Withered Leaves: A Novel. Vol. II. (of III) by Gottschall, Rudolf von
Transcriber's Notes: 1. Page scan source: http://books.google.com/books?id=fuUBAAAAQAAJ
2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].
3. Errata on pp. 109, 154, and 183 have been corrected.
AT ALL LIBRARIES.
BY THE SAME TRANSLATOR.
By E. WERNER,
_Author of_ "_Under a Charm_," "_Success and How He Won it_," _&c_.
2 VOLS. 21s.
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"An art novel of great power and passion * * * * * The situations are well contrived, and the workings of strong feelings well managed. The story is able and absorbing, and the development of Ella's character is powerfully conceived."--_The British Quarterly_.
"The Translator may claim credit, not only of having selected a good subject, but of having handled it well * * * * * The situations in this story being true and unforced, are more effective than any amount of fine writing and strained invention could make them. We have no difficulty in believing in the individualities of the personages."--_The Queen_.
"The same power, however, of giving reality to his word-portraits which delighted us so much in Herr Werner's former production again makes itself felt in this one, as well as a certain aptness in choosing felicitous incidents * * * * * The story is admirably told, and its conclusion exceedingly dramatic."--_Morning Post_.
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REMINGTON & Co., 5, Arundel Street, Strand, W.C.
Rudolf von Gottschall.
FROM THE GERMAN,
By BERTHA NESS.
Translator of Werner's "Riven Bonds" and "Sacred Vows."
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London: REMINGTON AND CO., 5, Arundel Street, Stand, W.C. * * * 1879.
[_All Rights Reserved_.]
CONTENTS OF VOLUME II.
I.--The First Meeting.
III.--The Fall of Man.
IV.--Mother and Daughter.
VI.--The Castle Lake.
VIII.--In the Boudoir.
IX.--In the Boarding School.
XI.--In the Churchyard.
XII.--In the Citizen Assembly.
XIII.--At Mother Hecht's.
Page 109, line 20, for Nirwana read Nirvana.
" 154, " 12, for Niriwana read Nirvana.
" 183, " 1, for Arioste read Ariosto.
THE FIRST MEETING.
"I had always been a dreamer, and an enthusiast," began Blanden, "and even when at school I cherished bold designs; I would emigrate to Madagascar, an island to which I had taken a peculiar fancy, and did not deem it impossible there to win a crown for myself.
"I always remained aloof from the noisy amusements of my companions. I loved solitude; a walk in the company of others was disagreeable to me; all their conversations and songs seemed like desecration of nature, which only reveals its beauty, its secrets to silent appreciation. But when I wandered alone through meadows, even if only the cornfields of my paternal estates, or lost myself in the woods--above me the rustling oaks, beside me the roaring sea--a sensation often overcame me, of which I was unable to give any account, which would not allow itself to be put into words, without wiping away its mysterious magic as if it were the coloured down of a butterfly's wings. I was persuaded that this feeling was shared and understood by none; it was a kind of religion of nature, but so fervent, that in it I believed to lose my identity, that I felt as if my soul went forth into the vast universe, as if the lisping breeze which stirred the branches and tops of the trees were the spirit of the Divinity, the same spirit which also animated the respirations of my bosom, and the feelings of my heart. The evening crimson, when its glow faded away behind the summits, could fill me with infinite emotion; a hot day which unfettered the spicy breeze in field and forest, and which with darkening fragrance hovered over the blue distance, could transport me into an ecstacy, as though the fire of external nature glowed within my own veins.
"I studied the works of poets; I found nothing that would entirely have expressed my sensations, and even in ancient religious writings and the works of a later period, I found the indication of this feeling rather than itself in its peculiarity.
"I might gather it from ambiguous symbols, but the language of my heart it was not.
"I visited the university, nevertheless I remained faithful to my solitary, dreamy tendency. I was never to be seen at the drinking parties of our duelling clubs, although I attended their fencing school; I learned to wield the blade bravely, and if any one disturbed or ridiculed me, I demanded satisfaction of him. Dry knowledge imprinted itself on my memory, yet it remained a stranger to my own mental life. The philosophy of the lecture-room gave me no reply to those questions of my soul; I followed their mathematical problems with interest, but they did not touch that which laid hold of my inmost feelings. The lecturer at that time was a highly esteemed master of the art of thinking, yet he confined himself to the tangible, the palpable, and my mind was devoted to the unfathomable.
"Would the world's secret let itself be put into set forms? Would it not much rather disclose itself to inexpressible feelings? A nameless longing took possession of me, to fathom the secret connection between the world's spirit and my own, which at those moments of inspired views had illumined my soul as with flashes of lightning, only to take refuge again in the unattainable.
"It was the same supreme feeling that was peculiar to religious fervour, and yet it lay so far removed from the ordinary circle of conceptions in which believers moved. The daring idea of founding a new religion, or at least of expounding in a new manner that which for thousands of years had been the tradition of faith, often rose within my soul; then--I started at this daring; was it not a lesser venture to emigrate to Madagascar, than to discover a new world of religion?
"The ecstacies which Nature granted me, even as she appeared in the Baltic country mostly void of charms, remained the same; I felt inwardly related to her. On the other hand, Nature stood before me in lofty estrangement in another form in woman. While stormy youth around me had long since in daily pleasures denuded of its leaves that which appeared to me the sacred crowning work of creation, I still experienced a dread of and longing for it, as though for me it were something unapproachable. I felt that for me one half of the world lay in obscurity; like that hemisphere from which the sun is averted, it lay as if bedded in the lap of sacred night, and an ambrosial magical light seemed to flow from it. I shuddered, as through me passed a nervous dread of that moment in which this dark world should move with me into the bright sunshine of knowledge.
"Meanwhile I had terminated my studies. I had been industrious; dry law released me from my internal struggles, from all disturbing trains of thought. Even the most subtle distinctions of the Roman jurists in the most difficult law questions, were enigmas which could be solved, and my mind felt especial satisfaction when it had been successful in such a solution. How totally different were those non-transparent secrets in which neither thought nor feeling were ever entirely consumed.
"I passed my legal examination, and commenced my first employment in the service of the State. With an adventure which had befallen me as student a fatal complication in my life now became connected.
"One evening I had been walking along the Pregel. The light of the declining sun swept the hollow-eyed warehouses, which were crowded together in large quarters of the town, and hovered, dream-like, behind the sails and masts of the ships which lay at anchor in that part of the river where greater depth of water allowed them to do so. Farther up, lay the heavily-freighted 'Wittinen,' and rafts which had come up from Masuren, with their wooden huts. All were merry upon those bast-covers, for these 'Dschimken,' who at home lived in mud hovels, had been long enough sailing past pasturage and meadows on the river bank to rejoice in their life here, at the end of their journey.
"Yonder, one of them in a sheepskin, with a straw hat upon his head, is playing upon a fiddle with two strings; the light-hearted little people danced upon the tree trunks bound together--dancers and spectators clapped their hands; others crouched around a large kettle, out of which they helped themselves with wooden spoons.
"Like all pleasures of the people, this merry scene, which might amuse others, touched me. Not far from it, a picture of busy activity attracted me; I saw how eagerly carpenters were at work upon the frame of a ship that seemed to me to be of a peculiar form. Just as I came near, they were about to cease their labours, laid their axes aside, and went towards a man whose singular appearance, when I looked more narrowly at him, made a strange impression upon me.
"He reminded me of the hermits of old; a long beard flowed down almost to his girdle, thick black hair fell far down upon his shoulders, a broad-brimmed hat covered his head. As he now turned sideways, sharply-cut features showed themselves in the evening light; his tall form was clad in Oriental fashion, in a garment that hung down to his feet.
"Who was that remarkable man, who seemed to step out of the 'thousand and one nights' into the sober life of the old royal Prussian town?
"He stood amidst a group that plainly belonged to the upper classes. Two young women, apparently very graceful, also stood beside him. The carpenters went towards him, and pressed his hand; the women had a shake of the hand and a sweet smile for each. The workmen assembled themselves behind the distinguished group, and soon the whole procession set itself in motion.
"A carpenter, whom other business called away, had separated himself from his companions, and went past me.
"'What kind of a ship is that which you are building over there?' asked I of him.
"'It is the "Swan."'
"'And who christened it thus, and who has ordered it to be built?'
"That sounded most mysterious.
"'Who is the Paraclete?'
"'The man yonder, with the long, dark hair; they call him so; he is a minister, but no ordained one.'
"'But why does he build ships?'
"'It is to be a wonderful ship; he has often preached to us about it; a kind of Noah's ark. We must have firm faith when we build it; then it will be able to sail against wind and waves. And we believe, too, that with each stroke of the axe we are doing a work that is pleasing to the Lord.'
"'Is he a rich ship-owner?'
"'He himself does not own a farthing, but pious people give him as much as he requires.'
"'Whither does the procession go?'
"'Yonder to the public-house. I shall soon follow, when I have seen to my wife and child at home. He preaches over there, and it is wonderful to hear everything that he says. You can go too, because he preaches to all the world, and no one is excluded.'
"I followed the workman's invitation, and also went to the house inside which the procession had disappeared. As it moved farther on, it had increased like a caravan. Porters and sailors had joined it. They filled a large room, evidently a dancing saloon. Above, on the gallery, where at other times the musicians would be, the 'Paraclete' had taken up his position; beside him sat his male and female companions.
"Who were the young women who went so dauntlessly into this district of the lowest inhabitants, whose rudeness is usually avoided by all of refined bringing up? Great must be their attachment to the prophet, and the might of their faith, that enabled them to bid defiance to the wild noise and to the odours of tobacco. Yet, in the latter, they seemed only to perceive clouds of incense, which ascended to do homage to the High Priest. Did they believe those times to be returned when prophets moved amongst the lowly people, who alone possessed appreciation of the seed that was scattered amongst them?
"I looked up at the chosen congregation that surrounded the preacher, and was wonderfully struck with the charming grace of one youthful face, which with its soft, gentle lines contrasted pleasantly with the Paraclete's sharp features. Was it a girl or a young married woman? The whole figure was full of girlish charm, yet a girl would hardly have ventured into such a district. A transfiguring breath of enthusiasm lay upon those noble features, large deep blue eyes gazed up at the preacher with such trust, such confidence; it was as if the faith of an entire devoted congregation were reflected in the glance of those eyes. I looked again and ever again in that direction; I followed all her movements with unwavering glances; she stood up, she walked to and fro, apparently eagerly occupied with arrangements to render the preacher's pulpit a more worthy one; she brought a cushion and placed it upon the balustrade, she brought milk and fruit, for the minister scorned any other nourishment--yes, she brought a footstool for his feet.
"This servile occupation which she devoted to the mysterious man displeased me, but all the movements of her slender form were full of such winning grace, and made an enrapturing impression upon me.
"I felt as if the divinity had been found for that altar which already for long I had erected to 'woman,' and the dense clouds of tobacco appeared to me to be the ambrosial firmament which hovers above a Madonna.
"The preacher rose, and silence suddenly reigned in the assembly hitherto so noisy.
"What he spoke was marvellous, but it attracted me; it was not the old story that has so often been promulgated from a pulpit lulling all to sleep, they were new doctrines, even although in the old garment. Was my youthful dream of founding a new religion called into life by this enthusiast?
"He did not speak like other men of views and convictions, nor like the teachers of the Divine Word, of a traditionary faith. Everything had been experienced inwardly by himself, he was a new mediator between God and man. He had discovered the origin of all being, the two original powers of creation, out of which all life flowed. The one was water: plants draw their nourishment out of moisture, and every young shoot is rich in this primordial power; but the other which gives form is light, is warmth; those are the two original beings, the female and the male which are necessarily and closely wedded.
"And with glowing fantasy the apostle described how the serpent of light pants for the water of darkness, how seven-armed with thousandfold arteries of rays it pours itself into the depths where the element, dark as night, waits to receive it. They were poetical visions in apocalyptic pictures; the people listened devoutly to the incomprehensible, which, however, led a succession of gay, misty pictures before their mental vision. The prophet himself spoke with tongues of fire, and with the dauntlessness of a man in whom Heaven had deposited the jewels of its revelations as in a sacred shrine. All the time he stroked his long beard, divided it, and put it together again, yet all was done with dignity and with self-complacency.
"When he sat down he refreshed himself with the milk which his graceful companion handed to him.
"Two or three times more he rose, when the spirit moved him, and immediately ceased the wild tumult, the buzz of voices at his feet.
"It might be about midnight when he retired with his companions. One of these was evidently a minister whom the ladies had joined. The young beauty passed close by me; was I mistaken, or did she smile pleasantly at me? And was this smile one of approval of my demeanour and appearance, or of pleasure that a young student also--for the Albertus on my cap showed that I attended the Albertina--should have joined the pious congregation that sat at the feet of the Heaven-sent preacher? Never to be forgotten was the gracious smile, the nobility of form and feature, the deep large eye.
"Like a dream, that beautiful woman glided past me, and years should elapse ere I saw her again.
"I was too shy, too modest to ask about her; I should have expected to destroy the dreamlike charm of that vision by any enquiries; yet whenever afterwards I read the works of the poets, when Shakespeare's, Goethe's, and Schiller's female figures stood before my mind, they invariably borrowed her features. With such deep-blue eyes, Ophelia scattered abroad her flowers, plucked to pieces, Juliet gazed upon her Romeo, Gretchen lay upon her knees before the _mater dolorosa_. Woman since then appeared more beautiful to me, but also loftier and more unapproachable.
"Meanwhile I made enquiries about the new 'Paraclete' and learned much of his life and doings; how he had wandered through Germany preaching the Gospel of light and water, had here found enthusiastic disciples, there was greeted with scorn, thrown down stairs, yes, had even been locked up in a mad house.
"I also learned, when on one occasion I returned to the town after the vacations, that the new Noah's ark had been released from the slip-way, but had stranded against the first pillar of the bridge and been capsized. The faith which could remove mountains was not able to bring that ark into the sea.
"There it lay broken, ruined, and the jeers of the children of this world exhausted themselves upon the evil which had befallen the sacred 'Swan.' All promises had been brought to shame!
"Just as sadly fared the prophet himself; he had so often announced that he could not die, because he had once already been dead and now lived the life of one who was regenerated; yet despite such announcement his eyes were closed soon after that mishap.
"It was an unimportant piece of news for all my friends, it went to my heart. I thought of the tears which that fair one who was bound to him with such touching devotion, might have shed at the news of his death--and tears rose to my eyes also."
"Two or three years might have passed since that evening; I was by that time one of those young officials, whose knowledge, learned in the lecture-room, had melted away by monotonous practice, when one day an old respected aunt invited me to tea.
"She had only recently moved into the town from her estate; I had seen little of her during my life, and had not the remotest idea of being her heir, although I was one of her nearest relatives; the roseate light in which nephews, eager to inherit, are wont to look upon such-like matrons, who shine with the radiance of golden promises, did not, therefore exist for me; I only saw in her a good woman, who had become pious in the evening of life, and who rushed about from church to church.
"When I entered I found several elderly ladies and gentlemen assembled round the tea urn. They were imbibing the Chinese beverage. Nevertheless, the conversation was but little cheerful--now and again a word, a sentence--they were the silent ones in the land.
"The ticking of an old clock upon the wall, the noise of the tea-urn were the only sounds which interrupted the quietude. I was overcome by that endless weariness which I often experienced when I drove through a waste part of Masuren on rutty roads, beneath a rainy-grey sky. Such weariness at last exercises a sensibly physical oppression; it acts painfully; at last one counts every movement of the pendulum, and time, in its boundless void, appears like a fatal doom.
"Even for observation or enjoyable criticism into which the despair of _ennui_ might resolve itself, the assembly offered little scope.
"There was nothing remarkable about the old ladies and gentlemen that could challenge it; sometimes I felt a sensation as though I were sitting in a cabinet of wax figures; every one around me so orderly and pale--so silent and motionless.
"Outside, the moonlight fell full upon the Castle lake. How gladly should I have wandered about where it shed its silver through the tall trees of the garden, until farther away the bright effulgence blended, dreamlike, with the dusky green.
"In the meantime, a few younger ladies had entered; yet the conversation would not flow freely. They were slender, almost thin, figures. Averse to every ornament, they had selected a costume which merely served to make the meagreness of their appearance more disadvantageously conspicuous.
"In my efforts worthily to represent youthful mankind, I was only assisted by a candidate for the ministry, who finally offered some incitement to my wearied imagination, inasmuch as I could, without very great temerity, compare his tall, overgrown figure, which was distinguished by a remarkably long neck, with a giraffe.
"He made an attempt at conversation by imparting information to my aunt as to which ministers would proclaim the Word of God at the different town churches on the following Sunday; thereupon he seated himself, with his tea-cup, in a corner and remained persistently silent.
"Here and there a mysterious whispering; I began to feel more and more uncomfortable.
"Then the door opened, and everything, as if by the stroke of an enchanter's wand, was metamorphosed for me--was as if illumined with a magic light flowing fully in upon us; for in came that graceful woman, with all the freshness of youth, whom I had seen amid the companions of that remarkable prophet, and it seemed as if the whole company felt the same influence, for all rose with a certain warmth and hastened towards her.
"In her dress, she differed little from the other ladies; everything bright was avoided. An unobtrusive grey, only broken by a plain white collar, excluded every charm of colour; yet, how gleamed the blue of her beautiful eyes! What fresh, rosy tints in her cheeks, what youthfulness in her movements!
"Like pillars of salt, the others stood beside her! I was introduced to her, I learned her name!
"She was a Frau Salden, and from some turn in the conversation I was enabled to gather that she was a young widow, who for four years already had lived alone with an eight-year-old little daughter.
"She must have married very young, for she was evidently still in the beautiful bloom of the twenties.
"I reminded her of our first meeting; she recollected the young student--she had recognised me again at once.
"'He departed this life,' said she, regretfully, 'our friend and guide, the preacher in the wilderness--that glorious man, who penetrated into the secrets of the world with singular depth of thought. You have seen him and heard him speak, it will remain a lasting recollection for you; in the even tenour of the world of the present day, such men must be unforgotten.'
"It seemed to me as though a glistening tear rose to her eye.
"'It was John the Baptist; he foretold the coming Man.'
"'Child, what utterances,' said my aunt, who had known the young lady since childhood.
"Indeed, I perceived several tokens of disapproval amongst the elder ladies and gentlemen.
"The candidate for the ministry pushed his chair about impatiently, like a great Power that is preparing for war; and only two of the young ladies indicated their concurrence.
"I remarked that in this holy circle divers parties were formed, and did not hesitate for a moment under which standard I should take my oath of allegiance.
"'So much dead Christianity,' continued Frau von Salden, intrepidly, 'reigns in the world, so much benumbedness; streams of life must be conducted into it again by the elect.'
"Then the candidate rose from his chair, and, with the gestures of a zealous accuser, asked--
"'Who, then, are these elect? Surely not those who deem themselves to be such--not those preachers who prowl about the streets, and give out the inventions of a diseased brain for words of revelation; not those who have their peculiar secret doctrines, of which nothing is to be found in the Scriptures, and who, as rumour says, allow themselves to be idolised by their disciples? True piety is far removed from the assumption of being able to teach something better than that which the Holy Scriptures proclaim.'
"'Then all thinkers would be condemned to eternal silence,' suggested I. 'I have heard that prophet speak; they were new bold thoughts that must enchain the people's mind.'
"'We require,' cried Frau von Salden, 'a new key to the comprehension of the secrets of Nature and history.'
"The candidate stretched out his long neck towards his valiant opponent, and said--
"'An examination will be made as to whether this key is not false and a copy.'
"Several elderly gentlemen interposed mediatingly between the conflicting parties, and protested particularly against any interference on the part of the State; but the candidate, who became still more like a raging turkey cock, cried, with suppressed wrath--
"'And what is it that charms in this new doctrine? Why do the women and girls follow a banner which dared not be unfurled in the open light of day? That is effected by the charming standard bearers; that preacher who at the same time is a handsome man, combines benignity and dignity in his features, who unites distinguished and commanding bearing with ensnaring courtesy and amiability. When the manna falls, all the people stoop; but above all the daughters of Eve.'
"I admired the longsuffering of the young widow, who replied with a placid smile to all these violent onslaughts, while I even, although I did not exactly know whither all those onslaughts were directed, assumed a sharp tone towards the candidate, and condemned the intolerance which his words displayed.
"Those speeches still live in my recollection; they made a deep impression upon me at the time. That which in earlier years floated before me, the founding of a new religion, was it now being carried out in my immediate vicinity, without my knowing anything about it? And did this religion possess such graceful priestesses as that one, from whom I could not avert my gaze so long as she was within its reach? I had sometimes heard people talk of the new sect which had gained numerous adherents from the fashionable world; despite all difference of opinion about that sect, all were agreed as to the fact that the actual nature of its doctrines was a secret, and I would not force myself into such a secret.
"'You must hear him,' said the young widow, 'that preacher, of whom the Herr Candidate thinks so little. You will be amazed at the power of his eloquence; he is full of aspirations, and interprets the Bible boldly, without deviating from its words.'
"She spoke confidentially, and only to me--
"'I had quite ceased to know what a feeling of devotion is, because the pious indifference of ordinary attendance at church only seems like the compulsory recapitulation of our duty towards Heaven; but our religion whose revelations and delights penetrate to our innermost feelings, a religion that the day does not know, can alone reveal to us the secret of faith.'
"Thereupon she spoke brightly of everyday matters, and displayed such sound judgment on all topics, that I could not look upon such enthusiasm as the outflow of a diseased temperament. When the company had dispersed, I accompanied her on the short portion of our road that lay together, which here led us over the Castle bridge. It was a magic, moonlight night, and my companion had inspired me with such confidence that I initiated her into the enthusiastic emotions which nature stirred within me; I hoped to find sympathy in her, and I did find it.
"'That is a ray of the original light, which penetrates the human soul,' said she in her charming manner.
"Yet I recognised that there was some connection between my innermost sensations and the doctrines of that community; but I recognised still more that in this beautiful woman an appreciative companion of my efforts had risen up for me.
"I parted from her with a warm shake of the hand, which she cordially returned. Love and friendship ever found a place in that brotherhood; I was extremely moved. Her presence exercised more of a soothing effect upon me; as soon as I lost sight of her, I was overcome as with an unconquerable longing sensation. Not as formerly did I seek to control it; I vowed firmly to myself to see her again, to seek her wherever she might be.
"On the following Sunday I visited the church of which Frau Salden had spoken to me. The house of God was festively, almost too secularly decorated; a large town-like congregation was assembled, such as might be expected in one of the principal parish churches. At the first glance the pious gathering did not seem to differ from such as are to be found in other churches; however, I soon remarked that in the front rows and upon the favoured _prie-dieux_, a more select community, as it appeared, had taken their places. My eyes first sought Frau Salden, and soon found her in the midst of fashionable ladies and gentlemen, whose whole demeanour betrayed that they felt themselves to be peculiarly at home here. The assurance and gracefulness of behaviour, the studiously simple attire of the ladies, the radiance of a transfiguring fervour that overspread their countenances, all showed me that my eyes were resting upon the circle of the elect. Several elderly gentlemen were decorated with the Iron Cross; they were fine men, grave and dignified, and yet enthusiastically devout.
"The minister appeared in the pulpit; a handsome man, with a slight figure and long dark curly hair parted down the middle. His delivery was singularly melodious, somewhat winning, yes, entrancing; I understood what a charm this apostle must exercise upon his devout listeners, especially upon the girls and women.
"On the other hand, his sermon disappointed me completely. I had anticipated new, almost excessive disclosures, luminous flashes of a loftier revelation, which, even if more dazzling than enlightening, would quiver through the obscurity of the traditional faith, while what I heard was one of those biblical discourses that are to be found in everyday churches. He spoke of sin and redemption, he urged us to conversion and salvation, but all was based upon the words of the Evangelists and Apostles. Only sometimes it appeared to me that with some turn, as it were, a little side door was opened, through which fell the radiance of a more mystical light, but which was only visible to the elect.
"I now visited my aunt often enough, and I succeeded also in meeting the beautiful widow there two or three times. I did not conceal from her the impression which that much-admired speaker's sermon had made upon me.
"'Wherefore,' said she, 'reveal the deeper meaning of Nature and the Bible to those who, after all, cannot grasp it? For them the transient gleam of light which plays upon the surface is all-sufficient. Besides which, every new and profound doctrine is exposed to misunderstanding, it must cause offence to the crowd.'
"'But so did not that prophet think,' suggested I, 'in whose company I first saw you. He preferred to address his revelations to the people.'
"'It was an error,' replied Frau von Salden. 'He atoned heavily for it; lonely and unassisted he passed away. Such working for the people is like wandering through sand; the next gust of wind removes all traces of our footsteps. Everything lofty is a secret; only sympathetic minds can raise the veil.'
"I asked how one may draw nearer to the secret, and my beautiful friend advised me to visit the minister, and tell him that I was animated with the desire of entering the narrow circle of his faithful. She encouraged me to do so most eagerly, and I felt as if her words contained something that seemed like true interest in the welfare of my soul.
"I knew I should often have opportunities of meeting her; yet, even although my whole soul yearned to do so, although I found myself beneath the power of her beautiful eyes, and dedicated to her that superabundant adoration which is always united to a first love, yet it was not this alone that decided me to follow her advice, but still more that dark longing which, from childhood upwards, had been animated within me, to find a new solution for the enigma of the world, which it was so difficult to fathom, and to find the key for many an internal occurrence that had seemed to me like a revelation of the Divine.
"The preacher received me with great friendliness, and did not hesitate to grant my wish. His conversation fell easily upon much that was scientific and worldly; to many questions about the state of enthusiasm under which I laboured, he was able to give adroit information. It certainly touched what I felt, but did not satisfy me. Then he assumed a still more friendly mien, and began to initiate me into the secrets of the community, so far as this was practicable for a novice.
"I learned that the sect consisted of various circles, all, indeed, around the same centre, but in greater or lesser proximity, and that it did not tend to the benefit of those more remote to know everything that was revealed to those who stood nearest. Still, the preacher informed me that several women and girls occupied the highest position amongst those who were enlightened, and belonged to the favoured natures of light, beneath whose protection he himself stood.
"Certainly all this did not sound very satisfactory, but mysterious and exciting enough. A far off goal was set to all efforts; truths displayed themselves in semi-veiled outlines, which must later be revealed fully and clearly to the seeker, even if now they admitted manifold interpretations.
"In short, with a good heart, I put out to sea beneath the flag of the mysterious creed. The minister dismissed me with a kiss and shake of the hand.
"I hastened to my aunt; there Frau Salden was awaiting me; she knew the time and hour of my appointment with the minister. Much delighted, she heard my news; her features became animated, her eye was radiant.
"When my aunt was called away by some domestic concern, Frau Salden rose, came towards me with a grave, inspired countenance, greeted me as a member of the congregation, as her brother, and pressed a kiss upon my lips.
"It was the holy kiss of a sister, the seraphic kiss, the consecration of the bond of saints! Did not male and female cousins and indifferent relatives kiss one another according to the right of cousinship; how much higher stood the right of spiritual relationship! Certainly, for many such a kiss would only be a pious symbol, for many, a form of but little significance. It was different with me, different with this woman! Until now, I had remained a stranger to all intercourse of affection and love; how unapproachable all womankind had appeared to me!
"This kiss was the first kiss of initiation; but not the secret of the community did it reveal to me, the secret of life itself. It metamorphosed me inwardly; every feeling of estrangement it swept away from me; woman no longer stood before me as a far-removed saint; she appeared to be desirable, to promise felicity.
"And could it be otherwise?
"How long in worldly circles must hesitating affection wait ere love presses the seal of the first kiss upon it in token of acquiescence? But this woman had already first occupied my inmost emotions before I approached her under the eyes of the saints; now she came towards me with open arms, with the pious greeting of love, for which, with worldly affection, I might long have striven. Must not this intoxicate me, and kindle an unknown ardour within my soul?
"Certainly Frau Salden did not share it; she only cherished sisterly feelings for me, yes, I might almost say maternal; distantly and coldly, she commenced an extensive examination of my inner nature.
"The bright smile had vanished from her lips; even the gaze of her large eyes was proud and stern. An incomprehensible contradiction, and a something almost solemnly strange, lay in such close intimacy. I stood her examination with calmness and without reserve, for pride stirred itself within me, and I would not recognise the superiority that she assumed. Nevertheless, I drew an immediate advantage from my position towards the select community, and begged for permission to visit her, which she readily granted.
"She lived in the east suburb, in a couple of cosy rooms, elegantly furnished. The one seemed to be dedicated to pious reflections. A large book-shelf contained the works of our poets and thinkers, at the same time a large number of religious writings. The walls were covered with representations of Christ, as well as with pictures of the prophet and the preacher, which hung on a level, as it seemed, accurately measured line with His.
"On a lectern lay a magnificently bound Bible with a golden cross upon the cover; above it on the wall hung a copy of Correggio's Magdalene. The windows opened towards the river and the green meadows, which there enframed its bed; farther off, two solitary windmills moved their wings in wearisome regularity.
"The front room was of a more worldly character; in the one corner stood a small doll's room, and other girlish playthings, but the little bird had always flown from its nest at the hour when I usually came; it was the time when with her governess, she went down to the next story to her favourite playfellow. Beside it upon a writing table lay account books, which I immediately recognised as such; a later communication from Frau Salden confirmed my idea that they were the accounts of the management of her estate; she possessed a small property, which she only occupied during a short period in the summer, as a lengthy separation from the community would have been too great a trial for her.
"All this still stands so vividly before my mind, that I could paint those two rooms down to the veriest trifle, ebony table and chair, every picture on the wall; for who would ever forget the stage on which such important events were acted, and just now I feel an urgent need to bury myself in these recollections, and ah! that little doll's room to-day fills me with mournful emotion, yes with silent despair.
"I now frequently visited Frau Salden; we talked much of worldly and spiritual affairs; she was alternately merry and unembarrassed, or grave, solemn and reserved. Then again, from time to time, it was as though she were not speaking in her own name, but on the part of the community; it was in order to induct me ever deeper into the secrets of the new doctrine; this I perceived soon enough, and it was particularly attractive, to me it was indeed a new religion, which only appeared before the world in biblical guise.
"Zoroaster could, just as well as Christ, stand godfather to the doctrine of the two primordial beings, fire and water, the element of darkness, its opposite and its union by means of Lucifer, the scintillant serpent-spirit, and thus through all life extended the contradiction of the two-headed principle. Did not the minister himself, in the circle of the elect, pronounce that the old law had outlived itself, and proclaim the approach of the Millennium.
"Yet in me also lively doubts were kindled as to how he could control those fundamental powers of everything living. The revelation of light which had been proclaimed to me, was not lost; I interpreted it in my own way, and brought it into unison with the delights of Nature which had often enraptured me; but the beautiful woman had greater power over me than the priestess; in her eyes I forgot the Millennium, and all its apostles in her seraph's kisses. The pious and solemn greeting at meeting and parting, burned for me like earthly fire, and I could not conceal from myself that an unholy passion had taken possession of me; unholy because it was a misuse of holy forms, because it broke distractingly into all circles of my thoughts and feelings.
"One day, Pauline, for I knew her Christian name already, and might use it with a brother's right, announced to me that she could not decide whether I belonged to the natures of light or of darkness; it was the minister's wish that I should visit the Gräfin at the Castle, and make a full confession of my sins to her.
"It was the period when in France a Saint Simon's and Pére Enfantin's doctrine of the priesthood of woman found extensive propagation, and in large assemblies of the Paris street _Taitbout_ was taught by inspired women. I could not avoid thinking of that intelligence in the newspapers, when I was invited by the Gräfin to the Castle. There was repeated in pious garb the same performance, but only in doctrine, not in deed. Here the priestly office was already exercised by an aristocratic woman, and that woman boasted of lofty revelation, and could even spread her angel's wings protectingly over the minister of the community.
"Not without hesitation I entered the inner castle yard; the gloomy old masonry of the large quadrangle overlooked by lofty towers did not act soothingly upon my temperament; I felt like those unfortunate men to whom once in those gloomy apartments, which were still known as those of criminal justice, the sword of the German knights was placed at their throats, so that they should confess Christ, or else incur the penalty of death. It was a horrible trial of faith, and I felt as if I were one of those unhappy followers of Perkunos.
"Certainly the drawing-rooms into which I was conducted, did not bear the remotest resemblance to those dread vaults. The view from that high stronghold of Ottokar extended far over the town, which with its church towers and high gabled houses, and at the same time windowless warehouse quarters, surrounded and traversed with glistening branches of the river, lay as if cowering at its feet. There was something soothing and alleviating to the mind in that free prospect; with my heart throbbing less violently, I awaited the entrance of the woman who was considered to be the superior nature of light in the elect circle.
"And she entered, smiling gently and kindly, her appearance delicate and distinguished; I almost felt as though an ambrosial light was floating around her, and when she also greeted me with the sisterly kiss, I felt as if receiving consecration from above, it was as though one of those bodyless angel's heads, which, as Raphael painted them, possess wings only, had kissed me.
"At first it was the mild, confiding sister who spoke to me; she introduced sundry worldly affairs into the conversation, and I was obliged to give her accurate information about our genealogical tree and the estates of our family, and just the same of my previous life.
"Nevertheless, I soon perceived that I no longer talked to my fellow-believer on terms of equality; with polite and dexterous transition she had changed the conversation into an examination. The examination in the first place concerned my external life, but should soon direct itself towards my internal one.
"A change, for which I could not entirely account, had taken place in the Gräfin, but of which, however, I soon experienced the secret power. All friendliness and mildness had suddenly disappeared from her features, they had assumed an almost gloomy air of decision; something majestic and commanding lay in her whole demeanour. She rose and stood before me, drawn up to her full height; the woman had been transformed into the priestess. With a sign, she bade me remain seated, and solemnly explained that the Archdeacon had given to her the right of consecrating and sanctifying men and women, after he had imparted supreme consecration to herself. It was her duty to examine hearts, to root out sin, to speak truths sharply and unsparingly; because love in man becomes zealous with a divine zeal. And she, indeed, appeared to be impregnated with that zeal; a deep glow suffused her features, she stood before me in proud, strange beauty. I was fain to think of the angel with the flaming sword.
"She required unreserved confession and acknowledgment of my sins.
"I hesitated. What should I confess? So new was this introspection still to me that I had occupied myself but little with discovering what, according to the measure of these saints, would be accounted sin.
"She became more urgent; she demanded confession by the rights of her office. It was false shame wishing to conceal anything. The heavenly passion purified fallen man from sin. No secular laws were concerned in this case; not the sham and falseness of society, only truth--the open truth. Nor need the confession seek for veiled expressions; the sharper the words, the sharper the self-condemnation.
"I still hesitated. She began to ask if I--I who came from the world without, beginning at home--had banished all earthly affection from my intercourse with the women of the community.
"She enquired so solemnly, I could almost believe that I heard the scales of justice rattle. I was already beneath her spell; I had no perception of what was strange, astounding in the whole proceeding; the oppressive sensation of internal consciousness of guilt overcame me, and I acknowledged that my heart drew me towards Frau Salden, and that in the midst of pious conversations the thought of her beauty, of her charms, entangled me.
"I drew a breath of relief after this confession; I believed that I had now done my duty as a penitent. Yet I was mistaken; now only did the implacable judge commence an examination that penetrated to the inmost detail; she entered upon a domain which no child of the world would have trodden with equal freedom; my whole soul lay as if upon a dissecting-table before this wonderful woman. Emotions, wishes, which softly, obscurely, and of which I was even only vaguely conscious, concealed themselves in the recesses of my heart, must be brought to light; my inner nature became transparent to her as well as to me; and when I had conquered the first shyness, such a confession was even welcome. I found it tranquilising to have a witness of my internal struggle. An inexplicable charm, which was not only of a spiritual nature, lay in such undisguised confession, which despised all social custom, but was justified by higher ordinance.
"The Gräfin praised me for my candour, and when I had made known to her that otherwise I was still free from all sin, and that my heart, in the midst of Nature, still often rejoiced in marvellous revelations, she called me a child of light, who might, perhaps, be destined to attain a high position in the circle of the elect.
"I had promised reformation of the one sin to which I could confess, a sin of thought, and indeed I was in earnest about it. Since my visit to the Gräfin, a gloomy consciousness of guilt had taken possession of me, which I loved to ponder over in solitude. Woman had formerly been a divinity for me, she seemed so again, since I had seen the Gräfin in the exercise of her priestly mission, and the feelings of vain worldly pleasure to which I had yielded when with my pious young friend, I counted to myself as a sin.
"I became an industrious attendant not only at church, but also at the smaller meetings in which the minister expounded his doctrines; I eagerly studied the Revelation of St. John. The Lion and the Lamb, the Breaker of the Seal, as a second minister of the sect was designated, the Angel of the Apocalypse; all these were pictures which became more and more vivid to my imagination, yet in the principal doctrine of the approach of the Millennium I buried myself with a fervour which was not free from doubts, yet was it not the prediction of a new world, and such dreams lived long within me. The entrancing words of the minister, the enthusiasm and proud beauty of the female children of light at his side, the spiritual toiling and struggling in a world withdrawn from everyday life, full of singular mysteries, had made me into a zealous disciple of the secret community. I was looked upon with respect by the minister, the Witnesses, and the Breaker of the Seal. My visits to Frau Salden became very rare; I also avoided her at the meetings; my shy manner towards her had been remarked by her. Had the Gräfin not stood so high upon the ladder of the saints, Frau Salden would have charged her with being the cause of my transformation. At heart she certainly did not spare the Gräfin this accusation, as since my visit to the castle I had become distant towards herself. Sternly and for some time I struggled successfully against my affection for the beautiful woman, until a new and unexpected turn took place in my life."
THE FALL OF MAN.
"One day a note from Frau Salden, intimated to me that I was now considered strong enough to be present at one of those secret sittings, in which the great act of salvation was taught and practised, and invited me to one of those gatherings.
"It was a tolerably large room, but dimly lighted. Men and women were assembled, their devoutness appeared more fervent than usual, yet a spirit of secresy pervaded the gathering, which had shut itself off from the outside world. Lengthy and solemn was the preacher's discourse, urging his hearers, by the power of a higher consciousness, to shake off all sin, successfully to resist all temptations, to despise all earthly charms.
"And the spiritual instruction was followed by spiritual exercises.
"I can here only relate what I felt and what a flash of lightning was launched into my soul on that evening. Mephistopheles might feel himself at home in the classical Walpurgis night, he had been educated to it on the Blocksberg; but a man who has only seen female beauty in a statuary of antiques is internally stirred by it at first as by something strange, divine; yet the sacred fire transforms itself into a brand that it casts into his soul.
"Thus it befell me also! Another perhaps would have turned away from the incredible, as if from some hypocritical doings, and have condemned the leader of this _divina comedia_. Again another would have condemned the excesses of extravagant piety which played a serious game with sin.
"The veil of Sais which hung before my life was torn; for the first time I saw in all its glory the disguised wonder of my dreams, woman.
"But the Millennium also sank into ruins with one blow!
"I was sufficiently used to intoxicated rapture not to condemn with the mind of the sober man that which was unusual, over which the uninitiated must break a lance. That which was done, was not done in the service of sin, it was a holy sacrifice, and how could the exalted lights of the community be thus extinguished in the fog and mist of what was common? If the limitless audacity of these believers made me shudder--it was only the curse of sin, the temptation of the devil, it was the unatonable crime of beauty, against which the power of blessed resistance might strive in vain.
"And this marvel of creation should be a work of the devil, this paradise of beauty only conceal the serpent within itself!
"Fools who drew to light the secret dispositions of the primeval powers, because ruin and sin creep about in darkness, but in light beauty triumphs. No uneasiness, no thought of mockery and desecration arose within me; I felt so strange amongst these men and women, for only in the service of higher powers could they overcome that which without in unsanctified circles was esteemed citizen-like custom. Their sanctification consisted in crossing themselves before beauty, and drawing near to it in blindness that could see, and with a loathing that struggled to suppress delight.
"Thus had the preacher taught; in such sanctity I, too, made my essay, but much too great was the power of beauty over me who had hitherto seen so little. I felt that its contemplation sanctified me otherwise than the secret doctrine desired. Like an electric flash of enlightenment, it poured over all recollections of my school days; the dreary lecture-room was transformed into Mount Ida with its goddesses, and Venus appeared before my eyes as she arises in immortal beauty out of the ocean's billows.
"A heretic was begotten in me, secession from the dark doctrine proclaimed itself in my heart. A principal figure of those revelations which illumine the creation of the world with mysterious light, stood before my soul, and I had the temerity to compare myself with it. It was that Eloah of light, that Lucifer who suddenly perceived that the powers of light which flowed from him became diminished, and now retained them defiantly within himself, in opposition to the plan of creation. Thus I felt within me the spirit of revolt, the individual power which receives the light of revelation in itself merely for its own defiant illumination.
"And on that evening the Gräfin from the Castle led Frau Salden to me as my spiritual bride. Spiritual bride!--profound significance lay in this word, a significance which extended far away beyond the span of earthly life; it contained a consecration for this and for that other world.
"Yet I was no longer capable of grasping that import--earthly love had laid hold of my heart; now I no longer recognised the barriers, as I did after that confession to the Gräfin; like a tempest in spring, I felt it rage within me: the spring of love and beauty had for the first time made their entry into my soul.
"I visited Frau Salden, but how changed everything appeared to me in those cosy rooms! All rest, all peace had vanished from them. The lines in the splendid open Bible ran confusedly into one another, the Magdalene on the wall seemed to rise from her couch, throw the Bible aside, and be wafted towards us in that seductive beauty in which she once wandered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and, as if in mockery of my feverish unrest, the windmill sails on yonder side of the river moved with irritating regularity.
"But the seraphic kisses of my spiritual bride burned upon my lips.
"She was gentle and calm before my passionate fervour. I acknowledged to her that I loved her; she replied that such was my right and my duty, and that this love was reciprocated by her; certainly it might not be of a perishable form, not like children of the world must we love one another, but with imperishable spiritual love. My heart, all my feelings were bound up in her. Nevertheless, it was not merely indistinctness, but hypocrisy on my part when I still spoke of such spiritual love, for I loved her with all fervour, as mortals love who do not belong to the elect and chosen.
"I still frequently attempted to attune my mind to those emotions which filled me when woman still stood before me sublime, unknown; but that magic was broken, and as I previously, probably more than all others of that circle, had been capable of the purest spiritual love, so was I now, when since that fatal evening on which the unhemmed waves of passion broke over me, more incapable of it than all others.
"What to the others appeared to be the hermit's grotto of Saint Anthony, who resisted the allurements of the spirit of beauty, had become a mount of Venus for me, and like a modern Tannhäuser, I lay beneath the spell of the immortal goddess.
"I dared not confess my heresy to the beloved one; perhaps she would have turned angrily away from me for ever, and I could justify my silence, because I too had moments in which I could join in my spiritual bride's fervent prayers, but they were merely moments. My internal estrangement from the faith of the elect community increased. I only ventured to express the faintest doubts, then she looked at me with an expression of infinite love; her large tender eye rested upon me with such soul-felt meaning; verily her love for me was different from mine for her: she appeared to watch over my whole life, she felt that we must all be prepared to welcome the coming hour of the Millennium; atonement, forgiveness, purification spoke from out her looks, infinite desire to rescue, to sanctify the sinner.
"I came frequently, I came daily; she withheld all tokens which love demands, although her saintly eyes expressed an increasing, more intense emotion. I became a hypocrite, I required these tokens in the name of salvation, of spiritual exercises; could my spiritual bride deny me them?
"Serious and devout conversations must accompany the work of sanctification.
"She urged me with great sternness, and blamed my lack of holy strength, when my eyes told more of passion than of sacred self-conquest; yet her eyes, too, were not always so stern as her words; sometimes they were filled with a tenderness the eloquence of which was very different from that which flowed from her lips; it was as if they would atone for the unavoidably harsh word which sacred duty imposed; yes this word, too, lost its victorious decision, it quivered with internal conflict, and sometimes she closed her weary eye, and tears hung on her eyelashes.
"It was on a quiet evening, we alone as usual; I came overwhelmed with conflicting feelings, because I was wanting in all the qualifications of a hypocrite; my heart rebelled against the opposition which threatened to destroy my life.
"The wings of the windmill went round beneath the evening sky; it seemed like a mockery of all my thoughts and deeds, that everlasting monotony of the beating of wooden wings, that interminable game of those arms stretching out in vain.
"I was more daring, she softer than usual; she would even on that day deny me the right of devout exercise. Then I assumed the stern tone of a spiritual bridegroom, and she obeyed hesitatingly; the spirit of grace seemed to have left her, she seemed to be seized with a tremor before the might of passion, with rapture into which her own beauty transported her. And, indeed, I thought her more beautiful than ever on that day; pious words died upon her lips; I covered them with glowing kisses, and folded her in my arms.
"The spiritual bride had become a mortal woman, the grey ashes of penitence had been wafted away by all the winds of heaven, and the Vulcan of earthly affection had obstructed the Paradise of those Saints with red-hot lava.
"She released herself from my arms, and rushed, sobbing, upon her knees before the _prie dieu_, to which she clung convulsively.
"I explained to her that, from that day, I should look upon her as my betrothed, and begged her to accept my heart and hand.
"She looked up at me with a glance full of emotion and love, as it appeared to me, for she uttered no word, nor did she rise from her knees.
"With equal decision, however, I told her that we must both leave the circle of saints, that for long already my heart had rebelled against the doctrine of sanctity and this playing with sin; that I no longer believed in the marriage of souls, but that now I perceived the goal of that love which takes possession of the entire man, in giving up mind and body.
"Then the penitent arose, and, with clasped bands, gazed at me with a look of pity.
"'There is one atonement for sin,' said she, 'if the right spirit of sanctity dwells within us; but he who renounces that spirit is lost; he destroys the bond of the community of souls, for this and for the next life.'
"'Paulina,' cried I, 'you have heard my offer, and you would still thus refuse to be mine?'
"'Why shall marriage,' replied she, 'not be the pillar of lasting communion of souls? Even our principal children of light, even the Witnesses of the Revelation are united, and gladly would I traverse the path of life with you. But never shall I sacrifice the incorruptible to the corruptible! You shut yourself out from the companions of our union, as soon as you release yourself from our faith. Then I shall no longer be your spiritual bride, and it would be impious to become your earthly wife.'
"I still spoke to her in the imploring language of passion; I folded her ardently in my arms, she did not repel me, yet she remained cold, and the pupils of her eyes dilated with a strange wandering light.
"'You are too agitated to-day,' I said to her. 'Recover yourself, I will come again to talk more quietly.'
"'It will not make any difference,' said she, coldly. 'I have sinned, I know it, but for such sin there is forgiveness; I will go to him who occupies a high position in the spiritual kingdom, to the perfect man; I will confess to him, and he will pardon my guilt! But there is no atonement for those who draw back from the earnestness of sanctification, and return into the darkness of the world and their ruin, because the shadow of death, will fall upon them, and they are faithless and have succumbed to the devil. Return to us,' she cried, imploringly, 'then I will be your wife upon earth, as some day in heaven; believe once more in the sanctification which you have impiously desecrated with unbelief, because the acknowledgment of the truth has power to sanctify everything.'
"'Never,' said I now. 'I shall not return, and just as little shall I tolerate that my wife be sanctified by the witnesses and angels.'
"She replied that she should never separate herself from a community in which she had found her soul's eternal salvation.
"My heart seemed to be pierced and torn; was it possible that she, in whom I had found the delight of my life, was lost to me? Was it credible that now we parted coldly and distantly?
"It had become late; I descended the dark staircase of the house, when I heard a merry, childish voice, and touched a nurse's dress in passing.
"'The little Salden?' asked I.
"'Yes, my Herr,' was the reply.
"I stroked the hair and cheeks of the little one, who seemed to nestle against her companion in alarm.
"'Do not be afraid,' said I, 'go play with your dolls; it is the same game that the saints indulge in with theirs.'
"As I descended the stairs still farther, I heard above me another surreptitious chuckle, followed by cheerful laughter.
"During a sleepless night, the late occurrences impressed themselves with glowing characters into my soul--the intoxication of bliss, and the anguish of renunciation--and hastening down from a brightly-illumined hill, I followed a woman wandering through chasms from one dark abyss to another; her tattered robe caught on every thorn, but her beautiful form gleamed from the depths below.
"Two days passed away in agonising excitement; I hoped Paulina in the meantime would have found leisure for calmer consideration; I, myself, adhered firmly to my given word, although I was aware that in the circle of my relatives who disapproved of my intercourse with the saints, of my connection with that beautiful woman, who was known to be one of the most zealous adherents of the much-abused creed, much annoyance would be caused, yes, that my father would perhaps refuse his consent altogether.
"Once more I visited the woman of what was truly my first love. I repeated my offer.
"She was friendly as ever, and welcomed me with the pious greeting of the community, and then said--
"'We will remain friends; I have spoken to him, the holy, the pure man; I have seen him with my eyes, he has taken me to his heart, he will teach and sanctify me, for he has pity upon my weakness. Then, however, I am to occupy a high position in the congregation; he recognises that in my inner being lies all that must call me to be a child of light.'
"She uttered it cheerfully, almost triumphantly, but I saw that this woman was lost to me for ever! I parted from her in despair.
"Since then I have never seen her again.
"When the secular powers interfered in the secrets of the new faith, when the leading preachers were summoned before the law, then the public voice spoke a verdict of condemnation upon all who belonged to that circle.
"Then I heard Frau Salden's name mentioned, whose guardianship of her child had been taken from her by the authorities, because a mother possessing such impious principles was not capable of bringing it up properly; I learned that she had banished herself to the greatest solitude upon her remote estate. I had contrived to have myself removed to the law courts of another province, but since that time the report of my participation in that community persecuted me. My relations to Frau Salden certainly had remained a secret; but it was sufficient that I had been a member of that despised circle, in order to cause me to be constantly overlooked and kept back in the early part of my career. I therefore relinquished it entirely, and wandered through distant quarters of the globe, so as to escape from the reproaches of others and from my own memories of the past. After many years I returned home, and to my pained astonishment found that those occurrences which I had deemed long since buried, still clung to people's recollections. But that is not the worst. A cold hand has taken hold of the new spring that arose brilliantly before me, and all its verdure and blossoms are transformed into crackling, withered leaves; inevitably, mortally the past seizes me as if it were a Medusa's head! That is a blow to my very heart, and after I have once more let the pictures of my life pass quietly before me, I may now at last utter one cry of anguish, like a wounded hart, that pants in vain to refresh itself at the sparkling forest spring.
"Eva's mother is that Frau Salden, who once was my spiritual bride! Thus the daughter can never become my earthly one; it is a calamity, it is my doom! No written law prohibits it; the world's opinion cannot condemn, as from it all remains a secret; but my irrefutable feeling rebels against it, it is impossible and I am utterly miserable that it is impossible."
With these words, Blanden had concluded his story. Without, the morning already lay sparkling over land and sea; Blanden started as a chance glance in the mirror showed him his own worn-out reflection.
Doctor Kuhl had merely interrupted his friend's tale now and again by a question or a remark, now he flung his finished cigar aside with the words, "The poor child!"
"And can you see no means of escape?" asked Blanden.
"No, one may bid defiance to laws, but not to one's personal feelings."
"Never have I been so helpless," cried Blanden, "so desperately helpless; I wander about like a criminal; I dare not approach either the mother or the daughter. May she learn the truth? What excuse is offered for my withdrawal, for behaviour that looks like a public insult?"
"Write a couple of lines to her now," said Kuhl, "but not all at once. The dose would be too severe. Leave the rest to the mother. And now go and sleep, my friend; you need a few hours' refreshment. I will forget the follies of human life, and simultaneously with the fire of the young sun plunge into the ocean tide. Until we meet again!"
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.
The mother, after a violent attack of spasms, had fallen asleep.
Eva watched beside her bed; torn, its flowers crushed and mingling with her dishevelled locks, the blue-bell wreath hung around her brow; as if in mockery, the music of the interrupted feast resounded from afar; an old clock on the wall ticked second after second, and to Eva it seemed as if with each second her age increased by days, with each half hour by years, as though her life were running down with the noisy mechanism of the clock.
She put her hand to her burning temples; yes she must have become old, very old, during that night!
And was her mother not still young and beautiful--still now even, as she lay there with distorted features, with scorching breath, with violent throbbings of her pulses, in fevered dreams?
Eva gazed with infinite emotion upon the sleeping woman. All fond pictures of her childhood rose before her mind: she saw herself sitting at the window that looked out over meadow and river, her mother explained the pictures in her picture books; she still saw that lovely smile hover around those lips when they read aloud some merry verse which interpreted a gaily-coloured scene; then she saw herself with her mother in the evening light, in whose reflection the rafts glided along the river, and because everything was so beautiful and full of repose outside, and equally beautiful and calm her mother's countenance, she kissed and embraced that fondly beloved one with heartfelt fervour in a feeling of gratitude that knew no bounds, as though she must thank her mother for the glorious evening, and for every joy in her young life.
Then she stood again before her doll's house; her mother came to her and joined in her play, hour after hour. Every doll had its name and its character, and they met with sundry wonderful little occurrences. The daughter hung devoutly on her mother's lips, which chatted so merrily, and from which flowed such an inexhaustible spring of legends and fairy tales.
But when she prayed--and she prayed much--then the daughter might not disturb her. She always rose from her knees so mild and gentle, and her fervent eyes rested at those times with double happiness upon the beloved child.
Then gloomy days drew near, days of weeping and wailing. Eva wept too, she knew not wherefore, all was unquiet; everything moved around her as if in the flickering light of a scorching fire--but she could not tell whence the flames ascended. Cupboards were emptied, boxes packed; suddenly the hour of departure tolled--a never-to-be-forgotten hour filled with tears. How she rested upon her mother's heart, as though she could not tear herself away!
All these pictures passed before her mind, as after a meeting which was even more terrible than once the parting had been, and equally inexplicable, she sat beside her mother's sick bed. But the fever appeared to diminish; she breathed more softly, more quietly; the lamp went out, the first streaks of early dawn peeped through the window panes.
And with the first beams of morning, holy thoughts filled the daughter's breast; thoughts of the pleasures of sacrifice, such as in the dawn of history often filled the breasts of nations.
Oh, could she make this beautiful unhappy mother happy; she would sacrifice her heart's blood for that mother, gladly meet death for her sake!
She folded her hands; every thought, every emotion, was a blessing upon her mother, who had suffered, must still suffer so much.
And in these thoughts she forgot herself; her own life appeared to her like an expiring light, and she did not lament it.
And yet, she could not but again and again recollect that unheard of, that mysterious event which had taken place, for which with convulsive struggles she sought some elucidation.
One thing she felt assured of--the happiness of her life was destroyed, and perhaps the darkness in which she was shipwrecked contained more consolation than an unnatural light which illumined the intricate paths of her doom.
And he--how miserable must he be! It was the same flash of lightning that had struck them both.
The mother stirred; did the first ray of the sun disturb her? Immediately, Eva hung a dark shawl before the window, whose light curtains did not shield them from the joyous light of morning.
Then, with sonorous strokes, the clock on the wall struck five. Frau von Salden awoke.
Her first glance rested upon her daughter; her mind was still half wrapped in dreams, in the twilight of consciousness, the bliss of purest maternal love was reflected in her features. She saw that daughter, of whom she had been so long deprived, before her in all her youthful beauty which was even enhanced by anguish; delusive dreams as they escaped formed a golden frame to this picture, or as light veils fluttered over it, and, enthralled by such a lovely present, her soul knew nothing of the past or future.
Yet it was but for a moment; then a sudden ray of perfect consciousness enlightened her. She rubbed her eyes; the veils of her dreams fluttered to the ground, and with a loud cry she threw herself upon her child's bosom, whom she pressed closely to herself amidst scalding tears.
"My poor, poor Eva!"
"Mother, I am not unhappy--I will not be unhappy! I have no cares--only be cheerful yourself!"
"You love him so much, so fondly! That love, I can feel it with you, is your whole life. Oh, curse me! My presence brings you evil! Curse me!"
"Never," said Eva, "for I know that you love me. How could I curse love?"
"How poor we are though, with all our love! There where we would bring salvation, we bring ruin. Our love is like a pious wish, a powerless breath, which, hardly has it escaped our lips before it is transformed by invisible powers into a poisonous blast. I came hither with the richest treasure of blessings in my heart, although not without anxious fear; and now I shower abundant ills upon your head."
"I do not yet know what happened," whispered Eva. "I only know that I see you again, that you suffer and are unhappy, that Blanden has resigned me; but it is not I about whom we must concern ourselves just now--only about you! What has grieved you so, shocked you? I hardly dare to think--he is your enemy!"
"Not so," said Frau von Salden, shaking her head; "you poor, good child."
"You would conceal it from me--he is your enemy! Therefore you were so afraid, when you saw him--therefore he grew so pale at sight of you! Has he done anything to injure you; has he offended you deeply? Oh, he shall come and beg for forgiveness, upon his knees he shall lie before you; I promise it! So much power my wishes still possess over him--oh, yes, he loves me still; how could his love have vanished in one night! I will tell him that whosoever has offended my mother has no right to my love, that he must first win it by atonement and her pardon. I am still his little forest-fairy; he is still within my magic spell; when my little flower bells ring, let him struggle as he may, he must obey me! But when he comes and renounces his enmity and entreats you for pardon, little mother, then you will grant it him, will you not, perfectly, entirely, without any remains of the old ill-feeling?"
"You are dreaming," said Frau Salden, while she stared with a confused gaze at her daughter's countenance, and stroked her hair with a loving hand.
"You doubt that I still retain my power over him? Oh, I may look very ugly today, quite spoiled with tears; I am not always so, little mother, he knows that I have my good days, too. He thought me good-looking yonder upon the weeping willow-hill! Oh, heavens! The weeping willows bent down over our young love whispering misfortune, but you will talk to one another, of course! Everything will yet turn out well! Oh, those days were so beautiful, so ethereally beautiful! Have mercy, my mother! If it costs you one word to bring them back again, then speak that word; even if it be hard for you. I may acknowledge that great happiness for me depends upon it; control your anger!"
Frau Salden looked at her child with intense emotion.
"It is not that--if it only were so! Nothing would be too hard for me--no word, no deed--if I could found your happiness by them! But that power is not given to me; therefore we are both unhappy! But now go to sleep, my Eva! I am well; I will get up; but you have not closed an eye! How pale you look--where are the roses which yesterday bloomed so freshly in your cheeks? Go to sleep, only for a few hours--it will bring peace, rest, and courage! Who could endure life without sleep? It would be an uninterrupted agony; all pictures would score their burning impress in our brains. Sleep shrouds them beneath the softening veil, and we can confound them with our dreams."
"No, mother! that I can never do! If it were all but a dream my soul would still bleed to death from it."
Frau Salden had risen from her bed; she felt really better; only the internal conflict still remained imprinted in her features.
With unenvious pleasure, Eva contemplated her mother, as she sat before the mirror, in order to arrange her hair flowing down abundantly; she thought herself less beautiful, less bountifully endowed by Nature, than was the mother over whom years had passed tracelessly away; could she compete with that splendid figure, with that nobility, those decided movements, that charm of her fully-developed form?
She could not help it; she must fold her mother to her heart with words of glowing flattery.
Frau Salden struggled gently against the love of a child, for whom she had just prepared the greatest anguish of its life.
"Go to sleep, Eva," repeated she, with motherly anxiety.
"Sleep--it would be best! I cannot conceive that I could look with waking eyes at the people before whom I stood yesterday in such utter abasement. It would be impossible for me to show myself here to the gaping crowd. I must away, away from here; but I cannot part from you with this enigma unsolved. Mother! I implore you, give me certainty--I have courage to bear all."
"And you do not ask if I have courage to confess all?"
"Mother!" cried Eva, doubting and questioning, with the terror of presentiment.
"If it were so easy to lift the veil, should I not have raised it long since? If any happiness, any comfort could arise from it, should I hesitate with such a disclosure?"
"I would have the truth, mother--the truth! In positive certainty I shall recover my strength of mind, which is paralysed in this gnawing doubt."
Frau Salden rose from her toilet; the morning sun shone straight upon her face, she covered it with her hands; then she turned round, but a burning colour rested upon her features, and an internal tremor shook her form as if with ague.
"I belong to that community which was scattered by the law of the country; one of the rules of that sect demands full confession of our sins, by thought, word, or deed! It was often hard for us to make this confession before the Saints and Pure ones, and not to conceal aught of that which stirred our inmost souls; often have I stood there hesitating and seeking to veil that which I dared not confess, until the implacable word compelled me to acknowledge the whole truth without any fraudulent disguise; yet, what was that confession compared with the one of to-day--compared with the one by which the mother must ruin her daughter's happiness?"
"With clasped hands Eva looked imploringly at her mother.
"Well, then, bury your head in my lap; do not look at me; believe that it is the Angel of Judgment who speaks, who holds the rattling scales high above your head."
Eva knelt down before her mother, and leaned her head in her mother's lap.
"I do not hate Herr von Blanden--never have hated him--but I have loved him."
Noiselessly Eva slid down at her mother's feet. Only after some little time she recovered her senses in her parent's arms.
"I have loved him," repeated the mother, "and that is worse, far worse!"
"And you love him still?" asked Eva, "and you are angry with me that I would rob you of him? but he--how could he--"
"Listen to me, my child! We were both members of a devout community, misjudged by the world; this brought us closer together. A decision in council of the Superiors destined me for his spiritual bride!"
"Spiritual bride!--oh, my God!"
"That in our circle is deemed a bond, which is bound for all eternity!"
"And is not every bride a spiritual one, and every bond united for everlasting endurance?"
"The secret understanding of such matters is only revealed to the elect! But the mutual delights of devotion, the strengthening of the Divine Will in us, with the increasing danger of probation, all these exercises did not find us so strong as the faith and the prayers of the community required! Earthly affection took possession of our hearts. I offered weak resistance to his tempestuous passion. Let the dreadful word suffice you--I loved him."
Eva suppressed a loud cry, with lips firmly pressed together, and buried her head deeper in the folds of the dress.
"I was doubly guilty, because the holy work had led us to damnation. The penance inflicted for such impiety was lighter than I feared, because the superior leader of our community, blessed with especial powers of enlightenment, undertook to sanctify me, and I could soon stand purified from that sin. Now only the heavy punishment comes upon me, crushingly, annihilatingly. Too mild was the work of that atonement. Heaven has rejected it. I feel it, and now it dooms me to the full weight of its wrath. In deepest degradation I must humble myself before my own daughter, in order to destroy the happiness of whose life the spectre hand of that unholy, blissful hour is stretched forth from out the past. Forgive me, my beloved child!"
Eva rose pale, dissolved in tears, and put out her hand, as if in repudiation.
"I have nothing to forgive you, mother! I do not exalt myself so impiously as to wish to sit in judgment upon you. I could not but love you even unto death.--and you are not guilty! Oh, no--that you are not!"
"Guilty towards you," said Frau Salden, wringing her hands.
"None know what the future may bring," replied Eva; "it cannot be foretold. Human destiny is like a fleeting cloud: now it gleams in the full light of the sun at its mid-day height, or in the varying colours of its declining hour; then it flows down in tears. Many die in the bloom of youth; death is a doom; there is a death, too, for the heart. It comes, one knows not whence. It is not our fault. Mother, be calm! We have the same eyes, the same heart; must we not also have the same love?"
Eva looked out of the window, unwonted sublimity lay in her demeanour.
"Look; how the waves roll, and break upon the shore! Each one bears the rays of the same sun within it; now they spring exultingly in whirling foam, then die away upon the desolate strand! Mother, we are both wretched!"
And she hastened back and clasped Frau Salden to her heart, who gazed in fear at her daughter's excited manner.
"But no!" cried Eva suddenly, "what did I say of you? It is quite different for you, quite different. A question has long been hovering upon my lips; why, then, did you not become man and wife, if you loved one another? I must ask, I must; I can no longer endure the obscurity which o'ershadows everything! Life must be transparent for me, transparent--even if, like glass, it should break within my hands."
Frau Salden pressed her hand upon her heart; "We parted, he no longer shared my faith! In that faith only I could live!"
"Oh, mother, you will, you shall still be happy!"
"I cannot, now! Too much has happened since I submitted to the decree of sanctification, that must have appeared to him like doing wrong. He measures with a worldly measure--therefore, I am not worthy of him!"
"I will away to him, will entreat him, if still a particle of love for me--"
"Stay, stay, my child; never, never!"
"He shall make you happy, you! You have a prior right to him. Then I will forget everything myself, then, when you are, I will be happy."
"Foolish child! And if the past were dead; the daughter's lover to marry the mother, that is impossible, it would challenge all the scorn that in society lies ever watching for its prey. And he shall not become the victim of such scorn."
"The daughter, the daughter," said Eva, buried in quiet meditation, "she is the obstacle!"
"No, the mother alone it is, and if that weird spectre disappeared that stands between your felicity, if it vanished away into night from which it arose so inopportunely, if time with its increasing oblivion buried it--then, perhaps, once more, even if not to-morrow, nor the day after, but when a year had elapsed, the roses of love might bloom again upon this tomb."
"Never, never," said Eva, falling upon her knees before her mother. "I beseech you, urgently, such thoughts are impious, such deeds can alter nothing. Between him and me there lies an unfathomable chasm, no sacrifice can fill it up! I will not, I cannot be his wife; but between you and him no chasm exists, a bridge is still possible in your case!"
"Only the rainbow of your dreams arches it over. But I feel from your words how you love me, my only child, and with such undeserved love. Believe me, this is a moment in my life that outweighs years of joylessness."
And mother and daughter lay weeping in each other's arms.
A knock at the door! The Regierungsrath, with solemn, pallid mien, white as chalk, like his cravat, entered with Miranda, who must bend under the low door-way.
"Good morning, sister," said old Kalzow, "we come to fetch Eva. After yesterday's occurrence she must linger here no longer; she must return at once to Warnicken."
"We shall be alone there," added Miranda, "most of the visitors staying there returned straight home from here. The Kreisgerichtsrath, who proposed still remaining, was frightened out of our vicinity by that terrible event. Indeed, you bring too much, too much evil upon us."
And the Regierungsräthin dried a tear of pain and indignation in her eyes.
"My mother is ill," said Eva, "can I leave her now?"
"Ill?" cried Miranda, "Ill? Am I not so too? Are we not all ill? My poor husband has coughed during the whole morning, as though the betrothal had gone down the wrong side of his throat! The girl must away, and as truly as she is now our child, I shall guard her against any new encounter with my dear sister-in-law."
"But, my dear wife," said Kalzow.
"I never imagined it so bad!" continued Miranda, indomitably. "Wherever her past is touched, moths fly out! What happiness she has destroyed! Kulmitten, Rositten, Nehren; good heavens! the most beautiful estates in the world, a pleasant, handsome nobleman, and all in proper order! There she intrudes with her unhappy adventures, and everything ends in smoke! Had my good sister-in-law loved another saint, we could better have pardoned her for it."
Frau Salden stood in silence, her hand pressed upon her heart; but Eva cried amidst her sobs--
"Oh, my God! and all these insults for my sake! Why am I not dead!"
"Go with them, my child!" said Frau Salden. "You belong to them! Let me return home to the quiet solitude, which I only forsook to bring evil upon you. The air here breathes harshness and insults, I can hear it no longer!"
"Dear sister," said the Regierungsrath, who suddenly felt a sensation of pity, "if in Warnicken--"
"For heaven's sake," said the Räthin, angrily, "of what are you thinking? My nerves are not strong enough to endure the sight of a woman who has frustrated our most beautiful plans. And then I do not deny it, after all that has happened, I am anxious about my character."
"Miranda!" the Rath said, with timid wrath.
"We must call things by their true names. Report will string together what we conceal, and it will not find much to spare."
"Do not fear," said Frau Salden, with haughty coldness, "I will not annoy you with my presence, hard as it will be for me just now to part from my daughter. Farewell, then, Eva, and tell me only once more that you love me!"
"Inexpressibly, my mother!"
And she lay in the other's arms.
"Then go in peace."
Eva tottered to the door, half dragged away by Miranda, yet she turned round once more for a last fond farewell. Then, as if she had made some resolve, with a majestic look upon her features she left the room with a firm step.
But Frail Salden sank upon the couch, buried her face in the cushions, and let her irrepressible flowing tears take their unrestrained course.
A few weeks had elapsed since the above-named events. The sea-side places had become empty; the Regierungsrath was seated behind his documents, but Miranda was still at the fisherman's cottage by the sea; she had to nurse Eva, who was taken dangerously ill immediately after her arrival in Warnicken. She was seized with a nervous fever, and wild delirious fancies chased her frightened spirit about in mad career.
Blanden had not set out for his estate; he had retired to the Chief Forester's house, in the deepest woodland solitude; he felt most at home with his father's worthy friend--and he needed the comfort of friendship. It is true that the old gentleman never led the conversation to Blanden's late experiences, but in his fresh, sterling nature, in his devotion to his profession, lay a power which was capable of holding enthralled the evil spirits of a distracted life.
Often they strolled together through the woods, rejoiced at the young, flourishing growth, at the tall oaks, in whose shade Romove's bloody recollections still seemed to dwell, at the sunny glades, across which stags and hinds wandered, visible from afar.
But he loved best to go alone, in a tempest that whirled through the tops of the trees, broke off boughs and branches, and hurled them to the ground, and when all other voices were rendered mute before that of the hurricane, then he believed to hear in it the cry of that almighty destiny before which nothing can exist, and that pursues its own course above the head of man.
But what enchained him most was the vicinity to Warnicken. He knew of Eva's illness, intelligence which had thrown him into a state of feverish excitement. The doctor, to whom he often rode over to make enquiries, prohibited him from visiting the sick bed as it would be dangerous for the patient's life. But how often Blanden stood upon the wooded cliffs, and gazed with intense anguish as they gleamed in the evening light upon the simple attic windows, behind which the beloved, to him lost, maiden lay in fever's delirious phantasies!
On several occasions, as he returned home at a late hour from Warnicken, he fancied that footsteps were following him, as though the bushes behind him rustled; but he did not think of danger, and when on casting a cursory glance round he perceived nothing, he deemed it beneath him to make any exertions to discover who might dog his steps.
Once he was returning home on a stormy evening, and the rustling in the forest, the groaning and cracking of the boughs accompanied his steps. He had learned from the doctor that Eva had passed all danger, and was now on the way towards recovery. He felt a sensation of pain, mingled with pleasure, at this. Did not life lie joylessly before the convalescent girl? And had he the power to alter it? His love still often rebelled with brilliant sophisms against the resolution of renunciation; it was a course of tempest's triumphant passion, which hoped to destroy as mere prejudice the resistance of an invincible feeling. But always in vain. The feeling remained impervious to all attacks.
The storm had died away. Blanden could not sleep, and looked out into the moonlight night, which silvered the gloomy forest, and upward to the transparent, starry sky. Venus stood on the horizon, higher still, yellow, sparkling Mars, like an envious orb, that seemed to cast a hostile light upon the soft planet of love. An image of his life; an envious fate did not vouchsafe the peaceful bliss to him, for which his soul had striven with such ardent longing.
The window was situated in the basement story of the house, and led into a little garden, with shrubs and turf growing as nature planted them. There, again, was a rustle in the nearest thorn hedge, and Blanden thought to perceive a gay-coloured dress behind the thorny bushes. At the same moment the Forester's yard dog began to bark, and the dress, clutched together in alarm, disappeared behind the fence. Blanden sprang out of the window and went towards the apparition. Through an opening in the hedge two great eyes peered at him, as in strange astonishment, and, scratched and bleeding from the thorns, the idiot fisher girl crouched behind the fence.
When she perceived him, she pushed right through the prickly bushes, threw herself down at his feet, and kissed his hands; she clung to his knees, and looked up beseechingly at him.
"What do you want? Have you often followed me?" he asked the girl; she shook her head in alarm.
"Do not deny it; you have probably already passed many a night upon this meadow? Only lately I remarked a bright coloured dress here about midnight; but I imagined it was hung up there to dry. Do not deny it!"
He spoke the last words in a firm, loud voice.
Kätchen considered for a moment, then nodded her head, while she clasped her hands imploringly.
"Have you any message for me? Have you anything to say to me?"
The girl was silent.
"Why do you rove about here alone at night? Why do you not remain in Warnicken?"
"She is ill--she will die--Kätchen lives!" said the little one, as she suddenly rose and extended her arms, as though she would press Blanden to her heart.
"Poor child, you must not stay here! The night-dew will make you ill; I will see about a night's quarters for you with the maidservant. But you must not return here again; I forbid it--the dogs here are let loose upon uninvited, nocturnal visitors."
Blanden knocked at the bedroom door of the Forester's servant, and pretended Kätchen was a messenger who had come at night, and must have some place to rest in.
"The idiot child loves me," he said to himself, "her frog's eyes receive a gleam of intellect when she looks at me! And then she crouches behind the sloe hedge, treated in as step-motherly a manner as that unhappy fruit which would gladly be a plum, but which tarries for ever in sour immaturity. Nothing is more touching than these half-human beings, with their distorted souls! An evidence of the poverty of Creation's plan! It may be vast and grand upon the whole, but it can value the human mind but little which it can thus embitter! Certainly it often seems as if the comprehension of the world and of life creeps with astounding suddenness into the twilight of such minds."
On the following day, a rainy one, which drew a melancholy grey net over the whole sky, Blanden sat lost in thought beneath the eaves of the forest house; he was stroking the bull-dog which had placed itself at his feet, listening contentedly to the monotonous plashing from the water pipes, while it only reminded Blanden of the everlasting sameness of human life, and a sensation of as infinite weariness overcame him, at the regular fall of the drops, as he should have felt at the tick-tack of an old clock on a wall. All measurement of time oppressed him; life at such moments only appeared to him to be a nervous struggle to avoid hearing the beats marking its flight, the pulse-like throb of the seconds, the chiming of the hours, and like a clock's hands passing away over the thin and thick lines, over that empty scheme of time, whose laws we are to carry out, well or ill, often when our heart's blood is being shed.
He thought of Paulina, of Eva--and when he wished to forget the inevitable, other cares of life arose to his mind; he had been without news from Kulmitten for some time, and the election to the Provincial Diet must have taken place within the last few days; perhaps his participation in public life could console him for the miscarriage of the hopes of his heart.
He was awoke out of these dreams by the noise of an approaching carriage; in the woodland solitude of the forest house, the arrival of visitors was quite an event.
Two men sat in the conveyance; the one in a dripping mackintosh was his friend von Wegen; in the other, who on descending lifted a ponderous chest with care out of the carriage and deposited it immediately in safety beneath the verandah, he recognised the strange amber merchant.
Wegen shook himself like a dog coming out of the water.
"Desperate weather! Heaven opens its sluices--a perfect deluge; the roads abominable--one longs to make the Landrath drive upon them from morning to night. If they are thus already in summer, one ought to make one's will in winter before trusting oneself to these causeways of logs."
"You are heartily welcome," cried Blanden to his friend, and shaking him by the hand. "What brings you hither in this tropical downpour of rain?"
"A very ungratifying piece of news, which I must explain; besides, I bring a dealer with me, who went to find you at Kulmitten; he brings costly goods, which he says were ordered by you, and which he would be loth to place in other hands; I therefore considered it best to bring him with me."
The amber merchant stepped forward and announced that he had punctually executed Herr von Blanden's orders.
The latter nodded and signed to him to open the box.
The toilet casket of amber, the billing little doves, the bracelets and necklaces, everything gleamed in perfect workmanship, so that Blanden rejoiced at sight of the beautifully formed works of art, and expressed ready admiration of the delicate, exquisite ornaments.
Then only did the melancholy feeling assert itself completely and fully that his amber-nymph, whom he would have decked with all the treasures of the deep, was lost to him. He turned aside in order to conceal a tear in his eye.
Wegen felt for his friend, but sought as quickly as possible to overcome the most painful sadness.
"You might hand over that rubbish to me," said he. "I shall be engaged some day--I quite lost my heart at that dance beneath the pear-tree, and the lucky finder thereof knows my address. Even if it cost all my rye-harvest--what will one not do, when any especial happiness in life befalls one?"
"I shall not part with these ornaments," replied Blanden. "Yes; who knows I may yet deck my lost bride with them, as I could not adorn her whom I had won. She shall preserve these jewels for a lasting recollection of a spring-time in her life which was all too soon destroyed by tempests. Should she cease to be my friend, because she may not be my wife? It is folly that we must fly from one another like criminals, as though lightning had struck the earth between us, because no inward change--because only external fate separated our hearts."
Wegen nodded approvingly; the two guest chambers in the forest house were assigned to him and to the amber merchant, who, according to Blanden's desire, had brought his account with him.
Wegen returned to his friend, after having assumed dry clothes; he began to feel comfortable once more over a glass of negus and a cigar.
Nevertheless, he hesitated with the communication which he had to make, and moved about uneasily upon the sofa while puffing vast clouds of smoke into the air.
"Well, and the election?" began Blanden.
"What a pity about that splendid election-dinner," replied Wegen.
"I am not returned?" asked Blanden, excitedly.
"Alas, no!" replied his friend, while shaking his hand. "Now it is out! Now let us talk it over quietly."
"Tell me about it," said Blanden. The words forced themselves out with difficulty. At that moment he had become poorer by one great hope.
"It is always the old story, which ever remains new," said Wegen. "Since the dinner all was running most smoothly; even the sheep-breeder was well-disposed, and only Frau Baronin von Fuchs moved Heaven and earth to circumvent the election of a man with such a dubious past. You know woman's indefatigability when she wishes to carry a point; she offered me 'check' on every side with admirable persistency. No sooner had my brown pair left the gates, before her dappled greys appeared. She was like the evil fairy in the tale. She did not turn to the men but to the women, and she holds a position amongst them, because she possesses an imposing mind, in the presence of which one like ourselves does not feel comfortable, that outrageous decision of thought and action which allows no contradiction to arise. To marry such a woman requires courage; I am sorry for poor Baron von Fuchs. He is a well-bred, pleasant gentleman, but he is not equal to his wife's eloquence. If women possess intellect, which sometimes happens, it is sure to be of an amazing quality, and can inspire one of us with alarm."
"Well, Cäcilie von Dornau possesses intellect also. Take care of yourself!" said Blanden, playfully, hoping thus to overcome his mournful mood.
"That is quite different! Hers is intellect of a most refined kind; those are the golden threads of _esprit_ with which they entangle us; but with Frau von Fuchs they are ship ropes of logic with which she flogs us."
"But, to the matter, friend!"
"The victory was in no wise certain for her; because, even if she did gain the women, the men steadily held their ground. Then came two pieces of intelligence which made their triumph quite complete. The rumour of your engagement in Neukuhren, of the commotion which Frau von Salden's arrival called forth suddenly arose on the shores of our Masuren lakes, and was circulated most inexplicably, naturally improved in the most appalling manner! How the people in that killing monotony thirst after any tale of scandal, and live upon it for long, like the camel of the desert upon the water that it collects in the store-closets of its interior! You should have seen the Frau Baronin's dapple-greys then, they absolutely flew along the forest roads and pawed the flags of every gentleman's courtyard with their hoofs! Wherever I went--and this time I followed her tracks--all was in flames, and I arrived too late with my fire buckets. I could reduce the exaggerations of the rumour to their true value, but the fact remained, and I could not refute it. The evil of it was, that this most recent event brought the past into broad daylight, and it was even difficult for those who were well-disposed to pass on to the business of the day, taking no more notice of it than they would of a dark legend whose moth-like flight they do not wish to rouse again."
"Withered leaves!" cried Blanden, "beneath their foliage they choke up every flower of spring that ventures forth into light; the arch enemy of our future is our past. Are we not like galley-slaves, who are seared with an ineffaceable brand? The spectral clatter of the chains accompanies us through life."
"But most unfortunately it must just happen that now at this especial moment the verdict of the second court upon the leading ministers of that community should be given after a delay of many years. It was far, far milder than the verdict of the first court, but it brought the affair forward again. Public opinion was busied with it; even in our circle the discussion was renewed of that story, long since forgotten, which was suddenly served up again as freshly as champagne in ice. And, in the midst of this disturbance of the ghosts, fell our election day! That you were not present displeased many, although, under the circumstances, they considered it only natural. You had many votes, even Baron Fuchs voted for you; it was a daring deed, and evil tongues maintained that a matrimonial divorce hovered in the air; the Landrath, too, with his nearest dependants, stood upon your side. But you could not attain a majority; that voting against you was a sort of trial by ordeal, that declared the principal landowner in the neighbourhood to be excommunicated."
"And thus I look upon it," cried Blanden. "All my hopes are destroyed! A domestic hearth, a busy, active life, political labour for the welfare of the Province for the honour of my name--all lies in ruin and ashes. Nothing else remains to me, save only to plough my acres, to bury myself in my forest loneliness, and even, like an outlaw, to shirk my neighbour's glance. Can I endure it? Or shall I venture forth again into a world of adventures from which an internal lack of contentment drove me back? Truly the old adage applies to me, that we are the forgers of our own destinies; but the forms into which they have once been wrought upon the anvil, are maintained for evermore, and when we would re-mould them the hammer becomes paralysed in our hands."
Wegen sought to console his friend in a good-natured manner; he should stand firmly by Blanden in good and evil times--they, and those who held similar views, were still a considerable party; but Blanden hardly listened to those words of consolation; he relapsed into deep melancholy, so that Wegen deemed it best to leave him to his own thoughts.
Blanden had all the sensation of having lost a decisive game upon the chess-board of life; the ashen-grey sky without, the unceasing drip of the rain, were in unison with the internal fatigue that had paralysed all his mental motives of incitement. Nothing now seemed worth wishing, worth struggling for; did not everything turn against him; he comprehended the Nirvana of the Buddhists.
The amber merchant departed on the following morning; then Blanden was particularly struck with the man's rugged, furrowed features; his whole demeanour told of a ruined, wasted life. When he had received the heavy price for his goods, and had the door-latch in his hand, he turned suddenly round once more, and while closely contracting his bushy eyebrows, and darting evil-boding flashes from his glowing eyes, he asked--
"You can probably tell me, Herr von Blanden, where the Signora now lives whom you once visited on Lago Maggiore?"
"Why do you ask this question?"
"I have a reason for interesting myself in that lady."
"She does not owe you anything? Certainly in those days you did not deal in amber?"
"My interest in her is of another kind, and in addition my secret."
"But how do you know--"
"I stood on the shore of the Lago as you and she stepped out of the gondola; I stood at the gate of the garden whence you issued at an early morning hour."
"Ah! now I recollect--you followed me even, so that I might have taken you for a hired bravo."
"You would have been mistaken. I am an honest man."
"But the right to ask questions lies with me. You know that lady, who is she?"
"If she chooses to envelop herself in mystery, I am the last who should like to betray it."
"You are a political agent?"
"Perhaps! At all events I am very anxious to speak to her, and I have reason to suppose that you know where she may be found."
"Then you are mistaken."
"People say they saw her here in Prussia."
"That is quite possible; but--I do not know where she is staying."
The conversation on both sides was conducted curtly and antagonistically. As the amber merchant turned to go, Blanden called after him.
"You are in possession of a secret; chance made you acquainted with that nocturnal meeting."
"Chance?" said the amber merchant, turning round, "chance? Do you know if it was chance?"
His countenance looked menacing, he clenched his hand as if convulsively.
"It is all the same," said Blanden, shortly, "I shall expect you to be silent about it."
"Who would trouble themselves about an adventure on Lago Maggiore?" said the amber merchant, with a scoffing smile. "And yet--I know someone for whom this adventure has its price. However, we have just had a deal together, and I am amiable towards my customers, I shall betray you to no one. Farewell!"
Blanden felt as though relieved from some weight when the strangely disagreeable guest had left room and house. Although this man's face bore traces of wild good-looks, yet the decay of his features, their malign, sly expression, had something repellant about them.
Blanden was quite in the mood to seek on every side for hostile powers that interfered in his life, and this stranger possessed the power so to do, and of his ill-will there was no doubt. One thing was unquestionable, that the fairy of Lago Maggiore was at present staying in Prussia; her visit to the Ordensburg proved that. Was it by chance that her weird shadow also, which had accompanied her on Lago Maggiore, had followed her hither? What were his intentions, what was his connection with her? And what had driven her here to these remote districts?
Blanden exhausted himself in conjectures, each of which lacked any firm foundation; but it was the wandering of a mind taking counsel of itself; the picture of that seductive beauty only passed like a veil before his spirit, because the latter was wholly filled with another, with the picture of that unfortunate girl whom he loved so fondly, and yet must repel so coldly.
The doctor's information, meanwhile, became steadily more satisfactory; Eva had almost quite recovered; might go out walking in the open air, and soon, so it was said, leave the sea-side again, and return to the capital.
Then Blanden believed that the moment had arrived for him to take leave of the girl, or to transform the lover into the friend. He had not followed Dr. Kuhl's advice to write to her; he had, indeed, seated himself before the writing-table, but he had been obliged to tear up four or five sheets of paper after the first few lines, so little did he succeed in saying what he felt, or in confiding the compulsory cause of their separation to tell-tale paper. He therefore gave up the idea of coming to an understanding with Eva by letter; he would see and speak to her. Meanwhile she must surely have learned from her mother that which he could not tell her himself. Her indisposition had, until now, prevented him seeing her; now this obstacle was removed, he might approach the convalescent.
He had made the firm resolution, appointed the day, and set out upon the road with his friend. They traversed the forest on foot; the box containing his amber treasures, which he intended to give to Eva to-day, was entrusted to some safe conveyance, and had been already delivered up at the Warnicken hotel, before the wanderers' arrival.
It was a trying walk for Blanden, but in his soul dwelled the hope of being able to hold out the hand of friendship to his beloved one, across that chasm which divided their love. What was left to them but painful renunciation; but is not the life of most mortals doomed to it?
Wegen was in a most cheerful mood; he sang and leaped, and described Cäcilie's advantages to his friend with inexhaustible loquacity.
Olga was obliged to retire far into the background; her ponderous nature, her Turkish beauty, the sensual expression of her lips and eyes--how could she compare with that graceful figure, with the mental activity and refinement of her sister?
And when Blanden suggested that Cäcilie loved Dr. Kuhl, Wegen broke out into triumphant laughter.
"No fear of that, my dear friend! She may like him for the sake of his strange ideas, but she thinks, like Homunculus, he only loves the fair sex in the plural; she prefers the singular, and all girls must vote for that! I do not remember now what sort of a part Homunculus played--."
"He lives in the bottle," said Blanden, "and that is a new point of resemblance to Dr. Kuhl."
"All the same," replied Wegen, "I use that term of mockery for him now, and I do not fear him."
"He who offers his heart and hand to a girl, has an advantage over the lover who goes out in search of casual adventures. Cäcilie knows that my intentions are honest; I am certainly not so intellectual as the Doctor, but a few acres of good soil are worth more than a whole _orbis pictus_ of genius that floats up aloft in the air--girls are more practical than we think."
"You may be right," replied Blanden, "many only make use of the throbs of their hearts to enable them to learn addition; but there are many exceptions, brilliant exceptions: there are girlish hearts which live and die in their love."
With this last melancholy turn the conversation was interrupted for some time.
Blanden thought of his Eva, and of the pain of seeing her again, and Wegen would not disturb his friend in such gloomy dreams.
Blanden's heart beat violently when the roof of the homely inn gleamed forth beneath the trees.
How often had he been there lately; but only sorrow for the dangerously sick girl then had filled his mind; to-day it was the anxious anticipation of a half longed-for, half-dreaded meeting that caused his spirit to be in such a state of vacillation.
In the hope of encountering her on the forest paths, in the Wolfs-schlucht, or upon the Fuchs-spitze, he wandered along the shaded walks, but his hopes had been in vain.
Arrived at the summit, he directed his glance towards the little fisherman's-cottage; the attic window, usually covered with curtains, stood open, and the afternoon sun streamed in with all its force. Eva had left the sick room.
All around was silence, all seemed to be dead! What should he do? To seek the Regierungsräthin, and ask her about her daughter, was to him the most unwelcome course, because in that lady's eyes he must appear like a criminal, and he would not expose himself to her reproachful glance.
It seemed best to contrive to get a little note conveyed to the daughter's hands, and to invite her to a walk to the Fuchs-spitze; half-witted Kätchen might serve as an unsuspected messenger.
Thus the two friends sat in undecided consultation. The more slanting rays of the sun fell through the tops of the oaks. Alternating in light and shade, the ocean waves played in manifold colours; it was as though a broken rainbow had sunk down into them; here they appeared light green, there deep blue, alternating with violet and reddish tints. A black bank of clouds hung in the west, swallowing up the setting sun more and more, but yonder, where lighter fleecy clouds broke away in smaller portions, it enframed the orb of day in a glowing triumphal portal that cast its radiant reflection into the billows.
The sunset was premature, and a sensation of evil portent lay over land and sea. The surf broke more impetuously down below, it was the last echo of a distant storm that beneath the heavy clouds of night winged its flight seawards.
How strange was the chattering of the waves upon the shore, and their varied dance. The one dashes upward like a spring of life in vernal green, while the next, heavy as a blue-black monster of the night, rushes over it, and in the whirling foam the lights of the evening sky are blended in a nosegay of tints, which the one wave offers to the other, and which the recipient scatters ruthlessly in the breakers which expire upon the sand of the shore.
There, see--a boat leaves the strand, and floats over the foam in the surf.
Two girls sit within it; Blanden has recognised Eva.
How can she, who has barely recovered from a fever, venture out on the evening tide?
And how she sits there, pale, deadly pale, her hands folded, staring into the waves.
Then the sun suddenly breaks through the clouds once more, and sheds a bright rosy radiance upon her features.
Ave Maria! She resembles the Virgin in the picture, gliding in a boat over the silent mountain lake, and while the bells are pealing in the churches on the coast, folds her hands.
But here no bells are ringing--here no Ave Maria is sounded--half-witted Kätchen rows them out to sea.
Does she not perceive the stormy clouds on the horizon?
But the voice from the heights above can still reach the women sailors, and with all his might Blanden cries--
"Eva!" and, in a warning tone, he calls it once again.
She has heard it; she turns to the other side of the boat, she stretches her arms out towards that summit, and then presses them firmly upon her heart; her looks hang as if spell-bound upon the tall oaks, and upon the figure of that friend who stands beneath them.
But Kätchen rows on; no sign from Eva bids her turn the skiff; like a rigid marble statue Eva stands erectly in the boat.
What her eyes speak he cannot see at that distance; perhaps fresh tears are wrung from them; but he can see that she remains motionless, that no desire to turn hastily fills her soul. It is not the obstinacy of the idiot sailor girl that guides the skiff ever farther out into the sea; it is the mute, proud will of the other, who rejects all chance of meeting him.
Can he follow her then, as he once followed her, when he conquered the bride with daring corsair courage?
Is that figure, pale as marble, the same as that of the blooming girl, who, once adorned with the wreath of woodland flowers, greeted him with merry smiles?
Between then and now lies an abyss--that campanula had withered in his hands, old love had become new guilt.
He had no longer the right to follow her; only with his eyes, with his spirit he followed the retreating skiff, until the girls' figures, became smaller and smaller, the boat dwindled shapelessly into a speck, to lose itself entirely in the distant atmosphere in the shadow of the clouds.
It is true that lightning quivered on the horizon, but Blanden felt no anxiety about the breaking of a storm. Half-witted Kätchen understood the skies and the earth, and if she ventured fearlessly farther over the waves, no coming terror, no storm, no hurricane could be expected; then one might be sure that the herd of fiery flashes would remain upon the horizon, and the tempest clouds not flood the heavens.
The boat had, despite his spectacles, long since disappeared from Wegen's short sight, when, by straining every nerve, Blanden's eye still clung firmly to the floating speck in the distance.
"We must have patience until they return," said his friend, lighting himself a cigar, "the girl is thoughtless thus to venture out to sea. The evenings are too cool for a convalescent. Frau Regierungsräthin keeps a negligent watch over her."
Louder became the breaking of the waves upon the shore, higher rose the sea. Blanden gazed impatiently into the distance. Will the boat not return? He felt as though he must jump into the skiff that lay below on the strand, and row after the girl.
Oppressive sultriness pervaded nature; through a gap in the broad bank of clouds the glow of the parting sun became visible once more. A shower of golden sparks fell into the ocean, for which the waves seemed to struggle, soon again increasing night spread her wings over it.
Blanden felt oppressed, why he knew not his friend chatted all the more briskly.
"We will live right comfortably together in our Masuren wilderness, for I am seriously inclined to make a home, and then you shall visit me every day. It is true I was always afraid on account of the cooking:--next to love that is the principal thing, and I am convinced that a bad dinner would make me angry with my wife for the whole day, even if I loved her as Romeo does his Juliet. Every one has his own ideal at some time, and a sweetheart or wife must be found in the perihelion of that ideal, else the transfiguring halo is wanting around her; but I should prefer to be buried in the vault of the Capulets to having an unpalatable joint or fish in some impracticable sauce set before me by a Juliet. Well, do you see my friend, it is true that even by the most cunning insinuations I have not been able to find out what my Cäcilie thinks of the culinary art, and if our natures meet in unanimity upon this important point; as yet also I have seen and tasted no practical proofs of her possession of this gift, and the worst is, I am convinced that Frau von Dornau's cuisine offers no opportunity for the development of artistic talents, and that it does not extend beyond the most simple requirements of the needs of the inner man; because, according to General Montecuculi's views, cooking, like war, needs money, money and ever again money, and Frau von Dornau's pension, according to my unprejudiced calculation, suffices at the outside for potatoes, grey peas, and occasionally fish. On the other hand I am firmly convinced that my Cäcilie in the kitchen would always find herself equal to the situation, if her finances permitted her brilliant supplies; to a mind like hers the importance of the culinary art for human life, and especially for mine, cannot remain unknown, and if she does not quite understand the tactics of the roasting-spit, and the strategy of the bill of fare, she has sense enough to select a proper talented kitchen adjutant, and it is quite immaterial whether the field-marshal or his adjutant gain the victory, so long as it be gained. I then crown my wife with the kitchen-laurels, which I do not estimate so lowly as though its leaves were only fitted for the preparation of a boar's head, and in that laurel wreath I entwine the most beautiful myrtle of love, and the olive-branch of domestic peace."
To this complacent communication, which might at the same time claim the merit of being a soliloquy, speaking the deepest thoughts of his mind, Blanden only listened with abstracted understanding; his glance rested inadvertently upon the misty horizon.
A steamboat passed by; its column of smoke disappeared in a heavy, lowering cloud; here and there a white sail became visible that lost itself out at sea, and at last only appeared like a streak of chalk upon a black wall.
Flashes of lightning chased one another like eagles at play, and growling on the horizon announced the awaking of the storm that tossed itself hither and thither in its dense, dark cradle of clouds.
Blanden's anxiety waxed stronger; his confidence in the idiot girl's instinct diminished. Could not the weather-wise determination of that child of Nature fail for once?
There, see! The black speck appeared again on the horizon, and, with the greatest exertion of his ocular powers, Blanden could perceive that it gradually increased and approached the shore.
"God be thanked! Idiot Kätchen has done her duty," said Blanden. "But now, too, it is certain that we shall not have to wait long for the storm."
And with a lightened heart he added, cheerfully--
"Dear friend, I rejoice that the carpenter's work of your domestic happiness stands so firmly already that you can have a housewarming; I wish Fate may deal more kindly with you than it has with me, and that the lightning may not strike the timbers before the masonry of the house is firm and you can make your entry into it. Good luck to you! I dread my meeting with Eva, and I fear--" Blanden suddenly stopped in the middle of his speech; he stood up, stepped to the railing, and gazed out fixedly.
"What is the matter with you, my friend?"
"It may be caused by the light, or my eye be dazzled from having previously looked too long at the evening sun."
"Why?" asked Wegen, wiping his glasses hastily, so as to assist his friend as much as possible.
"It seems to me--I cannot distinguish properly--let us wait until the boat is nearer."
Blanden did not dare to give utterance to his fears; the words would not pass his lips.
"The boat is drawing nearer," said Wegen quietly. "I even recognise it now, although I am convinced that my glasses in future must be one number lower; too often they leave me in the lurch."
After a pause of terrified expectation, Blanden cried suddenly--
"No, no--I am not mistaken--and yet--it is impossible; I only see _one_ girl now in the boat. Can idiot Kätchen be making another swimming excursion and Eva be holding the oars?"
"You are right--I only see one living creature in the boat; perhaps Eva has become unwell from the swell of the waves and laid herself down in the bottom of the skiff; the best remedy for sea sickness--I always lie upon deck like a mummy."
"But the boat is not deep; I must in that case see her dress," replied Blanden.
Again an anxious pause ensued; then with a loud cry he shouted out Eva's name and rushed down the mountain path to the landing-place.
Wegen followed, shrugging his shoulders.
Soon both friends stood below on the strand.
The boat approached, with regular strokes of the oars; more quickly rolled the thunder across the western sky.
Blanden's pulses throbbed feverishly.
"Where is Eva?" cried he to the idiot boat-woman across the mighty roar of the surf.
No reply. Kätchen was occupied in bringing the boat safely to the shore. She sprang into the water, drew her skiff nearer, and bound it firmly to the post.
"Where is Eva?" repeated Blanden, now in a supreme state of excitement, while he grasped the girl and held her firmly.
"There," said the idiot girl, with imperturbable composure, and pointed to the sea.
"Dead then, dead!"
Kätchen nodded her head; Blanden sobbed, burying his face in his hands.
Then she flung herself down before him, clung to his knees, kissed his hands.
Like a flash of lightning, a fearful thought passed through Blanden's mind.
"Murderess!" cried he, "you have murdered her; you have hurled her into the sea!"
Kätchen was mute. No change was apparent in her features. It seemed as though she looked up at him with a triumphant smile.
"Misery of miseries!" cried Blanden, wringing his hands; "the victim of an idiot's passion! Yes, Wegen, this creature, this half-human being, this female Caliban loves me; she has pursued me with her passion even into the Forester's house; I found her several times beneath my windows; she cherished a moody, dull hatred for Eva! Heavens! Why did I not warn her! It is horrible--the girl has killed her!"
Wegen seized the girl with all the energy of a _gens d'arme_.
"She must be arrested--she must give information."
Unconcernedly Kätchen allowed all to pass over her; she replied to no questions. Her frog-like eyes only rested upon Blanden with an expression of silent beatitude.
The girl was conducted to the fisherman's cottage.
Miranda, when she heard the news, fell into a swoon. How she had cautioned Eva against spending an evening on the sea; the latter had escaped secretly in order to indulge her unhappy love for the ocean.
The Räthin acknowledged this when she had recovered again, and Blanden and Wegen could hardly protect the idiot girl from the gigantic lady's maltreatment, who felt constrained to let her boundless excitement vent itself upon some victim or other.
A rural policeman chanced to be stopping just before the inn; he was summoned in order to take Kätchen with him to the district town to undergo what certainly promised to be a futile examination, because only seldom did a sudden gleam of light flash through her obscured mind.
Then Miranda, whose anguish indeed needed some outlet for its anger, turned with the most unjust reproaches upon Blanden, who, by his recklessness, had plunged mother and daughter into ruin, and had put both into the pillory before the whole of Neukuhren, before the capital, and before the entire Province; Eva had become ill in consequence of that disgrace, and since her illness had not been able to cast off a state of intense melancholy. Kätchen certainly should be arrested, but who knows if not she, but others, for whom there were no policemen, were perhaps the murderers of her unhappy child?
Blanden left the ignoble woman who, like hundreds of others, had transformed herself into a Megæra, when, in the heat of excitement, the lacquer of the gloss of cultivation melts away from them; yet he left her with a dagger in his heart! Was she right, could Eva have taken her own life? But no word of farewell, not a line indicated such a thing.
Must he be accountable for the victim whom the sea had swallowed up?
Who should solve that mystery?
Blanden stared at the storm that now discharged itself with terrific blows, and ignited an old Perkunos oak upon the height, like a beacon for ships in danger.
In his heart surged a tempestuous, agitated uproar, as great as the conflict of the elements without.
Two hours later the full moon shone from out a cloudless sky; the ocean still gasped in short breaths after the spasm that had shaken it. But it became calmer, and at last displayed a smooth mirror-like surface.
A boat glided over it.
"Farewell my amber nymph," cried Blanden, "I send your jewels after you, that you may remember me in those subterranean halls, and one portion of my life I bury with you in the deep."
With a loud noise the chest and its jewels sank into the sea; but still for a long time the boat of the solitary nocturnal sailor was driven about upon the waves.
Peace dwells in its unfathomable lap, but just as unfathomable is the grief of that human life, the grief which rends the heart of that nocturnal sailor, and which he pours out in plaints to the mysterious planets.
THE CASTLE LAKE.
Two years had passed away since lovely Eva Kalzow had met her death in the waves of the amber sea. The obscurity that veiled her end had never been lifted.
Blanden brooded in solitude, retired from the world in his Castle Kulmitten; he absorbed himself completely in the study of Sanscrit and of the Indian philosophical systems; in these he found the original spring from which eastern wisdom has always drawn its supplies, even supposing that the same train of thought has not led the minds in the eastern and western worlds into the same path.
He had little intercourse with his neighbours; only his friend Baron von Wegen and the worthy Landrath of the district remained true to him. Of all others he was suspicious; he did not know who, at the late election, had voted for or against him, and, under his peculiar circumstances at the time of the election, and the similarity of his political views to those of the electors, he felt obliged to look upon the, to him, unfavourable record of votes, as an expression of want of esteem, or at last of decided aversion.
But intensely as he mourned the unhappy occurrences at the sea-side, for the malignity of fate which by means of his past had destroyed all his plans for a beautiful future, and entangled an innocent noble maiden in his own doom and hurled her into destruction, yet he was but little qualified for a hermit's life; amidst the penance to which he had condemned himself, the promptings to activity and love of life stirred ever anew within him; he would work and labour, and if at times he thought more with silent sadness of the charming girlish picture that had entered into his life like a transient dream, full of beautiful promise, yet the recollection of a shattered bliss could not force the relinquishment of every one of the joys of life upon him.
He had much sympathy with the belief and mode of thought of the Buddhists, but not the inclination to bury himself in nonentity. He seemed to hear in distant reverberation the stream of the great world pass by, and it drove him forth out of his solitude into the temptations of life. He often imagined himself to be like Saint Augustine, who was visited in his desert by the seductive spirits of brighter days; often the pictures of Lago Maggiore rose before his mind, the recollection of a southern night, and while wandering through the apartments of his castle, he believed still to perceive the shining traces of that mysterious visit which had never been explained to him.
He had been neither to the chief town nor to the sea-side during those two years; then an event occurred which drew him forth out of his brooding quiet life, the Jubilee at the University.
He would not be missing when all the scattered intellectual life in the Province suddenly concentrated round one focus, and the companions of his youth, the veterans of former days at the University, the later rising generation of studious youths, bound in one common bond, met one another in equal enthusiasm for works of science.
Blanden's first walk in Königsberg was to the little house in the _Prinzessinstrasse_ in which the great Thinker lived. If any one spirit descended to preside at this festival, it could only be that of Emmanuel Kant, who had imprinted his noble impression for ever upon this High School. Like the silver Albertus upon the cap, all citizens of _Alma Mater_ bore the Thinker's picture in their heart.
And Blanden heard the inflammatory words of the spirited King who laid the foundation stone of the new University in the _Königsgarten_.
He declared that it should be a home of light, and should scare the bird of night back into its darkness. What a noble flight did that Prince's enthusiasm take! He sounded the trumpet in the conflict of intellect, but by his call he never failed to awake that which was opposed to his own ideas.
The stirring life of this festival made a feverishly exciting impression upon Blanden after his long retirement; his pulses throbbed, his heart beat, the undecided need for mental occupation as for a life transfigured by soul and beauty, became so overpowering within him, that he felt physically oppressed and often gasped for breath. All others here possessed some certain object in life, and rejoiced in the pleasures of communion of labour; only he in the midst of these thousand jubilant beings was a solitary man, yes, he even fancied that his college friends avoided him, that the friendliness of their greetings was somewhat constrained.
Towards evening he went across the bridge of the castle lake. There a varied scene prevailed: gondolas filled with men singing, passed up and down and frightened the proud swans as they sailed along; rockets and balls of light ascended from the more distant gardens, while those nearest began to gleam in a fairy-like manner, so that not only the shade of the tree tops, but also the reflection of their radiance floated in the water.
Blanden entered the _Börsengarten_; here too a dense, gay crowd prevailed. Hardly had he forced his way past several well-filled tables, before he encountered Dr. Kuhl, in the cheeriest, most excited mood.
"Welcome, welcome--I should never have expected you to be here; this alone converts the festivity into a thorough jubilee!"
"You have not allowed me to see anything of you for a long time," said Blanden, reproachfully, "if even our friends forget us, we must become perfect savages yonder in our Masuren desert."
"I have too much to do, new chemical discoveries and divers other elective affinities! But the main thing is that you are here! To-day it is delightful! Walpurgis for all authorities, and there is no lack of charming witches. It is true that little red mice do not leap out of their mouths as they did from that of the blessed Lilith, but to-day most unguarded declarations escape the custody of their lips. All the world is infatuated; the closest men of learning permit a glance into their empty waistcoat pockets, and even the most prudish girls expand a little to-day."
"But where shall we sit?"
"I am to sit by Dr. Reising, and shall be able to obtain a seat for you."
"Dr. Reising is here?"
"How could he fail at the University Jubilee? besides, he is now a special professor; his father-in-law has provided for him."
"And which daughter did he marry?"
"Like a sensible, order-loving man, the eldest naturally, Euphrasia! But really he has to provide for all; old Baute is dead, they say in consequence of a stroke of paralysis, which he brought upon himself by his constant discussions with his son-in-law. Fortunately Dr. Reising's uncle, whose heir he was, is also dead, and left him several hundred thousand dollars. But Euphrasia is very economical with the money, and as the sisters do not obtain what they wish from her, they have struck into a better path and seek to win him over to themselves by the development of their united amiability!"
"But of course he would provide for them?"
"Yes, what was needful, but they have plans which he shall further. Lori has passed her examination as governess, and would like to begin a boarding school here; but thrifty Emma, on the contrary, wishes to set up a boarding-house, the sisters should help partly here partly there. Then the question is how to get hold of the Doctor's capital for these mild institutions; but Euphrasia guards the Nibelungen treasure like the dragon Fafner in the legend."
The friends meanwhile had drawn near to the table, at which the Professor with his wife and her three sisters Lori, Emma and Albertine were sitting; the others had stayed behind in their new home. Reising's appearance betrayed unwonted fashion; he even wore a gay coloured neckerchief. That was Lori's taste, and at the same time a trophy of her victory, because although Euphrasia had objected and maintained that her husband must avoid everything remarkable, as it did not suit him, Lori had conquered, and he had taken a grass green and ocean blue tie from his drawer.
Reising greeted Blanden very pleasantly, as did his wife and sisters-in-law. Of all those merry and sad events at the sea-side, the ball beneath the pear-tree alone lived in their recollection.
"A glorious festival!" said the Professor, while pushing his hand through his rebellious hair, which hitherto had opposed invincible resistance to the combined attempts at beautifying it on the part of his six sisters-in-law. "By it East Prussia makes progress in the consciousness of liberty."
"You will take cold, dear brother," said Emma, "there is a cold air from the lake."
Lori, with superior decision, took up a shawl that lay upon the table, and wrapped the Professor in it. Unanimous as the two sisters were that their brother-in-law's large heritage should be diminished in their favour, yet a constant small internecine war of jealousy as to the privilege of such favours, raged between them: Lori struggled for intellectual cultivation, Emma for food and attendance. Euphrasia looked upon her sisters' loving coquetry with proud indifference; she knew that the key of the cash box lay in her hands.
"My brother is right," said Lori. "Such festivals contribute considerably to the people's education, and the people must be educated; one feels this necessity most keenly on such occasions as the present. Not only the lower orders, even the higher require education; people may say that men's student life for a time unsettles them; scorn of citizen-like customs is implanted in them; late hours, beer-drinking, smoking are acquired as noble habits of life, and to be intoxicated is considered manly and correct, perhaps because the ancient Germans, even upon their bearskins, sometimes lost their sense of sobriety with drinking mead. Thus it is with men; but the daughters of the higher classes are not much better off; more or less, they are all badly brought up. Yes, people may even maintain the same of us, although we are the daughters of a professor."
"You go too far," said Albertine, angrily, and thus broke the silence, deep as an abyss, with which until now she had celebrated the day of jubilee.
"Too far? What, have we then really learned, according to any system, any principle? Nothing, absolutely nothing! Yes, any one who gave herself the trouble, who followed her own inclinations, might attain splendid results. But that is the case even with the B[oe]otians! Method is everything; I shall introduce a method into my educational institution that will satisfy the most temperate minds."
Reising looked timidly at Euphrasia, who always resisted the mention of this future boarding-school most decidedly, to-day she contented herself with carelessly humming a few bars of music.
"That is very grand," said Emma; "but I believe that physical well-being has its rights also. Living in hotels is as uncomfortable as possible; a stranger runs about like a numbered prisoner whose whole rights of humanity depend upon the numeral of his rooms. How totally different is a furnished house upon the English model; everything in common, breakfast-table, dinner, tea in the evening, all flavoured with conversation; an hotel transformed into a drawing-room--I could arrange it capitally, like that intellectual society of which papa always talked."
"What, intellectual society!" said Dr. Reising, while he coughed slightly, as though this Herbartian allusion had stuck in his throat, "all you have to do is to provide for the system of wants, for good food and drink, that soul of every hotel, and even of an _hotel garni_."
"What is the use of these castles in the air?" said Euphrasia, shrugging her shoulders.
"What do you say to it, Herr von Blanden," began Lori, who wished to draw the silent guest into the conversation.
"I have become estranged from all society in my forest solitude," replied he.
"And you live solitarily and alone?" asked Lori, with peculiar emphasis.
"Alone with my thoughts and with the remembrance of the grief that has befallen me."
Lori's eyes shone. Here was a chance, and the daughters of the upper classes might wait. With rapid change of front, she turned away from her brother-in-law and looked on without jealousy while Emma buttoned up his overcoat. She herself began to pour out a cornucopia of sweetness which was only destined for Herr von Blanden. She possessed _esprit_ and aspirations, did that little Lori, and under pedagogic education the _enfant terrible_ would have developed into a more reserved lady of mental acuteness.
"I imagine life to be so beautiful in those primeval forests, where elks and bison rove as in the days of the blessed Pikullus! How delightful to be able thus to live upon one's recollections. You have seen the world, Herr von Blanden; what a miserable part we must play compared with you. You have seen the snowy peaks of the Himalaya, the calm lakes of Thibet, the cloisters and pagodas, the tea-gardens of Japan and the tea-plantations of the Celestial Empire. Lions, tigers and apes are as familiar to you as generals, counsellors and dancing partners of the _haute volée_ are to us; how insignificant to you must the society appear that revolves in a circle upon this tiny spot of earth! And yet you should not live in such retirement; a man of intellect such as you is guilty of robbing us all, of robbing society even when he buries himself in quietude."
Blanden listened with polite attention, when his glance suddenly fell upon two ladies who passed by, accompanied by an officer and several gentlemen, and who were greeted on all sides. His glance had only swept slightly over the features of the one; but there was no doubt she was his _principessa_ of the Lago Maggiore.
He would have liked to spring up and follow her; but how could he treat the gifted speaker so cavalierly who turned to him with such ardour and held him enthralled in the spell of her eyes and words. From that moment, however, his distraction was unmistakable; his glances wandered into space, but Lori would not release the victim of her eloquence.
"You must spend the winter season in the town here; oh, you have more female admirers than you imagine; you will be _fêted_ as you deserve, for in truth the world is not so well supplied with intellectual men as it appears to be, when one sees so many wildly luxuriant whiskers and menacing eyebrows and the superior smile, which after all means so little, of so many lords of creation. No, no, Herr von Blanden, you must not withdraw yourself from society, you cannot condemn yourself to everlasting solitude; too many wistful glances, that would be glad to share it, follow you."
"Lori's distaff buzzes incessantly to-day," said Albertina, casting a glance ready for conquest upon the gentleman sitting beside her.
Emma, who found the bird in the hand worth two in the bush, meanwhile redoubled her attentions to her brother-in-law, whose hand she pressed cordially, so as to console him for the few wounding sparks that flew towards him from the anvil of Lori's loquaciousness.
"Yes," said she, "so long as there are gentlemen like Herr von Blanden, and our good brother-in-law, the social circle cannot become oppressed with tedium."
"I feel," said Dr. Kuhl, "that I am _de trop_ here; no one thinks it worth while to transplant me amongst the stars. Therefore I must come to the miserable end of a falling one."
Blanden meanwhile had risen, and after a polite bow had hastened through the leafy garden paths after that form which wholly occupied his attention; it had surely been no vision, but nowhere fluttered the green veil, that like a greeting of hope flowed from the hat of his _principessa_.
Here at a turn of the road, close to the lake, he believed he had recognised it. It was the veil, but another, a strange face looked at him from beneath the hat, a face fearfully hideous, that seemed to laugh and grin at his disappointment.
He hastened back once more; with slow scrutiny he went from table to table; here and there sat officers, but with unknown companions, the one who had accompanied those ladies was remarkably tall and stout, he was unmistakable.
All in vain; she must have already left the garden, but who was this stranger who appeared to be so well known here, was universally greeted with respect, with friendliness? Feeling annoyed, Blanden went up and down the garden walks, he looked at every lady, found all ugly as though the one had borne away with her all the radiance of beauty.
The Professor now made a move, followed by his female retinue. Lori walked triumphantly in front of her sisters, but Blanden hastened to evade a fresh experience of her loquacity. He deemed it safest to take refuge by the castle lake; he entered a boat that lay by the water's edge, and gave himself up to the guidance of the waves.
The moonlight made the lake; the jewel of that town on the Pregel, sparkle in most splendid effulgence; although the evening was cold, a southern shimmer, a dreamlike illumination swept around the lofty trees in the garden, and the festive lights and gay lanterns in the verdant shade, the ascending rockets and balls of light increased the emotional impression of the small inland lake, lovely even in its everyday life. A regatta of gondolas glided on wings through the waves, a race between the sons of the muses of the oldest and most recent terms. The gondolas of the former were left behind, for only few still had strength to guide their oars. The others sat on board with redly glowing faces; a few stared into the water in that silent despair which was the fruit of enthusiastic hours, and powerful drinks, which the brewers of Löbnichten understood how to prepare.
The _gaudeamus_ sung by powerful voices, echoed from afar, and as the skiff drew nearer, Blanden perceived that the singers were gentlemen with grey and silvery white hair, but their faces were as if suffused with the reflection of youthful enthusiasm; it was no Charon's boat with candidates for Orkus, enjoyment of life was written in their features upon which at the same moment rested tokens of a glorious emotion.
"Immortal youth of German student life," thought Blanden to himself, "you are the guarantee for the youth of our nation, for the intellectual freshness even of its older years, for the enthusiasm which worships the highest gods, the freedom of the spirit and the friendship of all hearts.
"But I myself--am I not become old? Do I not glide like a shadow amongst these joyous beings? Does my heart still possess a youth? Must I not guard myself against the funeral song of the land of the lotos flowers, against the Indian barcarolle of Nirvana? Softly as the moon sinks into the waters, sinks the soul into dreamlessness, after having exhausted one dream after another! No! no! My pulses still throb, my life has still an object, even although it only be the rapturous magic of the moment! _Diva_, I seek my star!"
And with a powerful stroke of the oars, he clove the waves, he guided his boat towards the town, away beneath the bridge! There busy life was moving on the water; even the windows of the backs of the houses, the balconies and seats were peopled with a gay human throng, and despite the hoarse confused noise of many hundred voices, the chime of the clock in the reformed church, whose tower cast a long shadow in the waves, was heard above all.
There in the fitful light of the moon, and lamps with which the barks were ornamented, he saw as in a vision the marble-like beautiful features which lived so vividly in his recollection.
The lady sat in a boat with two others; the colossal lieutenant and several young gentlemen rowed: at first the beautiful woman looked up and appeared to contemplate the play of the rockets in the moonlight night, or did she gaze upwards at the stars, which here stood paler in the heavens, which seemed to be wanting in the fire of the south?
Blanden saw the profile of those finely cut features, the harmonious lines of the face; they were the same as those which had enchanted him upon the terrace of Lago Maggiore, when she stood there beneath the unicorn of the Boromei, her gaze directed side-ways upon the peaceful Isola Madre, and again as at that time he felt all the sensation of artistic contentment which such euphonious beauty sheds. Quickly her skiff glided past; now she cast a side glance at him, she too had recognised him; she smiled, she bowed, but then flung the bouquet of flowers which she held in her hand, into the water.
The lieutenant who bent over the gunwale to find the flowery sacrifice, one probably little flattering for him, the donor of the nosegay, suddenly concealed the _Principessa's_ picture. His effort was futile, and with reproaches in which, as it appeared, the other gentlemen also took part, he pulled the boat once more with irate impetuosity towards the garden side of the lake.
Blanden followed in eager haste, but he found himself amid a confusion of barks that formed an inextricably entangled clew. Intoxicated sons of the muses increased the confusion, they took pleasure in the cries of terror of the girls whose boats began to rock dreadfully, and would have liked to enact the rape of the Sabines upon the water. Blanden cursed the interruption; at last he succeeded in freeing his boat; the _Principessa's_ bark had gained a great advantage, but he might hope to encounter it again on its return journey.
This hope disappointed him! When he had rowed along the extent of the last gardens beside the castle lake, he met the empty boat guided by a boatman.
The party must have landed at some private garden, several of which enframed the lake at this part; the surly old man on being hailed, replied "that he knew nothing." The traces of the mysterious beauty were lost to him again.
"But not for ever," he vowed to himself!
She had thrown the nosegay into the water; should all memory of the happiness of love be buried with it?
But, no! He was filled with a new hope in life; the castle lake had suddenly been transformed, as if by fairy's art, into the enchanted Italian one. Vine clad hill terraces rose on its level shores, distant lofty ice peaks cast avalanches upon the Alpine passes, and in the shade of the pines lay the villa upon whose windows the moonlight played, telling of happiness to come.
The theatre bills, announced "Norma;" the character bearing that name was to be performed by an Italian singer. What was more probable than that on this evening the _Principessa_ of Lago Maggiore should visit the theatre?
At the hour of opening the doors, Blanden appeared in the vestibule of the playhouse, which turns its melancholy monotonous-looking side to the _Königsgarten_, and resembles a military store building or laboratory for a Chief of the Ordnance, rather than a temple of art. Blanden watched all comers with painful anxiety; he greeted Professor Reising with his sisters-in-law, who appeared in most striking toilets, in ball costume, which was useless extravagance in the dark apartments of this temple of the muses, grudgingly illuminated by the chandelier.
The gigantic lieutenant appeared also; behind him was borne a not less colossal bouquet.
Both Fräulein von Dornau entered, without an escort. Cäcilie looked paler than she had done at the sea-side; but Olga was as blooming as though she had just risen from the sacred ocean tide.
There, Regierungsrath Kalzow with his wife! How old and decrepit he had become! How his face, with its worn features, was lost in the stiff white neckcloth! But Miranda walked sturdily, although she seemed to be still thinner, more skeleton-like; she towed her husband behind her, as does a tug-steamer an unwieldy sailing ship.
"Why, there you are, also!" said Dr. Kuhl, greeting Blanden with a powerful shake of the hand. "Signora Bollini must exercise a marvellous power of attraction, indeed! Only look how the crowds pour in."
"So far as I am concerned," replied Blanden, "I am indifferent to theatres, which formerly I never visited. Our dramatic art has outlived itself! Signora Bollini, too, is totally innocent of my becoming faithless to my principles to-day."
"But she deserves that you should do so," said Dr. Schöner, who had come with Kuhl. "She is worthy of a sacrifice: she is not merely an admired singer who in Barcelona and Florence, as well as in St. Petersburg and Moscow, has celebrated great triumphs; she is above all a beauty, and her movements in acting are marvellously plastic. I do not share your views of the decadence of the drama, but whatever you may think upon the subject, you will not be able to release yourself from the influence of that beauty which is intensified by the stage-setting."
"And what did, then, really lead you into this temple of art, if it is not 'Norma' nor Signora Bollini?"
"A personal meeting that I wish for! Today I only came to the theatre for the sake of its spectators, like hundreds of others, who are not candid enough to confess it."
"Indeed, you are very absent-minded; you have the air of a policeman who, with a warrant of apprehension in his head, musters the throng. We will not disturb you, but wish you every success!"
Blanden remained behind alone, but only when a few late members of the audience arrived, and the overture had already commenced, did he enter one of the stage boxes, where he had engaged a seat, so as to be able to overlook the whole house. He took up his opera-glasses to commence a survey, which extended over boxes, stalls and balcony; he hurried from head to head as one turns over the pages of an album. Even the prettiest little faces did not attract his interest, and, just as little as the buds did the full-blown roses of which there are such an abundance in East Prussia. Every fresh face was a fresh disappointment for him. Meanwhile the curtain had been drawn up; Blanden had not yet completed his survey, and cared little for the Druids upon the stage, who peered at the moonlight through the dark branches, or vowed vengeance upon the Roman legions. Even the two singing Romans inspired him with no interest. Only when suddenly thunders of applause reverberated through the house did he turn his glances towards the stage.
There stood Norma, the vervain's jagged leaves and red shimmering flowers in her hair, the sickle in her hand, the symbol of the changeful moon. There she foretold the decline of Rome, and with elevated sickle she cut the mistletoe off the oak tree; then her arms extended, her countenance turned to the full moon, she greeted that silvery chaste goddess in melting fervent notes, which were followed by tempestuous applause.
Blanden took no part in these expressions of approbation. Since the appearance of the priestess he stood motionless, the incredible robbed him of his self-possession; only yesterday he had seen that harmonious profile when the beautiful woman in the boat looked up at the stars, as Norma did now at the chaste goddess; he had seen it last in the shades of the cedars of the Isola Bella. Signora Bollini was the fairy of those Italian days, the mysterious beauty of the enchanted lake.
He had found that which he had sought, and yet his first sensation was one of disappointment. His _principessa_ was a singer, only a singer! How he had flattered himself in his dreams that a Signora from the upper circles of the Italian nobility had loved him, even though with evanescent, carefully concealed love, and had she been a Lucrezia Borgia, a Bianca Capelli, it was an adventure such as Boccaccio loved to describe. It was a fairy-tale out of the thousand and one nights, into which now the sober illumination of the footlights fell.
A singer who is practised in the art of deception, perhaps accustomed to get up an adventure! All the down seemed to be suddenly swept from the richly coloured wings of these recollections, which had so often fluttered through his dreams! With the charm and enchantment of the mystery the silent food for his vanity had also vanished away. He felt himself to be like Sancho Panza, who, after having been Governor of the island for a long time, found himself transformed into the sentry once more.
"Life," said he, "consists of one course of delusions, but as each delusion is unfolded, life becomes poorer in happiness. But was it only a deplorable deception?"
Blanden did not require much time before he condemned his first feeling to be a hasty emotion. Whether _principessa_ or _cantatrice_, this Italian woman still remained the splendid creature of his dreams. And she had not deceived him, only he himself!
What feeling, what passion in her singing! What grandiose tragic style in that Norma! How his inmost soul vibrated at that imploring entreaty of love which he believed to be directed to himself--
"Behold my tears, behold mine anguish, Oh twine once more love's wreath for me."
How he was moved by the few bars with which Norma interrupts Adalgisa's confessions, bars devoted to recollections of other days, to the magic which had once enthralled her also! And to what passion was she urged by the Roman's discovered faithlessness! With grandeur of mind she walked to the self-sacrifice!
An actress who could personate a life so full of soul must possess it herself. If the composer's music nowhere gives the dramatic power of the story with equally overwhelming force, if it soon, as if alarmed at such daring, only wreathed the power with arabesques in which the self-conceited play of notes rocks itself to and fro, the vivacity of the representation in this case perfected the want of creative power on the composer's part, and held all intellects bound in the spell of the tragic grandeur!
She was a _principessa_ in the kingdom of art, and was that not something much loftier than if her ancestors had stood proudly in the golden book of Venice?
Filled with such feelings and thoughts, Blanden joined vigorously in the outbursts of applause with which the _finale_ of the performance was distinguished; yes, in the _entr'acte_ he had bought the last bouquet of the flower-girl, and thrown it to the triumphant actress. She took it up indifferently amongst the others; she did not know from whom it came.
Had she yesterday cast the flowers into the water so as to bury all recollections? Here they returned again as the first greeting of a newly awakening love! Yet she in that bouquet perceived but one of those evidences of homage which were lavished so numerously upon her art!
Not long afterwards Blanden was sitting with Professor Reising, Dr. Kuhl and Schöner in the comfortable cellar of the Court of Criminal Justice.
Reising was in a good temper; he had shaken off his female retinue; the four sisters had been invited to a tea-party after the theatre.
"Italian music," said Reising, "that is true music! How much Hegel was delighted with the starring tours of those Italian voices in Vienna! Music, like every art, must be the one object; the kingdom of notes has its own action and splendour; the opera singers must sing like nightingales and rejoice in the presumptuousness of song in those ascending and descending runs, in those stirring trills, in those sharp, foaming pearls of self-sufficing capriccios. Who would enquire whether that music is always adapted to the _libretto_? The story is a necessary evil; it is the perch in the cage, because the bird must sit somewhere.
"Intellectual music, that is the subtlety of the mind. People have compared music with arithmetic only because it rests upon unknown numbers. Good Heavens! then may the musicians at least remain at the four elementary rules, and not lose themselves in the differential and integral calculus! It is a cruel mistake wishing to express every possible thing by music; music can express nothing but the mind's emotions. In all else it acts with divine freedom; I acknowledge that I am an utter Italian in music, and love to revel with it in its own riches!"
"As we, however, possess an opera," replied Blanden, "and as music is bound to dramatic situations, it must also give a suitable expression to them; yet it does not exist merely on account of that expression, else it would move in constant servitude. It is a free art and its own ruler in its dominion!"
"An enchanting Norma such as ours, renders all artistic theories superfluous," cried Schöner with enthusiasm.
"But to-day," replied Kuhl, "we missed the poems wafted down from the chandelier; on other occasions our friend has a new sonnet for each character. The liberty of nations must wait when Signora Bollini is extolled."
"She is worthy of all laudation," said Schöner: "but it would be desecration to praise her in inferior verses. My muse is not always solvent, now and then I prefer to be silent."
"I am such a novice in theatrical affairs," said Blanden, "that the fame of actors and actresses is a legend for me! I might drink a glass of wine with a Roscius and know nothing of the honour that was my portion. Who is this Signora Bollini? Is she a genuine or only a theatrical Italian? Since when has she belonged to the stage celebrities? Where has she gained her laurels?"
"These questions," began Schöner, "I can reply to accurately after the study of theatres, newspapers and the personal information of the culprit herself, for as such she appears to be in your eyes, as you seem to bring a formal impeachment against the actress. She is a true daughter of Hesperia, although she has passed her childhood in Germany, and therefore is as perfect a mistress of our language as she is of her mother tongue. She went upon the stage when very young, she gained her first successes in Milan in _la Scala_, and in _la Pergola_ in Florence. Italy was the cradle of her renown. Then she sang in Madrid, in London, but always returned again to her own home. Two years ago she made a professional tour in Russia, and it was a special distinction for our Königsberg that she gave a somewhat lengthy series of visitor's performances there; she also then travelled along the coast and through the Province. I do not know wherein lies the power of attraction which our Northern Venice exercises upon the daughter of the South!"
"Perhaps in Dr. Schöner's verses," suggested Kuhl. "It is a reward to be sung by an East Prussian Leopardi."
"Enough," continued Schöner, "that Signora Bollini is here once again, probably on her way to Russia for a second time. According to what they say, she proposes very easy conditions to the managers, and is therefore welcomed as a bird of good fortune, like the albatross in Coleridge's poem of the 'Ancient Mariner.'"
"I cannot imagine," replied Kuhl, "that our sober town of pure reason, or our stage fascinate her; some additional secret charm must exist, some secret affection."
"I do not think it," replied Schöner. "I know all her adorers; there are several amongst them who have serious intentions. The rich young merchant Böller is even said to have asked her hand in marriage; it is a matter of course that she should have rejected that long-legged stork; Lieutenant Buschmann cherishes a passion for her that is colossal as the figure of that ancient Teuton, a passion which threatened to burst the officer's tight uniform, but that passion, too, is unreciprocated."
"Our friend Schöner," interposed Kuhl, "is too modest to include himself amongst the number of the beautiful singer's adorers, yet I must exclaim with Spiegelberg, 'Moor, your register has one gap, you have forgotten yourself.'"
"Of course I adore her," replied Schöner. "I admire the harmony of her being, her talent, her beauty, but I possess too perfect knowledge of the country to open a campaign without any prospect of success; she is most amiable towards us all, but she distinguishes none, and any one who would venture too far to the front would most assuredly sustain discomfiture. What did that brave Böller gain when he even travelled to Moscow after her? He met with his Beresina in Russia, and returned as disconsolately as once the _grande armée_. One might think that she hopes to conquer an Italian _principe_ or a Russian prince, and until then does not care to rule over any other souls or slaves; yet it is equally possible that she may already possess some silent love, perhaps, in her own home, and may cherish it with invincible faithfulness."
"Those are very kind suppositions," said Professor Reising. "Such a singer, free to go where she will, is a coquette from the cradle. She requires plenty of admirers, because she requires success; she favours none especially, so as not to repel the others. Wheresoever she goes she forms a little ministry for herself, and does the same here; the portfolio of her finances is in her friend von der Klapperwiese's hands; Lieutenant Buschmann is Minister at War, who inspires all enemies with the necessary terror; the chief of the Press-bureau is Dr. Schöner, and that officer works in prose and verse, writes the official external correspondence, looks after the portraits and biographies in the newspapers and the laudatory and eulogistic poems. If she depart from here, a great Cabinet crisis takes place, the ministry is dismissed, and a new one is formed in each new town."
"According to my views," replied Kuhl, "Signora Bollini would do well to think of a retreat, to marry a Russian prince and to enjoy the comfort which would make it possible for her without _arias_, without trills and _fioriture_ to rule over thousands of souls."
"Why then?" asked Blanden, who until now had listened silently, but with strained attention to the conversation.
"Because her voice is already ruined."
Dr. Kohl's daring suggestion met with most animated opposition.
"Or--it will soon be so. I possess a sharp ear for such things, I need no stethescope; I can already detect, in her voice a slight autumnal rustle; soon its mellowness will be gone. Believe me--I am an experienced prophet therein, and one of those privileged doctors who proclaim the inevitable evil with greatest certainty. Did I not predict to Fräulein Burg that her organ was on the wane while she still seemed able to sing down the walls of Jericho with a flourish of trumpets? And how quickly it set in! It crackles and breaks suddenly even if it do still rustle like heavy satin! And there is no remedy for it--I could at most prescribe the Russian prince to the Signora."
"You make our souls shudder with foreboding at this prophecy," cried the Professor, while he looked anxiously at the clock, for he did not wish to reach home later than Euphrasia, because Lori had lately expressed an opinion that being out late was ruinous to his health.
"This medical wisdom," cried Schöner angrily, "might be capable of spoiling all our enjoyment of life. The gentlemen can no longer cure, but they recognise the least disturbance in the mechanism of life; they carry our verdict of death upon their lips, and know about the period when it will be executed; but to obtain a full pardon from implacable Nature lies quite beyond their capabilities. There I extol the poets; they glorify the beautiful present, the blessed today, and leave to-morrow to the black-visioned prophet and to the uncertain whim of destiny."
The party broke up, Blanden made enquiries of the poet as to the singer's abode, and while he walked alone with Kuhl across the moonlit castle yard, said to him--
"With what a trembling heart I passed through that door when I went to the Frau Gräfin's court, that beautiful witness of the Apocalypse! Another time has come and wafted away all the spectre, but also has demanded a tardy victim! For me it was a crushing blow, I did not dare to live any longer. From to-day I dare it again, all the spirits of my life are stirred, because that Signora Bollini is my _principessa_ of Lago Maggiore."
IN THE BOURDOIR.
The play-bill announced that in consequence of Signora Bollini's hoarseness the performance of the "_Somnambula_" would not take place, "_der Freischütz_" was substituted for it.
The theatre was empty, and all the greater was the number of visitors who towards evening came to enquire after the health of the singer. Beate had trouble to restrain the pressure which, under pretexts of every description, became dangerous for her friend's quiet, nor could she always succeed, inventive as she was in evasions of every kind; the regular visitors would not let themselves be turned away, and even a few others who were particularly pushing, obtained admittance by force.
Amongst the latter class was the student Salomon, who in the interim had relinquished his studies at the gymnasium, and was proudly conscious of his new position in life, which was still more transfigured for him by the brilliancy of the jubilee.
The cunning Italian, with her sparkling eyes, her high, arched eyebrows, the agreeable sly smile upon her lips, one of those beauties that would have been fitted for a queen of hearts for the tricks at cards of a Bosco, felt an unconquerable repugnance to the wearisome youth.
"Signora Beate," said he in reply to all her representations, "your friend may be indisposed and exclude herself from the general crowd, but you really do not act in your own interests when you insult the student class; I look upon myself as its representative; I am to give my friends information as to the admired actress' state of health; what, then, would they say if I found these doors closed? Consider that her success is our work; we are the genuine, incorruptible enthusiasts--enthusiasm of the _claque_ always betrays its hired origin--the fate of an evening at the theatre rests in our pure hands."
Beate was not impervious to such explanations, and opened the portals of the sanctuary to the repulsive young man.
Somewhat pale, Signora Giulia lay upon the sofa, her hair unbound, a book in her hand, a red-hued sheeny silk encircled the slender form; the modulated light of a hanging lamp which still struggled with the light of day, imparted a slightly green tint to her noble features. Spectre-like stood out the statues of Dante and Tasso, of Rossini and Bellini from the dark red velvet hangings; the Signora loved the art of sculpture and beautiful forms.
There, too, the head of Juno Ludovisti was displayed, a successful copy; here the Venus out of the Florentine Academy, and that group upon the buffet represented the bull of the derricks, the cruel piece of carving out of the Museo Borbonico.
The Signora greeted the student with a slight movement of her head as he entered; he enquired after her health and the subject of her reading--
"Tasso!" exclaimed he then, "Jerusalem delivered? and the very canto which treats of Armida and Rinaldo? I must confess that Tasso is not my favourite, he takes things so terribly seriously, and describes circumstances which are really frivolous, with such solemn feeling; he is for ever squinting at the capitoline laurels."
"Oh, who would not," cried the singer suddenly raising herself, "gaze towards those laurels, even with weary expiring eyes, as the poet beneath the oak of San Onofrio gazed across at the Capitol?"
"I personally," said Salomon, "am not susceptible to laurel wreaths; in these days they are much too cheap a prize!"
And at the same time he cast an impertinent glance at the velvet wall which was completely covered with such wreaths.
"But as far as _Gerusalemme Liberata_ is concerned, as Tasso sings of it, it is an old worn-out story which never becomes new, thank God; because the crusades could only take place in a period so little enlightened as the so-called middle ages, when any monk with a long beard, who sat upon a jackass, possessed more influence than a minister of war, and who mobilised the whole Reserve and Landsturm of Christianity. Such things are no longer possible in these days. You cannot misunderstand me when I, as an educated man of our times, in connection with the 'Jerusalem delivered,' think of something very different than what that mad poet glorified in his stanzas, namely the emancipation of our faith. Heine is our Tasso, and is indeed a much greater poet; for when he describes an Armida, she is flesh and blood, and with a few strokes of the brush he gives her more vivid colouring than when Tasso absorbs a whole palette full of tints in order to paint her upon canvas."
Signora Giulia paid no attention to the chatterer, and calmly continued to read her poem.
"Ariosto now, is quite a different man! In him there is some of the blood of Heinrich Heine; an ironical light hovers around his creations; his giants bear some resemblance to Atta Troll, and his beautiful women might move about in a drawing-room. But you are surely unwell, Signora? I must, it is true, confess that I have not perceived any of the hoarseness of which the play-bills speak, but they, so far as I am concerned, are very little deserving of credence, I, who, indeed, possess a sceptical nature; but you seem to be exhausted also, and doubtlessly such a conversation as I love to hold, I might say in academical style, fatigues you, because my mind is always devoted to the loftier interests of art and literature, although I am also interested in butterflies and other creatures of the animal kingdom. Indeed, I surely weary you?"
For the first time, Giulia gave him a look of gratitude; she acknowledged that she was unwell, and begged him to thank the brave youth of the Albertina, who had behaved so admirably at the late commemoration. Salomon acknowledged these thanks in the name of all the students, and not without a sensation of dissatisfaction left the singer who had not given him personally that sympathy which his enthusiasm and constant efforts merited.
"A sad lot," said Giulia to Beate, who entered, "this dependence upon the public--is it not the worst slavery? And what is it all for? So that in the general exultant applause, no sound of disapproval, no token of discontent may be mingled. Always fear for this evanescent fame; ever from day to day this begging for the alms of applause!"
"Well," said Beate, "they have always been expended lavishly upon you!"
"Yet how short is the memory of our contemporaries: what is all this fleeting, intoxicating splendour for which we strive with all the fibres of our soul? How soon we are transformed into a legend that each year becomes more obscure, and then the vast storm of oblivion sweeps over us all! Oh, I am weary, often infinitely weary, and would fain fly to a quiet spot where never more the incessant chase after success would shatter my nerves."
Giulia rested her head upon her hand, and closed her eyes; then she continued, opening them again wearily.
"Yes, if the sweet rapture still hold us captive; if we still feel all the magic of renown in its perfect entirety, then we may defy the infinite trouble which the chase after laurels brings with it, for the time has passed in which they fall spontaneously like divine favours into the lap of the happy being, but when we have become indifferent to all these triumphs, when we would fain cast aside all this rustling gilt tinsel of fame, and necessity still compels us to labour, for immortality in which we no longer believe, oh, then we could envy the daily labourer the calm happiness of his work, for he only needs his hands--his thoughts and emotions are free, while we must bring spirit and nerve to our daily task, yield up our heart's blood without faith or love."
"In such a frame of mind you probably declined to-day's performance!"
"Perhaps--but you know--I have seen him. How uncertain are my feelings! I did not wish to see him again, therefore we sought his home when he was absent. With dread I look forward to the moment in which he will speak to me, call me by my name--the step out of that enchanted fairy tale into sober reality, appears inconceivable to me. I feel the burning colour of shame upon my cheeks at the very thought. At one time I appear to myself like a Somnambula who must precipitate herself into an abyss when he calls me, awakes me out of my dreams, then at another like a Melusina, who is surprised by her knight while she, with a fish's tail, splashes about in the crystal stream with other water-witches, that horrible fish's tail, the paper train of unhappy theatrical renown."
"But many a _principe_ has married such a Melusina despite her fish's tail," said Beate with a smile of ready comfort.
"He feels differently, I know it; I wish now not to meet him, not to desecrate a beautiful moonlight memory with the sober light of day, and yet what is it that ever drives me hither to this desolate land? A dark, incomprehensible longing, that I dare not confess to myself; I feel as if I belonged to him when I stand upon the soil of his home, and when I saw him again the day before yesterday, he recognised me--I saw it, felt it; what is all fame, all exultation of the crowd to me? I yearn for one word from him, he will come, he must come, and because I expect him, I have not sung to-day."
"If the stern manager knew that!"
"I tremble at the prospect of meeting him, I start up each time the bell is touched; I listen with feverish expectation; I am boundlessly disappointed at every other face, and yet I could hardly endure to see him."
The bell was rung; in anxious anticipation Giulia smoothed the dark curls from her brow. Beate, shrugging her shoulders, announced Herr Spiegeler, the indefatigable, irrepressible operatic reporter, who in addition provided the radicalism for many German theatrical newspapers.
Giulia, after a silent malediction, assumed a friendly smile and greeted the lame critic, who limped into the room upon his crutch.
"Indisposed, beautiful _prima donna_?" said he, with the air of a protector, "our malicious climate is not created for nightingales."
"And yet I have heard that in Lithuania the nightingales are very numerous and sing wonderfully."
"It may be--in that case they must have been sent to a wrong address, for there is no public there capable of appreciating their melting warbles."
Spiegeler belonged to the would-be witty daily writers, who are not alarmed at any impertinence to the descendants of Saphir, whose star at that time was already on the wane; he wished to make himself talked about and feared, he cared not at what cost; in every artist he did but perceive a victim of his wit, and examined that victim until he had discovered the vulnerable heel of Achilles for his dart. He piqued himself upon his rudenesses, his existence depended upon them. In middle class life it often befell him that he was turned out of public-houses on account of his unseemly conduct; everywhere he was exposed to a by no means silent contempt; at the same time in literary and theatrical circles he was deemed a magnate, and there all strove to win his good-will. But the latter always remained uncertain, because for the sake of a happy idea he would even sacrifice his friends. He was so touchingly innocent that he was never even conscious of his own impudence; he considered wit to be his profession, and in that profession everything was allowable. Without blushing he stretched out the hand of friendship to those into whose heart he had on the previous day plunged a dagger with the skill of a literary bravo, and then wondered why his friendly greeting was not reciprocated. Such parasitical existences more than aught else have brought literature into disrepute in middle class German life, because the German cannot bring himself to admire that which in other respects he despises! Certainly in literature the portals are thrown widely open even to these sharks; under the banner of so-called talent even the most miserable characterless creatures are smuggled in, and when such a shameless pretender of wit composes an immature piece which only possesses dramatic joints in however slight a degree, and ill or well can move upon the boards, immediately many court theatres, which have long since learned to treat as rubbish all productions of true talent, hasten to bring out that drama or after-piece, so as to pay homage to a young genius, or much more, to render themselves secure against the ruthless lash of the literary clown.
Spiegeler certainly had not yet made any attempt upon the domain of original art; but in all other qualities he did not deny the type of the so-called wit, above all not in indifference towards every description of chastisement which did not extend so far as the laying on of hands. For him moral annihilation did not exist, and he was wont to return with great freedom from embarrassment whithersoever such acts of homage had been his portion.
Never did Giulia feel the degradation of her actress' calling more than in the presence of such German critics and their professional malice: a _prima donna_ who had associated on friendly terms with the highest nobility of Italy was compelled to receive with all well-bred affability persons to whom the doors of a drawing-room would never have been thrown open. Often enough had she proudly scorned to wait upon the malicious "gentlemen of the press," while many of her colleagues in velvet trains rustled up the back-stairs to an attic in which some newspaper writer, dangerous to her existence, had his den; but even if her success did not suffer therefrom, at all events on all sides she was told of the witty sallies with which the intellectual reporter revenged himself for this neglect. Of what use to her was all proper indignation?
It troubled her to read in every countenance the knowledge of those spiteful _bon mots_, she was given up to public malice; the air in which she breathed was no longer the pure atmosphere of art, it wafted a poisoned pestilential blast towards her, and she preferred to submit to secret humiliation rather than bear the insults to which she was exposed before the whole world.
And Giulia was obliged to tell herself that such theatrical criticism only flourished upon German soil! In Italy, in England, in Spain every critic was a _nobile_, a gentleman, an _hidalgo_; even censure is offered with a polite bow, every merited acknowledgment is made to talent and beauty. Never is an artistic performance sacrificed to the unsparing spirit that delights in plucking it to pieces; never do newspapers venture to let an inquisitive ray of light fall into the interior of private life as through an open window shutter, and then to gossip about it with _piquant_ allusions. Giulia thought little of the much-vaunted German piety, she saw that not alone the actors and actresses, but also the original poets themselves were often criticisingly ill-treated by most incapable heads, and that the public did not take part with the richly gifted and nobly struggling talents, but rather carried their homage with utmost complacency to the sparkling conceits of the much promising critic. She certainly did not know that a similar lot had fallen to our classical poets, that a criticism which had a fig-leaf ready for every bare mediocrity picked Schiller's tragedies to pieces as being schoolboy's work, even shortly before their author's death, and that amid the exultation of a numerous crowd a squib sought to destroy Goethe's laurels.
All the same, these thoughts, the recollections of many an experience in her intercourse with the representatives of German public opinion, caused her blood to boil more than usually to-day; either the sad mood that overcame her was its cause, or a dim feeling that even in daring defiance she would find a protector in the man who breathed the air of the same town with her.
Spiegeler had made himself comfortable, propped his crutch against the easy chair; the spiteful line about his lips, recognisable despite the luxuriant beard, the small dark watchful eyes intimated that some malice was being prepared, but it was no plumed dart, which he this time launched at the singer; he wished to let her feel his superiority, while showing her that she was dependent upon a man who had never troubled himself particularly about her especial art.
"My real department," said he, "is the drama; I have only added operatic criticism to it, because our musical men can write nothing but notes. I do not understand much about music; those unfortunate finger exercises disgusted me with the pianoforte, and I have no voice for singing, but I am therefore all the more impressionable, all the freer from prejudice; handicraft is universally the death of art; all men of business are craftsmen, unbiassed only is he who enjoys, and I am thus the fitting exponent of public opinion. What does our great public understand about music? Nothing, absolutely nothing; I assure you it is unbounded hypocrisy of our society that it pretends to be initiated in the secrets of an art, which one must study like the cabala in order to decipher its marks. Nowhere do the charlatans possess so great a field as here--
'That which cannot declined be Is ta'en for immortality.'
People worship the incomprehensible devoutly and do not know that it is everlastingly incomprehensible. On the other hand it is genuine music that electrifies, that penetrates the nerves; and who does not rejoice at a national melody, the notes of which can be caught up and retained while they are hummed around us, or at a piece for the trumpet at which even the horses begin to neigh and raise their heads?"
Giulia was indignant at the impudence with which the critical musical guide of the capital confessed his ignorance and claimed admiration for it.
"It is not very flattering," said she, "that you study the influence of our art amongst four-footed creatures."
"Influence--that of course is the principal thing! Whether a war-horse raises his head at the trumpet's note or Raffaelle's Cecilie at the sound of the harp, originates in one and the same cause--the magic of music! And in order to feel it thoroughly one must be hampered with no theory; music must insinuate itself around us, or rouse us like an elementary power."
"You may be right," said Giulia, "and yet they are two quite different matters--feeling the charms of music and writing upon them."
"You offer me a challenge," replied Spiegeler, not without bitterness. "My criticisms are not learned enough for you; they contain nothing about fugues and counter-point, and I do not understand how to designate your highest notes according to the alphabet of _la Scala_. Nevertheless, I can detect whether they are pure and beautiful or if they leave an unpleasant after-taste which you will then perceive in my criticisms. That was the case recently in 'Norma.' I pitied you on account of your indisposition. You must, indeed, spare yourself; people are already remarking that your performances are moving in a declining scale."
Giulia had risen angrily from the sofa.
"I am a great lover of truth," continued Spiegeler. "We here live in the town of a great Thinker, who spoke the truth ruthlessly. Until now in my criticisms I have extended the cloak of Christian charity over your shortcomings, but my conscience is awakened. For some time I have collected every variety of observations and remarks upon broken and cracked voices; they are not amiss these scraps of thought; they are mental iron filings, and I am seeking the magnet to which they can be attached; I cannot promise you that I may not utilise them in my criticism of your next performance if it satisfy my expectations as little as did your 'Norma.'"
The fiery blood of the Italian now conquered all prudence. Her tall figure was drawn up to its full height, her eye flashed, internal agitation quivered in the corners of her lips, as Giulia cried--
"Well, then, annihilate me; I will gladly be the victim so that not one of nay successors may have the accumulated poisonous flowers poured over her from the cornucopias of your intellect. We are all, indeed, the slaves of the public; it subscribes to my notes as to your wit, and when my voice becomes hoarse and your genius is snuffed out, the Moor's occupation will be gone and he may retire."
"Very true," interposed Spiegeler, nodding his head in assent.
"The public is perfectly right; yet I, too, have the right to tell you what I think. I despise a criticism which alone aims at its own brilliance, even if it only be the light of mental corruption with which it wanders about like a will-o'-the-wisp."
Spiegeler cast a hostile glance at the singer, rose with difficulty, and grasped the crutch that stood beside him.
"I despise any criticism," continued Giulia, implacably, "that vaunts its own ignorance of that glorious art to which I and we all have dedicated our lives. We are and shall remain in the sanctuary; what do we care about the baying of the dogs at the portals of the temple?"
Noisily Spiegeler seized the second crutch.
"The criticism may be severe, but noble; brave and conversant with the rules and customs of war; I myself will eat the black soup with the Spartan, little as I may like it, yet not with the Helot! He must carry my shield, else I shall chastise him."
Spiegeler struck the floor with his crutch, so that the room shook.
"That to me, Signora! But beware, my bees may swarm!"
"I shall know how to protect myself against their sting."
"I doubt it; but I thank you--you accord me full liberty once more. I have longed for it, I showed consideration for your beauty, did any favour befall me in consequence? I showed consideration for your worldly fame, it dazzled me as it did the public. Worldly fame, like a soap-bubble it shall collapse. A circus in Barcelona, a Crystal Palace in England, to these may be added a _café chantant_ in Moscow, and the magic is dissolved. Talent! What is talent? People possess it so long as it is believed in. Talent is a bill at sight, it must be redeemed. It is little enough to possess talent alone; a singer must cease to begin when her voice begins to cease. There you have a few specimens; how do you like the colour? It is of a brilliant lustre, brilliant! That will create a sensation!"
Giulia stood as if bewildered beneath the drizzling rain of these aphorisms. She kept her hands pressed convulsively upon the table.
"I can discover new stars," cried Spiegeler, "and transform them into falling ones. I have given the German stage two _prime donne_. I can create queens of the opera, but also hurl them to destruction. _Nous verrons_, Signora!"
Beate rusted in from the adjoining room.
Stamping with his crutches, the lame reporter left the boudoir.
"What have you done? _Corpo di bacco!_"
"I feel myself free and great as Italy's most promising actress, young Adelaide Ristori, when, as Mary Stuart, she plunged the knife into her enemy's bosom."
"Unbounded recklessness! What possessed you? We shall be obliged to bear the consequences."
The bell was rung outside.
"I fear nothing more! He comes--it is he!"
With downcast mien Beate announced Lieutenant Buschmann and Herr Böller.
Giulia received her adorers with cold reserve.
Böller, who was as tall as Buschmann, but who, behind the corpulent officer, looked like the latter's shadow, was now one of the Signora's friends most capable of sacrificing himself. After she had rejected his attentions, he had relinquished all hopes of winning her; however, he had vowed to himself to protect and watch over her as much as he possibly could.
He was a young man of principle, noble-hearted and faithful to his duty; but his exterior was not very prepossessing. A figure thin as a lamp-post, grey eyes, a haggard face and a sharply prominent nose; he seemed to be the embodiment of Immanuel Kant's conception of duty.
Lieutenant Buschmann's principles were less firmly planted, but his outward appearance was superior. It was imposing, of great physical size; his features expressed perfect self-complacency, a healthy colour lay upon his cheeks, and confidence of success flashed from his eyes. He was little adapted to stand in the ranks, therefore he was generally ordered upon duties which had nothing in common with the march past on parade.
Far removed from resigning, like his friend Böller, who on that account was his friend, he still went out bent upon conquest; for him the beautiful _prima donna_ was a worthy prize.
She looked favourably upon him because he spoke good Italian, and that had also been the excuse for his first visit. Just as he always connected the useful with the agreeable, so he looked upon his visits to Signora Bollini at the same time as lessons in exercising and improving himself in Italian. Even if his loftier plans were shipwrecked, he should not have spent his time quite uselessly, but to the benefit of his linguistic studies.
Thus he now commenced an Italian conversation with the singer, while Beate imparted to Herr Böller the declaration of war which her friend had thrown to the critic. This cast Böller into a state of great perturbation; already he perceived the _mene tekel_ of Belshazzar written in black and white, and felt every sharply pointed word pierce his own bosom like the stroke of a dagger.
Buschmann spoke of "Norma," of the art treasures of Naples and Florence, he lingered fondly over plastic pictures which he certainly set forth in an æsthetic light; at the same time, however, he let a bold word fall occasionally, taking greater intimacy for granted.
Then the bell rang again! Giulia started. This time her expectations had not deceived her, it was Herr von Blanden's card which Beate handed to her. How her heart beat! she pressed her hand upon it and rested the other upon the table to keep herself steady. How painful to be obliged to receive him just now; she wished the officer far away who had drawn so defiantly close to her, and even modest Herr Böller, who cast such mournful glances at her, and ever again filled the basket, which he had received, with fresh flowers expressive of his homage; and yet, perhaps, she should be less embarrassed if she were not alone when she greeted him for the first time. She signed to her friend, and soon after Blanden entered the room.
She went to meet him, and offered her hand to him; but she trembled in so doing, and a burning colour suffused her cheeks.
"I am rejoiced," said he, after having been introduced to the other gentlemen, "to be able here in the cold north to renew a brief acquaintance begun in Italy."
Blanden spoke with calmness and ease, and sought by these tactics to mask Giulia's agitation, but Buschmann, who had as good an eye for a countenance as he had for reconnoissance, had long since perceived that no indifferent meeting was now taking place. His jealousy had immediately been roused; he decided at once to reconnoitre the ground more closely, and ventured to the front with one question after another as to the time and place of that meeting, but if he counted upon evasive replies, he had been mistaken. Blanden took it upon himself to speak, and answered so clearly and decidedly that the officer withdrew his _vedettes_.
Blanden felt himself once more entirely under the spell of that beautiful woman of the south; not myrtles and laurels, not the mirror of the lake with the reflection of the lofty Alpine peaks, not the aromatic breath of orange flowers acted now intoxicatingly upon his senses, and yet it was the self-same charm that held him in its spell, at the contemplation of those harmonious features and of that noble form. But she appeared distant to him, majestically distant, and he could hardly believe that he had once folded her in his arms.
Beneath indifferent conversation both concealed the emotions and thoughts that stirred them inwardly. Vainly Blanden hoped that the first visitors would withdraw and grant him an undisturbed interview. Lieutenant Buschmann stood bravely to his post, and did not give the slightest indication of retiring from the field; he even at times assumed a familiar tone towards the singer, which she repelled with displeasure.
Blanden's conversation seemed to glide unconcernedly above all this by-play, which in reality he watched closely; the other guests' obduracy obliged him to be the first to take leave. Giulia's looks, however, assured him of her unchanged affection; she requested him to repeat his visit very soon.
"My Beatrice," said Buschmann, who thought much of his knowledge of Dante's comedy, "my guide through Paradise appears to turn completely away from me! Who then is this stranger who crosses our mutual path?"
"I have already mentioned his name," said Giulia coldly, "but here is his card!"
"An old Italian acquaintance! Herr von Blanden, a gentleman of large property! Ah, ah, Böller, that is promotion over our heads, we shall have to retire to the ranks."
"I gave no cause for such remarks," said Giulia.
"No, Signora, we have not yet lost all courage. Such acquaintances from the land where the oranges bloom, easily droop in our climate; they require a special hot-house here, and it is to be hoped that you will not find one. But we are tried weather-proof friends, is it not so Böller? But we will not disturb the Signora any longer! no bad feelings, lovely one! Does not Beatrice bear the olive branch of peace?"
When Buschmann and Böller had retired, Giulia gave way to violent tears and sobs. Beate came to her and enquired as to the cause of this despair.
"Despair, indeed! I have seen him again and all else has become worthless to me; it is the breath of this passion that extinguishes all the other lights on the Christmas tree of my life, while I, dazzled, stare fixedly into the one all-consuming flame! But he, he--how can he respect me? That love, which I as if in a dream and intoxication gave to him, I the nameless one to the stranger--does it not now speak its own verdict of condemnation upon me? Now, when all gains name, form humiliating distinctness! In what circles does he see me. In those of importunate admirers, who sacrifice my name! The theatrical tinsel that rustles around me is sure to make all appear like a _comedia_ to him, and who knows if like a _divina comedia_! Ah! and he does not imagine how the glowing recollection of him governs all my dreams, how, like that Penelope who waited for her Odyssey, I reject every other lover."
"He does not know it," said Beate, consolingly, "but you can tell him though."
"And when I have told him, if he believe me, if he still love me, what then? Is my misfortune any the less? The secret of my life, that baneful fetter that I drag after me, all prohibit any thought of lasting happiness! Was there ever a more pitiable slave than I? I would make a holocaust of all my laurel wreaths, of that accumulated adornment of my life, and precipitate myself into the flames; it would be best!"
"Do not despair," said Beate, "I have courage and resolution! I think day and night of a means by which to release you."
"It is impossible," replied Giulia sighing.
"First you shall speak to your friend of Lago Maggiore, and probe his heart. Appoint the hour yourself; I shall keep guard and no one shall cross this threshold."
Gratia pressed Beate's hand gratefully, but then she shook her head, threw herself upon the sofa, and, weeping silently, buried her face in the cushions.
IN THE BOARDING SCHOOL.
Upon his writing table in the _hotel garni_ that he inhabited with his wife and sisters-in-law, Professor Reising found a delicate, perfumed little note in disguised handwriting, which invited him to a _rendezvous_ in a confectioner's shop by the Castle lake.
He read it through carefully, pushed it all crumpled up into his pocket, and gave himself up to meditation as grave as if he had to decipher the most difficult passages in the Hegelian logic.
He was so convinced of his personal charms that he did not deem it at all impossible that he should have inflamed some female heart.
Rose-coloured paper--disguised writing---what could this tiny sheet signify, that might have been wafted into his room through the air?
All philosophers are inquisitive; is not all study of philosophy one great piece of inquisitiveness that peeps behind the scenes of the world, in order to convince itself by what means they are pushed and turned, and how the comedy of life is prepared.
Euphrasia was allowing the dreams of an afternoon nap to float around her. The sisters-in-law were in her room. Reising brushed his hat and repaired to the confectioner's shop.
It was situated by the Castle lake, and contained a suite of small rooms, which opened into a large hall looking towards the lake.
Reising passed from one room into another and cast questioning glances at several members of the fair sex, who, here or there, were sitting alone.
But these questions met with no other response excepting that of an unmeaning stare.
Several rattled their newspapers angrily, in the perusal of which they had been absorbed.
At last he seated himself in the open hall, and gazed discontentedly at the lake. Had any one ventured to play a practical joke on him? Otherwise he would not have been displeased at a little adventure, although until now he had never thought of such a thing.
His imagination, whenever it did picture any particularly delightful event, had always let a torchlight procession in his honour float before him, and in idle moments he had even surprised himself in the effort to express in well-chosen words his thanks for that honour which his pupils vouchsafed to him.
Now the play of his imagination had discovered fresh food, for, indeed, there lay an exciting charm in such expectation and tension; because, even while he was looking at the lake he listened at the same time with quickened ears whether the door did not open, whether any little tripping foot or rustling silken gown did not intimate the approaching surprise.
At last--a veiled lady appeared--she threw back the veil--it was Cäcilie von Dornau.
Reising had always thought her pretty and clever, and he felt particularly flattered that she should have invited him to a _tête-à-tête_. But how dangerous was this meeting! Not only was Cäcilie said to be engaged to Herr von Wegen, but she also possessed a passionate admirer in Dr. Kuhl, and now--he to be the third in the game! The girl was, indeed, enterprising!
Cäcilie seemed to be embarrassed when she perceived him. The Professor was so really. He did not quite know how to adapt himself to his good fortune, and how he should behave on so unusual an occasion.
He stood there, turning his hat round in his hand. Should he request her to sit down beside him?
Cäcilie meanwhile had seated herself at another table. Reising went up to her and gazed at her with most speaking looks. He was waiting for her to address him, and with reason--a pink note has its duties!
"It is very cool to-day," said Cäcilie, wrapping herself more closely in her cloak.
"You have been spoiled in Italy," said Reising.
"It is cold enough there, too. I stayed a year and a half with a friend in Florence and Rome, and have only recently returned home. I assure you I have been as nearly frozen on the Arno and the Tiber as one can be on a Polar expedition. Italy in the winter is a delusion."
"In summer, also--at least for many."
"But surely not for you?"
"In many respects, yes; especially as far as the Italian women are concerned. In pictures, indeed, or national costume, such as those of Rovert, or in Olympic ones, as those of Titian, there are beauties, but in reality it is different. In Milan, thin fair women, of Lombard blood, with black veils; in Genoa, well-nourished Italian Hanseatic ones, in white veils; in Rome, beautifully moulded heads upon a plump body! And then those masculine voices; if one does not look narrowly one often imagines it is a non-commissioned officer who speaks; they are wanting in everything soft and womanly. How different with us! Oh, how different!"
"Why do you look so strangely at me?"
"I thought, I would--"
These questions caused Reising to become confused. Plainly Cäcilie would not open the confidential interview.
Was he, as the recipient of such a mysterious note, that shed forth the perfumes of every scent of a toilet table, bound to break the seal of the secret?
He mustered his resolution and said--
"You wished to speak to me here, my Fräulein. I am happy that you repose a confidence in me that I shall never misuse."
At these almost whispered words he looked at her with a doubtful glance. He hoped for encouragement, so as to be able then to open his eyes more boldly and to let them rest upon the charming young lady.
"You are mistaken," said Cäcilie coldly. "I am glad to see you here, but I did not invite you."
"I beg your pardon, but I believed the pink note--"
"Oh, oh, Herr Professor," replied Cäcilie, raising her forefinger warningly.
"Certainly without signature; but when you entered--"
"I always considered you to be a Dr. Faust, who studies the books of his nostradamus Hegel, and bathes his bosom assiduously in the morning dawn; but I did not know that you had already tasted the magic drink, and saw a Helen in every woman. And now it strikes me, surely you are married--and scented pink notes, assignations--ah, ah, Herr Professor! Surely I was mistaken in the address, and took you for a Faust, while you are but a Don Juan."
Reising experienced the humiliating consciousness of having behaved very awkwardly. Of what use was all his philosophy with so little worldly wisdom.
Besides, Cäcilie assumed a very triumphant air; she had the wicked intention of making the most of her triumph, and of keeping him as long as possible upon the rack; for this astute young lady, with her lizard-like suppleness and slimness, was a dangerous opponent.
And if now actually the authoress of the pink note were to enter, the whole secret would be betrayed. He therefore resolved to take refuge in another room, but Cäcilie in her good-tempered malice addressed one question after another to him, so that he, without being rude, could not break off the conversation very quickly.
Then the door was opened again, and in elegant attire, her mocking little face enframed in the ribbons of a pink bonnet, upon which was perched a small garden of roses, his sister-in-law Lori entered.
Reising believed himself to have gone out of the frying-pan into the fire.
The two ladies greeted one another pleasantly; then Cäcilie said, with meaning emphasis--
"But I fear I am disturbing you; my sister whom I expect, will seek me here; I will go to meet her."
And she took leave with a polite smile.
"It is outrageous!" cried Reising.
"What, in the world?"
"She believes--no, I cannot say it!"
"Surely it is nothing dreadful."
"Dreadful enough! She thinks--it is as absurd as possible, but what does the world not believe--that you have made an assignation with me here!"
"An assignation; how so?" asked Lori, with a roguish smile.
Reising now held the trumps in his hand; he would not play the pink note yet.
"Why should she have left us alone?"
"Well, a brother and sister-in-law have surely much to say that is not meant for any third person. Is it not so?"
She offered him her hand, which he grasped warmly.
"But indeed, dear brother, what brings you here at this unwonted hour?"
"I expect a friend, a young doctor--you do not know him, but he seems to have left me in the lurch. But what brings you here, then, my sister?"
"I also have invited a friend to meet me."
"Whom in the world, then?"
"Well, dear brother, no one but yourself."
"But for heaven's sake, Lori--the pink note?"
"Came from me!"
"It is an unseemly jest," said Reising, angrily, "and it has already caused me disagreeable embarrassment!"
"It is no joke."
"But we can talk much more comfortably at home."
"That is just what we cannot do; Euphrasia listens to every word."
"She is indeed jealous!"
"No, you do my good sister injustice. She is not at all jealous, only avaricious, uncommonly avaricious. That alone is why she peeps through the keyholes, and listens at every door; she is afraid you might in an unguarded moment open your sesame, and that your treasures might also some day give pleasures to others."
Lori looked charming at that moment; she smiled so roguishly. Reising could not resist squeezing her hand heartily once more.
"I invited you to come here for this reason, that I have an important request to make to you. You must go with me now at once to Fräulein Sohle's boarding school; it is only a few houses distant from here."
"And what shall I do there?"
"Fräulein Sohle is about to retire, to give up her school and boarding house to some one else, and--I will be that some one."
"You, Lori, you would leave us?"
"With a heavy heart, but it must be; you have known my wish for long, but I could never talk it over quietly with you. I require some money for the good-will, about three thousand dollars, not given, oh, on no account--only lent upon ordinary interest, and for this money I was about to ask you."
Reising was not at all unwilling, but he feared the opposition of his wife, who held the portfolio of the minister of financial affairs with sovereign power.
"Euphrasia need know nothing about it," said Lori; "there are plenty of ways and means. Only a guarantee from you; any banker would give me the money. Euphrasia may continue to rattle the keys of her cash-box just as usual. Is it not true, dear Ferdinand?"
Lori deemed the moment suitable for making the utmost use of the rights which their relationship permitted them; she stroked her brother-in-law's bristly hair, and after a keen scrutinising survey of the lonely hall and a rapid glance at the door, she even pressed a hasty kiss upon his lips.
Reising's mood was such--that for the charming girl he would have even bought Fräulein Sohle also, had she been a marketable commodity. A heretical thought took possession of him; he rejected it as worthy of damnation, but still it arose again and again, even although in pale colours. Had he, then, been blind in those days by the seaside? Could Dr. Kuhl not give him better counsel? Was Lori not more graceful, more clever than Euphrasia? At that time he had the choice of the seven girls. He had then thought her too piquante for the wife of a future professor; how foolish! Such tediousness reigns in a University lecture rooms and in the drawing-rooms, that strong spices are needed to make life in any degree palatable. Lori was so piquante, so charming; but--too late!
Reising passed his hand across his brow in order to chase away the impious dreams. Euphrasia once for all was his wife--and the great master said: "Everything real is reasonable!" If only those diabolical sparks in Lori's eyes did not flash with such peculiar fire!
"We will do a piece of business together," said she, "and therefore we must proceed in a business-like manner. You shall convince yourself that the institution flourishes; you shall learn her conditions personally from Fräulein Sohle."
"But what will Euphrasia say if I remain away so long?"
"Nothing, and she usually says nothing, even when she seems to say anything. I mean when she reproaches you, she does not mean it seriously. You can indulge in much greater freedom than formerly; she will gladly reconcile herself to it, only you must leave her in the belief that not a penny disappears from your funds without her knowledge. You will come, will you not?"
"If you insist upon it."
"And then we will return here; we will have ink and paper brought to us, and you will write the guarantee, will you not, dear, good friend?"
She clung to his arm, and he sealed the agreement with a brother-in-law's kiss.
Fräulein Sohle had rented two _étages_ of a large house for her educational establishment; in the upper storey were the boarders' rooms, in the lower one the schoolrooms, the reception and conference apartments.
Several teachers and pupils were going out and in. Reising remarked _en passant_ that Lori returned their greetings with a certain condescension, and these greetings were very polite--she was already looked upon as future mistress, and felt herself to be such. The little creature could assume very dictatorial manners.
Fräulein Sohle received her and Reising in her drawing-room. She was a lady of imposing stature, but astoundingly thin and so short-sighted that without very strong spectacles she should have mistaken all her pupils when quite close to her. Lori's principal object was by means of her brother-in-law, who was known to be rich, to represent herself to Fräulein Sohle as a lady of fortune. Fräulein Sohle respected that motive, and received her to-day with peculiar politeness.
"I will conduct you through all the apartments, but the spirit of my institution you must also learn. The rooms are a little confined; one must do the best one can in a town. But as far as the spirit is concerned, I may surely say that on the wings of freedom it soars above the commonplace into the atmosphere of most refined cultivation. Look at the daughters of the educated classes in our town; they quite fulfil the name which it enjoys as the beacon of the East. And this, to a great extent, is my humble merit. My pupils interest themselves in every question of life; I have awakened the feeling for it within them. Enlightenment--no obscurity--is my watchword. There must be no veil for the mind."
The mistress commenced her round with her guests. At that moment one of the lower classes was rushing out for a few moments to enjoy the fresh air in the garden, which consisted of a small patch of gravel and an arbour.
It was a wild troop that clattered down the stairs, and did not allow itself to be disturbed by Fräulein Sohle's cries.
"I will keep better order," said Lori softly, but with decision, to her companion.
First the rooms of the pupils were subjected to inspection; they were not inelegantly furnished, but small, and considerable disorder reigned within them. Several of the elder fair creatures had used their beds for a short afternoon nap; cushions and coverlets were therefore in a chaotic condition, and the emblems of future rule, the little slippers, lay isolated about the room, just as they had been thrown from the tiny feet.
Here and there upon writing tables lay open books, which were treated by Fräulein Sohle with much discretion, while Lori cast her eyes coolly upon the essays, and pretended to discover from the superscriptions of letters which were begun, that there must be several cousins in the school, who were on friendly terms with absent ones, and she was touched at the assurances of affection that prevailed between these loving relatives.
Upon one table Lori even espied a glove, which upon most scientific examination and measurement she pronounced to be a gentleman's which had come there by some mistake. Any lady at least to whom such a glove belonged might have exhibited herself amongst female giants at a fair. All these discoveries she imparted confidentially to her brother-in-law.
Fräulein Sohle extolled the improving private reading of her young ladies, and pointed to Schiller, Herder and the "Hours of Devotion," which looked down, in elegant bindings, from small, hanging book-shelves.
"Fénélon," too, and other French writings of honourable renown, stood side by side. But Lori, with her talent for research, that would have especially qualified her for archaeological unearthings, discovered amongst some fine needlework and knitting materials less elegant books from a circulating library. Amongst them were "The Sorrows of a Prince's Aspasia," "The Student and the Pin," "The Fatal Wanderings of Knight Hugo von Schauerthal."
One young lady, who studied French with peculiar zeal, had a volume of "Paul de Kock" lying beside "George Sand" under her embroidery frame, upon which a Madonna with the Holy Child was being laboriously worked in many wools.
Only in one single room did the greatest cleanliness and order prevail. While in the others isolated articles of the wardrobe, both those which were destined for the brilliance of publicity as well as many for the comfort of cosy _negligé_, had fled from the cupboards to various nails upon the walls, no such deserter was bunched out here on door and wall, barring the passage; slippers stood side by side as if united in holy bonds, only select classics occupied the book-shelves, no forbidden wares were littered upon those tables.
Lori was annoyed at orderliness with which she could find no fault, and only regained her composure upon hearing Fräulein Sohle's explanation that this was her own private room.
The class and schoolrooms were next visited. In the first one the German essays were given back; a moustachioed master, who belonged to that dubious class of so-called handsome men, praised the patriotic spirit with which the pupils had executed the somewhat whimsical theme, "A Maiden's Thoughts on seeing a Hussar Officer."
Iduna especially had entered into the subject with her wonted intensity of feeling, and sketched a life-like picture of Theodore Körner.
Upon this the tutor cast a friendly glance at Iduna, which she reciprocated with glowing enthusiasm.
Lori could not perceive anything particularly intellectual in Iduna, a tall maiden with large features. She said to Reising that she should consider the girl more likely to display the talent of an Odaliske than of a Sappho.
Meanwhile the teacher poured out all the vials of his wrath upon a nice little girl, who listened to the lecture with tears in her eyes.
Sophie had totally misinterpreted the theme. No thoughts had filled her mind at the sight of that lieutenant whom the master had depicted as a marked out enemy, in order to exercise his pupils in man[oe]uvring; she had only described his cloak, his entire uniform with sword and carbine; for the rest of the portrait the tutor himself had sat, and she had not neglected to expatiate upon the warlike fire that flashed in the eye of the officer and his imposing moustache.
Sophie was sharply reprimanded on account of that unseemly representation! she had gained no elevating ideas from the Lieutenant, and, besides, had described him in very clumsy style. It was, said the master, a veritable hurdle-race, over fences and ditches, in which the German language must break its legs and arms.
The master pleased Lori. She should not dismiss him on any account. By means of this very fanciful theme that he had selected, he would bring the pupils to a clear consciousness of a feeling of propriety.
History was being taught in the second class; the teacher was a girl not much older than her pupils, with a face like painted china, and full of painfully stiff dignity.
She was examining the girls about the Seven Years' War, and utter strategic embarrassment was displayed. The Austrians were beaten at Rossbach, the French at Zorndorf. As regards the dates hopeless confusion prevailed, which was shared by the teacher, who was deprived of her self-possession by the visitors, and at last it was unanimously decided, with her silent consent, to transpose the peace of Hubertusburg to a period in which Frederick the Great was only preparing for war.
Fräulein Sohle considered it advisable to interfere so as to reduce Frederick the Great's affairs to something like order. However, she could not even provide any proper place for the battle of Kunersdorf, and wandered vainly from one date to another.
The third class was in a state of complete anarchy; the teacher had been obliged to send an apology for her absence on account of violent toothache, but that message had not reached Fräulein Sohle.
Miss Sourland, a little English girl, had assumed the lecturer's seat, and parodied the teacher's English in so comical a manner that all the girls crowded round her with peals of laughter; she was at that moment engaged in uttering some guttural tones when Fräulein Sohle's appearance interrupted the merry fun.
This lady inflicted some punishment task upon the class, but then let it return home.
Lori made a note of the name of the principal culprit; she considered a black book indispensable, so that the mistress of a school could at once detect the black sheep in every class.
At heart, nevertheless, she felt sympathy with the girl, and acknowledged to herself that in a similar case she should have been just as wild as the red-haired islander.
They inspected the lower classes, where the young curly-headed creatures were struggling with the alphabet and the four first rules of arithmetic, and at the same indulged in various surreptitious acts of naughtiness, which did not escape Lori's sharp vision. In the fifth they were alarmed by a window blind descending impetuously; the young teacher complained of this often recurring mishap, which was so trying to her nerves; Fräulein Sohle promised her intervention, but Lori had immediately perceived that it was owing to no chance but to some misdemeanour, and that the little wild creatures fastened the string so loosely before the commencement of the lesson, that by the least shake, the monster should rattle down with its heavy rod.
The head of the establishment expatiated upon all its advantages once more in the conference-room--she drew attention to the proper behaviour of the young ladies in the upper classes, which was peculiarly her work; all were fitted to appear at Court, and would pass brilliantly through the ordeal. Etiquette, indeed, was the principal thing; the whole world rests upon it; remove it, and we should see what is left. People would do away with the laced bodice--how foolish! Without it there would be no truly seemly carriage. She would not permit one of her young ladies to come without it. A sensation of control is necessary to all mankind, but especially to all young girls; it is the guarantee of propriety. Decorum is a species of control; it is much more comfortable not to be decorous; and also as to French, she still maintained the old views, although she was a good German. But girls are born without logic, they must learn to think in succinct manner. The French language teaches this, tolerating no fancifulness. Besides it is the language for what is unavoidable, for what in German would be a stumbling block can be glided over easily in French.
After this exposition, Fräulein Sohle brought out her books, went over her affairs, her incomings and outgoings, and stated her terms. Lori examined all; Professor Reising yawned, at last all was found to be acceptable. Lori conducted her brother-in-law back to the confectioner's, where he signed the guarantee, but after that he could endure it no longer, and hastened home, where doubtlessly Euphrasia had been already long expecting him.
Lori in the consciousness of a triumph gained, enjoyed supreme complacency; she drank iced punch, and eat cakes and _marzipan_ to her heart's content; she felt raised above the storms of life; she had attained a desired object, but malicious chance ordained that the two gentlemen, Von Blanden and Wegen, should enter at that moment. Lori's exalted frame of mind collapsed suddenly, a new but unattained and perhaps unattainable aim stood before her. This made her sad, all human efforts possess a sad false flavour. All the worry of the school suddenly rose before her--how different if she made a rich match, married a Herr von Blanden! How the whole grand establishment with the golden-haired English girl, and the attractive moustachioed master, faded before this prospect! The paper in her hand, her brother-in-law's guarantee, suddenly lost all charm; she crumpled the note while indulging in idle thought.
Herr von Blanden could not overlook her; a transfiguring radiance from her pink hat was shed throughout the confectioner's room; any one who saw her must remember the verse by Rückert--
"When the rose adorns herself, Then she eke adorns the garden."
In truth Herr von Blanden had recognised and gone up to her; she manifested all her sweetness in order to attract him.
"Do you ever attend the theatre, Herr von Blanden? Signora Bollini--not bad, only her voice is a little _passée_."
Wegen, who had also drawn near, smiled awkwardly.
"But sit down, gentlemen! She is beautiful, that one must allow; but it is a different kind of beauty from that which grows wild with us. Do you like that sun-burnt complexion, those dark eyes, that excessively brunette appearance? The profile has been stolen out of the picture galleries of the Capitol, it is fitted for an atelier."
Wegen concurred entirely, while Blanden sat there lost in thought; Lori found the blockade ineffectual, she opened her guns.
"One knows your taste, Herr von Blanden. You are more inclined to Germanic beauty, if they--are clever; clever--that is the principal thing! Can an Italian possess intellect? _Chi la sa!_ I believe the climate is too hot, their days are spent in a perpetual _siesta_, but German girls have all kinds of minds, roguish, playful, fiery, thoughtfully intellectual; yes, all these qualities are often even to be found in one person---as in the bottle out of which the conjuror can, as is desired, pour red or white wine, Hungarian, Madeira, champagne, into the glasses--and in addition, they have blue eyes and a warm heart. You see I am not speaking of myself--my eyes are brown."
"I know intellectual and passionate Italian women also," interposed Blanden.
"Passionate? Yes, I believe it, that means using the stiletto. Signora Bollini may be dangerous too. But how do you like our opera? I must say 'our' because I hope to remain here."
Blanden could not avoid expressing his pleasure thereat, but it was done moderately enough, despite the winning proofs of her sweetness which the young lady had given him.
"I consider the company intolerable," continued Lori, unabashed and triumphantly, "the bass voice possesses an original power of bass, like the drunken Schmerbauch, with the bald pate, in Auerbach's cellar; the tenor lives on chronic bad terms with his high notes, he always jumps into the air as it were at them, like a dog at a bone; the _soubrette_ is so terribly pretty, that her little voice even seems to chirp! and the management--did you see the Wolfs-schlucht lately in the 'Freischütz?' Is there a sweeter bit of country in which fire-works can be let off?"
"You exercise sharp criticism, my Fräulein," said Herr von Wegen.
Blanden observed strict silence, the fortress was now fired upon with red-hot balls.
"My brother-in-law is very sorry that you do not visit him, Herr von Blanden, and my sister also; she takes a lively interest in you, as we all do. Besides we owe you some social return, for we were all your guests. You will come to see us soon, will you not?"
Blanden promised pleasantly; Lori rose triumphantly to go to the banker, although the sunny prospect of another future disclosed itself already to her mind. To-day she appeared, to herself, so intellectually superior, could it be difficult for her to enchain an interesting man? What had Eva been? The ocean is her grave: only good must be said of her, but she had not much mind.
The two friends remained alone, they had much to impart to one another. Wegen came from the Province, he brought the intelligence with him that some farm at Kulmitten had been burned down. Blanden must return home, arrangements must be made to alleviate the want of the farm people. This would have been supremely disagreeable for him had Signora Giulia not informed him in a few lines that she was suddenly summoned to Riga to take a stranger's part, and should only return here in some few weeks' time then to remain during the entire season.
"It is perhaps well," said Blanden to Wegen, whom he had initiated into the secret of his newly awakened passion, "that I have leisure, far aloof from the bustle which pervades the town and theatrical life, to examine in perfect quiet whether the new charm to which I have succumbed could be prejudicial to me? I am taking up an old adventure, it is the world which I cannot cast off. At any rate, it is not innocence which I can for a second time drag to a fearful doom."
"And are you in earnest about it?" asked Wegen.
"If I shall not bury myself in my solitude, if I would live again, it must be, or become earnest with me. First I will examine my own feelings, and then the love and character of the beautiful woman who once again with her snares enters into my life."
"I advise you to examine all carefully," said Wegen.
"That will I, but without social prejudice; my happiness does not depend upon the world; but how are you getting on? Cäcilie has returned from her Italian journey; I have just seen her."
Wegen looked at his cup of chocolate with a certain amount of embarrassment.
"You have surely been refused?" said Blanden.
"Oh, no, not so, but--" said Wegen, disconsolately.
"Well, at least you have had time to consider it well."
"You know that previously to the Italian journey, Cäcilie was with a friend, a lady who owns property in our neighbourhood. I visited her frequently, my mother and sister also made her acquaintance. She was considered to be a marvel of cleverness, with whom every lady in the district felt uncomfortable; they could not be cordial to her, she had no feelings. That was the commencement, my mother and sister joined in the verdict. I stood alone with my good opinion of the girl."
"Which you defended stoutly, though?"
"Oh yes, I did not allow myself to be intimidated; but it became much worse. Reports arrived of Cäcilie's connection with Dr. Kuhl, who it is to be hoped is better than his reputation--you know from personal experience how lively imagination is in the Province, and how busy it is with everything unusual. That which it must forego it paints in glowing colours. Cäcilie appeared in a light, as though she were sitting amidst infernal sulphurous vapour. In several places, on her account, people broke off their acquaintance with her friend, my mother and sister would not know her either; if at first they had only counselled me against her, now they condemned my affection; I appeared like the prodigal son, a part for which I possess but little talent."
"I pity you, your happy mood had disappeared at that time; I noticed it, but you never told me the cause."
"I was so uncertain myself, that I spoke to no one about it. Cäcilie's friend meanwhile travelled to Italy, a journey which her doctor had recommended to her. Cäcilie accompanied her. Now after eighteen months she has returned."
"And now you have had time enough for reflection."
"Yes, if reflection only made one wiser! Sometimes one becomes more stupid from it; I know as little to-day, as I did a year and a half ago, what I shall do or leave undone."
"Do you love Cäcilie?"
"I almost believe it would be hard for me to live without her. As to her culinary knowledge, certainly I have some hesitation."
"If you love, do not trouble yourself either about her cooking powers or the gossip of your neighbours; that is my well-meant advice. Only one thing weigh well, she is a very clever girl, clever in all excepting her own affairs, otherwise she would not have been so reckless of her reputation. But a clever woman is always dangerous. If you are not afraid of one, take your hat and propose to her--you have my blessing."
Blanden went to prepare for his homeward journey. Wegen remained behind, his head resting upon his hand, overcome with conflicting thoughts and resolutions.
The two Fräulein Dornau, with their mother, occupied the first floor of a small house in the suburbs; it was a very modest dwelling, cramped, with low windows. The paper in the reception-room, whose silver had gradually faded completely, while some of the showy purple strips which gave a gorgeous appearance to the tiny space between ceiling and floor, had become loose above or below, and played about freely in any chance current of air.
The sofa had enveloped itself shamefacedly in the sister's artistic crochet work, seat back and side cushions were covered with every variety of imaginary figures and arabesques. The venerable piece of furniture beneath would have disclosed a most deteriorated colour to the light of the sun, and the marvellous pliability of its stuffing inspired all who were obliged to seat themselves upon the place of honour with sudden terror.
The pride of the room was a writing desk of mahogany. It is well known that that wood possesses the same quality as good wine and good poetry, that its merits increase the older it becomes. The _secretaire_ did indeed gleam in darkest brilliancy, it was only to be regretted that the effect of this show piece was sadly dimmed by several cracks in the wood, by one foot which had thoughtlessly loosened its connection with the organism of the whole, and from its crooked posture had given a sloping inclination to the desk, and by several ornamentations being broken off, which instead of forming the crown of the work, lay in melancholy ruins upon its summit.
The Dornau family was not blind to the shady side of its domestic arrangements; for many years these had been the subject of daily conversation; the necessity to send for the cabinet-maker and paperer was often discussed over the morning coffee, but always forgotten again under the pressure of circumstances. Sometimes the condition of their financial affairs did not permit of any extraordinary outlay.
The reception-room was merely divided by a curtain from the young ladies' _boudoir_, which left nothing to be wished for as regards cosiness, and only contained one little arm chair and two book shelves. The owners were therefore generally to be found in the front or reception-room, which served also as dining and work-room.
Thus they sat again to-day at a work-table, and looked into the street. Frau Dornau was busy in the kitchen.
"You have told me but little of Italy so far," said Olga. "You are very sparing with your communications."
"Everything can be found in guide-books," replied Cäcilie.
"But where were you after you left Nice? Our correspondence at that time came to a standstill for several months."
"Everywhere, in Florence, Rome and Naples."
"Did you see the Pope, and eat maccaroni?"
"The Pope, yes, at the feast of _Corpus Christi_, when he bears upon his back a gigantic sun which shines upon his mounted _guardia nobile_."
"And the maccaroni?"
"A horrible thing! Wearisome as is everything interminable! It is difficult to eat it gracefully."
After a pause, Olga said--
"Poor Wegen! He must have wearied for you? Have you not written to one another?"
"No," replied Cäcilie, coolly. "I do not believe in his love; daily it became more timid--any true lover has courage. He let himself be bullied by his aunts and cousins, whom I pleased but little."
"Such a good match," said Olga; "a pleasant, good-hearted man. It would be a pity!"
"You would like to have me married," said Cäcilie, while she threaded a needle. "You have your reasons for it."
"It is the best plan to get me out of the way; you, meanwhile, have had time to gain Paul's heart exclusively for yourself."
"That is not the case! Why, you know his theories."
"Theories? Dear child! you do not escape me thus! People are consistent in theory, but inconsistent in practice. Theories are for holidays, but for work-days a compromise exists. Men would be great thinkers, original geniuses; everything in the world has been thought of once already; people seek for a truth, which at least appears to be new, and prosecute it to the uttermost. This daring fills one with horror. In the world, however, provision is made against trees growing into the sky, and the lords of creation are not so stupid as to let their cleverness cause them to do anything inconvenient. They declare the impossible to be the law of the universe; in life they content themselves with the most practicable possibilities. Our mutual friend also is merely a Titan in his hours of leisure; when he cannot storm heaven with his hundred arms, he contents himself with two, with which to caress one single sweetheart."
"But we do not need to complain that he has become faithless to his theories."
"Towards me he was cool enough at our last meeting; a temperature in which at most the snowdrops of friendship flourish. The hot-house warmth for the marvellous flowers of passion he seems to reserve for you."
"But I can assure you, sister, he is just as he was."
"But only towards you he is so; I was foolish to remain so long away. I know, though, you are a coquette."
"Sister," cried Olga, while she gave an angry push to the work-table, so that it threatened to lose its equilibrium.
"I do not reproach you; it lies in your nature. You are an elementary being; you need life and pleasure, like a hundred thousand creatures between heaven and earth. Wherever you scent anything of the kind, you make bigger eyes than you possess naturally, and force aside everything that obstructs your path."
"I am no longer so foolish as I was formerly. Paul has lent me many books; I have educated myself, and you need not assume a tone of superiority towards me. Talk to me of what you will, of the Saint Simonites, of the nature of Christianity, of George Sand, of Lælia and Pulcheria, of National Assemblies--I am ready. 'I think slowly,' says Paul, 'but I retain all firmly.' And you believe that I am still such a child of nature as formerly! But I am not coquettish, only ask Paul; he thinks I am too little so. I always show myself as I am; I am a nature clear as crystal, but too transparent. You call me coquettish? It is dreadful!"
Cäcilie sought to appease her sister--
"But, dear child, it is no insult! Who would not be coquettish? I am so! We only wish to please; it is required of us. We are forced to wish it. Without coquettishness we should be left sitting still at balls and through life, and we should not even be enabled to fulfil those serious duties of which so much is said to us."
Olga was soon pacified; the sisters kissed each other across the work-table, and glances of mutual affection passed between them.
Then the door bell was rung; Frau von Dornau, in her cooking apron and nightcap, which she thought was indispensable as a protection against the draught of the kitchen, rushed in to announce Herr von Wegen, who wished to speak to Cäcilie. Frau von Dornau was in a state of great perturbation; she was ashamed of the costume in which she had been surprised, and the strange gentleman looked so festive. If her sight had not deceived her, he carried a bouquet of flowers in his hand. Olga disappeared behind the _portière_; her mother, who had hastily thrown on a bright-coloured shawl, admitted the gentleman, and then repaired to her cooking utensils. Herr von Wegen appeared, smiling pleasantly; he had summoned all the graces to his toilet, his fair little moustache was daintily curled, the colour in his cheeks seemed fresher than usual, even his hair, the contemplation of which in the mirror had filled him with well justified melancholy, was so artistically arranged and disposed, that a superficial glance did not perceive the sad deficiency which was concealed beneath the adroit grouping of the meagre supply.
The cross of the Order of St. John adorned his coat, and with his gloves, of the verdant colour of hope, he held a bunch of camellias, trumpet flowers and other hot-house plants, amongst which also a few half frozen asters from the autumnal beds had been mingled.
"My Fräulein," said he, "I bid you heartily welcome to your home; may these flowers, at least, remind you of the beautiful south."
Cäcilie accepted the flowers, while expressing her thanks.
"And may you, at the same time, see in them a greeting of old friendship; I cannot make a long speech, Fräulein, but I bid you welcome once more."
These effusions of Wegen's heart met with slight encouragement; the young lady, usually so loquacious, could not find a word this time, and silently awaited that which was to come.
"You know, my Fräulein, that I am your true friend; we played and danced together even in Neukuhren, those were delightful days at the sea-side. How charming, too, was the dance under the pear tree! We spoke of many things there; I have not forgotten them. And again in Masuren! How every day on which I could see and speak to you, made me glad."
"That pleasure was not shared by your people," replied Cäcilie, with cold reserve.
"You are mistaken," said Wegen, losing somewhat of his self-possession.
"Indeed, altogether, I did not feel comfortable there, people did not understand me, I felt as if I did not belong to that circle."
"That is to be regretted," said Wegen, sighing.
"Regretted? The world is large enough, Herr von Wegen, some little sunny spot can always be found. I do not love the shade, least of all that in which I am placed."
"When I said to be regretted, I was thinking of myself, of my hopes and wishes--yes, the object of my visit to-day. Indeed, Fräulein, I could wish that Masuren might become your second home, and that you should feel, not only comfortable, but also happy in it. You know the pleasant house there beneath the shade of the lime trees--no castle such as Kulmitten, but in summer buried amongst flowers--the cosy garden behind--thither I should like to conduct you, there I would prepare you a comfortable place for life, if you desire it, Cäcilie, because I love you, and beseech you to give me your hand!"
Now Wegen had become warm, tears stood in his eyes, he had risen, and with real emotion had stretched out his hand to Cäcilie, who hesitatingly and cautiously placed hers within it. Olga could not suppress a slight coughing fit behind the _portière_; it was a nervous cough, consequent upon sudden agitation.
"Will you be mine? I will cherish you all my life," continued Wegen, with overflowing fervour, "no one will dare to wound you; here and there they might, perhaps, gaze with unloving looks upon the strange girl who came into the country, but my wife will be respected and honoured, and all will meet her lovingly when she bears my name. That is one consideration which might make you doubtful, it is groundless, I assure you--and as regards the other, I see that you still are doubtful; well, I am no genius, no such promise was made by my cradle, I bow before your intellect, but would it not belong to me also, when we are one for life? I, however, possess sound common sense; I am a District Deputy, people have confidence in me, in my head, otherwise they would not select me for the post. Blanden, too, is my friend, and he is a genius. Tell me who your friends are--enough, that is a secondary matter! The principal one is that my heart is honest, and that I love you. They praise my model management in the district, but the real model management will then be found, not in the fields and stalls, but in my house."
"You honour me by your offer," said Cäcilie, "it comes most unexpectedly upon me. Certainly there was a time when I was more prepared for it than I am just now."
"Do not be angry with me that I hesitated formerly, that I let you go away; I never wavered in my love, because whatsoever takes root in my mind has a firm foundation. I only wavered in my belief in the happiness that I could bring to you, such contradictions hovered in the air, and I became timid simply because I loved you. It is different now; I have shaken off all doubt, I feel the power within me to make you happy. And if there be underwood that blocks our path, I shall have the whole forest thinned or cut down, so truly as my name is Wegen. Will you be mine, dear Cäcilie?"
"First take my hand in token of my thanks and true friendship. But then grant me time for reflection, even if it only be for a few days. I, too, must see all quite clearly, and in me, also, everything wavering must become firm. You are sure of my hearty affection, and to which ever decision I may come, rest assured that I shall always count this day amongst the most beautiful in my life."
Wegen asked when he might come for her answer: Cäcilie would give it him in two days' time. He rose with downcast air; he had hoped, at least, this time to receive a kiss as a trophy of victory. And how polite and amiable, but how little cordial was all that Cäcilie said to him; how differently had he painted the meeting with his beloved one, as he ascended the stairs! Then, after his declaration, she had melted into tears, she had fallen upon his neck, she, too, had told him that she had already loved him for long, and could not live without him, then, for the first time, he had been permitted to press her passionately against his heart!
The slight outlines of this imaginary picture still stood before his mind; but how totally differently this meeting had passed off! No acquiescence, no loving effusions, no moment of sweet self-forgetfulness. Friendly, but distantly she stood before him; certainly as desirable, as charming as ever! Even in the more comfortable house attire, her slender figure was so seductively displayed; the polite smile upon her lips, the animated glance of her clever eyes, that supple fascination in her whole person, Wegen would have deemed himself to be the most felicitous of mortals if it had been vouchsafed to him to receive the word of assent from that delicate fairy who seemed to glide through life with elf-like steps, the assenting word which should give her to him as his own for evermore. Instead, however, he must take up his hat and collect all his emotions in one friendly shake of the hand, but he consoled himself with the thought that it must be hard for a girl to utter the decisive word, that from shyness and shamefacedness, she would prefer to entrust it first to a little scented note, and would then be able to let the unavoidable consequences of a declaration of love flow over herself with more mental composure. It is true that an inner voice told him again and again, as he descended the stairs, that in reality Cäcilie had no girlish modesty about her--and his grounds of consolation were scattered again outside like faded leaves in a November wind.
Wegen had barely left the room before Olga stepped forth from behind the curtain, and folded her sister to her heart amid warm felicitations. The mother, too, whom Olga's powerful voice had intelligibly informed of the joyful event, was too happy at the offer.
"You dispose of me too quickly," said Cäcilie, drawing back; "it needs mature consideration first."
And she seated herself in the _causeuse_ in her boudoir, her head propped upon her arm; sometimes gazing out upon the trees of the Philosopher's dyke, tossed about and stripped of their leaves by a ruthless north wind.
Olga and her mother did not disturb her in her silent reflections, which were, however, of a very different nature from what the former imagined. Her mother, with a heavy heart, was already thinking of the outfit. Olga was touched by the handsome man's kindliness and goodness, which were visible in every one of his words. Cäcilie was unmoved by these advantages. The language of the heart, of homely feeling, was not adapted for her; she merely looked upon Wegen as a figure upon the chess-board, with whom she could make a good move.
Towards evening Olga announced that she should visit her friend Minna, the daughter of the Kanzleirath; half-an-hour later Cäcilie informed her mother that she wished to breathe the fresh air, and should enquire after Major Bern's youngest child, who was seriously ill.
That evening Dr. Kuhl was sitting in his laboratory, a vaulted apartment with barred windows, only one door communicating between it and his study. His mother, a widow of ample means, owned the house, and, after his father's death, he had fitted it up comfortably in his own way. His mother allowed him perfect liberty, she humoured all his whims and fancies, even when she did not approve of them and when they could not be brought into unison with social forms. To conduct an intrigue for her Paul, in perfect secrecy, gave her intense satisfaction, and it was not to be wondered at that her son, by means of these principles of education, attained such singularity that he was brought, more or less, into evil repute in every circle.
There he sat now, amidst crucibles, retorts, bottles and tubes; here were covered utensils, heated over little lamps, there others stood open, so that he might watch the process of decomposition which the oxygen in the air calls forth in its contact with other gases.
The Doctor had just blown into the blowpipe, and laid it aside. The blow-pipe, thought he to himself, plays a still greater part in the world than it does here in the laboratory. How many flames, which burned upwards to the sky, has it not blown back, until they crept away upon the ground! And in all ages the sycophants of a State, and the false teachers of mankind, have blown their ruinous breath upon nations through the blow-pipe of egotism.
He went up to a retort and observed how in the process of heating two matters lost the unity of their elements, exchanged their constitutional parts with one another, so that, in consequence of this flow and dissolution, two other quite different combinations ensued.
"Those fatal elective affinities," said he to himself, "what evil have they not caused in the world! How can one apply the laws of dead nature to the human heart? As if two were the decisive numbers for it; although, however, Hindoostan's gods already formed a triune Trimurti, as if, at the accession of a third, the one must fly this, the other that way, instead of remaining together in one beautiful league. What does it matter to us if chloride and lead, hydrogen and oxygen, seek and find one another, whether they meet as oxyde of lead and chlorate of hydrogen? How can any one wish to rule the human heart according to this freak of nature? Our great poets are the most dangerous enemies of freedom of the heart, and of a glorious love in common."
Then the Doctor watched two utensils, in which, by a peculiar process, he sought to condense and harden carbon; he flattered himself with the hope of being able thus to obtain diamonds; but never was the result attained which his experiments should have given him. He consoled himself with a general observation. The hard coal becomes a diamond; strength of character alone creates great men, the sparkling jewels of mankind, but how seldom this process succeeds. Coal remains coal--with it the furnace only can be lighted.
"While contemplating the immature diamonds, with a hopeless gaze, he heard his mother's voice in the study--
"Where is the youngster, then?" and she soon entered the laboratory, leading Olga by the hand. "Here is a lady visitor, dear Paul! Entertain Olga a short time, I will prepare a little supper for our dear guest."
Fräulein von Dornau ventured boldly into the chemical _atelier_, where everywhere, right and left, as upon the Pharsalian fields in the classical Walpurgis night, little flames glowed, certainly not fairy-like will-o'-the-wisps, but little altar flames in the sacred temple of knowledge.
Paul greeted her warmly, causing a glass to lose its balance and be scattered in pieces.
"Sit down, Olga," said Paul, "we can talk here a little."
And he cleared a place for her upon a bench.
"Do not be afraid of this chattering workshop that talks of all the secrets of Nature. Do not be afraid of that which the elements tell, and if the gases and vapours of this witch's kitchen are not so sweet as the aromatic forest perfumes, it is yet just as much the breath of mother Nature, who here inhales it in somewhat deeper draughts than without in wood and field."
Olga coughed slightly, because the sulphurous vapour oppressed her chest.
"I have only to produce ozone out of these fugitive oils. Ozone--I rave about it; it is the genus of oxygen. Where it refuses the power of attraction to the latter, ozone can still work. That is the higher spirit or life! All passion is ozone; it is my element!"
Olga, who had noticed that Paul was fond of imparting instruction, enquired as to the origin and nature of ozone, and in return, after a lengthy explanation, received praise for her daily augmenting thirst for knowledge.
After the close of the lecture, and when several more experiments had taken place, Kuhl conducted his visitor into the study.
"I have something important to tell you," said Olga, able to breathe once more in the airy room, the walls of which were covered with high bookcases reaching to the ceiling.
"Go on," replied Paul, "one knows beforehand what seems important to you women; as a rule, they are the most insignificant matters in the world."
"Not this--it concerns us all--you, too."
"Tell it me, then."
"Cäcilie, my sister Cäcilie--"
"What about her?"
"She is going to be married."
"It has become very possible since this morning, yes, almost certain."
Kuhl sprang from the sofa and walked up and down the room several times.
"She is a faithless woman--I have known it for long--a calculating nature! She is not capable of grasping life in the spirit and in truth; she is a Philistine maiden, a Dalilah, and betrays me to the Philistines! Her home is there where cooking pots bubble on the domestic hearth; it is a pity, with such a mind! Of what use is the pure flame of oxygen when it only serves to make old iron rusty? But why do I wonder? Is it not an old tale; all I have to do is to enquire the name of the happy man."
"Herr Baron von Wegen has asked her hand to-day."
"And she has accepted?"
"Not quite irrevocably as yet; but she will--accept--I do not doubt it! And why should she hesitate? He is an honourable, handsome man; one's heart opens when one hears him speak. He is wealthy and a man of position, and I believe that Cäcilie thinks something of belonging to the nobility--it is a matter of indifference to me."
The Doctor had seated himself beside her. She looked so meaningly at him with her large eyes, that at the last words he started up as if he had been stung by a spiteful insect.
"She, too, only thinks of marrying," said he to himself; "I perceive it in every word. Therefore, she brings me this news so quickly; Cäcilie no longer stands in her way. Now she flatters herself she shall be sole sovereign of my heart."
And he cast hostile glances at the proud beauty who sought to soothe him, drawing nearer to him, and raising her Juno-like eyes, in which her love was written in German characters.
What should he do? He scolded her on account of her want of understanding; yet she always renounced her heresies at once. Proper guidance was only needed, and as all theory is grey as the uncertain future, and all practice green as the fresh present, he deemed it best not to trouble himself about her farseeing plans, held his forefinger up menacingly and pressed a kiss upon her full lips.
As he looked round, Cäcilie stood before him.
Olga blushed this time, although Paul had often kissed her in her sister's presence, and Cäcilie too appeared to be disturbed by an occurrence to which usage must really have hardened her.
"Your mother sent me here," said she to Paul in a somewhat sharp tone.
"Olga, you surely did not find Kanzleirath's Minna at home?"
"And I must almost fear," replied the latter, "that Major Bern's child is dead."
"I was not needed; the child has quite recovered."
A short truce ensued between the two powers at war.
Kuhl contemplated them with folded arms and sinister countenance; were they not a living picture of that outrageous weakness of mind, the most contemptible of all passions in which jealousy finds utterance?
In vain had he preached against it for many long years; in vain had he extolled a common alliance of hearts; there lay his work in ruins. But why was Cäcilie jealous on the very day on which she had sacrificed him to another?
This vile passion surpassed even love itself.
Cäcilie, who when angry, spoke still more softly, but yet so that a hissing sound was blended with her fine, sharp tones, said to Olga--
"You have anticipated a right which does not belong to you--the right of speaking to others about the affairs of my heart, for only on this account have you deceived us and come here. You will surely grant me the right of speaking to Paul about them as undisturbedly as you have done. Frau Kuhl expects us to tea. You will have the goodness to precede us."
Olga was always accustomed to obey her sister's wishes when they were uttered in that tone of cutting decision. She therefore left the room silently, not, however, without having cast a speaking glance at the Doctor.
Cäcilie lighted herself a paper cigarette.
"Naturally, you know all; my sister has saved me a long introduction."
Kuhl remained standing with folded arms, and nodded his head gently.
"Wegen has asked for my hand; he has already paid me attention for a long time."
"But until now the outlines of his courtship were somewhat indistinct," said Kuhl, scoffingly.
"He offers me what hundreds of others would consider to be supreme happiness, and when I question myself calmly, I must confess that he is an honourable man, more goodhearted and honourable than most; that he is one of those natures in whom true devotion seems to be innate."
Kuhl laughed loudly.
"Indeed you have suddenly set up quite new ideals for yourself, new for you and us that is to say, as they can be bought by the dozen at Leipzig fair."
"You would scoff away all that is strange to you, yet it continues to exist, and to exist in honour before the world. Besides, it is only a question of a good match; my poor mother would find a new, comfortable home. I myself should no longer stand with a dark future before me, which offers nothing but loneliness to the toil and trouble and age of coming years."
The Doctor's mockery ceased at this turn; it contained too sad a truth.
"When I, therefore, ask my common sense," continued Cäcilie, while she blew a curling cloud of smoke into the air, "I receive an answer which really admits of no doubt, and the wicked world even maintains that common sense plays a preponderating part in me."
"Then the riddle is solved," said Kuhl.
"If I were to make comparisons they would certainly not all be drawn in favour of the deeply learned doctor of medicine, as he, in his self-complacency, may dream. Wegen is not so intellectual, but there is something dangerous, discomposing in intellect--and now even a chemist he would dissolve us into every variety of element; he would throw our characters into retorts, our advantages and failings into the scales, and once we are dismembered, what are we then? Wegen is not so intellectual, but neither is he paradoxical; he would not set the world upon its head. As regards beauty, well, that is a matter of taste. He is no Apollo, but a Hercules is not one either. His faults are those of his virtues, but others only possess the virtues of their faults, in short--"
"In short," interrupted Kuhl, "one does not need to be a great mathematician to see who would fare the worst in this problem. Certainly the bliss of former affection is not included in this calculation, the promises of that beautiful alliance, the recollections of happy hours, in which heart met heart, or elevated moments in which mind spoke to mind. It is the indifferent cold souls for which no past exists, when a pleasant future beckons to them."
"You do me injustice," said Cäcilie, laying her cigarette aside.
"Or," continued Kuhl, inexorably, "you are meditating treachery; you would destroy our alliance by force. It is a commercial transaction--a matter of business! I have for long already expected a decisive act--I will anticipate it. Perhaps I should be preferred to Wegen, if I would buy that privilege with the same price that he will pay."
Now Cäcilie interrupted him hastily, her eyes flashed fire, her whole body vibrated with passion.
"So little do you know me, Paul? So little do you all know me? What are the others to me, even if they possessed the crowns of princes, and the treasures of Golconda, and united all the virtues of the world within themselves? I have learned to see everything with your eyes--I should become blind if I were to lose you! If I must leave you, I should feel as if I were thrust out into an endless desert. How lonely I should feel in, the forests of Masuren--in the orange gardens of Italy! What is my life? Fire of your fire--soul of your soul!"
It was the language of unalloyed passion; in those words lay perfect truthfulness of feeling, which also ignites in her beloved one's heart; but he still stood hesitatingly, he did not dare to fold this slender girl, who so often had threatened to escape him, with perfect confidence to his heart. Cäcilie perceived his hesitation; she knew the cause, also, and what she now said, while coming insinuatingly towards him, was no longer the true meaning of her heart.
"You think that I shall make conditions, I shall insist upon the right of exclusiveness which such glowing love demands? No, no, let all remain as before. May another offer his whole life to me. Your vicinity--your love is my felicity, and I do not ask if your heart belongs to me alone! Let there be other happy ones beside me, I will learn to understand you entirely."
Now only did Kuhl believe himself justified in folding the girl unreservedly to his heart.
"And as a seal upon our newly-formed alliance, dear Paul--an alliance for which, in the eyes of the world, I have made a great sacrifice, we will take a ride together, tomorrow, but this time without Olga--you and I alone. This little distinction you owe to me."
Kuhl assented! The supper with his mother and the two Fräulein von Dornau passed off most cheerfully. Olga, as yet, knew nothing of Cäcilie's desperate resolution; she looked upon her sister as Wegen's bride, and, therefore, was in a most happy mood--the champagne stirred her blood to flow more briskly--she even made some droll remarks. But Cäcilie sparkled with intellect, and developed such bold theories, that Paul delightedly followed her dizzy flight.
On the following day, Wegen looked out of the window of his hotel. It was a cold day, but he must inhale fresh air--his heart was too full. He had put on a fur cap, and defied the rough wind that coloured his cheeks more deeply.
Suddenly the sound of horses' hoofs resounded on the pavement--a lady and gentleman riding! How proudly the slender lady sat, allowing her black horse to curvet! Wegen had at once recognised the gentleman to be Dr. Kuhl! But the lady--did his eyes deceive him? Had the wind dazzled them with the dust that was blown about? There could be no doubt--it was Cäcilie!
He became pale, and started back from the window. The sudden movement had swept away his fur cap, and his few fair hairs waved mournfully in the wind. The sound of the hoofs died away upon the pavement.
Wegen sat upon the sofa, his cigar had gone out; he was utterly void of thought. He rang for his servant, so as to go to bed, when he suddenly recollected that it was only noon. He had his frock-coat with the Cross of the Order brought to him, and put it on; then he remembered that it was not today that he was to pay the decisive visit.
And should he, indeed, still pay the visit? Had she had not openly set herself free? Was this ride not an intelligible reply?
To be sure, now she must write to him herself, must spare him the humiliation of once more knocking in vain at her door. He did not leave the house; he expected the letter that contained the verdict of his death, but the letter did not come.
The ride had not remained unnoticed in the town; Kuhl was a public character--he was talked of in all circles. He had often been seen on horseback with the two Fräulein van Dornau; to-day he only appeared with the one. What had happened? The world's opinion is always ready to draw conclusions from facts, even if they be ever so premature. The intelligence spread from drawing-room to drawing-room, that Dr. Kuhl had come to a decision at last, and in favour of Cäcilie. Amongst the Dornaus themselves the liveliest scenes had been enacted. When Cäcilie had pronounced her immutable intention of rejecting Herr von Wegen's offer, her mother had sobbed and wept, and Olga even was roused to a fire of indignation that was almost unknown to her imperturbable calm; she pourtrayed Wegen's advantages in the most glowing colours, and cast the bitterest reproaches upon her sister. Were not her own secret hopes annihilated by such lamentable obduracy?
Cäcilie, however, with her wonted superiority, knew how to calm these excited emotions; she regained their entire sympathy by the declaration that she could not love Wegen, and would not marry without love; she moved Olga to tears by such noble sentiments. The sisters were soon perfectly reconciled to one another, and Olga even promised, at Cäcilie's desire, to receive Herr von Wegen, and impart the ungratifying news to him.
The following day, Wegen appeared in the frame of mind of a prisoner who is sure of a condemnatory verdict; it was a comfort for him that Cäcilie did not personally announce her decision. Olga received him, and from her lips the intimation that he was rejected sounded more consolatory.
Cäcilie desired the explanation to be, that, after mature consideration, she found she was not suited for the country, nor for the Masuren nobility; she should not be capable of making him happy, she therefore declined his offer with thanks, but counted upon his permanent friendship.
Wegen having expected this intimation, it had lost its crushing weight for him, but what he had not expected was such a kindly bearer of the fatal decision.
In his blind passion for Cäcilie, he had never troubled himself about Olga; she was cast too far into the shade by the radiance that proceeded from her sister. He had often hardly remarked her presence, and yet her appearance was grand and imposing enough.
In fact, he had been very blind; to-day he must confess it to himself, when he, like Scipio upon the ruins of Carthage, sat upon those of his first love. From want of an appropriate reply, which it is not so easy to find to such disclosures, he contemplated Olga at first with a mournful glance and rather absently, then with increasing interest, for she spoke in such a cordial tone to console him, and the more he looked at her, the more did he discover that she was a handsome girl, not so intellectual as Cäcilie, but certainly more calculated to make an impression upon peoples' minds in Masuren than her sister. These were vague ideas, which were reflected in the most shadowy outlines upon the remotest background of his mind; he would have repelled them energetically had they ventured farther into the light, as unseemly and impious.
Nevertheless he had already sinned against well-founded custom of immediately taking up his hat, after such an intimation, and retiring from the scene. Olga chatted so innocently, she led the conversation with such tact to indifferent matters, but these indifferent matters were full of a special interest for Wegen. Olga's heart was not with George Sand and the _père_ Enfantin, even although she must talk about them with Dr. Kuhl, and was fairly at home in the great questions upon which the welfare of mankind depended, had even made a note of several stock-phrases; but when dress, family events, engagements, or the affairs of relations were under discussion, then her whole nature warmed, and she quite forgot that all these subjects were most heterodox, and in part were even opposed to the social programme of the future, by which she had been obliged to swear in Dr. Kuhl's chemical laboratory. She gave Baron von Wegen great pleasure by her unexpected knowledge of all his extensive family; she knew the Wegens of Labiau and the Wegens at Insterburg. She had even once spoken to the old uncle, whose heir he was, and who lived close to the Memel in the Lithuanian woods; she was able to distinguish between first cousins and those who were more distantly connected. She planted the family tree of the Wegens before him with as steady a hand as did Joan of Arc the standard with the lilies of the Valois; and he must indeed be a degenerate nobleman who would not thus be flattered and reminded of home.
And as a good genius watched over this conversation, seeking with a soothing salve to heal a wounded heart, the discussion, by means of a sudden turn, was led to the East Prussian cookery. That was a subject of conversation to which Wegen brought a cultivated mind, and Olga, too, was quite at home in it, although she did prefer to contribute her share more to the enjoyment than to the creation of great performances in the kitchen; but she was able to give accurate information about every fish in the sea, every beast in the forest, yes, even the dwellers in carp-ponds and pheasantrys, and to determine all the sauces which, as it were, are ordained for each. This conversation was so interesting to Wegen, that when he took up his hat he had quite forgotten the cause which brought him, the terrible defeat he had sustained. As the friendship which Cäcilie had promised to him was however not possible without continuing some intercourse, Wegen easily obtained permission to repeat his visits, and, in Cäcilie's name, Olga believed herself justified in granting it.
When he left the house, Wegen was not at all in the mental condition of a rejected candidate for matrimony, which is indeed one of the most crushing which paralyses and benumbs mortal nerves. He was astonished at himself when he hummed a Lithuanian popular air, which did not breathe the elegiac spirit of the prose of an expiring race of people, but which sounded quite lively and full of enterprise. He immediately called himself to order, but he could not quite suppress a disagreeable sensation; upon close self examination he discovered in himself, although in faint outlines, a dawning resemblance to Dr. Kuhl, whom he abhorred with all due sense of propriety. Cäcilie meanwhile had come out from behind the _portière_, and imparted a warm eulogium to her sister for the delicacy and adroitness with which she had acquitted herself of the disagreeable task.
When Cäcilie seated herself at the worktable, a slight smile of contentment hovered round her lips. Everything was going as she wished and had planned, and she flattered herself that she had attained the desired object.
IN THE CHURCHYARD.
Blanden devoted himself most zealously to looking after the people who had suffered from the fire on his farm, and to the necessary new buildings; he seemed to be inspired with a renewed breath of life; the impetus to labour and work, which had lain perfectly dormant within him since those occurrences at the sea-side roused him afresh. Winter meanwhile had set in, and made the solitude at Kulmitten still more dreary. Blanden's resolution to form a settled home became more and more fixed, and the picture of the beautiful singer as the future goddess of the house pervaded his waking dreams with daily increasing persistency.
He began, too, to care more about political matters, the progress of which latterly he had only silently watched. His conviction gained strength that, despite all obstacles, the Prussian State would obtain a constitution, and all the provinces be united by one common bond. Then a political career would be opened to him once again; he should no longer be dependant upon the judgment of his equals in this district; he could then stand before the population of the entire province as a candidate for election.
That the continuance of the provincial assemblies in their present state could not last much longer was his fixed opinion, but in order to gain distinct views of the new course which the future should disclose to him, he must make his name known in more extensive circles; he must be called the champion of the political movement. A welcome opportunity for it was offered to him by the assemblies of the citizens in the provincial capital, which assemblies had been recently formed, and he did not hesitate to intimate to the committee that he should deliver a lecture upon the French organisation and the July dynasty.
Meanwhile, in the newspapers he read an announcement of an operatic performance in which Signora Bollini should again take part; thus he inferred that she had returned from Riga. He immediately ordered his four black horses to be harnessed, and hastened to the capital by the shortest route. He arrived there amid a violent downfall of snow and terribly boisterous wind. He prepared to visit Giulia at once; his road led him past a churchyard, through the gateway of which a little funeral procession was passing. Closely concealed as the faces were in cloaks and furs, some of them appeared very familiar to him; they were the companions of those times, the late effects of which had prepared such bitter pain for him. He recognised them again, greatly as they were altered; not only was it the snow falling from heaven, it was also the snow of age that silvered their hair. He believed that he perceived amongst the followers the Breaker of the Seal, the former minister of the community, who was now deposed from his office of teacher. Whom did they bear to the tomb? Curiosity drove him to join the procession. When it had drawn near to the open grave, Blanden asked the person next to him who was being buried?
"Frau Hamptmann Salden," was the hoarse reply.
At that moment they began to sing beside the tomb; a violent gust of wind shook the snow from the cypresses, and whirled it up from every grave, which had been softly bedded in its lap. The shivering assembly seemed to be animated but by the one desire that the burial ceremony might soon be over.
Blanden rested his head upon a lofty tombstone, his tears flowed unrestrainedly. How deserving of tears every human life seems to be, when a thoughtful mind sums up its years in as many seconds! How mournful are his short-lived joys, and how many terrors does the span of time contain! No funeral oration disturbed his reflections; the ministers who would gladly have spoken beside this grave, dared not perform their office, and from the others accusations were feared which might have disturbed the peacefulness of the tomb.
While the wind buried in its gusts the sounds of the choral singing, Blanden thought of the youthful, beautiful Pauline; he thought of lovely Eva! Mother and daughter were blended in one picture; it was a shadowy portrait in which their features became united. But the one reposed in the ocean's lap, the other in wintry earth!
Already the clods fell with a hollow sound upon the coffin, thrown in hastily by half-frozen hands, and, after a hurried performance of the last verse of the hymn, the assembly rushed away as if carried off by the bride of the storm, which, howling hoarsely, swept over the lonely graves.
Blanden had maintained his concealment behind the monument and cypresses; now he stepped forth; sadly he cast the hard clods of earth upon the coffin; his soul was _one_ thought of love--_one_ prayer for forgiveness, because dark self-accusations were stirred in his heart. Deeply buried in meditation, he did not observe that the wind had become a hurricane, cracking the boughs of the trees on every side, casting one weeping-willow to the ground, that the earth groaned, and hardly permitted him to stand upright. The grave-diggers had already laid their spades aside, and taken refuge in the dead-house.
Suddenly something struggled before him through the snow; he saw a fluttering cloak, and a bare-headed girl upon her knees in front of him; stars of snow nestled in her tangled hair, glassy eyes stared up at him, and glowing kisses covered his hands.
It was half-witted Kätchen--he had recognised her at once.
"What brings you here? What do you want here in this tempest?"
"Beautiful Eva's mother is buried; I want what you do!"
"And what do you want of me?"
"Have had a little note for you, for a long, long time--now I can give it to you. Eva wrote it upon the ocean."
"Mad woman--and now, for the first time, you speak of it to me?"
"To others I would not show it, and to you I could not give it sooner. I am staying with Mother Hecht, the herbalist; you will find me there every evening."
And she kissed his hands once more, and the following moment had disappeared amongst the whirling snow.
The tempest became so violent that Blanden was obliged to take refuge in the dead-house, where he found several participators in the funeral who had also fled thither; amongst them a Gerichtsrath whom he knew. The former had never belonged to the pious community, but, as legal assistant, had often imparted advice to Frau von Salden, and had also conducted the case instituted against half-witted Kätchen. He gave information to Blanden which possessed great interest for the latter. Since Eva's death, Pauline had constantly been ailing, and succumbed to a consumptive disorder.
As to Kätchen--the prosecution in which Blanden was called as a witness--although she persisted in the most obstinate silence, no proof of her guilt could be obtained; she had been handed over to the supervision of an institution in which mentally disordered and weak persons were looked after by the State. The medical man had pronounced her dull, obtuse demeanour not to proceed from any malady of the brain, but to be partially the consequences of the defective bringing up by her tyrannical parents, partially to be connected with her physical development. In fact, after the expiration of a year an unmistakable alteration had taken place in her; she had commenced to speak more naturally, indeed, more distinctly and coherently, so that the medical man could release her from his establishment.
Blanden inquired why Pauline had returned to the town.
He learned that she had been obliged to sell her estate, and also that she had sought consolation amongst her friends; in the country solitude she had been verging on despair.
The storm, meanwhile, had somewhat abated; Blanden relinquished his visit to the singer, and hastened to his house, so as to be able to indulge in those thoughts and emotions which besieged him after the occurrence in the churchyard. He was in a mood in which life no longer seemed worth living; the ruin of youth and beauty filled him with deep melancholy, and the connection between human destinies, by means of which a load of guilt suddenly struck an innocent person, occasioned painful reflections. To him it appeared enviable thus to be buried beneath the snow, to repose in wintry earth.
But if he would not cast himself amongst the dead, he must extinguish the candles in the sable-draped mourning chamber of his soul, beside the sarcophagus of past love, and step forth once more into the day of life.
On the following afternoon he visited Giulia--he found her alone; her obsequious friend left the room. The Signora looked pale and sad; the colouring of her features, which can only be designated by the Italian word _morbidezza_, looked almost sickly. Her eyes, however, shone joyously as Blanden entered, but when he would have folded her in his arms she stepped back in decided refusal.
"The lady of the Lago Maggiore and Signora Bollini are not the same persons. The former appeared in a dream, which the intoxicated rapture of the south begets, the latter appears in the sober north, so well-known that the newspapers speak of her. Here, in this world of citizens, one dreams no more! That we are acquainted with the same secret only gives us the right of friendship, and in token of it I offer you my hand."
She uttered it all deliberately, but yet in a cordial tone.
"Indeed," replied Blanden, whom the Signora had completely won by these words, "it is folly to wish to bind ourselves to a past that is divided from us by the flood of time. With time we too have changed, and often that has become utterly strange to us which formerly had such irresistible dominion over us. I honour your sentiments, Signora! The claim upon love must always be conquered anew, at least grant me the hope that we may succeed."
"I cannot but fear that without the magic of the south, the prize would not reward the trouble undertaken in earnest. What am I to you here, where my name can be read at every street corner?"
"The magic of art, Signora, can everywhere produce an _Isola bella_ with its peep into enchanting distance."
"The magic of art! Oh, how rude, everyday life sweeps it away! Attend an operatic rehearsal, listen to the confused cries of the manager, the conductor, the bars of music constantly broken off; the musical howls of the chorus; visit the theatrical wardrobe, and look at the tinsel out of which the artistic work of our beauty is created for an evening's performance; listen to the criticising comments of our colleagues behind the scenes; you will be in doubt where you should seek the magic of art."
"Still it does exist, and before its power disappears the ponderous apparatus by which it must be called into life."
"Certainly in the emotions of creative and sensitive minds it bears an enduring life. But when the magic forsakes us, who should be the representatives of art? Is there a greater pain than the sensation of one's own uselessness, and in addition, when it is unmerited, when it was formerly foreign to us? A singer whose voice becomes weaker, who from day to day becomes more conscious of its decay, is more fitted for elegiac reflections than a crumbling ruin, around which ivy climbs."
"You speak, dear friend, of matters which it is to be hoped you do not know from personal experience?"
"Yet I do know them by experience. I tell it you in confidence; before the world I must seek to conceal it, my fame may be able to disguise for some time longer what is unavoidable--a good name has illimitable credit. But my enemies are already beginning to destroy it. A spiteful reporter in Riga made exaggerated allusions to the deterioration of my voice, and a local newspaper here, which bears the impress of Herr Spiegeler's intellect, hastened to print a copy of that criticism."
Blanden shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.
"You are mistaken if you estimate lightly this intentional undermining of a well-earned renown. It cannot be accurately shown out of what atoms an artist's fame gradually rises, nor how they are wafted into a whole, just as easily can it be blown into pieces! How quickly the colours glow in a gay, shimmering structure of clouds; fame, too, is but effulgence, and suddenly dead night comes to relieve its light. Singers, both men and women, are condemned before all others to outlive their fame."
"Nor do they receive it freshly in their hands at first."
"Oh, no, it withers for them--in their hands! Read the article which Spiegeler has to-day had printed upon my 'Somnambula,' such an article is a blight upon every blossom of renown. They are all tiny half-concealed pieces of malice, but they hit one's heart. Public opinion is easily led, to-morrow already I shall stand before hundreds who no longer believe in me. Ah fame! How paralysing is the sensation of being given up to the crowd's want of faith."
"All great artists have been exposed to such attacks."
"But not all have overcome them successfully! How many talents and geniuses have been destroyed by the indifference of the public, whose enthusiasm was nipped in the bud often by means of personal animosity on the part of the critic; often by their distorted comprehension! Only those are numbered in the history of art who bore away the prize, not the others who with equal courage and equal strength, undertook the race of life, but succumbed beneath the obstacles which often chance, but still more often wicked will, cast into their path. But for him who so labours without pleasure in a career of art, it is greater torture than all else that men do against their will, for what is art without enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is only augmented pleasure, which lays hold of men so that they may pour out upon others some of their own overflowing abundance."
"Is enthusiasm then dependent upon the approval of the many? Is it not the artist's voluntary devotion to his ideal?"
"It is dependent upon his happy mood, because to produce the beautiful is bliss and a favour of destiny. Read this condemnation, must not every glad emotion be crushed by it? I have irritated the critic, this is his revenge!"
Blanden was obliged to confess that this criticism of Spiegeler was a collection of flowers of the most pointed epigrams, that it was spiteful, and in its way annihilating.
"Even two years ago," continued Giulia, "I should more easily have risen above this scorn; at that time I was sure of my voice and my success, now it is different--"
"Two years ago! And was not then Signora Giulia secretly at my castle during my absence?"
"I do not deny it! Curiosity prompted me to become acquainted with my friend's home."
"And did you not enchant all the rooms of my castle with leaves of recollection and golden sayings?"
"It was a pardonable wish to awaken the recollections of a mysterious meeting by the traces which an equally mysterious visitor left behind."
"Not the charm of mystery brought us together at that time, it pressed its seal upon our happy meeting."
"Not in recollections does happiness lie, but in oblivion; I know no other now."
"You are melancholy, Signora! Shall you then retire from the stage?"
"Oh, you do not know," broke from Giulia, "with what heavy chains I am bound to the galley! Others may remain constant to it from fear of want. I should fall a victim to much greater misery. Behind the stage-scenery of my life stands a spectre, a fearful spectre, ready to step forth at any moment. If I renounce the glory of the stage, I fall completely into that spectre's gruesome power."
"I should have the courage to hazard a conflict with that ghost."
"That conflict would not bring me redemption. Oh, how I long for rest!"
Giulia's features assumed an expression of most intense exhaustion; she sank upon the sofa and hid her face in her hands.
Lieutenant Buschmann was announced.
"Count upon my help," said Blanden, "when and wheresoever you may need it. This knightly duty I owe to the gracious lady of the magic lake, and shall fulfil it as faithfully as ever knight served his lady."
Giulia rose, and, with a quiet smile, but a tear in her eye, held out her hand to bid farewell.
IN THE CITIZEN ASSEMBLY.
A dense throng was crowding through the unpretending entrances of the old-fashioned city garden; the citizens of Königsberg had there found a central point for their political and intellectual interests. Although excluded from the programme of these meetings, politics really formed the most vital artery of their life; for it was a period in which every matter in hand became converted into politics; the strongest material began suddenly to assume a political tinge of colour when it was held towards the light. The kernel of the Königsberg citizenship was present at these assemblies, and Blanden was perfectly right when he desired, by means of his lecture, to introduce himself in more extensive circles as the political agitator for the elections of the future.
At the entrance to the gallery which led into the room, there was much animation; there the claims were examined, for the assembly was a closed society. Any one who did not possess a card was rejected.
"_Corpo di bacco_," echoed a violent voice, "of what use are _biglietti_ when the people assembles?"
"No one is admitted without a card."
"_Corpo del diavolo_," cried the impatient man, "then I must first return to my friend, _Che Seccatura!_"
Blanden, who had just arrived, recognised the amber-merchant, who, in a violent manner, forced a passage through the thronging people, so as to obtain egress again.
In the room itself a large concourse of people was already gathered, forming an impenetrable wall. The large mirror, which was placed against the one side, reflected, head after head, mostly well-to-do respectable faces, a few ruddy with the northern climate, tingling in the hot room after the cold out of doors, all gazing out beneath the brims of their hats, because here John Bull's custom had, from necessity, become a silent law; nowhere, excepting upon the heads, could space be found for the hats.
That no Jacobin-club, however, was assembled here was betokened by the steady composure that was unmistakable in all present, and the dense clouds of tobacco which floated above their heads.
Any one wishing to force his way through, must let himself be carried on farther by a suddenly formed wave, or with nervous haste follow the ticket-taker who enjoyed an undisputed right of passage.
Blanden, at the first rush, could not attain the chief table; a subsiding wave, which came from the opposite direction, drove him back.
Upon looking around he perceived near to him several faces that he knew, also that of the _ombre_ player, Milbe, who again was not in Kulwangen, but was here prosecuting his political efforts.
Milbe possessed an evil conscience, because he had not given his vote to Blanden, and tried not to perceive the latter. Sengen von Larchen, however, who stood close by, delighted him with shaking hands cordially.
Gradually Blanden succeeded in reaching the vicinity of the platform, where he espied several leaders of the political movement. There stood a little man, with lofty, thoughtful brow and the soft gaze of a large eye, the only person in the assembly who had appeared in a black frock-coat, with white cuffs. His opponents might, perhaps, compare him, the most feared of all the politicians in the town on the East Sea, with Robespierre, on account of that cleanliness; his beardless face made a thoroughly frank impression. His firm figure was not possessed of any quicksilver flexibility; everything about him was precision--certainly clearness. Although he had made himself renowned by his questions, he appeared much more like a man who is ready to, and capable of answering; all sparkling wit was foreign to him; he loved plain inferences from given premises; his logic was pure as his cuffs. As the doctor does his patient's, so did he feel the pulse of the State, and prescribed his remedies to the invalid. He possessed the indomitable equanimity of a stoic, and looked upon the necessary combination of affairs of this world with the eyes of a Spinoza. He was one of the most insignificant in the Assembly, but, like the homunculus in the bottle, he drew the fiery trail of a great reputation after him, and wherever he appeared he was greeted with special respect.
Beside him stood another agitator, whose entire appearance denoted him to be devoted to colour; he was artistically draped in a cloak with a velvet collar, while every possible gaudiness of waistcoat and necktie peeped forth between the folds; his head, as the Brussels citizen says in "Egmont," would be a real delight to an executioner, so splendidly it contrasted with the average heads of the throng, so brilliant is its colouring, so luxuriant the well-cared-for beard. He was the humourist of the party, a flourishing author; by some compared with Jean Paul, by others with Börne, and his satirical bees fluttered around a flowery abundance of pictures. No greater contrast could exist than that between this overflowing humourist and the staid political medical man by his side--the former revelling in the luxuriant complacency of an enthusiasm for freedom, which poured flowers, fruit and briars out of its horn of plenty; the latter, the man of dry formulas, of determined demands.
Near them stood other men of the party, teachers at girls' schools, pedagogues of great oratorical fluency, and some worthy citizens of intellectual pursuits. The master chimney-sweep, who passes his snuff-box round yonder, speaks of Kant and Feuerbach, as if they were customers for whom he sweeps soot out of their chimnies; he knows the construction of the philosophical systems as accurately as the construction of coke stoves, and at home possesses a library which many a professor might envy.
Now the President's hammer is heard; an amateur orchestra, consisting of members of the union, sends forth its mighty sounds from the platform, then patriotic songs are sung. All betokens warm participation; it is a society that betrays internal life. Thus also thinks that renowned author, a tall figure, with a wreath of hair round the crown of his head, an idealist of the purest water, who is making studies here of superior sociability, and, amidst the din of the present, seeks to solve a problem of the future. The young doctor, who now ascends the platform, is well-known to Blanden--it is the poet Schöner; he pushes his long black hair from his brow, and, with flashing eyes, and fiery pathos, recites a poem which lauds the Baltic country as the new home of political freedom. During the recital he was quivering from head to foot like a Shaker who is moved by his religious enthusiasm, but it was this peculiarity that acted with such electricity upon the crowd. Tempestuous applause rewards these poetical efforts. The Robespierre in the frock-coat addresses a warm laconic eulogium to the poet after he had descended from the platform; the humourist, with good-natured blue eyes, looks pleasantly at him through spectacles, and lauds his grand talent. The master chimney-sweep closes his snuff-box vigorously, a species of applause that he loves, and does the poet the honour of inviting him to a game of chess, a peculiar distinction which is only vouchsafed to favourites. Blanden, however, could not but say to himself that political lyrics had already reached that ominous turning point where phrases compensate for thoughts, and every variety of detonating rockets and fireworks have superseded the steady flame of pure enthusiasm.
Now his turn came; he knew that his appearance in the Citizen Assembly would be looked upon with suspicion by many of his equals, but he kept his object firmly before his eyes. His equals had dropped him, he turned to the great Liberal party, that was not bound to one district or circle of Government.
He possessed no stentorian voice, but his organ did not lack power and warmth, and a certain elegance of delivery kept people's interest awake. Many considered it greatly in favour of so respected a representative of the nobility of the country that he not merely mixed in the circle of the Königsberg citizens, but also participated in their intellectual guidance. His lecture presented a picture of the charters of 1830, and the development of the French constitution under the July Dynasty; he then pointed out the advantages which advanced States like France possessed over Prussia by means of their constitutions, and alluded to the development of public life which with us still is numbered amongst our sacred wishes. But then he showed how the provisions of the French charters were circumvented by the Government, and cast no favourable horoscope for the latter in the existing state of dull, mental fermentation; he criticised the limited right of election and the system of two chambers with acumen, daring which public opinion at that time did not venture to follow. All the same, his speech reaped stormy approval. Blanden could not but admit that this applause rewarded every speaker, who spoke in the spirit of the Assembly, and that when the good master sweep opened his lips and snuff-box simultaneously, so as to launch from the platform a few telling sentences in which his pinches of snuff formed the punctuation, he was greeted with similar applause. Still Blanden believed he had by means of this speech opened for himself a road to political consideration; at last he felt himself to be exalted and calmed; his glance into the future appeared freer, he saw an attainable goal before him. Torn from his solitary brooding in the echo of similar sentiments which met him, he at the same time greeted the certainty that his political convictions would also find a farther soil ready to receive them, that the path to statesman-like importance lay open before him.
Blanden's lecture was followed by a debate which commenced with the tickets of the box of questions; the first one concerned political discourses, should they be entirely excluded from these sittings? The committee pointed out that the object of these meetings was not political but social; that these discourses, however, might touch upon politics.
"Who could exclude politics?" cried an energetic timber merchant, "the State is the principal interest for a citizen; I am such a thorough citizen, that I am overgrown with politics; I exhale politics and I inhale them, I wake and dream politics; I think politics aloud when I speak, and think politics mutely when I am silent; I feel politics, I teach and learn them; in short I may do what I will or others may do with me what they will, politics cannot be expelled from me. Whereof the heart is full, the mouth speaketh. Of that which one loves, one likes to speak; we all love our fatherland and like to talk of it. Thus we all think and feel, and therefore here in the _gemeinde garten_ a short hour of politics, cannot be omitted."
That short hour of politics roused great exultation. Blanden, too, rejoiced at the citizens' warm interest in the Government's life, which had already become a matter that lay near their hearts.
The box of questions kept the debate on foot for a long time, then followed the _conversazione_. Choruses groaned through the old town hall; thereupon groups were formed, in the centre of which individual leaders were found who now exercised greater, now lesser powers of attraction; the political doctor had his little circle, the humourist his; poet Schöner recited a political dithyramb in a subdued voice; the master sweep related anecdotes, songs in sociable chorus resounded from several tables.
One little bit of by-play did not escape Blanden, who went from one group to another and with satisfaction--now here, now there--joined the open fight that had succeeded the closed conflict.
The Italian was leaning in a corner near the stove, and overwhelmed the ticket-taker, who neglected him, with terms of abuse whose melodious sound, as their sense was perfectly unintelligible to the other, did not in the least exercise the desired effect, until several honest German oaths hastened the man's tardy attention.
Blanden noticed how Böller the merchant, whom he had seen with Giulia, circled round the Italian as a hawk does round its prey. Now here, now there, the long, cadaverous figure rose amidst the crowd, and his eyes were fixed watchfully upon the amber merchant. The latter became uneasy; it had not escaped him that he had seriously aroused the merchant's attention, who was well-known to him, and he knew the cause too. Suddenly Böller disappeared towards one side of the city gardens, which possessed two entrances. Baluzzi followed the tall form with his eyes, and, without waiting for the refreshment ordered from the ticket-taker, hastened to leave the garden by the opposite door.
After some time Böller reappeared, and briskly traversed the groups, but far forward as he might extend his nose, he could not succeed in espying his victim. Disappointment was depicted on his pale small-pox-marked face as at the door he gave an order to an officer of justice who had come with him.
When the chairman's hammer, with three resounding blows, announced the conclusion of the sitting, Blanden resolved to seek half-witted Kätchen, at mother Hecht's, and to convince himself if she were really in possession of a few lines from Eva.
AT MOTHER HECHT'S
Recollection of the witches of Macbeth and the witches' kettle, in which they mixed wolves' teeth and hemlock-roots and tigers' intestines, was awoke in all who entered Mother Hecht's house and saw herself and her companions creep mysteriously round the large kettles that boiled upon the hearth. But no tigers' intestines were boiled there; they were those of peaceable domestic animals which were being prepared in a herb soup for the enjoyment of night wanderers.
An oil lamp shed a gloomy light throughout the kitchen, which at the same time served as the inn parlour. The flickering gleam of the flames assisted it in its melancholy efforts.
The Hecate, who urged the subordinate witches and night-fiends to feed the fire and to stir the kettles with all their might, was the _fleck_ preparer herself, as _fleck_ is the name given to the intestines which were being prepared as a dainty morsel.
The little witches were somewhat more attractive than those of the Walpurgis night, although even they, to some extent, like Kätchen of Warnicken, peered into the world with stupid, gruesome frogs' eyes.
It was a singular company in that witches' kitchen. Any one who was not acquainted with its secrets must have imagined that some magic was at work, which should transform people now into a state of wild frenzy as if they had partaken of henbane, now vampire-like suck the blood out of their veins, for some of the guests were incessantly shaking, while others possessed corpse-like countenances of a ghostly pallor.
A few members of the Albertina had almost succumbed to this magic, and with hollow eyes stared into the flames which were hissing around the kettle.
The witches' kettle, it is true, was quite innocent; the magic did not proceed from it, but rather the counter-charm against oblivion of the world, against the internal conflict, against the weariness of life, which was written in all those features.
Blanden, in these surroundings, felt like Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" upon the ship of death, where nothing but masks and visors grin at him.
Kätchen had perceived him enter, and hastened towards him.
"As soon as I can get away for a moment I will beckon to you."
Blanden was obliged to be patient. Meanwhile the room became still more full of the most divers nocturnal wanderers, who before cock-crow would be tired of drinking, or have fallen victims to intoxication.
A merry swarm of students of undaunted courage, coming from a drinking party, crowded in with merry songs, pushing before them a lame gentleman with a beard, whom they had met upon the threshold.
"The first dish for Spiegeler--he has done his part well."
"Ho, Kätchen, the first intestines for the reporter, because he is the priest who offers up the sacrifice."
"Bravo, Spiegeler, lame, divine messenger of fame, Mercury without wings."
Thus the voices resounded in confusion, and Spiegeler did, indeed, receive the first _fleck_ that was produced from the kettle.
Blanden became attentive. These speeches concerned the critic who had attacked Giulia.
"My dear Herr Spiegeler," one voice could be heard saying, in whose precocious, instructive tones he soon recognised the wise Salomon of the sea side, "I grant you all possible laurels, and also the first of the intestines; because critics are like the Roman _haruspices_ who, after the contemplation of entrails, can prophecy or speak the truth."
"Hush, Salomon is speaking."
"I also remark that I have not the honour of sharing your views as a critic, but still you are a man of intellect, and nothing is more interesting than when such men defend false views."
"Excuse me," said Spiegeler, as he laid his fork aside, "I must beg for a proof that my view is false."
"I am not in the humour now to prove anything," continued Salomon, "and you never are, for in your criticisms all proofs are wanting, as, indeed, in all such cases, it is just as Schiller says--
'The Almighty blew And the Armada flew to every wind.'
"Not of this, however, would I speak, but merely express an objection to your last sharp criticism; it had one trifling fault, it contained the opposite of what it had formerly said. But when a critic acts the part of a priest at the sacrifice, then, like the latter, he must also exhibit the most perfect purity. The Roman priests, when sacrificing, were obliged to be washed, sprinkled and perfumed so as to be worthy of their office."
"Well, and what more," said Spiegeler; stamping angrily with his crutches, he rose and adjusted his spectacles.
"Criticism is not infallible, but it has the privilege of acknowledging its faults; to-day it can blame what yesterday it praised; it suddenly looks upon things from another point of view, and all, gentlemen, depends upon the point of view! Everything advances and undergoes metamorphosis--and yet criticism should always remain stationary like a sculptured saint! What doctor does not alter his diagnosis after closer observation? To-day he discovers an organic disease where yesterday he only perceived a slight cold. Who would turn that into a reproach against him? We are deceived and bribed; the delusion disappears, it is no fault, it is progress. Criticism does not squint, it only sees more clearly to-day than yesterday."
"There we have it," cried Salomon, "that is exactly fitted for this witches' kitchen! Do not the witches in 'Macbeth' say--
"'Fair is foul, and foul is fair Hover through the fog and filthy air.'
"And to Mephistopheles the witch says--
"'And nine is one And ten is none That is the witches' one times one.'
"I have commenced an album of witches' poetry, these verses taken from it also apply to criticism."
"I protest against any such remarks," cried Spiegeler, in whom the effects of deep potations became more apparent; "besides which I can praise and blame what I choose and as I will--criticism is absolute. Signora Giulia dazzled me at first--I do not deny it; I deemed her art to be an apple of Paradise; now I recognise it as one of Sodom, which crumbles to ashes in my hand, and that which I have recognised I must express. Criticism does not lie; whoever says it does, I declare to be a liar."
Blanden had risen, indignant at the man's daring behaviour and the daring calumniation of his Giulia; but before he had time seriously and sharply to rebuke the reporter, it had been done very effectually from another quarter.
A resounding box on his ears roused the astonishment of the lookers-on, who did not know whence it came so suddenly, and also roused the boundless rage of the victim.
"_Bugiardo, bugiardo_, you are a liar yourself," cried a powerful voice, and by Spiegeler's side stood the Italian, drawn up erectly, and with proud gladness in his features at the lynch-law which he had just carried out. Suddenly a solemn silence reigned around.
"_Corpo di bacco_," cried the stranger, whose singular appearance inspired the students with respect, "to cut off a singer's fame, curtail her receipts, ruin her credit, is honourable, worthy of a _gentiluomo_! The _giornale_ that hisses forth such venom should be made into spills, and he who boasts of producing it deserves to be chastised by every honest man."
Spiegeler had let the one crutch fall, he held his burning cheek while his lips quivered convulsively. Big and little witches stood drawn up in a line with their kitchen spoons, and with quiet enjoyment watched a scene not unusual in that house.
"That was rude, sir!"
"Laying on of hands is no refutation."
"The man is lame and a cripple."
Thus spoke the somewhat timid defence of the disciples of the Albertina; but Salomon exclaimed--
"Sir, it is an ambuscade, a species of _brigantaggio_! Intellect is our only stiletto, with which we have been favoured by nature. You appear to be a foreigner, for you curse in the language of the _Inferno_, but we do not tolerate such attempts here, we protest!"
"We protest," cried several students, waving their little liqueur glasses.
Spiegeler now stood foaming with rage before the _signor_, who with folded arms bid defiance to public opinion.
"You shall not escape me, there are judges in Prussia; we are not in the inn at Terracina, my _Signor Fra Diavolo_, and do not permit ourselves to be attacked."
And as he let his second crutch fall, and caught his opponent by a coat button, he cried as loudly as his hoarse squeaking voice would permit him--
"Your name, sir--your name!"
Baluzzi, bowing politely, gave him a card.
"Then our _prime-donne_ are allied to Italian _bravi_? They possess a little robber's cave close to their drawing-rooms? Is truth to be cudgelled? You are mistaken, sir! We shall not allow ourselves to be intimidated, we will even expose the matter in a trenchant article, and as far as Signora Giulia is concerned--you have broken my eye-glasses, sir! I shall now make use of a magnifying lens, which not the smallest failing can escape, and if hitherto I have beaten her with rods, I will now scourge her with scorpions."
Salomon meanwhile had picked up the crutches for the critic, who during his angry speech had supported himself upon the table; he now limped out of the room, followed by the students, whose cries of "Bravo Spiegeler" accompanied him, for they looked upon the critic as a species of clown, who first in newspapers, then in inn parlours, performed somersaults for the general amusement.
Blanden had looked on at the scene in a divided frame of mind; the reporter's remarks had roused his indignation, but the Italian's brutality not less so, and indeed he had always felt the most decided aversion for the amber merchant. Especially odious did the man appear, because he stood in some dark relation to Giulia, as the violence proved with which he had maltreated one of her opponents.
As Blanden stood there lost in thought, and weighed his intention of questioning the Signora about this person, who even on the Lago Maggiore had followed her like a shadow, Kätchen stepped up to him, and whispered she had now a moment's time, he should go with her.
They groped their way along a gloomy corridor into the yard, whose dark square was not illuminated by any reflection of light from out the dull little windows, which opened into it on four sides. Kätchen looked like a night-goblin in the dim snow-light, she sprang on in advance, and danced as if in insane gladness.
Suddenly she moved the pump handle: some time elapsed before the pump awoke out of its winter sleep. Kätchen then, however, did not merely wash her hands, she bent down and let the icy cold water trickle over her head, and dried herself with the shawl which she had thrown about her neck. Then she led her companion up the stairs of the building at the back, it was a break-neck staircase, uneven steps, unusual windings; she counted the steps, gave her hand to Blanden, and he remarked that she squeezed his, and pressed it to her heart, and in one of the narrow bends nestled up to him, and her still dripping hair wetted his bosom.
They ascended three flights; he had to stoop beneath the beams of the sloping roof. Kätchen opened a creaking door that moved with difficulty upon its hinges. Then she begged Blanden to wait until she had struck a light, yet she hesitated in doing so, nestled beseechingly against him, stroked his hair until he shook the caressing witch angrily from him.
"Wait a moment longer," said she, "not in the light shall you see where the locket is hidden."
A pause ensued, and Blanden perceived that her laced bodice became looser.
Soon the dreary ray of a tallow candle, whose wick was but meagrely fed by some guttered masses of fatty substance, lighted the tiny room in which by the window alone Blanden could find one spot on which to stand uprightly beneath the sloping roof. That attic with the moss overgrown beams was a melancholy sight; the melting snow penetrated the badly closing windows, into the wood were nails driven, on which some clothes and a fishing net hung. The bed was most peculiar, of a shape resembling a boat, the coarse straw mattress seemed to be bedded in a skiff.
And in the midst of these poverty-stricken surroundings stood the sea-maiden banished into the country, with dripping hair, her bosom half bared, and gazing at her guest with her protruding eyes, while she held the locket in one hand.
"The paper--the paper," cried Blanden impatiently.
"I have carried it about with me, always upon my heart, have squeezed the lines into this locket. I was searched before the authorities at the institution--nothing was found! Ha, ha, it was too well taken care of."
And at the same time she commenced to dance about like a wild woman, holding the locket high in the air. She appeared like one of the Nikobar island girls, who once, when upon his voyage round the world he had been cast upon their shore, surrounded him in such dizzy tumult.
He was fain to confess that Kätchen was no longer the half-witted seal of former days, that a remarkable transformation had taken place, but that her mind, far from having found its proper balance, had now passed from moody absorption into a wandering will-o'-the-wisp-like frenzy.
"And why did you not show this paper to the judges? Its contents are still unknown to me, but I surmise that it might have spared you the long confinement and detention in the institution."
"To be sure; oh, to be sure! I should have been free as the sea-gull in the air; I only needed to press this. Snap! the case would fly open, and they would all have known what they wished. They pressed all around it, too, but the good spring did not move; they believed at last that it was merely a senseless amber ornament and gave it back to me."
"And you preferred to be tortured and locked up?"
"Of course; it was not intended for the judges. Oh, the clever people--judges and doctors! How they exerted themselves; how they thought, and consulted and questioned! And what faces they made over it--it was enough to kill one with laughing! Ha-ha! half-witted Kätchen outwitted them all."
"And who gave you this locket?"
"The man down below, who was so liberal to-day; he dispenses good and evil. Once I brought him safely to shore through a storm that had suddenly arisen, and he rewarded me with this."
"And for whom are these lines destined!"
"You still ask! Any other man would have guessed long since; for you, for you! She wrote them out at sea, before she sprang into the water."
"Then it is the truth! I was convinced of it long since," said he to himself; "but yet moments came in which I was glad to doubt again--what is not possible upon the lonely waves between heaven and earth, with a half-witted--or evil-minded girl?" and then suddenly starting, he cried, as he held Kätchen firmly with his strong arms--
"And yet you are her murderess--why did you not save her?"
"It was not possible," said she, stuttering and shaking; "a wave washed her away from my side--she was buried."
"And the paper--unhappy girl, when were you to give me the paper?"
"She did not say--I could do it at once."
"And you did not do it?"
"I would not."
"Out with the paper!" cried Blanden, enraged.
"I have kept it securely in my bosom for so long, I want my reward for it."
"Your reward for having kept it from me for years! It is my property--I shall obtain it by force."
He began to struggle with Kätchen, who held the locket convulsively in her hand, and uttered a piercing shriek, followed by a wild laugh.
"Ha-ha, and if you have it in the net, it will escape again through the meshes! It will avail you nothing, absolutely nothing--without the secret."
"Give it me, then."
"I love you--love me in return!" cried she, stretching out her arms towards him.
"Lunatic," cried Blanden, retreating, as though a sea polypus would Lave encircled him with its arms.
She caught at the empty space, then knelt down, crying and sobbing.
"Poor Kätchen has nobody in the world; her father is dead--he was always hard and stern. Ah, the sea is so wide, so wide--and the boat drifts farther and farther out--and who cares for me? You were good to me--you gave me the boat--oh, it does not lie on the shore by the post! Here--that is your boat! I had it made into my bed, my sole possession--and there I dream of you."
Blanden was moved; he drew nearer, he stroked her wet hair and said kindly--
Thereupon she gave him the locket, after having opened it with a quick pressure and sobbing aloud, hid her face.
Blanden went up to the light that was burning low into its socket, and cast a gloomy flickering dense shadow upon the half-effaced letters. Already he doubted whether he should be able to decipher them here, but Kätchen came to his assistance, saying in a hollow voice--
"I will be your light; I know what stands there, I have read it many thousand times--
"'I do not desire to live any longer--love my mother!
Blanden was struck to his heart; he had imagined this connection, but now that he saw it in black and white, written with the trembling hand of death, so that all soothing doubt had become impossible for evermore; that these half-faded characters, as did the _Mene Tekel_ of Belshazzar, announced to him in fire how Eva had merely sought death because he had loved her mother, he was terribly shaken, as with a new unexpected blow. He felt as though a hurricane whirled up all the withered leaves of his life and dashed them into his face.
He struggled for composure, one hand propped upon the window-ledge in the wet snow, the other covering his eyes.
There was a long pause. Kätchen still lay upon her knees; in her face an expression of silent beatitude--he had spoken kindly and lovingly to her. All the more was she alarmed when Blanden suddenly sprang upon her in violent anger and dragged her up roughly.
"And this message from the dead you have withheld from me for years, not from idiotcy, not from mental stupidity--I see through you now. It was all pretence or deceit, who can tell; or else such God-forsaken creatures have a cursed instinct that is as cunning as much vaunted reason. You would not save Eva, merely because I loved her. You did not give me her words of farewell, because they urged me to love her mother; you only gave me these lines now when her mother is also dead! I was to love nothing in the world excepting yourself! Rather would I tarry at the North Pole with senseless seals than with such a creature as you! Certainly, they, too, possess the power to kill men! Away, out of my sight, you horror!"
And he dashed her from him, so that she fell upon her straw couch.
A short pause ensued; the light faded into smoke. Blanden groped for the door. Then he heard Kätchen's voice from the bed; it sounded quite changed--ghostly and hollow--
"Yes, none of them shall have you; none, none--only I alone! Ha-ha, I save no one--whosoever seeks death may have it--there will be room, there will be room. May they all die, all-- Hark! the sea rises--come into my boat, come, come!"
Blanden had reached the door; he had begun to feel it gruesome with the love-mad girl.
In his haste to escape he had not thought of the obstacles which would impede him; now here, now there, knocking against them he felt for the stairs, down which he stumbled in the dark without caring that he had hurt his foot by frequent false steps.
Below in the witches' kitchen the kettle was simmering as before; but Mother Hecht, her elbows planted on her hips, stood surrounded once more with her unoccupied subordinate witches and a new troop of students who had arrived, gazing at the spectacle which was afforded them, the hero being once again none other than the Italian, only that this time he could not display himself to the crowd in the elevated consciousness of having performed a daring deed.
On the contrary, he appeared very dejected and disconsolate before the officer of justice, who, in all the pride of his position, laid his hand upon the man's shoulder.
"At last I have you, my Herr! It has cost me trouble enough, and my night's rest also. Böller and Co. knew that the time for the bill had run out; why did you make our task harder and let yourself be sought for everywhere!"
"I will pay to-morrow, or the day after."
"It is too late! You follow me to the debtor's prison. No resistance! You know the laws!"
The students felt pity for the victim of the laws concerning bills of exchange.
"A misunderstanding, Signori!" cried Baluzzi, quickly recovering. "I am in a position to pay all my debts. I have only to write a few lines. He who incurs no debts may cast the first stone."
"Good, very good," shouted the students after the Italian, as he followed the officer with a defiant mien.
Blanden, standing at the side door, had watched the episode. It confirmed him in his intention of warning Giulia against a man who certainly did not merit her confidence, if she were infatuated enough to grant it him.
[Footnote 1: "To receive the basket" signifies to be rejected. (_Translator's note_.)]
END Of VOL. II.
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