Part 5 out of 8
it yielded a clear return of a hundred or a hundred and twenty
thousand marks a year. Paul had long ago been in a position to make
use of his right of purchase on the estate, and had acquired about
two thousand acres of adjoining marsh lands beside, though at a
considerably higher price, and was now the owner of a well-rounded
estate of twelve thousand acres, the admiration and pride of the
whole neighborhood. He had converted the cultivation of the
marshland, which six years ago had been but a bold theory, into an
established scientific fact, and his methods, the excellence of
which was amply proved by his almost tropically luxuriant harvests
and uninterruptedly increasing wealth, were assiduously imitated on
all sides. Paul Haber was acknowledged far and wide to be the first
authority on the management of marsh land. The government had long
since taken note of his success and kept an eye upon his doings, and
was furnished by the Landrath with regular accounts of his
agricultural progress. Young men of the best county families
contended for the privilege of being under him for a year's
practical farming. Foreign governments sent professors, lecturers,
and practical agriculturists to him, partly to inspect his
arrangements, partly to study his methods under his personal
supervision, in order to adopt them in their own countries. Paul was
more than a landed proprietor, he was a kind of professor holding
his unpretentious lecture in the open air or in the appropriately
decorated smoking-room of the Priesenmoor house, always surrounded
by a troop of eager and admiring listeners of various nationalities,
and mostly of high rank.
Of course, under these circumstances there was no lack of outward
marks of distinction. Two years before he had been promoted to a
first lieutenancy of the Landwehr. A row of foreign decorations
adorned his breast, and last year, when he was visited by the
Minister for Agriculture, accompanied by the Landrath, the Kronen
Order of the fourth class was added to the rest. Paul was on the
District Committee and County Council, and if he was not deputy of
the Landtag and member of the Reichstag, it was only because he
considered all parliamentary work a barren expenditure of time and
strength. He stood in high repute in the county, which was proved by
his election to be the president of the Society for the Cultivation
of Moors and Marshes, a society founded by his followers and
admirers, and which counted among its members some of the most
important landowners of the whole of Northern Germany.
These circumstances could not fail to react on Paul's character. He
no longer tried to look as much as possible like a smart officer,
but rather like a country gentleman of ancient lineage. The thick
fair mustache had abandoned its enterprising upward curl, and now
hung down straight and long. The model parting of the hair was in
any case out of the question, a distinguished baldness having taken
the place of the old luxuriance, and his figure had fulfilled all
the promises of his youth. In his dress Paul still cultivated
extreme elegance, only that it partook more of the bucolic now in
style than of the drawing-room as in former days. He wore high
patent leather boots with small silver spurs, well-fitting riding
breeches, a gray coat with green facings and large buckhorn buttons,
a blue-and-white spotted silk necktie tied in a loose knot with
fluttering ends, an artistically crushed soft felt hat, and in his
dog-skin gloved hand a small riding-whip with a chased gold head.
With all its dandyism it was a model of good taste, and in no single
detail smacked of the parvenu, and that for the very good reason
that Paul was no parvenu, but a man who was conscious of having
attained to a position which was his by nature and by right. He had
never suffered from undue diffidence, and his success had naturally
increased his sense of his own value, which, however, he did not
display in any bumptious or aggressive manner as one who would force
reluctant acknowledgment of his merits, but quietly and naturally,
seeing that he received full and voluntary recognition from all
sides. He believed in himself, and was quite right to do so, for
everybody else believed in him too. He spoke with authority, for
there was no one about him who did not hang upon his lips with
respect, and mostly with admiration. He made assertions and gave his
opinion with the assurance of superior knowledge, but he had a right
to do so, for it always referred only to matters about which he
knew, or was fully persuaded that he knew, more than most people.
Even his wealth did not go to his head, but acted on him like a
moderate amount of drink upon a man who can stand a great deal. He
enjoyed to the full the comforts and amenities of life which his
large income enabled him to procure, but he did it for his own
pleasure, not for the sake of what others would think; for his own
comfort, and not for show. He liked to keep good horses and dogs, an
admirably appointed table and cellar, and a large staff of well-
drilled servants. On the other hand, he avoided anything approaching
to display, was never seen at races, went to no fashionable baths,
gave no grand entertainments, nor had a box at either theatre or
operahouse, belonged to no club, and never played high. His wife
wore perhaps rather more jewelry and followed the newest Paris
fashions a trifle more closely than was absolutely necessary at
Friesenmoor or even the Uhlenhorst, but as she remained as simple
and unaffected as before, nobody could think any the worse of her
for this small inherited weakness.
Toward his own family Paul had behaved in a most exemplary manner,
affording thereby the strongest proof that though he had risen he
was no upstart. The numerous members of his family and the men who
had married into it nearly all had to thank him for their
advancement or actual support. Some were employed on his estate,
others he had trained in his particular branch of agriculture, after
which, and with his recommendation, they had found no difficulty in
obtaining brilliant positions as stewards or lease-holders of
estates, and two of his brothers had appointments on royal domains.
He had, therefore, every right to self-congratulation, as having
fulfilled all the duties of a model man and citizen far beyond what
For Wilhelm, Paul still retained the affection and friendship of his
early days, only that, unconsciously to himself, it had taken on a
certain fatherly tone; although there was a difference of but one
year between them, there was a touch of protecting consideration and
pity about it, such as strong men feel toward a weaker and less
perfectly developed creature.
The first day Paul left his friend to have a thorough rest, but the
next morning early he knocked at his door and asked if he might come
"Certainly," was the answer, and opening the door at the same
moment, Wilhelm appeared fully dressed and ready for inspection.
"You have kept up your old habit of early rising--that is right,"
said Paul, and clapped him on the shoulder.
"So have you," returned Wilhelm with a smile.
"I--oh, that's different. I am a farmer, and you know the proverb--
'The master's eye makes the cattle fat.' But your books don't
require to be fed and watered at break of day. As you are ready,
come down now, and we can have a chat over breakfast."
Malvine met him downstairs with a friendly smile and shake of the
hand. This morning she wore a long blue morning gown with gay
colored embroidery at the throat and wrists and a little lace cap
with blue ribbons. The breakfast was as elaborate as on the day
"I want to take you over to my place to-day, Wilhelm. We have a
shooting party, the weather is lovely, and it will be a nice change
"Thanks, Paul, but I would much rather you left me here. I am no
sportsman, as you know very well."
"We'll soon make you into one. Nobody is born a sportsman, or rather
we are all born sportsmen, but forget it in our wretched town life,
and afterward have to set to work and learn laboriously the art that
came so naturally to our forefathers. Not, however, that you need
fire a single shot, it is more for the healthy out-of-door exercise,
and to show you Friesenmoor in its winter dress, and for the society
which will interest you. They are neighbors of mine--nearly every
one of them a character--old Baron Huning, who fought in the Crimea
as an English officer, Count Chamberlain von Swerte, crammed with
curious court stories, Graf Olderode, who, in spite of his gout,
will jump for joy when I introduce you as the best friend I have in
the world, and add that you have just been banished from Berlin
under the Socialist Act. And then there are my pupils--I've got a
Russian prince among them, and a very near neighbor, a young
nobleman from the Marches, an officer in the Red Hussars. Now don't
be a slow coach, come along."
"You are very kind, but I should be very sorry to make your gouty
Graf jump, even for joy."
"Dr. Enyhardt is quite right," Malvine now joined in. "What an idea
too to carry him off from me before he has had time to settle
comfortably. You stay with me. Herr Doctor; this is my day, and you
shall make the acquaintance of some charmingly pretty girls this
afternoon. That will interest you more than Paul's old
"All right," laughed Paul; "but you had better look out, Wilhelm, I
smell a rat. Malvine has designs upon you, she wants to get you
married. If you came with me you would be the hunter, but if you
stay here you will find yourself in the position of the game."
"And if he is," retorted Malvine, "it is surely the better part to
let yourself be caught by a pretty girl than to go and shoot poor
hares and wild ducks."
Paul did not press his invitation, and drove off a minute or two
later, not to return till the following day. Malvine, however, put
her threat into practice, and persuaded Wilhelm with gentle
insistence to join her afternoon coffee party, and be introduced to
all her lady visitors and take part in the conversations. The
introduction caused Malvine a little embarrassment. Only now did she
fully realize the fact that her guest was nobody in particular. She
was painfully conscious of the baldness of his name and his simple
title of Dr., and the absence of any sort of distinguishing mark by
the addition of which she might recommend him to the special notice
of her circle of friends. He was not a landed proprietor, nor a
professor, not even a master. Nor could she conscientiously say,
"the celebrated Dr. Eynhardt." He had no military title, and to
introduce him as "the handsome Dr. Eynhardt" would hardly do.
Fortunately she had no need to mention the latter adjective. The
ladies observed without further assistance how remarkably handsome
this gentleman was with his girlish complexion, silky, raven-black
hair and beard, and lustrous dark eyes. Charming lips drew him
constantly into the conversation. which, cultivated and many-sided,
ranged from the weather to the recently-closed Paris Exhibition,
from Sarasate to Vischer's last novel. Wilhelm had not a word to say
on these important subjects, and so spoke in monosyllables, or not
at all, till the ladies, who were most of them very animated, came
to the conclusion that he was as stupid as he was handsome, "as is
usually the case, my dear."
At supper Malvine was indefatigable in asking Wilhelm how he liked
this dark girl, and what he had said to that fair one, and what
impression the piquante little one with the boyish curly head had
made upon him? When he frankly confessed that he had paid very
little attention to any of the young ladies, and could scarcely
remember one from another, she was very much discouraged. It was
decidedly no easy task to help this clumsy person along. All three
girls of whom she had spoken were heiresses, and beautiful and well-
educated beside--what more did he want?
Alas! he did not want anything at all, but to be left in peace, and
that was the aggravating part of it. Malvine had set her heart on
marrying him, and marrying him well. Her sentiment for him had long
since given place to other and less agitating feelings, as beseemed
a model wife, mother, and landed proprietress. She was grateful to
him for having recognized and set right the mistaken impression of
her girlish heart. She was seized with discomfort at the thought of
what might have been. Where would she be now if she had become Frau
Dr. Eynhardt? A woman without fortune, of no position or importance,
and at the present moment even homeless and a wanderer. As things
had turned out she was wealthy and distinguished, the best people in
Hamburg and the whole of Luneburg came to her house, and she ruled
like a small queen over a large settlement of dependents. And all
this she owed to her dear Paul, who, during the seven years of their
married life, had never given her one moment's pain, never cost her
eyes a single tear. Out of her grateful acknowledgment that Wilhelm
had materially assisted in the founding of her agreeable destiny,
and the unconscious lingering remains of her former attachment,
there had sprung up a very tender friendship for him, the unusual
warmth of which would have at once betrayed its hidden origin to the
experienced analyst of the heart. She wanted to see him happy, she
considered earnestly what was lacking to him to make him so, and was
sure that it could only be a rich and pretty wife. This happiness
then she determined to procure for him, an easy enough task, as her
set contained a large selection of "goldfish."
If he would only meet them halfway! The young ladies, obviously very
well disposed toward him, could not make the first advances. And yet
on the following Thursday he sat there in the midst of the gay
chatter just as quiet and wooden as on the first occasion, made no
advances to any of the girls, singled out no one from the rest.
After that Malvine was obliged to make a pause in her well-
intentioned maneuvres, for the third Thursday was Christmas Eve, and
her time was taken up in preparations for the Christmas-tree.
For this festive occasion Frau Brohl and Frau Marker came over from
Berlin, as had been their custom ever since Paul had taken the house
on the Uhlenhorst. Frau Marker had grown very stout, and her hair
showed the first silvery threads, otherwise she was blooming and as
silent as ever. Old Frau Brohl was simply astounding. She had not
changed in the smallest degree, time had no power over her, she was
just as doubled up and colorless. and her movements just as slow as
ever, her brown eyes had the same tired droop, and her low,
complaining voice the old tone of suffering. But her appetite had
grown, if anything, rather larger, and, apart from one or two colds
in the winter, she had not known an hour's illness during the whole
Needless to say, the grandmother did not come empty-handed. She
brought two cases with her, one of which contained a large quantity
of excellent bottled fruit, which Malvine still preferred to any her
own highly-paid cook could prepare, while the other was filled with
a choice collection of fancy work. On these treasures being
unpacked, it was discovered that the inventive genius of the old
lady of seventy was still undiminished. For the master of the house
there was a game-bag made of interwoven strips of blue and red
leather, somewhat in the Indian manner, very curious, and of course,
impracticable Malvine received a silklace veil, the pattern in large
marsh-mallows--a graceful play upon her name.
Frau Brohl had worked at this masterpiece for a year and a half. For
little Willy, in consideration of the aristocratic propensities one
might expect, or at any late encourage, in the heir to a large
estate, there was a Flobert rifle, the strap of which was ornamented
after an entirely new method by cutting out thin layers of the
leather and inserting gilt arabesques and figures. For the house in
general there were some ingenious arrangements in fir cones and
The Christmas-tree was set up in the great drawing-room on the
ground floor and reached almost to the ceiling. It was a beautiful
young fir, so fresh and fragrant of pine that the breath of the
woods seemed to cling to it still. A large party had gathered for
the lighting-up. Beside the relatives of the aristocratic pupils,
who had come over from the estate, there were some neighbors from
the Uhlenhorst, with five or six little children, and the
Chamberlain von Swerte with his high-born wife. The couple were
childless, and not wishing to spend their Christmas alone, had
accepted Paul's invitation, and come all the way from their little
castle near Ronneburg to the Ulhenhorst.
The chamberlain was the lion of the evening. Paul took an
opportunity of whispering to Wilhelm, "Herr von Swerte is of the
House of Hellebrand--one of the first families in the county--
tremendously ancient lot!" Old Frau Brohl had observed the little
gold tab on his coat tail--the chamberlain's sign of office, and
manuevered skillfully in order that she might frequently obtain a
back view, and so gaze upon the proud badge in silent awe and
admiration. The children had no eye for such matters, but rushed
shrieking with delight round the tree, whose branches shed such
gorgeous presents on them. Willy got a hussar uniform, with sword,
knot, boots and spurs all complete, and would not rest till he had
been taken to his room and dressed in it, and then appeared before
the company in this martial attire. His mother's eye grew dim with
pride and joy when Herr von Swerte lifted up the little warrior to
kiss him, and said heartily: "Well, my dear Herr Haber, he will make
a smart cavalry officer some day!"
At dinner Wilhelm found himself beside Frau Brohl. The old lady was
still fond of him, and never forgot how well he had behaved at a
critical moment, and with what modest self-perception he had
acknowledged that he was not the husband for her granddaughter.
Searching about for something agreeable to say to him, or for a
subject that would be sure to interest him, she suddenly remembered
one, and said, between the fish and the roast, "Have you heard the
story about your old flame, Frau Von Pechlar?"
Wilhelm started and changed color.
Frau Brohl never noticed, and continued in her soft complaining
voice: "Your guardian angel saved you there, Herr Doctor. You would
have come off nicely if you had married Fraulein Ellrich. There have
been all sorts of rumors for years, but now it has come to an open
scandal. She has left Herr von Pechlar and gone off with a count,
who has been hanging about her for some time. They say she has gone
to Italy with him."
Wilhelm made no reply, but he was surprised himself to feel how
deeply the information affected him, so that he could not breathe
freely all the evening, and although it was late before he got to
bed, he could not sleep for hours, thinking of the girl he had once
loved, who was now rushing blindly down the path of dishonor. Why
should the thought pain him so much? Do heart wounds heal so slowly
and imperfectly that a rough touch can make the scar burn and throb
after long years? Or was it regret at the besmirching of a picture
which till now had shone so purely and been so sweetly framed in his
memory? He did not know, but for days it depressed him to the verge
In return for the hospitality he had received New Year's Eve was
spent at Herr von Swerte's. The whole Haber family, with Frau Brohl
and Frau Marker--the white grandmamma and the brown grandmamma, as
Willy called them, to distinguish them from one another--drove over
in the afternoon to Ronneburg by way of Harburg, but Wilhelm could
not be prevailed upon to accompany them. Paul took him severely to
task; Malvine represented to him, with an eloquence unusual to her,
the horrors of a lonely New-Year's Eve; Frau Brohl pointed out the
advantages of celebrating the festive occasion in a company composed
entirely of rich people; and even Willy entreated, "Do come,
Onkelchen, you can take care of me on the road." All their
persuasion proving fruitless, they finally left him to his fate, and
he remained behind alone.
Night found him at the writing-table in Paul's study, his head in
his hand, lost in thought. At last he shook himself out of his deep
brooding and wrote the following letter to Schrotter:
"My Revered Friend, I will not now break the habit of eight years,
but will spend my New Years' Eve with you, the person who stands
nearest to me in all the world. I am alone in this grand villa, the
servants seem to be enjoying themselves downstairs over their roast
goose and punch, Paul has taken his family and gone into the country
to the castle of a neighboring estate owner by whom he is evidently
very much impressed, and I can chat with you undisturbed.
"I wish you could live for a time in close contact with Paul, as I
am doing, you would be surprised and pleased. His development has
been wonderfully logical, and he now affords the spectacle, so
intensely interesting to the observant eye, of a person whose every
capacity, under the influence of the most favorable combination of
circumstances imaginable, has attained to the utmost limit of growth
which is possible to it. Paul has become the ideal type of our North
German landed proprietor. He is ultra conservative, and considers
the Socialist Act too mild. He loathes parliamentarianism, but would
wish that the Landrath had not the power to appoint even a police
constable without the consent of the estate owners of the district,
and raves about local police prerogative. His only newspaper, beside
the little local one, is the Kreuzzentung, he is learned in the Army
List, and the writing-table at which I am sitting is strewed with
volumes of the Almanac de Gotha. He looks after his subjects--for I
think he calls his workmen his subjects--in a truly fatherly or
feudal manner, but I do not doubt that he would drive the best of
them off the estate with dogs, if, even in the depth of winter, they
did not stand hat in hand the whole time they were talking to him.
The sole problem of the universe which has any sort of interest for
him is the outlook of the weather for the harvest. The course of
human or superhuman events arouses his wonder, his doubts, or his
anxiety only in proportion as it affects the price of corn. He
cannot grasp that one should have any other aim in life than to
become a successful agriculturist. He finds full satisfaction in his
work, and what between a charming wife and an adored child he would
afford an example of what the fables and proverbs tell us does not
exist--a perfectly happy man, if one thing were not lacking, the
little word 'von' in front of his name. I trust he may not die
without obtaining it, and then the world will have contained one
mortal who has known absolutely boundless happiness.
"But in writing to you in this strain my conscience pricks me. Is it
not unkind toward Paul, whose attachment to me is positively
touching? Is it not churlish to exercise such cold crticism upon a
friend whose faithful affection has never for one moment wavered? He
surrounds me with endless proofs of his affection, and is always on
the lookout for something which may give me pleasure. He is a
passionate sportsman--his only passion as far as I can see--and
worries me twice a week to join him on his shooting expeditions. He
is a masterly 'skat player, and is most anxious to enrich my
existence by the joys which, according to him, this intellectual
game affords to its adepts. When I venture timidly to propose that I
should leave him and live by myself, he looks so honestly hurt and
grieved that I have not the courage to insist further. And Frau
Haber, kind soul, who is so set upon getting me married and thereby
insuring my happiness! I and marrying! What have I to offer a woman?
Love? I am too poor in illusions. Amusements--society--the theater?
All that is a horror to me. And moreover, I question if I have a
right to bring a being into the world, over whose destiny I have no
control, and whose existence would most certainly be richer in pain,
and misery than in happiness; and I know unquestionably that I have
no right to teach a light-hearted girl to think, and force her to
exchange the artless gayety of a playful little animal for my own
fruitless speculations and never-to-be-satisfied yearnings.
"In face of all this, serious doubts arise in my mind. Is it for me
to speak with superciliousness and superiority of Paul, or to look
down upon him? I ask you, as I have been asking myself every day
these three weeks--is he not the wise man and I the fool? He the
useful member of society, and I the mere hanger-on? His life the
real, mine the shadow? That he is happy I have already said; that I
am not, I know. His system therefore leads to peace and contentment,
mine does not. He has set a child into the world, and though, of
course, he does not know what its ultimate fate will be, he sees for
the present, as do I and everybody else who is not blind, that it
fills his home with sunshine and warmth. He provides hundreds with
their daily bread. That is, I know, of no moment to the universe; it
is of very little importance whether a few more obstruse human
creatures walk the face of the earth or not. But meanwhile, the
creatures in question enjoy more agreeable sensations, if, thanks to
Paul's exertions, they have a comfortably spread table every day. I
cannot boast of any such achievements. The only good I ever did my
fellow-men did not proceed from me but from our friend Dorfling, who
simply used my hand as an instrument for carrying out his charitable
designs. My personal compassion, my love for my companions in
ignorance and suffering bears no fruit, benefits no one, and it
frequently seems to me that, if the truth were known, I am an egoist
of the deepest dye.
"If I could at least act consistently with the philosophy which
directs nay views of life! But I am not even capable of that.
Systematically, I concede no importance to outward forms. Maja does
not count me among her devotees. What are houses? What are the
phantoms who inhabit them? A transient semblance, a delusion of the
senses! And yet, I am conscious that I miss just those houses which
happen to stand, in Berlin and that I feel an unspeakable longing
for the phantom called Dr. Schrotter. Once again it has been proved
to me that I am an unconscious plaything in the hands of unknown
powers, for again, as more than once in my life, and always at
decisive moments, some outside agency has interfered in my fate, and
disposed of me contrary to my own intentions, by sending me out of
Berlin and away from you. But, nevertheless, my appreciation of this
fact does not give me the strength to accept the inevitable in
silence and without repining.
"Enough--I will not pain you. Only this much I should like to add
that life is really harder to bear than I had thought for.
"Farewell, dear and honored friend; remember me affectionately to
Bhani, who, I trust, does not suffer too severely from this hard
winter, and always believe in the faithful friendship and devotion
Three days later Wilhelm received the following answer from
"DEAREST FRIEND: Your long and welcome New Year's letter troubled me
much on account of the state of mind I see revealed in it. I think,
however, that it is explained by the fact of your being rooted up
out of your accustomed surroundings that you are oppressed by
Haber's hospitality, and that you have as yet made no plans for the
future, and I trust that your spirits will improve when these three
circumstances are altered.
"I have always considered Haber, with all his good qualities of
heart and character, a thoroughly commonplace man, and your
observations verify my opinion to the full. And yet I quite
understand that the sight of his prosperity and self-satisfaction
should give you food for thought, and raise the question in your
mind whether his philosophy--if I may use the word--or yours, is the
right one. That is a great question, and I do not presume to answer
it, either in general or for your particular case; and all the more,
for the very good reason that your life is only really beginning
now. You are not yet thirty-four, you may yet do something great,
something pre-eminent, and who knows if those very qualities which
have made your life unproductive hitherto, may not enable you later
on to do things beside which the achievements of a Paul Haber shrink
into insignificance? On the other hand, I am persuaded--quite apart
from your respective ways of life--that you have chosen the better
and higher part.
"Human nature is like a tower with many stories; some people inhabit
the lower, others the higher ones. The inhabitants of the cellars
and ground floor may, in their way, be good, decent, praiseworthy
people, but they can never enjoy the same amount of light, the same
pure air and wide view as those who live on the upper stories. Now
you, my dear young friend, live several floors higher up than our
good Paul Haber, whom, however, I value and am very fond of. But
there are people living over our heads too. I have known Indian
sages who looked down upon all we strive after and with which we
occupy ourselves with the same pitying wonder as you do on Haber's
passion for sport and 'skat,' and his longing for a title; who have
difficulty in understanding that we should earn money, be ambitious,
entertain passions, conform to outward rules of custom, and, under
the pretext of education, laboriously study rows of empty phrases.
These Brahmins have still higher interests and a yet wider view than
the noblest-minded and wisest of us, and the knowledge that such
pure and all-embracing spirits do exist ought to teach us to be
humble, and not despise those who may still cling to some vain show
that we have overcome, and attach importance to matters which no
longer possess any in our eyes.
"One thing I have in my heart to wish for you, my dear friend--that
you could take life with a little of the unreflecting simplicity of
those who accept--what the moment offers without troubling
themselves as to the why and the wherefore. You bow to those high
powers who, for instance, have caused you to be banished from
Berlin; then submit yourself to those still higher ones, who let you
live and feel and think. Do not fight against the natural instincts
which lead you to cling to life and love. Your fears that you have
nothing to offer a wife are groundless. There are women who do not
seek their happiness in the vanities which you very properly detest.
Do all you can to find such a woman. Bestow life as you have
received it, and leave your offspring cheerfully to the care of
those powers who rule over your own life and destiny. For my part, I
should be very sorry to see your race die out.
"And why reproach yourself that you provide no one with daily bread?
Man does not live by bread alone; and by simply being what you are,
you supply many people--myself for instance--with a pleasure in life
and a belief in your future career that is worth more than daily
"Bhani thanks you for your kind message. She incloses two verses for
you, of her own composition. Here you have them in prose
translation--'My beloved master and his humble handmaid miss the
dear friend with the soft eyes and gentle voice. We live as in a
bungalow in the season of rains--clouds and ever clouds, and no sun.
When will the sky be blue, and the sunshine come again? and when
wilt thou eat rice once more at the table of my lord?' In the
original it certainly sounds much prettier.
"Let me know soon what you think of doing, and be assured of the
hearty affection of your old
"POSTSCRIPT: Just read the enclosed extract from my to-day's Times.
That man's development was as logical as Haber's."
In the letter Wilhelm found, beside Bhani's poem, written in
delicate Sanscrit characters on yellow paper, a cutting from an
English newspaper, in which he read that a Nihilist of the name of
Barinskoi, in St. Petersburg, had for some time excited the
suspicions of his confederates by his luxurious and showy style of
living. In order to discover the source from which he drew the money
for it, they appointed one of their female members to be his
mistress. She had shared in his extravagances, and soon obtained
proofs that he was in the service of the police, and sold his fellow
Nihilists. A secret court condemned him to death, and a few days ago
he had been found dead in his rooms, his throat cut, and his body
literally hacked to pieces.
In January Wilhelm received an unusual visitor. It was a leader of
the workingmen of Altona, who told him, without further
circumlocution, that the Socialists had kept their eye upon him, had
found out where he was living, and now sent him, the Altona man, to
see if anything could be made of him.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Wilhelm in astonishment.
"I mean," returned the visitor, who had introduced himself as
Stonemason Hessel, "whether you could not be persuaded to join us
As Wilhelm did not answer at once, Hessel resumed--"Our party needs
men like you, who are independent and bold, have a university
education, and speak well. You are all that, as we know. By
banishing you from Berlin they have, in point of fact, made you one
of us. So go a step further, Herr Doctor; defend yourself, take up
the fight the government has forced upon you. You have a million of
determined workmen at your back, who will gladly accept you as their
"Excuse my frankness," said Wilhelm at last, "but I really cannot
think you are serious in your proposal."
"It is a very serious matter to us," cried Hessel. "I speak in the
name of the heads of the party, and have means of convincing you of
the reality of my proposal if you have any doubts about it."
"But how do you come to know about me?"
"That is very simple. You are not, perhaps, aware how well organized
we are, and how we follow up everything that may be of use to us
afterward. We know what you did for our party in Berlin, and that
you are suffering for it now. We know your circumstances, and that
you have a considerable sum of money at your disposal, and, I
repeat, we want educated men. Most of us have not had the means to
get much schooling. The struggle for our daily bread uses up all our
time, and all the brains we have. Look at me, Herr Doctor, for years
I never had more than five hours' sleep, and always used half the
night to learn the little I know. There are plenty of people among
us who--more's the pity--are distrustful of the better educated--
call them upstarts, and won't have anything to do with them. Their
idea is that the proletariat should be led by proletariars. But that
is nonsense. No oppressed class has ever yet been emancipated by its
own members. It was always by high-minded men of wider views out of
the upper classes. Catilina was an aristocrat, and put himself at
the head of the populace. Mirabeau belonged to the Court, and
overthrew the monarchy. Wilberforce, the defender of the negro, was
not black himself."
Wilhelm now for the first time looked more attentively at this
stonemason, who talked so glibly of Catalina, Mirabeau and
Wilberforce, and the thought passed through his mind that, at any
rate, there was one good thing about Social Democracy--it brought
education into circles to which it otherwise would never have
"And so," Hessel wound up, "we workmen too must be led to victory by
"You overlook one point, however," remarked Wilhelm. "To be your
leader, one must before all things share your convictions."
"It is quite impossible that an educated and thoughtful man should
not see the injustice of the present social system. The government,
which oppresses us, sees it as clearly as we do ourselves. It is not
fighting for a conviction, but for the supremacy of a certain
"'It is impossible,' is no argument. In point of fact, I do not hold
with your doctrines. I know that the working-classes suffer, but I
do not know why, and I do not believe your theorists when they say
it is all because the workingman is ground down by the capitalist.
Furthermore, you speak of leading--where am I to lead you to?"
"To victory against the plundering feudalism of the State."
"That is a mere phrase. I know of no plan which will sweep poverty
and distress from the face of the earth. Even if you raise a
revolution and it succeeds, even if you destroy the feudal State and
build up a workingman's State upon the ruins, you will thereby only
have improved the condition of a select few, not of the whole--not
even of the many. I would not like to be in the shoes of your
present leaders, preachers and prophets, when you have conquered,
and your followers demand to see the results of your victory. How
little they will then be able to fulfill of the promises they have
"So it is your opinion that there is nothing to be done for us, and
that we ought calmly to be left in want, and slavery, and
ignorance?" Hessel asked angrily.
"I think," returned Wilhelm, "that it is the bounden duty of every
man to love his neighbor, and help him where and when he can."
"Oh yes," said Hessel with a sneer, "that is the standpoint of the
Church--the standpoint of the Middle Ages. You would give us alms.
No, thank you, we accept no presents. We demand our rights, not
Wilhelm thought to himself that he had not always found the
Socialists so proud, but kept the thought to himself, not wishing to
hurt Hessel's feelings, who seemed to be an honest fanatic.
"Do not let that be your last word," Hessel went on. "You are
probably but slightly acquainted with our doctrines and writings.
Come nearer to us. Come to our meetings--talk to our workmen. You
will find that many of us have very clear heads, and know exactly
what we want, although the majority do still cling a good deal to
phrases. You will assuredly soon begin to interest yourself in the
emancipation of the proletariat. And what a future to look forward
to! You might be another Lassalle, famous powerful, adored by
thousands, received as a savior wherever you show yourself--make a
triumphal progress through all Germany, perhaps through the world.
And over and above, the consciousness of having rendered such mighty
service to your fellow-men."
"I seem to myself to be playing a rather ridiculous part in this
scene," he said; "it is a parody of the Gospel story of the
Temptation. Unfortunately, I have not the smallest particle of
ambition, and have no desire to be either famous or mighty, or to
make triumphal progresses. If I could really do anything for you,
believe me, I would do it gladly. But I assure you I possess neither
the philosopher's stone, nor a prescription for a universal panacea.
I do not believe either that the remedies they recommend so highly
to you are very effectual, so I am much obliged to you for your
confidence in me, and beg you to leave me in my obscurity."
Hessel gave him a dark look, stood up, turned slowly away, and left
him without one word, or even offering him his hand.
Wilhelm had sent to Berlin for a box of books, and tried to go on
with his work, but found no real pleasure in it. A deep despondency
had come upon him, and the idea that his life was wholly purposeless
took more and more hold upon him. Often, after studying earnestly
for a day or two, and making extracts for his book, he would ask
himself, "Why take all this trouble? Who is going to be made wiser
or happier by this rigmarole?" and his pleasure in the work was gone
again for days. The consciousness of exile, instead of being blunted
by time, weighed ever more heavily upon him. He never realized till
now what an absolute necessity it was to his nature to lean upon a
kindred spirit, for he had never before been without one. Since the
death of his father he had first had Paul, and then Dr. Schrotter,
whom he had seen daily, and thus had always had some one to share
his mental life. Now he was separated from Schrotter by distance,
and from Paul by the great change in their views, and found no
sufficient support when left to himself. If at times the sight of
Paul's perfect self-content and happiness roused in him the wish to
follow his example, it was quickly overruled by the conviction that
neither Paul's commonplace, practical occupations, nor his worldly
success, would afford him, Wilhelm, the smallest satisfaction.
He passed his days and weeks in self-communings and spiritual
loneliness, in spite of Paul's and Malvine's endeavors to interest
him in men and things. He allowed himself to be drawn into Malvine's
afternoon receptions, and the two or three parties they gave during
the winter; but refused to accompany them to other people's balls
and dinners. He was happiest of all with Willy, who was very fond of
Uncle Eynhardt. He took him for walks, told him stories, was never
tired of answering his endless questions, amused him with little
chemical experiments, and in default of the riding lessons let him
ride upon his knee. And as he passed his fingers through the child's
long curls, he often thought, in spite of all his philosophic
doubts, how wonderfully pleasant it must be after all, to bring
forth some such sweet golden-haired mystery that would cling to its
parent and break away from him--a continuation and yet a wholly new
departure that had its roots in the past, and yet struck out boldly
into the future, and whose bright gaze would be trying to penetrate
the riddle of the universe when he himself had long since sunk into
oblivion. Had Malvine been something more than good-natured and
commonplace, had she possessed a little more tact and insight into
the human heart, she would have seen that in Wilhelm were now
combined all the conditions necessary for predisposing him for
marriage--the sense of a spiritual void, the longing for love and
companionship, a consciousness of being alone in the midst of a
cheerful, peaceful family circle, and the desire to see his own life
renewed in that of a child. What he needed was that some one should
frankly make the first advances, and overcome his natural shyness
and diffidence by a bold and saucy attack. With a little tact and
diplomacy, a clever woman would have had no difficulty in putting up
a bright girl to attempt so easy a fight and victory. But Malvine
never thought of such a thing. Social etiquette withheld the various
young ladies on whom the Habers' quiet guest had made no small
impression from taking those first steps, which are considered
unwomanly and humiliating, although in most cases they invariably
bring about the desired results, and so Wilhelm continued to sit in
his corner, and the group of pretty heiresses in theirs; the winter
passed, and Malvine's darling wish was still unfulfilled.
Easter came round, and with it the migration of the family to
Friesenmoor House. Wilhelm would have liked to seize this
opportunity for withdrawing himself from a hospitality which weighed
heavily on him, but Paul put down his timid revolt with a high hand.
"None of that now. You are coming with us, and can see what country
life is like for a whole summer," he declared, and there the matter
The estate and its surroundings possessed no picturesque charms. The
land stretched in uniform flatness from the sluggish Suderelbe to
the equally sleepy Seeve, and the Fuchsberg at Ronneburg, with its
height of two hundred feet, was a giant of the Alps or Cordilloras,
compared to the floor-like evenness of the country round about. From
the platform of the tower which Paul had built on to his house,
giving it quite a baronial appearance, one could see for miles
across country, almost to Hamburg, the spires of which were plainly
visible on a clear day. But far and near one saw nothing but
cornfields and meadows, that had the regularity of a carpet pattern,
intersected by clay-colored dikes, straight ditches full of stagnant
brown water, here and there a busy windmill, and in the distance the
smooth-flowing watercourses which bounded the landscape. The picture
was laid on from a meager palette; a few browns and greens, slightly
relieved and enlivened by the vigorous tones of the whitewashed
walls of the laborers' cottages, some standing apart, some collected
together like a little village.
And yet, though the view from the tower might not seem very
attractive, a walk through the country revealed many a peculiar
charm to the observant and divining eye. Here one stood upon ground
where man had wrestled with Nature and subdued her. At every step
one encountered the marks of that struggle and victory, reminding
one of Jacob's mysterious encounter with the angel. The waters of
the marsh were now forced within the prescribed limits of a system
of drains and canals. Luxuriant crops triumphed over reeds and
rushes, which were now only permitted to fringe the edges of the
ditches. Sleek, mild-eyed cows grazed and ruminated where formerly
the wildfowl built her nest. Chaos was vanquished, and had to own
man for her lord and master.
Here, upon the scene of his labors, Paul's figure assumed a certain
epic dignity. As a stern lord with a handful of armed followers
keeps down a subjugated people, so Paul, at the head of a few
hundred workmen, held sway over the unruly forces of Nature always
more or less ready to revolt. There were always dikes to be
repaired, ditches to be deepened, drain-pipes to be laid or
improved, or artificial manure to be carted, and Paul was active
from break of day till nightfall, either on foot or on horseback,
hurrying from one end of the estate to the other, everywhere
ordering or giving a helping hand, and always leading his troops
himself to fresh onslaughts against the resisting elements. He did
it all quietly, without any fuss or attempt to reflect credit on
himself, and left it to others--to strangers, poetically inclined
pupils or students on their travels--to say that his conquest of the
Friesenmoor was a Faust-like achievement.
He had built a whole village for his laborers, to right and left of
the highroad leading to Friesenmoor House. The cheerful, clean,
whitewashed cottages, with their green-painted window-frames, were
thatched with rushes and surrounded by gardens in which young fruit
trees, not yet sufficiently strong to forego the support of poles,
already gave promise of their first harvest of apples and pears. The
village hall and the school-house were distinguished by superior
size and green-glazed tile roofs; nor was a church, with a pointed
belfry and weathercock, missing. For Paul was a model landowner, who
took ample thought for the welfare of his dependents, and as soon as
his means permitted it, had hastened to build a church and appoint a
pastor, providing thereby, at the same time, for one of his numerous
relatives. In his ardent loyalty to his king, he had expressed the
wish to call his village Kaiser-Wilhelm's Dorf, and had received the
In Kaiser-Wilhelm's Dorf, it was evident, content and comparative
prosperity reigned supreme. Behind every house was a pigsty, behind
nearly every one a cowshed. The men looked strong and hearty; the
women, carrying dinner to their husbands in the fields, or sitting
knitting on the benches in front of their doors, all presented
bright and cheerful faces, and the school would hardly contain the
crowd of flaxen-haired, blue-eyed children, whose rounded cheeks
gave evidence of a never-failing and amply spread dinner-table.
In the beginning, all this made a vast impression on Wilhelm. As the
struggle with nature is man's real and normal task, he instinctively
feels an emotion almost amounting to joy wherever he comes upon
evidences of victory. But, as usual with Wilhelm, this first
instinctive emotion was followed by the usual fatal speculations,
and he said to himself, "Paul has converted swamps into cornfields,
has enriched himself thereby, and supports some hundreds of
families. Good! but what further? This great achievement has as its
primary result, that people are fed who otherwise perhaps would not
eat so much or so well, or merely would not feed on this spot at
all. But is the filling of one's own and other people's stomachs the
first and highest aim of life?"
Paul tried hard to interest him in the details of farming. He took
him about, showed and explained everything to him, and finally
brought out his pet scheme--that he should sell the house in Berlin,
and buy instead some marshland near by, which was to be had for a
moderate sum; he would give him a helping hand at first, and as
property of that kind could very well afford a steward, he could
easily get him a first-rate one. They would be neighbors, Wilhelm
would have a larger income and fewer wants, and live in peace and
comfort. Wilhelm was profoundly touched by the affection which was
manifest in Paul's every word and thought, but the prospects he
opened up before him offered him no attractions.
In July, when the harvest was ripening for the sickle, and man had
nothing to do but leave the sun to its work of brooding on the
fields, Paul went one day to a committee meeting in the town. When
he came home he remarked to Wilhelm at supper:
"What do you think? They have discovered that I am harboring a
dangerous Social Democrat. The Landrath actually remonstrated with
me on the subject in a discreet and well-meaning way. I can't tell
you how the man amused me," and he laughed again as he recalled the
conversation. But all his amusement vanished when Wilhelm answered:
"The Landrath was quite right. A political outlaw is very doubtful
company for a man in your position, and I cannot think how I came to
overlook the fact myself."
In vain did Paul endeavor to turn the matter into a joke; in vain
that he showed himself inconsolable at his stupidity in having told
the story. Wilhelm declared firmly that he must leave his friend,
and bringing his whole force of will to bear upon it, carried his
The next day Paul's carriage took him to Harburg. The parting was
trying to all of them. Paul's leave-taking was prolonged, and he
made his friend promise he would return next year for some weeks at
least to Friesenmoor House. Malvine had tears in her eyes as she
said, "No one will care for you so much as we do." Even little Willy
was downcast, and gazed with a reproachful look at the friend who
could find it in his heart to desert him. As the train moved off he
called out to Wilhelm, in his ringing, childish voice, "Come back
soon, Onkelchen, and bring me something nice."
A SEASIDE ROMANCE.
Wilhelm's immediate destination was Ostend. He hardly knew himself
how he came to fix on that particular place. Since those days, long
past, when his thoughts had hovered for weeks round the Belgian
watering-place, the name had remained in his mind, and now, with his
desire to spend some months in company with the sea, Ostend was the
first place that occurred to him.
It was the middle of July, and watering places not very full as yet,
nor were there many people staying at the Ocean Hotel where he
stopped. Two Americans, who had begun a summer tour on the Continent
by a short stay at Ostend, made friends with him on the first day
after his arrival, when they found he could speak English. They
invited him to join them on their walks, and made him give them
information about Germany, and especially about Berlin, which they
intended visiting; in return they told him all about the north coast
of France, with its watering-places, big and little, which they had
"done" last year from Cherbourg to Dunkirk.
Strolling the next afternoon with his new acquaintances along the
Digue, a few steps in front of them he saw a lady, plainly and
darkly but most elegantly dressed leaning on the arm of a tall man.
They walked slowly, and were evidently lost in contemplation of the
softly rolling sea. At first he paid but little attention to the
couple, and would not have noticed them at all had not the Digue
been very empty of visitors just then. But, strange to say, his gaze
kept wandering from the oily surface of the sea, and the steamers
and fishing-smacks plowing their way through it, to the slender
figure of the lady, who looked small beside her tall companion; and
there gradually dawned upon him a dim idea that that slight figure
reminded him of somebody--that he had seen those delicate contours,
those graceful proportions, that light and gliding gait before.
Without hastening his steps he soon overtook them, and recognized at
the first glance that it was Loulou. She too turned her head
involuntarily to look at the passing trio. As she caught sight of
Wilhelm a sudden pallor overspread her face, and with an unconscious
movement of terror she dropped her companion's arm. Both stood
stockstill, as if suddenly deprived of the power of motion, and
gazed at one another wide-eyed. The silent encounter only lasted a
few seconds, but the play on both sides was so marked that it could
not fail to excite the attention of the lookers-on. Loulou's
attendant cavalier looked in surprise from her to him, and evidently
thought the proceedings most extraordinary. But before he had time
to ask for an explanation, Wilhelm had turned on his heel and was
walking rapidly back to the hotel. The two Americans followed him in
silence. Nothing in the scene had escaped them, but as true Anglo-
Saxons they had too much native reserve to ask for a confidence
which was not offered them.
Wilhelm was most painfully affected by the encounter, and not for
worlds would he risk the possibility of meeting again with the
unfortunate woman and the man to whom she now was bound in sinful
union. That same day he took leave of his Americans, and left Ostend
early the next morning; at once fearful and relieved, as though
fleeing successfully from the scene of a dark deed of his own
After a long and tiresome journey, not made pleasanter by having to
change four or five times, he arrived late in the evening at Eu,
where he spent the night. The next morning, an hour's drive in a
hotel omnibus brought him to Ault, a small market-town in the
department of Somme, which the Americans had recommended to him as
the quietest, cheapest, most unpretending, and at the same time
picturesquely situated of any of the seaside places on the north
coast of France, at least as far as Dieppe.
Wilhelm found Ault to be all it had been described. The little place
presented a well-to-do, self-respecting appearance. The High Street,
at right angles with the shore, and rising gently toward the higher,
billowy country beyond, was wide and straight as a dart, and
scrupulously clean; the roadway was macadamized, and a flagged
pavement ran along the two rows of houses. At its upper end, broad
and defiant, was a wonderful mediaeval church in the earliest Gothic
style, with high pointed windows, a severely beautiful west door,
and a mighty square tower. The church blocked the way, and forced
the street to make a bend in order to pass round it. This building,
which would have adorned a capital, stood there haughty and arrogant
like a gigantic knight in full tilting armor in the midst of the
common people, and seemed to wave the simple, unpretentious
provincial houses to right and left with a lordly gesture so that
nothing might intercept his view of the sea. Beside the High Street
there were a few little side alleys, mostly inhabited by locksmiths,
who worked with untiring industry from morning till night, keeping
up a cheerful but far from unpleasing din which, mingled with the
roar of the breakers below, reached the ear as a soft musical ring
of metal. The only prominently ugly features in the charming picture
were the few villas on the neighboring heights, built by retired
Paris grocers and haberdashers; liliputian, pretentious, with
blatant, highly-colored facades, ludicrous imitations of baronial
fortresses, Venetian palaces, or Renaissance chateaux.
The inhabitants of Ault were a peaceable, sober-minded people. No
one was ever drunk, nor was the sound of quarreling ever to be
heard. There were few public-houses; several places, however,
dignified by the name of cafes. The natives were so far accustomed
to summer visitors that they did not take much notice of them, but
happily not so much as to direct their whole thought and energy to
fleecing them. It seemed as if the people of Ault had merely
arranged a bathing place for the purpose of deriving a little
amusement out of the strangers, not in order to make a living out of
them, that being quite unnecessary, as their comfortable figures,
good clothes, and well-filled shops could testify.
Wilhelm took up his quarters in the Hotel de France, situated just
where the High Street swept round the side of the church. As the
house was separated from the sea by the whole opposite row of
houses, one only caught a glimpse of it as a narrow, glittering
streak across the intervening roofs from the second-floor windows.
The view from the front windows was the more remarkable. They looked
out upon the churchyard which lay behind the Gothic cathedral. Not
that there was anything depressing in the sight; it made, on the
contrary, a cheerful impression, with its carefully tended flower
beds and magnificent old trees, which almost hid the modest
headstones they overshadowed, and in whose branches count less
singing birds had built their nests, while noisy troops of children
played under them at all hours of the day.
Wilhelm directed his steps at once to this churchyard, where, beside
the modern iron crosses, there were marble headstones showing dates
that went back to the seventeenth century. In the oldest as well as
the newest inscriptions the same name occurred over and over again,
speaking well for the settled habits of the population. And,
according to the inscriptions, most of those buried here had lived
to be eighty or ninety years of age. Had Ault been a professedly
fashionable bathing place, one might have been tempted to think that
this churchyard, with its cheering records in stone and iron of the
longevity of the natives, had been set down in the very center of
the town to encourage the visitors.
The Hotel de France recommended itself by extreme cleanliness, but
otherwise it was very simple. The rooms contained only such
furniture as was absolutely necessary, the dining-room was bare of
decoration, and therefore happily free of those gruesome colored
prints which the commercial traveller delights to sow broadcast over
the unsuspecting country towns. Only the so-called salon boasted the
luxury of a cottage piano, a polished table, a few cane chairs, and
a looking-glass over the chimneypiece, on which lay a box of
dominoes and a backgammon board, eloquently suggestive of mine
host's ideas as to the most suitable occupation for his guests.
The hotel proprietors were as simple and homely as their house. The
man wore a seaman's cap and a blue coat with brass anchor buttons,
and was more than delighted if you took him for a seafaring man. He
had, in fact, been to sea once, as ship's cook, or steward, or
something of the sort. Now he sat most of the time in the cafe of
the hotel, supplied the neighbors with little drams of cognac, and
told the visitors endless stories of the buying and selling of
property in the little town. His wife was the soul of the
establishment. She possessed the gift of omnipresence. At one and
the same moment you might see her in the kitchen and in the
outhouses, in the hotel and in the cafe. The servants, of whom there
was a considerable number, answered to a look, a bock of her finger.
You could hear her clear voice from morning till night in the
courtyard or on the stairs. Everywhere she lent a helping hand, and
her busy fingers accomplished as much as all the men and maids put
together. With it all she was never out of temper, always had a word
or a smile for every passer-by, took a personal interest in each of
her guests, took instant notice of a diminished appetite or a pale
cheek, and always sent up lime-flower tea to anybody who happened to
come rather later than usual to breakfast.
The hotel was pretty full when Wilhelm arrived, but he made no
attempt to mix with the company he met twice a day at the table
d'hote. His French had grown somewhat rusty for want of practice,
and he did not trust himself to join in the exceedingly lively and
general conversation till he had regained something of his old
fluency in long daily talks with the landlord. Beside which, he did
not feel greatly drawn toward his fellowguests. Their high-sounding
and pompously-expressed platitudes bored him, their absurd views on
politics, their parrot-like and yet self-satisfied remarks on
literature and art filled him with compassion. One guest in
particular, who sat at the head of the table, and generally led the
conversation in the loudest tones, succeeded in making him very
impatient, in spite of the mildness with which Wilhelm usually
judged his fellows. He did business in sewing machines in Paris, but
here gave himself out as an "ingenieur constructeur," and belonged
to that class of persons who cannot endure not to be the center of
observation wherever they happen to be. It has been said of a man of
that stamp, that if he were at a wedding he would wish to be the
bridegroom, and if at a funeral to be in the place of the corpse. At
the dinner table of the Hotel de France he reigned supreme. His
strong point lay in the perpetration of the most ghastly puns, which
he would discharge first to the right and then to the left, and
finally, with a roar of laughter, over the whole table. In his
outward appearance, too, he sought to create a sensation. He was not
dressed, he was costumed. He wore long stockings, knickerbockers and
a tight-fitting jacket, and when he stood up, tried to produce
effects with his calves, spread his legs wide apart as if, like the
Colossus of Rhodes, ships were to pass beneath, and affected
sporting and athletic attitudes generally. He was accompanied by a
lady who had at first roused the horrified disgust of the others by
her appetite, which surpassed every known human limit, and then
proceeded to make herself still more hateful by a frequent change of
Wilhelm's immediate neighbor was a lady of somewhat exuberant
outline, but extremely plainly dressed, and without a single
ornament, of whom at first he took no more notice than of the rest
of the company. She returned his silent bow at coming and going, and
acknowledged the little attentions of the dinner table--the handing
of salt or entrees, of bread or cider (the table beverage)--with a
low "Merci, monsieur," accompanied by a pleasant smile and an
inclination of the head. The acquaintance began with a look. It was
after a more than usually exasperating pun from the man in the
knickerbockers, and involuntarily their eyes met, after which they
exchanged glances each time he came out with a particularly blatant
piece of idiocy. They could not long remain in doubt that their
opinion on the prevailing conversation was identical, and the
unanimity of their tastes was still further demonstrated by the fact
that the lady was as silent during the meals as Wilhelm.
The interchange of looks was presently followed by words. It was the
lady who broke the ice by alluding to a somewhat peculiar incident.
It happened to be market day, and Wilhelm had been watching with
interest the cheerful bustle in the High Street, and the new type of
country people: the men with their carts bringing in calves, pigs,
and grain, fine-looking fellows, with tall sturdy figures, and
shrewd, clean-shaven faces above the blue cotton white-embroidered
blouses and severely stiff snow-white shirt collars; and the women
in round dark-brown cloaks reaching to their feet; the drum-beating,
yelling tooth-drawers and patent medicine venders praising their
remedies against tapeworm and ague with incredible volubility, and
the couple of majestic gendarmes in their imposing uniforms, with
yellow leather belts and cocked hats, who found no occasion to
exhibit their stern official side to the noisy, laughing, but well-
behaved crowd. After strolling for awhile among the carts and
people, Wilhelm had caught sight of a large and handsome donkey, had
gone up to him and stroked him, and said a variety of friendly
things to him.
At dinner, noting that his neighbor was looking about in search of
something, he asked politely:
"Madame is in want of something?"
"The water, if you please," said she.
He handed her the carafe, which was out of her reach; she thanked
him, and, not to let the conversation drop, added with a pleasant
"Monsieur seems fond of donkeys?"
"Indeed!" He answered, surprised.
"I saw you this morning patting and stroking a splendid donkey."
He had not thought of it again.
"Yes, now I remember," he answered, "it was a charming beast, with
wonderfully wise, thoughtful eyes."
"Do you think so too?" she cried, delighted. "You must know, I have
a special weakness for donkeys, and consider that, next to dogs they
are by far the most intelligent of our domestic animals. They have
such a look of profound wisdom, such stoical philosophy and
resignation, that I feel they are quite a lesson to me."
Wilhelm could not repress a smile at her lively tone.
"I should like to think," he said, "that our agreeing in a good
opinion of the donkey is a sign that the ungrateful world has at
last come to a proper appreciation of this ugly fellow-laborer."
"Ugly?" she exclaimed. "I don't think so at all! Look at his
delicate hoofs, his elegantly-tufted tail, the soft, silvery gray of
his coat with the velvety, black markings, and his ears are very
becoming to him. It is such an injustice always to compare him with
the horse. He is altogether a different type, but quite as handsome
in his way."
"Then you would whitewash Titania in 'Midsummer Night's Dream?'"
She laughed "Well, Titania might have done worse. But how is it that
the donkey has come to be the symbol of stupidity?"
"Perhaps because of his want of spirit, and his perversity."
"No, I believe it is something else. People found a great, strong
animal that could, if it liked, be just as difficult to manage, and
resist just as well as a horse, and yet was quite content with the
worst of food, required neither stable nor grooming, worked till it
dropped, and never bit or kicked. So they said, an animal that is
strong enough to hurt us, and yet puts up with any kind of
treatment, must necessarily be deadly stupid. That is how it was.
People cannot believe that one may be good-tempered and
uncomplaining and yet have any brains. With them to be wicked and
violent and pretentious is to be clever. If the donkey would refuse
to eat anything but oats and barley, and turned and rent anybody who
annoyed him in the slightest degree, you would see how people would
immediately have the highest respect for his intellect."
"You seem to have a low opinion of your fellow-creatures, madame?"
"It is their own fault then," she replied, gazing through the window
into the courtyard.
After this conversation Wilhelm looked for the first time more
attentively at his neighbor. He had a general impression of her
being tall and stout, with a remarkably clear, bright complexion.
Now he took in the details. In spite of the fullness of her figure
she was slender about the waist, and her small slim hands, with
their tapering fingers and pink nails, retained the purity of their
outline, and had by no means degenerated into mere cushions of fat.
The proudly-poised head was crowned by a wealth of heavy, pale brown
hair with dull gold reflections in it, waving in soft, downy locks
round her forehead. The cheeks were very full but firm, and the well
shaped, boldly modeled nose stood in exactly the right proportion to
the rather large face. The light brown eyes with their remarkably
small pupils were conspicuously lively, and flashed and sparkled
incessantly on all sides. Their expression was extremely intelligent
and generally mocking, and if you looked long at them you gained the
somewhat uncomfortable impression that that cold clear glance could,
on occasion, stab a heart as cruelly as would a dagger. But her most
striking feature was her mouth--a sudden dash of violent coral-red
in the opalescent white of her face. This brutal effect of color
exercised a peculiar fascination and riveted the attention. The eye
lingered upon those lips--so voluptuously, so sinfully full, so
burning, blood-red that in the chastest mind, even a woman's, they
must suggest the image of vampire-like kisses. Take her for all in
all, she was a magnificent creature, this woman of thirty,
overflowing with health and life, in all her triumphant display of
full-blown womanly beauty. Not a man in the hotel but had looked at
her in undisguised admiration, and if they had not yet ventured to
make advances to her, it was because she intimidated them by her
cold hauteur, or by the mocking twinkle of her eye.
Only for Wilhelm, now that she had really taken notice of him, did
those eyes begin to grow soft and gentle, and when they met his
turned meek and harmless, and, in their apparent innocence, seemed
to plead to him for notice, confidence, instruction. He did not
remain impervious to their influence. It afforded him distinct
pleasure to sit at table beside this beautiful woman and show her
small attentions. On his long walks he caught himself thinking
deeply about her, while the blood coursed with unwonted heat through
his veins. He marked her entrance into the dining room or salon by
his heart stopping suddenly and then racing on in wild, irregular
beats, and if he looked at her the indecorous thought came to him
that it would be a joy to stroke those firm, round cheeks, to pass
one's fingers gently over those swelling lips, but more especially
to bury one's hands in that flood of silken hair. These various
discoveries rather took him aback, and resulted in increasing his
reserve almost to the point of rudeness. He still only met her at
the table d'hote, and never attempted to approach at any other time,
although she had asked him repeatedly if he did not take walks or
make excursions into the country.
One morning, soon after the conversation about the donkey, he went
down to the beach, where, it being the bathing hour, the whole
visiting population of Ault was assembled. The coast met the sea at
this point as a perpendicular wall of rock a hundred and fifty feet
high, stretching away to the west in an endless line, but on the
east side, sloping gradually down, till about two miles further on,
it lost itself in the flat line of the shore. Where the sweep of the
bare, gray cliff made a slight backward curve, the sea had washed
the shingle together to form a little beach covered with pebbles
from the largest to the smallest size. Here two rows of modest
wooden cabins were erected, which served as bathing houses, and
beside these, a great wooden structure on wheels, not unlike the
enormous house-caravans in which the owners of shows and menageries
and such-like wandering folk travel about from fair to fair. The
French flag fluttering from a pole on the top of the caravan drew
attention to it, and on closer inspection one read above the
entrance--which was approached by a movable wooden staircase--the
proud legend "Casino d'Ault." Yes, Ault actually boasted a casino,
with an entrance fee of ten centimes a head, and in the single room,
which occupied the whole structure, you found a jeu de course, and
other games of hazard, exactly as they had them in the most renowned
and elegant dens of thieves of the fashionable watering places.
Here, however, nobody went to the dogs. Life on the shore was prim
and patriarchal. Whole families sat or lay about on camp stools or
on traveling rugs, the wives in morning wraps, the husbands smoking
in linen suits; the former occupied with needlework, the latter
reading the newspapers or novels. The young people ran about
barefoot and in bathing costume, or lay at the edge of the water
fishing for shrimps, which they rarely or never caught. There were
merry, noisy groups of bathers in the shallow water near the shore,
splashing one another, shrieking at the approach of the larger
waves, bobbing up and down, and shouting encouragement to the
newcomers, who only ventured timidly and by degrees into the chilly
waters. As very few of the bathers could swim, this all took place
in the close vicinity.
At first Wilhelm had been rather shocked to see the two sexes
bathing together, and that the girls and married women--coming out
of the sea with their legs and arms bare, and their clinging, wet
bathing dresses revealing the outline of their forms with
embarrassing distinctness--should calmly stroll back to the bathing
houses under the open gaze of the men. For that reason he even
refrained from going to the shore at the bathing hour, or bathing
there himself. By degrees, however, he grew accustomed to it, seeing
that nobody thought anything of it, and that the almost nude figures
disported themselves among their equally unconcerned parents,
relatives, and friends with the naive unconsciousness of South Sea
As he made his way, not too easily, over the rolling shingle between
the chattering, lazy groups, he saw his neighbor of the table d'hote
sitting, a little apart, on a camp stool under a large dark
sunshade, an open book on her lap, and her eyes fixed on the smooth,
bright surface of the ocean. She noticed Wilhelm, and smiled and
nodded pleasantly, almost before he could bow to her. There was
something of invitation in her nod, which, however, he did not
follow, he could not have said exactly why. Confused, and a prey to
all sorts of undefined emotions, he continued his walk till he
reached the point where the waves, breaking at the very foot of the
cliff, prevented his going any further. As he turned, ho remembered
that he would have to pass her again, and considered if he could not
avoid it by keeping close to the cliff and so get behind her. But
why go out of his way to avoid her? That was driving shyness to the
verge of churlishness. She was friendly toward him, why repay her
kindness by such foolish and uncalled-for reserve? And ashamed,
almost indignant at himself, he came to a sudden determination, and
directed his steps straight toward the lady. She had watched him all
the time, and now smiled to him from afar, as she saw him making for
When he got up to her he stood still and raised his hat. She saved
him the embarrassment of making a beginning by saying at once in the
most natural tone in the world:
"How nice of you to come and keep me company for a little while!
Won't you sit down on this plaid?"
He thanked her, and did as he was bid, seating himself on the thick,
soft rug. His head was shaded by the great parasol, the sun warmed
"Are you a great admirer of the sea?" asked the lady.
"I hardly know myself yet. I must make its nearer acquaintance
first," answered Wilhelin.
"I confess that it leaves me quite unmoved. No, not that exactly,
for I am rather vexed at it for giving so many idiots an excuse for
ranting and absurd sentimentality. Now just look at all these people
on the beach. In reality they are bored to extinction, and enjoy the
Boulevards infinitely more than this expanse of water, which is
quite meaningless to them. And yet you have only to mention the
word--the sea--and they will instantly turn up their eyes and start
off repeating the lesson they have learned by rote about their
rapture and enthusiasm, just like a musical box which grinds out a
tune when you press a button at the top. The sea was invented by a
few romantically inclined poets. But I deny that there is any truth
in then rhapsodies; the sea is hopelessly monotonous, and monotony
excludes the possibility of beauty or charm. One has at most the
same feeling for it as for a mirror in which one sees oneself
reflected. The sea is a blank page, which each one fills up with
whatever he happens to have in his own mind, or, if you like it
better, a frame into which one puts pictures of one's own imagining.
I grant that you can dream by the side of the sea, for it does
nothing to disturb your dreams or give them any particular bent or
coloring. But can it give the impulse to thought and emotion like
the eve-changing outlines of mountain and forest? Never! People with
unsophisticated minds know that well enough. The population of the
coast always builds its houses with their backs to the sea.
"As a defence against the storms," Wilhelm interposed.
"That may be. But that is not the only reason. It is because the
sight of that eternal waste of waters, without a boundary line,
without the variety or movement of life upon it, bores them, and
they prefer to look out upon the country with all its expressive and
"But the expression which you see in a landscape--you put that into
it yourself, by an effort of your own imagination. Forests and
mountains are in themselves as inanimate as the sea."
"Quite so; but the landscape has features which remind us of
something else, which play, as it were, upon the keyboard of our
associations, and it thus calls up the pictures with which we
proceed to enliven it. The sea does nothing of this, and the best
proof of that is, that no painter has ever yet used the sea by
itself for his model. Did you ever know of an artist who painted
nothing but the sea?" "Yes, Aiwasowky."
"Who is he?"
"A Russian who paints extraordinary sea pieces."
"What! Only water--without shore, or people, or ships?"
"I remember a picture with absolutely nothing but water, only a
spar, or a mast floating on it."
"There, you see!" she cried in triumph. "That broken mast is a trick
of the artist. There lies the story. You instantly think of a
wrecked ship; you see men, catastrophes, weeping widows and
sweethearts; the spar becomes the central point of the picture, and
you forget all about the sea. Moreover, the ancients, who surely had
an eye for all that is grand and beautiful, they did not know either
what to do with the sea. They were a magnificent race, healthy-
minded realists--and kept strictly to the evidences of their senses
without adding anything transcendental. The sea only appealed to
their ear. Homer's adjectives for the sea are only expressive of
sound--the resounding, the jubilant, the loud-rushing; hardly more
than once does he allude to the gloomy or the wine-colored sea."
"You have your classics at your fingers' ends, like any
"That need not surprise you. With regard to the really beautiful, I
have neither pride nor prejudice. Even the fact that the common herd
of the reading public has made a point of praising him for a hundred
years does not prevent me from enjoying a true poet."
"But if you dislike the sea so much why do you come here?"
"Oh," laughed the handsome lady, "that is the fault of my doctors.
They sent me to the sea to thin me down, and by their orders I was
to choose a very dull, very remote bathing place, where I should be
sure not to meet any acquaintances. For directly I have friends
about me, I enjoy myself, laugh, talk, and then I get stout again.
Now to-day, for instance, I have acted contrary to my medical
orders--I have had a very pleasant chat with you."
"You are too kind. You have given everything and received nothing in
"That is exactly what I like--always to give, never to receive."
"That is not woman's way usually. But you are very exceptional.
Pardon a possibly indiscreet question--do you write?"
"Good gracious! Do I look like a blue-stocking?"
"I never made a distinct picture of that type."
"You need not be afraid, I am not an authoress. The most I have ever
done in that way was to give a novelist, or a comedy-writer of my
acquaintance, a little help now and then. When they want a lady's
letter, they like me to write it. But you--I suppose you are an
"No, madame; I study natural science."
"A professor then?"
"No, only an amateur."
"Ah! And you are French?"
"I am German."
"Impossible!" exclaimed the lady.
"Why impossible?" asked Wilhelm, smiling.
"You have no accent, and you look--"
"You probably think that every German has light blue eyes, flaxen
hair, and a long pipe?"
"That is certainly pretty much how we picture Germans to ourselves
It was his turn to be surprised. "You a Spaniard?"
"And how had you pictured a Spanish lady? Of course with jet black
eyes and hair, and a mantilla?"
"There are fair Spaniards, however, as you see. In fact, it is very
common in our best families--an inheritance perhaps from our Gothic
"I suppose, like all Latins, you despise the Germans?"
"I beg, monsieur, that you will not class me with the mass. I wish
to be regarded as an individual. Whatever the prejudices of the
Latins may be, I have my own opinion. Your nationality in a matter
of indifference to me. I only consider the man," and she gave him a
look that sent the blood flaming to his cheek.
The hotel meals were always announced by a bell which could be heard
quite well on the shore. In the heat of their conversation, however,
they did not notice the signal. A lady's maid whom Wilhelm had often
seen at the hotel--a middle-aged, female dragoon with a mustache and
a very stiff and dignified deportment--now came up to the lady and
"Madame la Comtesse did not hear the dinner bell?"
She rose and took Wilhelm's arm without further ado. The maid
followed with the rug and the camp stool. The beach was quite
deserted, everybody having gone to dinner. The tide was rising, and
had nearly covered the strip of beach. The thunder of the waves,
mingled with the rattle of the pebbles which they sucked after them
as they receded, followed the couple as they slowly made their way
back to the hotel.
On the road home they passed the post office. The maid, whose gentle
name of Anne hardly matched her martial appearance, had hurried on
in front to fetch her mistress' letters and newspapers. She handed
them to the lady, who smilingly tore off the wrapper from her Figaro
and gave it to Wilhelm, saying: "You do not know my name yet?"
Wilhelm read, on the slip of paper: "Madame la Comtesse Pilar de
Pozaldez--nee de Henares." "My father," she added in explanation,
"was Major-General Marquis de Henares."
"And here is my very plebeian name," returned Wilhelm, pulling out
his card and handing it to her.
"There are no such things as plebeian names--only plebeian hearts,"
said the countess, as she glanced at the card, and then put it away
in her own elegant tortoise-shell case, which bore her monogram and
crest in gold and colored enamel.
The acquaintance was now fully established, and after dinner the
countess invited Wilhelm, in the most natural manner possible, to
accompany her on a walk into the country.
The surroundings of Ault were very pretty. Emerald-green meadows
alternately with a few cornfields decked the gentle billowy uplands,
which sloped away abruptly toward the sea. Trees stood separately or
in groups reaching to the edge of the cliff, over which many of them
bent their storm-disheveled heads and gazed into the waves below.
Here and there were small inclosed woods, and it was at the edge of
one of these, about a quarter of a mile walk from the town, that the
countess seated herself on a mossy bank in the shade. Wilhelm sat
down beside her on the gnarled root of a tree; Anne was sent home,
to return in two hours' time, but Fido was allowed to remain. He was
a silvery-white sheepdog with a sharp muzzle, stiff little pointed
ears, and a bushy tail curling tightly over his back. He had
attached himself to Wilhelm from the first moment, and gave vent to
his delight when caressed by having a severe attack of asthmatic
coughing, puffing and blowing.
"You live in Paris, do you not?" asked the countess after they had
exchanged remarks on the scenery.
"No," returned Wilhelm, "up till now I have lived in Berlin, but I
had to leave for political reasons, and now I am a sort of vagrant
without any actual home."
"Ah--a political refugee!" cried the countess. "How charming! Of
course you will take up your abode in Paris now--that is the sacred
tradition with all political exiles. Yes, yes--you must; beside, how
horrid it would have been to part after a few weeks and go our
separate ways--you to the right, I to the left--and with only the
consoling prospect of meeting again some day beyond the stars! So
you will come to Paris, and if you have any intention of getting up
a revolution in Germany, I beg that you will count me among your
confederates. You need not laugh--Paris is swarming with Spanish
refugees of all parties, and I have had plenty of opportunity of
gaining experience in the planning of conspiracies."
"I have no such ambition," answered Wilhelm, smiling, "and am, in
any case, no politician, although I enjoy the distinction of being
"Shall you take up any profession in Paris? I have connections--"
"You are very good, Madame la Comtesse. You will perhaps think less
of me, but I have no actual profession."
"Think less of you. On the contrary, to have no profession is to be
free--to be one's own master. Any one who is forced to earn his
living must, of course, have a profession. But it is never anything
but a necessary evil. It is only pedantic people who look upon it as
an object of life. At most, it is a means to an end."
"And what do you consider to be the real object of life?"
"Can you ask? Why, happiness of course!"
"Happiness--certainly. But then each one of us has a different
conception of happiness. To one it is knowledge, to another the
fulfilling of duty, to lower natures wealth and worldly honors.
Therefore, it is possible to imagine that some one may find
happiness in pursuing a profession."
"Oh, no, my dear Herr Eynhardt, those are the mistaken views of
gloomy and limited natures who are incapable of recognizing the true
object of life. There are no two ideals of happiness--there is but
"And that is?"
"To wish for something very, very much--and get it."
"Even if it is something foolish?"
"And even if one should lose if afterward?"
She gazed for a while into the distance in silence and then said
firmly--"Yes, even then." And after a pause she added--"You have, at
least, had a moment of absolute happiness--when you found your wish
fulfilled. And what more do you want? One only lives to experience
"Unfortunately, your theory of happiness does not fit every case.
Where is the happiness to come from for one who has no wishes at
all, or who wishes for something unattainable--perfect
understanding, for instance?"
"A human being without a wish--is there such a thing?"
"Yes, Madame la Comtesse, there is."
"You perhaps?" she asked quickly.
"Perhaps," Wilhelm returned.
"Then you are not in love?" she said, and let her brilliant eyes
rest upon his melancholy face.
He shook his head gently without looking at her, as if ashamed of
the want of gallantry in such a confession.
"But at least you were once?" she persisted eagerly.
"Have I ever really been in love? Perhaps--Or no, I do not know
"Thankless creature! You hesitate--you are not sure! How shameful of
you to deny the gods you have once worshiped! But that is the way
with you men. If you cease to love, you will not admit that you ever
had loved. Tell me, was there ever a moment in your life when you
could have answered my question--'Are you in love?'--with an
"Yes, I have known such a moment. But, looking back upon it now--"
"No, no, you were quite right then and you are wrong now. That is
just your great mistake. You imagine that one can only love once,
and that love, to be real, must last forever. My poor friend,
nothing lasts forever, and the truest love is sometimes as
perishable as the loveliest rose--the most exquisite dream. But it
is not to say that because it is over we are to deny that it ever
existed. You may not feel anything now, but that is no reason for
declaring that you did not feel it then. You thought you were in
love, and therefore you were. It is sophistry to try to persuade
oneself of the contrary in after days."
"You are a brilliant advocate of your views, Madame la Comtesse, but
nevertheless may one take a momentary delusion--"
"Delusion' And who shall say, my German philosopher, if our whole
existence may not be a delusion?"
"Ah, there you drive my philosophy very hard," murmured Wilhelm.
"Never been in love?" exclaimed the countess, and her lustrous hazel
eyes flashed, "why you would be a monster. I suppose you are nearly
"I congratulate you, Herr Eynhardt, I should have taken you for at
least five years less But whether thirty or thirty-four, it would be
culpable to have reached that age without having been in love. For
you surely are not--a disciple of Abelard."
At this point-blank question Wilhelm reddened and cast down his eyes
like the boy he really was in some respects. She observed his
embarrassment, not without secret amusement.
"But seriously," she went on, "your little bit of love is the best
there is about you men. No, it is the only good thing, the only
thing that makes your bluntness, your selfishness, your want of
"Yes, so the women say. They see nothing in the whole world or in
life but love. They judge men solely according to their capacity
for, or their zeal in, loving. And yet it takes more strength and
manliness to resist love than to give way to it. They only care for
men who are slaves to that passion. I admire those chaste and
saintly men who have been able to cast off the bonds of the flesh.
The highest point of the human mind is only reached by him who has
never suffered himself to be dragged down by his senses. Christ
taught the denial of the flesh both in precept and example. Newton
never knew a woman."
"I know nothing about Newton," she retorted, "but Christ had a
feeling heart for the Magdalen and the adulteress. Beside, Christ
was a God, and I am speaking of ordinary mortals, and it is only
through woman, through your love of woman, that you become heroes
"No," Wilhelm answered bluntly, "it is woman who drags man down to
the level of the beasts. We have a German fairy tale in which a bear
becomes human as soon as he embraces a woman. In real life it is
just the opposite. The knowledge of woman, the lust of the flesh,
transforms man into a beast. You know the classics so well and are
so fond of them--there is no apter allegory than the story of
Semele, who desired once to see her lover, Jupiter, without the
weaknesses and infirmities of the flesh--as the Lord of High Heaven-
-and perished at the sight."
"Very well," said she softly, "you may despise me and say I am like
Semele. I prefer a warm-hearted, loving beast to an icy-cold and
proud philosopher. Anyhow, I am very fond of animals," and, lost in
dreamy thought, she stroked Fido, who began to gasp and choke with
delight, and eagerly licked the caressing hand. After a pause she
resumed slowly--"I should never have thought you were such a
desperate woman-hater. You have heaped insult on my sex and
consequently on me. I expect you to make reparation for that by--
being very nice to me."
She looked him deep in the eyes and stretched out her hand, which he
seized in confusion and pressed. Suddenly he let it drop. The
countess looked up in surprise, and following Wilhelm's gaze, she
caught sight of the hotel wit and his lady coming along the deep
pathway that ran round the foot of the wooded hill, on the slope of
which they were sitting.
"Oh,--what do these common people matter?" exclaimed the countess in
a tone of vexation. "And what is the harm, if they do see us? They
will only boast, when they get back to their shop in Paris, that
they saw a great lady in Ault."
But for all that, the dangerously sweet spell of the moment was
broken, and did not return before Anne arrived, whom Fido ran
sneezing and wriggling to meet.
For the rest of the day Wilhelm was silent and thoughtful, seeming
to awake from a dream each time the countess spoke to him at dinner.
She was perfectly aware of what was going on in him, and sought by
looks, words, and manner to increase the effects of the afternoon's
conversation. When the meal was over she took Wilhelm's arm again
and asked--totally unconcerned that the rest of the company
exchanged glances--"What are you going to do this evening?"
"I thought of taking a little walk on the shore," he stammered
"Oh, selfish creature!--and leave me all alone, though I might be
bored to death? No, come up to my room. You have never paid me a
visit yet. Anne will get us some tea, and we can talk."
The countess had two rooms on the first floor, most plainly
furnished, without a carpet or a single decoration on the walls. One
of the rooms served as bedroom, the other as salon. At least it
contained no bed, but a chaise longue instead, a rocking chair, and
a table with a jute cover. The countess was inwardly much amused at
Wilhelm's timorous hesitation in crossing her threshold. She
relieved him of his hat and gave it to Anne, who hung it on a nail
with the utmost gravity, but could not refrain from casting a
curious glance at Wilhelm from time to time.
When the tea was on the table, and Anne had discreetly retired into
the bedroom, closing the door behind her, the countess began: "As we
are to become friends--no, we are friends already; tell me, you are
my friend, are you not?"--she held out her hand, which he pressed
warmly and retained in his--"you ought to know who I am and how I
live. I will tell you the whole truth--I never lie, it is so vulgar
and cowardly. The worst that can be said of me, you shall hear out
of my own mouth. And still I hope that, after you have heard all,
you will not feel less kindly disposed toward me than before."
She moistened her blood-red lips in the tea without leaving hold of
"I am married. My husband, Count Pozaldez, is Governor of the
Philippine Islands. I have lived for years in Paris. The count had
the post given to him in order to put a few thousand miles between
him and me. We have no divorce in Spain, and that was the only way
of insuring to me a little peace and freedom." She took another
little sip. "From this you will understand," she went on, "that I am
not happily married. You must know that I am an only child. My
father, the Marquis de Henares, idolized me. He was a soldier
through and through, very stern and reserved toward everybody, even
my mother, who never really understood his rare nature. Only to me
he showed his heart of gold, his high and noble character, his deep
feeling--a prickly pear, outside rough and inside honey-sweet. He
brought me up as if I was to be a cabinet minister, and treated me
like a beloved comrade from the time I was twelve, so that my mother
was often jealous of me. When I grew up, he would sometimes say,
'Whoever wants to marry my Pilar will have to fight with me first.'
And he meant it. You probably know that we develop early in Spain.
At sixteen I was not very different from what I am now. Count
Pozaldez was a young lieutenant of cavalry, and my father's
adjutant. Of course we saw a good deal of one another, and he soon
began to behave as if he were madly in love with me. I was not
averse to him, for he was young, handsome, and aristocratic. And
what else does a girl of sixteen look for? I naturally had no
difficulty in understanding his glances and his sighs, but it went
on for months without his making me a formal proposal. One day he
wrote me a letter eight pages long, in which he informed me that, as
he possessed nothing in the world but his sword, he dared not
venture to lift his eyes to the heiress of the richest landowner in
Old Castile; beside that, he was not worthy of me, only a king could
be that--the wretch! But I will come back to that later on. On the
other hand, however, he could not live without me, and if I did not
return his love he was resolved to put a bullet through his brain.
Of course I instantly saw him with a bullet-hole in his forehead,
and shed tears for the poor young man. I did not want anybody to die
for my sake. I pictured to myself how beautiful it would be to make
a young man, without fortune or position, with nothing but his love
for me, happy, rich, and great by the gift of my hand. I showed the
letter to my mother, and asked her what was to be done. She at once
took up the young man's cause. My soul would most assuredly fall a
prey to the devil if I let poor Pozaldez kill himself. He was of
good family, and would soon make his way as the son-in-law of the
Marquis de Henares. I must unquestionably do something to raise his
spirits. My mother's advice coincided with my own feelings. I
allowed the count a secret interview, and he had permission to ask
my father for my hand. He did so in fear and trembling. He was
dismissed with scorn and contumely. My mother and I then used all
our influence to turn my father, and--I was married to Count
Pozaldez before I was seventeen."
She was silent for a little while, and then went on: "I will make my
story short. One year afterward, when I was in bed with my first
child, he brought his mistresses to the house. I was determined to
leave him on the spot. My mother brought about a reconciliation.
Soon after that he began to ill-treat me. I suffered that in silence
too, to avoid a public scandal, and more particularly for my
father's sake. He would have killed him if he had known. Later--
later--I must tell it you, so that you may grasp the whole
situation--the villain did all he could to direct King Amadeo's
attention to me--he had just come to Madrid. When I noticed his base
schemes--as I could not fail to do--that put the finishing touches.
I gave him the choice between a scandalous lawsuit, which would have
deprived him of my fortune, and voluntary banishment by accepting
some government post across the sea with half my income. He finally
chose exile and the money, and I was free. I left Madrid and settled
in Paris. You can imagine the circumstances--a young woman of
twenty-three--alone, whose life could not possibly be filled by the
care of two little children."
"Two children?" asked Wilhelm.
"Yes," she answered, and hung her head.
"There is cowardice of which even a courageous woman will be guilty
when, out of consideration for public opinion, she continues to live
under one roof with the father of her first child. And then--you
must take me as I am, with all my imperfections, for which some good
qualities may perhaps make up."
She looked at him humbly, with the eyes of an imploring child, and
continued in a low voice:
"The Spanish colony in Paris received me with open arms. There was
no end to the entertainments, soirees and theaters. But can that
satisfy a young and embittered woman thirsting for happiness? Of
course I received a great deal of attention. An attache of our
embassy succeeded in attracting me. I swear to you that I struggled
long with him and myself, but his passion was stronger than my
powers of resistance."
Wilhelm would have drawn away his hand, but she held it fast, and
went on hurriedly.
"I have finished. For four years I shared his life, and then
discovered that I had deceived myself a second time, and put an end
to a connection which had lost the excuse of sincerity For two years
now I have been free--for two years my heart has been at rest. Tell
me, can you condemn me now that you know all?"
"It is not for me to judge you," said Wilhelm sadly. "All I think is
that you have had a great deal of misfortune in your life."
"Yes, have I not?" cried the countess eagerly.
"Do not misunderstand me. You had the misfortune to make a mistake
in thinking you loved Count Pozaldez."
"How should a sixteen-year-old child know? The first passably good-
looking, well-bred man who flatters her wins her heart."
"That is only too true. But if a young girl throws away her heart so
lightly, she has no right to complain if she has to repent of it for
the rest of her life."
"But that is a terrible theory!" exclaimed the countess, and dropped
his hand "What? One wakes to a knowledge of the world and of life--
one is wretched, one sees that there is such a thing as happiness,
and how it may be obtained, and one is not to stretch out a hand to
grasp it? You would really be so cruel as to say to a woman--young,
and in need of love--in childish ignorance and folly you were guilty
of a mistake, all is over for you, abandon all claims to love and
hope, sunshine and life, pass your years in mourning, and bury
yourself alive, you have no further right to share in the joys of
Wilhelm left her string of passionate questions unanswered, and
continued the thread of his former discourse:
"But most certainly an older and more sensible woman, who should
have learned wisdom from a first error, has no right to be guilty of
a second one."
"Oh, how hard you are!" murmured the countess.
"What would you have?" said Wilhelm. Then with a sudden inspiration:
"A woman has every right to love; but then you have loved--twice,"
"No, no, not even once. I thought so perhaps, but--"
"But, according to your own assertion this afternoon, one has been
in love really if only one seriously believes one is. And it is
thankless to deny one's love later on. Do not contradict yourself."
"And you, monsieur le philosophe," she returned, raising her head,
and her burning gaze encompassed him as with a circle of fire, "do
you not contradict yourself too? A little while ago you were
demonstrating to me that you were a part of nature, and that unknown
natural forces were at work within you, directing all you did, and
to-day you extol the mortification of the flesh, which certainly has
nothing to do with your unknown natural forces."
He was going to reply, but she laid her soft hand upon his mouth.
"Oh, please, monsieur le philosophe, do not prove to me that I am
wrong. Be indulgent to my inconsistencies, as well as to everything
else, I know I am full of contradictions. I am no German
philosopher. But nature too is full of contradictions--first day,
then night--now summer, now winter. But in spite of it all I can be
very consistent and true to myself in a question of real
Wilhelm drew away from the hand that caressed his lips and cheek,
and said, averting his eyes:
"You are a beautiful woman, and have a most exceptional mind, and it
must be happiness indeed to be loved by you, but in order that that
happiness might be full, one would have to love you in return, and
there are men--I do not know whether to call them too proud or too
fastidious--who can only love with their whole heart or not at all,
and who cannot endure that the woman they love should treasure
another image or other memories in her life."
"Stop, my friend, stop!" cried the countess. "You do not realize
what you are saying. That comes of your pride and vanity. You always
want to be the first--to write your names at the head of a blank
sheet. Why? Is the conquest of a silly, ignorant girl more
flattering than that of a woman of sense, who can compare and judge?
Is not your triumph a thousand times greater when a disappointed,
deeply-skeptical woman lays her heart at your feet, and says--'You I
will trust, you will bring me healing and happiness'--than when a
young girl gives you her love because you happen to be the first man
who asks for it? Other images!--other memories! Do you know so
little of a woman's heart? Do you imagine that the past exists for
us when real true love comes upon us? We see nothing in the whole
world but the one man, we cannot believe that our heart has not
always beat for him, and we are firmly persuaded that we have always
known and always loved him and him alone."
The eyes that gazed at him glowed with maenad-like desire, and
bending suddenly she covered his hand with lingering, burning
Wilhelm passed his hand soothingly over the masses of her silky
hair, and it flashed across him how much he had once wished to be
able to do so, and now his wish was fulfilled. Was fulfilled desire
really happiness, as this beautiful woman asserted? His heart beat
loud and fast; he was conscious of emotions long unfelt, and--yes,
these emotions were pleasant ones.
He moved as if to rise, but she clung to his arm to hold him back.
He pointed to the door of the room from which Anne might appear at
"Do have a little more pride of spirit," said the countess; "one
does what one likes, without caring what the servants think."
"Let me go," he entreated, and stroked her beautiful hair.
"It is late, and the air in here is close. I should like to take a
turn by the sea. Please--"
She looked at him, and a mysterious smile played about her full
lips; she dropped his arm.
He hastened away toward the shore, where the waves were rolling in,
rattling the pebbles and striking the cliff with dull, heavy thuds.
The August night was mild and full of stars, and there was scarcely
a breath of wind. The tide was rising, wave after wave rolled in,
fell over, and swept up the beach in a thin white sheet of foam.
Further out the sea was calm and deserted, only in the extreme
distance the lights of some passing steamer crept over the smooth
dark waters like tiny glowworms.
Wilhelm's mind was in a tumult. This woman--what a strange,
terrifying creature. Why was she throwing herself at his head? And
who knows if only at his? And then--what need to tell him her story?
Perhaps it was a wild, insane flare of passion; but how could he
have roused it? There was nothing in him to account for it. And she
did not know him--knew nothing about his life or his character. She
was beautiful certainly--beautiful and alluring, and clever and
original--a most exceptional woman. She might well be able to disarm