Part 2 out of 8
Toward nine o'clock a thunderbolt broke over the Brandenburger Thor,
and rolled like the breaking of a wave to the other end of the
street. The king had left the Potsdam railway station a quarter of
an hour ago, and the crowd greeted him with a tremendous shout as
his carriage appeared. The people wished by this acclamation,
springing from the depths of their hearts, to show their ruler that
they were prepared to follow him even to death. But the king was so
much absorbed in thought that he scarcely seemed to hear or notice
the enthusiasm of the crowd. He saluted and bowed to right and left
as a prince is accustomed to do from his childhood, but it was a
mechanical action of the body, and his mind had little part in it.
His eyes were not looking at the sea of uncovered heads, but seemed
fixed, under knitted brows, on the distance, as if they endeavored
to decipher there some indistinct, shadowy form. Did the king
perceive in this moment the responsibility of one human being to
carry such a load? Did he wish in his innermost heart that he might
share the weight of the decision with others--the representatives of
the people--and not alone be forced to throw the dice deciding the
life or death of hundreds and thousands? Who can say? At all events
the powerful features of the king's face betrayed no such uneasy
doubt--only a deep earnestness and an immovable steadiness of
expression. Belief in the divine right of his kingship gave him
power over the minds of men, and he took his duties on him in this
hour without weakness or failing, grasping with his human hand the
obscure spiritual web of man's destiny, and with his limited
intelligence trying to unravel the dark threads here and there, on
which hung the healing and destruction of millions. In such moments
a whole people will become united into one being, swayed by the
mastery of a single mind, and await the commands of a single will.
It comes, no one knows from whom--all blindly follow. In spite of
the superficial differences which men find in one another under
similar conditions, the powerful effect of unconscious imitation is
surprisingly apparent, and under its operation personal
Wilhelm and Paul that same evening sat at one of the windows of
Spargnapani's, looking on the Lindens. The small rooms were filled
to overflowing, and the guests were crammed together in the open
doorways, or on the stone staircase, where their loud talking
mingled with the noise of the people in the street. The king's
carriage had hardly passed, when several young men sprang shouting
into the room, threw a quantity of printed leaflets, still damp from
the press, on the nearest table, and rushed out again. These were
the proofs of an address on the war to the king. No one knew who had
written it, who had had it printed, who the people were who had
distributed it, but everyone crowded excitedly round it, and begged
for pens from the counter to add their signatures to it. A few
specially enthusiastic souls even put a table with inkstands and
pens out on the pavement, and called to the passers-by to sign the
paper. Paul was among the first to fulfill this duty of citizenship,
and then handed the pen to his friend. But Wilhelm laid it down on
the table, took Paul's arm, and drew him out of the crowd into the
quiet of the Friedrichstrasse.
"Are you a Prussian?" cried Paul angrily.
"I am as good a Prussian as you are," said Wilhelm quietly, "and
ready to do my duty again, as I have done it before, but these silly
effusions don't affect me at all."
"Such a manifesto gives the government the moral force for the
sternest fulfillment of duty."
"I hope you are not in earnest when you say that, my dear Paul. The
government does what it has to do without troubling itself about our
manifestoes. It is repugnant to me to have my approval of the war
dragged from me without being asked for it. I may not appear to say
'yes' willingly, but at the same time may not have the right to say
Paul followed silently, and Wilhelm went on:
"You deceive yourself as to your duty like all these people, who
imagine that they are still separate individuals, and that they can
sanction or forbid as they will the declaration of war. I, however,
know and feel that I have no longer a voice in the matter. I have
only to obey. I am no longer an individual. I am only an evanescent
subordinate unit in the organism of the State. A power over which I
have no control has taken possession of me, and has made my will of
no avail. Is there still a part of your destiny which you have the
power to guide as you will? Is there such for me? We shall be forced
to join simply in the united destiny of one people. And who decides
this? The king, no doubt, thinks that he does; the Emperor Napoleon
thinks he does. I say that these two have no more influence over the
capabilities of their people than we two have over the capabilities
around us. The State commands us, the whole evolution of mankind
from its beginning commands them. All of the race which has gone
before holds them fast, and compels them as the wheels of the State
compel us. The dead sternly point out the way to them, as the living
do to us. We all of us know nothing, kings and ministers as little
as we, of the real forces at work. What these forces will do, and
what they strive to attain to, is hidden from us, and we only see
what is nearest to us, without any connection with its causes and
final operation. That is why it seems to me better to do what one
sees as one's duty at the moment, rather than to give ourselves the
absurd appearance of being free in our movements, and certain as to
our goal." Paul pressed his hand at parting, and murmured:
"Theoretically you are right, but practically I do not see why the
tyrant at the Tuileries need begin with us. He could at least leave
us in peace."
The order for mobilization was issued. Wilhelm was surprised to
receive his appointment again as second lieutenant, and was
nominated to the 61st Pomeranian Regiment. His duties during the
next few days took up the whole of his time, and left him hardly a
moment to himself. He was free only for a few hours before the march
to the frontier, and then he made all the haste he could to say
good-by at the Lennestrasse. His heart beat quickly as he hurried
along, and now that the time of separation was near, he reproached
himself for the irresolution of the last few weeks. He was going to
the front without leaving a clear understanding behind him. He tried
to convince himself that perhaps it was better so--if he fell she
would be free before the world. But at the bottom of his heart this
reasoning did not satisfy him, and he lingered over the idea of
taking his weeping betrothed to his heart before all the world, and
kissing the tears off her cheeks, instead of bidding farewell to her
at the station, and holding her to him from a distance by an
acknowledged tie. Was not their love alone enough? No, he knew that
it was not, and he felt with painful surprise that his contempt for
outward appearances, his impulse after reality, were vigorous in him
as long as he followed his inmost life alone; but when he came out
of himself, and wished to unite another human destiny with his own,
these things had become a painful weakness. Through this other life,
the world's customs and frivolities began to influence him. and his
proud independence must be humbled to the dust, or he must painfully
tolerate his own weakness. These reflections brought another with
them--it was quite possible that an opportunity might occur at the
last moment. He painted the scene in his own imagination; he found
Loulou alone, embraced her fervently, asked her if she would be his
for life; she said "Yes;" then her mother came in, Loulou threw
herself on her neck; he took her hand and asked her in due form if
she would accept him as a son-in-law, as he had already gained
Loulou's consent. If the councilor was at home, his consent was also
given, if not they must wait until he came, and the time could not
seem long, even if it lasted an hour. He did not doubt that they
would all consent. Things might very likely have happened just as he
dreamed of, if he had only come to his determination at the right
time, and had not hazarded success on the decision of the last
moment, when there was hardly time for a weighty decision.
As he approached the red sandstone house, with its sculptured
balconies, and its pretty front garden, he had a disagreeable
surprise. At the iron gate two cabs were standing, evidently waiting
for visitors at the house. He was shown, not into the little blue-
room, but into the large drawing-room near the winter garden, and
found several people there in lively conversation. Beside Loulou and
Frau Ellrich there were Fraulein Malvine Marker, with her mother,
and also Herr von Pechlar, the lieutenant of hussars of cotillion
"Have you come too to say good-by?" cried Loulou, going to meet
Her face looked troubled, and her voice trembled, and yet Wilhelm
felt as if a shower of cold water had drenched his head. The
insincerity of their relations, her distant manner before the
others, but above all the unfortunate word "too," including him with
the lieutenant, put him so much out of tune that all his previous
intentions vanished, and he sank at once to the position of an
Herr von Pechlar led the conversation, and took no notice of the new
guest's presence. He oppressed Wilhelm, and made him feel small by
the smartness of his uniform, his rank as first lieutenant, and his
eyeglasses. Wilhelm tried hard to fight against the feeling. After
all, he was the better man of the two, and if human nature alone had
been put in the scale--that is to say, the value both of body and
mind--Herr von Pechlar would have flown up light as a feather. But
just now they did not stand together as man to man, but as the
bourgeois second lieutenant in his plain infantry uniform, against
the aristocratic first lieutenant--the smart hussar, and the first
place was not to be contested.
In Fraulein Malvine's kind heart there lurked a vague feeling that
she must come to Wilhelm's help, and overcoming her natural shyness,
she said to him:
"It must be very hard for you to tear yourself away under the
She was thinking of his attachment to Loulou, which in her innocence
she quite envied.
Oppressed and distracted as his mind was, he found nothing to say
but the banal response:
"When duty calls, fraulein." But while he spoke he was conscious of
the kindness of her manner, and to show her that he was grateful he
went on, "My friend Haber wishes to say good-by to you before he
leaves Berlin. He thinks a great deal of you, and is very happy in
having made your acquaintance."
Malvine threw him a quick glance from her blue eyes and looked down
"What a good thing that I was here when you came," he said softly;
"I might certainly not have seen you but for this chance."
"The fact is, gnadiges Fraulein," he stammered, "our duties demand
so much of our time."
"Is Herr Haber in your regiment?" she asked.
"No; he has remained with our old Fusilier Guards."
"Ah, what a pity! It would have been so nice for you to be side by
side again, as in 1866."
"How much she knows about us," thought Wilhelm, wondering.
"I often think of Uhland's comrades. It must be a great comfort in
war to have a friend by one."
"Happily one makes friends quickly there."
"On that point we are better off than the poor reserve forces,"
remarked Herr von Pechlar, not addressing himself to the speaker,
but to Frau and Fraulein Ellrich. "We regular officers pull together
like old friends in danger and in death, while the others come among
us unknown. I imagine that must be very uncomfortable."
Wilhelm felt that he had no answer to make, and a silence ensued.
Loulou broke it by moving her chair near Wilhelm, and began to
chatter in a cheerful way over the occurrences of the last few days.
How dreadfully sudden all this was! Just in the midst of their
preparations to go away. That was put aside now. They must stay
behind and do their duty. Mamma had presided at a committee for
providing the troops with refreshment at the railway station; she
herself and Malvine were also members. There were meetings every
day, and then there was running about here, there, and everywhere,
to collect money, enlist sympathy, make purchases, and finally to
see to the arrangements at the departure of the troops.
"It is hard work," sighed Frau Ellrich; "I have dozens of letters to
write every day, and can hardly keep up with the correspondence."
Herr von Pechlar said he regretted that he was obliged to take to
the sword; he would much rather have helped the ladies with the pen.
Wilhelm felt that the moral atmosphere was intolerable. He had
nothing to say, and yet it was painful to him to be silent. Nobody
made any sign of leaving, so at last he rose. Herr von Pechlar did
not follow his example, merely giving him a distant bow. Malvine put
out her hand quickly, which Wilhelm grasped, feeling it tremble a
little in his. Frau Ellrich went with him to the door. She seemed
touched, and said with motherly tenderness, while he kissed her
"We shall anxiously expect letters from you, and I promise you that
we will write as often as possible."
Loulou went outside the door with Wilhelm, in spite of a glance from
her mother. She thought they could bid each other good-by with a
kiss, but two servants stood outside, and they had to content
themselves with a prolonged clasp of the hand, and a look from
Wilhelm's troubled eyes into hers, which were wet. She was the first
"Farewell, and come back safely, my Wilhelm. I must go back to the
Yes, if she must! and without looking back, he descended the marble
staircase, feeling chilled to the bone, in spite of the hot sunlight
in the street. He had the feeling that he was leaving nothing
belonging to him in Berlin, except his own people's graves.
In the evening he left by one of the numberless roads which at short
distances traverse Germany toward the west like the straight lines
of a railway. The quiet of the landscape was disturbed by the fifes,
rattle of wheels, and clanking of chains, and to all the villages
along the road they brought back the consciousness, forgotten till
now, that Germany's best blood was to be shed in a stream flowing
westward. A time was beginning for Wilhelm of powerful but very
painful impressions, not, it is true, to be compared with those
which the battlefields of 1866 had made on him when an unformed
youth. The war unveiled to him the foundations of human nature
ordinarily buried under a covering of culture, and his reason,
marveled over the reconciliation of such antitheses. On the one hand
one saw the wildest struggle for gain, and love of destruction; on
the other hand were the daily examples of the kindest human nature,
self-sacrifice for fellow-creatures, and an almost unearthly
devotion to heroic conceptions of duty. Now it appeared as if the
primitive animal nature in man were let loose, and bellowing for joy
that the chains in which he had lain were burst, and now again as if
the noblest virtues were proudly blossoming, only wanting favorable
circumstances in which to develop themselves. Life was worth
nothing, the laws of property very little; whatever the eyes saw
which the body desired, the hand was at once stretched out to
obtain, and the point of the bayonet decided if anything came
between desire and satisfaction. But these same men, who were as
indifferent to their own lives, and as keen to destroy the lives of
others as savages, performed heroic deeds, helping their comrades in
want or danger, sharing their last mouthful with wounded or
imprisoned enemies, who returned them no thanks; and after the
battle, in the peasant's hut, cradling in their arms the little
child, whose roof they had perhaps destroyed, and possibly whose
father they might have slain. These impulses, as far apart as the
poles, occurred hour after hour before Wilhelm's eyes. He was not a
born soldier, and his nature was not given to fighting. But when it
was necessary to endure the wearisome fulfillment of duty, to bear
privation silently, and to look at menacing danger indifferently,
then few were his equals, and none before him. This quiet, passive
heroism was noticed by his comrades. The officers of his company
found out that he did not smoke, and never drank anything stronger
than spring water. They noticed also that dirt was painful to him,
even the ordinary dust of the country roads, and that he was
dissatisfied if his boots and trousers bore the marks of muddy
fields. They thought him a spoiled mother's darling, a "molly-
coddle," and their instructive knowledge of human nature found a
name for him, the same name his schoolfellows had already given him.
They called him the "Fraulein."
But in the day of battle, when Wilhelm with his company stood for
the first time in the line of fire, the "Fraulein" was perhaps the
firmest of them all. The hissing balls made apparently no more
impression on him than a crowd of swarming gnats, and the only
moment his courage left him was when he thought he might be thrown
into a ditch, which the rains had turned into a complete puddle. He
remained standing when all the others lay down, and the captain at
last called out to him, "In the devil's name, do you want to be a
target for the French?" making him seek shelter behind a little
mound, which left him nearly as uncovered as he was before. And
after hours of solid exertion, straining nerves and muscles to the
utmost, when peace came with night, Wilhelm began a tiring piece of
work with sticks and brushwood, out of pity for a weary comrade.
On the strength of these first days before the enemy his position as
a soldier was established. A few harmless jokes were made on the
march and in the camp on Wilhelm's anxiety as to the removal of mud
on his clothes, and on the example he set in going out at night to
save the dead and wounded enemy from plunder, but the whole company
loved and admired the "Fraulein."
The officers, however, did not entirely share this feeling. This
lieutenant was not smart enough. They did full justice to his
courage, but thought that he was wanting in alertness and
initiative. He lacked the proper campaigning spirit, and they found
it chilling that he should be so distant in his manners after so
long a time together. Another said that Lieutenant Eynhardt went
into action like a sleep-walker, and his calmness had something
uncanny about it. The captain was not pleased with him, because he
had no knowledge of business; as far as example went he was the
worst forager in the whole regiment. If a peasant's wife complained
to him, he would leave empty-handed a house whose cellars were
stocked with wine, and larders with hams one could smell a hundred
yards off. It was all the more provoking as he could speak French
perfectly, an accomplishment which no one else in the regiment
could, to the same extent, boast of. It came even to a scene between
him and the captain, who said angrily to him after a fruitless
search in a new and well-to-do village in Champagne: "A good heart
is a fine thing to have, but you are an officer now, and not a
Sister of Mercy. Our men have a right to eat, and if you want to be
compassionate, our poor fellows want food just as much as those
French peasants. Deny yourself if you like, but take care that the
soldiers have what they need. If ever you get back to Berlin, then
in God's name you can please yourself by distributing alms, and buy
a place for yourself in heaven."
Wilhelm was obliged to admit that the captain was right, but he
could not change his nature. Capturing, destroying, giving pain,
were not to his taste. From that time he left other people's
property alone, and let the French run if they fell into his hands.
He was excellent on outpost and patrol duties, for then his brains
and not his hands were at work--then he could think and endure. He
could go for twenty-four hours on a bit of bread and a draught of
water better than any one, and without a minute's sleep, stand for
hours at a stretch holding a position; he was always the first to
explore dangerous roads, signing to his companions if he could
answer for their safety, and all this with a natural, quiet self-
possession as if he were taking a walk in town, or reading a
newspaper at Spargnapani's.
Weeks and months went by like a dream, in constant excitement, and
the exhausting strain of strength. Christmas passed at the outposts
without gifts and with few good wishes, and the thunder of the guns
took the place of church bells. January came in with a hard frost,
trying the field troops bitterly, and bringing with it hard work for
Wilhelm's regiment. The 61st belonged to General Kettler's brigade,
which strategically kept the Garibaldi and Pelissier divisions in
check. By the middle of January the brigade was in full touch with
the enemy. On the 21st the troops broke out from the St. Seine,
dashed into the Val Suzon, and after an hour's conflict with the
Garibaldians, drove them out and established themselves on the
heights of Daix toward two o'clock. Before them were the rugged
summits of Talant and Fontaine, the last spurs of the Jura Mountains
seen in the blue distances both of them crowned, by old villages,
whose outer walls looked down a thousand feet below. The gray walls,
the rhomboid towers of the mediaeval churches, brought to one's mind
the vision of robber knights rather than the modest homes of
peasants. Between these two mountains was a narrow valley, through
which one caught a glimpse of Dijon, with its red roofs and numbers
of towers, and its high Gothic church above all, St. Benigne, well
known later to the German soldiers.
There lay before them the great wealthy town, looking as if one
could throw a pebble through one of its windows, so near did it seem
in the clear winter air. The smoke went straight up out of its
thousand chimneys, exciting appetizing thoughts of warm rooms and
boiling pots on kitchen fires. There were the sheltered streets full
of shops, friendly cafes, houses with beds and lamps and well-
covered tables--but the soldiers stood outside on the cold hillside,
chilled to the bone by the north wind, so tired that they could
hardly stand, and often sinking down in the snow, where they lay
benumbed, without energy to rouse themselves. They had gone for
twenty-four hours without food, and had only some black bread
remaining for the evening, worth a kingdom in price. Between their
misery and the abundance before their eyes lay the enemy's army, and
this army they must conquer, if they would sit at those tables and
lie in the soft beds. The general wanted to take Dijon in order to
remove a danger menacing to South Germany, and to secure the advance
of the German army toward Paris and Belfort--the soldiers had the
same desire, but their longing for Dijon was for comfort,
satisfaction of hunger, and rest.
The German battalion kept on pressing forward. This mistake was
hardly the fault of the officers, who on this occasion strove to
keep the men back rather than encourage them to advance. The
Garibaldian troops had the advantages of superior forces, a greater
range of artillery, and sheltered position in the hills, and they
pressed with increased courage to the attack. The Germans did not
await them quietly but threw themselves on them, so that in many
cases it came to a hand-to-hand fight, and serious work was done
with bayonets and the butt-ends of rifles. At length the French
began to retreat, and the Germans with loud "Hurrahs!" flung
themselves after them. But the pursuit was soon abandoned, as they
had to withdraw under the fire from the Talant and Fontaine
positions, and then, after a short rest, the French again advanced.
So the fight lasted for three hours, the snowflakes dispersed by the
balls, the men stamping their half-frozen feet on the ground,
stained in so many places with blood, but the distance between the
German battalion and beckoning, mocking Dijon never diminished. The
right wing of the brigade made a strenuous attempt, pressed hard
toward Plombieres, forced the Garibaldians back at the point of the
bayonet, and took possession of the village, which already had been
stormed from house to house. The sight of the slopes before
Plombieres covered with the enemy running, sliding, or rolling,
acted like strong drink; the whole German line threw itself on the
yielding enemy before it had time to regain breath, and amid the
thunder of artillery, with the balls from the French reserves on the
heights rattling like hailstones, it gained at last a footing on the
hill. Some of the troops sank down exhausted in the shelter of the
little huts which were strewed over the vineyard, while others
followed the division of the enemy which had forced itself between
the mountain and the narrow valley behind the French line of
It was now night, and very dark, and to follow up the hard-won
victory was not to be thought of, so the German troops halted to
rest if possible for an hour. It was a terrible night, and the cold
was intense. Campfires were almost useless. The men's clothes were
insufficient and nearly worn out. During the last few days, on the
march and in the camp, every one had huddled together whatever
seemed warmest, and in the pale moon or starlight, figures in
strange disguises might be seen. One wore the thick wadded cloak of
a peasant woman over woefully torn trousers, another whose toes till
now had always been seen out of noisy boots, stalked in enormous
wooden shoes, the extra room being filled up with hay and straw.
Overcoats from the French and German dead had been taken, and were
useful for replenishing outfits--particularly when a German soldier
wore red trousers, and the braided fur coat of the fantastic
Garbaldian uniform. Many others had bed-clothing and horse-
coverings, carpets and curtains, one even went so far as to wear an
altar-cloth from some poor village church over his shoulders, and
those who still had pocket-handkerchiefs in their possession wore
them tied over their ears. Many, however, had nothing but their own
torn uniforms, and these tried hard to get warm by rolling
themselves close against one another like dogs. The dark masses lay
there all among the trodden and half-frozen snow stained with blood,
sand, and clay, huddled together one on the top of the other, and if
their labored breathing had not been heard, one could hardly have
told whether one stood by living men or dead--the dead indeed lay
near, many hundreds of them, singly and in groups, scarcely more
cramped and huddled together than the sleepers, nor more quiet than
they. When the cold, even to the most warmly dressed, became
intolerable, they would spring up and stagger about, stumbling over
heaps of dead and living men, the latter cursing them loudly.
The dreadful night passed, and at most a third only of the German
troops had rested. The gray dawn began to appear in the sky, bugles
sounded, and cries of command were heard, but it was hard for the
poor soldiers to rouse themselves, to stir their benumbed limbs,
which at last were beginning to get a little warm. One after another
the ridges of the Jura Mountains became suffused with pink as the
sun rose, but the fissures in the hills and the valleys were still
dark and filled with thick mist, behind which the enemy's position
and the town of Dijon were still invisible. The soldiers soon forced
their stiffened limbs into position, the last remaining rations were
quickly distributed, and a picked number of the freshest of the men,
i.e. those who had had no night duty, went out doggedly against the
enemy, with trailing steps and gray, tired-out faces. The crackle of
their lively firing aroused the French from sleep, and perhaps from
dreams of conquest and fame, put them to confusion, and drove them
back toward Dijon. The Germans followed, this time without shouting,
and as the fog gradually dispersed, they saw the first skirmishers
of the batteries on Talant and Fontaine, apparently far distant
against the Porte Guillaume (the old town gate of Dijon, built to
imitate a Roman arch of victory), were really quite near them. One
more tug and strain and the goal was near. A fresh swing was put
into the attack, but the French had found time with the advancing
day to gather themselves together, and to be aware of the inferior
numbers of the attacking party, and they threw themselves in column
formation down the hill, which the German division threatened to
attack in the rear. Fresh troops came marching out of Dijon, and the
Germans, to avoid being between two fires, drew back again through
the valley behind the mountain. The French pressed after them, but
were received by the German reserves with such a firm front, that
they paused and slowly retreated.
General von Kettler knew that in spite of his momentary success, he
could expect no further advance from his half-starved, cold, and
weary brigade, and therefore he ordered them half a mile to the
rear. The Garibaldian troops, who thought victory could be gained by
one strenuous effort, tried to arrest the departing troops,
endeavoring to bring them back to another advance. When they were at
last distributed in the villages, the exhausted Germans found rest
and refreshment for the first time for forty-eight hours. They had
lost a tenth part of their powers of endurance in those dreadful two
days spent on the hills in sight of Dijon.
The brigade had retreated, as one who jumps goes a step or two
backward to obtain more impetus. The next morning, January 23, they
ware again on the march to Dijon. This time, however, they chose
another way to avoid the batteries of Talant and Fontaine, and
approached the town from the north instead of from the west.
Following the road and the railway embankment from Langres to Dijon,
the German troops pressed forward without halting. The French
outposts and breastworks soon fell before the advancing Germans, and
made no stand till they got to the Faubourg St. Nicholas, the
northeast suburb of Dijon. The greater number of the Germans
stationed themselves on the embankment, but the walls of the
vineyard, plentifully loopholed, pressed them hard with shot. Toward
evening the second battalion of the 61st, to which Wilhelm belonged,
received the order to advance. Over pleasure-gardens and vineyards
they went, through poor people's deserted houses the four companies
of skirmishers worked their way to the entrance of the Rue St.
Catherine, a long, narrow street. Just at the end stood a large
three-storied factory, whose front, filled with large high windows,
looked like a framework of stone and iron. At every window there was
a crowd of soldiers; the whole front bristled with death-dealing
weapons. Sixteen windows were on each floor, and at every window at
least three rows of four soldiers stood. It was therefore easy to
reckon the total number at six hundred at the very least.
As the points of the German bayonets came round the corner in sight
of this fortress a terrible change took place: in the twinkling of
an eye all the openings blazed out at once, and the building seemed
to shake from its foundations; forty-eight red tongues of flame
blazed out suddenly to right and left, as if so many throats of
Vulcan or abysses into hell had been opened, and soon the whole
building was wrapped in a thick white smoke, through which the men
were invisible. Then a fresh roar and fresh bursts of flame, and
fresh puffing out of white smoke, and so it went on, flash after
flash, roar after roar came from that awful wall, whose windows were
every now and then visible between the volleys of smoke. Hardly one
of the soldiers within the line of fire was left standing, numbers
were crushed, many more lying dead or wounded-and the furious firing
took on a fresh impetus. If the whole battalion was not to be
destroyed, it must speedily get under cover. So, running some
hundred and fifty yards to the right, they threw themselves into an
apparently deep sandpit, and there they lay directly opposite to the
factory. During these few minutes the facade, still vomiting fire,
bellowed and poured out bullets like hailstones against the sixty
men in the sandpit, doing murderous work.
Hardly giving themselves time to take breath, the brave men began to
fire steadily at the factory, which up till now appeared, in spite
of its nearness, to be very little damaged. The enemy were there
completely enveloped from sight, and a lurid red flame through the
cloud of smoke was the only guide for the German shot. So the
fighting lasted for some time, till an adjutant sprang from over the
field behind, which he had reached by a circuitous way, bringing
from the commander-in-chief the questions as to what was going on,
and why were they there. The major pointed with his sword at the
factory, and said
"We must have artillery against this."
"There is none here to have," answered the adjutant.
The major shrugged his shoulders, and gave the command for the Fifth
company to storm the factory. While they prepared themselves to
leave the sandpit the German firing stopped, and almost at the same
time, the French. The enemy could now see what was going on outside,
for at this moment the cloud of smoke became less dense. The company
broke out of the sandpit, and with the flag of the battalion
gallantly waving over them rushed madly toward the door of the
factory, while the men who were left behind tried by a furious fire
to support their comrades and to confuse the enemy. The strange
silence had lasted forty or fifty seconds, probably till the Germans
had given some idea of their intentions. This bit of time allowed
the storming party to gain, without loss, the middle of the space
which separated them from their object, the intoxication of victory
began to possess them, and they gave a cheer which rang with the
exultant sound of triumph. Again the crashing din began, as terribly
as before, it was an uninterrupted sound like the howling of a
hurricane, in which no single report or salvo could be
distinguished; the whole building seemed to flame at once from the
top to the bottom in one red glow, and the bullets flew and whistled
in such a confusing mass, that it seemed as if the heavens were
opened and it rained balls, a dozen for every four square foot of
earth, and the men felt that they must be prepared for repeated
attacks of the same description, one after the other without
stopping. In but a few seconds half of the company lay on the
ground, and the colors had disappeared among the fallen. Those who
remained standing seemed for a short time as if stunned. A few,
acting on the instinct of self-preservation, fled almost
unconsciously. Among the greater part, however, the fighting
Prussian instinct prevailed, impelling the soldiers forward and
never back, and so with renewed shouts they pressed on. But only for
a few minutes. The colors flew upward again, raised by hands wearied
to death, only to fall again at once. Three times--four times the
flag emerged, sinking again and again, and each flutter meant a new
sacrifice, and each fall the death of a hero. Soon there was no one
left standing, no man and no standard, nothing but a gray heap of
bodies, whose limbs palpitated and moved like some fabulous sea
creature, making groaning, ghostly sounds. Ten or twelve poor
fellows wounded by stray shots sheltered themselves in the sandpit
without weapons, with staring eyes and distorted features. That was
all there was left of the Fifth company.
There was deathly silence in the sandpit; the firing had ceased for
some minutes. The soldiers looked at one another, and at the
mountain of human bodies before them in the evening twilight, and
threw doubtful glances at the handful of men just returned, lying
exhausted on the ground. Suddenly the major called out:
"The colors!" murmured several men, while others remained silent.
"We must search for them under the wounded," said the major sadly.
His glance strayed right and left, and seemed to invite volunteers
among the twenty or thirty who were nearest to him. The little band
cautiously left their shelter, and set diligently to work on the
hill of dead bodies. But in spite of the growing darkness they were
observed by the French, who began their fire anew, and a few minutes
later no living soul was left on the field.
The captain and Wilhelm were now the only remaining officers of the
battalion. The former cried: "Who--will volunteer?" and was
surrounded by a dozen brave fellows. Wilhelm was not among them. He
stood leaning on his sword against the half-frozen side of the pit,
observing with sorrowful expression what was going on around him.
The captain threw him a strange look, in which contempt and reproach
were mingled, then he drew out his watch, as if to note the last
moment of his life, and with the cry "Forward!" disappeared in the
evening light. He did not reach the spot where the corpses lay
thickest. The factory went on spitting fire, and crashing everything
down over the heap. The shots, however, came more slowly, and pauses
came between them. A shriek was heard, not far distant. Evidently it
was one of the wounded who lay on the ground. At the same time a
form could be distinguished raising itself up and then sinking
again. Heedless of the balls which whistled round his ears, Wilhelm
raised his head out of the sandpit and looked over the field. Then
he worked himself out on his hands and knees, and to the
astonishment of the soldiers in the pit moved away toward the
wounded, alone and without hurry or excitement. Over there on the
other side they saw him, and although the artillery did not fire on
him, he received a brisk volley of single shots without, however,
being hit, and he reached the first group of wounded. A hasty glance
showed him only stiffened limbs and stony faces. He went on
searching, and then he heard close by him a feeble voice saying:
"Here!" and a hand was stretched out to him. With one bound he was
near the wounded man, and recognized the captain.
"Are you seriously hurt?" he asked, while as quickly as possible he
raised the wounded man on his shoulder, who answered almost
"A ball through the chest, and one in my foot. I am in awful pain."
As Wilhelm went slowly back with his burden, he looked so fantastic
in the growing darkness, that the French did not know what to make
of the strange apparition, and began to fire afresh. "Wilhelm,
however, reached the sandpit safely, where friendly arms were
stretched out to help him, and relieve him of the captain. He stayed
to breathe a moment, and then said:
"If any one will come with me, we might bring in one or two more
poor devils who have still life in them."
He was soon surrounded by five or six figures, and he was going with
them to search for wounded in the rain of balls which was falling,
when with a sudden cry of pain he sank backward. A ball had struck
his right leg. His volunteers put him back into the sandpit, and no
one thought any more either of the colors or the wounded who lay out
there under the fire from the factory. At this moment too an
adjutant brought the command to retreat, which the remains of the
wearied battalion slowly began, to obey under the command of a sub-
The captain, who could not be moved, was left in a peasant's hut in
the village of Messigny, but as Wilhelm's injury was only a flesh
wound, and he was merely exhausted from loss of blood, he was sent
with the others to Tonnerre, where he arrived the next day, after a
journey of great suffering.
The schoolhouse was turned into an infirmary, many of the rooms
holding nearly a hundred and twenty beds. Wilhelm was put into a
little room, which he shared with one French and two German
officers. A Sister of Mercy and a male volunteer nurse attended to
the patients in this as well as in the four neighboring rooms.
Wilhelm exercised the same influence here as he did everywhere, by
the power of his pale thin face, which had not lost all its beauty;
by the sympathetic tones of his voice, and above all by the nobility
of his quiet, patient nature. His fellow-sufferers were attracted to
him as if he were a magnet. Some occupants of the room gave up their
cigars when they noticed that he did not smoke. The Frenchman
declared immediately that he was le Prussien le plus charmant he had
ever seen. The Sister took him to her motherly heart, and the doctor
was constantly at his bedside. He was able to give him a great deal
of attention without neglecting his duty, as there were few very
severe cases under his care, and no new ones came in--Paris had
surrendered and a truce was declared.
At first Wilhelm's wound was very bad. It had been carelessly bound
up at first, and in the long journey to the infirmary had been
neglected, but owing to antiseptic treatment the fever soon abated
and then left him entirely. He took such a particular fancy to the
doctor that after a few days they were like old friends, and knew
everything about each other.
Dr, Schrotter was an unusual type, both in appearance and character.
Of middle height, extraordinarily broad-shouldered, and with large
strong hands and feet, he gave the impression of having been
intended for a giant, whose growth had stopped before reaching its
fulfillment. The powerful, nobly-formed he ad was rather bent, as if
it bore some heavy burden. His light hair, not very thick, and
slightly gray on the temples, grew together in a tuft over the high
forehead. The closely-cropped beard left his chin free, and the fine
mustache showed a mouth with a rather satirical curve and closely
compressed lips A strong aquiline nose and narrow bright blue eyes
completed a physiognomy indicating great reserve and a remarkable
degree of melancholy. It is no advantage to a man to possess a
Sphinx-like head. The pretty faces apparently full of secrets offer
easy deceptions, and one expects that the mouth when open will
reveal all that the eyes seem to mean. One is half-angry and half-
inclined to laugh when one discovers that the face of the Sphinx has
quite an everyday meaning, and utters only commonplaces. But with
Dr. Schrotter one had no such deception. He spoke quite simply, and
when he closed his lips he left in the minds of his listeners a
hundred thoughts which his words had conveyed, He was born in
Breslau, had studied in Berlin, and had started a practice there
when his student day's were over. The Revolution of '48 came, and he
at once threw himself head over ears into it. He fought at the
barricades, took part in the storming of the Arsenal, became a
celebrated platform orator, and relieved a great deal of distress
during the reactionary policy which followed, leaving soon
afterward, however, to travel abroad. He went to London almost
penniless, and at first, through his ignorance of the language, he
was barely able to maintain himself, but he soon had the good
fortune to obtain an appointment in the East India Company. In the
spring of 1850 he went to Calcutta, where he helped to manage the
School of Medicine, and some years later was sent to Lahore, where
he also established a medical school. After twenty years' service he
was discharged with a considerable pension. His return to Europe
falling in with the outbreak of the war, he hastened to offer his
voluntary services to the army as surgeon. Owing to temperate habits
and a strong physique, he had kept in good health, and no one would
have dreamed that this strong, fifty-year-old man had passed so many
years in an enervating tropical climate. The only signs it had left
on his face were the dark, yellowish color of his skin, and the
habit of keeping the eyes half-closed. The long years in India had
also made a deep impression on his character, and many things about
him would have appeared strange and odd in a European. They amounted
to sheer contradictions, but their explanation was to be looked for
in the environment of his life. Physically he was still young, but
his mind seemed very old, and had that appearance of dwelling
quietly apart which is the privilege of wise minds who have done
with life, and who look on at the close of the comedy free from
illusions. His eyes often flashed with enthusiasm, but his speech
was always gentle and quiet. In his relations with other men he had
the decided manner of one who was accustomed to command, and at the
same time the kindness of a patriarch for his children. He was a
moderate sceptic, nevertheless he combined with it a mysticism which
a superficial judge might have denounced as superstition. He
believed, for instance, that many persons had power over wild
animals; that they could raise themselves into the air; that they
could interrupt the duration of their lives for months, or even for
years, and then resume it again; that they could read the thoughts
of others, and communicate without help the speech of others over
unlimited distances. All these things he averred he had himself
seen, and if people asked him how they were possible, he answered
simply, "I can no more explain these phenomena than I can explain
the law of gravitation, or the transformation of a caterpillar into
a moth. The first principles of everything are inexplicable. The
difference in our surroundings is only that some things are
frequently observed, and others only seldom."
His philosophy, which he had learned from the Brahmins, attracted
Wilhelm greatly; it made many things clear to him which he himself
had vaguely felt possible ever since he had learned to think. "The
phenomenon of things on this earth," said Dr. Schrotter, "is a
riddle which we try to read in vain. We are borne away by a flood,
whose source and whose mouth are equally hidden from us. It is of no
avail when we anxiously cry, 'Whence have we come, and whither are
we going?' The wisest course for us is to lie quietly by the banks
and let ourselves drift--the blue sky above us, and the breaking of
the waves beneath us. From time to time we come to some fragrant
lotus-flower, which we may gather." And when Wilhelm complained that
the philosophy of the world is so egoistic, Dr. Schrotter answered,
"Egoism is a word. It depends on what meaning is attached to it.
Every living being strives after something he calls happiness, and
all happiness is only a spur goading us on to the search. It belongs
to the peculiar organism of a healthy being that he should be moved
by sympathy. He cannot be happy if he sees others suffering. The
more highly developed a human being is the deeper is this feeling,
and the mere idea of the suffering of others precludes happiness.
The egoism of mankind is seen in this; he searches for the suffering
of others, and tries to alleviate it, and in the combat with pain he
insures his own happiness. A Catholic would say of St. Vincent de
Paul or St. Charles Borromeo, 'He was a great saint.' I would say,
'He was a great egoist.' Let us render love to those who are
swimming with us down the stream of life, and without pricking of
conscience take joy in being egoists."
Wilhelm was never tired of talking about the wonderland of the
rising sun, of its gentle people and their wisdom, and Dr. Schrotter
willingly told him about his manner of life and experience there. So
the peaceful days went by in the quiet schoolhouse at Tonnerre, the
monotony being pleasantly relieved by visits from comrades, and
letters from Paul Haber and the Ellrichs. Paul was going on very
well. He was at Versailles, making acquaintances with celebrated
people, and had nothing to complain of except that, in spite of the
truce, he had no leave of absence to come and see his friend. Frau
Ellrich complained of the irregularity of their correspondence
during the war. Loulou wrote lively letters full of spirit and
feeling. She had been frightened to hear of his wound, but his
convalescence had made her happy again. She hoped that it would not
leave him with a stiff leg, but even if it did it would not matter
so much, as he neither danced nor skated. What a dreary winter they
were having in Berlin! No balls, no parties, nothing but lint-
picking, and their only dissipation the arrival of the wounded and
the prisoners at the railway station. And that was quite spoiled by
the abominable newspaper articles on the subject--presuming to
criticize ladies because they were rather friendly to the French
officers! The French, whom one had known so well in Switzerland,
must be of some worth, and it was the woman's part to be kind to the
wounded enemy, and to intercede for human beings even in war, while
the men defended them by their courage and strength. Some of these
Frenchmen were charming, so witty, polite, and chivalrous, that one
could almost forgive them had they conquered us. One's friends were
suffering so much--one heard such dreadful things. Herr von Pechlar
had escaped without a hair being injured, and he already had an Iron
Cross of the first class! She hoped that Wilhelm would soon get one
Up till now Wilhelm had not been able to answer this question
decidedly. One morning, toward the end of February, as he was
limping about the room on a stick, the adjutant came in and said:
"I have brought you good news. You have won the Iron Cross." As
Wilhelm did not immediately answer he went on: "Your captain has the
first class. He is now out of danger. He has naturally surpassed
you. I may tell you between ourselves that it did not seem quite the
thing, your being so cool about the colors; but the way in which you
fetched the captain out was ripping. Don't be offended if I ask you
why you exposed yourself for the captain when you refused for the
"I don't mind telling you at all. The captain is a living man, and
the flag only a symbol. A symbol does not seem to me to be worth as
much as a man."
The adjutant stared at him, and he repeated confusedly:
Wilhelm said nothing in explanation, but went on:
"I regret very much that I was not asked before I was proposed for
the Iron Cross. I cannot accept it."
"Not take it? You can't really mean that!"
"Yes, I do. In trying to fulfill my duties as a man and a citizen, I
cannot hang a sign of my bravery on me for all passers-by to see."
"You speak like a tragedy, my dear Herr Eynhardt," said the
adjutant. "But just as you like. You can have the satisfaction of
having done something unique. It is hardly a usual thing to refuse
the Iron Cross."
As he went out with a distant bow, Dr. Schrotter came in, and said,
"What the adjutant said about the tragedy is very true. Decoration
appears very theatrical to me, but you might take it quietly and put
it in your pocket. I have got quite a collection of such things
which I never wear."
"But do you blame the men who despise these outward forms in order
to give an example to others?"
"My friend, when one is young one hopes to guide others, as one
grows older one grows more modest."
This objection struck Wilhelm, and he grew confused. Dr. Schrotter
laid his hand quietly on his shoulder, and said:
"That does not matter. We really mean the same thing. The difference
is only that you are twenty-five and I am fifty."
As Wilhelm was silent and thoughtful, Schrotter went on:
"There is a great deal to be said about symbols. Theoretically you
are right, but life practically does not permit of your views.
Everything which you see and do is a symbol, and where are you to
draw the line? The flag is one, but without doubt the battle is one
too. I believe, in spite of the historian who is wise after the
event, that the so-called decisive battles do not decide anything,
and that it is the accidental events which have the permanent
influence on the destiny of peoples. Neither Marathon nor Cannae
kept the Greeks or Carthaginians from destruction; all the Roman
conquests did not prevent the Teutonic race from overrunning the
world; all the Crusader conquests of Jerusalem did not maintain
Christianity, or Napoleon's victories the first French Empire; nor
did the defeats sustained by the Russians in the Crimea influence
their development. And finally, I am convinced that Europe to-day
would not be materially different, even if all the decisive
victories of her people could be changed into defeats, and their
defeats into victories. So you see that a battle is a symbol of the
momentary capabilities of a people, and a very useless symbol,
because it tells nothing of the immediate future, and yet you will
sacrifice your life for this symbol, and not for another! It is not
"You are right," said Wilhelm, "and our actions in cases like this
are not guided by logic. But one thing I am sure of, if everything
else is a symbol, a man's life is not. It is what it appears to be;
it signifies just itself."
"Do you think so?" said Schrotter thoughtfully.
"Yes, although I understand the doubt implied in your question. A
living man is to me a secret, which I respect with timidity and
reverence--who can tell his previous history, what things he does,
what truths he believes in, what happiness he is giving to others?
Therefore when I see him in danger I willingly risk my life to save
his. I know myself, and I estimate my value as a trifling thing."
Schrotter shook his head.
"If that were right, an adult must in all cases give his life to
save a child, because he might grow to be a Newton, or a Goethe, and
above all, because the child is the future, and that must always
taken precedence of the past and the present. But to a mature man
that is not practicable. There are no more secrets. Mankind knows
that the probable is planted within his own being. Do not seek to
find additional reasons for a fact which has already sprung up from
unknown forces. It was sympathy which impelled you, the natural
feeling for a fellow-creature. And that is right and natural."
Wilhelm looked at Schrotter gratefully as he affectionately grasped
IT WAS NOT TO BE.
The sun streamed down on Berlin from a cloudless sky, and all the
life of the town gathered in a confused, restless throng in Unter
den Linden; but the bustle on this hot summer day, June 16, 1871,
had quite a different character from that of eleven months before.
And if any one could have listened to it all with closed eyes, he
might have distinguished a joyful excitement in the air, in the
laughing of children and girls, in the lively gossip of the men; and
from all these sounds of joy and chatter he might have detected the
signs that overstrained nerves were now relaxed after long hours of
weary suspense. What hundreds of thousands had wished and hoped for
on that Friday in July had now come to its glorious fulfillment, and
Berlin, as the proud capital of a newly-established empire, was
giving a welcome home to the army. They had at last found the answer
to Arndt's ill-natured question about the German Fatherland, and had
set the great Charles' imperial crown on the head of their bold
On one of the raised platforms near the Brandenburger Thor were
Wilhelm and Dr. Schrotter. The former had renounced the privilege
which belonged to him, as officer in the Reserves, and moreover, as
an example, had not claimed his position among those who were
wounded in the war, still however wearing his uniform. Had he
consulted his own inclinations, he would not have come to see this
triumphant entrance, as he took very little pleasure in the noisy
enthusiasm of crowds. A great deal of actual vulgarity is always
exhibited on these occasions, mingled with some real nobility of
feeling. Counter-jumpers and work-girls secure comfortable positions
from which to see the processions, groups of calculating shopkeepers
with advertisements of pictures and medals of hateful ugliness
speculate on the generosity of the crowd, and others push with all
the force of their bodily weight to obtain and keep the front places
for themselves. Frau Ellrich had sent Wilhelm two tickets, hoping
that he would make use of them. Dr. Schrotter wished to see the
spectacle, so Wilhelm asked his new friend to go with him.
Near where they sat was the platform for the ladies who were to
crown the victors with wreaths. Among them was Loulou. All the
emotions and force of character of which she was capable had been
brought out by her position. Through the influence of her father,
who, in all the difficult and responsible business of the French
indemnity had found time to intercede for his little daughter with
the burgomasters and magistrates, Loulou's dream was realized; a
dream which all the prettiest girls in the best society in Berlin
had also shared during the last week. Her enrollment in this troop
of beauties was regarded by her less successful friends with envy,
but the vexation of disappointed rivals was naturally the sweetest
part of her triumph.
The young girls were dressed all alike in mediaeval dresses like the
well known pictures of Gretchen in "Faust," with long plaits of
hair, puffed and slashed sleeves, and senseless and theatrical-
looking little hanging pockets. All were nevertheless conscious of
the propriety of their appearance, and felt quite heroic. It really
was heroic to sit there hour after hour in the burning sun
bareheaded, until all were gathered into one great picture, and a
documentary proof could be handed down to their grandchildren in the
shape of a large-sized photograph, showing that their grandmothers
had been chosen as the official beauties of Berlin in the year 1871.
The satisfaction of vanity, involving such a sacrifice, almost
It was nearly midday when a sudden stir took place in the crowd.
Every one on the platforms sprang up and began to wave hats and
handkerchiefs. In the windows, on the roofs, in the spaces between
the platforms, wherever men could be packed, suddenly all the heads
turned to one side, just as a field of corn bends before a breeze.
Then uprose a roar of shouts and cheers, deafening and almost
stunning in intensity. It was impossible any longer to distinguish
tone, but only a tumult, such as a diver in deep water might hear of
the surface waves above him. The senses were bemused by the
continual succession, of heads set close together like a mosaic, and
covering the whole surface of the great street, and by the roar
which went up, cheering everything which made its appearance;
whether it were the struggling activity of the crowd moving in the
center of the street, the sudden fall of foolhardy boys who had
climbed into trees or up lampposts, or the short and sharp fights
which went on between spectators for the best places, nothing
Now between the firing of cannons was heard a more distant sound of
a warlike fanfare of trumpets, and between the pillars of the
central Brandenburg Gateway came the Field-Marshal Wrangel,
recognizing all the arrangements with a pleasant smile, and with a
radiantly happy expression on his withered face, as the first
enthusiasm of the people burst upon him, though he had demanded no
part of the triumph for himself. A group of generals followed him in
gorgeous uniforms, decorated with shining medals and stars, all bore
famous names, attracting the keenest interest and centering the
enthusiasm of the crowd. Endless and numberless seemed the ever-
changing and richly-colored procession--Moltke, Bismarck, and Roon
side by side, all statuesque figures, their eyes with stately
indifference glancing at the rejoicing people. They seemed in the
midst of this stormy wave of excitement like stern, immovable rocks,
standing firm and high above the breaking surf at their feet. Many
people had at the sight of them an intuitive feeling that they were
not mortal men, but rather mystical embodiments of the power of
nature, just as the gods of the sun, the sea, and the storm were the
conceptions of the old religions. They passed on, and at a short
interval behind them came the Emperor Wilhelm. His supreme
importance was emphasized by the space left before and after him.
Wreaths covered his purple saddle, flowers drooped over the glossy
skin of his high-stepping charger, his helmeted head and his gloved
hand saluted and bowed, and on his face shone a mingled expression
of gratitude and emotion, which, after the hard, cold bearing of his
fellow-workers, was doubly impressive and affecting. Manifestly this
conqueror was not like his Roman prototype who had the words, "Think
of death," whispered in his ear, while he tolerated the idolization
of the people.
The monarch had to hear long speeches from the officials and verses
from the trembling lips of the young girls who surrounded him before
he could ride further. The train of individual heroes ended with
him. The principle of massing together was now the order, in which
individuality is no longer recognized.
Battalion after battalion and squadron after squadron in endless
lines passed by, until the tired eyes of the spectators could hardly
after a time distinguish whether the lines were still moving, or had
come to a standstill. The helmets and weapons of the soldiers were
garlanded with flowers and foliage, the horses' legs were twined
with wreaths, and their feet trod on a mass of trampled flowers and
leaves. The strength of the German army seemed to be decked and
curled out of it; the lines of marching soldiers had women's faces:
here and there a man had a patriotic admirer on his arm, who let it
be seen that she had taken possession of his weapon and carried it
for him. The officers, as much bedecked as their men, managed
nevertheless to preserve their dignity.
The crowd was gradually becoming stupefied by the spectacle, throats
were sore with shouting and cheering, and the oppressive heat took
the freshness out of the people's enthusiasm. Once more, however,
they broke out again, just as when the emperor and his paladins
appeared, and this was when the French field-trophies were carried
past. Eighty-one standards and flags were there, from the
battlefields of Russia, Italy, and Mexico, soaked through with men's
blood, gloriously decomposed, torn, blackened with powder, and
riddled with bullets. Now the strong arms of German non-commissioned
officers carried them in the sultry heat of the midsummer afternoon,
these miserable remnants hanging heavy and limp without a flutter,
without a spark of trembling life in the silken folds; they looked
like imprisoned kings, who with heads bowed down, and despair in
their eyes, walked in chains behind the triumphant Roman chariots.
"Look," sad Dr. Schrotter to Wilhelm, when a short pause came in the
shouting, and in the rain of wreaths and flowers--"Look what makes
the deepest impression on the people, next to the great
representative figures. There is the symbol which you despised."
"What does that prove?" answered Wilhelm. "I never doubted that the
crowd was roused by appearances, and not by the reason of things.
The ideal results of victory one cannot see with one's eyes or
applaud with one's hands, but a dismantled banner one can."
"That does not explain everything. Atavism comes into it. The
inhabitants of towns in ancient times need to rejoice and cheer in
the same way when their victorious troops brought home the tutelary
gods of their enemies. It is the same idea, the same superstition,
after an interval of three thousand years."
"Yes, it is curious. I was thinking the whole time that one had a
picture of ancient civilization before one. The wreaths of flowers,
these swaggering figures with their trophies of war, this gay crowd,
distributing food and drink, these young girls with their crowns, is
it not all exactly the manner in which the people of the Stone Age
or the savages of to-day would feast their heroes? Cannot one
understand in this that at the beginning of civilization war was the
highest object in state and society, an opportunity of enrichment by
booty, and a festival for youth? Nowadays we ought to have got far
enough to see in war only a weary fulfilling of duty, a barbarous
waste of labor, of which we are inwardly ashamed; and we should keep
away from this noisy festival as from the execution of a criminal,
which may be necessary, but is painful to witness. The progress from
barbarism to civilization is frightfully slow."
"It is true; we are still carrying ancient barbarism round our
necks, and without a great deal of rubbing you will easily find the
primitive savage under the skin of our dear contemporaries who are
able to construe Latin beautifully. And these are not the only
gloomy thoughts which this spectacle gives me. Look there! over
yonder at the other end of the street they are unveiling a monument
to Friedrich Wilhelm III., and the festival of victory is spoiled by
homage paid to a despot who during twenty-seven years never redeemed
his pledge to give the people a constitution. I am forty-eight years
old, and yet I have not forgotten my youthful ideas. My generation
looked forward to a united as well as to a free Germany, and hoped
that unity would not come out of a war, but rather from the freewill
of the German people. It is now with us through other means, but I
fear not better ones. The aristocracy and the Church will assert
themselves again, and the military system will lay its iron hand
over the life of the whole nation. People say already that it is the
officer and not the schoolmaster who has made Germany great. These
changes put my thoughts in a ferment. One has yet to see whether
such a society of officers can produce a people, and if its thinkers
and teachers could not lead it to a richer cultivation, and its
poets to a higher ideal of duty. I am afraid, my friend, that the
higher souls in our new empire will not find this an easy time."
"And yet you left your dreaming in India to come home to
discomfort," said Wilhelm.
"My longing for Germany never left me all the twenty years I was
there. And then I confess that I secretly reproached myself for
going away. It is comfortable to turn one's back on the Fatherland,
and to find more agreeable conditions in a foreign country. But
afterward one tells oneself that only egoists leave their own people
fighting against darkness and oppression, and that one has no right
to play the traitor to home and belongings, while those left behind
are striving bitterly to better their condition."
The procession of troops was still passing, but the young girls had
already left their posts; the stands were beginning to empty, and
Wilhelm and Dr. Schrotter tried to break through the crowd and go
homeward. After a short silence Schrotter again went on:
"Don't misunderstand me," he said; "in spite of thinking this
triumphal procession barbaric, and my ideal being different from
that of most people, I was deeply moved to-day with sympathy and
admiration. This generation has achieved something colossal. My eyes
fill with tears when I see these men. For six or seven years they
have shed their blood in these wars without a murmur, they have
fought in a hundred battles without taking breath, they have neither
counted the cost nor spared their labor, and one feels astounded at
living amid such heroes, who seem to belong to a fairy tale. This
generation has done more than its duty, and if now it is weary and
will rest for thirty years in peace, surely no one can reproach it."
Schrotter spoke with emotion, and Wilhelm who would not grieve his
friend by a contradiction, repressed a retaliation which rose to his
lips, and silently took leave of him.
The life of the community, as of single individuals, went back
gradually into its old channels, and so it did with Dr. Schrotter.
He had lived hitherto in an old-fashioned quarter of the town, and
now, to be as near as possible to Wilhelm, he rented a house in the
Mittelstrasse. He established a private hospital in the old
Schonhauserstrasse, in the midst of artisans and very poor people,
and there he spent daily many hours, treating for charity all those
who came to him for help. He soon had a larger attendance than was
comfortable, and had to extend the work, without which he could not
have lived. He found endless opportunities of relieving misery and
distress in this poor quarter of the town, and as he was a rich man,
and independent of his own creature comforts, he could put his
philosophy of compassion into practice to his heart's content.
Wilhelm took up his work again at the Laboratory, and also resumed
his visits to the Ellrichs, but it was with an increasing
discomfort. The councilor, who had been distinguished for his
services in the financial transactions with the French Government,
had heard the story of the refusal of the Iron Cross. He thought it
very ridiculous, and his early friendship for Wilhelm became
markedly cooler. Even Frau Ellrich's motherly feeling for him
received a check, and modesty and shyness no longer seemed a
sufficient explanation of the unaccountable delay in his love-
making. Only Loulou was apparently the same, whenever he came,
always lively and friendly, but when he left she was affectionate
without any display of emotion, grateful for tender glances, not
withholding quiet kisses, but not offering them--her calm manner
almost mysterious, as if love were simply something superficial and
of small import. Wilhelm could no longer deny that his first love,
which had stirred his being to the depths, was a mistake, but he
could not bring himself to definitely end the existing conditions.
Hundreds of times he was on the point of saying to Loulou that he
did not think the tie between them would secure their happiness, and
offering her her freedom, but as soon as he began his courage would
fail him. If people were present he was confused; if they were
alone, her personal appearance had the same charm for him, or rather
it awoke in him the remembrance of the delight and enthusiasm he had
felt in the past, and prevented him taking a step toward what would
do grievous injury to her girlish vanity, if nothing more.
Would this suspense and these fears, which made him so restless and
unhappy, always last? He might write a letter to Loulou, as he was
unable to say what he wished to in the light of her beautiful brown
eyes. Then he threw this idea aside as unworthy of consideration; he
could not simply dismiss a girl whom he loved by means of the post.
The simple thing to do seemed to wait, until, on the other side,
they should grow disgusted with him, and would tell him to go. This
agreed with his passive character, which was timidly inclined to
draw back before the rushing current of events, and preferred to be
carried along by them, just as a willow leaf is borne along on the
surface of a stream. Wilhelm could not help noticing that Herr von
Pechlar was now a favorite guest at the Ellrichs', that he made
himself very fussy about both mother and daughter, and that he had a
very impertinent and slightly triumphant air when he met him. He
would only have to leave the coast clear for Pechlar and all would
be at an end.
Paul Haber, who was in Berlin again, and paying a great deal of
attention to Fraulein Marker, was grieved and really angry at the
turn his friend's romance had taken. He knew through Fraulein Marker
how Herr von Pechlar was trying to supplant Wilhelm, and that he
took every opportunity of making abominably false representations
about him. There ought to be no more foolish loitering about. It was
unpardonable to let the golden bird fly away so easily. Once open
the hand, and she might be off. If Fraulein Ellrich was beginning to
flirt with Pechlar, it was quite excusable, as Wilhelm's coolness
might well drive her to it. But if he stuck to his absurd whim, that
she was too superficial for him!--as if every girl were not
superficial, and as if a man cannot educate her to whatever level he
pleases--then in heaven's name let him make an end of it all, or the
affair would become ridiculous and contemptible. But other
considerations had weight with Wilhelm.
Through Paul and the officers of his acquaintance he heard very
unfavorable things of Pechlar. He was only moderately well off, and
had more debts than hairs on his head; perhaps for a son-in-law of
Herr Ellrich's that was a venial offense. He was also a common
libertine, whose excesses were more like those of a pork-butcher
than of a cultivated man. His companions were not disinclined for
little amorous adventures--a joke with a pretty seamstress or
restaurant waitress were their capital offenses. But the manner in
which Pechlar carried on his amours was such as did not commend
itself to either the easygoing or cautious among the officers.
Wilhelm clearly saw that Pechlar did not love Loulou--he was
probably incapable of loving, and only wanted her dowry. Without a
thought of jealousy, and out of compassion for an inexperienced and
guileless creature who was dear to him, he thought it his duty to
warn her before she sullied herself by becoming bound to such a man.
To save Loulou he at last took the step which no respect for his own
peace or honor had allowed him to take before.
He went to the Ellrichs' house the next day at the usually early
hour of eleven o'clock, and asking for the young lady, he was shown
into the little blue boudoir, where he hoped to find Loulou alone.
But he was painfully surprised. Herr von Pechlar sat there, and
appeared to be in the middle of a conversation with Loulou. She
smiled at Wilhelm, and beckoned to him to come and sit near her,
without embarrassment. Wilhelm stayed a moment at the door
irresolute, then he went forward, and bowing to her without looking
at the hussar, said earnestly: "I came in the hope of speaking to
you alone, gnadiges Fraulein. Perhaps I may be so fortunate another
At these unexpected words Loulou opened her eyes wide. Herr von
Pechlar, however, who since Wilhelm's arrival had been tugging
angrily at his red mustache, could contain himself no longer, and
said in a harsh voice, which trembled with passion:
"That is the coolest thing I have ever heard. May I ask first of all
why you cut me on entering the room?"
"I only recognize people whom I esteem," said Wilhelm over his
"You are a fool," flashed back Pechlar's answer.
Perfectly master of himself, Wilhelm said to Loulou, "I am extremely
sorry that I have been the cause of an outbreak of bad manners in
your presence," then he bowed and left the room, while Loulou sat
there motionless, and Herr von Pechlar gave him a scornful laugh.
With all his retirement from the world, and his indifference to the
usages of society, Wilhelm felt nevertheless a sharp stab of pain,
as if he had been struck across the face with a whip. As he walked
down the Koniggratzer Strasse it seemed to him as if a bright, fiery
wound burned on his face, and the passers-by were staring at this
sign of insult. His powerful imagination formed pictures unceasingly
of violent deeds of revenge. He saw himself standing with a smoking
pistol opposite the offender, who fell to the ground with a wound in
his forehead; or he fought with him, and after a long struggle he
suddenly pierced the hussar through the breast with his sword. By
degrees his blood cooled, and with all the strength of his will he
fought against the feelings which he knew formed the brute element
in man, and which with his philosophy he believed he had tamed, and
he said to himself, "No, no fighting. What good would it do? I
should either kill him, or be killed myself. His insulting words
really do me no more harm than the yelping of this little dog who is
running past me. I will not let a remnant of prejudice be stronger
than my judgment."
Although he had come to this resolution, his nerves were still so
unstrung that he could not quiet them alone. He felt he must
unburden himself to some one, so he hastened toward Dr. Schrotter's.
The doctor, however, had not yet returned from his hospital. Wilhelm
soon found the inmates of his friend's household, an old Indian man-
servant and a housekeeper, also an Indian of about thirty-five, with
a yellow face already wrinkled and withered, large dark eyes, and a
gold-piece hanging from her nostrils. The old man maintained a
respectful attitude toward her, which pointed to a great difference
of caste between them. The woman showed by her small hands and feet,
and the nobility of her expression, the modest and yet dignified
character of a lady, rather than of a person in a subordinate
position. Both wore Indian dress, and attracted great attention when
they showed themselves in the street. They hardly ever went out,
however, and were always busily employed in service for Dr.
Schrotter, to whom they were very devoted.
The old man, who spoke a little English, opened the door to him, and
told him that Schrotter Sahib would soon be in. The woman also
appeared, and beckoned to him to go and wait in the drawing-room,
opening the door as she did so. As he went in she crossed her arms
on her breast, bowed her head with its golden-colored silk turban,
and vanished noiselessly. She only spoke Hindustani, and always
greeted Wilhelm in this expressive manner.
The drawing-room, in which Wilhelm walked restlessly up and down,
was full of Indian things; oriental carpets on the floor, low divans
along the walls covered with gold embroidery and heaped with
cushions, rocking-chairs in the corners, punkahs hanging from the
ceilings--no heavy European furniture anywhere, but here and there a
little toy-like table or stool made of sandalwood or ebony, inlaid
with silver or mother-o'-pearl. Everything smelled strangely of
sandalwood and camphor and unknown spices, everything seemed to
spring and shake under a heavy European foot, everything had such an
unaccustomed look, that one felt as if one were in a foreign land,
where Western prejudices and standpoints were unknown and
inadmissible. These surroundings spoke to Wilhelm dumbly yet
intelligibly, and he felt their persuasive power almost immediately.
He had recovered his equanimity when, a quarter of an hour later,
Schrotter came in.
"What a pleasant surprise!" he cried from the doorway. "Will you
stay to lunch with me?"
Wilhelm accepted gratefully, and then related his morning's
experiences. Schrotter had made him sit on a divan surrounded by
cushions, and listened attentively, while his half-closed eyes, full
of fire, rested on his friend's unhappy face. Wilhelm had never
mentioned his engagement to Fraulein Ellrich to many of his old
friends, but Dr. Schrotter had been told of it in all its
circumstances by Paul Haber. Now, however, Wilhelm could not avoid
the subject in his mind, and to make his last visit to the Ellrichs,
and his behavior with regard to Herr von Pechlar intelligible, he
told Dr. Schrotter, in short, concise language, the beginning and
subsequent development of his love-affair, and by the confession of
his consideration of Loulou's nature, gave a clew to his delay,
coolness, and final renunciation.
When Wilhelm had finished, and raised his eyes questioningly to
Schrotter, the latter said, after a short silence:
"I congratulate you on the quiet way in which you have told me all
this. For a young fellow of twenty-six with deep feelings it is
little short of a wonder. But the question is, what do you intend to
"Nothing," answered Wilhelm simply.
"You will not call out Herr von Pechlar?"
"And if Herr von Pechlar challenges you?"
"He challenge me?"
"Certainly; for although he is the direct offender, we can't
overlook the fact, dear Eynhardt, that you first insulted him, which
by a nice point of honor would justify him in taking the first
steps. The man is evidently bent on a quarrel, so we have to
consider the possibility that he may send his second with a
"In that case I would make it clear that I do not demand
satisfaction, but neither will I give it."
There was another pause.
"You are undertaking what may involve serious consequences,"
"It appears to me easy enough," said Wilhelm.
"You could not think of an academic career in Germany after it."
"You know I do not aspire to that."
"Beside that, the episode will become an insurmountable barrier in a
hundred circumstances of life."
Wilhelm was silent.
"Don't misunderstand me. I have not a word to say in favor of the
regulation of duels. I abhor them. It is as stupid and brutal as the
offering of human sacrifices to appease angry gods. I myself have
never fought in a duel. But I--I am already on the shadowy side of
life. I want nothing more from the world. But those still on the
sunny side have other things to consider. I think war is a horrible
barbarism, still I would not advise any one to hold back from his
duty in time of war. Men are often compelled to take part in the
foolishness of majorities. I know your heart is in the right place,
and that you don't place any exaggerated value on your life. You are
content to stand alone in the world, and have no mortgage of
obligation on your life. Why will you not fight?"
"Simply because I think as you do about duels. I agree that one must
often take part in the folly of the crowd, but I see a difference
there. I go and fight in battle because the State compels me. I can
struggle against these laws with my feeble forces, and I can exert
myself to bring about their alteration; but so long as they exist I
must submit to them, or else exile myself or commit suicide. If the
duel were a written law, I would fight; but the law as a matter of
fact forbids it, and my opinions are in accordance with the law."
"But there are laws of society as well as laws of the State. There
are customs which prevail over opinion and prejudices."
"That is not the same thing. If the folly of the majority form
itself into laws of the State, the gendarmes see to their
enforcement. No judge or jailer compels obedience to the laws of
"Something like it, however. It is unspeakably bitter to live
without the respect of one's fellow-creatures."
"I am coming to that point. But please do not think me overbearing
and conceited. The respect of my fellow-men I hold far more lightly
than self-respect. If I despised myself it would be no compensation
if every one saluted me, and if I respect myself, it does not
trouble me if others hold me lightly. When I am not forcibly
compelled I cannot let my own actions be guided by the caprices and
fads of other people. So long as it is possible my actions shall be
guided by my own judgment. You say you want nothing more of the
world--I require nothing more either. The only thing I demand is the
freedom of the soul."
"Yes--yes," murmured Schrotter as if to himself, "I know this
direction of thought better than you think. It has been brought
before me a hundred times by the word and action of Indian fakirs.
It seems to me that false freedom of the soul is a chimera. Our most
unfettered resolves are called forth by unknown, often by outward
conditions, by our own peculiar qualities, by the state of our
bodily health, by unknown nervous sources of energy through what we
see, hear, read, learn. You make your judgment the sole guide of
your actions, but your judgment itself is the result of forces and
influences unsuspected by yourself and depending on them. Well! you
want to lead the life of a fakir, to unloose the ties binding you to
other men, that is one of several ways to secure peace and
happiness, which to me also is an object in life. The principal
thing is not to be superficial, but to consider both what one
requires and what one gives up before turning into a fakir. I
respect you in any case."
The drawing-room door opened noiselessly, and the Indian woman
appeared, and with a pleasant inclination of her head spoke a word
to Dr. Schrotter. He got up and said, "Lunch is ready." They went
into the adjoining dining-room, furnished like any ordinary room. On
the table was a beautiful silver bowl of Indian work filled with
flowers, the sole luxury of this bachelor's table, neither wine nor
anything else to drink being visible. Schrotter drank nothing but
water, and he knew that Wilhelm's taste was similar. Bhani, as the
Indian housekeeper was called, stood close behind her master's
chair, never taking her eyes off him. The dishes were brought in by
the white-bearded servant, and handed with a deep reverence to
Bhani. She placed the dishes before Schrotter, changing them for a
fresh course, and poured water into his glass. It was a silent,
attentive service, almost giving the impression of adoration. Bhani
appeared not to be waiting on a mortal master, but taking part in a
sacrifice in a temple, so much devotion was expressed in her noble,
A dish of curry spread its oriental scent through the room, and
"Tell me, dear Eynhardt, in what way you mean to accomplish your
fakir's contempt of the world?"
"Pardon me," interrupted Wilhelm, "the expression does not strike me
as quite fair. I don't despise the world, I consider it merely as a
phenomenon, valueless to my way of thinking, and in which I fail to
find any real actuality."
"I understand quite well; we are not debating on a platform, but
chatting over our lunch. I am not troubling either to talk in the
correct jargon of school philosophy, and therefore I am at liberty
to call your longings after the essence of things, contempt of the
world. Now this occurs in two places--either among inexperienced
young men of strong, noble natures, instinctively conscious of their
own vitality, and intoxicated by their own strength, who feel so
overcome by the phenomenon that they undervalue it, and believe that
they are able singly to fight against it. Or there are the weak
natures, who think that they are capable of changing the phenomenon
to suit themselves. As they are not in a position to strive against
it they retire sullenly defeated. The story of the fox and the
grapes would just express their case, and also an excess of the
consciousness of their 'ego.' Those are, I think, the resources from
which spring contempt of the world: neither of these cases coincide
with yours; you are not young and inexperienced enough for the one,
and you are too useful for the other. You are healthy and sound, of
average powers and energy, uncommonly well made in body and mind; of
the poetical age, comfortably off, and I should like to know how you
have come to despise the world?"
"I hardly know. The first impulse came perhaps in Russia in early
childhood, where I got into the habit of regarding people around me
as barbarous--neither useful nor valuable."
Schrotter shook his head.
"I have lived for twenty years among a subdued and so-called
inferior race, but I have learned to love them instead of despising
"Very likely I have inherited the feeling from my mother, who was
very timid of other people, and given to mysticism."
"Is it not rather your reading? The unhappy Schopenhauer?"
Wilhelm smiled a little.
"I am above all things an admirer of Schopenhauer, although his
explanation of the mysteries of the world through the will is a
joke. What he has written about the main teachings of Buddhism has
influenced me very much."
"I see where you have got to--'Maja Nirvana'"
"That is all a fraud," Schrotter broke out, so that Bhani, who never
saw him violent, looked up frightened. "I know Indians who have
talked endlessly to learned pandits on these questions, and have
explained the real ideas of Maja Nirvana to me. It is
incomprehensible that people can misuse words on this subject as
they do in Europe. Nirvana is not what European Buddhists appear to
believe--an absolute negation--a cessation of consciousness and
desire; but, on the contrary, it is the highest consciousness, the
expansion of individual being into universal existence. Here is the
Indian seer's conception: the most limited individuality cares only
for his own 'ego.' But in the same measure that he transcends his
limitation, the circle of his interest is widened; more actualities
and existing phenomena are admitted, and come into sympathy with
himself. All things mingle with and extend his own 'ego;' and that
can be so widened as to embrace the interests of the whole world,
until man can be in as much sympathy with a grain of sand, or the
most distant star, and take as much share in the ant, and in the
dwellers on Saturn, as in his own stomach and toes. In this way the
whole universe becomes a constituent part of his 'ego;' thus his
desires cease individually to exist, and are assimilated with the
entire phenomenal world, and he longs for nothing beyond this. The
'ego' ceases because nothing is left outside the individual 'ego;'
but this Nirvana, this highest step in the perfection of humanity,
is, as you can see, not the negation of everything, but the
absorption of everything; not something immovable, but rather the
wonderful, ceaseless movement of the world's life. Men will not
attain to Nirvana through quiet and indifference, but through
strenuous labor, not by withdrawing into their 'ego,' but by going
outside it. The true Nirvana of the pandits is the exact opposite of
your Schopenhauer's Nirvana."
"But how can this conception of the seer's Nirvana coincide with
their inactivity and renunciation of the world?"
"People misunderstand the fakir's belief. The Indian wise men think
that the work of perfection is performed by the spirit alone, and
that the activity of the body disturbs it; therefore the body must
rest while the soul accomplishes its full measure of work, while it
widens the circle of its interest, and absorbs into itself the
phenomenal world. The clumsy understanding of the crowd thereupon
comes to the conclusion that to become holy and attain to Nirvana,
one must not stir a finger, not even to support oneself."
Wilhelm thought over this new point of view, but Schrotter went on:
"Believe me, true wisdom is neither that of the fakir nor of the man
of the world; but as it appears to me, it neither despises the world
nor admires it. One must not depend on oneself too much, neither on
others. One must always be saying to oneself that one has no lasting
importance in the world, but that in this transitory state eternal
forces are at work, the same forces which drive the earth round the
sun, and which operate on all men and things. Do not let us
individualize too much; we are only a piece of the whole, to which
we hang by a thousand unknown threads. Let us not either be too
arrogant in our bearing toward our fellow-men, in whose company we
are the involuntary puppets of unknown laws of development which are
leading humanity on to a given epoch."
This conversation had taken Wilhelm's mind off his misfortune, and
he had almost forgotten his adventure with Pechlar. He was reminded
of it, however, on reaching home about three o'clock, by finding
Paul, who always came to see him at that hour.
"What's the news?" cried he, coming cheerfully to meet him.
"I went to-day to see Fraulein Ellrich, to set things right between
"Yes; I went, but I have not done it." And then he related the
Paul seemed quite stunned while Wilhelm was speaking, and then
sprang up in great excitement from the sofa, and cried:
"You will fight the scoundrel, of course!"
"No," said Wilhelm quietly.
"What!" shouted Paul, taking hold of Wilhelm's shoulder and shaking
him. "Surely you are not in earnest? You are an officer--you have
been a student--you will never let that fool of a fellow place you
in a false position!" Wilhelm freed himself, and tried to speak
reasonably; but Paul would not listen, and went on, his face red
"Not only for yourself; you owe it to the girl's honor, if not to
your own, to punish the fellow. You won't appear like a coward in a
"That is an odd kind of logic."
"Do be quiet with your logic and your philosophy, and the lot of
them. I am not a logician, but a man, and I feel a mortal offense
like a man, and want to settle with the offender."
"Do stop a minute and let me speak a word. I will break off my
relations with Fraulein Ellrich, and then I shall not be in a
position to fight for her."
"That is very chivalrous!"
"That is silly! Just think of this situation: suppose I wound or
kill the offender--come back from the duel, and find the young girl,
who is the cause of the quarrel, ready to offer me the prize. I
answer: 'Many thanks, fair lady, I do not now wish for it,' and
straightway leave her, like the knight in the old ballad."
That seemed to satisfy Paul.
"Very well; then it must not be on her account. But fight you must,"
and he stopped suddenly, and then burst out: "If you will not fight
him, I will."
"Are you mad?"
Paul began to explain that he had the right to do it; he worked
himself into a fury, he stuck to his ideas, and it took Wilhelm an
hour to bring him to a more reasonable frame of mind. He spared no
pains in explaining to him his views of the world's opinion, and
that the real cowardice would be to fear the foolish prejudices of
society; but it was all in vain, and Paul's angry objections were
only silenced when Wilhelm said with great earnestness:
"If nothing that I say convinces you, I can only act in one way with
the painful knowledge that our friendship is not equal to such
conditions, but only to ordinary occasions."
"Oh! if it comes to giving up our friendship, as far as I am
concerned, I must wink at the whole thing; but what I can't stand is
your calling the opportunity which allows one to silence a fool, a
The crisis was not long in coming. The next morning before Wilhelm
went out, a lieutenant of one of the Uhlan regiments stationed at
Potsdam called, and said he had come with a challenge from Herr von
Pechlar; he declined to sit down, giving his message as shortly as
possible, with the least suspicion of contempt in his voice.
Herr von Pechlar had waited the whole afternoon; but as Herr
Eynhardt had sent him no message, he could no longer put off
demanding satisfaction. The questions as to who was the offender,
and what weapons should be used, might now be decided by the
seconds. Wilhelm looked calmly into the officer's eyes, and
explained that he had nothing further to do with Herr von Pechlar.
"You are an officer in the Reserve?" asked the lieutenant haughtily.
"I hope you understand that we shall bring the case before the
notice of the regiment?"
"You are perfectly free to do so."
The lieutenant stuck his eyeglass into his right eye, looked hard at
Wilhelm for several seconds, then, with an expression of deep
disgust, he spat on the floor, noisily turned round, and without a
word or sign, retired, his sword and spurs clanking as he went.
Oh, how hard it was to overcome the instinct of the wild beast! How
furiously it tugged at its chain! How it tried to spring after the
lieutenant, and clutch his throat in its claws!--but Wilhelm
conquered the new cravings of his instinct and stood still. He
experienced a great self-contentment at last, and admitted to
himself that he would not have been nearly so glad if he had wounded
a dozen of the enemy in single combat.
Three days later he received in writing, an order to present himself
at eleven o'clock the morning but one following to the Commandant of
the 61st Regiment. He took the journey the following evening, and at
the appointed hour he was shown into the commandant's private room,
where he found also his old captain, raised to the rank of major. He
spoke kindly to Wilhelm and held out his hand, while the commandant
contented himself with a nod, and a sign to be seated.
"I suppose you know that you have been ordered to come here about
the affair with Lieutenant von Pechlar?" he said.
"Will you relate what occurred?"
Wilhelm answered as he was desired. His recital was followed by a
short silence, during which the commandant and the major exchanged
"And you will not fight?" asked the first.
"Because my principles do not allow me."
The commandant looked at the major again and then at Wilhelm, and
"If I take the trouble to discuss the matter with you quite
unofficially, you have to thank the major, who has spoken warmly in
Wilhelm thanked the major by a bow.
"We know that you are not a coward. You showed great bravery on the
battlefield. It is because of that, I feel sorry. You are a faddist,
you proved that by your refusal of the Iron Cross, which is the
pride of every other German soldier. We are not willing to condemn a
mode of procedure, the meaning of which you evidently do not
understand, and which all your views of life tend to destroy. I am
not speaking now as your superior officer, but as a man--as your
father might speak to you. Believe what I say. Fulfill your duty as
a man of honor."
"I cannot follow your advice," answered Wilhelm gentle, but firmly.
He was painfully conscious that his answer sounded more roughly and
harshly than he intended, but he knew it was impossible to go into a
long philosophical discussion, kind and well-meaning as the
"We have more than fulfilled our promise, major," said the
commandant, and turning to Wilhelm, "Thank you, Herr--"
The major looked out of the window, and Wilhelm had to go without
being able to thank him by a look. He felt, however, that this time
things had been easier for him to bear, and that the only painful
feeling he had experienced during the interview was the vexation he
was giving the major.
The Militar Wochenblatt published a short account of his discharge.
It made no personal impression on him, but he felt that he was
branded in the eyes of others. It, however, seemed to draw Paul
Haber nearer to him. He avoided talking on the subject, but every
one noticed the quiet way in which he behaved to Wilhelm, his little
attentions, his long and frequent visits, as if he were under the
impression that he must console his friend in this great misfortune,
and stand by him as firmly as possible. Wilhelm knew him as he did
himself--how cautious and practically clever he was, and how
dangerous it was for him in his own position as Reserve officer to
keep up this confidential intercourse with one who had been turned
from a hero to a judicially dismissed officer, how perilous for the
connection he had with celebrated and influential people, and for
the appearance he must keep up in society. Wilhelm valued and
appreciated all Paul's heroism in remaining so true and stanch to
him, he did not ask for these things, but they were freely given by
one who ran the risk of becoming poor, so he was deeply grateful to
He considered himself under an obligation to go once more to the
Ellrichs', to formally take leave of them; but when he rang at their
door he was told that the family had gone away to Heringsdorf. As
this had occurred, Paul did not think it necessary to tell his
friend what he had heard through Fraulein Marker, namely, that the
Ellrichs were very angry about the affair of the duel, and had given
orders before they went away that Wilhelm was not to be admitted if
he called. Wilhelm now wrote to Loulou (he had avoided doing so
earlier), a short, dignified letter, in which he begged her
forgiveness for having been so long in finding out the state of his
feelings, as the struggle had been hard and painful, but he could
now no longer conceal the fact that their characters were not
sufficiently in harmony to insure happiness together for a lifetime.
He thanked her for the happiest week in his life, and for the
deepest and sweetest feelings he had ever experienced, and which
would always remain the dearest memory of his life. His photograph
was shortly afterward sent back to him, from Ostend; but his letter
remained unanswered. He did not learn therefore, that it had made an
exceedingly bad impression, and that Frau Ellrich had only been
restrained with difficulty by her daughter from writing to tell him
how impertinent she thought it of him to appear to take the
initiative, when her daughter had first refused to receive him. Herr
von Pechlar obtained a long leave, which he spent at Heringsdorf. In
September the Kreuzzeitung announced his betrothal to Fraulein
Ellrich, which was followed in the winter by their brilliant
The breaking of Wilhelm's relations with Loulou left a great blank
in his life. Up till now he had had in pleasant, hopeful hours, an
object to which all the paths in his life led him, to which his
thoughts were drawn as a ship steers for a distant yet secure
harbor; now the object was gone, and when he looked forward to his
future it seemed like the gray surface of the sea at dusk, formless,
limitless, without meaning or interest. Even the painful doubt he
had been in, his hesitation between the resolve to persevere in the
engagement, or to renounce it, the fight between his intelligence
and his inclinations, had become familiar to him, and had filled his
thoughts by day and his dreams by night. These must now all be
renounced. If for the last half-year his love had been only a quiet
happiness, or a hardly-defined desire, it was at any rate an
occupation for his mind, and he missed the employment very greatly.
He became quieter than ever; his face lost its youthful, healthy
color, and he appeared like the typical lover famed in classic
story. But his friends did not laugh at him; they bore with him,
treated him gently, as if he had been a disappointed girl. Paul, who
was filling the place of an invalided professor of agricultural
chemistry, and working hard after the college term began, found time
to come every day for a long walk in the Thiergarten, and resigned
himself to long philosophical discussions which so far had not been
at all to his taste. Dr. Schrotter seldom had any spare time during
the day; but Wilhelm always took tea with him in the evenings.
Did Bhani know anything of his story?
Had her womanly instinct guessed that his careworn, melancholy
expression betrayed an unhappy love story--a subject so sympathetic
to women? Anyhow she anticipated every means of serving him, and her
glance betrayed an almost shamefaced sympathy.
One November evening they were sitting at the little drum-shaped
table in the Indian drawing-room; the teaurn steaming, and Bhani
standing near, ready to obey her master's slightest wish. Schrotter
touched on the wound in Wilhelm's heart hitherto so tenderly
"My friend," he said, "it is time that you came to yourself. It is
obvious that you are still grieving, instead of fighting against
your dreams; you give way to them without a struggle."
Wilhelm hung his head. "You are right. It is foolish; for I see that
I do not love the girl deeply enough to spoil my life."
"Come now. You were more in love than you thought; but it is always
so; even in pure and passionless natures human nature is very
strong, and the first young and pretty girl who comes near enough to
you brings out all the dormant feelings, and reason disappears.
People often do the maddest things in this period of unrest, which
they repent all their after life. I have always mistrusted a first
love. One must be quite satisfied that it is for an individual, and
not merely the natural inclination for the other sex asserting
itself. Your first love, my poor Eynhardt, certainly belongs to this
class. Your youthful asceticism has had its revenge; now that your
reason has got hold of the reins again, the rebellion of your
instinct will soon be subdued."
"I hope so," said Wilhelm.
"I am sure of it. There is no doubt about the end of crises like
these, and it really is difficult to take the misery they cause
seriously, although it is bad enough while it lasts. It is the most
overpowering and yet the least dangerous of diseases. The patient
gives himself up for lost, and the doctor can hardly help smiling,
because he knows that the malady will only run its course, and will
stop like a clock at its appointed time. He can, however, hasten the
cure, if he can bring the patient to his own conviction."
He was silent, and seemed sunk in thought. Then he began again
suddenly: "I will read you a story about this; nothing is more
instructive than a clinical picture."
Bhani sprang to her feet and hastened toward him, but he put her
aside with a word, and going into his study he appeared again
bearing a folio bound in leather and with the corners fastened with
"This is my diary," he said. "I have had the weakness to keep this
since I was sixteen. There are three volumes already, and I began
the fourth when I returned to Germany. Listen now, and don't put
yourself under any constraint. I will laugh with you."
He opened the folio, and after a short search began to read. It was
the romance of his early life, written in the form of a diary,
simply told at some length. Quite an ordinary story of an
acquaintanceship made with a pretty girl, the daughter of a
bookseller, who sat next to him in a theater. Meetings out of doors,
then the introduction to her parents' house, and then the betrothal.
The Revolution of 1848 broke out, and the many demands on the young
doctor turned his thoughts away for the time from plans of marriage.
His fiancee greatly admired the fiery orator and fighter at
barricades, and told him so, in enthusiastic speeches and letters.
The father, however, had no sympathy with reactionaries, and soon
conceived a violent antipathy for his future single-minded son-in-
law. As long as the democratic party held the upperhand, he kept his
feelings in the background, making nevertheless endless pretexts for
delaying the marriage. The party of reactionaries broke up, however,
and the bookseller declared war; he forbade the young democrat to
enter his house, and even denounced him to the police. The young
lovers were, of course, dreadfully unhappy, and vowed to be true to
one another. He determined to go away, and tried to persuade her to
go with him. She was frightened, but he was audacious and insisted.
They would go to London, and be married there; he could earn his
living, and they would defy the father's curse. All was arranged;
but at the last moment her courage failed, and she confessed all to
the tyrant, who set the police on the young man's track, and sent
the girl away to relations in Brandenburg. The unfortunate lover's
letters were unanswered. He left Germany, and heard after some weeks
that his betrothed was married to a well-to-do jeweler, apparently
without any great coercion.
This story was disentangled from letters, conversations, accounts of
opinions in the form of monologues, interviews, visits, and
descriptions of sea-voyages; all sufficiently commonplace. But what
excitement these daily effusions showed! What boundless happiness
about kisses, what cries of anguish when the storm broke! Would it
not be better to commit suicide and die together? Was it possible
that this quiet man with his apathetic calm could ever have been
through these stormy times? It did not seem credible, and Schrotter
seemed conscious of the immense difference between the man who had
written the book and the man who now read it. His voice had a
slightly ironical sound, and he parodied some of the scenes in
reading them, by exaggerating the pathos. But this could not last
long. The real feeling which sighed and sobbed between the pages
made itself felt, and carried him back from the cold present to the
storm-heated past; he became interested, then grave, and if he had
not suddenly shut the book with a bang when he came to the place
where his faithless love was married, who knows--
At all events, Wilhelm had not smiled once; his eyes even showed
signs of tears. Schrotter took the book into the other room, and
when he came back every trace of emotion in look and manner had
"So you see," he began, "a sensible boy like I am has behaved like
an ass in the past. But I did not shoot myself after all, that was
so far good, and I am ashamed to tell you how soon I got over it. I
often go past her shop in Unter den Linden, and see her through the
window beyond all her brilliants and precious stones. She is still
very pretty, and seems happy, much happier no doubt than if she had
been with me. She would certainly not recognize me now, and I can
look at her and my heart beats no whit the faster. Dwell on my
"I am not sure that you are not slandering yourself."