Part 1 out of 8
Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE MALADY OF THE CENTURY
BY MAX NORDAU
Author of "THE COMEDY OF SENTIMENT," "HOW WOMEN LOVE," Etc., Etc.
Mountain and Forest
Vanity of Vanities
It was not to be
A Lay Sermon
A Seaside Romance
In the Horselberg
MOUNTAIN AND FOREST.
"Come, you fellows, that's enough joking. This defection of yours,
melancholy Eynhardt, combines obstinacy with wisdom, like Balaam's
ass! Well! may you rest in peace. And now let us be off."
The glasses, filled with clear Affenthaler, rang merrily together,
the smiling landlord took up his money, and the company rose noisily
from the wooden bench, overturning it with a bang. The round table
was only proof against a similar accident on account of its
structure, which some one with wise forethought had so designed that
only the most tremendous shaking could upset its equilibrium. The
boisterous group consisted of five or six young men, easily
recognized as students by their caps with colored bands, the scars
on their faces, and their rather swaggering manner. They slung their
knapsacks on, stepped through the open door of the little arbor
where they had been sitting, on to the highroad, and gathered round
the previous speaker. He was a tall, good-looking young man, with
fair hair, laughing blue eyes, and a budding mustache.
"Then you are determined, Eynhardt, that you won't go any further?"
asked he, with an accent which betrayed him as a Rhinelander.
"Yes, I am determined," Eynhardt answered.
"A groan for the worthless fellow; but more in sorrow than in
anger," said the tall one to the others. They groaned three times
loudly, all together, while the Rhinelander gravely beat time. An
unpracticed ear would very likely have failed to note the shade of
feeling implied in the noise; but he appeared satisfied.
"Well, just as you like. No compulsion. Freedom is the best thing in
life--including the freedom to do stupid things."
"Perhaps he knows of some cave where he is going to turn hermit,"
said one of the group.
"Or he has a little business appointment, and we should be in the
way," said another.
They laughed, and the Rhinelander went on:
"Well! moon away here, and we will travel on. But before all things
be true to yourself. Don't forget that the whole world is as much a
phantom as the brown Black Forest maiden. And now farewell; and
think a great deal about us phantom people, who will always keep up
the ghost of a friendship for you."
The young man whom he addressed shook him and the others by the
hand, and they all lifted their caps with a loud "hurrah," and
struck out vigorously on the road. The sentiment of the farewell,
and the tender speeches, had been disposed of in the inn, so they
now parted gayly, in youth's happy fullness of life and hope for the
future, and without any of that secret melancholy which Time the
immeasurable distils into every parting. Hardly had they turned
their backs on the friend they left behind them when they began to
sing, "Im Schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon," exaggerating the
melancholy of the first half of the tune, and the gayety of the
second, passing riotously away behind a turn of the road, their song
becoming fainter and fainter in the distance.
This little scene, which took place on an August afternoon in the
year 1869, had for its theater the highroad leading from Hausach to
Triberg, just at the place where a footpath descends into the valley
to the little town of Hornberg. The persons represented were young
men who had lately graduated at Heidelberg, and who were taking a
holiday together in the Black Forest, recovering from the recent
terrors of examination in the fragrant air of the pine woods. As far
off as Offenburg they had traveled by the railway in the prosaic
fashion of commercial travelers, from there they had tramped like
Canadian backwoodsmen, and reached Hasslach--twelve miles as the
crow flies. After resting for a day they set out at the first
cockcrow, and before the noontide heat reached the lovely
Kinzigthal, which lies all along the way from Hausach to Hornberg.
Over the door of a wayside inn a signboard, festooned with freshly-
cut carpenter's shavings, beckoned invitingly to them, and here the
young men halted. The view from this place was particularly
beautiful. The road made a kind of terrace halfway up the mountain,
on one side rising sheer up for a hundred feet to its summit,
thickly wooded all the way, on the other side sloping to the wide
valley, where the Gutach flowed, at times tumbling over rough
stones, or again spreading itself softly like oil, through flat
meadow land. Below lay the little town of Hornberg, with its crooked
streets and alleys, its stately square, framing an old church,
several inns, and prosperous-looking houses and shops. Beyond the
valley rose a high, steep hill, with a white path climbing in
zigzags through its wooded sides. On the summit a white house with
many windows was perched, seeming to hang perpendicularly a thousand
feet above the valley. Its whitewashed walls stood out sharply
against the background of green pine trees, clearly visible for many
miles round. A conspicuous inscription in large black letters showed
that this audacious and picturesque house was the Schloss hotel, and
a glance at the gray ruined tower which rose behind it gave at once
a meaning to the name. Behind the hill, with its outline softened by
trees and encircled by the blue sky, were ridges of other hills in
parallel lines meeting the horizon, alternately sharp-edged and
rounded, stretching from north to south. They seemed like some great
sea, with majestic wave-hills and wave-valleys; behind the first
appeared a second, then a third, then a fourth, as far as one's eye
could see; each one of a distinct tone of color, and of all the
shades from the deepest green through blue and violet to vaporous
The sight of this picture had decided Wilhelm Eynhardt not to go any
further. The others had resolved to push on to Triberg the same day,
and above all, not to turn back till they had bathed in the Boden-
see. As every persuasion was powerless to alter Eynhardt's decision,
they separated, and the travelers started on their walk to Triberg.
Eynhardt, however, stayed at Hornberg, meaning to climb to the
Schloss hotel again from the other side.
Wilhelm Eynhardt was a young man of twenty-four, tall and slim of
figure, with a strikingly handsome face. His eyes were almond-
shaped, not large but very dark, with much charm of expression. The
finely-marked eyebrows served by their raven blackness to emphasize
the whiteness of the forehead, which was crowned by an abundant mass
of curling black hair. His fresh complexion had still the bloom of
early youth, and would hardly have betrayed his age, if it had not
been shaded by a dark brown silky beard, which had never known a
razor. It was an entirely uncommon type, recalling in profile,
Antinous, and the full face reminding one of the St. Sebastian of
Guido Roni in the museum of the Capitol; a face of the noblest
manhood, without a single coarse feature. His manner, although
quiet, gave the impression of keen enthusiasm, or, more rightly
speaking, of unworldly inspiration. All who saw him were powerfully
attracted, but half-unconsciously felt a slight doubt whether even
so fine a specimen of manhood was quite fitly organized and equipped
for the strife of existence. At the university he had been given the
nickname of Wilhelmina, on account of a certain gentleness and
delicacy of manner, and because he neither drank nor smoked. Such
jokes, not ill-natured, were directed against his outward
appearance, but had a shade of meaning as regards his character.
As Wilhelm walked into the courtyard of the Schloss hotel he stopped
a moment to regain his breath. Before him was the stately new house,
whose white-painted walls and many windows had looked down on the
high-road; to the left stood the round tower inclosed within a
ruined wall, shading an airy lattice-work building, in which on a
raised wooden floor stood a table and some benches. Several people,
evidently guests at the hotel, sat there drinking wine and beer, and
eying the newcomer curiously. The burly landlord, in village dress,
emerged from the open door of the cellar in the tower, and wished
him "good-day." He had a thick beard and a sunburned face, with
good-natured blue eyes. With a searching glance at the young man's
cap and knapsack, he waited for Wilhelm to speak.
"Can I have a room looking on to the valley?" asked the latter.
"Not at this moment," the landlord answered, clearing his throat
loudly; "there is hardly a room free here, and that only in the top
story. But to-morrow, or the day after, many people are leaving, and
then I can give you what you want."
Wilhelm's face clouded with disappointment, but only for a moment,
then he said: "Very well, I will stay."
"Luggage?" said the landlord, in his short, unceremonious way. "My
luggage is at Haslach. It can come up to-morrow."
"Bertha," called the landlord, in such a strident tone that the
mountains echoed the sound. The visitors drinking in the kiosk
smiled; they were well accustomed to the man. A neat red-cheeked
girl appeared in the doorway. "Number 47," shouted the landlord, and
went off to his other duties.
Bertha led the new guest up three flights of uncarpeted wooden
staircase, down a long passage to a light, clean, but sparely-
furnished room. The girl told him the hours of meals, brought some
water, and left him alone. He hung his knapsack on a hook on the
wall, opened the little window, and gazed long at the view.
Underneath was the open space where he had been standing, to the
left the tower, and behind, over the ruined walls, he could see the
old, neglected castle yard full of weeds and heaps of rubbish--a
picture of decay and desolation.
"I have chosen well," thought Wilhelm, for he loved solitude, and
promised himself enjoyable hours of wandering in the ruins in
company with luxuriant flowers and singing birds.
He barely gave himself time to freshen his face with cold water, and
to change his thick walking shoes for lighter ones; immediately
hurrying out to make acquaintance with the castle. Before he could
get there he had first to find in the tumbledown wall a hole large
enough to enable him to get through. He shortly found himself in a
fairly large square space, the uneven ground being formed of a mass
of rubbish, mounds of earth, and deep holes. Woods protected the
greater part of it, most of the trees stunted and choked by
undergrowth and shrubs, with occasionally a high, solitary pine
tree, and near to the west and south walls half-withered oaks and
mighty beeches stood thickly. Here and there from the bushes peeped
up bare pieces of crumbling stone and broken pieces of mortar, in
whose crevices hung long grasses, and where yellow, white, and red
flowers nestled. Climbing, stumbling, and slipping, he worked his
way through this wilderness, the length and breath of which he
wished to inspect so as to discover a place where he could rest
quietly, when he suddenly came to a precipitous fall of the ground,
concealed from him by a thick curtain of leaves. Startled and taken
by surprise, the ground seemed to him to sink under his feet. He
instinctively caught hold of some branches to keep himself from
falling, pricking his hands with the thorns, and breaking a slender
bough, finally rolling in company with dust and earth, torn-out
bushes and stone, down a steep declivity of several feet to a little
grass plot at the bottom. He heard a slight scream near him, and a
girlish form sprang up and cried in an anxious voice:
"Have you hurt yourself?"
Wilhelm picked himself up as quickly as he could, brushed the earth
from his clothes, and taking off his cap said, "Thanks, not much.
Only a piece of awkwardness. But I am afraid I have frightened you?"
"A little bit; but that is all right."
They looked at each other for the first time, and the lady laughed,
while Wilhelm blushed deeply. She stopped again directly, blushed
also, and dropped her eyes. She was a girl in the first bloom of
youth, of particularly fine and well-made figure, with a beautiful
face; two dimples in her cheeks giving her a roguish expression, and
a pair of lively brown eyes. A healthy color was in her cheeks, and
in the well-cut, seductive little mouth. Her luxuriant, golden-brown
hair, in the fashion of the day, was brushed back in long curls. She
had as her only ornament a pale gold band in her hair, and wore a
simple dress of light-flowered material, the high waistband fitting
close to the girlish figure. Conventionality began to assert its
rights over nature, and the girl too felt confused at finding
herself in the middle of a conversation with a strange man, suddenly
shot down at her very feet. Wilhelm understood and shared her
embarrassment, and bowing, he said:
"As no doubt we are at the same house, allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Wilhelm Eynhardt. I come from Berlin, and took up my
abode an hour ago at the Schloss hotel."
"From Berlin," said the girl quickly; "then we are neighbors. That
is very nice. And where do you live in Berlin, if I may ask?"
"Of course you do," and a clear laugh deepened the shadow of her
"Why 'of course?'" asked Wilhelm, rather surprised.
"Why, because that is our Latin quarter, and as a student--you are a
student, I suppose?"
"Yes, and no. In the German sense I am no longer a student, for I
took my degree a year ago; but the word in English is better and
truer, as there 'student' is used where we should say scholar
(gelehrter). Scholars we are, not only learners. In the English
sense then I am a student, and hope to remain so all my life."
"Ah, you speak English," she said, quickly catching at the word;
"that is charming. I am tremendously fond of English, and am quite
accustomed to it, as I spent a great part of my time in England when
I was very young. I have been told that I have a slight English
accent in speaking German. Do you think so?"
"My ear is not expert enough for that," said Wilhelm apologetically.
"My friends," she chattered on, "nearly all speak French; but I
think English is much more uncommon. Fluent English in a German is
always proof of good education. Don't you think so?"
"Not always," said Wilhem frankly; "it might happen that one had
worked as a journeyman in America."
The girl turned up her nose a little at this rather unkind
observation, but Wilhelm went on:
"With your leave I would rather keep to our mother-tongue. To speak
in a foreign language with a fellow-country-woman without any
necessity would be like acting a charade, and a very uncomfortable
"I think a charade is very amusing," she answered; "but just as you
like. Opportunities of speaking English are not far to seek. Most of
the visitors at the hotel are English. I dare say you have noticed
it already. But they are not the best sort. They are common city
people, who even drop their h's, but who play at being lords on the
Continent. Of course I have learned already to tell a 'gentleman'
from a 'snob.'"
Wilhelm smiled at the self-conscious importance with which she
spoke. His eyes wandered over her beautiful hair, to the tender
curve of her slender neck and beautiful shoulders, while she,
feeling perfectly secure again, settled herself comfortably. Her
seat was a projecting piece of stone, which had been converted by a
soft covering of moss into a delightful resting-place. An
overhanging bush shaded it pleasantly. In front lay a corner of the
castle; across a smooth piece of turf and through a wide gap in the
wall they caught a view of the mountains, as if painted by some
artist's brush--a perfect composition which would have put the
crowning touch to his fame. The girl had been trying to make a
sketch of the view in a well-worn sketchbook which lay near.
"You have given a sufficient excuse for your sketches by your
feeling for natural beauty," remarked Wilhelm. "May I look at the
"Oh," she said, somewhat confused, "my will is of the best, but I
can do so little," and she hesitatingly gave him her album. He took
it and also the pencil, looked alternately at the mountains and on
the page of the book, and without asking leave began to improve upon
it, strengthening a line here, lightening a shadow and giving
greater breadth, and then growing deeply interested in his work, he
sat down without ceremony on the mossy bank, took a piece of india-
rubber, and erasing here, adding lines there, sometimes laying in a
shadow, giving strength to the foreground and lightness to the
background, he ended by making a really pretty and artistic sketch.
The girl had watched him wonderingly, and said as he returned the
album, "But you are a great artist," and without letting him speak
she went on, "and by your appearance I had taken you for a student!
But you are not in the least like a student, nor in fact like a
German either. I have often met Indian princes in society in London,
and I think you are very much like them."
Wilhelm smiled. "There is a grain of truth in what you say, although
you overrate it a little. A great artist I certainly am not, nor
even a little one, but I have always observed much and painted a
good deal myself, and originally I thought of devoting myself to an
artist's career; and if I have nothing in common with Indian
princes, and am merely a plebeian German, I very likely have a drop
of Indian blood in my veins."
"Really," she said, with curiosity.
"Yes, my mother was a Russian German living in Moscow, and whose
father, a Thuringian, had married a Russian girl of gypsy descent.
Through this grandmother, whom I never knew, I am related by remote
genealogical descent to Indians. But you do not look like a German
either, with your beautiful dark hair and eyebrows."
She took this personal compliment in good part as she answered
"There is some reason for that too. Just as you have Indian, I have
French blood in my veins. My father's mother was a Colonial, her
maiden name was Du Binache."
So they gossiped on like old acquaintances. Young and beautiful as
they were, they found the deepest pleasure in one another, and the
cold feeling of strangeness melted as by a charm. They were awakened
to the consciousness that half an hour earlier neither of them had
an idea of the other's existence, by the appearance of a girl in the
gap in the wall, who seemed very much surprised at the sight of
their evident intimacy. The young lady stood up rather hastily and
went a few steps toward the newcomer, a servant-maid, who had
brought a cloak for her mistress, and took charge of her album,
sunshade, and large straw hat.
"Is it so late already?" she said, with a naive surprise, which left
no room for doubt even to Wilhelm's modesty.
"Certainly, fraulein," said the maid, pointing with her hand to the
distant mountain, whose peaks were already clothed with the orange
hue of twilight; then she looked alternately at her young mistress
and the strange gentleman, whose handsome face she inwardly noted.
"Do you think of making any stay here?" asked the young lady of
Wilhelm, who followed slowly.
"Yes, certainly," he answered at once.
"Then we may become good friends. My parents will be glad to make
your acquaintance. I did not tell you before that my father is Herr
As Wilhelm merely bowed, without seeming to recognize the name, she
said rather sharply, and slightly raising her voice:
"I thought as you came from Berlin you would be sure to know my
father's name--Councilor Ellrich, Vice-President of the
The name and title made very little impression on Wilhelm, but his
politeness brought forth an "Ah!" which satisfied Fraulein Ellrich.
They left the ruins by an easy path which Wilhelm had not noticed
before, and walked together to the entrance of the hotel, where she
took leave of him by an inclination of her head. He betook himself
to his room in a dream, and while he recalled to his mind the
picture of her beautiful face, and the clear ring of her voice, he
thought how grateful he was to this chance, that not only had he
become acquainted with the girl, but that he had avoided in such a
glorious fashion the discomfort of a formal introduction. Also
Wilhelm knew himself well, and felt sure that, badly endowed as he
was for forming new acquaintances, he could never have become
friends with Fraulein Ellrich apart from the accident of his fall in
the castle yard.
Dinner was served at separate tables where single guests might take
it as they pleased, and Wilhelm was absentminded and dreamy when he
sat down. He scarcely glanced at the large, cool dining-room,
ornamented with engravings of portraits of the Grand Dukes of Baden
and their wives. Six large windows looked into the valley of the
Gutach with its little town of Hornberg, and the mountains lying
beyond. He hardly noticed the rather silent people at the other
tables, in which the English element predominated. He had come in
purposely late in the hope of finding Fraulein Ellrich already
there. She was not present; but he was not kept long in suspense
before a waiter opened the door, and the lovely girl appeared
accompanied by a stately gentleman and a stout lady. They seemed to
be known to the servants, for as soon as they appeared the
headwaiter and his subordinates rushed toward them, and with many
bows and scrapes took their wraps from them and ushered them to
Wilhelm, who possessed very little knowledge of society, was
somewhat at a loss. Ought he to recognize the young lady? If he
followed his inclination, he certainly would do so. But her parents!
They seemed to be cold and reserved-looking. Happily all fell out
for the best. The Ellrichs walked straight to the table where he was
sitting, and in a moment Wilhelm was greeting his lovely
acquaintance with a low bow. Her quick eyes had already recognized
him from the doorway. She returned his greeting smiling and
blushing, and as her father nodded kindly, the ice was broken.
Wilhelm introduced himself, and the councilor gave him the tips of
his fingers and said: "If you have no objection we will sit at your
table." His wife, who gazed at Wilhelm through a gold "pince-nez"
with hardly concealed surprise, took her place next to him; on the
other side sat her husband, and opposite the daughter's face smiled
The councilor was a well-preserved man of about fifty, of good
height, dressed in a well-made gray traveling suit, with a light
gray silk tie adorned with a pin of black pearl. His closely-cut
hair was very thin, and had almost disappeared from the top of his
head. His chin was clean-shaven, but his well-brushed whiskers and
closely-cut mustache showed signs of gray. His light blue eyes were
cold and rather tired-looking, at the corners of the mouth were
evident signs of indolence, and his whole appearance gave an
impression of self-consciousness mixed with indifference toward the
rest of mankind; his wife, stout, blooming, and tranquil, appeared
to be a kindly soul.
The conversation opened trivially on the circumstances of Wilhelm
meeting with Fraulein Ellrich, and on the beauty of the
neighborhood, which Herr Ellrich glorified as not being overrun.
"I would much rather recommend it for quiet than Switzerland with
its crowds," he said.
Wilhelm agreed with him, and related how he was induced by the
romantic aspect of the place to give up his original plans, and to
anchor himself here. When they questioned him, he gave them some
information about Heidelberg and his journey to Hornberg. Frau
Ellrich complimented him on his sketch, and while he modestly
disclaimed the praise, she asked him why he had not devoted himself
"That is a peculiar result of my development," answered Wilhelm
thoughtfully. "While I was still at the gymnasium I sketched and
painted hard, and after the final examination I went to the Art
Academy for two years; but the further I went into the study of art,
and the more attentively I followed in the beaten track of art-
studies, the clearer it was to me that he who would secure an
abiding success in art must be a blind copyist of nature. Certainly
the personal peculiarities of an artist often please his
contemporaries. It is the fashion to do him honor if he flatters the
prevailing direction of taste. But those of the race who follow
after, scorn what those before them have admired, and exactly what
those of one time have prized as progressive innovations, they who
come after reject as mere aberration. What the artist has himself
accomplished, I mean his so-called personal comprehension or his
capricious interpretation of nature, passes away; but what he simply
and honorably reproduces, as he has truly seen it, lives forever,
and the remotest age will gladly recognize in such art-work its old
acquaintance, unchanging nature."
Fraulein Ellrich hung on his words in astonishment, while her
parents calmly went on eating their fish.
"So," went on Wilhelm, speaking chiefly to his opposite neighbor,
"so, I tried when I drew or painted to reproduce nature with the
greatest truth; but at a certain point I became conscious of a
perception that a hidden meaning in an unintelligible language lay
written there. The form of things, and also every so-called accident
of form, appeared to me to be the necessary expression of something
within, which was hidden from me. The wish arose in me to penetrate
behind the visible face of nature, to know why she appears in such a
way, and not in another. I wanted to learn the language, the words
of which, with no understanding of their sense, I had been slavishly
copying; and so I turned to the study of physical science."
"So your two years at the Art School were not wasted," remarked Herr
"Certainly not, for to an observer of natural objects it is most
valuable to have a trained eye for form and color."
"Yes, and beside, drawing and painting are such charming
accomplishments, and so useful to a young man in society."
"Playing the piano and singing are still more so," put in Frau
"But dancing most of all," cried Fraulein Ellrich. "Do you dance?"
"No," answered Wilhelm shortly.
The words jarred upon him, and a silence ensued.
The councilor broke this with the question:
"Then you are a doctor of physical science?"
"What is your particular department? Zoology, botany?"
"I have principally studied chemistry and physics, and I think of
devoting myself to the latter."
"Physics, oh yes. A wide and beautiful sphere. So much is included
in it. Electricity, galvanism, magnetism--those are all new
faculties very little known; and as regards submarine telegraph the
knowledge cannot be too useful."
"These sides of the question have not hitherto interested me. I ask
of physics the unlocking of the nature of things. It has not yet
given me the key, but it is something to know on what insecure,
weak, and limited experiments our vaunted knowledge of the existence
of the world of energy, of matter and their properties, depend."
Frau Ellrich looked at him approvingly.
"You speak beautifully, Herr Eynhardt, and it must be a great
enjoyment to hear you lecture."
"You will soon have a professorship, I suppose?" remarked Herr
Ellrich, turning around to the blushing Wilhelm.
"Oh, no!" said he quickly, "I do not aspire to that; I believe in
Faust's verse: 'Ich ziehe... meine Schuler an der Nase herum--Und
sehe dass wir nichts wissen konnen;' and I also bilde mir nicht ein,
Ich konnte was lehren.' I wonder at and envy the men who teach such
things with so much influence and conviction, and I am very grateful
to them for initiating me into their methods and power of working
properly. But there has never been a likelihood of my venturing to
approach young men and saying to them, 'You must work with me for
three years earnestly and diligently, and I will lead you to
knowledge, so that at last, through the contents of a book, you may
get a flying glimpse of the phantom which has so often eluded you.'"
"Your opinions are very interesting," said Herr Ellrich; "but a
professorship is still the one practical goal for a man who studies
physics. Forgive me if I express my meaning bluntly; there is money
to be made in physics through a professorship."
"Happily I am in a position which makes it unnecessary for me to
work for my bread."
"That is quite another thing," said the councilor in a friendly way,
while his wife cast a quick glance over Wilhelm's clothes,
unfashionable and rather worn, but scrupulously clean.
"One can see that this idealist neglects his outward appearance,"
her good-natured glance, half-apologetic, half-compassionate, seemed
Herr Ellrich changed the conversation to the management of the
hotel; discussing for a time the Margrave's wines, the south German
cookery, the Black Forest tourists, and a variety of other minor
topics. He then asked his daughter:
"Now, Loulou, have you made a programme for tomorrow yet? She is our
maitre de plaisir," he explained to Wilhelm.
"A frightfully difficult post," exclaimed Loulou. "Papa and mamma
love quiet; I like moving about, and I endeavor to harmonize the
Wilhelm thought that the opposing tasks would very soon be
harmonized if Loulou subordinated her inclinations to her parents'
comfort; but he kept his thoughts to himself.
"I vote that to-morrow morning we go for a little drive. As to the
afternoon, we can arrange that later. Perhaps Dr.---" She stopped
short, and her mother came to her help and completed the invitation.
"It would be very kind of you to join us."
"I am only afraid that I might be in the way."
"Oh, no; certainly not," said the mother and daughter together, and
Herr Ellrich nodded encouragingly.
Wilhelm felt that the invitation was meant cordially, and his fear
of obtruding himself overcome, he accepted.
Circumstances at the castle very greatly favored Wilhelm's
intercourse with the Ellrich's, or rather with Loulou. In this house
on the summit of the hill they met constantly in close
companionship. Frau Ellrich enjoyed nothing better than walking on
the arm of this handsome young man up and down the wooded slopes, as
till now she had been obliged to go without such escort. Herr
Ellrich liked to take his holiday in a different way from the
ladies. If he felt obliged to take exercise he would borrow the
landlord's gun and dogs and shoot. At other times he would lie down
anywhere on a plaid on the grass, smoke a cigar, and read foreign
papers like the Times from beginning to end. The afternoon was taken
up by a nap, and in the evening he would be ready to hear an account
of how his family had spent the day--perhaps in a long carriage
excursion through the neighboring valleys.
Frau Ellrich was in the habit of appearing at the first table
d'hote, and then doing homage to the peaceful custom of afternoon
sleep. In the first cool hours of the morning she walked a little in
the perfumed air of the pine woods, and the rest of the time she
devoted to a voluminous correspondence, which seemed to be her one
passion. Thus Loulou was alone nearly always in the morning, and
frequently in the afternoon as well, and quite contented to ramble
with Wilhelm through the woods, or to sit with him in the ruins,
where they learned to know each other, and chattered without
The subject of conversation mattered not. They had the story of
their short lives to relate to one another. Loulou's was soon told.
Her narrative was like the merry warbling of birds, and was from
beginning to end the story of a serene dream of spring. She was the
only child of her parents, who in spite of outward indifference and
apparent coldness adored her, and had never denied her anything. The
first fifteen years of her life were spent in her charming nest, in
the beautiful house in the Lennestrasse, where she was born. "When
we return to Berlin you shall see how pleasant my home is. I will
show you my little blue sitting-room, my winter garden, my aviary,
my parrots and blackbirds." A heavy trial had befallen her--the only
trial that she had yet experienced. She had been sent to England for
the completion of her education, and had to suddenly part from all
her home surroundings. She stayed there for three years with an aunt
who had married an English banker. The visit proved delightful, and
she grew to love England enthusiastically. She drove and rode, and
even followed the hounds. In winter there was the pantomime at Drury
Lane, the flights to St. Leonards, Hastings, Leamington, the mad
rides across country through frosted trees behind the hounds in full
cry; in summer during the season there were parties, balls, the
opera, the park; then in the holidays splendid travels with papa and
mamma, once to Belgium, France, and the Rhine, another time to
Switzerland and Italy, then to Heligoland and Norway. No, she could
never have such good times again. In the following year she went
back to Berlin, and had spent a very agreeable winter, a
subscription ball, several other balls, innumerable soirees, a box
at the opera, lovely acquaintances, with naturally many successes--
the envy of false friends, but she did not allow herself to be much
disturbed by them.
Wilhelm listened to this chatter with mixed feelings. If she seemed
superficial, he reconciled himself by a glance at her beautiful
silken hair, at her laughing brown eyes, at her roguish dimples, and
instantly he pleaded with his cooler reason for pardon for the
lovely girl--he for nineteen years had had other things beside
pleasure to think of! These charms seemed enough to work the taming
magic of Orpheus over the wild animals of the woods.
"And you were never," he asked timidly as she paused, "a little bit
"I can look after myself," she answered, with a silvery laugh, and
Wilhelm felt as if an iron band had been lifted from his heart, like
the trusty Henry's in the story.
"That points to marvelous wisdom in a child of society--seeing so
many people--so attractive! You are indifferent then to admiration?"
"I did not say that. My fancy has been often enough touched, but--"
"But your heart has not?"
"Really not?" continued he, in a tone of voice in which, he himself
detected the anxiety.
She shook her head, and looked down thoughtfully. But after a short
pause she raised her rosy face and said, "No--better die than speak
untruths--I was rather in love with our pastor who confirmed me. He
was thin and pale with long hair, much longer than yours. And he
spoke very beautifully and powerfully--I felt sentimental when I
thought of him. But I soon got to know his wife, who was as pointed
and hard as a knitting needle, and his children, whose number I
never could count exactly, and my youthful feelings received a
severe chill." She laughed, and Wilhelm joined her heartily.
It was now his turn to relate his story. He was as to his birthplace
hardly a German, but a Russian, as he first saw the light in Moscow,
in the year 1845.
"So you are now twenty-four?"
"Last May. Are you frightened at such an age, fraulein?"
"That is not so old, twenty-four--particularly for a man," she
protested with great earnestness.
His father, he went on, was from Konigsberg, had studied philology,
and when he left the university had become a tutor in a
distinguished Russian family. He was the child of poor parents, and
had to take the first opportunity which presented itself of earning
his living. So he went to Russia, where he lived for twenty years as
a tutor in private families, and then as a teacher in a Moscow
gymnasium. He married late in life, an only child of German descent,
who helped her middle-aged husband by a calm observance of duty and
a mother's love for his children. "My mother was a remarkable woman.
She had dark eyes and hair, and an enthusiastic and devoted
expression in her face, which made me feel sad, as a child, if I
looked at her for long. She spoke little, and then in a curious
mixture of German and Russian. Strangely enough, she always called
herself a German, and spoke Russian like a foreigner; but later,
when we went to Berlin, she discovered that she was really a
Russia, and always wished she were back in Moscow,
never feeling at home amid her new surroundings. She was a
Protestant like her father, but had inherited from her Russian
mother a lingering affection for the orthodox faith, and she often
used to go to the Golden Church of the Kremlin, whose brown, holy
images had a mystical effect on her. She loved to sing gypsy songs
in a low voice. She would not teach them to us. She was always very
quiet, and preferred being alone with us to any society or
When Wilhelm was four years old there came a little sister, a
bright, light-haired, blue-eyed creature after her father's heart.
She was named Luise, but she was always called Blondchen. She was
his only playfellow, as the irritable father in Moscow cared for no
acquaintances. His father's one wish was to return to his home, but
for a long time the mother would not have it so. At last, in the
year 1858, he accomplished his wish. He was then sixty-three years
old, and he represented to his wife that after his life of
unremitting work, now in its undoubted decline, he had a right to
spend the last few years in peace in his native land. He possessed
enough for his family to live on; the children would grow and get a
better education than in Russia, and above all he wished to keep his
Prussian nationality. The mother yielded, and so they came to
Berlin, where the father bought a modest house near the Friedrich-
Wilhelm gymnasium. This house was now Wilhelm's property. "We
children liked Berlin very much. I soon became independent and self-
reliant, after school hours wandering in the streets as much as I
pleased, and used to make eager explorations in all directions,
coming home enraptured when I had found a beautiful neighborhood, a
stately house, a statue of some general in bronze or marble. I used
to take Blondchen by the hand, and show her my discovery. The
Friedrichstadt with its straight streets interested us very much; I
had a fancy that the houses were marshaled in battalions, as if by
an officer on parade, and that when he gave the word 'March,' they
would suddenly walk away in step, like the soldiers on the parade
ground. I explained this to my sister, and often when we were in our
own street she would call out 'March!' to see if the long row of
houses would not begin to move. However, we liked the old part of
Berlin better, where the streets, with their capricious and serpent-
like windings, reminded us of the crooked alleys of Moscow. The
streamlets of the Spree exercised a powerful attraction over us.
Blondchen thought they played hide-and-seek with children, who would
run through the streets to search for them. They came suddenly into
sight where one would least expect to see them, in the yard of a
house in the Werderschen Market, behind an apparently innocent
archway on the Hausvogtei Platz, at the backs of houses whose fronts
betrayed no existence of any water near. My sister so often longed
to catch sight of the oily satiny sheen of the river's light in
unsuspected places that she would drag me off to note her
discoveries. She wanted all the varying sights of the Spree, which
showed itself at the ends of alleys, or in courtyards or behind
houses, suddenly to appear to her, so that she might have the right
to first name her discovery."
He was silent awhile, deep in memories of the past. Then he said:
"If I have lingered over these childish reminiscences it is because
I have not my Blondchen any longer. On one of our wandering
excursions we were caught in a heavy shower of rain, and became wet
through. My sister was taken ill with rheumatism, and eight days
afterward we buried her in the churchyard."
The mother soon followed Blondchen. Sorrow over the child, and
homesickness, combined with weak health, proved too great a strain.
Wilhelm remained alone with the dispirited and sorrowful old father,
whom he never left except for his three years' military service in
the field. Then the father, to shorten the time of separation,
accompanied the army (in spite of his seventy years) as an ambulance
assistant. The following year he died, and Wilhelm was left alone in
Loulou was not wanting in heart, and she had as much feeling as it
is proper for an educated German girl to show. By an involuntary
movement, she held out her hand, which Wilhelm caught and kissed.
They both grew very red, and she looked wistfully at him with her
eyes wet. Had he understood the look, and been of a bold nature, he
would have clasped the girl to his breast and kissed her. Her red
lips would have made scarcely any resistance. But the confusion of
mind passed quickly, the light afternoon sunshine and the sight of
the people passing through the breach in the castle wall brought him
to full consciousness, and the dangerous step was not taken. Loulou
recovered her sprightliness, and going back to his story asked him,
"So you have been in a campaign?"
"Did you become an officer?"
"No, fraulein, only a 'vize-Feldwebel.'"
"Have you fought in a battle?"
"Oh, yes, at Burkersdork, Skalitz, Koniginhof, and Koniggratz."
"That must have been frightfully interesting. And have you ever
killed one of the enemy?"
"Happily not. It does not fall to the lot of every soldier to kill a
man. He does his duty if he stands up in his place ready to be
"Have you any photographs of yourself in uniform?"
He looked at her surprised and said:
A roguish smile, which at the last question had curled at the
corners of her mouth, broke into a merry laugh.
"I wanted to know whether you marched into battle with your curls,
or whether you sacrificed them to the fatherland?"
Wilhelm was not offended, but said simply:
"Dear young lady, appearances give you the right to make fun--"
"Ah, don't be angry, I am ill-mannered."
"No, no, you are quite right; but, believe me, I only wear my hair
long so as to save myself the trouble of going to the hairdresser's.
If I dared imagine that I should be less insupportable with a
"For heaven's sake, don't think of it, the curls suit you very
well." She said this with a frivolity of manner which she
immediately perceived to be unsuitable, and to get over her
embarrassment, she jumped at another subject of conversation. "So
you live quite alone? That strikes me as being very dreary. Still
you must have many friends?"
"Yes, so-called friends--comrades from the gymnasium, from the
academy, and the university. But I do not count much on these
superficial acquaintances--I have really only one friend."
"Who is she"
"He is called Paul Haber, and is Assistant of Chemistry at the
"A nice man?"
"How old is he?"
"About a year older than I am."
"What is he like?"
"I believe he is very good-looking, strong, not very tall, with a
fair mustache, otherwise closely shaved, and with short hair, not
like me! He thinks a good deal of appearance, and always knows what
sort of ties are worn. He dances well, and is very pleased if people
take him for an officer in civilian's clothes. But he is a true
soul, and has a heart of gold. He is clever too, practical, and
would do for me as much as I would do for him with all my heart."
"Hardly one unpleasant word for an absent friend. That is scarcely
as my friends speak of me," and she quietly added: "Nor as I speak
of my friends. You make me curious about Herr--"
"You must introduce him to us."
"He would be most happy."
Loulou now knew more about Wilhelm than she had hitherto known of
any man in the world. Only on one point was she unenlightened, and
this she hastened to clear up on the following day, when they were
looking for berries in the wood.
"You asked me if my heart had been touched yet. Would it be right if
I were to ask you the same question?"
"The question seems very natural to me--I can truthfully assure you
I have never been in love, not even with a pastor with long hair."
"And has no one been in love with you?"
Wilhelm looked at the distance, and said dreamily:
"No; yet once--"
She felt a little stab at her heart, and said:
"Quick, tell me about it."
"It is a wonderful story--it happened in Moscow."
"But you were only a child then?"
"Yes, and she who loved me was a child too. She was four years old."
"Ah," said Loulou, with an involuntary sigh of relief.
"When I was about ten years old I was sitting one sunny autumn
afternoon in the yard of our house on a little stool, and was deep
in a story of pirates. Suddenly a shadow fell on my book. I looked
up, and saw a wonderfully beautiful child before me, a long-haired,
rosy-cheeked little girl, who looked at me with deep shining eyes,
half-timidly, and shyly held her hand before her mouth. I smiled in
a friendly way, and called to her to come nearer. She sprang close
to me, at once threw her arms joyfully round my neck, kissed me, sat
down on my knee, and said, 'Now tell me what your name is. I am a
little girl, and my name is Sonia. I am not going away from you. Let
me go to sleep for a little.' An old servant who had followed her
came up and said in astonishment, 'Well, young sir, you may be proud
of yourself, the child is generally so wild and rough, and with you
she is as tame as a kitten.' I learned from her that little Sonia
lived in the neighborhood, and that her aunt had come to look for
her in our house. She would not go away from me, and the old servant
had to call her mother, who only persuaded her to return home with
great difficulty. She wanted to take me with her, and she was
miserable when they told her that my mamma would not allow me. The
next morning early she was there again, and called to me from the
threshold, 'I am going to stay with you all day, Wilhelm, the whole
day.' I had to go to school, however, and I told her so. She wanted
to go with me, and cried and sobbed when they prevented her. Then
her relations took her home, and I did not see her again. Later I
heard that the same afternoon she was taken ill with diphtheria, and
in her illness she cried so much for me that her mother came to mine
to beg her to send me to her. My mother said nothing to me about it,
fearing I might catch the disease. Sonia died the second day, and my
name was the last word on her lips. I cried very much when they told
me, and since then I have never forgotten my little Sonia."
"A strange story," said Loulou softly; "such a little girl to fall
in love so suddenly. Yes," she went on, "if she had grown up--"
She could not say more, as Wilhelm, who had come near her, looked at
her with wide-open, far-seeing eyes, and suddenly threw his arms
round her. She cried out softly, and sank on his breast. "Loulou,"
"Wilhelm," was all they said. It had happened so quickly, so
unconsciously, that they both felt as if they were awaking from a
dream, as Loulou a minute later freed herself from his burning lips
and encircling arms, and Wilhelm, confused and hardly master of his
senses, stood before her. They turned silently homeward. She
trembled all over and did not dare to take his arm. He inwardly
reproached himself, yet he felt very happy in spite of it. Then,
before they had reached the summit of the castle hill, he gathered
all his courage together and said anxiously:
"Can you forgive me, Loulou? I love you so much."
"I love you too, Wilhelm," she answered, and stretched out her hand
"Dare I speak to your mother, my own Loulou?" whispered he into her
"Not here, Wilhelm," she said quickly, "not here. You do not know my
parents well enough yet. Wait till we are in Berlin."
"I will do as you like," sighed he, and took leave of her with an
eloquent glance, as they reached the hotel.
On this evening a quantity of curious things happened, which Wilhelm
so far had not observed in spite of his studies in natural science.
He could not touch his dinner, and Herr and Frau Ellrich's voices,
against all the laws of acoustics, seemed to come from the far
distance, and several minutes elapsed before the sounds reached his
ears, although he sat close to the speakers. The waiters and hotel
guests looked odd, and seemed to swim in a kind of rosy twilight. In
the sky there seemed to be three times as many stars as usual. When
the Ellrichs had withdrawn he went toward midnight alone into the
fir woods, and heard unknown birds sing, caught strange and magic
harmonies in the rustling of the branches, and felt as if he walked
on air. He went to bed in the gray of early dawn, after writing from
his overflowing heart the following letter to his friend Haber in
"MY DEAREST PAUL: I am happy as I never thought of being happy. I
love an unspeakably beautiful sweet brown maiden, and I really think
she loves me too. Do not ask me to describe her. No words or brush
could do it. You will see her and worship her. Oh, Paul, I could
shout and jump or cry like a child. It is too foolish, and yet so
unspeakably splendid, I can hardly understand how the dull, stupid
people in this house can sleep so indifferently while she is under
the same roof. If only you were here! I can hardly bear my happiness
alone. I write this in great haste. Always your
Four days later the post brought this answer from his friend:
"Well, you are done for, that is certain, my dear Wilhelm. Confound
it, you have gone in for it with a vengeance! I always thought that
when you did catch fire, you would give no end of a blaze. So all
your philosophy of abnegation, all your contempt for appearance go
for nothing. What is your sweet brown maiden but a charming
appearance! Nevertheless you have fallen completely in love with
her, for which I wish you happiness with all my heart. I do not
doubt that she loves you, because I should have been in love with
you long ago if I had been a sweet brown maiden, you shockingly
beautiful man. One thing is very like you, you say no word on what
would most interest a Philistine like myself, viz., the worldly
circumstances of the adored one. I must know her name, her
relations, her descent. For all this you have naturally no
curiosity. A name is smoke and empty sound. Now don't let your love
go too far--sleep, and take care of your appetite, and keep a corner
in your perilously full heart for your true
Wilhelm smiled as he read these lines in the strong symmetrical
handwriting of his friend, and hastened to send him the news he
desired. In the meanwhile his happiness was continual and
increasing, and nothing troubled it but the thought of the coming
separation. These two innocent children could hide their love as
little as the sun his light. They were always together, their eyes
always fixed on one another, their hands as often as possible
clasped in each other's. All the people in the hotel noticed it, and
were pleased about it, so natural did it seem that this handsome
couple should be united by love. The chambermaid, rosy Bertha, saw
what was going on with her sly peasant's eye, and by way of making
herself agreeable used to whisper to him where he could find the
young lady when she happened to meet him on the staircase. Wilhelm
good-naturedly forgave the girl her obtrusiveness. Only Herr Ellrich
saw nothing. In his foreign newspapers, in the blue smoke from his
cigars, in the clouds of powder from his gun, be found nothing which
could enlighten him as to the two young people's beautiful secret.
Frau Ellrich certainly had more knowledge than that. In spite of her
correspondence and her long afternoon naps, she retained enough
observation to see the condition of things pretty clearly. She
waited for a confession from Loulou, and as this did not come soon
enough for the impatience of her mother's heart, she tried a loving
question. After a warm embrace from the girl, a few tears, a great
many kisses, the mother and daughter understood each other. Wilhelm
had pleased Frau Ellrich very much, and she had no objection to
raise, but she could make no answer on her own responsibility, as
she knew the views of her husband on the marriage of his only child,
and after a few days she made him a cautious communication. Herr
Ellrich did not take it badly, but as a practical man of the world
he wished to give the feelings of the young people opportunity to
bear the trials of separation, and for the present thought a
decision useless. The projected visit to Ostend was hastened by some
ten days. At dinner he made his decision known, adding, "You have
pleased yourselves for three weeks, and now I want you to wait so
long to please me." Wilhelm felt bitterly grieved that no one
invited him to go to the fashionable watering-place, and Loulou even
did not seem particularly miserable. The fact was, that at the
bottom of her not very sentimental nature, she did not take the
leaving of the Schloss hotel as a matter of great importance, and
Ostend with its balls and concerts, its casino and lively society,
was not in the least alarming to her. She found the opportunity that
evening of consoling Wilhelm, and promised him always to think about
him, and to write to him very often, and said she could not be very
miserable about their separation, as she felt so happy at the
thought of meeting him again in Berlin. The following morning they
made a pilgrimage to the castle, the woods, the neighboring valley,
to all the places where they had been so happy during the last
fortnight. The sky was blue, the pine woods quiet, the air balmy,
and the beautiful outline of the mountains unfolded itself far away
in the depth of the horizon. Wilhelm drank in the quiet, lovely
picture, and felt that a piece of his life was woven into this
harmony of nature, and that these surroundings had become part of
his innermost "ego," and would be mingled with his dearest feelings
now and ever. His love, and these mountains and valleys, and Loulou,
the mist and perfume of the pine trees, were forever one, and the
pantheistic devotion which he felt in these changing flights of his
mind with the soul of nature grew to an almost unspeakable emotion,
as he said in a trembling voice to Loulou:
"It is all so wonderful, the mountains and the woods, and the
summer-time and our love. And in a moment it will be gone. Shall we
ever be so happy again? If we could only stay here always, the same
people in the midst of the same nature!"
She said nothing, but let him take her answer from her fresh lips.
They left by the Offenberg railway station in the afternoon.
Loulou's eyes were wet. Frau Ellrich smiled in a motherly way at
Wilhelm, and Herr Ellrich took his hand in a friendly manner and
"We shall see you in Berlin at the end of September."
As the train disappeared down the Gutach valley, it seemed to
Wilhelm as if all the light of heaven had gone out, and the world
had become empty. He stayed a few days longer at the Schloss hotel,
and cherished the remembrance of his time there with Loulou,
dreaming for hours in the dearly-loved spots. In this tender frame
of mind he received another letter from Paul Haber, who wrote thus:
"DEAREST WILHELM: Your letter of the 13th astonished me so much that
it took me several days to recover. Fraulein Loulou Ellrich, and you
write so lightly! Don't you know--that Fraulein Ellrich is one of
the first 'parties' in Berlin? That the little god of love will make
you a present of two million thalers? You have shot your bird, and I
am most happy that for once fortune should bring it to the hand of a
fellow like yourself. In the hope that as a millionaire you will
still be the same to me, I am your heartily congratulatory
Wilhelm was painfully surprised. What a mercy that the letter had
not come sooner. It might have influenced his manner so much as to
spoil his relations with Loulou. Now that the Ellrichs were gone, it
could for the moment do no harm.
VANITIES OF VANITIES.
A brilliant company filled the Ellrichs' drawing-rooms. These lofty
rooms, thrown open to the guests, were more like the reception-rooms
in a great castle than those of a bourgeois townhouse in Berlin.
The councilor's drawing-rooms occupied the first floor of the
largest house in the Lannestrasse. The carpeted staircase was
decorated with plants and candelabra, and the guests were shown into
a well-lighted anteroom, and on through folding doors into the large
square drawing-room. The walls were covered with gold-framed
mirrors reflecting the great marble stove, with its Chinese bronze
ornaments; the Venetian glass chandelier, the painting on the
ceiling representing Apollo in his sun chariot, while the rows of
pretty gilt chairs in red silk, the palm trees in the corner, and
the wax candles in the brass sconces on the walls were repeated in
endless perspective. On the right was a little room not intended for
dancing, thickly carpeted, with old Gobelin tapestry on all the
walls and doors; inlaid tables, ebony tables, and silk, satin, and
tapestry in every conceivable form. A glass door, half-covered by a
portiere, gave a glimpse into a well-lighted winter garden, full of
fantastic plants in beds, bushes and pots. On the left of the large
drawing-room was the dining-room, with white varnished walls
divided into squares by gold beading, and decorated by a number of
bright pictures of symbolic female figures representing various
kinds of wine. A gigantic porcelain stove filled one end of the
room, and a sideboard the other. Through the dining-room was a
smoking-room furnished with Smyrna carpets, low divans, chairs in
mother-of-pearl, and from the ceiling hung a number of colored glass
lanterns. This was intended for old gentlemen who wished to enjoy
the latest scandal, and a card table was arranged for them with an
open box of cigars.
The decoration of these rooms was handsome without being overloaded,
and tasteful without being odd or obtrusive, qualities which one
does not often find in Germany, even in princes' palaces. A fine
perception would perhaps have felt the want of smilarity in style in
the numerous rooms, giving them the character of a museum or
curiosity shop, rather than that of the harmonious dwelling of
educated people of a particular period, and in a certain country.
Herr Ellrich was, however, quite innocent of this imperfection. He
had not chosen anything himself. Everything had come from Paris, and
was the selection of a Parisian decorator, and one of the proudest
moments in the councilor's life was on the occasion of the ball he
gave on his daughter's return from England, when Count Benedetti,
the French ambassador, said to him: "One would imagine oneself in an
historical house in the Faubourg St. Germain, c'est tout a fait
Parisien, Monsieur, tout a fait Parisien."
The Ellrichs' party was to celebrate the New Tear. Even the richest
of the members of the German bourgeoisie is obliged to be educated
gradually to the cultured usages of society, and are still far from
accomplished in the art of easy familiarity. It finds in its homely
culture no hard-and-fast traditions by which it can regulate its
conduct, and by a deficiency of observation, or by the want of
development of the finer feelings, is only imperfectly helped by
foreign or aristocratic manners. Herr Ellrich, who loved splendor
and expense, felt that the New Year must be celebrated by
rejoicings, and he had therefore invited his whole circle of
acquaintances to this New Year's party to rejoice with him.
In the third room the councilor's wife sat near the fireplace in a
claret-colored silk dress, ostrich feathers in her hair, and
resplendent with diamonds. Nevertheless there was nothing stiff in
her demeanor, and she was friendly and good-natured as ever. Grouped
around her in armchairs were several ladies, who in their own
judgment had passed the age of dancing. Among them were the wives of
civil officers, in whose dresses a practiced and capable eye might
detect a simplicity and old-fashioned taste, while the wives of
certain financiers were gorgeous in then fashionable costumes and
the brilliancy of their ornaments. The former felt compensated by
the consciousness of their rank and worth for any deficiency in mere
outward signs of grandeur, the latter tried by the glitter of their
pearls, diamonds, silks, and laces to appear easy and fearlessly
familiar. Among the men, the soldiers had everything in their favor.
The orders which the civilians wore fastened on the lapels of their
dress coats were hopelessly thrown in the shade by the epaulettes of
the officers, and the medals decorating their colored uniforms.
Herr Ellrich made a good host, passing quickly but quietly from one
group to another. His blight blue eves were cold and tired-looking
as ever, and took no part in the rather banal smile which played
over his lips, as if the accustomed expression of indifference could
never be obliterated. The indolent lines about his mouth were not
those of temperament, because if he spoke to a Finance Minister or
other notability, although there was no arrogance in his manner, it
might be noticed that the instinctive consciousness of his own
millions never left him. He had a naturally honorable disposition,
which showed itself in every line, and made any cringing an
impossibility. The guests praised everything, especially the costly
refreshments handed by the servants in faultless liveries.
The dancing-room was a cheerful sight. Girls and young married women
flew round over the polished floor on the arms of well-dressed men,
mostly officers, spinning and whirling round to Offenbach's dance
music, led with bacchanalian fire by a small but distinguished
conductor from a red covered platform. It was exciting to watch the
rows of couples as they waltzed wildly round, and to the dazzled
sight it seemed like a glimpse in a dream into Mohammed's Paradise;
as if in his wonderful mirror he had reflected the slim figures of
the dancers, with their flashing blue or black eyes, their burning
cheeks, their parted lips, their bosoms rising and falling, the
scene moving in ever-changing perspective; a sight gay and wonderful
as the freakish games of a crowd of elves.
The untiring energy of the dancers was wonderful. During the pauses
a girl could hardly sit for a moment to rest, but a strong arm would
whirl her away again in the vortex of the dance. A few old gentlemen
stood in the recesses of the windows and in the doorways, with the
quiet enjoyment of those who look on, and among them was Wilhelm
Eynhardt. He stood with his back against a window-frame, almost
enveloped in the flowing red silk curtain, so that scarcely any one
noticed him. His curls had been shorn, and his thick dark hair only
just waved, otherwise nothing was changed in his appearance since
the Hornberg days. His black eyes wandered thoughtfully over the
changing picture before him. The expression on his face, now
slightly melancholy, bore more resemblance to that of a young
Christian devotee than to that of the beautiful Antinous, and the
intoxication of the gayety around him appealed so little to him,
that not once did he beat his foot, nod his head, or move a muscle
in time to the satanic music of the Parisian enchanter.
For the first time in his life Wilhelm found himself in fashionable
society, and for the first time he wore evening dress. Certainly to
look at him no one would have guessed it, for there was no
awkwardness in his manner, not a trace of the anxiety and inability
to do the right thing, which in most men placed amid new
surroundings and in unaccustomed dress would have been so apparent.
He wore his evening dress with the same natural self-possession as
one of the gray-haired diplomats. The secret of this demeanor was
the sense of equality he felt toward the others. It never occurred
to him to think, "How do I look? Am I like everyone else?" and so he
was as free from constraint in his dress coat as in his student's
jacket. He had even the gracefulness which every man has in the
flower of his age, if he allows the unconscious impulses of his
limbs to assert themselves, and does not spoil the freedom of their
play by confusing efforts to improve them. The company did not
disconcert him either, in spite of their epaulettes and orders, and
titles thick as falling snowflakes. An impression received in his
boyhood came back to him, in which he, among strange people in a
foreign land, had been accustomed by his father to consider himself
as an onlooker. In Moscow he had often met aristocratic people, with
as thick epaulettes, and more orders than these, but at the sight of
them he had always thought, "They are only barbarous Russians, and I
am a German, although I have no gold lace on my coat." From that
time he had always in his mind connected the use of uniforms, as
outward signs of bravery, with the conception of an ostentatious and
showy barbarism which a civilized European might afford to laugh at.
He had gone further; he regarded rank and titles as only a kind of
clothing of circumstances, which the State lends to certain persons
for useful purposes, just as the wardrobe-keeper at a theater gives
out costumes to the supers. He was so convinced on this point that
he felt sure it was only the stupid yokel at the back of the gallery
who could look with any admiration on a human being merely because
he struts about the stage in purple and gold tinsel.
Wilhelm did not give the impression of a man who was enjoying
himself. His discontented gaze persistently followed one dark head
adorned with a yellow rose.
Loulou, for of course it was she, wore a cream-colored silk crepon
dress. Her little feet in pale yellow satin shoes played at hide-
and-seek under her skirt. She looked charming, and seemed very
happy. She danced with a magic lightness and gracefulness, and she
showed an endurance which had elicited applause and acknowledgments
from her partners. People were delighted with her, and she hardly
allowed herself time to breathe, for as the privileged daughter of
the house, she wandered from one partner to another, trying hard to
offend as few of her admirers as possible by a refusal. But Wilhelm
had no cause for jealousy, as her sparkling eyes continually sought
his, and as often as she danced near him she gave him an
electrifying glance and a sweet smile, telling him that he might now
hold his head high like a conqueror, or humble himself with
languishing sentiment, that for her there was only one man in the
room, one man in all the mirrors, the handsome youth in the window
recess between the red silk curtains. In the short pauses she came
over to him and spoke a word or two, always the same sort of thing:
"Ah! how So-and-so worries me. What a pity that you don't dance, it
would be so lovely. Oh! if only you knew how Fraulein S----admires
you, and how angry all the ladies are that you won't be introduced
to them." And Wilhelm thanked her with the same quiet smile, took
her fingers when he could and pressed them, and stayed in his window
Presently Loulou went toward someone in the room, who looked back at
the same time toward Wilhelm. It was his friend Paul Haber, for whom
he had obtained an invitation. Paul looked at him proudly and gayly.
His short hair was beautifully cut and brushed, his thick blonde
mustache curled in the most approved fashion. In his buttonhole he
wore the decoration of the 1866 war medal, and when he saw himself
in the glass he could say with perfect self-satisfaction, that he
looked just as much like an officer as the men in uniform, not even
excepting those of the Guard. Since the campaign of 1866, in which
Paul had served in the same company as Wilhelm, they had been firm
friends, and on this evening he wished to offer his respects before
the manifest possessor of her heart, to one of the greatest
heiresses in Berlin, also his gratitude for his introduction to this
splendid house, and his tender feelings for his comrade. In spite of
being occupied with his partners he had time to observe Wilhelm, and
the sight of him standing alone in the window recess immediately
cooled the nervous excitement wrought by the crowd of strangers.
These society gatherings were what he delighted in, and he thought
it his duty to try to model his friend in the same way. It was not
without a struggle with himself that he let a dance go by and went
over to where Wilhelm stood.
"What a great pity it is that you don't dance."
"Fraulein Ellrich has just said the same thing," answered Wilhelm,
smiling a little.
"And she is quite right. You are like a thirsty man beside a
delicious spring, and are not able to drink. It is pure Tantalus."
"Your analogy does not hold good. What I am looking at does not give
me the sensation of a delicious spring, and does not make me
Paul looked at him surprised. "Still you are a man of flesh and
blood, and the sight of all these charming girls must give you
"You know I am engaged to only one girl here, and her I have seen
under more favorable circumstances."
"Well! She probably does not always wear such beautiful dresses, and
if she were not excited by the music and dancing her eyes might
possibly not sparkle so much; that is what I mean about its being a
pity that you don't dance."
"That is not it. I have seen this beautiful girl on other occasions
engaged in the highest intellectual occupation, and I am sorry to
see her sink to this sort of thing."
"Now the difference is defined. I was silly enough till now to think
that even in a drawing-room one saw something of the highest form of
humanity, and that aristocratic society is the flower of
"Those are opinions which are spread by clever men of the world to
excuse their shallow behavior in their own eyes and in the eyes of
others. What these people come here for is to satisfy their lower
inclinations--you must see this for yourself; if you do not allow
yourself to be influenced by these pretentious, ceremonious forms,
at least try to discover the reality that lies beneath them. What
you call the height of civilization seems to me the lowest. Do you
understand? I feel that cultured people in their drawing-room
society are in the condition of savages, and even allied to
"Bravo, Wilhelm! go on; this is most edifying."
"You may jeer, but in spite of you I believe that this is so. Try to
discover what is going on in the brains of all these people at this
moment. Their highest power of activity of mind, which makes men of
them, slumbers. They do not think, they only feel. The old gentlemen
enjoy themselves with cigars, ices, the prospect of supper; the
young men seek pleasant sensations in dancing with beautiful girls.
The ladies seek in their partners and admirers to kindle feelings
and desires--vanity, self-seeking, pleasure of the senses,
gratification of the palate, in short, all the grosser tastes. All
that is not only like savages, but like animals. They are merry and
contented at the prospect of a savory meal, and they are fond of
playing tricks on each other--both sexes chaff and tease constantly.
I believe that the development of our larger brain is the
intellectual work of man during hundreds and thousands of years, and
it would gratify me to see it raised to a still greater state of
"I am listening to you so quietly that I don't interrupt you--even
when you talk absurd nonsense. How can one look doleful and
disagreeable if honest, highly constituted men indulge in
conversation with each other for a few hours after hard work? I
delight in this harmless enjoyment, in which people forget all the
cares of the day. Here people shake off the burdens of their
vocation and the accidents of their lot. Here am I, a poor devil
enjoying the society of the minister's friends, and admiring the
same beautiful eyes as he does."
"The harmless enjoyments of which you speak are exactly the signs by
which one may recognize the vegetative lives of the savage and the
animal. A serene enjoyment is what naturally appertains to the lower
forms of life when they are satiated, and in no danger of being
tracked for their lives. The oldest drawings on the subject always
represent men with a foolish serene smile. So the privilege of
development is to rejoice in a satisfied stomach and untroubled
security, and all through his life to know no other care or want but
comfort of body."
"At last I understand you. The artist's ideal is the 'Penseroso,'
and in order to recognize the highly developed man he must be
furnished with a proof of his identity, so that the meaning of the
creature may not be lost to sight for a moment."
"You may put it in the joking way, but I really mean it. I don't
forget how much of the animal is still in us. Of course one wants
relaxation. But I don't want to look on while animals feed. Recovery
after hard intellectual work means, in your sense, the return for
some hours to animal life. Now I prefer the painful ascent of
mankind to the comfortable, backward slide into animal nature. If I
wished to pose as a statue for you it would have to be 'Penseroso'
while eating or drinking, or with a foolish, smiling mask indicating
"Very well. Let us also abolish the public announcement of eating,
drinking, dancing and other performances, as the remnants of
barbarism or of original animal nature, and let us introduce the
universal duty of philosophy. A soiree of Berlin bankers--sub specie
oeiernitatis--that would do very well, and you must take out a
patent for it."
"Students' jokes, my friend, are not arguments. I am quite in
earnest in what I say, and I feel melancholy when I see Loulou and
the others playing about like thoughtless animals."
"I am going to speak seriously about the joke now, and show you
another side to the question. Is it not in the highest degree
foolish of a young man without position, to set against him men who
carry the sign of recognition from their king, and the esteem of
their fellow-citizens? Cannot the example of the consideration they
enjoy spur us to endeavors to attain the same? Cannot your
acquaintance with them be made useful?"
Wilhelm shook his head. "No, I prefer all these distinguished men
when they are doing their own work. They do not interest me here,
because they have laid aside all the characteristics which make
distinguished people of them. I think they lower their dignity when
I see these statesmen, heroes of campaign, representatives of the
people, laughing, joking, and playing together like any little
shopkeeper after closing hours."
Paul could not give an immediate answer, and he had not time to
think of one; as the music stopped the dance ended, and many people
moved toward them, making further conversation impossible. The
gentlemen came out of the drawing-room and smoking-rooms and mingled
with the dancers. Paul made his way neatly through the crowd toward
a fresh, pretty, but otherwise insignificant-looking girl, to whom
he had paid a great deal of attention, and with whom he wished to
dance again. Wilhelm looked for Loulou, whom he found near her
mother. Frau Ellrich spoke to him in a friendly way. "Are you
enjoying yourself?" she asked, with a kind, almost tender expression
on her melancholy face. Wilhelm would not have grieved her for
worlds, so for all answer he took her soft hand and kissed it. To
keep himself from speaking the truth he was silent. From the four
doors of the room servants now appeared bearing large silver trays
covered with glasses of champagne. Loulou stood by the chimney-piece
and gave several forced and absent-minded answers to the young man.
She followed with her eyes the minute-hand on the clock, and at a
slight sign from her little hand a servant came up to her. She took
the glass in which the wine sparkled, and at the same moment, the
hands of the clock pointing to twelve, she cried loudly like a
child, "Health to the New Year! Health to the New Year!" Every guest
took a glass, crying joyfully, "Health to the New Year!" and clinked
his glass against his neighbor's. Loulou went in search of her
father to drink with him; after he had given her a friendly kiss on
her rosy cheek, he regarded her with fatherly pride. She went to her
mother, taking her in her arms and kissing her on both cheeks. The
third person whom she sought was Wilhelm. They could not exchange
words, but her eyes sought his and they both flashed a mutual and
joyous recognition. Her brown eyes had said to his black ones, "May
this be a year of happiness for us," and the black eyes had
understood the brown ones in their flight and thanked them. The gay
tumult lasted for several minutes, the buzz of talking, the clatter
of glasses, and the coming and going of servants. Then suddenly an
invisible hand seemed to lay hold of the general disorder, ruling
and directing it, dissolving groups who had chanced together, here
driving them forward, there arranging them backward. According to
some fixed law, without delaying or waiting, an orderly procession
was formed into the dining-room. The invisible spirit hand which
possessed all this power was thrice-holy etiquette; the law which
brought order out of confusion, and gave to everyone his place, was
that of precedence. Paul and Wilhelm, these strangers to drawing-
room customs, were new to the performance. A smile flitted over
Wilhelm's face, over Paul's came a reverent expression. What he saw
made a distinct impression of wonderment on him. The constraint
ceased immediately the guests had taken their places at the table.
The scent of the flowers vied with the perfumes worn by the women
and could not overcome them. The crystal glasses sparkled in the
light of the wax candles, the jewels, and the bright eyes round the
table. The servants poured out the noble Rhine wine, the celebrated
Burgundy, the elegant Bordeaux, and the mischievous Champagne, whose
colored embodiment was reflected on the white hands of the guests,
and carried their imaginations away in its flight from gray reality
to the immortal land of rosy dreams.
The meal lasted a long time, then a few of the guests rose; the
older ones, who had principally chatted, played, and smoked before
midnight, now withdrew, if they had no daughters to chaperon; the
young people, however, went back to the dancing-room, the musicians
fiddled anew as if they were possessed, and an hour's cotillion was
begun, the pretty quick-moving figures being led by a lieutenant of
the Guards, who seemed as proud of the honor as if he were
commanding on a battlefield. Loulou, who had gone back to the dance,
had begged Wilhelm in vain to take part at least in the cotillion,
where he need not dance much. She had assured him that he would be
more decorated than any other man in the room, and would have more
orders, ribbons, and wreaths given him than all the lieutenants put
together; but even the prospect of such a triumph could not make him
ambitious, and for the first time this evening the beautiful excited
girl left him looking out of humor, and glanced at him in a way
which was not merely sorrowful but reproachful. Paul, on the other
hand, was happy. He kept more than ever near the pretty
insignificant girl with whom he had danced so much, and the good-
hearted fellow did not feel in the least jealous when, in the long
pause of the cotillion, his partner went to speak to his friend who
had stood lonely for so long, and had hardly enjoyed himself at all.
Paul was sufficiently decorated; he got a sufficient number of
glances from girls' bright eyes to be quite contented, he paid a
sufficient number of compliments, great and small, for which he was
thanked by sweet smiles, and perhaps with tiny sighs, and he had the
feeling that he had lived in every fiber of his being, and that his
time had been marvelously well employed. He could have stayed for
several hours longer, and was quite astonished when toward four
o'clock the tireless young people's parents put an end to the
evening by their departure.
As Wilhelm came up to Loulou she had ceased to look cross. Near her
stood the hero of the cotillion, the lieutenant of the Guards,
covered with the little favors the ladies had given him. But that
did not prevent her saying in quite a tender voice, "I shall see you
soon again, shall I not?" and Wilhelm pressed her little hand
In the hall Wilhelm and Paul had to distribute gratuities to the
waiting servants, a custom (unknown in France and England) which
dishonors German hospitality, and a minute later they found
themselves outside in the starlit night. It blew icy cold over the
Thiergarten; across the darkness the snow-laden trees and the
closely-cropped grass looked feebly white. Wilhelm, shivering,
wrapped himself in his fur coat. Paul, on the other hand, did not
seem to mind the cold; he was still too hot with the excitement of
the evening. The waltz rang so clearly in his ears that he could
have danced over the snow-covered pavement, and the lights and
mirrors of the ballroom shone so clearly before his eyes, and
enveloped the dancers with such reality that the desert of the
silent, faintly-lit Koniggratzer Strasse was alive as if by ghosts.
He recalled to his mind the whole evening, and in the fullness of
his heart exclaimed, "Wilhelm, I hope never to forget this New
Year's Eve." Wilhelm looked at him astonished. "I do not share in
your feelings. How can a glance at such vanity in thinking men give
one any feeling except that of pity?"
"I am not hurt at the hardness of your judgment, because you don't
understand what I am saying. You know very well I am not frivolous,
and that I have learned long ago the seriousness of life. But at the
same time I value the entree into the best society of Berlin for
what it is worth. Now the opportunity has come, and I shall make it
"Paul, you grieve me. A tuft-hunter talks like that."
"What do you call a tuft-hunter?--if you mean a man who does not
want to hide his light under a bushel, I say yes, I am one, and I
think that is entirely honorable. I don't want to get on by means of
any false pretenses, but by honest work. What is the use of
capability if no one notices it? If I can inspire the right people
with this conviction, I am in luck. There is no injustice in that."
"I thought you had more pride."
"Dear Wilhelm, don't speak to me of pride. That is all right for
you. If my father had left me a house in the Kochstrasse, I would
snap my fingers at everyone, and go my own way, as it pleased me
best. Or put it the other way round, if you were the middle son in a
Brandenburg family of nine, I tell you that you would attribute a
certain importance to seeking the favor of influential people. You
would become as frivolous as I," added he after a little pause, in
which he gave a gentle clap on Wilhelm's shoulder.
"You ought not to throw my father's house in my teeth; you know how
Paul tried to interrupt him.
"Let me finish. A man of your capability can nowadays allow himself
the luxury of independence and manly self-reliance, even if he is
one of the nine children of a poor farmer; if one has few wants, one
is rich whatever one's fortune."
"That is all very well. I know your philosophy of abnegation, and it
is a matter of temperament. I am not in favor of starving myself
when there is a steaming dish before me. The world is full of good
things, and I have a taste for them; why should I not reach out my
"And so you would dance in the present for what it would win you in
"Why not? It is a very usual way to gain a usual end."
"And the modern society household is the result."
"What would become of a poor fellow without these merciful
arrangements for introductions to nice girls? Is one to advertise?"
"So you thought of this in the midst of your poetical soiree?"
"Certainly. You are provided for. Don't think ill of me if I follow
Wilhelm felt the blood flow to his cheeks. He perceived his friend's
"Paul! A fortune-hunter!"
"You may talk. Luck flew to you without your lifting a finger to
attract it. Other people must help themselves. Fortune-hunter! That
name was invented by hysterical girls whose heads are turned by
silly novels. These absurd creatures wish in their childish vanity
to be married merely for their beautiful eyes. I should like to ask
such a girl whether she would marry a man merely for his beautiful
eyes! I have no patience with such nonsense. Suppose a poor man, who
is capable and clever, acknowledges in a straightforward way that he
is trying to win the hand of a rich woman. He need not upbraid
himself about anything, for he gives as much as he receives. What do
people want from the world? Happiness. That is the aim of my life,
just as it is the aim of the rich woman's. She has money, and for
happiness she lacks love; I have love, and for happiness I lack
money. We make an equal exchange of what we own. It is the most
beautiful supplement to a dual incompleteness."
"It is in this way then that you would offer what you call love to a
rich girl! A love cleverly conducted, carefully mapped out--a love
which one could control, and on no account offer to a poor girl."
"Rubbish! The love of every man who is in his right mind is
carefully planned. Would you be in love with a king's daughter? It
is to be hoped not. You could keep out of the way of the king's
daughter. Why can I not keep out of the way of the poor girl?"
"That means that the princess' rank is as much a hindrance to love
as the poverty of the work-girl."
"I swear to you, Wilhelm, that if I were as rich, or as independent
as you, I would not think of a dowry. But I am a poor devil. If I
were so unfortunate as to fall in love with a poor girl, I would try
to get the better of the feeling. I would say to myself, better
endure a short time of unhappiness and disappointment than that she
and I should be condemned through life to the keenest want, which,
with prosaic certainty, would smother love."
While Paul argued with such ardor and earnestness, he was thinking
all the time of Fraulein Malvine Marker, the pretty girl with whom
he had danced so often, and he fondled tenderly with his right hand
the ribbon and cotillion order hidden under his waistcoat. He did
not notice that Wilhelm's expression of face was painfully
distorted, nor that his words wounded him deeply. They had come to
the Brandenburger Thor, and were walking over the Pariser Platz.
Under the lindens they were surrounded at once by noise and bustle.
The streets were full of rowdy bands of men who sang and shouted all
together, now pushing one another in violent rudeness, now shouting
"Health to the New Year," here knocking off an angry Philistine's
hat, there surrounding and embracing some honest man who was wearily
making his way homeward; insulting the police by imitating their
military ways, laying hold of their sticks, talking pompously to the
night-watchman, and otherwise playing the fool. After the silence
of the Koniggratzer Strasse, the drunken turmoil of this noisy mob
was doubly unpleasant, and the two friends hastened to escape into
the Schadowstrasse. At Wilhelm's doorstep they took leave of each
other; Paul went off humming a snatch of Offenbach up the
Friedrichstrasse to his home near the Weidendamme.
Wilhelm was tired, but much too excited to sleep. He lived over
again in thought the last few months, and, as often happened lately,
he lapsed into painful meditation on his relations to Loulou. After
her departure from Hornberg she had not written to him for eight
days. Then came a letter from Ostend, in which she called Wilhelm
"Sie." She said she was very sorry for this, that it would be
painful if she called him "Du" and he did not return it, but it
would be safer not to do so, as his answer would certainly be read
by her mother, and perhaps by her father also, and they would not
wish them to say "Du" to each other. Already this change of tone
between them cut Wilhelm to the heart, but almost more still the
contents of Loulou's letter. She spoke a little of the sea, whose
breakers continually sounded in her soul, and her thoughts, which
accompanied them like an orchestra; she seldom mentioned the
delightful time in the mountains of the Black Forest, which
remembrance he carried always with him; but a great deal about the
Promenade, the concerts, the Casino balls, her own charming bathing
and society toilettes, and those of extravagant Parisians, who tried
by incredible mixtures of colors and style to outstrip each other.
She wrote particularly about her acquaintances with celebrated
people, and her personal following, and for the rest she hardly
missed expressing in any of her letters her regret that he was not
with her, and enjoying her varied life. Often in the letter there
was a flower, or a piece of wild thyme, which betrayed an
undercurrent of feeling beneath the shallowness of the words, and
once she sent him her photograph with the words "Loulou to her
dearest Wilhelm." So he gathered from her frivolous letters much
that was unspoken, and through signs and indications believed that
her feeling for him was there and gained strength. His answers were
short and rather compressed. The knowledge that they would be seen
by her prosaic parents, and that Loulou herself would hardly trouble
to read anything in the midst of her whirl of gayety, deprived him
of words, stopped the flow of his feelings, and turned his
expressions into mere Philistinisms. But, on the other Land,
Loulou's mother was delighted to have another correspondent, and so
she wrote to him often. These perfumed letters from Ostend refreshed
him by the remembrance of the lovable face with the dimples,
bringing back again the whole charm of the Hornberg days.
At the end of September came the announcement that the Ellrichs had
left Ostend, and were going to pay a visit for a fortnight to
friends in England, and toward the middle of October a letter,
bearing the Berlin postmark, arrived in Loulou's handwriting. It
"DEAREST WILHEM: We came home to-day. I cannot sleep until I have
written to you. Come to see me quite soon. Will you not? How glad I
am! Are you glad too? A thousand greetings. LOULOU."
He would like to have gone directly to the Lennestrasse, but
etiquette stood between him and his fiancee, and showed him in its
cold fashion that they were now in the city and not in the forest,
that nature had nothing to do with them here, and had handed them
over to the laws of society. However, as soon as he dared venture,
he went and rang at the door-bell. This first visit was a
combination of painful feelings for Wilhelm, for while his heart
beat, that now he was near the dearest one on earth, he was
conscious that here he was a stranger. A servant dressed in black
who opened the door did not seem to expect him, and asked him whom
he wanted. When Wilhelm asked for Frau Ellrich, he said shortly that
she was not at home. In spite of this Wilhelm took out his card, and
holding it out said, "Will you kindly announce me, as I am
expected." The man left him in an anteroom, and after a short pause
took him into the drawing-room. He soon returned, with a manner
entirely changed, and submissively asked Wilhelm to follow him to a
little blue boudoir, where Loulou received him with a joyful
exclamation, but the first greetings, owing to the servant's
presence, were exchanged without an embrace, and when they were
alone Wilhelm only found sufficient courage to kiss her hand.
It was quite different now from the old times at the Scloss hotel,
and in the woodland paths at Hornberg. Wilhelm had to keep to
visiting hours, and was seldom alone with Loulou. He took courage
then to say "Du," but it was forbidden before other people. To kiss
her in those drawing rooms with their betraying mirrors, and their
portieres, and carpets was hardly possible. He was frequently asked
to lunch or dinner, and he often went with Frau Ellrich and Loulou
to the opera or theater, but all these opportunities were not
favorable for young lovers. Loulou wore beautiful frocks, which made
her much admired; the people were formal, and tolerated nothing that
was not ultra polite and polished, in short, it was impossible to be
true and natural as things had been in the forest, where the birds
and the happy little squirrels served for playfellows.
Loulou was the first to have pity on Wilhelm's discomfort, and to
find means to give their intercourse in Berlin at least a little of
the beautiful unconstraint of the old times. Under the pretext that
she wished to improve herself in drawing, she obtained many precious
hours spent in the blue-room or in the winter garden, where their
hands often found opportunities to clasp, and their lips to seek
each other's. On the strength of Loulou's English education, which
had made her independent and self-reliant, and had freed her from
any affectation of shyness, she often walked with Wilhelm to parts
of the town which she did not know, or which she had only seen from
the windows of a carriage. On one of these voyages of discovery, as
she called them, she saw Paul for the first time. He met them in the
Konigstrasse, as they stood on the Konigsmauer, Loulou looking
halffearfully down the narrow street. Paul looked very much
astonished, and seemed as if he were not going to notice the pair of
lovers, but Wilhelm nodded and asked him to join them. So he went
home with them, and as soon as he was alone with his friend he fell
into rapturous admiration of the lovely girl, as Wilhelm had
predicted in his letter from Hornberg. One thing Paul could not
understand, and he said so: why had not Wilhelm formally asked for
Loulou's hand, why he was not properly engaged to her, and how could
an impulsive man bear such a constrained position, which would cease
the instant that he was Fraulein Ellrich's declared fiance?
Wilhelm had at first no explanation to give his friend, but he knew
very well that he delayed, and that he put off from day to day going
to Loulou's parents. His was a sensitive, dreamy nature, and much
too thoughtful to allow himself to act from passion. He was
accustomed to make his impulses subordinate to his reason, and to
ask himself severe questions as to the where, how, and why of
things. He was not clear himself as to the condition of things
between him and Loulou. Did she love him? There were many answers to
that. She seemed pleased when she saw him, and displeased if he
appeared to forget her for a day. But what he could not understand
was that her head seemed as full as ever of her usual acquaintances,
and that she was capable of spending some time in theaters,
concerts, and society without looking for him. Full too of talk of
her frocks and neighbors, without wishing to interrupt the empty
gossip with a look or a kiss to let him know that she was conscious
of his presence, and in the middle of her idle talk to say
nevertheless that her heart was with him. On the other hand, she
showed the tenderest sympathy for him. She longed for a picture of
his rooms in the Dorotheenstrasse, where he lived and thought of
her. She had been to see his house in the Kochstrasse from the
outside. She was apparently proud of him, and repeated to him all
the flattering remarks which people made on his appearance and
cleverness, with as much satisfaction, as if she spoke of one of her
own people. Still all this was only on the surface, and he often had
the impression that her feeling for him was weakened at its
foundation both by her cold intelligence, and by her pleasure in
And he? Did he love her as he should, before he had the right to
bind her to him for life? His earnestness and exalted morality
looked upon marriage as a rash adventure full of alarming secrets.
Was it possible that their two lives should be so blended together
that they should withstand every accident of fate? He meant to give
himself entirely, to keep nothing back, and to be true in body and
soul. Was he sure that he could keep the vow, and that no sinful
wishes should come to break it? Already he was thinking that he
might not be always happy with her. Certainly her beauty, her wit,
the attraction of her fresh, healthy youth charmed him, and when she
spoke to him with her sweet voice, he had to shut his eyes and hold
himself together, not to fall at her feet and bury his head in her
dress. But he feared for himself, for his honor, that a sensual
attraction should hardly outlast possession. His innermost being was
painfully troubled. Never an elevated word from her! Never a deep
and serious thought! Often he reflected that the faults of her
upbringing were the inevitable results of her life in the midst of
idle people, and that it would be possible to deepen and widen her
mind and sensations. If he could only go with her to a desert
island, alone with the loneliness of nature, and could live between
the heavens and the sea! How soon then could he inspire her thoughts
and bring her to his own standpoint. Then the fear would take hold
of him that she could not do without theaters, frocks, soirees, and
balls, and under the recent impression of the New-Year's party he
became despondent, and said to himself, "No. The life of show and
appearance has too great a hold on her, and I shall never be able to
give her what she wants, and what seems necessary to her happiness."
Paul's opinion, which he gave on the way home, struck him
sorrowfully. One of the richest "parties" in Berlin! Would not
people say he was marrying her for her money? What people said was
really nothing to him, and he considered himself free to act as his
innermost judgment counseled. But might not Loulou herself believe
that her father's money added something to her attractions? He
recognized that this feeling indicated a weakness, a want of self-
reliance, but the idea that she might be capable of such a thought
made him angry. Her money did not attract him! On the contrary, it
was an obstacle between them. Why was she not a Moscow gypsy girl?
Just as young, and pretty, and charming, but uncultivated, and
therefore ready for cultivation and capable of it; poor as a beggar,
and therefore free from pretensions, but without knowledge of the
world, and therefore without desire for it. How happy they might
both be then! Such thoughts ran riot in his brain, and he fell
asleep only when the late winter sun shone through the curtains on
his tired white face.
The winter went quickly by under amusements of all kinds. Loulou had
never known it so pleasant. The theater season was brilliant, the
weather for skating lasted longer than usual, and balls succeeded
each other in her father's and friends' houses in rapid succession.
Wilhelm only went once or twice, and then he firmly declined any
more, to the great astonishment of Frau Ellrich, and the vexation of
Loulou, whose pretty face always lit up with pleasure when she saw
his dark eyes watching her from the doorways or window recesses
while she danced. He said that the sight of social frivolity bored
him, and she thought in her naive way, "It is always like that. Men
must have some fad." Paul was just the other way. He accepted every
invitation, and he had a great many. He had always some new
acquaintances to tell Wilhelm of, and often spoke of Fraulein
Malvine Marker, who appeared to be Loulou's dearest friend, and no
feeling of jealousy prevented him from repeating to Wilhelm that the
pretty girl had often inquired about him, always regretting his
absence from the Ellrichs' dances.
The beautiful time of the year drew near. Outside the gates of the
city, where open places were free to her, the spring triumphed in
the budding trees of the Thiergarten. Arrangement of plans for the
summer was the chief occupation with most people. The Ellrichs
talked of Switzerland, and Wilhelm thought timidly of the charms of
the Black Forest. He longed to be back at Hornberg, and he spoke
often of being there together in the near future. He did not mention
marriage, however, and his formal offer had not yet been made.
Loulou thought this very odd, and one day she spoke to her mother
about it. Frau Ellrich, however, caressed her pretty child, and
kissing her on the forehead said:
"It is nothing but modesty. I think it is very nice of him to leave
you in freedom for the whole season."
"I am not free, however."
"I mean before the world, dear child. You are both so young that it
would not matter if you did not take the cares of marriage upon you
for another year."
And to Loulou that was evident.
All over Germany the corn stood high in the fields, ripe for the
sickle. Then suddenly the threatening shadow of war rose in the west
like a black thundercloud in the blue summer sky, filling the
harvest gatherers with anxious forebodings. For fourteen days the
people waited in painful suspense, not knowing whether to take up
the sword or the scythe. Then the cry of destiny came crashing
through the country, terrifying and relieving at the same time: "The
French have declared War!"
That was on July 15, 1870, on a Friday. Late in the afternoon the
dismal news was spread in Berlin that the French ambassador at Ems
had insulted the king, who had retired to the capital, and that a
combat with the arrogant neighbors on the Rhine was inevitable.
Before night the street Unter den Linden, from the Brandenburger
Thor to the Schlossbrucke, was packed with men overflowing with
intense excitement. Without any preconceived arrangement, all the
inhabitants decorated their windows with banners and lights, and the
streets assumed the festal appearance of rejoicings over a victory.
The crowd looked upon this spectacle not as an undecided beginning,
but a glorious conclusion. There was no fear in any face, no
question as to the future in any eye, but the certainty of triumph
in all; as if they had seen the last page turned in the book of
fate, with victory and its glorious results written thereon.