is gained only
by faith. But I have never understood that. Whoever regards neighborly
love as not merely a command, but a necessity of the heart, can be
happy on earth only when he helps his fellow-man wherever he can. And
do you really believe any one can be happy in heaven who was not so on
I now launched into a long discourse upon salvation by faith, till I
perceived that she was listening absently.
Suddenly she interrupted me.
No, I would not do for a deaconess. If I were to wear a special
uniform of Christian charity, I should begin to be ashamed of what is
best and dearest within me. A thing that is a matter of course ought
not to be made a profession whose sign we wear. Others, I know, think
differently. But neither could I put on the pastor's robe, if I were a
man. Yet perhaps it is necessary; people cling to appearances, and
clothes make people.
She said all this interruptedly, stooping frequently to gather
flowerswhich she arranged in a bouquetfrom the meadows through
which we were walking.
Somewhat embarrassed to defend my position, I tried to help myself
with a jest.
I would give much if I could see you stand in the pulpit in a black
robe and bands, and hear you preach. But tell me, if you had been a
man, what profession would you have chosen?
The Canoness stood still a moment, apparently gazing at a wide,
radiant prospect with a rapt expression I had never seen on her face
I would have been an artist, an actor, or a singer, she said,
An actor? I replied, scarcely concealing my horror.
What do you discover so terrible in that? she asked, with a
slight, sarcastic smile. Is it not a magnificent thing to embody the
characters of a great author, to cast noble, beautiful thoughts among
the throng of breathless listeners? But perhaps you know nothing about
it. You believe the theatre to be a sink of iniquity, like so many of
your class. I can only pity you. I have neither the desire nor the
power to convert you to a better view.
And where were you yourself converted?
Oh, II, like you, was reared to loathe this so-called jugglery.
But, three years ago, I spent several months in Berlin. An old aunt,
who was very fond of me, sent for me because she was entirely alone.
Uncle Joachim took me to her. There I spent the happiest period of my
life, and there the scales fell from my eyes.
If those are your views, have you never felt tempted to become a
singer? I inquired. With your beautiful voice and love for music
No, she answered, firmly, as a girl I should never have ventured
into that career. For the very reason that music lies so near my heart,
I should feel it a desecration to be compelled to come forward and
reveal my inmost soul to strangers, who had paid for tickets. Perhaps,
if I had true genius, it would bear me above all such scruples. And yet
the greatest singer I ever heard, Milderhave you heard Milder?
I was forced to confess I had never entered an opera-house.
Well, then, we will say no more about the matter, she replied.
You could not understand me. But I pity you.
Yet she did tell me more of her experiences in Berlin. She had heard
Milder in some of Gluck's operas and in The Vestal, and described her
appearance, her figure, her execution; then, assuming a majestic
attitude, she herself sang several passages which had specially touched
her. Her fair face flushed crimson, and her eyes sparkled.
I believe it was on that evening that she enthralled my heart
forever. Not a word was exchanged between us concerning the events of
the afternoon or of my sermon. But I was too happy to find that she
gave me her confidence so far, not to forget myself and my petty
We rambled over the fields for an hour, until it grew perfectly
dark, and returned to the castle just at tea-time. The Canoness had
arranged her bouquet very gracefully and laid it beside her aunt's cup,
who patted her arm with a grateful glance. She looked past her uncle
into vacancy, without moving a muscle. The latter was in the worst
possible humor, which he even vented on Mademoiselle Suzon during the
game of chess.
Soon after I went to my tower-room, Fräulein Luise began to sing
below. I listened at my open window in a perfect rapture of every
sense. Outside, the nightingales were trilling, beneath me this
magnificent voice, in which so strong, so pure, so noble a woman's soul
appealed to meI felt as if my whole being had been encompassed with
iron bands, and in this moonlit, magic night one after another burst
asunder, and I could breathe freely for the first time.
* * * * *
Much might be said of the days that followed. They were the happiest
of my young life. But memorable as they are still, distinctly as I can
recall all the trivial events and rapturous joys of many, I shall avoid
relating them in detail.
Though a man should speak of his first and only love with the tongue
of an angel, he would find no patient listeners.
Yet, for truth's sake, I must here remark that I did not deceive
myself for an instant in regard to the hopelessness of my passion. But,
strangely enough, this clear perception of the heights and depths which
separated me from the woman I worshiped did not make me unhappy. Nay,
it would only have crippled the lofty flight of my feelings had I
flattered myself that this peerless, unattainable being might some day
prosaically descend from her height and become the wife of a
commonplace village pastor. True, I can not assert that this state of
mere spiritual aspiration would always have continued. If she gave me
her hand, if her dress brushed me, or my foot even touched the shoes
she had put outside her chamber-door in the evening to be cleaned, an
electric shock thrilled me, which doubtless had some other origin than
mere devotion and the worship we pay to saints.
Still, it never entered my mind to imagine that I could put my arm
around her and press her lips. I believe I should have actually fallen
lifeless from ecstasy if such a thing had occurred.
Externally everything remained precisely as beforeour
lesson-hours, which she always attended as a duenna, our Sunday
conversations in the kitchen-garden, now and then a meeting at Mother
Lieschen's. Yet I felt more and more plainly that she trusted me and
had forgiven my former follies. My hair was now parted wholly on the
left side, and no longer combed behind my ears.
Whitsuntide came in the middle of June, and Whitsuntide Tuesday was
her birthday, on which she attained her majority. The evening before, I
had composed a long poem addressed to her, no declaration of love,
merely a simple expression of gratitude for all she had done to aid my
secret regeneration. I had carefully erased every exaggerated word that
had flowed from my pen in the first fervor of writing, and substituted
a simpler and more genuine one. I was no great poet, though I had been
considered one at the college. While following the style in which
church hymns are composed, I had been able to deceive myself on this
point. Now that I desired to express my deepest personal feelings, I
perceived that God had not granted me the power to tell what I
suffered. Yet on the whole I did not succeed badly, and it afforded me
special pleasure to accost her in my lyric flight with the Du (thou).
Then I made a fair copy of my poem, and at midnight stole softly
down-stairs and pushed it under her door, that she might find it the
I waited with many an inward tremor and quickened throbbing of the
heart to learn how she would receive it, and was much relieved when, at
dinner, she showed me by an unusually cordial pressure of the hand that
she had not been displeased. No notice was taken in the household, save
surreptitiously, of the high holiday, for which no celebration, either
of music, illuminations, or fireworks, would have seemed to me
brilliant enough. The old baroness had crocheted a large silver-gray
shawl, which, spite of the heat, the Canoness did not lay aside all
day; Uncle Joachim wore a little bouquet in the button-hole of his gray
coat; my pupil Achatz, who had grown very well behaved, gave her a
horse which he had sketched very carefully from nature; and Fräulein
Leopoldine had placed in her room a rose-bush in full bloom. The master
of the house appeared to see no reason for making any special ado over
the day, though it must have been a marked one to him, since it
relieved him from the duties of his guardianship.
Come and drink coffee with me this afternoon, Uncle Joachim had
whispered to me as he rose from the table. I bowed silently, feeling as
if I had received a patent of nobility.
When, an hour later, I went to the little summerhouse, I found the
Canoness already there. Diana, Uncle Joachim's pointer, sprang toward
me growling, as soon as I crossed the threshold of the sanctuary; but,
seeing that her master welcomed me kindly, lay down again, whining and
wagging her tail, at the feet of the young lady who, from time to time,
rubbed her smooth back with the tip of her foot.
Uncle Joachim wore a short summer coat made of unbleached linen,
with yellow bone buttons, and a white cravat, and had brushed the hair
over his high forehead in a curve that gave him a holiday air. On the
neatly covered table, which had been cleared and pushed into the middle
of the room, stood a large pound-cake adorned with a wreath of roses.
You ought to brighten up Herr Weissbrod's black coat a little,
Luise, he said, with his dry, good-natured smile. A poet likes
I blushed at finding the secret of my rhymed congratulations
betrayed, and the flush grew deeper when the young lady took several
beautiful buds from the garland and fastened them in my button-hole
with her own hands. Then we three sat in the most delightful
friendliness around the table; Fräulein Luise poured the coffee from
the big Bunzlau pot, and cut the cake. I was amazed to see with what
persistent dexterity Uncle Joachim made the largest pieces vanish
behind his sound teeth, while I myself had lost all appetite in the
delight of being near her. Meantime a merry little conversation went
on, spiced by my host's droll remarks and Luise's musical laughter. I
myself served as a target for the old gentleman, who indulged in jests
about my inward and outward transformation, but so kindly that I could
not help joining in the laugh, without the least feeling of offense.
I was ashamed of having at first set so low a value upon this man.
No one could desire a more genial companion; without the least effort
he gave an interesting turn to everything he said.
When only a small portion of the cake was left, our host filled a
short, smoke-blackened pipe with French tobacco, stretched his long
limbs comfortably under the table, and began for the first time to
really thaw out. He amused himself by recalling how and where, during
the past years, he had spent his niece's birthdays. The year she was
born, he had been in France, and related all sorts of adventures he had
had there, often breaking off, however, as he approached the point,
because they were not exactly fit for a woman's ears. Then he spoke of
his other journeys, his travels in Spain, often with a heavy sigh,
because such delightful days were over. He also questioned me about my
so-called past, and, shaking his head, said, You have missed a great
deal, Herr Weissbrod. Whoever doesn't sow his wild oats in youth, must
commit his follies later, when they are less easily forgiven. Nature
will not be mocked.
Luise rose, saying that she was going to take a walk. Then she asked
for a piece of paper, in which she carefully wrapped the remains of the
cake, pressed Uncle Joachim's hand, and nodded pleasantly to me. Wait
a bit, cried the old gentleman, in Platt Deutschhe was very fond of
speaking it when in a good humorthe old witch shall have a birthday
present from me too. While speaking, he took from the chest of drawers
a small snuffbox, which he had made himself out of birch-bark, and
filled it with tobacco. Here's something for her eyes. She need only
try it. When she has used it all up, I'll give her more.
I understood that these holiday presents were intended for Mother
Lieschen, and would have been only too glad to accompany the young
lady. But I did not venture to make the offer, and, after she had gone,
remained a few minutes with the old gentleman.
I call him so because, at that time, when I was only twenty-three,
he really seemed to me very elderly and venerable, but he would have
been not a little offended, or else laughed heartily, had he suspected
that, while only forty-eight, I had already placed him on the catalogue
When we were alone, he laid his large hairy hand on my shoulder.
You are still a young man, Herr Weissbrod, he said. But when you
have half a century more on your back, even though you have used your
eyes industriously meanwhile, I doubt whether you will have met any
human being more pleasing to God than the girl whose birth we celebrate
to-day. I am glad that, judging from your poem, some idea of this is
beginning to dawn upon you. Only heed this well-meant advicedon't
scorch your wings. That's nonsense.
I stammered something that sounded like an assurance that I was far
from intending such presumption.
That's right, my son, he said, kindly. Follies, as I declared,
are good things in their way. But we mustn't lose hide and hair in
committing them, like the bear who put his head into the honey-tree and
couldn't pull it out again. Good-evening, Herr Weissbrod. Don't take
offense because I don't go to hear your sermons. My old heathen, the
rheumatism, can't bear the air of the church.
* * * * *
How often I afterward recalled the worthy man's words, and could not
help sighing mournfully and saying, with a shake of the head, Good
advice is cheap. You were her uncle, dear friend, and, besides, had had
your due share of 'follies' in the past, while I, poor student of
theology, had yet to learn the first rudiments of passion.
Then you did not consider the unreasonable number of nightingales
in the park, which were fairly in league against me; and, what was
still more, the voice below, Gluck's 'Armida,' Spontini's 'Vestal,' and
all the divine spells of golden hair and brown eyes.
But I am lapsing into Wertherism again. At least, I will commit no
more follies now, but continue my narrative like an honest chronicler.
* * * * *
We are writing of August 26th. It was a fruitful year, and the
harvest had almost all been garnered. But the heat daily increased, and
we obtained no relief until after sunset. I had gone in the sweat of my
brow to the next village, which belonged to our parish, on an errand of
duty: to aid a sick tailor who desired spiritual consolationno easy
task. The old sinner, in his terror and despair, had been reading
certain tracts and taken specially to heart the doctrine of the endless
punishments of hell, probably because he was aware that he had made a
sinful use of his tailor's hell here below.
I did my best to calm him, and, as I had the reputation among my
parishioners of being an enlightened and not fanatical preacher,
succeeded in partially soothing him and inspiring his soul with some
degree of trust in God's mercy.
As I returned through our own village in the gathering dusk of
twilight, I saw a little group of children standing in front of the
tavern, staring at two dusty, shabby carriages. The first was an
ordinary, four-seated calash, with a torn leather covering, and a
broken spring under the box, temporarily mended with ropes. The second
vehicle was a large, windowless box on a rough platform, such as is
commonly used for a furniture-van. Of the people traveling in this
extraordinary equipage I saw only two persons, who were sitting on the
little bench beside the tavern-door, a bold-eyed, pale-faced young
fellow, not more than twenty, who, with his straw hat trimmed with a
dirty blue ribbon, pushed far back on his head, and his hands thrust
into his pockets, was saying to his companion, amid frequent yawns, all
sorts of things I could not understand. He had a bottle of beer beside
him, from which he occasionally filled a glass, held it up to the
light, and then emptied it at one draught.
The girl by his side was probably sixteen or eighteen years old. Her
appearance was disagreeable to me at the first glance, though no one
could have helped owning that her prettiness was more than the mere
beauty of youth. But the bold way in which she turned up her little
nose, the scornful looks she cast at the villagers, and especially the
soulless laugh with which she greeted her companion's jests, were
thoroughly repulsive to me.
Her dress was as shabby as the vehicle in which she had arrived. But
she had fastened a huge red bow into her black hair, and fancied
herself sufficiently adorned in comparison to the barefooted children.
Her little dirty hand held a few flowers, which she continually bit
with her sharp white teeth, and then spat the leaves out of her mouth
The landlady, who came forward when she saw me stop before the
house, told me that they were actors. There was a married couple, too,
but they were in their room. The manager had gone up to the castle to
speak to the baron.
I don't know why the sight of the poor traveling players was so
repulsive to me. One might almost believe in some prophetic gift of the
soul, for I had long been cured of my aversion to actors by Fräulein
Luise's opinion of them.
So I did not linger long, but briefly reported to my old pastor how
I had found his parishioner in the villagewe were now one in heart
and soul, including the pastor's wifeand then walked rapidly to the
castle. As I turned from the elm avenue into the court-yard, I
instantly perceived that something unusual was occurring. A groom was
leading up and down a saddled horse, which I recognized from the
silver-mounted bridle as Cousin Kasimir's. During the months that had
passed since the latter's rejection, he had only come to the castle
when he had some business matter to settle with the baron, and never
remained to dine or to spend the evening. Yet this surely could not be
the cause of the general excitement. Almost all the servants were
standing, whispering together, near the staircase, on whose upper step
the baron's valet and the cookthe two most zealous gatherers and
diffusers of everything that happened in the householdhad stationed
themselves like two sentinels. They were so thoroughly absorbed in
their office of listening, that they did not even move as I passed.
True, this task was certainly made very easy for them.
Voices were ringing through the spacious entrance-hall in tones so
loud and excited that every word could be distinctly heard outside of
the lofty doors. Within I saw the master of the house, his face deeply
flushed, and beside him Cousin Kasimir, with his hat on one side of his
head and in his hand a riding-whip with which he beat time to his
uncle's words; behind the glass door appeared the faces of the two
children and Mademoiselle Suzon, pressed closely against one another,
while opposite to the baron stood a handsome, finely formed man, the
cause and center of the whole scene, whom I had no difficulty in
recognizing as the manager of the company of actors.
He was showily dressed in a blue coat with gilt buttons, black
trousers, red velvet vest, and light cravat. Yet, this somewhat
variegated attire was by no means unbecoming to him, since it made his
symmetrical and not over-corpulent figure more conspicuous. His head
was gracefully poised on his broad shoulders; but at first I only saw
the lustrous black locks that fell rather low on his neck, then, as he
turned his face, the finely cut profile and light-gray eyes, whose
expression was both honest and self-conscious. He held in his left hand
a pair of yellow gloves and a black hat, while he gesticulated eagerly
with his right, making a red stone in his large seal ring glitter.
Only one night, only this one night, Herr Baron, I heard him say
in a resonant, somewhat theatrical voice, which, however, had a certain
cadence that touched the heart. If I must give up proving to you and
your honored family, by a recitation, that you are not dealing with an
ordinary strolling company, but with an artist by the grace of God
I forbid you to utter the name of God uselessly, the baron
vehemently interrupted. The calling you pursue has nothing in common
with God or divine things. We know what spirit rules those who devote
themselves to your profession. And, in short, I shall not change what I
I will not discuss the matter further, Herr Baron, replied the
actor with quiet dignity. But consider, there is a sick woman in my
company, who has been made much worse by the journey here over the
rough roads. If she is permitted to rest this one night, we shall
continue our way to-morrow with lighter hearts. Therefore I most
You have nothing to beseech; I have expressed my will, cried the
baron furiously, passing his hand through his beard, which with him was
always a sign of extreme anger. I have told you that the control of
the police regulations in the district intrusted to my care is in my
hands, and that I could not reconcile it to my conscience if to-morrow,
on the Lord's day, a few paces from the house in which his word is
preached, one might meet a company of strolling players, whose
depravity is stamped upon their brows. You will therefore return to
your people at once, and see that they are ordered outside the limits
of the village within an hour.
These words were accompanied with such an unequivocal gesture toward
the door that I believed the final decision had been uttered. But the
actor stood motionless, save that he turned his head toward the side
where the stairs led to the upper story, and, as my glance followed
his, I saw what had silenced him, though I did not instantly perceive
the true cause. In the dusk above us, on the central landing, stood the
tall, slender figure of the Canoness.
* * * * *
All eyes were involuntarily fixed upon her where she leaned, as
though turned to stone, against the railing. She had grown deadly pale;
life seemed to linger only in her eyes.
Fräulein, I heard the stranger exclaim in a tone of the most
joyful surprise, you appear before me like an angel of deliverance.
Can you refuse to say a word in my behalf? Consider that the point in
question is not so much my sorely insulted dignity as an artist, as a
simple duty of benevolence. Through a mistake, in taking what I
supposed to be a short cut, I came here. For two years I have had the
privilege of giving performances in the cities of Pomerania and the
Mark, and, after spending several weeks in L, I intended to go to
R, where I meant to practice my art during the last months of
summer. I should probably have reached the railway-station to-day, had
not the lady who plays the old woman's parts in my company been taken
violently ill. And now the Herr Baron, as you have heard, wants to turn
us out of his territory as though we were a band of gypsies. You, who
know me, Fräulein, will not hesitate to be my security; you will
explain to the baron
The nobleman did not let him finish.
Do you dare, sir! he shrieked (his voice sounded like the creaking
of a weathercock in a storm), do you presume to appeal to my own niece
for support? Do you wish to shake the foundations of the authority on
which the life of every Christian family is founded? Such unprecedented
His voice suddenly failed, he tore open his coat to get more air,
and his hand groped around as though seeking some weapon to expel the
intruder by force.
Just at that instant we heard from the staircase the firm voice of
the Canoness, only it sounded somewhat deeper than usual.
Consider what you are doing, uncle. It would ill beseem the honor
of this house to turn from its threshold a suppliant who asks of you
nothing save what Christian love and God's command alike enjoin upon
you as a duty. I know this gentleman. I know him to be an admirable
artist, and a man of unsullied honor. To refuse him admittance to your
house is your own affair, but to deny him permission to rest for a
night in the village below, especially when a human life is perhaps at
stake, is an act you can not justify before God or man.
A deathlike silence followed these words. No sound was heard in the
spacious hall save the gasping breath of the baron, who was vainly
striving to speak. Then the actor's fine baritone, in which there now
seemed to me a slight tone of affectation, echoed on the stillness.
I thank you, most honored lady, thank you from my heart, for
bestowing your sympathy upon a misunderstood disciple of Thalia. True,
I expected nothing else from your noble soul. Will you now fill up the
measure of your goodness by explaining to your uncle
A sharp cracking sound interrupted him. Cousin Kasimir, who during
the whole scene had been casting furious glances around him and only
waiting for a moment when he might interfere, struck his riding-whip
violently against the top of his high boot and advanced a step.
Silence! he shouted, his mustache quivering with excitement. You
have heard that you have nothing more to ask or expect here, and if you
carry your insolence so far as to throw upon a member of this family
the suspicion of standing in any relation whatever to the head of a
band of jugglers, the baron, whose patience amazes me, will have you
driven out of his grounds by the field-guard. Do you understand, sir?
And, now, without further ceremony
He advanced another step toward him and, with a threatening gesture,
raised the hand that held the whip. But the actor did not cease playing
his rôle of hero for an instant.
Who are you, sir? he exclaimed, without yielding an inch, that
you dare to assume a tone whose ill-breeding befits no cultured man.
You seem to be abandoned by all the Muses and Graces, and I pity you.
It can hardly surprise me that a country nobleman has never heard the
name of Konstantin Spielberg. But in any other place I would call you
to account for speaking of my company of artists, which has been
honored by the concession of a distinguished government, as a band of
jugglers. In this house, and out of respect for the ladies present, I
can only say that I include you among the profane vulgus whose
opinion I despise.
He raised his right arm with an impressive gesture, as though
hurling an anathema against some worthless heretic or insulter of
majesty, and at the same time, with expanded chest and locks tossed
back, fearlessly confronted his foe. Then something happened which drew
from me a low exclamation of terror. The riding-whip whizzed through
the air and struck the uplifted hand of the artist, who staggered back,
speechless with pain and rage.
Scoundrel! cried the nobleman's sharp voice, daredare you tell
me to my face
But he could say no more. The Canoness, whose approach had been
unnoticed, suddenly stood between the furious men with her tall figure
drawn up to its full height.
Back! she said imperiously to the young nobleman. It was only one
word, but uttered in a tone that must have pierced to the very marrow
of his bones, for I saw him turn as white as chalk, stammer a few
unmeaning words, and draw his head between his shoulders. But, without
vouchsafing him even a glance, she went up to the ill-treated stranger,
seized the hand hanging loosely down, on which a deep-red mark was
visible, and stooping, pressed a hasty kiss upon it.
Then in a loud voice, trembling with secret emotion, she said:
Forgive this poor creature, he does not know what he is doing. And now
shake off the dust of this house from your shoes. You will hear from me
Once more a deathlike stillness pervaded the hall. But it lasted
only a few minutes. Then we heard the actor say: I shall be your
debtor to my dying day, most gracious lady.
The next instant he turned toward the door, passed me with haughty,
echoing strides, and went out upon the steps.
* * * * *
Spite of my terrible excitement, I retained sufficient deliberation
to look keenly at him. For the first time I saw his full face, whose
remarkable regularity of feature and a certain dreamy luster in the eye
aroused my astonishment. Nevertheless, he did not attract me. I thought
I detected in his expression, instead of manly indignation, a trace of
satisfied vanity, Such as may be seen in an actor who has just made an
effective exit and, while the curtain is falling, tells himself that he
is an admirable fellow. I could not help thinking involuntarily how
different would be my feelings if such a girl had done that for
me, how humbly, enraptured by such divine favor, my heart would shine
from my eyes. And he seemed to be merely reflecting how brilliantly he
had retired from the stage, not at all how he had left his fellow actor
I gazed anxiously at the heroine of this improvised drama. She was
standing motionless, her eyes fixed with a look full of earnestness and
dignity upon the door through which the man whom she had protected had
disappeared. Her face looked as though chiseled from marble, her hands
hung by her side, and ever and anon a slight tremor ran through her
The master of the house also stood as if he were turned to stone.
Not until Cousin Kasimir went up and whispered something to him did any
semblance of life return. He drew a long breath, then, without moving
from the spot, said: Go to your room, Luise, and wait there for what
more I have to say. Until then I leave you to your own conscience.
He turned quickly away and walked, followed by Cousin Kasimir,
through the glass door, which he banged noisily behind him, into the
dining-room, whither the three watching faces had shrunk, startled,
from the panes.
Luise still stood lost in thought, showing no sign that she had
heard the imperious words. But, just as I was about to approach her and
assert my modest claim of friendship, she seemed to suddenly awake, but
without taking any notice of me. I heard her say to herself: It is
well! Now it is decided! Then she quietly pressed her hand on her
heart as if she felt a pang there, nodded thoughtfully twice, and
walked slowly up the steps of the great staircase, while I looked after
her in gloomy helplessness.
* * * * *
As soon as I found myself again alone and recalled all the events I
had just witnessed, I felt, with a certain sense of shame for the
pettiness of my nature, that fierce jealousy was consuming every other
emotion. So she had known and honored this man in former days. She had
even placed him on so high a pedestal in her thoughts that the proud
womanbefore whom, in my opinion, the best and noblest must bow and
hold themselves richly compensated by one kind look for every annoyance
they encountereddid not for an instant consider herself too good to
kiss his hand.
And he had received this homage as if it were his due, and thanked
her with a cold, high-sounding speech.
What was he that she should consider him so far above her. For,
after all, the insult offered him here was not so atrocious that it
could only be atoned by the humiliation of such an angel in woman's
garb. Had he not been already dear to her, she would probably have left
him to obtain satisfaction for himself.
She had made his acquaintance during her visit to Berlin, that was
evident, on the stage, of course, and probably elsewhere also; or how
could he have greeted her as an acquaintance? Yet she had never
mentioned his name to me, as she had spoken of the worshiped songstress
Milder. What had passed between them? And what kind of afterpiece might
yet follow the scene of today?
I could not help thinking constantly of his handsome yet unpleasant
face, and asking myself what attraction she could find in it. I felt a
most unchristian hatred rising in my heart toward this man, who had
certainly not done me the slightest harmnay, with whose whole
deportment I could find no fault save the somewhat theatrical air
inseparable from his profession. Yet, had I possessed the power to make
the earth by some magic spell suddenly swallow up the whole innocent
band of jugglers, like Korah and his company, I believe I should not
have hesitated a moment.
Since this was impossible, I resolved to try to obtain some
explanation of this disaster which, as the principal person shut
herself up from me, I could only hope to do through Uncle Joachim.
Unhappily I found his cell closedhe had ridden across the country on
some business connected with the sale of a peat-digging. I wandered in
the deepest ill-humor through the park. At last it occurred to me that
Mother Lieschen, with whom the Canoness was in the habit of talking
about so many things, might be familiar with this accursed Berlin
story, and I turned into the path leading to her lonely hut.
But just as I caught a glimpse of the straw roof I perceived that I
was too late. The old dame was just coming out of the door, and by her
side walked Fräulein Luise herself, whom I had supposed imprisoned in
her tower-room. They were talking eagerly together, Mother Lieschen had
tied her kerchief over her head and seemed about to set out for a walk,
for she took from the bench the staff with which she supported her
steps, and held out her hand to the young lady. Then they parted, and,
while the old dame hobbled along the edge of the wood, which was the
shortest way to the village, Fräulein Luise came directly toward me to
return to the castle.
She did not see me until within the distance of twenty paces, then
she stopped a moment, but without the slightest change of expression.
No one, who did not know what had happened an hour before, could have
suspected it from her face.
Good-evening, Herr Johannes, she said in her calmest voice (she
had called me so for some time because the Candidate seemed too
formal, and she thought the name of Weissbrod ugly), I am glad to see
you. I have a favor to ask.
I bowed silently. My heart was too full not to pour forth all its
feelings if a single word overflowed, which I did not think seemly.
Our old pastor will preach again to-morrow, she continued, walking
quietly on by my side. You might do me a real favor if, after the
close of the service, you would give a beautiful long organ concert in
your very best style, like the first one we heard from you. I have a
reason for making the request, which I can not tell you to-day. Will
you do me this service, dear Herr Johannes?
Dear Herr Johannes! It was the first time she ever gave me that
title. No matter how many unutterable things I had cherished in my
heart against her, such an address would have won me to render the
How can you doubt it! I answered quickly. I understand only too
well that you need the consoling power of music. Oh, Fräulein Luise,
when I think how it affected me, a mere silent spectator, and how you
No, she interrupted, it is not as you suppose, but no matter; it
is important to me for you to play both very well and very long. I will
thank you for it in advance she gave me her hand, but without
pausing in her walkand also for every other kindness you have showed
me in your earnest, faithful way. Promise that you will always remain
the same, and never, even in thought, agree with other people's silly
gossip about me.
I silently pressed her hand. A hundred questions were on my tongue,
but I could not summon courage to ask even one. She, too, sank into a
silence as unbroken as though she had forgotten that she had a
So, when we reached the elm avenue, we parted with a brief
good-evening. The Canoness turned toward the farm-buildings, and I went
to my room.
Fräulein Luise did not appear in the dining-room at tea-time. Cousin
Kasimir had ridden off long before, and a strange, oppressive
atmosphere of irritation brooded over the rest of the party. I had
already heard that the baron had had a long, violent conversation with
the Canoness in her own room, but, contrary to the custom of the house,
whose walls had a thousand ears, nothing was known of its purport. The
baron's eyes were blood-shot and the lid of the left one twitched
nervously. He had invited the steward to tea and talked to him with
forced gayety about agricultural affairs. The old baroness gazed into
her plate with an even more sorrowful and timid expression than usual,
the children frolicked with each other, Fräulein Leopoldine endeavored
to put on an arrogant air, while Achatz chattered to her with boyish
impetuosity. Mademoiselle Suzon alone seemed to be in good humor, and
ate a large quantity of bread and butter, while making tireless efforts
to maintain a conversation with me, which I with equal persistency
* * * * *
When I at last went up to my tower-chamber and saw Fräulein Luise's
well-shaped, though not unusually small, shoes standing outside of her
room, I was obliged to put the strongest constraint upon myself to
avoid knocking at the door and begging the alms of a few soothing
words. It would have been very indecorous and worseutterly useless.
So, with a sigh, I renounced the wish, and resolved to speak to her so
touchingly through my church-music on the morrow that the closed door
must at last open of its own accord.
I had never passed so sleepless a night, and on the next morning
felt so wearied that I feared the keys of the organ would refuse to
obey me. But the old pastor's sermon strengthened me wonderfully, and
his words fell like, soothing oil upon the burning wounds in my heart.
Now, I thought, she is sitting beneath you with her old friend, the
comfort of God's word is coming to her also, and the balm of music must
do what more is needed to make her soul bright and joyous again.
I began to play the best melodies I knew, and I believe that never
in my life have I had a higher and more sacred musical inspiration. So
completely did I forget myself in it, that I started in alarm when the
schoolmaster at last touched me lightly on the shoulder, and whispered
that I had been playing a full hour, and, exquisite as was the
performance, the dignitaries below were showing signs of impatience,
and the congregation wanted to go home.
As if roused from some dream of Paradise, I broke off with a brief
passage and hurried down the stairs. My eyes searched the ranks of
church-goers thronging out of the edifice. I saw Mother Lieschen, but
she was standing quite alone in her dark corner, and I could nowhere
find the face I sought.
Perhaps she had shunned the gloomy church and preferred to remain
outside in the graveyard, now fragrant with monthly roses and
mignonette, hearing my music through the half-open door. At any rate I
should see her at dinner.
When we assembled in the dining-room and she was even later than
usual, I heard the baron say, turning to his wife: She grows worse and
worse every day; this irregularity must be stopped and my heart beat
so violently that it seemed as though it would leap into my mouth. I
asked Uncle Joachim, under my breath, how the young lady was, and
whether she would not come to dinner. He shrugged his shoulders without
moving a muscle, yet I saw that even his appetite had deserted him.
Just as the roast was served, and the baron was preparing to carve
it, one of the footmen handed him a note on a silver salver. It had
just been left by old Mother Lieschen.
The knife and fork dropped from his hands, he hastily seized the
missive, glanced rapidly over it, and I saw him turn pale as he read.
Then with an effort he controlled himself and rose.
Harness the horses into the hunting-carriage, he shouted, and
saddle the chestnut instantly! Ha! This was all that was lacking! This
caps the climax. But the lunatic shall learn with whom she has to deal!
Dead or aliveeven if Satan himself, to whom she has sold her soul,
tried to protect her from meshe shall not drag the name she bears
through the mire; she shall
He could say no moreit seemed as if some convulsion in the chest
choked his utterance, and, with a terrible groan, he sank back into his
The children started up; Mademoiselle Suzon hastily dipped her
handkerchief into a glass of water to sprinkle the nobleman's brow; the
old baroness rose as fast as her feeble limbs would permit, and in
mortal terror approached her husband to feel his hands and head. The
servants hurried out to execute his orders.
Just at this moment a voice was heard which never before had spoken
in loud tones in that hall.
Uncle Joachim had risen, but remained standing at his place. His
face wore a sorrowful, yet bold and threatening expression.
Brother Achatz, he said, I must beg you to moderate your words
and undertake nothing that will make the matter worse, and which you
would perhaps afterward repent. Do not forget that Luise is of age and
mistress of her own actions. I regret what she has done as much as you
do. But what has happened can not be altered.
The baron started up as if he had been stung by a serpent, angrily
shaking off all the hands outstretched to help him. Wrath at the
interference of his brother, who had hitherto had only a seat and no
voice at this table, seemed to have suddenly restored all his haughty
You have the effrontery to still plead for her? he shouted with
flashing eyes. You even knew her intention, and not only concealed it
but helped her forget all modesty and honor and go out into the wide
world like a wanton?
I forbid any imputations upon my honor, Achatz! replied the other,
meeting his brother's wrathful glance with cold contempt. I have not
seen Luise since yesterday noon. Just before dinner to-day I received a
farewell letter from her, in which she informs me that she can no
longer endure to live in this house, and will seek her happiness at her
own peril. The other reasons she adds in justification of her step
concern no one save myself.
Then she did not tell you that she has determined to follow a
certain Herr Spielberg, a strolling actor, and, if he will graciously
consent, to become his wife? The wife of an adventurer who pursues a
godless calling, and whom I ought to have had hunted out of the
court-yard by the dogs, instead of giving him any hearing at all!
She told me that also, Brother Achatz, and it sincerely grieves me;
for, though I believe this gentleman to be a reputable artist, I doubt
whether she will ever become at home and happy in this sphere. But from
what we know of her she will carry out her purpose, and if you should
now institute a pursuit it will only cause a tremendous scandal and
gain nothing; the family honor will be far more sullied than if we keep
quiet and let the grass grow over the affair. That matters have gone so
far, Brother Achatz, some one else will have to answer for at the Day
The two men measured each other with a look of most unfraternal
hatred. The old baroness gazed up at her husband with a pleading quiver
of her withered lips, whose words were not audible to me. But he
hastily shook himself free, as she laid a hand on his arm, and advanced
a step toward his brother.
Do you mean to say, he asked, grinding his teeth, that I am to
blame because this mangy sheep has strayed from our fold and is
devoured by the wolf? True, she has always rebelled against the strict
rule of obedience, against both human and divine law. But, if any one
in this house has helped to strengthen her in her obstinacy and
arrogance, it is you, you, and no one else. Can you deny it?
I am not disposed to allow myself to be examined like a criminal,
replied Joachim with sarcastic coolness. If I were malicious, I would
let you say the most senseless things in your helpless rage. But, as we
bear the same name and I pity your blindness, Brother Achatz, and
moreover we are not alone, so that I might tell you my whole opinion to
your face, I will simply warn you. If you use violence and drag the
matter before the courts, you may hear things far more damaging to the
honor of our family than the news that the Canoness Luise has followed
a strolling actor and made an unequal marriage by wedding him. I have
nothing more to say. May the meal do you all good!
He bowed to his sister-in-law, walked quietly to the antlers on
which he had hung his hat, and left the room.
His last words had a magical effect upon the baron, who bowed his
head on his breast and stood for a time as if lost in thought. Not
until the servant entered and announced that the carriage was ready and
the horse saddled did he rouse himself, and, with an imperious gesture
that indicated they were no longer wanted, he walked without a glance
at any one, with slow, heavy steps, to his room.
The roast meat, which meantime had grown cold, was left untouched on
the table. The mistress of the house, after remaining for a time lost
in sorrowful thought, followed her husband; the children, completely
puzzled, had withdrawn into a window-niche. When the Frenchwoman, with
a disagreeable smile intended to be amiable, addressed a remark to me
containing the words horreur and déplorable, I made a
very uncourteous gesture, as though brushing off a buzzing hornet, and
hurried into the park after Uncle Joachim.
* * * * *
I found him where I sought him, but his surroundings looked very
different from usual on the cozy Sunday afternoons.
Nothing was in order in the room, which had never seemed to me so
shabby and unhomelike; the fly-specks had not been washed from the
glass over the engravings, and the coffee-service was not on the table.
Diana was lying in the middle of the unmade bed, and only lifted her
head from her fore-paws to yawn at me. Her master, who usually dressed
himself very carefully for this coffee-hour, was pacing up and down
with folded arms, in his shirtsleeves, and slippers down at the heel,
smoking his short pipe as fiercely as if he meant, in defiance of the
sunshine streaming through the little window, to intrench himself
behind an impenetrable cloud.
Pardon me if I disturb you, I said, as he stopped and glared
angrily at me as though I were a total stranger; but I can not bear to
stay alone with my own thoughts among people who either make scornful
comments on the misfortune in private or openly exult over it. And
altogetherI can't yet believe it. Tell me honestly, Herr Baron; do
you believe it? Do you understand it?
Nonsense! he growled. Believe what? 'Long hair and short
wits'that's all we need know to marvel at nothing one of that
sex does, even if she were the best of them all. Have you come, too, to
fill my ears with lamentations? I have enough to do to swallow my own
He began to puff out the smoke again, and resumed his walk as if he
had said enough to induce me to beat a discreet retreat.
But I did not stir.
Oh, Herr Baron, don't send me away without any comfort, any
explanation. You know more about the matter than any other person; you
said you had known thisthis Herr Spielberg. Do you really believe
that she has followed him, thatthat she has not merely suggested the
horrible idea of becoming his wife as a threat, an alarm-shot, but will
seriously persist in it?
Again he stopped, then with grim earnestness said: Do you not yet
know her well enough to be aware that she never jests about serious
matters, and that, when she has once made up her mind, a legion of
angels or fiends could not divert her from her purpose. I've seen it
coming a long time, not exactly this, for no sensible person could
imagine such a folly, but some dangerous escapade, merely to escape
from this oppressive, poisonous atmosphere into the free air, and, had
it not been for her aunt, the martyr, who must now endure to the end,
she would have gone away as soon as she became of age, at least to her
chapter, where, it is true, she would have found all sorts of hypocrisy
that did not suit her, but at any rate she could have planned her life
according to her own inclination. She only remained for the sake of her
aunt, and to be able to occasionally lay a bunch of flowers beside the
old baroness's plate. Now that scoundrel Kasimir has severed with his
riding-whip the tie that bound her here, as if it were a cobweb, she
has dropped everything as if she were called upon to answer for the
honor of the whole family, and questioned only the bewildered heart and
obstinate conscience which persuaded her that this folly was a noble
sacrifice. I could tear my hair out by the roots because I was not
present, and heard nothing about the matter until early this morning,
when Liborius told me that so and so had occurred yesterday, and that
he saw the young lady set off gayly on her walk at dawn this morning
but thought nothing of it. She appeared just the same as she usually
did when walking, and he would never have dreamed of her committing so
extraordinary an act. But I should have noticed something and
opposed it with might and main. Nom d'un nom!this was the
French oath he used when excessively angryI believe, if I could not
have conquered her obstinacy, I would have gone with her and twisted
the neck of the man into whose arms she wanted to throw herself, ere I
would have allowed him to rob me of my darling and drag her into
He again smoked furiously. Diana sprang howling from the bed and ran
up to him, but was banished into a corner by a kick.
But how can you explain her taking refuge with this stranger,
confiding to him her person, her honor, her whole life, merely because
he was treated here in her presence as a vagabond? So proud as she
always was, so pure, and so well aware of what she ought and must do in
order not to blush for herself?
Uncle Joachim gave me a side-glance from his half-shut eyes. Herr
Weissbrod, he said, you are an honest fellow, and you revered my
niece as if she were a saint. I can tell you how all this agrees. As a
future pastor, you must know what is to be expected of women, the best
of whom are often the most perplexing. You see, three years ago, this
Spiegelberg, or Spielberg, as he now calls himself, had the insolence
to write her a letter, which she did not answer. But a girl like her
does not willingly remain in debt for anything. What she has done now
is the reply to that old letter.
I stared at him with dilated eyes.
Yes, he continued, what is to be, will be. I
thought then the matter was ended once for all, but the proof of the
pudding is in the eating! That devil of a fellow, with his dove-like
eyes, was more cunning than I. At that time he was living in Berlin, at
the same hotel where I had gone with Luise, a respectable second-rate
house in Mohrenstrasse, for our means did not allow us to go to the
Hôtel du Nord or Meinhardt's. She noticed the black-haired gentleman
who sat opposite to us at the table, and talked so well, and he did not
seem a bad fellow to me either. I inquired who he was. An actor, I was
told, who played at the Royal Theatre. 'We must go there once, uncle,'
she said, 'as a matter of courtesy,' and I was weak enough not to say
no. What could I ever refuse her? Especially with her love for the
stage. So we saw him act, and he did not play his part badly; and, as
the women were crazy over him, he had a great success. I have forgotten
the play, I never had much fancy for the theatre; everything always
seemed to me bombastic and exaggerated, and the most touching passages
moved me less than when my Diana gets a thorn into her paw and whines.
But he seemed to please Luise greatly. So I was obliged to go with her
three or four times, when Herr Constantin Spielberg's name was on the
bills. Well, no great misfortune could have come from that. The worst
of it was that Luise caught fire from the flashing sparks he scattered
around him when he stood on the stage in his romantic costumes and
assumed the most melting tones of love. 'Luise,' I said, jestingly,
'you must not forget that Herr Spielberg did not compose the works of
Schiller or Goethe, but simply acts them. Still, he did not need to
declame; when he was merely sitting at the hotel table, talking about
the weather, she listened as though he was expounding the gospel. And
there was something in his voice that might well turn a young girl's
headshe was twenty-one, but she had never been in loveand even when
he was not behind the footlights he could look as honest and innocent
as a pastor's son or you yourself, Sir Tutor.
Besides, everybody in the hotel liked him, and no one had anything
to say against him. It was reported that he supported an old blind
mother, etc. But, knowing Luise as I did, the longer this state of
things lasted the less I was pleased, and I gently began to speak of
departure, of course without making any allusion to my own private
reason. Well, to cut the story short, one morning my niece came to me
with a letter in her hand: 'Just think, uncle, what I have
received'and gave it to me to read. We had no secrets from each
other. It was a declaration of love from our opposite neighbor in due
formthat is, in the Schiller and Goethe style, only not in verse,
closing with a simple honorable offer of marriage. Nom d'un nom!
This was too much for me. I allowed her the choice whether I should
give the bold fellow a verbal answer, such as his insolence deserved,
or we should set off stante pede, without bidding him farewell.
After some consideration she decided in favor of the latter. But
when we were on our way she said, 'Uncle, I was too hasty. He will
always think me an arrogant fool. I ought to have answered him myself.'
'And what would you have said?' 'That I felt honored by his proposal,
but was under the guardianship of my uncle, who would never consent to
this alliance.' 'The deuce!' I cried; 'that would have been almost the
same thing as a declaration of love.' 'What then?' she asked, quietly.
'Is there anything degrading in loving a noble man, merely because he
belongs to a class against which people in our circle are unjustly
prejudiced?' 'Well, this beats the Old Nick!' I thought, but did not
say one word, for I knew that fire is only fanned by blowing upon it,
and thought, 'It will die away into ashes when it has no food.' Now you
see what a confoundedly clever prophet I was.
During Uncle Joachim's story, I had sat in the chair Fräulein Luise
usually occupied, and patiently endured everything like a person who is
crossing the fields in a pouring rain without an umbrella, and feels
that he is drenched to the skin and can be no worse off. Every spark of
hope had vanished; I knew that she would never turn back from the path
she had entered; and, even if it were possible, she would be too proud
to desire to do so. But man is so constituted that, though I foresaw
all the misery of the future, for I did not trust the handsome face of
the man to whom she had fled, and I knew by this step she had forfeited
her right to be received into her chapter in case of need, in short,
though I saw nothing in prospect for her save trouble and griefthe
bitterest thing of all to me was to find my own dreams and wishes,
which hitherto I had never acknowledged to myself, shattered at one
blow. The most frantic jealousy of the happy man, who had won the bride
forever unattainable to me, burned in my miserable soul, now suddenly
bankrupt; and, when it flashed upon my mind that I had even been her
accomplice by deferring the discovery of her flight as long as possible
through my organ-music, I felt so utterly wretched that I suddenly
burst into Boyish sobbing, in which offended vanity, wounded love, and
grief for the uncertain fate of the woman so dear to me, bore an equal
Just at that moment I felt Uncle Joachim's hand press heavily on my
Hold up your head and don't flinch, my friend, he said, in a voice
that was by no means firm. We can't change the matter now, so we must
let it go. But we must always repeat to ourselves one thing: whatever
folly a woman like her may commit, she will not allow herself to
succumb to it. She may lose the right scent once, like Diana, but
she'll find it againI feel no anxiety on that score. The only people
who will surfer and can get no amends are ourselvesor rather, I mean,
my own insignificant self. You are a young man, still have life before
you, andwhich I can't say of myselfare a devout Christian. But an
old fellow like me, who is robbed of his only playthingdeuce take it!
It will be a dog's life!
He had put on his coat and now whistled to Diana. Excuse me, Herr
Candidate, I have some business to attend to. Stay quietly here till
your eyes are dry. I'm disgusted with the old barrack, since we can
expect no more pound-cake here.
He went out, carrying his gun upside down and followed by Diana,
whose ears drooped mournfully, as if she shared her master's mood.
There is not much to be said of the period which now ensued.
Outwardly everything went on as usual. The void made by the flight of
the insubordinate member of the family seemed to be felt by no one
except myself and the silent Uncle Joachim; at least, her name was
never mentioned. True, pauses in the conversation at table were more
frequent, and were usually brokennot always with much tasteby a
remark from my little pupil. There had been no gayety before in this
strangely constituted circle, and I don't remember ever having heard a
really hearty laugh. But, since the event, the master of the house
seemed to desire to keep his family under still more rigid spiritual
control. The blessing invoked upon the food often extended into a short
homily, and on Sunday afternoons he held services of his own, by the
aid of some Lutheran tracts, from which he extracted so confused a
theology that I was often compelled to exercise great self-control in
order not to give the rein to my old love for debate. On such occasions
he indulged in rancorous allusions to stray sheep and lost souls, spite
of the presence of the servants, who nudged one another, and afterward
let their tongues wag freely in the servants' hall.
I wished myself a hundred miles away, for it seemed to me as if the
veil, which hitherto had only allowed me to see the vague outlines of
persons and things in the household, was suddenly torn away, and I
experienced a sense of almost physical discomfort, which increased with
every passing week.
The most puzzling thing was that, spite of the promise I had given
my worshiped idol at our last meeting, I had become suspicious even of
her. When I imagined her in the society of the strange actor, my hand
involuntarily clinched, and I was strongly inclined to pronounce the
whole female sex, which had seemed to me so supernatural and adorable
in this individual, nothing better than the body-guard of the enemy of
I was by no means reconciled to her, but on the contrary still more
deeply wounded, when, a fortnight after her disappearance, I received
the printed announcement of her marriage to Herr Konstantin Spielberg,
theatrical manager. I had still cherished a secret hope that she would
repent the false step into which her exaggerated sense of justice had
led her, and withdraw from the turbid, bottomless swamp she had
entered, pure as a swan that needs only to shake its wings to cast off
everything that could besmirch it.
True, with my knowledge of her, I ought not to have been surprised
that she should take upon herself all the consequences of her hasty
step, yet it roused a feeling of such intense bitterness that it made
me fairly ill, and for twenty-four hours I would see no one, as if the
sight of any human face must awaken a sense of shame.
I knew that she had written long letters to her aunt and Uncle
Joachim, letters in which she had probably attempted to justify her
conduct. But I did not venture to make any inquiries about them. More
than once, when I met her beloved uncle, my tongue was on the point of
asking the question what threat he had used to deter his brother from
pursuing the fugitive. I vaguely suspected that I should learn things
in her favor. But, as the old gentleman did not commence the subject, I
was forced to say to myself that, little friendship as he felt for his
brother, he probably considered it unseemly to afford a stranger a
glimpse of the circumstances that did no honor to the name they both
Not until long after did I obtain a clear understanding of the
Even from the poor, timid baroness, I could obtain no information,
though, since the loss of her affectionate young confidante, she had
shown me even greater kindness than before. Nay, since I had offered to
supply Fräulein Luise's place at the evening games of cards, I was
regularly assured of her friendly feeling by a warm clasp from her
little wrinkled hand on my arrival and departure. Very soon she
bestowed upon me another office which her niece had formerly
filledthat of her High Almoner. I now perceived, with reverent
emotion, how from her invalid chair she was the guardian angel of all
the poor and wretched in the village; and the wan little face, with its
bony nose and low forehead, really gained a gleam of youthful grace
when I informed her of the recovery of some sick person, or the
gratitude of a poor woman to whom her help in some desperate strait had
restored the courage to live.
Besides the quiet satisfaction I felt in my own modest share in
these deeds of charity, I had one great pleasuremy little pupil was
becoming more and more fond of me. Through all his ungovernableness he
had retained a dim consciousness of right and wrong, and when he
perceived the patient love I gave him he felt the obligation not to be
indebted to me, and therefore vented his instinctive rudenesses on
others. His progress in study continued to be extremely slow. But he
disarmed my displeasure by a frank confession of his faults and
laziness, and the entreaty that I would not attribute to ill-will what
was a part of his nature.
I hoped to gradually obtain an influence over this perverse
disposition, but I was not allowed time to do so. With this fact there
was a strange story connected.
* * * * *
The day after the flight of the Canoness, as Fräulein Leopoldine
needed a companion, Mademoiselle Suzon had moved into the vacant
tower-room below me. From this time, also, the Frenchwoman was present
at the history lessons, during which she made herself very troublesome
by asking foolish questions and coquettishly endeavoring to turn the
tiresome teaching into empty conversation. But I said nothing about it,
knowing that a complaint to the baron would have been futile.
Neither did I trouble myself about the extraordinary marks of favor
with which the cunning creature began to annoy me.
One of the least of these was, that I rarely returned home from a
walk without finding in my room a bouquet of flowers or a few choice
fruits, filched from the garden or the green-house. Even at table she
did not restrain herself in the least from making all sorts of advances
to me, praising my lessons, repeating admirable remarks of which I had
no recollection, and keeping up a fusillade of glances, which greatly
incensed me, because it seemed to show distinctly that we were on the
best possible terms with each other. In my innocence, I was mainly
disturbed lest it should place me in a false light before the eyes of
my employer and his wife. To Uncle Joachim I had made no secret of my
dislike. The baroness's confidence in my honor and virtue, however,
seemed immovable, and the baron appeared to be merely amused by this
shadow of flirtation between his awkward tutor and the family friend,
without seeing any cause for suspicion in it.
The affair pursued its course in this way for several weeks.
Sometimes, from the open window beneath mine, I heard, instead of the
dear Orpheus melody, most unmusical sighs and incoherent French
verses, declaimed to moon and stars, but whose real object I knew only
too well. Then I shut my own casement with an intentionally loud slam,
and preferred to dispense with the delicious coolness of the autumn
night rather than seem to listen to the tender soliloquies of this
She perceived that she made no progress in this way, and resolved to
risk a bold stroke.
It had already happened several timesaccidentally, as I,
unsuspicious novice, supposedthat, when going up to my room, I passed
the Fräulein's door just at the moment she was putting her shoes
outside. I had then forced myself to exchange a few courteous words
with her, but escaped her efforts to carry on a more familiar
conversation in the dimly-lighted corridor as quickly as possible by a
hasty Bonne nuit, mademoiselle!
How different would have been my demeanor if my former neighbor in
the tower, whose shoes and speech were both less ornate, had met me
here even once to say good-night!
One evening my game with the old lady had been unusually prolonged.
Mademoiselle Suzon, after her victory at chess over the baron, and
obligatory courtesy to the baroness, had glided out of the room; the
master of the house, making no concealment of his impatience, paced up
and down the spacious apartment, frowning angrily; the servants
occasionally glanced sleepily through the glass doors, to see if it
were not bed-time. At last we finished, and I could take leave of my
employers. My old patroness pressed my hand with a friendly glance, the
baron nodded silently, but, as it seemed to me, with a sarcastic smile.
I took the candle from the servant who was waiting outside, and, in a
mood of dull ill-temper which was now almost always dominant, mounted
the stairs to my lofty lodging.
I thought the delay would at least insure safety from my tormentor.
But as, walking on tip-toe, I reached the story where her room was
situated, the door gently opened, and an arm in a white night-dress
noiselessly placed the well-known pair of dainty shoes on the floor.
I stopped, holding my breath and shading the candle with my hand.
But, as the door showed no sign of closing, I resolved to rush straight
on and pretend to be deaf and blind.
But I had reckoned without my host. The door was suddenly thrown
wide open, and the French spook, in a most bewitching négligée
costume, stood directly before me.
Bonsoir, Monsieur le Candidat! I heard her whisper, and
then followed a long, half tender, half reproachful speech in her
Franco-German jargon, of which I only understood that she was angry
with meyes, seriously offended, because I so openly shunned her. She
could bear it no longer, and desired at last to know what grudge I had
against her, why I treated her like an enemy. She knew, of course, that
she could bear no comparison with Fräulein Luise, to whom I had been so
completely devoted. She was only a simple French girl, and had no other
qualités than her good heart and her virtue. But, since I was such
a chivalrous young man, and treated everybody else so kindly and
politely, she must suppose that she had given me some special offense;
and, if this were the case, she would gladly apologize for her fault if
she could thereby put an end to the icy coldness with which I treated
As she spoke, the wretch gazed at me with such an humble, childlike
expression in her crafty black eyes, that I, poor simpleton, completely
I stammered a few French phrasesI should have found it more
difficult to lie in Germanassured her of my profound estime,
and that she had made a deplorable erreur, and, with a low bow,
was hurrying away, when I felt the arm that carried the candle seized
in a firm clasp.
I thank you for those noble words, said the smooth serpent, fixing
her glittering eyes so intently on my face that I could not help
lowering my own like a detected criminal.
If you knew, Monsieur Jean, how happy your sympathie,
your cordial warmth makes me! Ah, mon ami, I am not what I
perhaps seem to you, a superficial, selfish creature, who avails
herself of her position in this house to gain some advantage. If you
knew how this dependence, this forbearance humiliates me! My youth was
so brilliant, so happy! If any one had told me then that I should ever
enter a foreign German household
And she now began to relate to me in French, with incredible
fluency, the romance of her life, not more than half of which could I
understand. But as, spite of my inexperience, I retained a sufficient
degree of calmness to believe that even this half contained far more
fiction than fact, I at last, relapsing into my former incivility,
showed evident signs of impatience, and was just in the act of gently
shaking off the hand that still held my arm, when her eyes filled with
tears as she talked of her worshiped mother, and that honorable man,
You are exciting yourself too much, mademoiselle, I said. It is
lateyou must go to restto-morrow, if you wish
Meantime I glanced into her room, which looked very untidy. The bed
was already opened, and on the little night-table stood a candle which
illumined the picture of the Madonna on the wall and a small black
crucifix beneath it.
Oh, mon ami! she sobbed, pressing my arm as if she needed
some support in her grief, si vous saviez! Mon coeur est si
sensibletous les malheurs de ma vie and then came a fresh
torrent of revelations of her most private affairs, till terror brought
cold drops of perspiration to my forehead and, in my helplessness, I
could finally think of no other expedient than to whisper: Calm
yourself, Mademoiselle Suzon! Somebody is comingif we should be found
Her features suddenly changed their expression, she half closed her
eyes, as if fainting, and murmuring with a gesture of horror: Mon
Dieuje suis perdue! tottered backward and would have fallen, had I
not sprung forward and caught her with my free arm.
Instantly I felt her throw her arm over my shoulder, clinging to me
as if unconscious, and while we stood in this attitude and undoubtedly
formed a very striking group, which I myself lighted effectively with
the candle I held aloft, hasty footsteps, which I had only pretended to
hear, actually did come up the staircase, and at the end of the
corridor appeared the tall figure of one of the footmen, who served as
the baron's valet.
I was wild with rage and shame at having allowed myself to be caught
in this suspicious position, and the thought darted like lightning
through my brain that the whole scene had been merely a prearranged
farce, to which in my good-natured simplicity I had fallen a victim!
The fellow's manner strengthened this belief, as he grinned at me with
insolent cunning. Besides, he had no reason to come here at this hour.
Yet I retained sufficient composure to say quietly: Mademoiselle
has been taken ill. Wake the housekeeper, Christoph, and see that she
is put to bed. I wish her a speedy recovery.
With these words I unceremoniously laid her on the floor, and walked
off as calmly as if entirely indifferent to what was happening behind
Yet every one will understand that I could not fall asleep very
quickly that night. Again and again I called myself an ass for having
entered this clumsy trap, and for the first time in my life learned
that a good conscience is not always a soft pillow. True, when I asked
myself how a trained man of the world would have acted in this
situation, I could find no reply. But my contempt for the female sex
increased that night to such a degree, and gained so large an access of
dread and horror, that for the first time I envied the anchorites who,
to escape from the sight of these fiends, retreated to some wilderness,
where if any appeared to them and might perchance lure to sin, though
they did not come straight from Hades, at least the hermits could not
be surprised by inquisitive lackeys.
* * * * *
The next morning, just after I had risen with so disagreeable a tang
on my tongue from the scene of the previous night that I could not make
up my mind to touch any breakfast, I suddenly heard a heavy step in the
corridor outside, which I recognized with terror as the baron's.
I did not doubt for an instant that the hour of judgment had struck,
and the whole affair had been planned to obtain a sufficient excuse for
my dismissalI was perfectly aware how little I had concealed my
feelings toward the outlawed member of the family, the lost soul of
this household. After the first shock of surprise, I really felt glad
that the climax had been reached without any volition of mine, and
armed myself with all the pride and defiance of a pure conscience.
What was my amazement when my employer, after knocking courteously,
entered my room with his most cordial smile, which I had not seen for a
long time, and sat down on my hard sofa with the utmost affability.
He began by requesting me to give my pupil a holiday, as the family
intended to drive to a neighboring estate. Then he launched into
praises of the good influences I had exerted over Achatz, and expressed
the hope that I might still long devote myself to his education, even
if the other duties of my office claimed my attentionfor the old
pastor could not remain longer; his sermons showed that he was falling
more and more into the childishness of old age. He had determined to
pension him very shortly, even if it were against his wish, and give
the office to me, though I could not move into the parsonage till after
Christmas, as a suitable residence must first be found for the old
I was so surprised by this offerafter having prepared myself for
the most furious ragethat I could only thank my kind patron with a
few clumsy words.
Oh, my dear Weissbrod, he replied, gazing out of the window with
his handsome bright eyes, like an aristocrat who is accustomed to
dispense favors, you need not give me any special thanks. I know what
I possess in you, and hope that we shall understand each other better
in future. Of course, I should have wished you to treat me with more
frankness, but I understand and pardon your reticence. You thought me a
rigid judge of the conscience, from whom it would be best to conceal
all human weaknesses. You ought to have believed me a better Christian,
one who is mindful of the words relating to the forgiveness of his
erring brother: 'I say not unto thee, until seven times; but until
seventy times seven.' Besides, youth has no virtue, and a future pastor
is not to blame if he remembers the proverb: 'The pastor when settling
for life wants a wife.'
He smiled with patronizing significance, rose, went to my bookcase,
and, while gazing thoughtfully for the tenth time at the names of
Neander and Marheineke on the backs of the volumes, remarked with
When do you expect to be married?
I felt as if I had dropped from the clouds.
Herr Baron, I replied, I am very grateful for your kindness, but
I have never had any idea of entering the estate of matrimony.
The baron took out a book, turned the leaves, and then said, still
in the same tone of gracious familiarity:
That I can easily believe, my dear Weissbrod. Young people do not
always think of the consequences of their acts. But an honest man, and
especially a servant of the gospel, will not hesitate to recognize the
obligations he has undertaken. As I said, I do not reproach you for
having permitted the matter to go so far. But, after the scene of
yesterday evening, which could not remain secret, you will perceive
that it is your duty to protect the honor of the lady you have
compromised, and this can only be done by a speedy marriage.
He shut the volume and restored it to its place. Then, turning
quickly and gazing at me with an inquisitorial expression, as if I were
a convicted criminal, he smoothed his beard with his white hands.
But, thanks to the indignation which took possession of me at the
perception of this base farce, I maintained sufficient composure to
look him squarely in the face and answer coldly:
I do not know what has been told you, Herr Baron. But, for the sake
of truth, I must declare that it never entered my mind to carry on any
love affair beneath your roof, and that my conscience absolves me from
I saw that he turned pale, and with difficulty repressed a violent
outburst of rage. At last he said:
How you are to justify yourself to your conscience is your own
affair. Mademoiselle has told me, with tears, that yesterday evening
you took advantage of a moment's physical weakness, by which she was
attacked, to embrace her, an act that did not occur without witnesses.
I am disposed to judge such an impulse of gallantry leniently, on
account of your youth and the attractiveness of the lady. But, as she
is alone and defenseless in the world, it is my duty to protect her
reputation, and I therefore give you the choice between proposing for
her hand within twenty-four hours or resigning your position in my
house, and with it all your prospects for the future. You must not make
your decision in your first embarrassment. When we return this evening
from our drive, there must either be a note from you in the young
lady's room containing your proposal, or in mine your request for a
vacation, as family affairs summon you as quickly as possible to
Berlin. This requestunless you should change your mind while
awayyou must follow after a time with a petition for your final
dismissal. You see that, even though you have forfeited my esteem, I
treat you with Christian forbearance, but at the same time, as I am a
foe to scandal and have confidence in you, I trust you will avoid any
cause of vexation. I will now leave you to consider your own future,
and wish you good-morning.
He nodded with affable condescension and, without waiting for an
answer, left the room.
I was scarcely alone ere the repressed indignation that had been
seething within me found vent in a convulsive laugh, and I felt tempted
to rush after my noble patron and loudly inform him, outside the door
of his clever accomplice, that I was not the dull simpleton they
believed me, but saw through their preconcerted manoeuver, and was not
at all disposed to let a bridle be thrown over my head. Fortunately I
remembered that I did not possess a particle of proof, and should only
make my cause worse by uncorroborated assertions. So I strove to calm
myself, showed my pupil, who came bounding joyously in to bid me
good-by, a cheerful face, and embraced him, a caress he received with
innocent surprise, not suspecting that I was taking leave of him
forever, and then watched from my window the departure of the family,
which took place with the usual ceremony. In the servants' presence the
baron always treated his wife with chivalrous courtesy, lifted her into
the carriage himself, saw that she had the pillows for her back and the
rug for her feeble knees, and always asked if she was comfortable, and
whether she would not prefer to have the carriage open.
Mademoiselle Suzon helped him with kittenish suppleness. Spite of
the nocturnal attack of faintness, her usual smile rested on her lips,
and not a single upward glance at me intimated that above her lodged
the robber of her honor, the man on whom depended the weal or woe of
her future life.
* * * * *
As soon as the carriage had disappeared in the elm-avenue, I
prepared to pack my effects, except my books, which I could not take
with me without revealing my determination never to return. I do not
know what impulse of prudence induced me to enter into the cunning
farce my shrewd employer had marked out for me. Perhaps it was
consideration for the kind mistress of the house or for my little
pupil. The others certainly had not deserved to have me conceal the
truth. After locking my trunk, I sat down and wrote the note to the
baron, which was disagreeable enough for me. With great difficulty I
resisted the temptation to inform him, on another sheet, that his
hypocritical words had not blinded me in the least to the real motive
of his conduct. But I deemed it more dignified to leave him to his own
conscience, and, if the matter was as I firmly believed, he would be
Several other farewells were before memy worthy pastor, old Mother
Lieschen, with whom since the Canoness's departure I had chatted a
short time on many evenings, and finally my honored patron, Uncle
Joachim. I made the leave-taking with the first two as brief as
possible. I felt reluctant to use deception toward the good old pastor,
and yet I could not tell him the whole truth. But, spite of his eighty
years, his eyes were still keen enough to perceive the real state of
affairs, so that a shake of the hand was sufficient to make us
understand each other.
Mother Lieschen was not in her hut. I could only leave a farewell
message, in which I wrapped a small gift of money. Uncle Joachim I
found in the fields, where he was overlooking the laborers in place of
the steward, who was ill.
I thought it needless to maintain any secrecy toward him. He
listened quietly, and his sharp, expressive features showed no signs of
I have seen it coming, he said at last, sending forth vehement
puffs of smoke from his short pipe. The farce is excellent, though no
longer perfectly new; such things have frequently occurred before,
though the exit is usually different. Well, I'm not anxious about you,
Sir Tutor, and I shall at least have the advantage of no longer seeing
that intriguing woman's face opposite. Believe me, my dear friend, I,
too, would gladly take to my heels and try to earn my bit of daily
bread elsewhere, even if it should be as head-groom or steward on the
estate of one of my former equals and boon companions. But there is my
sister-in-law, poor thing. Who knows what her pious husband might do,
if the last person in whose presence he is obliged to control himself
should go away? You know the proverb about us natives of the
Markthat, though we never burned a heretic, we never produced a
saint. Well, if there were a Protestant Pope, he should canonize that
poor martyr for me on the spot.
Then, after we had shaken hands, he called me back again.
You must do me the favor to keep this whole abominable story a
secret, Sir Tutor, he said. I could not blame you if you blazoned it
abroad, for, after all, you are the one who is injured, and, if we can
get no other satisfaction, to rage and call things by their right names
relieves the bile. Still, remember that the honorable man who has thus
injured you bears the same name as our Luise, to say nothing of myself.
True, the girl has made haste to lay it aside. If you should ever meet
her in the outside world, give her a tender greeting from Uncle
Joachim, and tell her to bestow a sheet of letter-paper on him. Well,
may God be with you, my dear friend! Heads up always, then we see the
sun, moon, and stars, and not the wretched worms that crawl on this
As he uttered these words, he clasped me affectionately in his arms,
and kissed me on both cheeks. Then, turning abruptly away, he went back
to his work.
In the afternoon I sat in the self-same butcher's cart in which I
had made the journey to the castle. Krischan maintained a diplomatic
silence, though I could not doubt that, like the other servants, he was
perfectly aware of the nocturnal incident and its unpleasant
consequences. Yet I perceived that the popular voice was not against
me, for several times on the way I was obliged to refuse a drink from
the worthy fellow's bottle. In the village, too, many tokens of a
friendly and respectful disposition fell to my lot.
Yet, though this time the bays did not have the heavy box of books
to drag through the sand, and my conscience was no weightier burden
than it had been six months before, the drive, spite of the bright
October weather, was a dismal one, and my heart was far from singing
hymns as it had longed to do on the former occasion.
I could not help constantly reflecting that a few weeks before the
one woman who attracted all my thoughts had passed over this very road
to a future which I could paint only in the blackest hues.
* * * * *
I can not shake off the fear that in the preceding pages, which
concerned my insignificant self, I may have been too verbose. Should
this really be the case, I may confidently assert that the error is not
due to the garrulity, or even the self-love, of a lonely man, but the
desire of a conscientious biographer to omit nothing that could throw
more light upon the acts of his heroine.
During the time immediately following her marriage, she disappeared
entirely from the horizon of my own pitiful existence. I will therefore
make my account of the succeeding years until she reappears as brief as
My good old aunt in Berlin received me with her former love and
kindness, though somewhat surprised that she must once more shelter in
her little back-room the clerical nephew whom she had expected to
speedily see shining as a brilliant light of the church in the
glittering candlestick of a parish, while he now again seemed to be a
dim little flame with a big thief in it.
True, she did not suspect the real state of the case concerning this
thiefthe hapless love for a woman who had utterly vanished that was
secretly consuming me. I did not deny it to myself for a moment. I knew
too well that all the joyousness of youth was irretrievably lost to me;
and, as I perceived that the consolations of religion were powerless in
my condition, I fell away more and more from my theological vocation,
and during the first months gave myself up to a very God-forsaken,
I carefully remained aloof from the circle of my former companions.
I felt that the experiences of the past six months had separated me
from them forever. Even in my outward man I had changed so much that
two of my former most intimate friends passed close by me in the street
without recognizing in the tall fellow with closely cropped hair, clad
in a light summer suit and a straw hat, the apostle of yore, with his
long locks parted in the middle, and clerical black coat.
On receiving my definite request for a dismissal, the baron, closely
as he usually calculated, had sent me six months' extra pay as tutor,
which I did not return, though I could not help regarding the modest
sum as a sort of hush-money. Having been turned out of the house
without any fault of my own, I thought myself entitled to some
This money, which I was not compelled to use for my own support,
since my kind aunt feasted me as though I were the prodigal son, I
devoted to one exclusive purpose, for which probably no theological
candidate waiting for his parish ever used his savingsI went to the
theater every evening.
True, my longing to hear the great Milder was not fulfilled. I do
not know whether she was dead or had merely retired from the stage. But
I heard other admirable singers, among whom Sophie Löwe and the
fair-haired Fassmann made the deepest impression upon me, and in the
drama I was just in time to admire the famous Seydelmann, and
afterward, perhaps wrongly, rave over Hendrichs, though I never saw the
latter enter without a feeling of aversion, which did not vanish until
he had acted for some time. He reminded me, both in personal appearance
and in many gestures, of another actor, whom I hated from my inmost
soul because I believed that he was to blame for the darkening of the
star of my life.
But the world represented on the stage, the creations of the authors
themselves, captivated me far more than any individual artistso
bewitched me, indeed, that I do not remember having opened a
theological work or even visited a church during the year and a half I
spent in the capital. The hypocrisy whose bitter fruits I had tasted
had disgusted me with the delicious wine pressed in the Lord's
vineyard, till, with a sort of defiant rebellion, I fled to the world
of illusion irradiated by the foot-lights.
No one will marvel that, in this mood, I even essayed my own powers
as a dramatic author. Of course, it was no less a personage than Julian
the Apostate whom, during five acts, I made atone in iambics for having
desired to restore to honor the ancient Pagan gods. I still retained
enough of the theologian to place Venus lower than the mother of the
Saviour. Yet between the lines glimmered so skeptical a view of the
world that this exercitium in ecclesiastical history certainly
would not have been reviewed cum laude at my old college.
I had just finished the shapeless opus, and was considering
whether I should offer it to a rational artist, like Eduard Devrient,
for his opinion, when a sorrowful event suddenly stopped my dramatic
My loving nurse and supporter fell ill, and at the end of a few days
I was obliged to accompany her to her last resting-place. As she had
lived upon a small annuity, her whole property consisted of old
furniture and a modest wardrobe. I myself had spent all my money except
a few thalers. Therefore, it was necessary to again obtain a firmer
foothold than the boards of the theatre, which could not be my world.
A few private pupils whom I secured helped me out of my most
pressing need. Meanwhile, I industriously watched the papers for
advertisements for tutors, and almost every week sent to the addresses
mentioned a letter containing copies of my testimonials and references,
including the name of my first employer, but to my grief and anger I
invariably received a refusal. Knowing myself to be so well
recommended, it was a long time ere I could understand these persistent
failures, till at last, one sleepless night, when anxiety about my
immediate future sharpened my wits, I hit upon the most natural
solution of the enigmamy former employer, in reply to inquiries about
me, of course gave the most unfavorable information, thereby refuting
his written testimony, partly to prevent my relating in a new position
the true cause of my dismissal.
Therefore, when a tutorwho must also be musicalwas wanted for
two boys seven and eight years old on a country estate near the
frontier of Pomerania, I quickly formed my resolution, borrowed from an
actor, whose acquaintance I had made, the money to pay my traveling
expenses, and hastened to wait upon my future employer in person.
I found the position to be everything I could desire. The owner of
the estate was a vigorous, thoroughly aristocratic, that is,
noble-minded, man of middle age, who was deeply interested in
agriculture, and had therefore left the education of his two sons
exclusively to his admirable wife, until they had outgrown her feminine
care and teaching. When I had explained my situation, and told him
enough of the cause of my short stay with the baron to enable the
shrewd man to perceive my innocence, without suspecting the whole
truth, we soon agreed that I should come on trial for a quarter. These
three months became three years, and, as neither found any reason to
complain of the other, I should probably have grown old and gray in
this beautiful part of my native land, had not the strange wandering
star of my life suddenly appeared again in the firmament and lured me
into new paths.
I had entered upon my office of tutor without any thought of ever
moving into the neighboring parsonage. This was partly because I had
become doubtful of my vocation as a preacher, and partly because I did
not grudge the excellent man who now filled the place the longest
possible life, which indeed he needed in order to leave his six young
daughterswho had early lost their motheralone in this dreary world
The oldest, Marie, was just sixteen when I entered upon my duties in
the family of Herr von N. Never have I known a more exemplary girl
than this pure and lovely young creature, who, spite of her extreme
youth, took the whole burden of the housekeeping and the education of
her younger sisters on her slender shoulders, without even seeming to
feel its weight. Her violet eyes and waving light-brown locks gave her
a claim to beauty, especially when she smiled and her teeth glittered
bewitchingly between her pouting lips. Had I not been afflicted with so
obstinate a heart, I should undoubtedly have lost it to this charming
child of God, and now be settled as a worthy pastor and father of a
family in some village in the Mark. But my thoughts, spite of my utter
hopelessness, clung so steadfastly to one image that for a long time I
went in and out of the worthy pastor's house, and ate many a piece of
cake Marie had baked, without seeing the merry little housekeeper in
any other light than as the well-educated daughter of a man to whom I
became more and more indebted for my own development.
For, while a country pastor who enters his pulpit every Sunday for
twenty years usually lets his spiritual armor grow tolerably rusty with
the flight of time, this admirable man, in his quiet gable-room, had
taken the most eager interest in all the struggles which in those days
agitated the theological world, had entered deeply into the historical
investigations of the Tübingen School, and instantly fanned to a bright
blaze the scientific interest which, during my rage for the theater in
Berlin, had become completely extinguisheda blaze, it is true, that
consumed to a sorry little heap the last scraps of orthodoxy with which
I had covered my nakedness.
This is not the place to enter more fully into this spiritual
question now struggling in the pangs of its birth. Only I must say that
I looked up with actual reverence to this man who, from the depths of
his warm, thoroughly evangelical nature, drew the strengthspite of
casting aside the dogmatic traditions, whose foundations had been
shaken in his soulto beneficently fulfill his duties as pastor and
proclaim the Word, without being faithless to its spirit.
I was not granted this gift, rooted in the purest philanthropy, and
therefore capable of helping each individual to salvation in his own
way. I was exclusively occupied with my own redemption, and, as I had
entirely relinquished the idea of a parish, and for the present gave
myself no anxiety about any other profession, I spent these three
years, so far as my secret yearnings for my lost love permitted, very
happily, and daily passed several hours with my teacher and friend, who
treated me like a younger brother, and let me share without reserve
everything that occupied his mind.
It was inevitable that I should be on the most familiar terms with
his children also. From the first I had placed myself on a footing of
merry banter, and asked the little girls to call me Uncle Hans. Marie
persisted in addressing me as Herr Johannes. Yet an innocent
familiarity, like that of blood relations, existed between us, and
seemed to continue undisturbed when the child had matured into a
maiden, and the eyes of the girl of nineteen gazed into the world with
a dreamy earnestness that would have given a person better versed than
I in reading the human heart much food for thought.
I noticed that she had lost some of her former vivacity, but was so
unsuspicious that I jested with her about it, and drew no inference
from her silence and blushes. True, the idea occurred to me that the
young bird was fledged and longed to quit the overcrowded nest. But, as
I knew with whom she associated, and that none of my employer's guests,
who sometimes visited her father, had made the slightest impression
upon her, I ascribed her changed demeanor to some anxiety of
conscienceshe often rummaged among her father's booksrather than
any affair of the heart.
That I myself might be the cause never entered my dreams. All vanity
had been shorn away with my beautiful fair locks, for with cropped hair
I seemed to myself anything but attractive, and, since I had been
obliged to atone for the bold hope of making an impression on the heart
of the sole object of my adoration, by the keen disappointment of her
marriage, I did not consider myself created to be dangerous to any
So, one morning, when I had vainly sought my pastor in his study to
return him a volume by David Friedrich Strauss, and on entering the
little garden saw Marie sitting on a bench, holding in her lap a dish
of green beans which she was preparing for the kitchen, I greeted her
with a jest, though I noticed her tearful eyes, and asked if I could
sit beside her a moment.
She nodded silently, and moved to make room for me. I commenced an
indifferent conversation, but secretly resolved to question her, like a
true uncle, about the cause of her melancholy. Her only friend, the
daughter of a neighboring pastor, had just become engaged to a young
agriculturist. I began with that, and asked if there was genuine love
on the part of the girl, to whom I also had become attached. Marie,
without looking up from her work, replied that this was a matter of
course. How could people stand before the altar, and form the sacred
tie, if there was no real love? Why, I answered, many a girl hopes that
love will come after marriage, and only weds for the sake of having a
home of her own, a husband, and children. True, I did not believe Marie
capable of such conduct. She would never put this little handand as I
spoke I patted the delicate little fingers resting on the beansinto
that of a man whom she did not love with her whole heart.
Again I felt a violent tremor run through her slender figure; she
made a visible effort to calm herself, but suddenly let the dish fall
from her lap, tears streamed from her eyes, and, stammering almost
inaudibly, Excuse me, I don't feel well! she rushed into the house as
if flying from Satan himself.
I remained sitting on the bench as if a thunderbolt had struck me.
It was long ere I could calm myself sufficiently to pick up the dish
and carefully collect the scattered green pods.
What would I have given to be able, with a clear conscience, to
follow the dear child, take her little cold hands in mine, and utter
words which would have had the power to dry her tears.
But, deeply as my heart glowed with tender sympathy for this
youthful sorrow, I did not doubt an instant that I should be doing her
a far heavier wrong if I tried to console her without the real love
than if I left her uncomforted.
At last, after vainly waiting in the hope that she would come back
and turn the affair into a jest, I rose in great perplexity and went
thoughtfully back to my employer's house, here also called the
castle, though it had no feudal aspect.
As soon as I was alone in my little roommy pupils were waiting for
their lessons in the school-roomI went to the mirror and carefully
scrutinized my face. Even now I could find in it nothing that seemed
calculated to disturb the peace of a young girl's heart. The
conversations with the dear child, which I could remember also
contained nothing captivating, and, as I had again and again said that
I should probably remain a bachelor all my life, I could not help
acquitting myself of all blame in the sweet girl's unfortunate passion.
Yet the sudden discovery so agitated me that I felt unable to give
my Latin lesson. I dictated a written exercise to the lads, and, while
they were at work upon it, sat down by the window with the last
newspaper, which had just been brought in, not to read, but to have
some pretext for pursuing my idle and fruitless thoughts.
But, as my eyes wandered absently over the columns of the paper,
they were abruptly arrested by a name which glared in large letters
amid the small type of the advertisement.
How long a time had passed since I had either heard or read that
name! In Berlin, where ever and anonalways blushing as if I were
betraying my secretI had inquired about this object of my silent
hate, no one seemed to know whether he was alive or dead. He appeared
to have won no special repute as an artist, and, since his withdrawal
to the provinces, his former colleagues, several of whom I knew, had
heard nothing about him. As such wandering stars only diffuse their
light in their immediate vicinity, the small local sheets that came to
us made as little mention of him as the large journals of the capital.
Now, in his erratic course, he had come so near us that I could not
avoid suddenly discerning him with the naked eye.
There stood the notice. Konstantin Spielberg, with his renowned
dramatic company, has arrived in St. , the nearest Pomeranian
capital to us, and intends, during the next six weeks, to give
performances to which respected citizens, the nobility, and the
art-loving public are invited.
At any other time this intelligence would undoubtedly have agitated
me, but without stimulating me to any decision. In the strange
situation in which I found myself since my last interview with my
friend's daughter, this shadow from former days seemed to me like a
sign from Heaven. I instantly resolved to repress all the emotions
contending in my soul and convince myself, with my own eyes, how this
man's wife fared, and whether she needed any assistance from the friend
whose confidence she had certainly sorely betrayed.
I went at once to my employer and requested him to give me a week's
vacation. Both physically and mentally I was in a strangely upset
condition, which perhaps was only due to stagnation of the blood, and
would be relieved by a short pedestrian excursion.
My request was granted without hesitation, and that very afternoon I
found myself, with a light knapsack on my back, but my heart doubly
burdened by two hopeless love-affairs, on the sunny highway that led to
the Pomeranian frontier.
* * * * *
I might have reached my destination that night. But, swiftly as I
had commenced my walk, after the first hour it became difficult for me
to put one foot before the other. I constantly repeated to myself: How
will you find her? And how will she look when you suddenly take her by
surprise without having previously inquired whether your visit would be
agreeable or not? Quite probably she will shrink from you, as if you
were a ghost recalling a time she would prefer to have buried, and you
can be off home again.
What then? And what is to be done about the other, whom you really
never ought to see again, if you desire to be an honest man.
Under the influence of such thoughts I stopped, at the end of a few
hours, at a respectable village tavern, the last in the territory of
the Mark, and spent the sultry night uncomfortably enough in the thick
feather-bed. The next morning I continued my snail's pace. Never in my
life had I felt more plainly, and with deeper shame, how pitiful a
thing is our much-lauded free-will. For in fact I was nothing more than
a puppet which a child pulls by a string, and it made the matter none
the better because the boy whose plaything I was had gay wings on his
shoulders and wrote his name Cupid.
It was about ten o'clock when I reached the little citya place as
ugly, dreary, and lifeless as any other Pomeranian town on an August
morning. But, as I walked over the rough pavement of the main street,
my heart throbbed as if I were entering some enchanted city, where in a
crystal castle I should find the princess in a giant's power, and,
after perilous adventures, secure her release.
I first inquired at the hotel, fully expecting that I should find
the renowned traveling company had lodgings there. But, when I had
thrown my knapsack into one chair in the public-room of the Black
Eagle and myself into another, and the waiter had brought me half a
bottle of Moselle, I was better informed at once.
The actors had spent only one night with them, and the very next day
hired the back of the commandant's house for a month. Until six years
ago a regiment of infantry had been stationed here, and the colonel had
occupied Count X's old house facing the Goose-Market. When the
regiment was ordered to another garrison, the house was not rented
again. Now the manager had hired the back building, formerly used for
the offices and adjutant's residence, at a very low price. The
performances were given at the Schützenhaus near the Stettin Gate. The
actors were splendid and drew large crowds.
Does the manager's wife play too? I asked, and, as I spoke, my
hand trembled so violently that part of the wine was spilled from my
No. The manager's wife never appeared. It was said that she was a
lady of noble birth, who had run away with her present husband. But she
was a very beautiful lady, and nobody could tell any evil of her. Did
not I want something to eat? The table-d'hôte, at which there
was nobody now except one commercial traveler, would not be ready for
I rose after hastily swallowing a single glass, let the officious
youth brush my hat and clothes, and then requested him to direct me to
the actor's residence. Perceiving my interest in him, he brought me the
bill for that night's performance. The Ancestress, a tragedy by
Grillparger, with spectral apparitions: first row, six good
groschens; second row, five silver ones; pit, two good ones;
children, half price; commencement at six o'clock. I read the names, of
which I knew only the manager's: JaromirManager Konstantin Spielberg.
An uncomfortable feeling of mingled cowardice and repugnance again
overpowered me. For a moment I actually hesitated whether I should not
strap on my knapsack again and walk straight out through the opposite
gate. But the puppet was fastened to its platform, and the naughty boy
pulled till his toy was obliged to roll where he wanted it to go.
The Goose-Market was a rectangular piece of ground, in which grew
dusty acacia-trees. On one of the narrow sides stood the colonel's
former residence, a by no means ugly two-story building, in the style
of the reign of Old Fritz, with a flight of steps leading to the door,
and a stone escutcheon on the cornice above. But all the windows were
closed with shutters, and a cat lay asleep in the sentry-box beside the
My waiter led me to the side entrance, whose door was unlocked, and
through the wide gateway into the shady court-yard, in whose center a
large chestnut-tree spread its boughs in front of the windows of the
rear building. Please go up the stairs at the back, he said.
Somebody is always at home; but, if you want the manager, you'll find
him now at the rehearsal. A very diligent artist, as the president of
the district court says, and the rest of the company do well, too. But
our little city deserves it, for everybody here raves about art. Well,
you will see for yourself.
He bowed affectedly and left me alone, which made me very happy. For
the accursed throbbing of the heart grew madder than ever, and I was
forced to lean against the trunk of the chestnut ere I was able to walk
through the court-yard.
The lower story of the back building seemed to be wholly occupied by
stables and coach-houses. In the upper one, all the windows stood open,
and their freshly washed panes glittered all the more brightly from the
contrast to the thick dust on the doors and sills. At last I plucked up
courage and mounted the dark stairs.
I came to a long, tolerably wide corridor, and wandered helplessly
past several closed doors. Behind one of them I heard the rattling of
pans and dishes; that must be the kitchen. I did not wish to summon a
servant, so I stole softly on. And now I paused before a door through
which I heard the sound of a woman's well-known voiceonly a few
words, but I felt by the hot tide which coursed through my veins that
it had not lost its power over me during the four or five years of
separation. And now I summoned up my resolution like a hero and
knocked. Some one called Come in, and I suddenly stood inside the
apartment, confronting my old, inevitable fate.
* * * * *
She was sitting at the open window, and the sunbeams, piercing the
foliage of the chestnut, flickered over her figure, leaving her head in
shadow. At the first glance I saw that she had grown even more
beautifula little stouter and more matronly, of coursebut her face
was still more instinct with intellect, and her nose had actually
lengthened a trifle. She wore her hair in the same fashion as in her
girlhood, only she had fastened over the coil behind a black-silk
crocheted net, whose ends were knotted at her neck. No one would have
perceived either her lineage or her present dignity as wife of the
manager by her plain, dark-calico dress. But in her lap she held a
red-velvet royal mantlevery threadbare, it is truetrimmed with
gold-lace, in which she was mending a long rent, and a pile of knights'
costumes, satin bodices, and plumed caps lay in a clothes basket beside
Good Heavens, Johannes! I heard her suddenly exclaim. The royal
mantle slipped from her hand, and she rose to her full-height, fixing
her large brown eyes on me exactly as I had fearedas if a ghost had
rudely startled her from her quiet thoughts.
A little boy, about four years old, who had been playing with a
Noah's ark on a piece of carpet at her feet, sprang up at the same
time, seized her hand, and was now staring at me with mingled shyness
At first I could say nothing. I was gazing steadily at the little
fair headher child, and her very image.
She seemed to notice it, and, as if to disguise her first feeling of
embarrassment, she bent over the little fellow, saying, Go and shake
hands prettily with the gentleman, Joachimchen. He is a dear uncle, and
it is very kind in him to have sought out your mother again.
But the child clung timidly to her arm, and would not approach me.
Yes, it is I, Frau Luise, I stammered at last, in some confusion.
I wanted, as my way brought me near you. But you are looking so
well, Frau Luise. How do you do? You are happy, I seeand the dear
childdoes Uncle Joachim know that he bears his name? He would surely
Won't you sit down, Herr Johannes? she replied. The sofa over
yonder is very uncomfortable. Bring a chair, and let us sit near the
window. And now tell me whence you have come and what has brought you
I did as she requested, while she resumed her interrupted work and
listened intently. The child had pushed his toys aside, and, when I
held out my hand, shyly laid his soft little fingers in it. But I soon
drew him close to my side, and, ere ten minutes had passed, he was
sitting on my knee, patiently letting me stroke his hair while I
described my life.
True, I dared not make even the most distant allusion, to the one
thought around which everything else had turned in the course of the
years, and which had now brought me here. But women are sensitive, and
have the gift of reading in our eyes and catching from broken tones the
very thing we are most anxious to conceal.
She, however, did not do this.
I am heartily glad to see you again at last, dear Herr Johannes,
she replied, when I had paused. I have always valued your friendship,
and was very sorry that you had perhaps formed a false opinion of me
when I disappeared so suddenly. If you stay with us a few days, you
will see that I could not have done otherwise. My husband, too, will be
glad to make your acquaintance. I have told him about you. True, you
will not be able to judge correctly of his talent as an artist. His
surroundings are not worthy of him, and he can not appear in his best
parts in these little towns. But you will learn to value him as a man.
I made no reply. I could not tell her that I greatly doubted the
latter, and did not even desire it. My aversion to her husband was as
much a part of my reverence for her as the thorn is a portion of the
Put the boy down again, she said. You will tire the gentleman,
The little fellow had begun to pull my whiskers with his slender
fingers, which gave me great pleasure.
Let him stay, Frau Luise, I said. Shall I tell you a story,
little Joachim? Or, shall we play together?
Play! replied the dear child, and his earnest eyes sparkled. He
slid quickly from my lap and again knelt on the carpet where the little
menagerie lay, heaped in motley confusion. I sat down beside him and
began to arrange the animals in pairs on the floor, asking my little
playmate the name of each. He scarcely missed one.
He is remarkably far advanced for his age, I said to his mother,
who sat at her work, looking down at us with a quiet smile.
He has associated entirely with grown persons, she replied. I
hope it will not always be so. I shall try to obtain some companions
for him this winter. We shall then spend several months in the same
Just at that moment the door opened and her husband entered. He
paused as he saw the strange group at the window, but, when I rose, and
his wife mentioned my name, came forward with outstretched hand,
saying, in the beautiful baritone voice he used in personating his
How do you do, Herr Candidate? We are old acquaintances, for you
were among the spectators at my disastrous appearance at the castle. It
certainly was not one of my brilliant parts, and the only hand that
moved to clap, wounded me. But, for the sake of the happy afterpiece, I
still remember the day with joy and gratitude. Do I not, dear wife?
He had taken his wife's hand and raised it to his lips. I could not
help owning that his chivalrous bearing suited him admirably. Though he
had just passed his fortieth year, his appearance was still youthful
and winning; there was not a gray hair in his locks à la Hendricks
; the expression of the pale, finely-chiseled features was a trifle
self-complacent and triumphant, but unmistakably kind. Even his
conspicuous dressa short, black-velvet coat trimmed with braid,
yellow nankeen trousers, and a red-silk kerchief knotted loosely around
his throatwas becoming. One thing, however, I did not like: he nodded
to the child with sarcastic condescension, and, after a careless How
are you, lad? took no further notice of him. The boy, too, quietly
continued his play as if a total stranger had entered.
The great artist instantly asked me familiarly if I felt inclined to
change the pulpit for the stage, since it was well known that an actor
can teach a pastor. Luise had told him that I was musical; as he meant
in time to add operettas to his list of attractions, he could make me a
sort of conductor, unless I should prefer to fit myself to be an actor.
I would find it pleasant with him; his wife could bear witness that he
did not make amends for the petticoat government he was under at home
by tyranny behind the scenes.
His jesting tone did not seem to be exactly agreeable to his wife.
At least she did not enter into it, but gravely continued to mend the
crimson robe. But he was evidently in the best possible humor. While
pacing up and down the spacious room with the slow strides of a stage
hero, he cast a proud, well-satisfied glance into the mirror that hung
above the sofa every time he passed it, talked of the rehearsal from
which he had just come, and trivial annoyances which he had smoothed
according to his wishes.
You will make the acquaintance of the members of our company
immediately, he said, turning to me; and I hope you will find them by
no means the worst sort of people. We must live and let live. My wise
wife, who in the shortest possible time has transformed herself into a
perfect mother to the company, has made the arrangement that we are all
to dine together at noon, not at the hotel where food is dear and bad,
but here under her wing. At first it was inconvenient to many of them.
But they soon perceived it to be an advantage in every way. They obtain
for a very small sum, which is deducted from their salaries in advance,
good and abundant food, support themselves honestly, and contract no
debts at the hotel. Besides, we have an opportunity of discussing at
table many points concerning the evening performance which did not
occur to us at the rehearsal.
A square-built personage, with a white cap surrounding her flushed
face, entered and announced that dinner was ready.
Here, my honored friend, you see the artist who provides for our
physical supportFräulein Kunigundethe mistress of the kitchen and
larder, who in her leisure hours renders us priceless services as
mistress of the wardrobe.Fräulein Kunigunde, I have the honor to
present to you Herr Dr. Johannes, a distant relative of my wife, who
would fain convince himself whether our car of Thespis merits the
renown it enjoys in all the region where Low German is spoken. I hope
you have some nice dish for us.
The embarrassed creature courtesied silently and vanished, settling
her cap. She evidently supposed me to be some distinguished stranger,
before whom she would not willingly have appeared in her
working-clothes. The artist, after a parting look in the mirror, passed
his hand familiarly through my arm, saying: You won't object to my
suppressing your title of Candidate and promoting you to that of Doctor
in presenting you to my colleagues. Among these frivolous folk,
theology plays the part of Knecht Ruprecht, or must encounter
disrespectful badinage. Your surname, too, would give cause for
witticisms. So let us keep to the Christian one. Then it will be
thought that you consider it a duty to your aristocratic relatives to
be known on the stage only as Johannes.
I was about to protest against his taking possession of my person in
this arbitrary fashion, but he had already opened the door of the
adjoining room, and, as Frau Luise, who led the boy by the hand, cast a
glance at me as she passed, which seemed to indicate that I need not be
too rigorous, I entered without further scruple into the part thus
forced upon me, and from which I fancied I could escape at any moment.
* * * * *
The dining-room was a long apartment with three windows. Its walls
were perfectly bare, and the old white-lace curtains made them seem
still more cold and unhomelike. A narrow table, whose uneven width
betrayed that it had been formed of several sets of boards, occupied
the center; its cloth was not fine, but exquisitely clean. About
fourteen rude wooden chairs were ranged around it, all as yet
unoccupied, and the number of guests, who stood chatting together in
the window-niches, seemed still incomplete.
I was presented, as an old friend of the family and embryo student
of the dramatic art, first to a married couple, Herr and Frau Selmar,
who eyed me in unfriendly silence. These two oldest members of the
company, as I afterward learned, were in a chronic state of
dissatisfaction with everything and everybody except themselves.
Probably there is no class of persons among whom the type of character
embodying cureless, arrogant pride, may so frequently be found as amid
the older dramatic artists, whose profession compels them to attach
value to their personality, to long passionately for momentary
triumphs, and to be on their guard against any rivalry. Herr Selmar,
who took the parts of the stage fathers and blustering old men,
considered himself still young enough for the lover's rôles in which
the manager shone, and his faded wife, who years before had bewitched
all hearts by her personal charms as much as by her acting, could not
now feel satisfied to fill the characters of old women and mothers.
They had just been venting their irritation concerning some jealous
grievance to each other, and I admired the good-natured cheerfulness
with which the manager gradually soothed them. True, he was most ably
assisted in doing so by the droll quips interposed by a tall, thin man
of uncertain age, dressed in a greenish summer suit. The latter was
presented to me as Herr Laban, comedian of the company, and as, spite
of my uncomfortable mood, I could not help laughing heartily at his
quaint jests, a sort of friendly familiarity instantly arose between
us, and he took the seat next me at table.
Frau Luise sat at the head, and on a high cushion in the chair at
her right was the little boy, who managed his knife and fork very
prettily from his miniature throne. Her husband occupied the seat at
her left, then came the Selmar couple, I sat next the child, and with
tender delight rendered him all sorts of little services. A few of the
lesser lights of the company joined us, and, just as the soup was
served, a dilatory pair appeared, in whom I recognized the young man
and his companion who had attracted my attention while sitting on the
bench in front of the village tavern.
Herr Daniel KontzkyFräulein Victorine.
With a silent bow to the manager's wife, they sat down opposite to
me, and seemed to recognize my face. At least, they exchanged a few
whispered words before beginning to eat, which they did with affected
haste and indifference, entering into no conversation with any of their
colleagues. They evidently desired to give the impression that they
considered themselves far superior to their present associates, and had
only strayed among them by chance.
While the simple but very excellent food was handed aroundFräulein
Kunigunde brought in the dishes, placed them at the ends of the table,
and left those who sat nearest to pass them fartherI had time enough
to study the two youngest and most interesting members of the company.
They had improved during the five yearsat least, so far as their
personal appearance was concerned. The young man, now probably about
six and twenty, had a remarkably handsome face, whose swift play of
expression instantly betrayed the actor. I afterward learned he was the
child of a Hebrew father and a Polish mother. From the latter he
inherited the passionate fire of his eyes and the feminine delicacy of
his complexion, as well as his small hands and feet. He wore a light
summer suit of the latest fashion, and had a ruby ring on his little
finger. But, notwithstanding his soft tenor voice, his laugh was
sneering and disagreeable, and I noticed with surprise that he
sometimes cast a side glance at Frau Luise which expressed open
dislike, while her lip curled whenever their eyes chanced to meet.
Fräulein Victorine's face puzzled me still more. It revealed a
two-fold nature, at once aspiring and sordid. Nothing could be more
charming than her large, mournful gray eyes, under delicate black
brows, and her little nose seemed to have been stolen from some Greek
statue. But the mouth belied this refinement of nature. Spite of her
youth, it was flabby and prematurely withered, and, even when it
remained firmly closed, one expected nothing to issue from it save
commonplace and repulsive words. Her little figure was the daintiest,
and at the same time the most perfectly rounded that could be imagined,
and she understood how to set off its charms in the best light.
At first I was myself deluded as I watched her melting Madonna gaze
wander so disconsolately over the company, and read in it a touching
legend of lost youth and premature contempt for the world. But, as soon
as she began to whisper with her neighbor, an expression of coldness
and insolence rested on her face that was intensely repulsive to me.
I will mention here the other members of the Round Table: A
graybeard of fifty, vigorous and stoutly built, in the dress of a
workman, who was introduced to me as stage-manager, machinist, and
Inspector Gottlieb Schönickea queer fellow, who told me the very next
day that he was a misunderstood genius, and, if he were only allowed to
play King Lear once, the world would perceive what serious injustice
had been done him for years; and his neighbor, a stout, plain,
middle-aged woman, who filled the office of a prompter, but was often
pressed into the service as an actress to play women of the people,
Hannah in Mary Stuart, nay, if necessity required, even the mother of
All these worthy actors and actresses behaved during the meal like
mutes, and I thought I noticed that the presence of Frau Luise, whose
kindness they regarded as condescension, embarrassed them. The only
person whose manner displayed dignified ease was the manager himself,
who did not let the conversation drop, first discussing all sorts of
technical questions with the tall comedian, then turning to me and
asking minute questions about the present condition of theatrical
affairs in Berlin. I could not help secretly owning that he did not
lack culture and sound judgment; and a certain enthusiasm for great
models, whom he had studied on the stage, though it was expressed in a
somewhat sentimental manner, and rather too abundantly garnished with
classical quotations after the manner of actors, also did him honor.
Besides, he ate very little and very gracefully, and always offered his
wife the best pieces, which she declined with a blush.
Frau Luise said little, devoted herself to the child, and thanked me
with a half smile for my services to him.
When the delicious plums and early pears, that formed the dessert,
had been eaten, she rose from the table. A hasty May the meal do you
good! was uttered on all sides without shaking hands, and in two
minutes the whole company had dispersed. The manager, after again
kissing his wife's hand, beckoned me to accompany him. I must first of
all take you into better company, he declaimed with his sonorous
laugh. I drink my coffee every day at the club-house, where all the
rich dignitaries meet. You won't object to my taking your 'kinsman'
away from you, Luise?
She silently shook her head and dismissed me with an absent
I should have infinitely preferred to stay with her and the little
boy, who had completely won my heart. But the actor had already passed
his hand through my arm, and now led me out. Nothing was more painful
to me than this familiar contact with a man whom I had cursed a
thousand times in my heart, and who was now treating me so kindly and
frankly that I could not even have stabbed him with Macbeth's imaginary
We had scarcely reached the street, when he suddenly stopped, took
off his straw hat, and passed his large, well-shaped hand across his
I am extremely glad that you have come, Herr Doctor, he said in a
subdued voice. I don't grudge my wife a little agreeable refreshment,
such as a visit from an old friend affords.
'She is a woman, take her all in all!
We ne'er shall look upon her like again.'
But we will not conceal it from each other, she is not exactly in
her sphere among us. Her eloping with me was a piece of magnanimous
folly, which she does not repent, it is true, she is too proud for
that, and here he straightened his shoulders and replaced his hat on
his flowing locksand too happy in her marriage with me.
Nevertheless, she is an aristocrat, and the best among us have a drop
of gypsy blood in our veins. If she could have resolved to actwith
her appearance, her superb voiceI am sure that she would now be
completely absorbed by her new profession, and it would have been a
great gain to me. But nothing would induce her to do this. Now she sits
alone during the many hours that I am occupied, for the boy is a little
aristocrat, too, and so quietI would rather have had a girl, you
know. Girls can be used in the business much younger, and there is no
such need of educating them. Well, as I said, it is only for her
sakeshe is really a pearl of her sex, and never complains. But I
should like to see her shining in a suitable setting. Posterity weaves
no garlands for the actor, and his contemporaries only too often twine
for him a crown of thorns. That they wound her forehead, too, is
painful to me. I am really a kind-hearted fellow. It is not true that
genius makes people wicked and selfish. You will yet be convinced of
I replied that I should not have much time to become acquainted with
all his good qualities, as I intended to continue my journey the
In fact, all these disclosures made my heart so sore that I wished
myself a hundred miles away.
He instantly took my arm again and led me on. We will discuss that
subject further. I will not impose any restraint upon you, but, you
know, temptation is really violence, and I think you will be able to
endure our society for a few weeks at least. Come to the theatre
tonight. It is not our worst performance. True, when I think of the
difficulties with which a traveling company must contend, and how
differently I might fill the office of a priest of art, had not envy
and intrigues forced me away from the great theatres
Here he launched forth into descriptions of his former triumphs, to
which I listened with only half an ear.
I remained only half an hour in the club-room, to which he conducted
me mainly to show the distinction he enjoyed among these worthy
citizens. His game of dominoes, at which I was merely a spectator,
wearied me, and his drinking three small glasses of rum to one cup of
coffee completely destroyed my dawning good opinion of him. I pleaded a
headache, which would not allow me to endure the smoke-laden atmosphere
of the room, and, as he was entirely absorbed in a conversation with
several enthusiastic admirers, he dismissed me without opposition by
one of his royal gestures of the hand.
I sauntered in a very miserable mood through the little city and out
of the gate.
* * * * *
The day was beautiful, the air had been cooled by a light shower
while we were drinking our coffee, and the neighborhood of the little
town, with its fields and meadows dotted with fruit-trees, was well
worth seeing. But my mind was closed against the perception of anything
I could not help constantly saying to myself: So she lives here,
with this man, among these people! And she has before her a long life,
which can never again tend upward to the heights, but always downward,
slowly paralyzing the mind and soul.
For the unruffled cheerfulness of her manner at the table had not
deceived me an instant. True, the life she had led in her uncle's house
was by no means what she deserved. Yet, in those days, amid all the
oppression, all the repugnance to so much that was base, her eyes had
sparkled with joyous pride, and her head was held proudly erect on her
strong shoulders. Now it drooped slightly as though under an unseen
burden, and her large eyes often wandered to the floor as though
seeking something that was lost.
My grief for her was so intense that it even crowded the old
passionate love into a corner of my heart, especially as I had taken a
solemn vow to see in her only the wife of another. Nay, I believe, if I
had found her perfectly happy, with head erect and laughing eyes, I
would have uprooted the weeds of envy and jealousy from my poor soul
True, Uncle Joachim had said: Whatever folly a woman like her may
commit, she will not allow herself to succumb to it. He knew her well.
But how much secret misery a human being may have to endure, even
though he or she bears the inevitable with dignity.
Absorbed in these thoughts, I had walked a long distance, and was
already considering whether I should not let the Ancestress go, and
find some pretext for taking my departure that very evening, when I saw
Frau Luise herself, with her little boy, approaching me by the shady
path that led through a wood. The child was frisking merrily around his
mother, but she walked slowly with bowed head, and seemed to answer his
questions very absently. She had put on a small hat that had slipped
back from her head, and a blue sunshade rested carelessly on her left
shoulder. She came slowly forward without looking up, until the child
noticed me, and with a sudden exclamation ran to her and seized her
hand; then, with a friendly nod, she paused.
At first we talked of indifferent matters, the weather, the pretty
location of the city, and the superior fertility of the soil to that of
her native region. This brought us to the persons we had both known
there, and about whom she had been kept informed by Uncle Joachim. I
learned that my former pupil had been placed in the cadet barracks, and
that his sister was betrothed to Cousin Kasimir. Mademoiselle Suzon had
quitted the castle a few weeks after my departure, to return no more.
She passed quickly over this point, but a contemptuous curl of her
lower lip betrayed that she had been informed of the whole affair. A
young English lady had now taken the Frenchwoman's place; she did not
know whether she could play chess, but she seemed to fill her
predecessor's position satisfactorily in every other respect. Sometimes
the new pastorthe old one had gently fallen asleep in deathcame to
the castle in the evening and held devotional exercises for an hour.
Everything else remained unchanged. The veteran peacock had spread his
tail for the last time the previous winter, and she was keeping some of
his feathers as a relic.
Then for a time we relapsed into silence. The dear child walked
gravely along between us, holding a hand of each. When we came out of
the wood, we saw a meadow thickly besprinkled with autumn flowers.
Run, Joachimchen, and pick a beautiful bouquet for Uncle Johannes,
said the mother.
The child obeyed, climbing merrily over the little slope by the
He is so bright, said Frau Luise, he hears everything, and
already understands more than is well, or at least has his little
confused thoughts about all sorts of subjects. And I must tell you
something that is to remain a secret between ourselves. I have never so
thoroughly despised any one from the depths of my heart as Uncle
Achatz, and it was a punishment to me even to breathe the same air.
When I came to his houseonly a few months after my mother's deathhe
had the effrontery to persecute me with offers of love. He wished to
get a divorce and marry me. You can imagine that I longed to go out
into the wide world then; but pity for my aunt, who is a saint-like
sufferer, withheld me. During those sorrowful years I learned that man
has no other source of strength and peace than his conscience, his love
of truth, and the quiet communion with his God, who, it is true,
answers us not when we chatter to him overmuch, but when we listen in
the deepest silence. He commanded me to interfere when a good and
innocent person was shamefully insulted in my presence. 'The measure is
full!' cried a voice in my heart. 'You must no longer breathe the air
of this house, where all human dignity is trampled under foot.' So I
did what I could not help doing. I knew I was undertaking no easy task,
and those who charged me with frivolity never knew me. Now, with God's
assistance, I will perform it. And he has given me something that has
helped me through many a trying hour and will aid me year after year.
Her eyes wandered to the child, who had already gathered a handful
of flowers, and with sparkling eyes was holding them up to show them to
The dear little fellow! I said.
Yes, if I did not have him! He has never caused me a single sorrow.
He constitutes my entire happiness.
Your entire happiness, Frau Luise?
The question had scarcely escaped my lips ere I regretted it. What
right had I to tear the veil she had drawn over her fate?
But she raised it herself.
No, she said, you must not misunderstand me. The child is not the
sole blessing I possess, but he is really my only entire
happiness. You do not yet know my husband thoroughly. He is a
noble-hearted man, and would do anything for my sake, so far as he
could anticipate my wishes. But his profession makes him see the world
in a different light, and think other objects desirable. That is
usually the case between married people, and must be accepted. Have you
ever or anywhere found entire happiness? We must strive to receive the
patchwork with our whole souls, then the gaps will be filled, and, as
the words run in Faust, 'the insufficient becomes an event.' Stay with
us a few days. You will then judge many things differently.
I did not know what to answer, but a cry of terror from the boy
relieved me from my dilemma. We saw him suddenly spring aside, stumble
over a clod of earth, and fall, still holding the flowers tightly in
his little hand. I was at his side in an instant, lifted him, and saw
that an ugly fat toad, which had jumped clumsily into the ditch, had
frightened him. He was still trembling in every limb, but already
smiled again and held out the bouquet to me.
His nerves are so sensitive, said his mother, as she smoothed the
little bare head. If he could only be more in the open air. But all my
time is so occupied that I can scarcely manage to spend an hour out of
doors with him every afternoon. And his father lives so entirely in his
art that he does not see it.
She became absorbed in her thoughts, while I walked by her side,
carrying the boy in my arms. He soon climbed on my shoulders and
pretended I was his horse, till his shouts and laughter even called a
smile to his mother's grave face.
Just before reaching the city, we again walked decorously side by
side. I took my leave outside the house. Should I see her at the
theatre? No, she always remained at home and her husband went with his
colleagues to the club-room, so she could not receive me, but hoped to
see me early in the morning, or at any rate at dinner.
I dared not at once bid her farewell forever; nay, I no longer
believed I should have the courage to set out on my return the next
morning. The child had won my heart.
* * * * *
Of course I spent the evening at the theatre. The hall of the
Schützenhaus had been hastily fitted up, and for the first time I
admired Gottlieb Schönicke's skill in placing shabby and faded scenery
and properties in the best light. My free ticket admitted me to the
most desirable place, which consisted of three rows of rush-bottomed
chairs, but I purposely took my seat on one of the back benches where
the humbler folk, the tradesmen, and resident farmers of the little
town, gave themselves up to the enjoyment of the play. The house was
packed; the large receipts would have warranted a better illumination.
But it was the rule not to light more than eight lamps in the
proscenium and one on every other pilaster, and I must confess that the
illusion was more perfect than in the broad glare of the gas in the
theatres of the capital.
I do not intend to deliver a discourse on the drama, and shall avoid
adopting the style of the countless romances of theatrical life,
especially asapart from the external differences caused by the
changed methods of travelthe lives of these strolling players have
remained essentially the same since the days of Wilhelm Meister.
Besides, they are perfectly familiar to the world in general and
possess little interest. Only, for truth's sake, I must observe that
the renowned Spielberg company did honor to their name. Spite of
inadequate accessories and acting, the wonderful drama created by a
classically poetic imagination, still under the influence of romance,
exerted a fascination which even the lachrymose specter of Madame
Selmar, and the hypochondriacal, sepulchral tones of her husband, who
played Count Idenko von Borotin, could not destroy. Spielberg was a
superb Jaromir, and I now understood that his fervent chest-voice might
irresistibly charm the heart of a girl of twenty. In the scenes with
Bertha particularlywhose character, as personated by Fräulein
Victorine, had a touch of witcheryhis tones possessed a pathos that
brought storms of applause from the audience which, however, on
appearing before the foot-lights, he acknowledgedas became so great
an artistwith merely a quiet bend of the head.
During the performance his eye had discovered me in my dark corner,
and ere he left the stage he made a significant gesture as if to say,
I expect to meet you again. But this was by no means agreeable to me.
I only hated him the more because he had extorted from me some degree
of admiration; besides, I longed to be alone in order to determine
whether to go or stay.
So I let the audience quit the hall, that I might not be accosted,
with provincial courtesy, by any of the inhabitants who chanced to
notice that I was a stranger, and was the last of all to emerge into
the open air.
It was a beautiful star-lit summer night, warm and still; the only
sound was the patter of the heavy dew trickling from the branches of
the trees in the Schützen Park. I paused outside, enjoying the same
sense of comfort we have while awake in bed between two dreams, in the
consciousness that we are still enjoying our bodily existence. Only the
day before yesterday I had been sitting on the bench in the parsonage
garden, beside the dear sensitive girl from whom the sudden outburst of
the flame of a hapless attachment had driven me, and to-day I was here
amid these totally unfamiliar surroundings, with the old fire once more
burning beneath the ashes, and must again save myself by flight if I
were not to perish utterly.
I saw the actors, who meantime had changed their clothes and washed
off their rouge, emerging from a little back door, heard their loud
conversation, and once even the call for Doctor Johannes. Then the
little group dispersed under the trees toward the city, and, after a
sufficiently long interval separated us, I too set out on my way home.
Suddenly I heard a light footstep behind me, and a low, musical
voice said: Are you in such a hurry, Herr Doctor, that you can't even
look round at a defenseless lady, far less offer her your arm and your
At the same moment a hand was slipped through my arm, and by the
uncertain starlight I looked into Victorine's big, mournful eyes.
I was belated, she said, and now I am glad to still find a
companion. Besides, I should like to become a little better acquainted
with you, for at dinner, when the manager's wife is present, my mouth
feels as though it were sewed up. Come, you needn't be afraid that
anything will be thought of it, if we are seen taking this nocturnal
promenade. We sha'n't meet even a cat, and you probably care no more
what Mrs. Grundy thinks of you than I do.
Her light tone, so strangely belied by her melancholy eyes, was
extremely repulsive to me: So I answered very coldly and a trifle
I only wonder that Herr Daniel leaves the knightly service to
He! she replied, with a short laugh, which, spite of her beautiful
voice, sounded very unmusical. In the first place, he did not play
to-night, and was not even at the hall. And then, though he usually
pays me some little attention, we have had a quarrel to-day. You are
mistaken if you fancy he is in love with me. It's only old custom that
makes us keep together. His heart, such as it is, belongs to a very
May I ask?
Why not? It is an open secret. He's infatuated with Frau Spielberg,
though she's such a cold fish that it always makes me shiver merely to
look at her. She behaves, too, as if he were not in existence, and when
he gets into a rage about it he pours out his whole heart to me, and it
does him good to have me laugh at him. That is our whole relation.
Perhaps I ought not to speak to you so frankly about it. You are her
relative, and of course revere her as though she were a saint. But I
can't help it; she is insufferable to me, with her Canoness airs and
woful face the instant the company begins to be a little merry, and one
or another goes a shade too far. She ought to have kept away from the
stage. But she felt her human nature once when she threw herself into
Spielberg's arms. Why does she put on her governess manner now?
As I made no replyfeeling disgusted by these blasphemiesshe
chattered on, clinging still more closely to my arm.
You see, even you yourself can not defend her. She is a positive
injury to the manager. He used to be such a pleasant, courteous man, a
genuine artist. Now he, too, poses as a Philistine and tutor, all by
the orders of his aristocratic wife. She would prefer to have the whole
company live in the same house, like a great cloister, to be able to
continually watch over them. And most of them are cowardly or obliging
enough to submit to it. But Herr Daniel, Herr Laban, and my
insignificant self don't care for such an institution for small
children. We always lodge at the hotel, and so you have the honor of
being only three doors away from me; your room is No. 6, mine No. 2. I
hope we shall be good neighbors.
I could not command my feelings sufficiently to enter into this
light tone, so I began to speak of something entirely different, and
praisedwhich I could do with a clear conscienceher acting that
Nonsense! she interrupted, you can't be in earnest; for, between
ourselves, I played abominably to-night, I was so vexed by the scene
with Daniel, whom I had been lecturing because he confessed his
jealousy of you. Besides, I hate such sentimental parts, which
unfortunately I have to play most frequently. Before I joined
Spielberg's companyI was still very youngI was very fond of acting
the merry little coquettes, the gayer they were the better, and best of
all were parts like those of Parisian grisettes. But the manager
thought my face exactly suited the heroines of tragedy, so now I am
continually obliged to moan and roll my beautiful eyes toward heaven,
as, for instance, to-morrow in 'Cabal and Love.' I have finally become
indifferent to it, and, after all, we learn to act best the characters
most unlike our own.
I did not feel at all tempted to enter into a conversation upon the
art of acting and its higher demands with this girl. Meantime we had
reached our hotel, at whose open door the waiter received us with a
meaning face. I had evidently risen in his esteem, since I had the
honor of escorting the youthful leading lady home the very first
On our way up-stairs she said: I don't know whether I can venture
to invite you to drink a cup of tea with me. I should be obliged to
send you away in half an hour at any rate, for I must read over my part
of Luise Miller once more before I sleep.
I excused myself, on the plea that I had a letter to write. She
quietly shrugged her shoulders.
As you please, Herr Doctor, or rather, as you must. I forgot that
you are a kinsman of Frau Spielberg. So good-night, and no offense!
'Thou'rt ill, ah, return,
Return to thy room!'
she declaimed from the rôle of Bertha, then dropped me a mocking
courtesy and glided into the door of No. 2.
* * * * *
I ordered supper to be brought to No. 6, not because I was hungry,
but to show the waiter that I had not availed myself of the favor of
this envied neighbor. Then I stood a long while at the open window,
gazing out into the narrow street and at the opposite houses, the homes
of the worthy citizens who led their quiet lives so contentedly,
without dreaming of tempests like those that raged in my heart and
One light after another disappeared, the footsteps of some belated
pedestrian echoed less and less frequently from the pavement below; at
last no sound arose save the hoarse voice of the night-watchman calling
the tenth hour. The house, too, which was so slightly built that its
walls told every secret, had become perfectly still. I was just
unpacking my knapsack to make my toilet for the night, when I heard in
the corridor a stealthy step which stopped a few doors away from mine,
then a low knock, and after a short time a suppressed voice said,
Victorine. Open the door! I have something to tell you!
Of course, I could not hear the answer. The colloquy lasted some
time, the request for admittance being several times repeated,
sometimes in urgent, sometimes in coaxing tones, ere the closed door
opened and was noiselessly shut again.
The study of the rôle of Luise Miller would scarcely be pursued in
This incident had the effect of sending me to bed, firmly determined
to turn my back as speedily as possible upon a world to which I did not
belong. I woke in the morning with the same resolution, and only
hesitated whether I should be expected to take a verbal farewell or
might depart with merely a written one.
But, while I was sitting at breakfast pondering over this weighty
question, some one knocked at my door, and a personage of no less
importance than Konstantin Spielberg himself entered.
Though he had sat up till late in the night with several of the town
dignitaries and some of his colleagues, and had drunk a great deal of
liquor, he looked so fresh, so full of strength and cheerfulness, that
again I could not help admiring him. He first kindly reproached me for
having so slyly deserted him the evening before. It had been my own
loss; he would have made me acquainted with some very intelligent
people; and his colleague Laban's witticisms had been like a perfect
shower of fireworks. But I should be forgiven if I would do him a great
A favor? I asked. If only I have time to grant it. I shall leave
in half an hour.
That would be impossible in any case, he answered, arranging his
locks before the mirror. I must see him that night as the President; it
was one of his best parts, though he had resigned Ferdinand to Herr
Daniel. But, if I really had any friendly feeling for him, I must help
him out of a great difficulty. The prompter was to play Luise Miller's
mother. Gottlieb Schönicke usually filled her place on such occasions,
but owing to his carouse the night before he had become so hoarse that
he could scarcely utter an audible word. So, if the performance was to
take place, I must consent to fill this part and accompany him to the
rehearsal at once.
All reluctance and pleas of my unfitness for this responsible post
were futile. And as, in the depths of my heart, I had sought some
pretext for being compelled to stay, at least for one more
dayere I took my leave, never to returnI finally allowed myself to
be dragged away, and half an hour later was standing behind the scenes
with the prompter's book in my hand.
Tall Herr Laban greeted me very cordially, and told me he yet hoped
to see me appear in different parts. It was a pity to waste my gifts:
figure, play of expression, voice, and taste for acting, all urged me
toward the stage, and the company was in great need of new talent for
the characters which he himself, now invita Minervahe
pronounced the words with a faultless accentwas compelled to fill,
though Nature had originally intended him for a comedian.
Victorine gave me a careless nod, and studiously held aloof. Her
friend treated me with marked hostility, and was the only person who
constantly found fault with my prompting, for which the manager quietly
reproved him. Most of the members of the company performed their parts
at the rehearsal indifferently enough. Frau Selmar, however, personated
her Milford with a clear voice and through every shade of meaning, and
Laban gave an extremely clever performance of his Hofmarschall Kalb.
Gottlieb Schönicke remained invisible. Whether he was sleeping off
his intoxication, or the story of his condition was merely a fiction to
induce me to act with them, I have never been able to determine.
After the rehearsal the actors unceremoniously dispersed; the
manager had some arrangements to make in the dressing-room, and I was
no little surprised when allowed a glimpse of this holy of holies to
find only a single, tolerably large room, divided by a few screens and
a sheet hung over a rope, into two dressing-rooms, one for the men, the
other for the women. In the broad light of day all this disorderly
collection of mirrors, rouge-pots, and clothes-presses looked uncanny
enough, and I hastily beat a retreat. But, as I was passing through the
empty auditorium of the theatre, I saw with astonishment Frau Luise
sitting on one of the rear benches.
You here? I exclaimed. And absent yesterday evening? Do you
attend such unattractive rehearsals?
I never go to the theatre during the evening performances, she
answered, rising. I will not allow the suspicion that I do not
consider the acting of the company worth looking at, so I sometimes
come to the rehearsals, which also serves the purpose of enabling me to
call my husband's attention to many points when we are alone. True, it
is of little use, she added, with a resigned smile; these second-rate
people, among whom we are placed, are the very ones that have an
exalted opinion of their own talent and knowledge of art. But I feel in
a certain sense responsible for the acting of my husband, who is a
genuine artist, and I know that my opinion is not a matter of
indifference to him.
Besides, dear friend, she added, after a pause, you can not
imagine how lonely I am. So completely without society, except the
company at the dinner-table, I sometimes feel the necessity of sharing
some sphere of life, even though I might desire it to be a different
Then she thanked me for having granted her husband's request, and we
left the theatre together. On our way, while she frequently glanced
back to see if her husband were not at last following us, I told her
that I had determined to continue my journey to-day, and now positively
intended to take my departure on the morrow.
You are right, she answered. What should detain you here? You are
not fitted for these surroundings.
Then, after a pause, she added: Write to me if you change your
residence. I should always like to know where you are to be found, for
I have one earnest desire, which I have long secretly counted on you to
fulfill. When you have a parish, or a good wife, such as I desire for
you, I should be glad to put my son in your charge.
Do you intend to part with the child?
Yes, dear friend, she replied, her brows contracting with an
expression of pain. How I am to bear it I do not know. But my
resolution is fixed. He must grow up in a perfectly pure atmosphere.
While he is a child, I guard him myself. But how long will that be?
Even now it is almost impossible for me to reconcile all my duties.
When I go to the rehearsals I am compelled to trust him to Kunigunde,
who is an excellent person, but does not always take the right course
with him, and he shall not accompany me to the theatre. It would be
worse than if I were to give him brandy to drink, instead of milk.
Then we grew silent. Poor woman! a voice in my heart continually
repeated; you are indeed lonely.
Meantime we had returned to the town, and then something happened,
whose memory even now makes my heart throb faster.
When we entered the courtyard of the commandant's residence, my
companion's first glance sought the windows of her room. She suddenly
grasped my arm as if to save herself from falling, and I asked in alarm
if she were ill. But, as I looked up, a thrill of horror ran through my
frame also. For at the open window I saw the child, who had climbed out
on the sill, clinging with one little arm to the sash and stretching
out the other toward a drooping chestnut bough, whose ripening nuts had
probably roused his longing. As in his eagerness he held one little
foot suspended in the air, he seemed fairly hovering aloft with but the
feeblest support, and an icy chill crept down my back.
Suddenly I heard the mother say in her gentlest voice: Wouldn't it
be better for me to get you the beautiful chestnuts, Joachimchen? You
shall have a whole handful, if you are a good boy and climb down again
at once. Do what your mother tells you, my darling. I am coming up
directly. Then you shall show Uncle Johannes how to make a chain of
The smiling boy looked down at us, nodded to his mother, cautiously
drew first his foot and then his arm back from the giddy height, and
quickly disappeared inside the dark frame of the window.
My own heart had fairly stopped beating. When I could breathe again,
I wanted to tell my companion how much I admired her for having had
courage to repress any cry of terror that might have startled the
little one and perhaps hurled him to destruction. But the words died on
my lips, for the next instant she had thrown her arms around my neck,
and, with her face hidden on my breast, burst into such convulsive sobs
that I was forced to exert all my strength, to support the tall, noble
figure in its helpless emotion.
She did not regain her self-control until we heard steps in the
gateway, then, still clinging to my arm, she hurried into the rear
building and up the stairs. Not a word about it to anybody! she
whispered. At the top she stood still, panting for breath, and passed
her hand over her eyes. At last she rushed to her room, on whose
threshold the child met her, and clasped her sole happiness in her arms
with a cry of rapture in which all the pent-up excitement of the
mother's heart found utterance.
When, soon after, her husband entered, nothing but her unwonted
pallor and a tremor, which still ever and anon ran through her limbs,
could have betrayed to him that anything unusual had occurred. He,
however, in his jovial self-satisfaction, was so exclusively absorbed
in himselfhaving just purchased a new neck-tie which he meant to wear
at dinnerthat he noticed no change in her. And there was no one else
at the table who took any special heed of her, except a young girl of
fourteenthe daughter of the Selmar couplewho had been too ill to
appear at dinner the day before. She went to Frau Luise, pressed her
hand affectionately, and anxiously asked if she were well. Oh!
perfectly well, replied the happy mother, smiling, as she kissed the
girl's cheek and inquired about her own doings. The dinner passed off
very much like the one of the previous day, except that the manager
regretted he could not drink my health in a glass of wine as a token of
gratitude for my admirable prompting. But the rigid law of the
household prohibited all spirituous drinks until the eveningand he
cast a glance of comic terror at his wife.
I saw that she found it difficult to maintain her assumed
cheerfulness, and when we rose her knees trembled. So I suggested in a
low tone that she should lie down for a time and trust the boy to me
for the afternoon. She assented with a grateful glance and pressure of
When, at the end of a few hours, I brought the childwith whom I
had formed the closest friendshipback to his mother, I found her
sitting by the very window at which she had gazed with so much horror.
She was still quiet and pale, like a person just recovering from a
dangerous illness, but I had never seen her look more beautiful and
charming, and felt that the duty of self-defense required me to take
leave of her now. I could not come to her room after the play, so we
shook hands without uttering what was oppressing each heart; I kissed
the child, for the last time as I supposed, and, in a mood well worthy
of compassion, left these two beloved beings expecting never to see
* * * * *
When the evening performances ended, amid great applausewhich most
of the company had honestly deserved, even Victorine, whose Madonna
eyes were obliged to make up for the deficiencies in her soul, while
Daniel's acting, in its fervent sensual vehemence, if it did not depict
the German stripling, presented a very attractive young hotheadI
attempted to again slip out unnoticed, but was detected by the
manager's watchful eye, and, as tall Laban joined him, was helplessly
carried off between them and dragged to the club-room. Protest as I
might, Spielberg insisted upon treating me, and while doing so
presented me to his acquaintances in the little town with great
ceremony as a young dramatic student, whom he hoped to secure for his
own stage. Meantime, one bottle of doubtful red wine followed another,
and while I took a very moderate share I marveled at the celerity with
which the great actor emptied one glass after another at a single
draught, without the slightest flush appearing on his face. During all
this time his stories of various events in his theatrical career seemed
inexhaustible, and his frank delight in his own genius sparkled so
innocently in his eyes, that it was impossible to feel vexed with him
or avoid listening with a certain interest to his marvelous anecdotes,
as one would to the tales of the Arabian Nights.
At last the regular guests had all dispersed, even Laban had
departed, but the great actor still detained me and made a sign to the
sleepy waiter, upon which he instantly set a bottle of champagne upon
the table. It's no-use, cousin, he said, in a sonorous bass voice,
which, it is true, now sounded a little husky; we have a solemn act to
perform. I have vowed not to go to bed until I have drunk to a pledge
of fraternity with you in foaming sack. Come and pledge me! You are a
fine fellow, only you haven't yet found it out yourself. When you have
been in my company a few weeks, you will strip off the chrysalis and
wonder at yourself as your wings bear you from flower to flower. Even
if you often fly too near a light and scorch yourself a little, that is
better than your pastoral tepidity. Your health, my heart's brother!
Let us drink eternal friendship!
Spite of my intense reluctance, I could not avoid his cordial
embrace. Then he grew quieter, and, with apparent business-like
gravity, began to discuss the capacity in which I was to enter his
company. He spoke of new pieces its members were to study, the revision
of older ones, for which he himself lacked time, and finally of his
plan for including light operas in his repertory, for which he could
not dispense with a conductor.
I listened without protesting, save by interjections and shrugs of
the shoulders. Meantime, he emptied the bottle almost alone and called
for a second, but I rose and resolutely declared I was going home.
A plague on all cowardly poltroons! he cried, staggering to his
feet. Virtue exists no more! Then followed a torrent of classical
quotations in a voice that made the windows rattle. Yet his gait was so
unsteady that I hastily sprang forward to support him. When we were in
the dark street, he passed his arm around my shoulders and tottered
along the road like a blind man. Say nothing to her about it,
brother, he stammered, nothing about the champagne. She hates
champagne, though in other respects she's a good wife; it's pure
jealousy, ha! ha! She thinks my heart belongs to the Widow Clicquota
worthy dame, in truth, who never reads me a curtain-lecture, but her
purse must be filled with gold if we want to win her favor, ha!
ha!and the father of a family, you know. Never get married, brother!
'Long hair, short wits,' and he began to sing the champagne aria in
the midst of the death-like silence of the Goose-Market.
When, with some difficulty, I at last succeeded in getting him up
the stairs to his lodgings, he became as still as a mouse, and trembled
from head to foot. Don't tell her! were the last words he whispered.
Then, forcing himself to stand erect, he gently opened the door.
Good-evening, my angel, he stammered, and was going up to her to
embrace her. She silently rose and looked at him with a sorrowful gaze,
which suddenly seemed to sober him. Well, well, he said, it's hardly
one o'clockwe don't act to-morrowI've done a good business, too,
haven't I, cousin? He'll stay with us, sweetheart; I've engaged him as
dramatist and conductor, at a monthly salary of twelve thalers for the
presentthat will please you, I think. But now good-night, cousin! I'm
perfectly sober, only I couldn't tell the town how one becomes
President. So I'm going to take a long sleep, for the torture of the
day was great.
Amid all the confusion of his brain, he still retained sufficient
chivalrous courtesy to take his wife's hand and kiss it. Then he
staggered through the side door into the sleeping-room, and we could
hear him fall on the bed without undressing.
I cast a hasty glance at his wife, who stood gazing into vacancy.
Good-night, Frau Luise, I said. You will see me again to-morrow.
Certainly. To-morrow, and every day until you yourself send me
away. Perhaps I may yet make myself useful herethough not as
* * * * *
After that night I no longer led my own life.
My existence seemed only valuable when I made myself a slave, soul
and body, in Frau Luise's service, coming to her aid wherever her own
grand and lofty strength failed.
In reality I was making no sacrifice by this self-abnegation. For,
as I have already confessed, my own aims and purposes had vanished, as
a light on which a nocturnal traveler depends suddenly proves a
will-o'-the-wisp, and flickers into a marsh mist. I felt averse rather
than inclined to enter a pulpit, and I had not sufficient love or
talent for any art or science to induce me to devote my life to it.
Clearly, as though written on the wall by some spectral hand, the
sentence stood before me: You are a mediocre man from whom the world
has nothing to hope in the way of happiness or enlightenment. Rejoice
if some good human being can warm his hands by your little flame.
I also perceived the correctness of my opinion by the fact that this
discovery, instead of wounding me, created a sense of peace I had
hitherto lacked. Rarely have I awaked in a mood so joyous, feeling as
it were new-born, as on the morning after I had placed myself at the
service of this noble woman. And the difficulties in regard to my
former occupation which still embarrassed me were to be dispelled in
the simplest way.
With my breakfast a letter was brought in, which had been forwarded
from the estate I had left, as I had said I should remain in this place
for several days. A former fellow-student, a very admirable and
intelligent man, wrote that some weakness of the throat compelled him
to give up his profession as a preacher. Until he could determine how
to shape his future life, he desired to seek a position as tutor in a
family, and begged me to aid him as far as possible. I instantly wrote
to my employer, informing him that I could not return to his house for
reasons which at present I could disclose to no one, but which he would
certainly approve if I could ever confide the whole truth to him. At
the same time I proposed in my place the college friend, for whose
character and education I could amply vouch.
I took leave of him and his whole family, who had become so dear to
me, and requested him to send my property to me except the books, which
I would leave for the present in my successor's care. Then I wrote a
few cordial lines to my friend the pastor. As I added the farewell
message to his dear daughters, the sorrowful face of the eldest again
appeared before me in the most vivid hues, and her earnest eyes seemed
to say: You do not know what happiness you are losing.
But I was proof against any temptation to return.
Early that very morning I hurried to Herr Spielberg's rooms. He
received me in a Turkish dressing-gown, with his brightest face, and,
when I inquired how he had slept, answered, laughing: You probably
expected to find me a quiet fellow, cousin. But you must know that
champagne and I are on the best of terms. When we do fall out, however,
champagne always gets the worst of it; or to quote Julius Cæsar:
'We were two lions litter'd in one day,
And I the elder and more terrible.'
But, good-morning. I hope you haven't slept off overnight what we
arranged yesterday. How much salary did I promise you? I don't
remember. But I won't play the rogue to you at any rate.
I told him that I would remain only on two conditions: first, that I
should have entire liberty to do nothing except what I felt competent
to accomplish; and secondly, that there should never be any question of
wages. I had saved enough, during my three years as a tutor, to live
without earning anything for a time.
He made no reply, only shook his ambrosial locks thoughtfully and
struck my shoulder with his hand, like a prince accepting the homage
and service of a vassal. Then he called his wife, who was in the
adjoining room, dressing the boy.
She entered with her usual calm expression and, avoiding my eyes,
held out her hand. The boy ran to me and threw his arms around my neck.
What do you say, dear, cried the artist, he has really determined to
stay. Of course, it is solely on your account, for he would not throw
up his profession for my sake. Well, I hope you will treat him kindly.
'This ladno angel is from sin more free,
Craving thy favor, I commend to thee.'
With these words he rose, smiling, leaving me to decide whether the
quotation referred to my character of Fridolin, or to Joachimchen, who
expressed great delight on hearing that Uncle Johannes would take him
to walk immediately.
After her husband had left the room, Luise came to me and said in a
low tone: I can not approve your decision, Johannes. But I am so weary
that I have not the strength to combat it.
* * * * *
I shall avoid giving a minute description of the time that now
followed. No one can feel disposed to pursue the destinies of such a
strolling company, the alternations of good and evil fortune, or the
coming and going of its members, in greater detailnay, even for
theatrical history the list of its plays would have no value, as it was
not at all regulated by the spirit of the time, nor even by the
fashion, but patched together from new stock and shabby rubbish, as
chance and the difficulties of stage-setting permitted.
During the first few months the enterprise remained in about the
same stage of prosperity as I had found it. Then, by the withdrawal of
the Selmars and their charming daughter, it fell several degrees, soon
rose again by advantageous engagements, and then declined in
consequence of our worthy stage-manager's being made helpless for
months by a fall from a high scaffold. These fluctuations corresponded
with the ebb and flow in the cash-box, and, but for the wise economy of
the manager's wife, there would often have been a failure in the
payment of salaries. But the name of Spielberg always possessed
sufficient attraction to fill the house tolerably well, and make amends
for the recreant members. The most faithful were those from whom I
should have least expected loyaltyLaban, who, with all his apparent
frivolity and jesting, felt a sincere and warm reverence for Frau
Luise, and the young couple, whose stay, it is true, was due to less
honorable traits of character.
How they were to regard me, and in what manner my position as
dramatic maid of all-work was to be interpreted, at first caused them
much perplexity. They soon learned that I was not working for money. My
sole pecuniary profit consisted in my paying no board, as Frau Luise
would not permit any other arrangement, and occasionally, when lodgings
for all could be hired, I was not allowed to pay for my sleeping-room.
In return, I made myself as useful as I could, coached green beginners
in their parts, sometimes stood at the side-scenes or crouched in a
subterranean box with the prompter's book in my hand, copied parts,
arranged plays so that ten characters could be compressed into six, and
only drew the line of my services at the one point of obstinately
refusing to undertake to act any part, no matter how trivial.
At first they attributed this to arrogance, of which, spite of his
unassuming helpfulness, they credited the doctor with a large share.
But, after I had once told them that I cherished too lofty an idea of
art to sin against it by bungling work, I rose no little in their
esteem, and even Spielberg, who never ceased saying that I was a genius
in disguise, let me alone.
The suspicion that I was following the company as a secretly favored
admirer of the manager's unpopular wife had of course at first
suggested itself, even to the better natures among them. But the calm
irony with which the great artist crushed all allusions to such a
relation did not fail to produce its effect, as well as the perfectly
unembarrassed demeanor of the suspected woman herself, and my own
Fridolin countenance, which expressed anything rather than the secret
triumph of a favored lover.
And, indeed, I was not on a bed of roses.
Not to mention that I was forced to purchase the happiness of being
daily in her society, and making myself indispensable to her by a
hundred little services, at the cost of witnessing her suffering,
which, it is true, she bore like a heroine, but which nevertheless
constantly consumed her strength and youthit was a most painful thing
to be compelled to witness her husband's steady progress toward the
ruin to which the unfortunate man opposed less and less resistance. At
first I had endeavored not to lose sight of him after the play was
over, strivingin the outset with mild, afterwards with the most
earnest remonstrancesto recall him from his fatal passion. As he had
a gentle, yielding nature, I succeeded several times in doing so. But
Daniel, who with fiendish cold-bloodedness played the part of his evil
genius, soon made him disloyal to his best resolves and vows, so, at
the end of a few weeks, I was forced to let the evil pursue its course.
For a time the leonine constitution of which he boasted resisted the
effects of his nocturnal debauches, at least so far that no traces of
them were visible the following morning. Then, in the consciousness
that he stood in need of forgiveness, he was courteous and affectionate
throughout the day, like a little boy who fears punishment, and paid
his wife all sorts of charming little attentions.
But as his weakness gained more and more control, and his nervous
strength began to fail, he no longer took any trouble to deceive us
about his condition, and instead of showing repentance and
embarrassment, after spending half the day in bed suffering from the
effects of his intoxication, he tried to conceal his evil conscience
under an air of boastful defiance, and bluntly declared that genius
required great stimulants, and need not be restrained by Philistine
Of course, with such irregularities, which soon became the rule, no
firm, careful management of the company was possible. By degrees all
business cares and responsibilities were shifted to my insignificant
self. It was enough if the sick lion crawled out of his den an hour
before the performance, rolled his bloodshot eyes in front of the
mirror, and then made his somewhat husky but all the more tragic voice
resound through the theater till the puzzled spectators left the house
with the acknowledgment that he had roared well again, and no one
could easily outdo him in shaking his mane.
Nevertheless, in this disorder, the company lost its power of
attraction more and more, and were obliged to change from place to
place more frequently, and these numerous journeys increased the
expenses and demoralized the members. I did what I could to stay the
ruin, and, besides a silent clasp of the hand from the woman I loved, I
was rewarded by the confidence and devotion of most of my colleagues.
Only two, who watched the mischief with quiet malice, showed me their
aversion more openly, the more honestly I tried to save the tottering
car of Thespis from breaking down.
These two, of course, were Daniel and Victorine.
For a long time the cause of their evident dislike was a mystery to
me. For the insolent young fiend could not long suppose that he had
been supplanted in the favor of the object of his secret worship by the
faithful squire, and his publicly-acknowledged sweetheart, disagreeable
as she was to me, I treated with the utmost courtesy. The real purpose
of both, and the reason I stood in their way, did not dawn on me until
Daniel's passion for the pure and proud woman was of the nature of
those feelings with which fallen angels survey their former heavenly
companions. He could not forgive her being so unapproachably far above
him. To drag her down, gloat over her humiliation, take vengeance for
the coldness with which she passed his hellish ardor bythis was the
diabolical idea that haunted him day and night. He well knew it was
madness to hope for its attainment so long as our wandering life
pursued its usual course. But, if everything were thrown into
confusion, the husband utterly ruined, the wife overwhelmed by poverty
and despair, he relied on conquering the helpless woman, and, with
Satanic energy, grasping her when mentally broken down as his sure
prey. Whoever strove to check this development of the tragedy he could
not fail to hate.
He had such power over Victorine that she shared this moodthough
the infernal plot affected her too. Besides, I had made her forever my
foe by remaining wholly indifferent to her charms. I will pass over the
proofs I might bring forward, not because I am ashamed of my rôle
of Joseph, but, even without this, I shall have occasion to speak of
myself more than is agreeable to me.
* * * * *
I should have led no enviable existence, had not Heaven itself
provided some consolation and strengthened my heart.
Whenever we settled for a few months in one of the larger cities, I
always obtained a piano, which was placed in Frau Luise's room, or, if
there was no space there, in the dining-roomshe still maintained the
rule of having the meals in common, though the Round Table constantly
dwindledand here we passed our only hours of pure, unshadowed
happiness. For, when she sang and I accompanied her, the narrow walls
seemed to expand, the earth, with everything base and unlovely it
contained, to sink beneath us, while we ourselves floated in a sunny
atmosphere where everything was harmony and peace, love and hope, and
every wound that bled secretly healed at once as though touched by the
hand of some enchanter.
We did not permit ourselves this delight daily, only on Sundays and
when, for some reason, there was no acting. The boy, meantime, sat in a
little chair and never turned his eyes from his mother while she sang;
or I took him on my knee while I played the accompaniment, and he gazed
wonderingly at the keys. At last I began to give him a few lessons on
the piano, and was amazed to see how easily he understood everything.
Oh, that child! He became more and more the one unalloyed delight of my
life, for unmixed happiness in the society of his mother was impossible
Afterward, during my long life as a teacher, I had an opportunity to
observe many hundred boys, and to this companionship I owe a thousand
pleasures. But neither before nor after did I ever meet a child like
He was no prodigy in the usual acceptance of the word. No technical
talent, no intellectual gift developed with extraordinary power or
precocity, and, even in musicthe only instruction I began in his
sixth year to give him regularlyhe made no remarkable progress. But
the quality this young creature possessed to a far greater degree than
other children of his age, was the subtlety and accuracy of his mental
perceptions, by which he infallibly distinguished truth from
semblancea, if I may so express it, moral clairvoyance which enabled
him to give the most striking opinions of persons and things without
any precocious conceit. No trace of child-like vanity, no desire for
praise, marred this innocent faculty of his soul. He was like a clear
mirror, which reflected in their real outlines the images of everything
that surrounded him. Any one whom he loved was sure to be pure and
good; for everything base and sordid, though it approached him under
the most flattering guise, instantly repelled him.
Yes; there was a well-spring of cheerfulness in this little human
being which, in proportion to the delicacy of his physical condition,
became the more refreshing to him and those who best loved him. His
thoughtful views of the world, and the luster of the large eyes in the
little palid face, would have roused our anxiety, had not shouts of
mirth often issued from the narrow chest, while even in his quieter
moments there was no trace of sickly peevishness or weariness. The
little naughtinesses, almost invariably seen in an only child who is
deeply loved and spoiled, were foreign to his nature. A sign, a word
would guide him. It was only in the society of other children that I
frequently perceived a shade of reserve and fretfulness in his manner,
so I persuaded his mother not to force him into their companionship. On
the other hand, he was all the more vivacious, even to the verge of
ungovernable delight, when we took him out to walk. He chased all the
butterflies, made friends with all the little dogs he met, and, mounted
on a hobby-horse, galloped along, swinging his little riding-whip.
Everybody loved him, though he was very chary of his caresses. He was
shy only with his own father.
Often at dinnerthe only time he spent a whole hour with himI saw
him fix a watchful gaze upon Spielberg, just when the latter in his
most radiant mood was pouring forth high-sounding speeches about art
and artists. The boy never uttered a word, though often, to the delight
of the others, he made one of his quaint, penetrating remarks to some
member of the company. Never, either to me or his mother, did he
mention his father's name. But the latter, whose face always beamed
with the consciousness that he was impressing every one, evidently
avoided meeting the child's eyes, and, when he felt their gaze on him,
became so confused that he often hesitated in the middle of a sentence
and lapsed into silence. I do not remember, during all the time that we
lived together, a single instance when he showed the boy any
tenderness, or troubled himself in the least about him.
* * * * *
I had agreed with Frau Luise that, on account of the child's
delicate constitution and sensitive nerves, he ought to be guarded from
all mental excitement, though he was now six years old, an age when
children usually begin to Study the alphabet and primers. To train him
in the use of his hands, I gave him easy lessons in drawing, which he
greatly enjoyed, let him practice daily half an hour on the piano, and
sing with his clear little voice intervals and simple songs. During our
walks I told him Bible stories, which, whatever may be thought of their
historical value, oughtas the most venerable traditions from the
earliest days of the Christian worldto be given every child for his
journey through life, as well as the fairy lore of our nation.
Yet I was obliged to limit even this elementary instruction, because
the boy's unusually vivid imagination transformed everything which was
intended merely to serve for amusement into solid food for his mind.
For instance, he became as much excited over the history of Joseph and
his brothers as a grown person would have been by a novel. I directed
his thirst for knowledge exclusively to natural objects, so far as my
defective education in this department permitted, and everything seemed
to be going on admirably when a slight attack of fever roused our
The company had settled in one of the larger cities on the shore of
the Baltic, where they were doing an excellent business. So the plan of
instantly departing, and perhaps breaking up the threatening disease by
a change of climate, could not be entertained. Besides, the physician,
whom the mother questioned, did not consider the case serious,
attributed all the symptoms to the child's rapid growth, and prescribed
a different diet and certain strengthening measures which seemed to
have a good effect.
We had formerly divided the care and training of the boy in such a
way that he was never left a moment without his mother or myself. Now
she would not allow me to take her place except for an occasional
half-hour, and even at dinner remained in her room, while we were
served by Kunigunde. For a long time she had given up the sleeping-room
to her husband's sole use, and contented herself with an uncomfortable
couch made up every night on the sofa, while the child's little bed
stood close by her side.
He could not be allowed to see the condition in which his father
usually returned at midnight.
One morning she received me with an anxious face. Joachimchen was
reluctant to leave his bed, complained of headache, and did not want
his breakfast. The doctor, whom I instantly summoned, soothed her as
much as he was able. The fever had not increased, perhaps some childish
disease was coming on, which would produce a favorable change in his
whole physical condition. He prescribed some simple remedy, and we felt
a little relieved.
He became no worse in the evening. But I had told Spielberg that I
could not perform my duties that night, and, as the play had been acted
hundreds of times, I really was not needed behind the scenes.
When at ten o'clock I felt the pulse of the child, who was lying in
an uneasy slumber, I thought there was no occasion to fear a bad night,
and persuaded his mother to lie down in order to save her strength. I
would sit up a few hours longer, as I had some alterations to make in a
new play, which was then creating a sensationI believe it was the
Son of the Wildernessin order to adapt it to the scanty strength of
My room in the private house where we had taken lodgings was on the
same floor as the manager's, and I could be summoned by the faintest
call. But for several hours everything remained quiet, and I was just
thinking that I might venture to go to bed when I heard the drunkard's
heavy footstep on the stairs. He had wished the sick child a good
night's rest, with evident sympathy, and even now seemed to remember
that he must enter softly. Nor did it surprise me that he did not go
directly to his own sleeping-room as usual, but gently raised the latch
of his wife's door. He wants to inquire how the boy has rested, I
I had just closed my book and was preparing to retire for the night
when I heard the door of Frau Luise's room thrown open, Spielberg's
voice faltering unintelligible words, and shrill moans and cries for
help from the boy which sent a thrill of terror through every nerve.
But I had no time to reach my door, for at the same instant it was
flung wide open, and the unfortunate mother, clad only in the white
dressing-gown in which she was in the habit of lying down when
Joachimchen needed any special care, darted in, her face death-like in
its pallor, holding the wailing child in her arms.
Protect us! Save the child! she cried, with a terrified gesture,
and as she rushed to my bed, drew back the curtains and hastily laid
the boy, whose slender frame was convulsed with sobs, on it, she
whispered, with a glance of intense fear: He will follow us! Bolt the
door! O, God, this too!
She had thrown herself on her knees beside the bed, clasping her
darling's quivering form closely in her arms, pressing her lips to the
little pale face, and murmuring in confused words that he must be
quiet, nobody would hurt him or his mother, he had only been dreaming,
now he must go to sleep again, and his mother and Uncle Johannes would
stay with him all night.
The child did not cease moaning, struggled into a sitting posture in
her arms, and cast an anxious glance around the room as if he feared a
pursuer. And in fact some one knocked at the door, but very timidly,
and, as none of us answered the request to open it, silence followed,
and we heard the steps retire and the door of Spielberg's room open and
But there was no improvement in the child's condition. He tossed
convulsively to and fro, his eyes rolled without any sign of
intelligence, and his face burned with fever.
I will get the doctor, Frau Luise, I said. I hope it is only a
crisis. She made no reply, but gazed fixedly at the little one's
distorted features, and endeavored by her embrace to control the
convulsions that shook the slight frame.
We found them still in the same state when I at last brought the
The worthy man, who felt the most sincere reverence for the poor
mother, made every effort to conceal his alarm. When, after a few
hours, during which he had watched the very trivial success of his
remedies, he took his leave, promising to return early in the morning,
and I lighted him down the stairs, he pressed my hand with a heavy
sigh. Poor woman! he said. The child does not suffer at all; it is
not conscious. But how the mother is to bear
So you have no hope
There is inflammation of the brain, more severe than I have often
witnessed. But nature is incalculable. Do you know how it happened that
his condition changed for the worse so suddenly?
I answered in the negative. It was not until long afterward that I
learned what had occurred in the brief interval between the father's
entrance and the mother's flight.
Spielberg had returned home with a clearer head than usual. When he
entered his wife's room, she half arose from the sofa and laid her
finger on her lips. By the light of the dim night-lamp he approached
the child's bed, softly touched the little sleeping face, gazed at it a
short time, and then turned to his wife, whispering: He is doing
admirably. She merely nodded, and when, in an impulse of his old
tenderness and sympathy with her anxiety, he held out his hand, she
kindly returned the clasp. He sat down on the edge of the bed and told
her in a low tone that the play had been much applauded and the
receipts large. When she asked him to go to rest, as talking might
disturb the child, he answered that he was not tired, but felt inclined
to have a short chat with his beloved wife. When she shook her head, he
moved nearer, and, putting his arm around her, begged her to go into
the next room with him for a little while. It was so long since they
had had a confidential talk, and there was rarely time for one during
the day. The more he urged, the more firmly she declined, till he
finally threw both arms around her and whispered: If you don't come
voluntarily, I will use force! You are my wife!
Then, as she resisted with desperate strength, he fairly lifted her
up and was carrying her away, when a shriek from the child's bed
suddenly made him loose his hold. The boy was sitting up, staring with
dilated eyes at the nocturnal scene, and stretching out his little arms
as if to aid his defenseless mother. The next instant he had sprung
from the bed, climbed on the sofa by his mother's side, and, thrusting
his father away with his little clinched hands, screamed: You sha'n't
kill my mother! Go away! You sha'n't hurt her! till, exhausted by
terror, the chivalrous child succumbed to a severe attack of fever.
* * * * *
The boy lay in the same condition all night, without a single
interval of consciousness. We had not removed him to his own little
bed; my room, situated at the end of the corridor, was quieter than his
mother's. Neither of us left him. His father had come in early in the
morning, but, as he found the child apparently calm and received only
curt answers from his wife, who did not vouchsafe him a single glance,
he soon went away again. For the first time his unshadowed
self-complacency had deserted him. He hung his head like an unjustly
accused criminal before the judge, whom he can not hope to convince of
The physician had returned very early. He uttered no word of
discouragement, but his troubled face, after he had examined the child,
so oppressed my heart that I could not even venture to ask a question.
But when I went out with him he pressed my hand, whispering: If he
survives the nightbut we must be prepared for everything.
The actors, who were all very fond of the little fellow, stole to
the door, tapped gently, and asked me for news of him. The only one who
entered the room was Daniel. He bowed silently to Frau Luise, and then
stood a long time at the foot of the bed; but, after a hasty glance at
the little invalid, he fixed his glowing dark eyes on the mother, who,
still robed just as she had fled to me yesterday, sat beside the child,
now hovering between life and death. At first she took no more notice
of the intruder than of anything else that was passing around her.
Suddenly she seemed to feel his scorching gaze, and looked up; the
blood crimsoned her pale cheeks, and she flashed a single glance at the
man she so detested. His head sank, as if he had been struck by an
arrow, and he glided on tiptoe out of the room.
Victorine alone did not appear. She had never showed any affection
for the child, and, besides, was to have a benefit that night, for
which she wished to freshen her costume by many little devices.
No one thought of dinner. Kunigunde brought Frau Luise some food,
which she did not touch. I myself hastily swallowed a few mouthfuls in
the kitchen. Spielberg, who after the rehearsal had again inquired for
the child, went to the hotel with the others.
So the evening approached. The boy's condition remained unchanged,
except that the fever increased, and every remedy used seemed
powerless. After a bath, however, which the doctor himself helped to
give, he seemed somewhat quieter, and lay still and pale in my large
bed, the dear little face only occasionally distorted by a slight
The father entered in street dress. For the first time his wife
looked at him, and her lips parted in a questionher voice sounded
hoarse and hollow after her long silence.
Are you going to act to-night, Konstantin?
He went up to the child and touched its pale forehead.
He is better. His forehead is perfectly cool. I will come back as
soon as the play is over.
He is not better. If, meanwhile
She could not finish the sentence.
He looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders and turned away to hide the
tears the unhappy mother's voice brought into my eyes.
If I could be of any assistance here, he said, hesitatingly; it
costs me a hard struggle to leave you, but you will find that the night
will pass quietly, and to-morrow we shall be relieved of all anxiety.
To-morrow! she repeated, dully. You are right; to-morrow we shall
be relieved of all anxiety.
Turning abruptly away, she bowed her face on the pillow of the
little boy, whose chest was beginning to heave painfully.
The artist had already gone to the door, but stopped, saying: Since
you prefer it, I will give up the performance. I am so agitated that it
would be a poor piece of acting; and thenif he is reallyno, it is
better so. They must do as well as they can. Farewell!
I felt how deeply each one of these careless words wounded her. But
no sound or look betrayed that she was conscious of anything save her
Yetwhen, half an hour later, a boy brought a note in which was
scrawled in pencil, I had entirely forgotten that it is Victorine's
benefit. Unfortunately, it has been impossible for me to induce her to
give me up, and, besides, we have a very crowded house. Let us bear the
inevitable with dignity. KonstantinI saw by the gesture of loathing
with which she crushed the sheet and flung it into the corner, that the
wife possessed a vulnerable spot as well as the mother.
Still she uttered no word of comment, and the next moment seemed to
have entirely forgotten it.
For the brief armistice produced by the bath had expired. The last
struggle began. It lasted only a few hours, then all was over. The
brave little heart had ceased to beat.
The mother sat like a statue of despair beside the bed, holding the
little white hand, which no current of blood would ever again warm, and
gazing fixedly at the closed eyelids and livid mouth distorted by pain
that would never more utter any merry words. It was as still around us
as though the night was holding its breath, in order not to rouse the
mother's agonized heart from its beneficent stupor. I had thrown myself
into a chair in a dark corner, and felt as though I were sinking deeper
and deeper into the bottomless abyss of the vast enigma of the world.
From time to time I was forced to struggle with the temptation to
rise, go to the poor woman, fall on my knees before her, and plead:
Keep your heart firm that it may not break. If you follow him into the
grave, I shall perish too.
But I conquered this selfish impulse. What mattered what happened to
me! What mattered anything, since this child no longer breathed!
The window stood open, the still night airit was early in
Junestole into the room, but, as the house stood in a quiet side
street, rarely bore with it the sound of a human voice or a passing
footstep. The play must be over, and, with silent indignation, I
expected to see the artist return home to-night in the same condition
as yesterday. But I had done him injustice.
His footstep echoed from the street below as firm and full of
stately majesty as when he trod the boards in his most exalted
characters. Beside it was another, which I should instantly have
recognized as Daniel's elastic tread, even had not his voice been
audible also. The words were unintelligible. But he must have been
telling some amusing story, for his companion's resonant laugh
interrupted him several times. They did not cease talking till they
reached the door of the house.
His wife started at the sound of the laugh, and rose. The little
lifeless hand slipped from her clasp. She passed her other hand over
her brow and her lips moved, but I did not understand what she was
saying, and I only saw that her eyes were sullenly fixed on the floor.
Her husband entered softly. O, God! he exclaimed, as he glanced at
the bed. It is over! He pondered a moment to find something to say to
his wife, then with a deep groan went to the boy and was about to bend
over him. But he started back as the mother suddenly stood before him,
with her tall figure drawn up to its full height.
You shall not touch him, she said, in a harsh, hollow tone. Go,
at oncewe have nothing more in common with each other. May God
forgive you for what you have done! Go, go! she repeated, in a louder
tone, as he made a gesture of entreatyI will not bear one word from
youhereby this bedin this hour
Luise! he exclaimed wildly.
Hush! she replied sharply, I pity us both, you as well as myself.
I know you do what you cannot avoid. But go, go! Something is rising in
my soulsomething terrible. If I should see you before me longer,
poorcomedian, I might utter words I should repent to-morrow.
Spielberg tottered out of the room. But, as soon as he had closed
the door behind him, his wife sank down beside the couch of her dead
child, and a convulsive sob burst from her sorrow-laden heart.
* * * * *
(Here in the manuscript follow several pages, in which a detailed
account is given of everything that happened during the next few days.
After so many years, every little circumstance was still present to the
narrator, and his grief for the boy, his sympathetic insight into the
soul of the hapless mother, burst forth with such renewed strength that
he felt a sorrowful relief in again conjuring up, incident by incident,
these melancholy recollections. But we will not take up the thread
again until after the earth has closed over the little coffin, which
was wholly concealed under the garlands bestowed by the actors and some
kind people among the inhabitants of the little town. The mother, who
could not be prevented from walking in the funeral procession, had
watched with tearless eyes, as if they were burned out, her entire
happiness placed in the gravethe father had displayed a pathetic
emotion, whose extravagance touched no one. The next evening a comedy
was again played, and the great artist did not miss a word of his
* * * * *
The fortunate star of the renowned company of artists seemed to have
vanished when the child's eyes closed.
The audiences at the theater daily diminished, two of the most
useful and indispensable members broke their contract and left the
manager in great embarrassment, he himself, after having exerted some
little self-control during the first period of mourning, plunged still
more madly into his nocturnal carouses, and, when I earnestly
remonstrated, asserted with tragic affectation that he had no other
means of drowning his grief. Recently he had even smuggled a bottle of
strong liquor into the dressing-room, contrary to his own rule,
prohibiting the use of wine or spirituous drinks of any kind during the
performances. So it happened that he sometimes declaimed his lines with
a stammering tongue, and lost the last remnant of his authority over
his company and effect upon the public.
I watched the increasing trouble with deep anxiety; but the mute
abstraction in which the unhappy wife passed her days tortured me still
more. At last I ventured to speak to her on the subject, and it seemed
as though she had only been in an apparent death-trance, which was
broken by the first tender word, the first touch of a friend's hand.
I thank you, Johannes, she said, and for the first time her dull
eyes grew wet with tears. You are right, I must try to control my
grief. It is not death which has clutched me in his bony arms and
stifled every breath. Life, dear friend, is far more cruel; I cannot
break the chains and bonds in which it has fettered me. But even a
convict who drags an iron ball by a chain must perform his task. It was
cowardly and childish to neglect my daily duties. Only have a little
patience with me; I will hold up my head again.
From that moment she resumed all her duties to the company, managed
the money matters, kept an eye, with Kunigunde's assistance, on the
wardrobe, sent the members word that she would again provide the
dinner, and only shrank from one thingoccasionally attending a
rehearsal as usual.
She again treated every one pleasantly, but never spoke a word to
her husband except when he addressed her. Her misfortune had drawn the
members of the company nearer to her; the women, especially, showed her
many little attentions, except Victorine, who held aloof as before, and
no longer even appeared at the Round Table.
But, when darkness came, she always went to the graveyard and
remained there an hour alone, declining even my companionship with a
silent shake of the head. But we met each other several other times
when she was returning home, and walked silently side by side, absorbed
in the same thoughts, which needed no utterance. I only remember that I
once asked her how she could reconcile this pitiless blow with God's
fatherly kindness. She stopped and, raising her tearful eyes to heaven,
Never for one moment have I doubted him. Spite of all the burdens
that weighed upon me, I was the most blessed among women, and God is
wise and just. He lets the tree of no earthly happiness grow into
heaven. But, for the very reason that he took the child from me, I know
that he has not deserted me. If he had left him to me, and he had some
day seen with his innocent eyes the ugly world around us as it really
is, and been permitted only the choice between scorning it or becoming
akin to it, who knows what he would have decided, and either course
would have made both him and me wretched. Now I have buried him here in
my heart, in all his purity and loveliness, and may love him forever,
far better and more fervently than when I still clasped him in my arms.
And, though this love is full of sorrow, neither time nor fate has any
power over it, and for this I thank God, whom I always know near to me
when I go down into the depths of my own heart and feel the dear child
living on there.
What answer could I have made? My whole philosophy became pitiful
and humble before the pious trust of this strong soul. She received the
news calmly, when one day at table her husband said that they would be
obliged to change their residence. The receipts were miserably poor,
and he had had an invitation from the magistrates of the next town on
the coast to give a series of plays, lasting several weeks.
As he spoke, he cast a side-glance at his wife, as though fearing
she would object to leave the place where her child lay buried. He had
long since fallen into the habit of discussing no subjects, when alone
with her, except those required by absolute necessity.
To his surprise she simply assented. Even, when, three days after,
we departed and I drove through the gate in the same carriage with her
and the worthy lady whose young daughter played the ingénues,
while Spielberg, with Daniel and Victorine, formed the rear-guard, she
had strength enough to give no sign of the emotions which must have
assailed her in parting from the little grave.
But the hopes with which we had struck our tents were not to be
realized. Just at that time a panic occurred in commercial circles that
made itself felt in the seaport no less than in the large North German
commercial towns. People kept their pockets buttoned, and even the
renowned artist could not open them.
He became so irritated by this state of affairs that, to punish the
ingratitude of the age, he intentionally hid the light of his art under
a bushel, and played his parts with such haughty negligence that even
the few patrons of the theater, who had known his reputation, shook
their heads, and transferred their favor to the less famous members of
the company. Victorine was the admiration of the young merchants; the
ingénue previously mentioned turned the heads of the older
school-boys; Daniel, whose acting, even when most negligent, always had
its interesting moments, found favor with the critics in the two local
papersyet, nevertheless, the receipts were so small that the company
would have been compelled to disband had not Frau Luise's wise economy
provided a reserve fund for such contingencies. She paid the salaries
as regularly as ever, and kept the wardrobes and other requisites in
decent order, without receiving any special thanks from any one.
* * * * *
I myself was entirely out of funds. Two and a half years of this
wandering life had devoured my savings, I could scarcely be seen in my
shabby clothes, and, though protected from any anxiety about food, had
not even the small amount of pocket money required for trifling wants,
so that I was sometimes seized by a mood of despairing melancholy, and
should undoubtedly have been up and away some day had I not known how
indispensable I had become. If I left the company, everything must go
to ruin. I could tell myself, without vanity, that the breach of
myunwrittencontract would be equivalent to fracturing an axle in
the car of Thespis.
Moreover, was I not bound body and soul to this woman, considering
myself transcendently rewarded if she held out her large, firm hand to
me in the evening and said, Good-night, dear friend!
Still, these miserable circumstances oppressed me more and more, and
one day, when I met in the street a college friend who meanwhile had
had a prosperous career, and while on a business journey had come to
our Pomeranian coast, I bore his look of compassionate surprise with a
bitter laugh, and willingly accepted his invitation to share a bottle
of wine with him that evening at his hotel and make a general
I had made no confession for years, and it was months since a drop
of wine had moistened my lips. So only a single glass was needed to
lure from me an unreserved acknowledgment of my wretched plight.
There was but one thing I carefully concealedthe strongest chain
that bound me to this miserable existence, my mad, hopeless love for
this woman. Yet, had the hand of a god suddenly aided me to tear myself
free, what could I have done with my liberty? To what occupation in
civil life should I have found the door open, I, a runaway Candidate of
theology, who had not disdained to play the part of factotum to a
company of traveling actors for two years and a half.
So when, toward eleven o'clock, I took leave of my former comrade,
we were no wiser concerning my future, and what I had to hope and fear
from it, than in the beginning.
He had told me, with a shake of the head, that there must be some
love affair in the matter, and correctly understood my shrug of the
shoulders. But, as he had been to the theater the night before, he
seemed undecided between Victorine and the young ingénue.
Let me sleep over the affair, he said at last, as he went out into
the hall with mewe had had our wine in his chamber, as there was much
noise and confusion in the public room belowI sha'n't see you
to-morrow, because I must leave very early, but I will write as soon as
a good idea occurs to me.
I pressed his hand and thoughtfully descended the stairs. In going
up, two hours before, I had seen in the public room below Luise's
husband and several actors, among them Daniel, who was inseparable from
the manager. Meantime, eleven o'clock had come, but they had not yet
separated, and I wished at any cost to avoid meeting them. But, just as
I was stealing softly past the door, it was thrown open, and my friend,
tall Herr Laban, staggered out, supported by one of the younger actors.
Both were in the gayest humor. Look there, look there, Timotheus! he
shouted, laughing. Where the deuce hast thou been hidinghe always
used 'thou' to mewhile we have been seeing the most capital farce
played here? You have missed a great deal, I can tell you, Doctor; and,
in not saying good-night to your traveling friend over our heads, you
have stood very much in your own light. Isn't that so, Juvenil?
The young man laughingly agreed that it had been a splendid jokeno
comedy of errors had ever amused him so much.
I tried to pass on with some careless remark, but Laban seized my
arm and, while we helped him down the last steps, began to tell me the
story in his comical way.
They had drunk several glasses when Daniel began to boast of his
talent for imitating living persons, and instantly gave several proofs
of this ability by copying the voice and gestures of the landlord and
some of the regular guests, to the delight of the whole company.
Spielberg alone had sat in his heroic grandeur, looking on with an air
of contemptuous dignity, and finally remarked that such monkey tricks,
which dazzled the public, were easy, and besides found their limits in
certain figures whose majesty rendered them, as it were, unapproachable
for mimicry. Did he include himself among them? the insolent fellow
asked, and, when the great man nodded silently, he laid a wager that he
would personate him so exactly that he would hardly know whether it was
himself or his double. They ordered a bottle of champagne, and then
Daniel led the manager into the next room. After a short time the door
opened again, and Spielberg strode in. Everybody asked whether Daniel
was not ready or had given up his wager. That young man promises much,
and does nothing save to make fools of honest Thebans, was the reply,
after which he approached the table with his stately walk, shook the
bottle in the ice and exclaimed: A plague on all cowardly poltroons!
Then they first discovered that it was Daniel, and not the great actor
himself, and even then it was only the little hand he owes to his
Polish blood that betrayed him. But, just as there was a general burst
of applause and laughter, the door again opened and a second Daniel
appeared, in a gray summer suit and Polish cap, with his cat-like tread
and feminine movement of the hips, so that the uproar and clapping of
hands grew louder than everfor nobody had ever imagined the manager
possessed such a talent. This, however, was merely the beginning of the
farce. Each continued to play the character of the other: Daniel in the
belaced velvet coat, with straw hat pulled over his forehead, toasted
his image, amid constant quotations uttered in his resonant voice, and
Spielberg, with all the Harlequin tricks the other was in the habit of
using on the stage, never let the laughers stop to take breath, so that
each of the two had won and lost the wager. But, when they had broken
the neck of the second bottle, Daniel suddenly became silent, went to
Spielberg, and whispered something which made the manager look puzzled.
But his double seized his arm and led him out. When after a long time
they did not return, we asked for them, and the waiter said that after
whispering together for some time the two gentlemen had left the hotel
arm in arm.
I do not know why I could not laugh at this amusing trick. But I
hastily took leave of the two actors, whose room was on the top floor
of the hotel, and, in a most uncomfortable mood, passed out into the
street just as the clock in the nearest church-steeple struck eleven.
Though I felt no inclination to sleep, a strange anxiety urged me
homeward, as if I were expected there.
My way led through the street in which the other hotel stood. Here
Victorine and Daniel lodged. And just as I glanced at the door of the
house I saw the fellowwhom I easily recognized by his dressring the
bell and, directly after, with a greeting from the porter, cross the
threshold. But what thought occurred to me? Was that really Danielor
was it his double in his clothes? And, if it were the latter, what was
he doing in that house, where Victorine was now probably waiting for
However, I had no time to ponder over this idea, for the question
suddenly darted through my brain: What has become of that other, the
Suspecting some deviltry, some base trick, I rushed through the
deserted streets to the house where Frau Luise lived, and I, too, had
my modest room in the upper story. She was in the habit of sitting up
late with some piece of sewing or a book, usually alone, for faithful
Kunigunde closed her eyes at nine o'clock. As I hastily drew out my
night-key I noticed that the door, contrary to custom, stood half open.
I did not take time to shut it again, but, with trembling hands,
lighted the little pocket-lantern, which must illumine my way up the
dark stairs, and rushed on. But I had not yet reached the landing on
the first story when I heard Frau Luise's deep tones, and then saw her
facing her husbandno, his double, who, with his straw hat on his head
and his coat flung open, slowly retreated before her, his ardent dark
eyes fixed with an indescribable expression on her face.
Frau Luise was holding a little lamp in her left hand, and had
raised her right threateningly against the scoundrel, her face, whose
waxen pallor usually formed a striking contrast to her mourning dress,
was flushed with the crimson hue of wrath, and her eyes shone with a
strange, supernatural luster.
You will leave this house at once and the city tomorrow, I heard
her say. You are the most contemptible of human beings, and what you
have presumed to do merits a bloody chastisement. I am a woman, and
must leave it to my husband to avenge this insult as he deems best.
But, if you should ever have the effrontery to appear before my eyes
Pardon me, madame, he interruptedand, though he endeavored to
appear entirely nonchalant, I detected in his tremulous voice that he
did not feel entirely at ease while confronting this haughty figureI
beg a thousand pardons; I did not imagine you would take an innocent
jest so tragically, especially as your husband saw no offense in it. We
had laid a wager that I could personate him exactly. The final and
hardest test, of course, was whether his own wife would recognize me.
Well, at first you certainly believed me to be Herr Spielberg, and were
not undeceived until I took the liberty of embracing youdoubtless a
husband's kisses are less ardent than those of a lover, who for two
years has yearned to even once press his lips upon a mouth which never
had aught for him save contemptuous silence. Though I have lost my
wager, the kiss that betrayed me is abundant compensation, and so,
fairest of women, I have the honor
He was not to have breath to finish the sentence. For, in a fury I
had never experienced before, I rushed upon the miscreant, seized him
by the chest, and, tearing off his hat with the other hand, shook him
by the hair till his sneering face wore an expression of mortal terror,
as I dragged him to the stairs and would have flung him down heels over
head, had he not by a sudden movement, lithe as a young panther,
escaped from my grasp, and, thrusting me aside, glided down the dark
stair-case, muttering an imprecation between his set teeth.
* * * * *
We heard him shut the door of the house and, in the fear of pursuit,
hurriedly lock it. Then, in the death-like stillness that again
prevailed, we looked into each other's eyes to see if it were possible
that we had actually experienced this, or whether some dream had
conjured up the same vision before both. I saw her tremble as if some
unclean beast had clutched her in its claws. A quiver of wrath and
loathing contracted her brow and lips. I thank you, Johannes, she
said. But excuse me, I must go in now and wash myself. O, Heaven! all
the perfumes of Arabiabut no, we can only be sullied by our own evil
thoughts. Do not you think so, too?
She turned away and carried the lamp back to her room again. I
followed her to the threshold.
Frau Luise, I asked, will you let me shoot the rascal down like a
mad dog? Or do you consider him worthy to receive his punishment in an
You must do nothing to him, she answered in a hollow tone. If, as
I still hope, it is false that another person knew of this knavish
trick, it is that other's business to avenge the insult that was
offered to him even more than to me. To-morrow will decide this. It is
late nowyou must leave meI must wash my face and the hands that
touched the scoundrel, even to push him away.
I shut the door, and sadly mounted the stairs to my room.
* * * * *
It was useless to think of sleeping. Not only because the detestable
scene I had just witnessed still hovered before my eyes, but because I
expected every moment that the other would return home, and wished to
be ready in case his wife should need my assistance.
True, she was strong and brave enough to defend herself against any
insult or injury. But who could tell in what state of recklessness,
stung by his evil conscience, that other would confront her.
At any rate he delayed long enough. The rôle of double, which
he played so admirably, seemed to have found an appreciative audience
in the depraved girl for whom he was enacting it, or perhaps she had
entered into the deception with malicious satisfaction in order to
wound the noble woman she hated.
I heard the clock strike the hoursmidnight, one, two. Then,
without undressing, I threw myself on the bed and shut my burning eyes,
but my ears remained open and watchful. Scarcely half an hour had
passed when I heard a lagging step approach along the pavement below,
and in an instant again stood at my window. Yes, it was he. By the gray
light of the summer sky, I could distinguish the Polish cap, the loose
coat, and the white hands which hastily rummaged his pockets for the
key of the house door. But it was in the other suit of clothes, now
worn by the double. The criminal who had shut himself out of the peace
of his own home stood for a time gazing up at the windows, behind which
he doubtless saw the glimmer of the night-lamp. Ought you to go down,
open the door for him, and pour forth to his face all you think of him,
all the wrath you have so long pent up concerning his sins against this
woman, the tip of whose little finger he is unworthy to kiss? No, I
thought. Let him suffer for his sin. It is only a pity that this isn't
a winter night, and he is not obliged to stand barefoot in the snow
until broad daylight.
He? He would have been likely to undertake such a penance! After
twice calling, in a tone of assumed piteousness, Luise! he took off
his cap, passed his hand over his waving locks, then pressed the little
fur cap low over his forehead, and turned defiantly to seek the place
from which some pitiful remnant of remorse had driven him.
I uttered a sigh of relief, opened the window, and cooled my heated
face. At last I sought my couch, and toward morning really fell asleep.
My slumber was so sound that I was first roused by a very loud
knocking at my door. When I opened it, Kunigunde was standing outside,
and requested me to come down to Frau Luise. Has your master
returned? I asked the faithful creature.
Of course. But not until nearly nine o'clock, when my mistress had
gone out to make some purchases. He seemed to know that she was not at
home, for he did not even ask for her, but shut himself up in her room
for a while, and then went away without leaving any message. But I saw
a letter lying on the table, which the mistress read as soon as she
came in, and then sent me up to you.
The good old woman was evidently troubled, and, in spite of having
gone to rest so early, seemed to have heard enough of the nocturnal
scene to pity her honored mistress.
When, following close at her heels, I entered Frau Luise's room, I
found her sitting on the sofa beside a table, with the letter lying
open before her.
She nodded to me with an absent look, and said in an expressionless
tone: Sit down and read this, Johannes; the end has come.
I took the sheet and hastily glanced over it. The letter was not
short, and was written precisely in Spielberg's usual style, lofty,
adorned with rhetorical ornaments, interspersed here and there with a
quotation from Schiller. He saw that by yesterday's occurrenceof
which, though without any evil intent, he had been the causehe had
forfeited even the last remnant of her love. So it would be better for
him to go voluntarily into exile, and not return until he could meet
her with new renown and in an assured position. True, what are the
hopes, the wishes on which man relies? But he trusted to his star. She
would lose all trace of him for a time, but he hoped he should
afterward be able to repay her for what she had suffered through him.
He closed by thanking her for her generous tolerance of his weaknesses.
Genius was no easy companion for a life-pilgrimageand similar
In a postscript, he begged her to pardon him for having
appropriated, in order to execute his plan, the reserve fund she had so
carefully saved. He left in exchange, at her free disposal, the whole
fundus instructus, scenes, costumes, requisites, and theatrical
library; she might either sell them or continue the business. In the
latter case, Cousin Johannes would assist her.
Then followed a pathetic farewell, another quotation, and the
signature, with an elaborate flourish: Ever your own Konstantin.
I probably looked like a person who, while eating raspberries,
suddenly bites a wasp. For, as I silently laid down the letter, she
said soothingly: It has moved me very little. This must have happened
sooner or later, and it is fortunate that it came now. Believe me, I
feel perfectly calm, and am sincerely grateful to him for not having
sought a personal interview. I am like a person recovering from a
severe, insidious disease, a little weak, it is true, but I shall no
longer be terrified by the hideous visions with which the fever
tortured my brain.
What do you intend to do? I asked at last.
My duty, so far as I can. True, I am as poor as a church-mouse. But
the others must not suffer.
Frau Luise, I said, I know that you were formerly too proud to
summon your guardian to give an account of his management of your
property. But now, in such necessity
She smiled bitterly. Too proud? My dear friend, I should not have
been too proud even at that time to claim my rights. But, as you know,
where there is nothing, even the Emperor cannot assert his rights, far
less a poor Canoness who eloped with an actor. My uncle squandered the
last shilling of my mother's property. Would you have me turn him out
of house and home by appealing to the law? But let us say no more about
these detestable things. Fortunately I paid the members of the company
their monthly salary only a few days ago. As the business is now broken
up, they are in a pitiable plight, for where can they obtain a new
engagement in midsummer? So the fundus instructus must be sold
as quickly and as profitably as possible, and meantime be pawned. You
will do me this one last favor, dear Johannes. I have another little
plan, too. Why do you look at me so wonderingly? Surely you did not
suppose that all this would find me unprepared. I have long expected
something of the sort. Weak as he isbut we will not speak of him.
She now explained her intention of obtaining, by means of a concert
in the theater, a considerable sum for the benefit of the orphaned
company, which, bereft of the manager and the others, could give no
more performances. By these others she meant Daniel and Victorine.
While out of doors she had met an actor, who excitedly asked whether
she knew that the couple had just gone on board an English merchant
vessel lying in the harbor. He did not say that the manager was with
them, but the wife did not doubt it for an instant, and therefore knew
what she should find when she returned to the house again.
She would herself appear and sing at the concert, she continued. She
knew that there would be a full house, for her misfortune, of course,
was now in everybody's mouth, and, as she had always kept out of sight,
curiosity and perhaps a better feeling would urge many to see and hear
the woman who had led so strange a life, and must now reap what she had
sown. She did not fear the eyes of strangers. It was a misfortune that
her heart had prompted her to entrust her life to the keeping of one
who was unworthy, but neither a disgrace nor a crime. So she would
appear, with head erect, before a cold, malicious world, and not a note
would falter in her throat.
She had not expected too much of her own powers. When she appeared
on the stage, in a plain black dress, with a little black veil wound
around her golden braids, and every eye in the densely-crowded house
was fixed upon her, I sawI was sitting at the piano to play her
accompanimentsher face flush for a moment. But its natural hue
instantly returned, and she sang her aria from Orpheus, several
melodies from Iphigenia in Tauris, and Mignon's song composed by
Beethoven, with such power and simple beauty that it seemed as if the
tempests of life which had stirred the inmost depths of her soul had
only served to bring the flower of her art to still more superb
The effect was so profound and overwhelming that a storm of
applause, such as had never greeted even the finest scenes of the great
actor, shook the theater.
She bowed modestly, with a sad smile that won every heart. When, in
the waiting-room, I congratulated her, her face clouded. Hush, she
whispered hurriedly. Would you tell the victim, about to be offered as
a sacrifice, that the garlands are becoming?
The other parts of the programme, two comic soliloquies by Laban,
and some of Schiller's ballads recited by our ingénue, were well
received. When I accompanied Frau Luise home, I held in the box under
my arm a very large sum received from the evening's entertainment.
When we reached her room, I wished to give her the money. No, she
replied, henceforth you must be the treasurer. I shall make but one
stipulationthat you do not entirely forget yourself, but share
equally with the rest. With foolish generosity you have spent all your
savings in order to retain a laborious situation here, for which you
received neither thanks nor payment. What do you intend to do now?
That will depend upon you, Frau Luise.
Her eyes sought the floor, then, raising them to mine with an
indescribably tender glance, she said:
No, my friend, we part this very day, this very hour. You need have
no anxiety about me. I shall not pine away and die. You know that I am
very strong, or how could I have endured everything?and, as I am no
longer a Canoness, I must not shrink from a little labor. But you must
try to return to the life from which your friendship for me has torn
you. Promise me that, after you have attended to the last details of
business here, you will go back to your old profession, if not as a
clergyman, as a teacher, or in some scholarly occupation. I will watch
your course from a distance. You will promise, will you not?
Frau Luise, I stammered, do you wish to banish me? Do you not
I know all, my friend; you need not add another word. And I also
know that I love you with all my heart, and therefore it is better for
us to part. A woman whose husband has vanished is not free to
choosesurely you understand that. And I will suffer no stain upon my
name. You will remain my friend, as I am yours. And to seal this, I
will now, in bidding you farewell, affectionately embrace you and give
you a sister's kiss. Your lips, my faithful friend, shall restore the
purity of mine, which yesterday were desecrated by a scoundrel.
With these words, she embraced me, and for one brief, blissful
moment her warm lips pressed mine in a pure and tender caress. Then,
with a low Farewell, my friend, she gently pushed me out of the door.
The next morning, when I woke from sorrowful dreams, and was
hurriedly dressing, some one knocked at my door. Kunigunde entered and,
with many tears, told me that her mistress had driven away at dawn in a
hired carriage, telling nobody her destination, and leaving for me a
farewell and a little package.
It was a sealed paper. When I opened it, out fell the gold chain on
which she used to wear around her neck the locket containing her
Several weeks have passed since I wrote the last lines. When I laid
the sheet in the portfolioa music portfolio Frau Luise had left, and
in which I usually kept some of the airs from Glück's operas arranged
for the pianoI was startled by the bulk of the MS., and asked myself:
Will any one have patience to read all this? And why should you add to
Ah, if you were a professional author, and, instead of a truthful
narrative of the life of the woman so dear to you, could transform her
fate into a genuine romance, skillfully blending fact and fiction, or
if you at least possessed the gift of describing these experiences in
hues so fresh and vivid that no one could help finding her as charming
as she is to you! But you are only a clumsy, simple chronicler of
events, and the man for whom you intend these records will smile at the
labor improbus you have bestowed on so superfluous a work and at
your innocent idea that you were thereby doing him a favor.
Well, I then thought, even if you are only pleasing yourself by
again conjuring up your old joys and sorrows, what harm is there in
that? He can let the avalanche of MS. you hurl into his house roll
quietly aside with the others the mail brings to importune him. Who
compels him to do more than cast a compassionate glance at it?
But, if he forgives the lonely man his volubility, and eats through
this biographical mountain, as Klas Avenstak ate through the hill of
pancakes, he must expect that I shall not defraud him of the end,
especially as the early close the gods decreed to Luise's life was
spiced with much that was sweet, to compensate for many bitter things
in her previous destiny.
So I will summon courage to again take up my pen, endeavoring,
however, to be as brief as possible, especially in the incidents which
concern my insignificant self.
Therefore I will say nothing of the state of mind in which I spent
the first few days after my friend's secret departure. Fortunately I
had a number of disagreeable affairs on my hands, was forced to attend
to the questions, complaints, business, and reproaches of the deserted
company of actors, undertake the distribution of the money and provide
for the sale of the fundus, which latter affair was settled more
quickly and profitably than I had feared. Frau Luise's destination was
as little known as the distant shore to which the great artist had
shaped his course. So I took a sorrowful leave of my colleagues, who,
with the exception of the three oldest members, Laban, Gottlieb
Schönicke, and the good prompter, who grieved sincerely for the
vanished woman, seemed to be tolerably consoled by the considerable sum
that fell to the share of each, and, as I was far too sad at heart and
dull of brain to form any sensible plan for the future, I sent my trunk
to my native town, strapped my knapsack on my back, and wandered
through Pomerania and the Mark to my old home. I believe that during
those eight or ten days I did not have one sensible thought, for the
Orpheus aria constantly rang in my ears:
Alas, I have lost her,
All my happiness is o'er!
It will be considered perfectly natural that the news of my return
excited no special rejoicing in the small provincial town, and no one
felt impelled to kill a fatted calf to do honor to the Prodigal Son. At
first I kept out of the way as much as possible, since wherever I
appeared I was stared at as though I were some wild animal just escaped
from a menagerie, or, still worse, shunned with evident fear of
contagion, being regarded as a dangerous sinner who, lured by the lust
of the world and the flesh, had exchanged the preacher's calling for a
dissipated vagabond life among jugglers and strollers.
One old friend, however, who meantime had become principal of the
highest public school, treated me with his old cordiality, listened
sympathizingly to the account of my fate, and, as I was absolutely
penniless, offered me temporary shelter in an attic room in his little
house. Ere long, spite of my antecedents, he succeeded in getting me
the position of teacher of singing to the three lower classes, as the
old chorister was daily growing deafer. When he became wholly incapable
of further service, the three upper classes were also transferred to
me, and, after having conscientiously done my duty for several years,
and meanwhile showed by my irreproachable conduct that I was not the
Don Juan and demon of darkness rumor had pronounced me, I was
advancedpartly in consequence of the services of my dead father,
whose memory was still honoredto the position of teacher of geography
and history, in which I was often reminded of the time when I had
related the same beautiful stories to my little pupil and his haughty
My kind fellow-citizens had pardoned my pastnay, with the feminine
portion of the population, it merely helped to surround the commonplace
fellow I was and am with that halo of impiety which is usually more
attractive to the weaker sex than the most beautiful aureola of
unsullied virtue. Many very estimable mothers of marriageable daughters
greeted me in the street with an encouraging glancenay, there was no
lack of efforts to tempt me to their houses, especially after a small
legacy, which I inherited very unexpectedly, enabled me, with my modest
salary as a teacher, to establish a quiet home of my own. Even my
friend and present colleague gave me numerous well-meant hintsHeaven
would rather provide for two than for one, and so would the fathers of
the city. But I answered all such admonitions with a smile and a shrug
of the shoulders. How could I have been such a scoundrel as to deceive
an innocent, unsuspecting girl by letting her suppose a heart free
which had long been firmly bound?
The ten years I spent in this way were joyless and desolate enough.
I had lost my taste even for the society of men; foolish political
discussions and standing local jests had no interest for me, and I had
never cared for any game of cards except the one with which such
beloved memories were associated. So I spent the evenings in my lonely
room, and used the money I saved from gambling and drinking for the
purchase of books, though the volumes were wholly different in
character from those I had inherited from my dear father. Besides the
newest philosophical works, I ordered novels by English authors, among
whom Thackeray was my special favorite, while Dickens seemed to me a
sentimental mannerist, striving for effect, who had no correct ideas of
women. But I will leave this part of my life and hasten on to the main
* * * * *
One Wednesday afternoon in MarchI had no school, but a furious
snow-storm prevented my taking my usual walk into the countrysome one
knocked at my door, and an old woman, on whom I had never set eyes
before, hobbled into the room. She was almost out of breath, for, as
she said, she had come from the alms-house at the opposite end of the
town, and the wind had almost blown her away. She drew from the folds
of her thick shawl a crumpled note, in which was scribbled in pencil:
If you have not yet forgotten your old friend, dear Johannes, give
her the pleasure of a visit. She has been ill for a fortnight, and is
permitted to sit up to-day for the first time. The messenger knows
where she is to be found.
I will not attempt to describe the tempest of feeling those few
words awakened in my soul. For a moment the room and all it contained
whirled around me, and I should not have been surprised had the old
woman suddenly thrown off her patched clothing and stood before me in
the guise of a beautiful fairy.
With trembling haste I hurried on my coat, seized my hat and cane,
and went out into the street ere I asked if this were really true, and
how she had happened to serve the lady as a messenger.
There was nothing strange in that, the old dame had answered. Madame
Spielberg had arrived a fortnight ago, in her own carriage, very ill
with measles, and had asked to be taken to the hospital. But as, on
account of the rebuilding, no one could be received there, and the only
patient, by the burgomaster's orders, had meantime been removed to the
almshouse, the stranger had been transported there, to her entire
satisfaction for, thank Heaven, she had lacked nothing. The doctor had
been instantly summoned, and then the seven old dames who now lived
there shared the nursing, which had prospered so well that to-day she
had eaten her soup with an excellent appetite and been able to drink a
tiny glass of wine. The doctor had told them to be very attentive to
the sick lady, who was of noble birth and a Canoness. Well, that was no
hard task for them. There was not such another lovely lady in the whole
world, she was always apologizing for giving so much trouble, and that
day, after she sat up, had sent for her trunk and given each one some
article of clothing for a present. Then she asked about the
schoolmaster, but, when she saw the storm, said the note could wait
till to-morrow. But she, the old dame, would not hear of that, and now
I would see for myself how well the lady was taken care of. She
occupied No. 12, the best room in the whole house.
When I had entered the dusky corridor and shaken the snow from my
clothing, and my guide, pointing to one of the little doors, had said,
That's number 12, I was obliged to pause a few moments to calm myself
before I knocked. Is it really true? I thought. Ten years have passed
like one day! In your heart at least! And shehow will you find her?
But I had scarcely heard her Come in! when I knew she must be just
the same as ever; time, grief, and even want had no power over her
strong soul; and, whether I found her in this wretched almshouse or on
a throne, she would ever be the mistress of my thoughts and feelings.
So I entered, and the first look in which our eyes met thrilled me
with the warmth and happiness a patient, on whom an operation for a
cataract has been performed, feels when the bandage is removed for the
She was sitting in a large arm-chair by the window, past which the
snow-flakes were whirling, and held on her knee an open book. The large
room was bare and wholly unadorned, the walls were white-washed, the
bed was covered with a brown shawl that I distinctly remembered, her
trunk stood at the foot, there was a plain table and two chairsthe
usual almshouse furniture. But on the table beside the carafe
stood a glass containing a bunch of snow-drops, in front of a
daguerreotype of her child in a small easel-frame wreathed with the
same white blossoms. Everything was just as usual, for she had always
kept this picture near her, and she still wore, as at the time I last
saw her, her mourning dress, with the little black silk kerchief wound
in her fair hair, only its amber hue was not so deep, but seemed
powdered with a gray dust. The beautiful oval face, however, was wholly
unchanged, save for an expression of cheerfulness which had been alien
to it during the last period of our companionship. How she smiled at
me, how her voice soundedwas she really a sorely-afflicted woman, who
had passed her fortieth year? And I, was I the dried up, provincial
Philistine and pedagogue I had so long believed myself to be, or still
a reckless young fellow, ready at any moment to commit the wildest
folly for this woman's sake.
She did not rise to greet me, but held out both hands, and I could
only clasp and hold them in the utmost embarrassment. I did not venture
to kiss them. I had too often seen this knightly homage paid by the man
who had inflicted the keenest suffering upon her heart, and would not
remind her of any bitter experience.
Frau Luise, I said, it is really youyou have not changed in the
leastI am so happy to see you againand you were ill and I only
learn your presence here to-day.
Sit down by me, Johannes, she said. I, too, am glad to see your
face once more. You look very well; you have grown a little stouter,
but it is becoming; teaching seems to suit you better than the dramatic
business. Oh, my dear friend, this is like the day of judgment, when
everything is to be brought together. True, only the shadow of the very
best of all returns! She glanced at the picture of Joachimchen on the
table, and her eyes grew grave.
I can not yet recover from my joyful surprise, I said, as I took
my seat at the window opposite to her. You here! And what tempted you
to this out-of-the-way corner? And whence do you come?
She smiled again.
You tempted me, my friendyou, and no one else. I
was very ill and thought I should not recover. So, before my death, I
wanted to again clasp the hand of my last friend, and thank him for all
the love and fidelity he has shown me. Believe me, I know everything
that has happened to you during our separationit is not muchUncle
Joachim constantly inquired about you and wrote me all he learned. He
alone, of all my acquaintances, knew where I was to be found.
And did not answer one single word, the envious man, though I wrote
to him three times to obtain news of you.
He could not. I had strictly forbidden it. I wanted to be dead to
every one, and always hoped that God would be merciful and speedily
summon me from the world. But He had different plans for me, and I will
not murmur against His will. Where did I hide myself? Why, in a very
remote corner of the Uckermark, on the estate of a nobleman who had
advertised for a companion for his invalid wife and a governess for his
little daughter. How I fared in that house, and learned to practice
every deed of charity, I will tell you some other time or not at all. I
can only repeat the old words: 'With the sick I became well, with the
poor rich, with the dying I learned to live.' And all this exactly in
my own way, with people whom I tenderly loved. You know the
professional neighborly love a deaconess practices would be contrary to
my nature, like a public display of piety and love for God. But when
the gentle sufferer died, and a few weeks after her little daughter
followed her, I could no longer remain in the house; for the sorrowing
widower, otherwise a thoroughly admirable man, offered me his heart and
hand, and, when I told him that I was not free, proposed to make every
effort to have my missing husband declared dead and then marry me. Just
at that time I received a letter from our Liborius, the gardener,
informing me that Uncle Joachim was very ill and wished to see me. This
instantly afforded me an escape from my painful position. For, though I
could be nothing to the worthy man, I pitied his desolation and his
hopeless love. Willing or not, he was now obliged to let me go at
Poor woman! I said. How you must have suffered in returning to
the old scenes which had so many hated associations.
You are wrong, she answered. Those few weeks on the estate are
among the most consoling my life has known. I saw none of the faces
that were repulsive to meindeed many of those I held dear were also
missing. Aunt Elizabeth had slept for six years in the family vault.
Her 'inconsolable husband,' as he styles himself on the tombstone,
coupled with a verse from the Bible expressing a hope of a
reunionperhaps you have seen it in the newspaper?Uncle Achatz, went
to France directly after the funeral, accompanied by the young
Englishwoman, who, after the separation from Mademoiselle Suzon, had
become indispensable to him as a reader and companion. In Paris, where
to improve his finances he frequented gambling-houses, he met a
doubtful character, who quarreled with him at faro and then shot him in
a duel. As the traveling companion disappeared the same day, leaving
nothing of any value, the unfortunate man was buried in a very simple
manner at the expense of the Prussian embassy, and is still awaiting in
French soil the day when he is to be interred by his wife's side.
Hitherto my young cousin has lacked time and means to do this.
Immediately after his father's death, he set to work zealously, under
Uncle Joachim's supervision, to extricate his financial affairs from
their utter disorder, and in every possible way improve the estate, so
that in time the former splendor of the family might be restored. I
should have been very glad to see Achatz, who had not been your pupil
one whole summer entirely in vain. But just before I arrived he had set
out with his young wife on a wedding journey to Italy. Nor did I see my
cousin Leopoldine, who as you know married Cousin Kasimir, and has had
no light cross to bear. My best friend, Mother Lieschen, had long since
gone to her last rest. So I found only the old servants, the gardener,
the villagers, who were all fond of me because Aunt Elizabeth's kind
deeds reached them by my handsand my dear old uncle, the sight of
whom fairly startled me. He was sitting, crippled with gout, our family
disease, in an uncomfortable chair by the stove, his dog, a
grand-daughter of our old Diana, lying beside him, and his pipe, which
had gone out, between his teeth. He could not light it himself with his
bandaged hands, and Liborius did not always have time to attend to him.
But his mind was as clear and bright as in his best days, and his old
heart still throbbed as warmly as ever. I can not tell you, dear
Johannes, what joy and enlightenment, even amid the saddest feelings, I
experienced during those last days spent with the dying man. There the
last ring forged around me by my own hard fate was shattered into
fragments, and I felt ashamed of my weak-hearted melancholy in the
presence of the quiet, brave, cheerful sufferer, who never allowed a
complaint to escape his lips. Only when the pain became too severe, a
stifled nom d'un nom! sometimes slipped through his teeth with
the smoke, and then he begged me to put my hand on his heart, that the
raging thing might feel its mistress.
So he at last died, with a chivalrous jest on his lips and a loving
look at me. The gout, as people say, went to his heart. It was not
until after his death that I fully realized what a noble man he had
been. I sat for hours beside the open coffin, and resolved that I would
fight as bravely through the span of life still left me, and again look
forth upon the world with cheerful eyes.
But I could not yet devote myself to my own affairs, an epidemic of
measles had broken out in the village, and I was needed from early till
late, in house after house, to help the doctor abolish the absurd
torments still in use from the treatment of ancient times. Meanwhile,
the small sum of money I had brought with me was consumed in the
expenses of my uncle's funeral and the needs of the village hospital.
When at last the disease attacked me also, I had just enough left to
pay for the carriage which was to bring me here to my old friend.
But when I had arrived it seemed kinder not to startle this
faithful man, perhaps even expose him to the same calamity by summoning
him to my sick bed. So I waited till I had had my first bath, which I
took yesterday, and now I can give you my hand without peril, and tell
you how glad I am that a respite on this chilly earth is still granted
me, and that I hope to enjoy a few more beautiful springs in this lower
* * * * *
She had again given me her hand, which I now raised to my lips.
Frau Luise, I replied, you have bestowed upon me the greatest joy
and honor I have ever experienced. I value your coming here as highly
as though you had dubbed me a knight. And, in truth, during all these
years, I have felt myself your knight and worn your colors.
A slight flush mounted into her face, which made her look still
younger. Do not overestimate me, she replied. I had two objects in
coming, only one of which was unselfish. I wanted to see you again to
have you help me in my need, but also, it is true, to provide for your
What do you mean? I asked. What future can there be for a man
like me, whose presence no one would miss. You see, my dear friend, men
of my stamp are indispensable to the human race, but only like the
stones the architect cements together in the earth, that they may form
a solid foundation for his proud temple. We are invisibly bound
together, and render service as a whole, but the individual is not much
noticed; even if he is moldering, he does his duty while he fills his
little space. Why do you talk to me of the future? So long as you stay
with me, time will vanish.
Luise shook her head gravely.
I am not in question, she replied, and, if we are to remain good
friends, you must not make any more of these extravagant speeches. You
are no longer an enthusiastic youth, but still young enough to take a
fresh start in life, have a beloved wife and a house full of children,
without entirely forgetting your old friend. It is not necessary to
have a proud ideal of the future for that. But you ought to be ashamed
of so depreciating yourself, burying your talent, dreaming and grieving
away your life in this secluded hamlet, instead of seeking a sphere of
influence where all your gifts might develop. Or, if you have lost the
courage and desire to live for mankind, why will you not at least make
one individual happy, and diffuse warmth enough from your hearth-stone
to benefit the immediate neighborhood?
Because I am no longer free, but have long languished in bonds and
fetters, I replied, and, unbuttoning my vest at the neck, drew out her
gold chain, which I never laid aside. She again flushed slightly, but
forced herself to assume a stern expression, and said: You are
incorrigible; but I won't give you up yet. I know that you will do much
to afford me pleasure. First, however, you must do me another service.
I have told you that I spent my last thalers for the carriage which
brought me here. I should like to look about me for another position,
where I can make myself useful, and you shall help me by advancing a
small sum. I don't need much, but I haven't paid a farthing in this
house, and should not like to live on at the expense of a community
upon which I have not even the claim of being a native of the place.
But I am not too proud to beg from you.
You could have made me no more valuable gift, I exclaimed. And
now we won't say another word about this trifle. Tell me about
yourself, and, above all, whether you are well cared for here, and what
I can do for your comfort.
She smiled again.
I am treated like a princess. You know that old women were always
fond of me. Now I have no less than seven of them in one group, and
they are so attentive and so jealous of my favor that I am obliged to
act on the defensive. Whenever I rang, all seven of them would come
hobbling in to ask my wishes. They felt honored by the presence of an
ex-Canoness in the almshouse; the coachman, who came from our estate,
had told them who I was, or rather might be, if I had not destroyed my
own prospects. My coming here ill with such a commonplace disease, and
lying down contentedly in so plain a bed, as if I had never slept in a
castle, won their hearts at a single stroke. But, to escape their
officious zeal without wounding the jealous devotion of any one, I
arranged to have each dame serve me one day in the week. In this way I
learned to know them all, and am now aware of everything Mother
Schulzen, Mother Jenicke, Mother Grabow and the others have suffered
during their insignificant, sorrowful lives. But you will be little
interested in this. Besides, I have already talked too muchthe doctor
would scold. Go now, dear friend, and if you have time come again
to-morrow. While I am here, we will see a great deal of each other.
* * * * *
These were pleasant and prophetic words. I owe the happiest part of
my life to the time Frau Luise spent beneath this humble roof.
Of course, I now visited her daily, and as she rapidly recovered our
talks became longer, so, when the last snow had disappeared and the
world grew warm and bright again, we did not stay within the four bare
walls, but took the most delightful walks, at first near the house and
church, but afterward we rambled for hours along the shore of the lake,
and even entered the little grove beyond.
We were always compelled to do this when my princess desired to
escape from the attendance of her court. So long as we remained near
the house, the seven old dames persistently followed us, the one who
was on duty that day in front, the six others, each holding her
knitting in her old withered hands, behind, as if to do the honors of
the neighborhood, but really because their hearts drew them to this new
inmate of the household. They seemed to find comfort in merely looking
at her or hearing the distant sound of her voice. But their feeble old
limbs would not carry many of them farther than the shore of the lake,
and the two youngest, who were only seventy and still very vigorous,
dared not take any special liberties.
We never went into the city. Frau Luise did not wish to fan the
public curiosity, already excited. True, the burgomaster had considered
it his duty to wait upon the lady, and urge her to move into more
elegant lodgings which he had secured for her.
He, too, was so charmed by her appearance and manner that his first
embarrassment soon vanished, especially after she had requested him not
to call her Baroness, but simply Frau Spielberg, and had thanked him
for the hospitality extended to her here. So comfortable an abode for
old womento whose number she herself would soon belongcould
scarcely be found in the whole Mark, and she begged to be allowed to
stay until she had decided how to shape her future life.
But, as she could remain nowhere without bestowing on her
environments the impress of her own nature, the burgomaster at his
first visit marveled at the changed appearance of the almshouse and its
inmates. The seven old dames, who had formerly crept about in forlorn
tatters, with their thin hair hanging over their brows, and lines of
discontent on their facesnay, sometimes bearing tokens of very
unchristian deeds, the result of their quarrelssuddenly appeared
transformed into neat, civil matrons, for they had noticed that they
did not please their mistress unless they appeared with clean faces and
carefully mended dresses. Even the building itself had changed. The
corridors and rooms were spick and span from scouring, and strewed with
clean sand. The most beautiful of all was the garden, a narrow strip of
ground beneath the low windows. Without saying much about it, Frau
Luise one day dug with her own hands the patch below her own window,
divided it into small beds, and planted some flowers she had asked me
to get for her. Her old guard had scarcely seen this ere they became
possessed with an ambition to imitate the noble lady, and, as the
latter willingly helped them with seeds and young plants, the
wilderness, in which formerly nothing but nettles and weeds of all
kinds had flourished, was transformed into a gay garden, and under each
window stood a small, rudely made bench, painted with cheap green
paint, on which every leisure evening one of the old crones sat in the
sunset glow with the everlasting knitting in her lap.
I had ordered Frau Luise's bench to be made somewhat larger, so that
there was room for a slender person by her side. There I sat many an
hour, often with a book from which I read aloud to her, or talking
cheerfully and earnestly about God and the world, not infrequently
recalling memories of the beloved child, whose smallest trait of
character had not been forgotten by either of us. His father's name was
never mentioned. I only knew that he was still dragging out his useless
existence in some foreign land.
At that time I learned to know the deep wisdom of the words All
things work together for good to them that love God. For all the good
and evil, strange and detestable things this woman had experienced, had
worked together in her strong, clear soul, till after the dross had
been separated pure gold remained. Now, as ever, she was reluctant to
needlessly mention the name of God, and, had she been catechized about
her faith, probably would not have passed the examination well. But she
possessed the consciousness that, whenever she went down into the
depths of her heart, she would find the spirit of peace, love, and
truth, and this consciousness was so vivid that a divine calmness and
confidence, visible to the dullest senses, illumined her brow. But a
new trait in her was a peculiar sense of humor, a mirthfulness which
had rarely flashed out in her youth, yet now appeared to be the
predominant mood of her nature. When she was gay, she could make the
most comical remarks about herself and her surroundings, mutual old
acquaintances, and the seven dames knitting on their little benches,
remarks whose drollery could not be surpassed by Dickens or Thackeray.
Her merry satire did not even spare me. But, as I was utterly
defenseless, she soon let the subject drop, though she could see by my
hearty laughter that I was flattered rather than offended.
This uniformly charming idyl would have satisfied all my wishes, had
I been able to shake off the fear that it would some day come to an
end. For Frau Luise daily studied all the advertisements for
governesses or nurses, and several times had applied for something,
fortunately without success. I racked my brains to discover some plan
that would keep her near me. But, though she unhesitatingly accepted my
friendly assistance as a loan, she was inexorable whenever I spoke of
having no question concerning mine and thine rise between us in the
Whoever can work must gain a living! she answered once, in a tone
that deprived me of all courage to return to the subject.
Then a fortunate chance caused, in a very simple and easy way, the
fulfillment of the sum total of my wishes.
* * * * *
One Sunday afternoon in May we had taken a delightful walk, and on
our return the little almshouse chapel stood before us in its dense
robe of ivy, illumined by the full radiance of the sun, looking so
beautiful and venerable that, for the first time, we gazed at it
attentively and remarked how strange it was that we had never desired
to see the interior. Though we now heard from the seven matrons that it
was perfectly bare and the walls had nothing but spiders' webs, Frau
Luise asked for the key, which had not been used for years, and,
attended by the whole train of knitting courtiers, we entered the
deserted old chapel.
There was, in truth, nothing remarkable to be seen. A tolerably
bright light fell through four long, narrow, arched windows, but
illumined nothing save bare walls destitute of pillars, entablatures,
or other architectural decorations. Within the choir there was only the
square, brick foundation of the altar, raised one step above the floor.
In a corner opposite stood a bier covered with a black pall, thickly
coated with dust. The little almshouse chapel had doubtless served for
a receiving tomb so long as the graveyard outside was used. This
thought did not make the cellar-like place more agreeable, and we were
about to go back to the warm spring sunshine when my eyes fell upon a
high, narrow, wooden box, which stood on the other side just opposite
to the altar. Great was my surprise when, after having vainly fumbled
about the case for a time, a lid suddenly flew back, and an old
harmonium appeared. How it came there I could never ascertain. These
instruments are still very rare in our province, and it is hardly
probable that years ago the almshouse had a pious and wealthy patron in
the city, who desired to aid the religious service in the poor little
church by such an endowment.
So we examined our treasure with astonished eyes. When I touched the
keys, dull and somewhat rusty, yet not wholly discordant notes stole
forth, as if the sleeping soul, so long confined there, were waking,
and its first sound was a timid expression of thanks to its deliverers.
The case was instantly drawn forward, and I prepared to play. Frau
Luise, with sparkling eyes, came to my side. I began A mountain
fastness is our Lord, and she joined in with her voice, at first
timidly, it was so long since she had sung a note, but soon with all
her former depth of feeling, till my heart thrilled with ecstasy. When
it was over, I began the introduction to our beloved Orpheus aria, and
how my friend's marvelous alto voice rang through the lofty, empty
chapel! The seven old dames sat silently on the step of the altar, the
click of the knitting-needles was no longer heard, nothing mingled with
the melody except the low twittering of the birds. So in the utmost
delight we practiced for some time, not stopping with this one aria,
and many airs which we had sung to our little Joachim returned to his
At last emotion overpowered her, and I ceased playing, rose, and
held out my hand, which she cordially pressed. We knew what remained
This must not be the last time we are happy here, I said; later
in the summer this concert-room will be a pleasant refuge, though now
the damp, close atmosphere oppresses us. I wonder that you could
control your voice so well, Frau Luise.
She made no reply, but passed out through the doorway. I walked by
her side, and the seven maids-of-honor followed. But what was our
amazement to see a crowd of people gathered outside the threshold, who
respectfully formed into two lines to allow the singer and her train to
pass. Not only some of the plain people from the few neighboring houses
had flocked hither, attracted by the music, but several of the
prominent families in the city, among them the burgomaster and his two
daughters, who while returning from a Sunday walk had heard with
astonishment the strong, beautiful tones issuing from the long silent
chapel, and stopped to enjoy the free concert.
The burgomaster himself, a great lover of music, seemed so amazed by
the discovery that so admirable an artist had been concealed in the
humble almshouse that he did not utter a word to express his
homageonly bowed low and silently lifted his hat as she passed. The
audience of both high and low degree speedily dispersed; yet, as I
walked home in the evening, I caught many a word from the worthy
citizens, sitting before their doors or going to get their beer, which
betrayed how our church-music still echoed in the ears of the
The Canoness at the almshouse formed the topic of every conversation
during the evening, and no three women whispered together ten minutes
over their coffee without saying something for or against their
interesting new neighbor.
When, on the following afternoon, I went to my friend, she asked,
smiling: Guess what distinguished visitor I have had to-day,
Johannes? Then she told me that the burgomaster himself had called on
her, and, amid many compliments on, her singing, asked if she would
give lessons to his daughters. The two girls, who had been waiting
outside, entered, blushing, and, as she did not refuse the request,
sang to her at their father's bidding in fresh, though untrained, young
voices, after which she gladly consented to give them two lessons a
week, and was to begin the next morning. The only point now was to
procure a piano, the harmonium being far too powerful to be used to
It was difficult for me to repress my joy at these glad tidings. Now
she is ours, I thought. Now she need no longer pore over the
advertisements in the last pages of the Voss and Spener journals.
But I said quite calmly: This happens capitally. I have a
pianothis one luxury had been procured for little money, as, though
the old instrument was originally good, it had seen much serviceand
I will send it early to-morrow to the almshouse, where there are plenty
of vacant rooms which would be cheerfully given up to you for your
This plan was accomplished. Ere a month had passed, all the girls
from fifteen to five-and-twenty were enrolled in my friend's volunteer
corps of singers, and it was considered as fashionable to send a
daughter to the Canoness as it is in the capitals to secure admission
to the conservatory.
She had fixed a very moderate price for her lessons. Still, as she
also superintended choir-singing, and soon had all her time occupied,
her income was so large that I jestingly said she would soon be able to
buy an estate.
She shrugged her shoulders, smiling, and I well knew what this
meant. For her left hand was never aware of what her right hand was
doing, and, though our town had an organized system of charity, there
was ample opportunity for deeds of benevolence.
We never exchanged a word about her remaining in the almshouse. But
she persistently resisted the entreaties of her young pupils and their
parents to move into better lodgings in the city. I could not do
without my seven guardian angels, she said, smiling. She merely
obtained somewhat better furniture for her room, sent for Uncle
Joachim's old chest of drawers and the two pictures of Napoleonhe had
left her everything he possessedand added two beautiful engravings
from my aunt's legacy. The large room with two windows, adjoining her
own, was fitted up for her lessons, and my piano was moved into it.
Many an afternoon, when I had arrived before the close of the lessons,
I sat outside on the bench in her little garden, listening to the
chirping within, the regular solfeggios and runs, and the
magnificent bell-like tones of the teacher ringing out between them, or
the sweet voices of the full choir, which practiced not only solemn
motettos and cantatas, but sought recreation in Mendelssohn,
Schubert, and Schumann.
The service she was rendering the young people could not fail to
dispel their parents' prejudices against the wife of the strolling
actor, and make them endeavor to draw her to their houses. But on this
point she was inexorable. I detest these provincial entertainments,
she said to me. I will cheerfully give the people among whom I live as
much of my life as can be of service to them, but the rest I will keep
for myself. To sit on the sofa a whole evening between the wives of the
burgomaster and the councilor, and talk about servants and betrothals,
would kill me. Besides, my opinions would rouse their displeasure
before an hour was over. There is where Mother Schulzen, Mother Grabow,
and the other five Fates deserve praise. They think me a saint, though
I don't go to church.
But, while she retained this view and avoided the society of the
mothers, she was all the more friendly in her intercourse with the
daughters. Every other Sunday her pupils, about twenty in number, were
allowed to spend the evening with her, and she gave them a little
supper of tea, cake, and bread and butter. But these pleasant meetings
were not intended merely for merry talk with the childrenthey were
expected to produce better results. She read to them from the works of
our classic writers the most beautiful and ennobling selections adapted
to their age and culture, a couple of acts from one of Schiller's
tragedies, which they were afterward to finish at home, once the whole
of Iphigenia, at another time ballads from Goethe and Uhland, and then
let her youthful audience express their ideas of what they had heard,
only adding a few wise remarks of her own.
I did not attend these readings, but took the liberty of lingering
outside the open window and listening to her recitations. I will not
speak of the indescribable enjoyment that fell to my lot. But, though
my love for this woman may make me appear somewhat partial, the
assertion can be believed that she would have surpassed many a famed
tragic actress, had she given her readings on the stage.
How completely she captivated her young listeners!
Many of the older people were made somewhat anxious by finding that
the actor's wife was on such intimate terms with her young pupils that
she directed not only their singing but their thoughts and feelings.
But the last ice melted, though it was the very middle of winter; when
a nocturnal conflagration destroyed several houses and robbed some
families of their whole property. Frau Luise instantly advertised a
concert in the town-hall for the benefit of the sufferers. She herself
sang, her pupils helped to the best of their ability in solos,
choir-singing, and recitations. Every nook in the hall, spite of the
high price of admission, was occupied, and the next day there was but
one verdict in house and hovel, namely, that no such pleasure had
ever been enjoyed by even the oldest inhabitants, and no more noble
soul ever dwelt in woman's breast than in the tuneful one of this
greatly misjudged lady.
* * * * *
So she had reached this point.
The swan, that had lost its way in the marsh, had plunged into the
clear water of this quiet country lake, shaken its feathers, and lo!
they were once more snow-white as in its early days.
Even the pastor, who had been unable to forgive her for not
appearing at his church and having even chosen as her only intimate
friend a renegade theologian, whom he could not help doubly
condemningeven this zealous shepherd of souls could not permanently
refuse her his esteem. After the concert he called on her, and had a
conversation which lasted two hours. I met him just as he was leaving
the almshouse. His face looked as I imagine Moses' might have done
after he had seen the Lord in the naming bush. I did not even consider
this strange. What victory over human hearts might I not have expected
this woman to achieve!
The overflowing treasure of grace she so lavishly bestowed
benefited me also. For the first time, my modest greeting to the
secretly resentful man was returned with a friendly gesture, in which I
fancied I noticed a shade of curious interest. We afterward became
better acquainted, and learned to sincerely value each other.
My position as the Canoness's special friend was of course much
envied by my colleagues and other acquaintances, and many questions
were asked about her. But, as I had no intimacies, I was not obliged to
put any unusual bolts on my heart, that it might keep its secrets. And
I must add one thing more which, amid such narrow, provincial
environments, does the highest honor to human nature: never, by even
the most trivial jest, was the slightest shadow cast upon the purity of
my intercourse with her.
Nay, a still more extraordinary thing: even the most arrogant among
the wives of the dignitaries willingly yielded her the precedence she
never claimed, and without envy or hatred beheld this stranger, who had
been received into the almshouse from Christian charity, ruling the
city as it were from her little roomat least, in all matters relating
to the common welfare of the inhabitants and their intellectual life.
Even the burgomaster's wife and her friends, who gathered at society
meetings and coffee-parties, did not consider it beneath their dignity
to seek the Canoness's advice on any charitable business, or any
question concerning education or etiquette, with a faith as devout as
if the almshouse were the oracle of Delphi, and Frau Luise sat on the
tripod as priestess. She told me the drollest stories about these
occasions, which I, as a faithful servant of the temple, vowed to
silence, must not betray here.
Thus the renown of her talents and virtues could not fail to extend
beyond the precincts of our little town, till at last even the
newspapers mentioned her. She took no notice of it; indeed, she did not
look at the papers, now that the advertisements no longer interested
her. I think she secretly dreaded to accidentally read the name of the
man whom she desired to forever forget.
But her concert for the sufferers by the conflagration had made such
a sensation that all Preignitz and Uckermark rang with its fame. So one
day, when I came to chat with her a little while after she had finished
her lessons, I saw standing in front of the almshouse a dusty carriage,
on whose door I recognized the coat of arms of her own family, though
the faces of coachman and footman were unfamiliar to me.
Nevertheless, I did not hesitate to knock at her door, and, on
entering, saw a pretty, stylish young lady sitting on the sofa by her
side, while at the first glance I recognized in her companion my former
pupilBaron Achatz. He had not grown much taller, but a little blonde
mustache had ventured forth under his turned-up Zieten nose, and the
light-blue eyes beneath his low brow had so frank an expression that I
was instantly reminded of his excellent mother, now resting in the
peace of God.
Come nearer, my dear friend, cried Frau Luise. You will find an
old acquaintance, who has already been inquiring for you, and his young
wife. This is our candidate, dear Luitgarde, of whom Achatz has often
told you. What do you say, Herr Johannes? My cousins have come in
person to invite me to spend the rest of my life with them. They have
heard I was an inmate of an almshouse, which did not seem to them a
proper place for a member of their family. Now they want to carry me
off in triumph to their castle, like a precious jewel that has been
taken from the family treasures and at last found again. Is it not kind
in these young people, who could not be blamed if, for a time, they had
thought only of themselves and their own happiness. But you are
misinformed, my dear cousins. I live here just as I desire, and want
for nothing, though my claims upon life are not the most modest. Tell
Achatz, my dear Johannes, how I am spoiled here. Am I not pleasantly
lodged? The adjoining room is my music-hall, and my reception-day is
always crowded. The attendance leaves me nothing to desire, seven maids
and waiting-women, whose united ages number more than five hundred
years; where should I ever find the like again? If you could stay
longer, you would be convinced that I am at least as well cared for
here as though I were living in a chapter, while I need not even wear
the veil and dress of the order, but can cut my garments according to
my own taste. Nevertheless, I thank you from my heart for your kind
intentionsand as she spoke she kissed the young wife, whose blushes
followed each other in swift successionbut, if you really must go
to-day, you must first see that your old cousin can offer her guests a
very tolerable cup of tea. First, however, I will take you over my
little kingdom, of whose orderly government I am so vain that the
sarcastic candidate is fond of calling me 'the queen of the
She rose, tied her little black kerchief over her hair, and then
drew the young baroness' slender arm through hers. We men followed,
and, while Frau Luise, with sportive self-ridicule, pointed out all the
modest beauties of the building and its environs, and finally gathered
a bouquet for the bride in her little garden, my pupil (pardon the
slip) plucked up courage to beg me, in a whisper, to persuade his
cousin to accept his well-meant offer. Even if she herself was
satisfied with her humble position, it would place him and the whole
family in a bad light if it should be rumored that he had allowed his
nearest relative to live in an almshouse, and from considerations of
kinship she owed it to him and to herself to return to
My dear baron, I replied, you overestimate my influence with your
cousin. She knows exactly what she owes to herself. But, if you speak
of family considerations, allow me to say, with all the freedom
warranted by my old acquaintance with you, that the occurrences during
your father's life-time must absolve Frau Luise before God and man from
any duty to her family. And now, pray, let us say no more about it. I
congratulate you sincerely upon your marriage. Your wife seems endowed
with every physical and mental gift that would have led your mother to
greet her joyfully as her son's wife, and love her most tenderly.
The good fellow silently pressed my hand, and I saw his honest
little eyes sparkle.
When we returned to the housethe lake and ivy-mantled chapel had
fairly enraptured the somewhat romantic young wifewe found the
tea-table set, a task for which Mother Schulzen, whose day it was,
possessed especial skill, and supplied with fresh bread, golden butter,
and a little cold meat. The cups are not Sèvres, said Frau Luise in a
jesting tone, and, as I had more pressing wants than silver
table-ware, you must be content with pewter spoons and bone-handled
knives and forks. While I am making the tea, friend Johannes will give
you a proof of his greatest talent, which consists in buttering bread.
She was so irresistibly charming in her quiet cheerfulness that the
young wife at last lost her embarrassment, and we four sat together for
an hour, talking in the gayest manner like old friends. When the time
for departure had come, the ladies affectionately embraced each other,
and promised to correspond regularly. The young baron kissed his
cousin's hand, but she embraced him with maternal tenderness, saying:
I can not see the kind face you have inherited from your mother,
Achate, without remembering how often I kissed that saintly woman's
cheek. Now, farewell; remember me to old Liborius, and Krischan, too,
though he has become a drunkard, and, when you meet Leopoldine, tell
her that I should be very glad to see her again. But traveling is
uncomfortable for an old woman like myself; she must come to me.
* * * * *
This visit, which of course was much discussed in the little city,
greatly increased and strengthened the love and reverence my friend
enjoyed. It was considered greatly to her credit that she had resisted
the temptation to return to her aristocratic circle, and preferred the
humble almshouse to the proud castle. Mother Schulzen, of course, under
the pretext that she must be close at hand, had listened at the door,
and, though she usually declared herself to be hard of hearing, had not
lost a word of the conversation.
From that time Frau Luise was secretly regarded as a sort of
honorary citizen of our town, and would have been cheerfully granted
the most jealously guarded privilege of citizenship, that of fishing in
the lake, had she displayed any love for angling.
Yet she continued to live on in the unassuming manner previously
described, and, as she enjoyed perfect health, she compared, in her
droll way, her own condition with that of the little dismantled steamer
that lay anchored in the calm inland lake, resting comfortably from
But one more tempest burst over her, which threatened to shake even
her steadfast nature.
* * * * *
We had been permitted for three years to call her ours. Spring had
come again, but no March snow-flakes were fluttering through the air as
in the time when she arrived; the sun was shining brightly, and, as the
song says, the weather tempted one to walk. Still, though it was
Saturday afternoon and school had therefore been dismissed, I was
obliged to leave her earlier than usual, as I had taken charge of the
lessons in German for a sick colleague, and had a whole pile of
exercise-books to correct by Monday.
I was sitting at my work again early Sunday morning, when a hurried
message, brought by one of the seven almshouse dames, startled me. I
must come at once to the Canonessas her train preferred to call her.
I could not learn what had happened from the messenger. It was not
her day, and she had not seen Frau Luise.
When I entered, I was no little surprised to find her in bed for the
first time since I had known her. She tried to smile in order to soothe
me, but it was only like a fleeting sunbeam which instantly vanished
behind clouds of gloom.
My life is not threatened, dear friend, said she; nay, I am not
even really illonly so exhausted by mental emotion that, when I tried
to rise, I fell back again. Sit down and listen.
She then related the horrible story. On the afternoon of the
previous day, as, lured by the beautiful sunshine, she continued her
walk alone as far as the lake, a wretched figure had suddenly
confronted her, just at the spot where a group of willows cast a dense
shade. It was a man with long, gray locks and a haggard, sunken face,
holding his hat in his hand with the gesture of a mendicant. Lost in
thought, she had not at first noticed him particularly, but felt in her
pocket to throw alms into his hat. Suddenly the beggar seized her hand,
and, covering it with passionate kisses, exclaimed: Do you no longer
know me, Luise?
The sudden fright fairly made her heart stop beating. She could not
move a limb, but, wrenching her hand from his grasp, stood staring at
him, as though the specter must dissolve into mist before her eyes.
But unhappily it remained, tangible and audible, and the wife
perceived with horror the ruin time had wrought in the proud and
stately man. Absolutely unable to utter a word, she had been forced to
listen to the long, carefully-studied speech, in which the hapless
actor gave her a succinct account of his adventures and experiences in
two hemispheres, protested his eternal love and longing for his
worshiped wife, and in exaggerated theatrical phrases besought her
Not until he paused and, panting for breath, again tried to take her
hand, did she recover sufficient self-control to retreat a step and
say, We have parted forever. With these words she turned to leave
him. But he grasped her dress, and again began the litany of his
complaints, entreaties, and self-reproaches. Fearing that some person
might pass whom the desperate man would make a witness of this pathetic
scene, she imperiously commanded him to leave her at once, but inquire
for her in the evening at that houseshe pointed to the almshouse.
And you did not inform me at once? I interposed.
Why should I, dear friend? I knew what I had to do, and no one
could represent me. True, the hours before night closed inthe bitter
and anxious feelings seething in my soul, shame at the thought that I
had once imagined I loved this man, horror of his presence, and grief
for the downfall of a human being who had once been good and nobleyou
can easily understand how all these things agitated me. But when he
entered, I had at least attained sufficient outward composure to tell
him my decision in curt, resolute words.
'You will swear,' I said, 'never to appear before my face again.
Your sins against me have long since been forgiven. You were like one
dead to me, and will be so once more as soon as the door has closed
between us. But you must remain unknown to others, and therefore must
agree never to mention your name here, and to leave this place early
to-morrow morning, not to return. The little I have saved I will give
you. But, if you rely on my weakness and ever again remind me of your
existence, either verbally or in writing, I will appeal to the
protection of the law, and use the right of self-defense. Here on the
table is the money. It will be enough to pay your passage to America.
What you do there is your own affair. I have made many sacrifices for
your sake; I will not allow you to ruin the last remnant of life and
peace I have won.'
Spare me the description of the scene the unfortunate man now
rehearsed, she continued. Dragging himself to me on his knees, he
poured forth flatteries, curses on his evil destiny, imprecations on
the stupid world that leaves genius to languishin short, he used the
whole stock of his pitiful theatrical arts. When he saw that he made no
impression upon me, he staggered to his feet, straightened his shabby
velvet coat, tossed back his thin locks, with a look into yonder little
mirror, and then cast a quick glance toward the table on which the
money lay. My loathing, especially as he diffused a horrible odor of
bad liquor, had grown so strong that I was afraid every moment of
fainting. Fortunately he speedily released me from his intolerable
presence. With a flood of high-sounding words, he swore to respect my
wish, until I myself changed, which he expected sooner or later from my
generous heart. Meantime he found himself compelled to accept one last
favor from me, of course only as a loan, which he would repay with
interest, when I had become convinced of his complete regeneration, and
recalled him to spend the evening of our lives in loving harmony, and
look back with a pitying smile on the storm and stress of our wandering
With these words he went to the table, put the money in his
breast-pocket, made a movement as if to take my hand, but, when I drew
back, cast a sorrowful glance heavenward, and with a low bow tottered
out of the room.
I listened to discover whether he really went away. Then, with
trembling hands, for I did not feel absolutely secure from a fresh
surprise, I bolted the door, and threw myself, utterly exhausted, upon
I told myself that I could have pursued no other coursethat his
life was not to be saved, even if I threw my own into the gulf of ruin
after it. Yet, my friendthe man whom I was forced to drive from my
threshold had once laid his hand in mine for an eternal unionand had
been the father of my beloved child.
I did not sleep quietly an hour. Every time the spring wind shook
my window and rattled the blind, I started up and listened to hear if
he was standing outside, rapping. And to-day I feel as though I were
paralyzed, and moreover have constantly before my eyes the piteous
figure of the poor, homeless man, and tremble at the thought of the woe
that may still be in store for us both.
She then begged me to inquire whether he had been seen in the city,
or where he had gone. I soon brought her news that he had spent the
night at the Crown Prince, did not enter the public-room, but ordered
wine and rum to be brought to him. He had not mentioned his name, and
early that morningabout eight o'clockhad departed as he came, on
foot and without luggage, after paying his bill and buying a bottle of
brandy to take with him. After giving the waiter a thaler for his fee,
he turned his steps toward the north.
I succeeded in partially soothing her agitated mind. I spent nearly
the whole day with her, played some of her favorite melodies, and
shared the simple meal brought to her bed-side. When I at last went
away, she pressed my hand with a touching look of gratitude. Don't
forsake me, dear friend, she said. And do not think me an affected
simpleton, because I am lying here so helpless. I shall be in my place
again to-morrow. Only I will defer our spring concertshe had been in
the habit of giving a musical entertainment, aided by her pupils, every
three monthsfor a fortnight. I fear I should not be able to sing
with them now.
* * * * *
These words proved true, but not in the way she had meant.
Her great strength of will soon roused her from the lethargy into
which the sad meeting with her husband had plunged her, and even on
Monday she gave her lessons as though nothing had occurred. But on
Friday news came that tore the old wounds open afresh.
A few miles down the river, near a little village, a fisherman had
found, drifting in the water among the reeds, the body of a man with
long gray locks, dressed in a black-velvet coat. It must have been
there several days, for it was swollen and livid, like the corpses of
the drowned who do not instantly rise to the surface; besides, the
pocket-book containing his papers was completely sodden, and the money
in it spoiled by the water. In each of his two pockets he carried a
half-empty bottle. There could be no doubt that he had met with his
death while in a state of bewilderment, perhaps partial
unconsciousness. With the exception of an American passport bearing a
foreign name, nothing was found on him that could throw any light upon
his personal relations.
Nevertheless the rumor spread with amazing celerity through the
whole neighborhood that the Canoness's missing husband had returned to
find his death in the waves of their native river. The burgomaster
called on Frau Luise to impart the sad news considerately. But the old
gossips who served her had anticipated him.
I was with her when she received the visit of the father of the
city. It is true, she said, the man is my unfortunate husband. But
do not expect me to feign a grief I do not feel. That he sought death I
do not believe. He was supplied with money, and could indulge his sole
passion, which had stifled all his nobler feelings. His death was an
easy one, and now the poor restless wanderer has found repose. You can
not desire me to see him again. Have him buried as quietly as possible;
I will place a cross upon the grave at my own expense. Then, in a few
brief words, she told the worthy magistrate about her last interview
with the dead man.
This occasion clearly revealed the love and esteem in which she was
held by the whole community, high and low. There was not a single
malicious gossip who molested her with a visit of feigned condolence,
while secretly gloating over the fact that the husband of this
much-lauded woman had met with a miserable end like any common
vagabond. On the contrary, all who could boast of her acquaintance
endeavored to show her by little attentions that the misfortune of her
life, which had here reached so tragical an end, had only made them
love and honor her the more. Not one of her pupils came to take a
singing-lesson without bringing a bunch of violets or early
lilies-of-the-valley, or a hyacinth raised at home, and no coffee-party
was given from which the hostess did not send her a plate of cakes,
which, it is true, only benefited the almshouse dames. Though Frau
Luise gratefully appreciated these discreet tokens of affection, she
was remarkably quiet and thoughtful. She wore no mourning robe, but her
soul seemed muffled in a black veil.
* * * * *
This mood was deepened by the death of the oldest of the almshouse
dames, a feeble crone of eighty-four, who had recently been unable to
perform her duties as attendant. During the last three days she was
unconscious, and her exhausted flame of life went out without a
flicker: When I spoke to my friend, who had not left her side, of this
easy death as something enviable, she shook her head gravely, and
replied: I would prefer a different one, like my dear Uncle Joachim's.
I wish to be conscious when I am dying, to experience my own death, and
not, so to speak, steal out of the world behind my own back.
She insisted that, at the burial in the almshouse church-yardwhere
only the inmates of the almshouse were interredher pupils should sing
a choral and Mendelssohn's It is Appointed by God's Will, an honor
which had never before fallen to a poor woman's lot, so that some
wiseacres asserted she was overdoing the matter. But that did not
trouble her in the least.
When they bear me out some day, she said, as we returned from the
funeral, see, dear friend, that I, too, find my last resting-place
yonder. I do not wish to be dragged through the whole city to the other
cemetery, with its pompous marble monuments. And place no cross on my
grave. I have borne it enough during my life; in death, let the earth
rest lightly on me. What I possess will go to my old guard; you must
attend to it, after first choosing some memento you value. Promise me
that! I have written my last will and given it to the burgomaster.
These words could not specially disturb or sadden me. I saw her
walking by my side in the full vigor of life, and though, since the day
she had sustained such a fright, her hair had grown still more silvery,
she seemed, in her gentle melancholy, younger and fairer than ever.
She was also even more affectionate and tender to all, including
myself. And, though I had already passed my fortieth year and ought to
have grown sensible, her mild words and the faint air of sadness that
surrounded her fanned the old flames I had with so much difficulty
subdued, and one evening they not only flashed from my eyes but darted
from my tongue.
The heat for several days had been equal to that of summer, so we
had been weeding and watering the young plants in her garden. Then we
sat down side by side on the little bench, and I said: Do you know,
Frau Luise, that this is the anniversary of the day on which, twenty
years ago, I first saw you?
She reflected a short time and then answered: I have no memory for
dates. But I know one thing, Johannes: there has not been a single day
since then when I could have doubted you.
While speaking, she gazed thoughtfully into vacancy, as if this
great truth were dawning upon her to-day for the first time. This gave
me some little encouragement.
Frau Luise, I continued, that day seems to me like yesterday. And
not one has passed since then that I have not felt you are the dearest
creature in the world to me. But must we live on thus to the end, only
together a few hours, though we feel that we belong to each other? You
have long known my feelings. Can you not resolve to make the bond that
unites us still firmer, to grant me the right to lay my whole
insignificant self at your feet before the eyes of the world?
The words had leaped from my lips as if some one else had lured them
from my inmost soul, and I was startled at my boldness as I heard the
sound of my own voice. I dared not look at her. I felt, or thought I
felt, that she was forcing herself to keep calm and not rebuke my
presumption. After a long pause, she replied, in a voice whose tones
were sorrowful rather than indignant:
Why have you said this, Johannes? You ought to know me and be aware
that I have done with life. Do not suppose that the opinion of the
world would awe me, if I felt that I was still young enough to be happy
and make others happy. But I was probably never created to devote
myself with my whole heart to a single individual, as a true wife
ought. Even my unfortunate first love was but a delusion of my
imagination. I have every talent for friendship or for being a Sister
of Charity, and my most passionate feeling has ever been a fervent
sympathy with pauvre humanité, as Mademoiselle Suzon said. But
you would not wish to be married from compassion.
No, she continued, as I was about to protest, it would be a cruel
pity. In a few years I should easily pass for your mother, and you
would cut a ridiculous figure in attending me through the streets. You
are still a young man and a very foolish one, as you have just proved.
Your heart must still possess a fountain of youth, though you are no
mere lad. Why don't you do me the favor to marry my Agnes, who is nine
and twenty, an epitome of every feminine virtue, and, moreover, in love
This Agnes was her favorite pupil, the daughter of the district
physician, and, as I lived opposite to her house, our names had already
been associated by the gossips. It was by no means humiliating to be
suspected of cherishing a special liking for this exemplary and by no
means ugly girl. But, Good Heavens, I!
I could only shake my head and answer: Why do I not love your
Agnes? Because I don't want to marry a bundle of virtues, but one human
being, and in fact only that one who in my eyes will always be young,
and whom I desire to call mine in order to please no mortal save
myself. However, as you have so little love for me that you would
willingly serve as a match-maker in my behalf, it was of course folly
to ask if you would become Frau Johannes Weissbrod, and I therefore
most humbly beg your pardon.
I rose with an uncontrollable sense of grief, and, scarcely bowing
to her, stalked away like a thoroughly rude, defiant man.
The next day, it is true, I returned humbly, and remorsefully
besought her to forgive my spiteful escapade. She was quite right; I
was nothing but a crack-brained young man who grasped at the stars, and
in doing so fell on the ground. Frau Luise gazed silently into vacancy,
and then said: The most difficult task and the one we learn latest is
to cut our garments according to the cloth, though we feel it will grow
with us. Let us say no more about it.
I did not exactly understand what she meant. It became clear to me
* * * * *
We again lived on as before, and, after she had survived the spring
tempest, life seemed to become dear to her once more, though a slight
shadow rested on her brow. At Easter she gave her concert for the
benefit of the poor, which was a brilliant success. Her birthday came
just after Whitsuntide, and, in token of the love and gratitude of the
whole community, was to be celebrated with special pomp. I, of course,
began the festival with a morning serenade executed under her windows
by my pupils, after which she invited the whole choir in and treated
them to coffee and cakes. At ten o'clock the burgomaster's wife and her
most distinguished friends called, and attended her in a stately
procession down to the shore of the lake. There the greatest surprise
awaited her. The burgomaster had sent to Berlin several days before for
a machinist and some assistants to inspect the little steamer and put
her in safe condition to make an excursion over the mirror-like surface
of the lake. The boiler and engine were found to be still in tolerable
order, and a trial trip was taken at night whose result was perfectly
When we came down to the shore, the little vessel, gayly decked with
flags, hung with garlands of fir, and sending upward a light column of
smoke from its smokestack, looked extremely pretty and inviting; and
Frau Luise's eyes dilated with astonishment when she understood that
this smoke was floating from the stack, so long empty, in honor of her.
The burgomaster's wife and I led her across the long, swaying plank
that extended to the deck; but here she was so startled that she almost
made a misstep, for an exultant pæan suddenly resounded with such
vehement, youthful energy from invisible throats that it was almost too
much for her composure. Her pupils had posted themselves behind a
canvas awning, which was afterward drawn over the deck as a protection
from the sun, and in the excitement of the moment were singing the
festal melody I had composed and arranged with more regard to the
feelings of their hearts than the rules of art, by which state of
affairs neither words nor music were especially enhanced. However, in
the open air and amid the general emotion, this modest overture
performed its part acceptably. Then the deck suddenly became thronged
with joyous, loving faces; and, when the anchor was weighed and the
little vessel swept with majestic calmness through the glittering
water, first along the shore and then across the lake to the little
grove, while the chorus of fresh young voices, now mindful of every
nicety of execution they owed to their mistress, began the superb air,
Who has Thee, Forest Fair I saw the sweet face of the woman I loved
illumined with gentle, divine emotion, and was forced to turn away that
my tears might fall into the water unobserved.
But all this was merely the prelude to the festival. The banquet was
served in the wood, where, in an open space under tall fir-trees, stood
a large table adorned with bouquets and covered with dishes, which had
been brought there early in the morning, and received the last dressing
over an improvised hearth by some experienced housekeepers. Under the
seat that had been arranged for the heroine of the day lay the gift her
young friends had prepared, a large rug for her room, the work of many
industrious hands, and as gayly adorned with the most beautiful
garlands of roses and arabesques of violets as provincial love could
accomplish. Still, here amid the green foliage and before the festal
board, the strange work of art with its glaring colors and grotesque
flourishes looked very bright, and each of the fellow-workers won from
the deeply agitated recipient a kiss and clasp of the hand. After this
we took our places at the table, and began the feast with the best
Of course, there was no lack of admirable speeches, merry clinking
of glasses, and frequent embraces between the feminine members of the
party, during which I played the part of envious spectator. I also
contributed my shred to the general eloquence by emptying my glass to
the health of the six almshouse dames, who were seated in holiday garb
at the table below, and imagined themselves in Paradisenever had they
dreamed of such honors and delights on earth. Their patroness, the
queen, had not even been obliged to stipulate that they were not to
remain at home. The givers of the festival knew that without her
faithful followers something would be lacking from the pleasures of the
Of course, the meal did not pass without singing, and, when we had
risen from the table and were enjoying a little rest on the moss-grown
soil of the wood, the young ladies walked arm in arm in little groups
along the dusky woodland-paths, raising their voices in an alternative
melody very sweet to hear. All sorts of games followed, in which,
however, the presence of young men was secretly missed. I was malicious
enough to remain with the mothers or talk with the six or seven fathers
who had joined the party, in order not to go near Agnes, whom my cruel
friend, as a punishment for my sins, desired to force upon me as a
I saw that the long-continued festivity was wearying her, though she
exerted herself to acknowledge, with unvarying winsomeness, the efforts
made by these worthy people. I heard her cough, so I drew the
burgomaster's wife aside and persuaded her to give the signal for
After some delay and discussion we all went on board the steamer
again, and, making a wide sweep around the lake, returned to our
Frau Luise stood on deck in the bow of the vessel with several of
her favorite pupils near her; no one uttered a word. We were allowing
the memories of this delightful day to re-echo in our hearts. Her head
was turned toward the west, where the sun was slowly sinking, and her
dear face and tall figure were warmly illumined by the crimson glow.
With what a youthful light her eyes sparkled! The silvery luster of her
hair had vanished in the golden radiance. It seemed impossible to
believe that this woman had just celebrated her forty-fourth birthday.
Sing something! said Agnes, who stood nearest. Ah, yes, do sing!
entreated the others.
She did not seem to have heard them. Yet suddenly, as if in a dream,
she sang, mezza voce, an Italian air, an aria from Paësiello, of
which she was especially fond. And, as the steamer swept on into the
crimson light, the song rose clearer and stronger till she poured forth
the full power of her voice, whose every note must have been distinctly
audible on the shore. The whole company had gradually glided closer to
us, and I saw by their rapt faces how they were enjoying the foreign
beauty of the melody, whose words no one understood. Even the people on
the shore, peasants with their carts and solitary pedestrians, stopped
as if enchanted, and gazed at the black ship slowly dividing the waves
bearing a singing nixie on her deck.
Then the vessel turned, and the sun was behind us. The aria was
finished, and the burgomaster had given the signal for applause, in
which all joined with great fervor. When silence was restored, and the
group waited for the singing to be resumed, she began, without waiting
to be asked, Beethoven's Knows't thou the Land! which she had
transposed to suit the deeper notes of her voice. Mignon certainly had
an alto voice, she once jestingly said to me. Never had I heard her
sing it so superbly, never heard the Thither! thither! express such
strong, sweet, uncontrollable yearning. We reached the landing-place
just as the last notes died away. The burgomaster was so deeply moved
that he forgot to applaud, went to her, and, with tears in his honest
old eyes, bent, seized both hands, and faltered: I thank you, I thank
you a thousand times, madame! This is the fairest day of my life! You
have made us all happy.
She smiled and looked at me. It was my swan song, she said. I
fear I shall be obliged to give up singing. Just hear how hoarse this
little exertion has suddenly made me.
I saw her shiver slightly, and hastened to wrap a shawl around her.
Good-night, my dear friends, she said. I owe you all thanks for a
pleasure never to be forgotten. Forgive me for taking my leave so
abruptly. But this was a little too much joy for an old woman who has
not deserved so much love and kindness. No, I am perfectly well; a
little rest will make me quite myself again. My beautiful rug must be
put in my room at once. I will feast my eyes on the lovely flowers and
think of the dear givers till I fall asleep.
She then shook hands with every one. As I helped her across the
plank to the shore, I felt the difficulty she experienced in holding
herself erect. It is nothing, dear friend, she whispered hoarsely.
My heart is as light as a bird's, only my limbs are heavy. My good
mother Grabow shall put me to bed. Perhaps I took cold in the wood. But
you know I am like a cork figure, my head is always uppermost.
* * * * *
I had by no means a good night. When, before school the next
morning, I inquired at the almshouse for Frau Luise, she was still
asleep, that is, she was lying in a feverish dream, raving incoherently
without recognizing any one. I spoke to the doctor, who had been
already called in the night. The old man had the thoughtful wrinkle
between his bushy eyebrows that always boded trouble.
But she is so strong and full of vital energy, I said.
The strongest constitutions fare the worst. But we can still hope,
and she could not be more carefully nursed if she were a princess.
It was the same at noon. I spent the whole day with her, had a couch
made up for me in the music-room at night, and the following morning
sent a message to my friend the head teacherwho meantime had been
made superintendent of the schoolrequesting him to do me the favor to
take charge of my classes. I was unable to do my duty while my friend's
life was in danger.
This lasted four, five days. The doctor shook his head more and more
despairingly. I can give the disease no special name! It is a sort of
nervous fever, but in a very unusual form, and the ordinary remedies do
not avail. It is fortunate that she is unconscious. Only the expression
of pain on her face shows that she has a dull sense of the
life-and-death struggle raging in her frame.
During those days it seemed as though the little almshouse had been
transferred to the heart of the city. Instead of being solitary and
deserted as usual, it was now constantly surrounded by a crowd of
persons of all ages and sexes, treading lightly with a sorrowful look
on their faces. They did not venture to ring the bell, and indeed it
was not necessary: one of the old dames was constantly cowering outside
of the door, and gave to all questions the same sad answer. When
prominent people came, I was obliged to go out and reply to the queries
myself. Every one thought it was a matter of course that I now belonged
to the household.
Scarcely any change occurred in her critical condition, nothing save
a slight ebb and flow of the fever, a lower or louder intonation of the
voice, as she raved of the visions of her bewildered brain. Sometimes,
with wide-open eyes that rested on nothing, she repeated correctly and
distinctly a few lines from one of her husband's parts. Sometimes she
seemed to be talking with her son, and a happy smile that pierced me to
the heart flitted over her colorless lips. Sometimes she sang, but only
diatonic scales, and when her voice failed to reach the high notes she
shook her head mournfully, whispering: Too high, too high! Trees must
not grow to the sky. Down! down! It is pleasant to dwell below.
At such times I could not restrain my tears.
But, on the fifth day, a crisis seemed imminent. The fever had
lessened several degrees; the old doctor's face, for the first time,
wore a hopeful look.
He gave several directions, and promised to come in the next morning
earlier than usual. I could send home the young girls, who called at a
late hour to inquire, with a little hope, which, however, I did not
feel myself. Then I returned to my post. It was Mother Schulzen's turn
to keep watch that night, but she was so deaf that I could not trust
the invalid solely to her, though nothing would have induced her to go
to bed. She was sitting in a low chair by the wall, and, after keeping
herself awake for a while by knitting and taking snuff, at last fell
A lamp, protected by a green shade, was burning in the room;
outside, the moon was sailing through a cloudless sky; deep silence
surrounded us. Frau Luise had not uttered a word since noon, and for
the first time seemed to be quietly asleep.
Suddenlyit was about ten o'clockwhile I sat by the bed without
turning my eyes from her face, her eyes slowly opened and wandered
about the room with a strained gaze till they rested upon me. Then she
said, in a perfectly clear voice: I feel wonderfully well!
After a pause, during which I scarcely ventured to breathe, as if
the slightest sound might drive the approaching convalescence away, she
murmured: Are you here, dear friend? Have I slept long? How delightful
that I can see you as soon as I wake!
She moved her hand as if seeking something. I timidly clasped it,
and stooped to press my burning brow upon it. Just at that moment I
felt her other hand laid gently on my head, and, while stroking my
hair, she continued in the same calm voice:
My last hour is near, Johannes. But I am glad that I have waked
once more before the long night begins. I have something to say to you,
my friend. You know the tenor of my last will, and that I wish to be
laid in the church-yard outside with my old almshouse friends. If there
is a Day of Judgment, I would like to rise with my body-guard; they
have spoiled me; I could no longer do without their service. And let my
coffin be covered with the rug; afterward it shall belong to you. Do
you hear me? Come a little nearer. What I now have to say is to be a
secret between us two. I deceived you when I told you, a short time
ago, that I was not created to see the universe in a single individual.
It cost me no little effort, for my heart belied my lips. I should have
been very happy if I could have become your wife. I knew that long,
long agoever since the day you took our Joachimchen in your arms when
he grew weary and carried him home, I said to myself: 'Could I possess
this child and this man, no wish would remain ungratified.' But it
might not be. I was obliged to bury the child and hide my love for the
man in the inmost depths of my heart. But it always lived on there, and
now I can thank you, Johannes, for all the love and faith you have
lavished upon me. Lift my head a littlethereI want to see you
clearly once more, andit is strangemy eyes are so heavy, though my
soul is awake.
I helped her rise higher on her pillows, bowed my face nearer hers,
and saw her eyes fixed on me with strange brilliancy.
I love you, my friend, she said. There is not one false line in
your face nor in your heart, but a great sorrow now fills both. Be
happy, dear one, and remember your friend without tears. Shall I not
remain with you, wherever I go? True, to see each other again She
slowly shook her head. Ah, if I might only see you and my boybut the
other masksno, no! We have eaten at the table of life here below till
we are satisfiedor rather, we are wise and stop just when the food
tastes best; now others will sit in our chairs. But we will first
cordially wish each other 'a good appetite!' Come! kiss me once, just
as a loving husband kisses his beloved wifethen I will stretch myself
out and take my afternoon rest.
My quivering lips touched her cool mouth. Dear Johannes! she
murmured, clasping my hand tightly as she fell back on the pillows.
Then she smiled once more, an unearthly smile, and closed her eyes. Her
hand trembled a little.
An hour after it lay cold and still in mine.
[Footnote 1: Bunzlau is famed for its pottery.Tr.]
[Footnote 2: A round hole in a tailor's table, through which he
brushes useless bits of cloth, andas is generally supposedsome that
[Footnote 3: An old coin, worth a little more than the groschen now
in general use; for a time both circulated together.Tr.]
[Footnote 4: The bug-bear of German nurseries.Tr.]
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