Part 2 out of 5
door when, coming from the bed-room, a muffled sound of speech
reached his ear.
One voice was Alice's: the other--his breath stopped. It was not the
maid's. He knew it well. It was the voice of Fritz von Ehrenberg.
It was over then--for him.... And again and again he murmured: "It's
He leaned weakly against the wall.
Then he listened.
This woman who could not yield with sufficient fervour to the abandon
of passionate speech and action--this was Alice, his Alice, with her
fine sobriety, her philosophic clearness of mind.
And that young fool whose mouth she closed with long kisses of
gratitude for his folly--did he realise the blessedness which had
fallen to the lot of his crude youth? It was over ... all over.
And he was so worn, so passionless, so autumnal of soul, that he could
smile wearily in the midst of his pain.
Very carefully he descended the creaking stairs, locked the door of
the house and stood on the street--still smiling.
It was over ... all over.
Her future was trodden into the mire, hers and his own.
And in this supreme moment he grew cruelly aware of his crimes against
All her love, all her being during these years had been but one secret
prayer: "Hold me, do not break me, do not desert me!"
He had been deaf. He had given her a stone for bread, irony for love,
cold doubt for warm, human trust! And in the end he had even despised
her because she had striven, with touching faith, to form herself
according to his example.
It was all fatally clear--now.
Her contradictions, her lack of feeling, her haughty scepticism--all
that had chilled and estranged him had been but a dutiful reflection
of his own being.
Need he be surprised that the last remnant of her lost and corrupted
youth rose in impassioned rebellion against him and, thinking to
save itself, hurled itself to destruction?
He gave one farewell glance to the dark, silent house--the grave of
the fairest hopes of all his life. Then he set out upon long, dreary,
aimless wandering through the endless, nocturnal streets.
Like shadows the shapes of night glided by him.
Shy harlots--loud roysterers--benzin flames--more harlots--and here
and there one lost in thought even as he.
An evil odour, as of singed horses' hoofs, floated over the city.....
The dust whirled under the street-cleaning machines.
The world grew silent. He was left almost alone.....
Then the life of the awakening day began to stir. A sleepy dawn crept
over the roofs....
It was the next morning.
There would be no "next mornings" for him. That was over.
Let others send Indian lilies!
It was a blazing afternoon, late in July. The Cheruskan fraternity
entered Ellerntal in celebration of their mid-summer festivity. They
had let the great wagon stand at the outskirts of the village and now
marched up its street in well-formed procession, proud and vain as a
company of _Schützen_ before whom all the world bows down once a year.
First came the regimental band of the nearest garrison, dressed in
civilian's clothes--then, under the vigilance of two brightly attired
freshmen, the blue, white and golden banner of the fraternity, next
the officers accompanied by other freshmen, and finally the active
members in whom the dignity, decency and fighting strength of the
fraternity were embodied. A gay little crowd of elderly gentlemen,
ladies and guests followed in less rigid order. Last came, as always
and everywhere, the barefoot children of the village. The procession
came to a halt in front of the _Prussian Eagle_, a long-drawn single
story structure of frame. The newly added dance hall with its three
great windows protruded loftily above the house.
The banner was lowered, the horns of the band gave wild, sharp signals
to which no one attended, and Pastor Rhode, a sedate man of fifty
dressed in the scarf and slashed cap of the order, stepped from the
inn door to pronounce the address of welcome. At this moment it
happened that one of the two banner bearers who had stood at the right
and left of the flag with naked foils, rigid as statues, slowly tilted
over forward and buried his face in the green sward.
This event naturally put an immediate end to the ceremony. Everybody,
men and women, thronged around the fallen youth and were quickly
pushed back by the medical fraternity men who were present in various
stages of professional development.
The medical wisdom of this many-headed council culminated in the cry:
"A glass of water!"
Immediately a young girl--hot-eyed and loose-haired, exquisite in the
roundedness of half maturity--rushed out of the door and handed a
glass to the gentlemen who had turned the fainting lad on his
back and were loosening scarf and collar.
He lay there, in the traditional garb of the fraternity, like a young
cavalry man of the time of the Great Elector--with his blue,
gold-braided doublet, close-fitting breeches of white leather and
mighty boots whose flapping tops swelled out over his firm thighs. He
couldn't be above eighteen or nineteen, long and broad though he was,
with his cheeks of milk and blood, that showed no sign of down, no
duelling scar. You would have thought him some mother's pet, had there
not been a sharp line of care that ran mournfully from the half-open
lips to the chin.
The cold water did its duty. Sighing, the lad opened his eyes--two
pretty blue boy's eyes, long lashed and yet a little empty of
expression as though life had delayed giving them the harder glow
These eyes fell upon the young girl who stood there, with hands
pressed to her heaving bosom, in an ecstatic desire to help.
"Where can we carry him?" asked one of the physicians.
"Into my room," she cried, "I'll show you the way."
Eight strong hands took hold and two minutes later the boy lay on the
flowered cover of her bed. It was far too short for him, but it stood,
soft and comfortable, hidden by white mull curtains in a corner of
her simple room.
He was summoned back to full consciousness, tapped, auscultated and
examined. Finally he confessed with a good deal of hesitation that his
right foot hurt him a bit--that was all.
"Are the boots your own, freshie?" asked one of the physicians.
He blushed, turned his gaze to the wall and shook his head.
"Well, then, off with the wretched thing."
But all exertion of virile strength was in vain. The boot did not
budge. Only a low moan of suffering came from the patient.
"There's nothing to be done," said one, "little miss, let's have a
Anxious and with half-folded hands she had stood behind the doctors.
Now she rushed off and brought the desired implement.
"But you're not going to hurt him?" she asked with big, beseeching
"No, no, we're only going to cut his leg off," jested one of the
by-standers and took the knife from her clinging fingers.
Two incisions, two rents along the shin--the leather parted. A steady
surgeon's hand guided the knife carefully over the instep. At last the
flesh appeared--bloody, steel-blue and badly swollen.
"Freshie, you idiot, you might have killed yourself," said the surgeon
and gave the patient a paternal nudge. "And now, little miss,
hurry--sugar of lead bandages till evening."
Her name was Antonie. She was the inn-keeper Wiesner's only daughter
and managed the household and kitchen because her mother had died in
the previous year.
His name was Robert Messerschmidt. He was a physician's son and a
student of medicine. He hoped to fight his way into full fraternity
membership by the beginning of the next semester. This last detail
was, at present, the most important of his life and had been confided
to her at the very beginning of their acquaintanceship.
Youth is in a hurry. At four o'clock their hands were intertwined. At
five o'clock their lips found each other. From six on the bandages
were changed more rarely. Instead they exchanged vows of eternal
fidelity. At eight a solemn betrothal took place. And when, at ten
o'clock, swaying slightly and mellow of mood, the physicians
reappeared in order to put the patient to bed properly, their
wedding-day had been definitely set for the fifth anniversary of that
day. Next morning the procession went on to celebrate in some other
picturesque locality the festival of the breakfast of "the
Toni had run up on the hill which ascended, behind her father's house,
toward the high plateau of the river-bank. With dry but burning eyes
she looked after the wagons which gradually vanished in the silvery
sand of the road and one of which carried away into the distance her
life's whole happiness.
To be sure, she had fallen in love with everyone whom she had met.
This habit dated from her twelfth, nay, from her tenth year. But this
time it was different, oh, so different. This time it was like an
axe-blow from which one doesn't arise. Or like the fell
disease--consumption--which had dragged her mother to the grave.
She herself was more like her father, thick-set and sturdy.
She had also inherited his calculating and planning nature. With tough
tenacity he could sacrifice years of earning and saving and planning
to acquire farms and meadows and orchards. Thus the girl could
meditate and plan her fate which, until yesterday, had been fluid as
water but which to-day lay definitely anchored in the soul of a
Her education had been narrow. She knew the little that an old
governess and a comfortable pastor could teach. But she read
whatever she could get hold of--from the tattered "pony" to Homer
which a boy friend had loaned her, to the most horrible
penny-dreadfuls which were her father's delight in his rare hours
And she assimilated what she read and adapted it to her own fate. Thus
her imagination was familiar with happiness, with delusion,
She knew that she was beautiful. If the humility of her play-fellows
had not assured her of this fact, she would have been enlightened by
the long glances and jesting admiration of her father's guests.
Her father was strict. He interfered with ferocity if a traveller
jested with her too intimately. Nevertheless he liked to have her come
into the inn proper and slip, smiling and curtsying, past the
wealthier guests. It was not unprofitable.
Upon his short, fleshy bow-legs, with his suspiciously calculating
blink, with his avarice and his sharp tongue, he stood between her and
the world, permitting only so much of it to approach her as seemed, at
a given moment, harmless and useful.
His attitude was fatal to any free communication with her beloved. He
opened and read every letter that she had ever received. Had she
ventured to call for one at the post-office, the information would
have reached him that very day.
The problem was how to deceive him without placing herself at the
mercy of some friend.
She sat down in the arbour from which, past the trees of the orchard
and the neighbouring river, one had a view of the Russian forests, and
put the problem to her seventeen-year old brain. And while the summer
wind played with the green fruit on the boughs and the white herons
spread their gleaming wings over the river, she thought out a
plan--the first of many by which she meant to rivet her beloved
On the same afternoon she asked her father's permission to invite the
daughter of the county-physician to visit her.
"Didn't know you were such great friends," he said, surprised.
"Oh, but we are," she pretended to be a little hurt. "We were received
into the Church at the same time."
With lightning-like rapidity he computed the advantages that might
result from such a visit. The county-seat was four miles distant and
if the societies of veterans and marksmen in whose committees the
doctor was influential could be persuaded to come hither for their
outings.... The girl was cordially invited and arrived a week later.
She was surprised and touched to find so faithful a friend in Toni
who, when they were both boarding with Pastor Rhode, had played her
many a sly trick.
Two months later the girl, in her turn, invited Toni to the city
whither she had never before been permitted to go alone and so the
latter managed to receive her lover's first letter.
What he wrote was discouraging enough. His father was ill, hence the
excellent practice was gliding into other hands and the means for his
own studies were growing narrow. If things went on so he might have to
give up his university course and take to anything to keep his mother
and sister from want.
This prospect did not please Toni. She was so proud of him. She could
not bear to have him descend in the social scale for the sake of bread
and butter. She thought and thought how she could help him with money,
but nothing occurred to her. She had to be content with encouraging
him and assuring him that her love would find ways and means for
helping him out of his difficulties.
She wrote her letters at night and jumped out of the window in order
to drop them secretly into the pillar box. It was months before she
could secure an answer. His father was better, but life in the
fraternity was very expensive, and it was a very grave question
whether he had not better resign the scarf which he had just gained
and study on as a mere "barb."
In Toni's imagination the picture of her beloved was brilliantly
illuminated by the glory of the tricoloured fraternity scarf, his
desire for it had become so ardently her own, that she could not bear
the thought of him--his yearning satisfied--returning to the gray
commonplace garb of Philistia. And so she wrote him.
Spring came and Toni matured to statelier maidenhood. The plump girl,
half-child, droll and naïve, grew to be a thoughtful, silent young
woman, secretive and very sure of her aims. She condescended to the
guests and took no notice of the desperate admiration which surrounded
her. Her glowing eyes looked into emptiness, her infinitely tempting
mouth smiled carelessly at friends and strangers.
In May Robert's father died.
She read it in one of the papers that were taken at the inn, and
immediately it became clear to her that her whole future was at stake.
For if he was crushed now by the load of family cares, if hope were
taken from him, no thought of her or her love would be left. Only if
she could redeem her promises and help him practically could she hope
to keep him. In the farthest corner of a rarely opened drawer lay
her mother's jewels which were some day to be hers--brooches and
rings, a golden chain, and a comb set with rubies which had found its
way--heaven knows how--into the simple inn.
Without taking thought she stole the whole and sent it as
merchandise--not daring to risk the evidence of registration--to help
him in his studies. The few hundred marks that the jewellery would
bring would surely keep him until the end of the semester ... but
what then? ...
And again she thought and planned all through the long, hot nights.
Pastor Rhode's eldest son, a frail, tall junior who followed her, full
of timid passion, came home from college for the spring vacation. In
the dusk he crept around the inn as had been his wont for years.
This time he had not long to wait.
How did things go at college? Badly. Would he enter the senior class
at Michaelmas? Hardly. Then she would have to be ashamed of him, and
that would be a pity: she liked him too well.
The slim lad writhed under this exquisite torture. It wasn't his
fault. He had pains in his chest, and growing pains. And all that.
She unfolded her plan.
"You ought to have a tutor during the long vacation, Emil, to help you
"Papa can do that."
"Oh, Papa is busy. You ought to have a tutor all to yourself, a
student or something like that. If you're really fond of me ask your
Papa to engage one. Perhaps he'll get a young man from his own
fraternity with whom he can chat in the evening. You will ask, won't
you? I don't like people who are conditioned in their studies."
That same night a letter was sent to her beloved.
"Watch the frat. bulletin! Our pastor is going to look for a tutor for
his boy. See to it that you get the position. I'm longing to see
Once more it was late July--exactly a year after those memorable
events--and he sat in the stage-coach and took off his crape-hung cap
to her. His face was torn by fresh scars and diagonally across his
breast the blue white golden scarf was to be seen.
She grasped the posts of the fence with both hands and felt that she
would die if she could not have him.
Upon that evening she left the house no more, although for two hours
he walked the dusty village street, with Emil, but also alone. But on
the next evening she stood behind the fence. Their hands found each
other across the obstacle.
"Do you sleep on the ground-floor?" she asked whispering.
"Does the dog still bark when he sees you."
"I don't know, I'm afraid so."
"When you've made friends with him so that he won't bark when you get
out of the window, then come to the arbour behind our orchard. I'll
wait for you every night at twelve. But don't mind that. Don't come
till you're sure of the dog."
For three long nights she sat on the wooden bench of the arbour until
the coming of dawn and stared into the bluish dusk that hid the
village as in a cloak. From time to time the dogs bayed. She could
distinguish the bay of the pastor's collie. She knew his hoarse voice.
Perhaps he was barring her beloved's way....
At last, during the fourth night, when his coming was scarcely to be
hoped for, uncertain steps dragged up the hill.
She did not run to meet him. She crouched in the darkest corner of the
arbour and tasted, intensely blissful, the moments during which he
felt his way through the foliage.
Then she clung to his neck, to his lips, demanding and according
all--rapt to the very peaks of life....
They were together nightly. Few words passed between them. She
scarcely knew how he looked. For not even a beam of the moon could
penetrate the broad-leaved foliage, and at the peep of dawn they
separated. She might have lain in the arms of a stranger and not known
And not only during their nightly meetings, but even by day they slipt
through life-like shadows. One day the pastor came to the inn for a
glass of beer and chatted with other gentlemen. She heard him.
"I don't know what's the matter with that young fellow," he said. "He
does his duty and my boy is making progress. But he's like a stranger
from another world. He sits at the table and scarcely sees us. He
talks and you have the feeling that he doesn't know what he's talking
about. Either he's anaemic or he writes poetry."
She herself saw the world through a blue veil, heard the voices of
life across an immeasurable distance and felt hot, alien shivers run
through her enervated limbs.
The early Autumn approached and with it the day of his departure. At
last she thought of discussing the future with him which, until then,
like all else on earth, had sunk out of sight.
His mother, he told her, meant to move to Koenigsberg and earn her
living by keeping boarders. Thus there was at least a possibility of
his continuing his studies. But he didn't believe that he would be
able to finish. His present means would soon be exhausted and he had
no idea where others would come from.
All that he told her in the annoyed and almost tortured tones of one
long weary of hope who only staggers on in fear of more vital
With flaming words she urged him to be of good courage. She insisted
upon such resources as--however frugal--were, after all, at hand, and
calculated every penny. She shrugged her shoulders at his gratitude
for that first act of helpfulness. If only there were something else
to be taken. But whence and how? Her suspicious father would have
observed any shortage in his till at once and would have had the thief
The great thing was to gain time. Upon her advice he was to leave
Koenigsberg with its expensive fraternity life and pass the winter in
Berlin. The rest had to be left to luck and cunning.
In a chill, foggy September night they said farewell. Shivering they
held each other close. Their hearts were full of the confused hopes
which they themselves had kindled, not because there was any ground
for hope, but because without it one cannot live.
And a few weeks later everything came to an end.
For Toni knew of a surety that she would be a mother....
Into the river!
For that her father would put her in the street was clear. It was
equally clear what would become of her in that case....
But no, not into the river! Why was her young head so practised in
skill and cunning, if it was to bow helplessly under the first severe
onslaught of fate? What was the purpose of those beautiful long nights
but to brood upon plans and send far thoughts out toward shining aims?
No, she would not run into the river. That dear wedding-day in five,
nay, in four years, was lost anyhow. But the long time could be
utilised so cleverly that her beloved could be dragged across the
abyss of his fate.
First, then, she must have a father for her child. He must not be
clever. He must not be strong of will. Nor young, for youth makes
demands. ... Nor well off, for he who is certain of himself desires
freedom of choice.
Her choice fell upon a former inn-keeper, a down-hearted man of about
fifty, moist of eye, faded, with greasy black hair.... He had failed
in business some years before and now sat around in the inn, looking
for a job....
To this her father did not object. For that man's condition was an
excellent foil to his own success and prosperity and thus he was
permitted, at times, to stay a week in the house where, otherwise,
charity was scarcely at home.
Her plan worked well. On the first day she lured him silently on. On
the second he responded. On the third she turned sharply and rebuked
him. On the fourth she forgave him. On the fifth she met him in
secret. On the sixth he went on a journey, conscience smitten for
having seduced her....
That very night--for there was no time to be lost--she confessed with
trembling and blushing to her father that she was overcome by an
unconquerable passion for Herr Weigand. As was to be expected she was
driven from the door with shame and fury.
During the following weeks she went about bathed in tears. Her father
avoided her. Then, when the right moment seemed to have come, she made
a second and far more difficult confession. This time her tremours and
her blushes were real, her tears were genuine for her father used a
horse-whip.... But when, that night, Toni sat on the edge of her bed
and bathed the bloody welts on her body, she knew that her plan
And, to be sure, two days later Herr Weigand returned--a little more
faded, a little more hesitant, but altogether, by no means unhappy. He
was invited into her father's office for a long discussion. The result
was that the two lovers fell into each others' arms while her father,
trembling with impotent rage, hurled at them the fragments of a
The banns were proclaimed immediately after the betrothal, and a
month later Herr Weigand, in his capacity of son-in-law, could take
possession of the same garret which he had inhabited as an impecunious
guest. This arrangement, however, was not a permanent one. An inn was
to be rented for the young couple--with her father's money.
Toni, full of zeal and energy, took part in every new undertaking,
travelled hither and thither, considered prospects and dangers, but
always withdrew again at the last moment in order to await a fairer
But she was utterly set upon the immediate furnishing of the new home.
She went to Koenigsberg and had long sessions with furniture dealers
and tradesmen of all kinds. On account of her delicate condition she
insisted that she could only travel on the upholstered seats of the
second class. She charged her father accordingly and in reality
travelled fourth class and sat for hours between market-women and
Polish Jews in order to save a few marks. In the accounts she rendered
heavy meals were itemized, strengthening wines, stimulating cordials.
As a matter of fact, she lived on dried slices of bread which, before
leaving home, she hid in her trunk.
She did not disdain the saving of a tram car fare, although the
rebates which she got on the furniture ran into the hundreds.
All that she sent jubilantly to her lover in Berlin, assured that he
was provided for some months.
Thus the great misfortune had finally resulted in a blessing. For,
without these unhoped for resources, he must have long fallen by
Months passed. Her furnishings stood in a storage warehouse, but the
house in which they were to live was not yet found.
When she felt that her hour had come--her father and husband thought
it far off--she redoubled the energy of her travels, seeking,
preferably, rough and ribbed roads which other women in her condition
were wont to shun.
And thus, one day, in a springless vehicle, two miles distant from the
county-seat, the pains of labour came upon her. She steeled every
nerve and had herself carried to the house of the county-physician
whose daughter was now tenderly attached to her.
There she gave birth to a girl child which announced its equivocal
arrival in this world lustily.
The old doctor, into whose house this confusion had suddenly come,
stood by her bed-side, smiling good-naturedly. She grasped him with
both hands, terror in her eyes and in her voice.
"Dear, dear doctor! The baby was born too soon, wasn't it?"
The doctor drew back and regarded her long and earnestly. Then his
smile returned and his kind hand touched her hair.
"Yes, it is as you say. The baby's nails are not fully developed and
its weight is slightly below normal. It's all on account of your
careless rushing about. Surely the child came too soon."
And he gave her the proper certification of the fact which protected
her from those few people who might consider themselves partakers of
her secret. For the opinion of people in general she cared little. So
strong had she grown through guilt and silence.
And she was a child of nineteen! ...
When Toni had arisen from her bed of pain she found the place which
she and her husband had been seeking for months with surprising
rapidity. The "Hotel Germania," the most reputable hotel in the
county-seat itself was for rent. Its owner had recently died. It was
palatial compared to her father's inn. There were fifteen rooms for
guests, a tap-room, a wine-room, a grocery-shop and a livery-stable.
Weigand, intimidated by misfortune, had never even hoped to aspire to
such heights of splendour. Even now he could only grasp the measure of
his happiness by calculating enormous profits. And he did this with
peculiar delight. For, since the business was to be run in the name of
Toni's father, his own creditors could not touch him.
When they had moved in and the business began to be straightened out,
Weigand proved himself in flat contradiction of his slack and careless
character, a tough and circumspect man of business. He knew the
whereabouts of every penny and was not inclined to permit his wife to
make random inroads upon his takings.
Toni, who had expected to be undisputed mistress of the safe saw
herself cheated of her dearest hopes, for the time approached when the
savings made on the purchase of her furniture must necessarily be
And again she planned and wrestled through the long, warm nights while
her husband, whose inevitable proximity she bore calmly, snored with
the heaviness of many professional "treats."
One day she said to him: "A few pennies must be put by for Amanda."
That was the name of the little girl who flourished merrily in her
cradle. "You must assign some little profits to me."
"What can I do?" he asked. "For the present everything belongs to the
"I know what I'd like," she went on, smiling dreamily, "I'd like to
have all the profits on the sale of champagne."
He laughed heartily. There wasn't much call for champagne in the
little county-seat. At most a few bottles were sold on the emperor's
birthday or when, once in a long while, a flush commercial traveller
wanted to regale a recalcitrant customer.
And so Weigand fell in with what he thought a mere mood and assented.
Toni at once made a trip to Koenigsberg and bought all kinds of
phantastic decorations--Chinese lanterns, gilt fans, artificial
flowers, gay vases and manicoloured lamp-shades. With all these things
she adorned the little room that lay behind the room in which the most
distinguished townspeople were wont to drink their beer. And so the
place with veiled light and crimson glow looked more like a mysterious
oriental shrine than the sitting-room of an honest Prussian
She sat evening after evening in this phantastic room. She brought her
knitting and awaited the things that were to come.
The gentlemen who drank in the adjoining room, the judges, physicians,
planters--all the bigwigs of a small town, in short--soon noticed the
magical light that glimmered through the half-open door whenever
Weigand was obliged to pass from the public rooms into his private
dwelling. And the men grew to be curious, the more so as the
inn-keeper's young wife, of whose charms many rumours were afloat, had
never yet been seen by any.
One evening, when the company was in an especially hilarious mood, the
men demanded stormily to see the mysterious room.
Weigand hesitated. He would have to ask his wife's permission. He
returned with the friendly message that the gentlemen were welcome.
Hesitant, almost timid, they entered as if crossing the threshold of
some house of mystery.
There stood--transfigured by the glow of coloured lamps--the shapely
young woman with the alluring glow in her eyes, and her lips that were
in the form of a heart. She gave each a secretly quivering hand and
spoke a few soft words that seemed to distinguish him from the others.
Then, still timid and modest, she asked them to be seated and begged
for permission to serve a glass of champagne in honour of
It is not recorded who ordered the second bottle. It may have been the
very fat Herr von Loffka, or the permanently hilarious judge. At all
events the short visit of the gentlemen came to an end at three
o'clock in the morning with wild intoxication and a sale of eighteen
bottles of champagne, of which half bore French labels.
Toni resisted all requests for a second invitation to her sanctum. She
first insisted on the solemn assurance that the gentlemen would
respect her presence and bring neither herself nor her house into
ill-repute. At last came the imperial county-counsellor himself--a
wealthy bachelor of fifty with the manners of an injured lady killer.
He came to beg for himself and the others and she dared not refuse
The champagne festivals continued. With this difference: that Toni,
whenever the atmosphere reached a certain point of heated
intoxication, modestly withdrew to her bed-room. Thus she succeeded not
only in holding herself spotless but in being praised for her
But she kindled a fire in the heads of these dissatisfied University
men who deemed themselves banished into a land of starvation, and in
the senses of the planters' sons. And this fire burned on and created
about her an atmosphere of madly fevered desire....
Finally it became the highest mark of distinction in the little town,
the sign of real connoisseurship in life, to have drunk a bottle of
champagne with "Germania," as they called her, although she bore
greater resemblance to some swarthier lady of Rome. Whoever was not
admitted to her circle cursed his lowliness and his futile life.
Of course, in spite of all precautions, it could not but be that her
reputation suffered. The daughter of the county-physician began to
avoid her, the wives of social equals followed suit. But no one dared
accuse her of improper relations with any of her adorers. It was even
known that the county-counsellor, desperate over her stern refusals,
was urging her to get a divorce from her husband and marry him. No one
suspected, of course, that she had herself spread this rumour in order
to render pointless the possible leaking out of improprieties....
Nor did any one dream that a bank in Koenigsberg transmitted, in her
name, monthly cheques to Berlin that sufficed amply to help an
ambitious medical student to continue his work.
The news which she received from her beloved was scanty.
In order to remain in communication with him she had thought out a
The house of every tradesman or business man in the provinces is
flooded with printed advertisements from Berlin which pour out over
the small towns and the open country. Of this printed matter, which is
usually thrown aside unnoticed, Toni gathered the most voluminous
examples, carefully preserved the envelopes, and sent them to Robert.
Her husband did not notice of course that the same advertising matter
came a second time nor that faint, scarce legible pencil marks picked
out words here and there which, when read consecutively, made complete
sense and differed very radically from the message which the printed
slips were meant to convey....
Years passed. A few ship-wrecked lives marked Toni's path, a few
female slanders against her were avenged by the courts. Otherwise
nothing of import took place.
And in her heart burned with never-lessening glow the one great
emotion which always supplied fuel to her will, which lent every
action a pregnant significance and furnished absolution for
In the meantime Amanda grew to be a blue-eyed, charming child--gentle
and caressing and the image of the man of whose love she was the
But Fate, which seems to play its gigantic pranks upon men in the act
of punishing them, brought it to pass that the child seemed also to
bear some slight resemblance to the stranger who, bowed and servile,
stupidly industrious, sucking cigars, was to be seen at her
Never was father more utterly devoted to the fruit of his loins than
this gulled fellow to the strange child to whom the mother did not
even--by kindly inactivity--give him a borrowed right. The more
carefully she sought to separate the child from him, the more
adoringly and tenaciously did he cling to it.
With terror and rage Toni was obliged to admit to herself that no sum
would ever suffice to make Weigand agree to a divorce that separated
him definitely from the child. And dreams and visions, transplanted
into her brain from evil books, filled Toni's nights with the glitter
of daggers and the stain of flowing blood. And fate seemed to urge on
the day when these dreams must take on flesh....
One day she found in the waste-paper basket which she searched
carefully after every mail-delivery, an advertisement which commended
to the buying public a new make of type-writer.
"Many public institutions," thus the advertisement ran, "use our well
tried machines in their offices, because these machines will bear the
most rigid examination. Their reputation has crossed the ocean. The
Chilean ministry has just ordered a dozen of our 'Excelsiors' by
cable. Thus successfully does our invention spread over the world. And
yet its victorious progress is by no means completed. Even in Japan--"
and so on.
If one looked at this stuff very carefully, one could observe that
certain words were lightly marked in pencil. And if one read these
words consecutively, the following sentence resulted:
From this day on the room with the veiled lamps remained closed to her
eager friends. From this day on the generous county-counsellor saw
that his hopes were dead....
How was the man to be disposed of?
An open demand for divorce would have been stupid, for it would have
thrown a very vivid suspicion upon any later and more drastic attempt.
Weigand's walk and conversation were blameless. Her one hope consisted
in catching him in some chance infidelity. The desire for change, she
reasoned, the allurement of forbidden fruit, must inflame even this
She had never, hitherto, paid the slightest attention to the problem
of waitresses. Now she travelled to Koenigsberg and hired the
handsomest women to be found in the employment bureaus. They came, one
after another, a feline Polish girl, a smiling, radiantly blond child
of Sweden--a Venus, a Germania--this time a genuine one. Next came a
pretended Circassian princess. And they all wandered off again, and
Weigand had no glance for them but that of the master.
Antonie was discouraged and dropped her plan.
She had recoiled from no baseness. She had sacrificed to her love
honour, self-respect, truth, righteousness and pride. But she had
avoided hitherto the possibility of a conflict with the law.
Occasional small thefts in the house did not count.
But the day had come when crime itself, crime that threatened remorse
and the sword of judgment, entered her life. For otherwise she could
not get rid of her husband.
The regions that lie about the eastern boundary of the empire are
haunted by Jewish peddlers who carry in their sacks Russian drops,
candied fruits, gay ribands, toys made of bark, and other pleasant
things which make them welcome to young people. But they also supply
sterner needs. In the bottom of their sacks are hidden love philtres
and strange electuaries. And if you press them very determinedly, you
will find some among them who have the little white powders that can
be poured into beer ... or the small, round discs which the common
folk call "crow's eyes" and which the greedy apothecaries will not
sell you merely for the reason that they prepare the costlier
strychnine from them.
You will often see these beneficent men in the twilight in secret
colloquy with female figures by garden-gates and the edges of woods.
The female figures slip away if you happen to appear on the road....
Often, too, these men are asked into the house and intimate council is
held with them--especially when husband and servants are busy in the
One evening in the beginning of May, Toni brought home with her from a
harmless walk a little box of arsenic and a couple of small, hard
discs that rattled merrily in one's pocket.... Cold sweat ran down her
throat and her legs trembled so that she had to sit down on a case of
soap before entering the house.
Her husband asked her what was wrong.
"Ah, it's the spring," she answered and laughed.
Soon her adorers noticed, and not these only, that her loveliness
increased from day to day. Her eyes which, under their depressed
brows, had assumed a sharp and peering gaze, once more glowed with
their primal fire, and a warm rosiness suffused her cheeks that spread
marvelously to her forehead and throat.
Her appearance made so striking an impression that many a one who had
not seen her for a space stared at her and asked, full of admiration:
"What have you done to yourself?"
"It is the spring," she answered and laughed.
As a matter of fact she had taken to eating arsenic.
She had been told that any one who becomes accustomed to the use of
this poison can increase the doses to such an extent that he can take
without harm a quantity that will necessarily kill another. And she
had made up her mind to partake of the soup which she meant, some day,
to prepare for her husband. That much she held to be due a faultless
claim of innocence.
But she was unfortunate enough to make a grievous mistake one day, and
lay writhing on the floor in uncontrollable agony.
The old physician at once recognized the symptoms of arsenic
poisoning, prescribed the necessary antidotes and carefully dragged
her back into life. The quantity she had taken, he declared, shaking
his head, was enough to slay a strong man. He transmitted the
information of the incident as demanded by law.
Detectives and court-messengers visited the house. The entire building
was searched, documents had to be signed and all reports were
carefully followed up.
The dear romantic public refused to be robbed of its opinion that one
of Toni's rejected admirers had thus sought to avenge himself. The
suspicion of the authorities, however, fastened itself upon a
waitress, a plump, red-haired wanton who had taken the place of the
imported beauties and whose insolent ugliness the men of the town,
relieved of nobler delights, enjoyed thoroughly. The insight of the
investigating judge had found in the girl's serving in the house and
her apparent intimacy with its master a scent which he would by no
means abandon. Only, because a few confirmatory details were still to
seek, the suspicion was hidden not only from the public but even from
Antonie, however, ailed continually. She grew thin, her digestion was
delicate. If the blow was to be struck--and many circumstances urged
it--she would no longer be able to share the poison with her victim.
But it seemed fairly certain that suspicion would very definitely fall
not upon her but upon the other woman. The latter would have to be
sacrificed, so much was clear.
But that was the difficulty. The wounded conscience might recover, the
crime might be conquered into forgetfulness, if only that is slain
which burdens the earth, which should never have been. But Toni felt
that her soul could not drag itself to any bourne of peace if, for her
own advantage, she cast one who was innocent to lasting and
The simplest thing would have been to dismiss the woman. In that case,
however, it was possible that the courts would direct their
investigations to her admirers. One of them had spoken hasty and
careless words. He might not be able to clear himself, were the
accusation directed against him.
There remained but one hope: to ascribe the unavertible death of her
husband to some accident, some heedlessness. And so she directed her
unwavering purpose to this end.
The Polish peddler had slipped into Toni's hand not only the arsenic
but also the deadly little discs called "crow's eyes." These must help
her, if used with proper care and circumspection.
One day while little Amanda was playing in the yard with other girls,
she found among the empty kerosene barrels a few delightful, silvery
discs, no larger then a ten pfennig piece. With great delight she
brought them to her mother who, attending to her knitting, had ceased
for a moment to watch the children.
"What's that, Mama?"
"I don't know, my darling."
"May we play with them?"
"What would you like to play?"
"We want to throw them."
"No, don't do that. But I'll make you a new doll-carriage and these
will be lovely wheels."
The children assented and Amanda brought a pair of scissors in order
to make holes in the little wheels. But they were too hard and the
points of the blades slipped.
"Ask father to use his small gimlet."
Amanda ran to the open window behind which he for whom all this was
prepared was quietly making out his monthly bills.
Toni's breath failed. If he recognised the poisonous fruits, it was
all over with her plan. But the risk was not to be avoided.
He looked at the discs for a moment. And yet for another. No, he did
not know their nature but was rather pleased with them. It did not
even occur to him to warn the little girl to beware of the
He called into the shop ordering an apprentice to bring him a
tool-case. The boy in his blue apron came and Toni observed that his
eyes rested upon the fruits for a perceptible interval. Thus there
was, in addition to the children, another witness and one who would be
admitted to oath.
Weigand bored holes into four of the discs and threw them, jesting
kindly, into the children's apron. The others he kept. "He has
pronounced his own condemnation," Toni thought as with trembling
fingers she mended an old toy to fit the new wheels.
Nothing remained but to grind the proper dose with cinnamon, to
sweeten it--according to instructions--and spice a rice-pudding
But fate which, in this delicate matter, had been hostile to her from
the beginning, ordained it otherwise.
For that very evening came the apothecary, not, as a rule, a timid
person. He was pale and showed Weigand the fruits. He had, by the
merest hair-breadth, prevented his little girl Marie from nibbling
one of them.
The rest followed as a matter of course. The new wheels were taken
from the doll-carriage, all fragments were carefully sought out and
all the discs were given to the apothecary who locked them into
"The red-headed girl must be sacrificed after all," Toni thought.
She planned and schemed, but she could think of no way by which the
waitress could be saved from that destruction which hung over her.
There was no room for further hesitation. The path had to be trodden
to its goal. Whether she left corpses on the way-side, whether she
herself broke down dead at the goal--it did not matter. That plan of
her life which rivetted her fate to her beloved's forever demanded
that she proceed.
The old physician came hurrying to the inn next morning. He was
utterly confounded by the scarcely escaped horrors.
"You really look," he said to Toni, "as if you had swallowed some of
the stuff, too."
"Oh, I suppose my fate will overtake me in the end," she answered with
a weary smile. "I feel it in my bones: there will be some misfortune
in our house."
"For heaven's sake!" he cried, "Put that red-headed beast into the
"It isn't she! I'll take my oath on that," she said eagerly and
thought that she had done a wonderfully clever thing.
She waited in suspense, fearing that the authorities would take a
closer look at this last incident. She was equipped for any
search--even one that might penetrate to her own bed-room. For she had
put false bottoms into the little medicine-boxes. Beneath these she
kept the arsenic. On top lay harmless magnesia. The boxes themselves
stood on her toilet-table, exposed to all eyes and hence withdrawn
from all suspicion.
She waited till evening, but nobody came. And yet the connection
between this incident and the former one seemed easy enough to
establish. However that might be, she assigned the final deed to the
very next day. And why wait? An end had to be made of this torture of
hesitation which, at every new scruple, seemed to freeze her very
heart's blood. Furthermore the finding of the "crow's eyes" would be
of use in leading justice astray.
To-morrow, then ... to-morrow....
Weigand had gone to bed early. But Toni sat behind the door of the
public room and, through a slit of the door, listened to every
movement of the waitress. She had kept near her all evening. She
scarcely knew why. But a strange, dull hope would not die in her--a
hope that something might happen whereby her unsuspecting victim and
herself might both be saved.
The clock struck one. The public rooms were all but empty. Only a few
young clerks remained. These were half-drunk and made rough advances
to the waitress.
She resisted half-serious, half-jesting.
"You go out and cool yourselves in the night-air. I don't care about
such fellows as you."
"I suppose you want only counts and barons," one of them taunted her.
"I suppose you wouldn't even think the county-counsellor good enough!"
"That's my affair," she answered, "as to who is good enough for me. I
have my choice. I can get any man I want."
They laughed at her and she flew into a rage.
"If you weren't such a beggarly crew and had anything to bet, I'd
wager you any money that I'd seduce any man I want in a week. In a
week, do I say? In three days! Just name the man."
Antonie quivered sharply and then sank with closed eyes, against the
back of her chair. A dream of infinite bliss stole through her being.
Was there salvation for her in this world? Could this coarse creature
accomplish that in which beauty and refinement had failed?
Could she be saved from becoming a murderess? Would it be granted her
to remain human, with a human soul and a human face?
But this was no time for tears or weakening.
With iron energy she summoned all her strength and quietude and
wisdom. The moment was a decisive one.
When the last guests had gone and all servants, too, had gone to their
rest, she called the waitress, with some jesting reproach, into
A long whispered conversation followed. At its end the woman declared
that the matter was child's play to her.
And did not suspect that by this game she was saving her life.
In hesitant incredulity Antonie awaited the things that were to come.
On the first day a staggering thing happened. The red-headed woman,
scolding at the top of her voice, threw down a beer-glass at her
master's feet, upon which he immediately gave her notice.
Toni's newly-awakened hope sank. The woman had boasted. And what was
worse than all: if the final deed could be accomplished, her compact
with the waitress would damn her. The woman would of course use this
weapon ruthlessly. The affair had never stood so badly.
But that evening she breathed again. For Weigand declared that the
waitress seemed to have her good qualities too and her heart-felt
prayers had persuaded him to keep her.
For several days nothing of significance took place except that
Weigand, whenever he mentioned the waitress, peered curiously aside.
And this fact Toni interpreted in a favorable light.
Almost a week passed. Then, one day, the waitress approached Toni at
an unwonted hour.
"If you'll just peep into my room this afternoon...."
Toni followed directions.... The poor substitute crept down the
stairs--caught and powerless. He followed his wife who knelt sobbing
beside their bed. She was not to be comforted, nor to be moved. She
repulsed him and wept and wept.
Weigand had never dreamed that he was so passionately loved. The more
violent was the anger of the deceived wife.... She demanded divorce,
He begged and besought and adjured. In vain.
Next he enlisted the sympathy of his father-in-law who had taken no
great interest in the business during these years, but was content if
the money he had invested in it paid the necessary six per
The old man came immediately and made a scene with his recalcitrant
daughter.... There was the splendid business and the heavy investment!
She was not to think that he would give her one extra penny. He would
simply withdraw his capital and let her and the child starve.
Toni did not even deign to reply.
The suit progressed rapidly. The unequivocal testimony of the waitress
rendered any protest nugatory.
Three months later Toni put her possessions on a train, took her
child, whom the deserted father followed with an inarticulate moan,
and travelled to Koenigsberg where she rented a small flat in order to
await in quiet the reunion with her beloved.
The latter was trying to work up a practice in a village close to the
Russian border. He wrote that things were going slowly and that,
hence, he must be at his post night and day. So soon as he had the
slightest financial certainty for his wife and child, he would
come for them.
And so she awaited the coming of her life's happiness. She had little
to do, and passed many happy hours in imagining how he would rush
in--by yonder passage--through this very door--tall and slender and
impassioned and press her to his wildly throbbing heart. And ever
again, though she knew it to be a foolish dream, did she see the blue
white golden scarf upon his chest and the blue and gold cap upon his
Lonely widows--even those of the divorced variety--find friends and
ready sympathy in the land of good hearts. But Antonie avoided
everyone who sought her society. Under the ban of her great secret
purpose she had ceased to regard men and women except as they could be
turned into the instruments of her will. And her use for them was
over. As for their merely human character and experience--Toni saw
through these at once. And it all seemed to her futile and trivial in
the fierce reflection of those infernal fires through which she had
had to pass.
Adorned like a bride and waiting--thus she lived quietly and modestly
on the means which her divorced husband--in order to keep his own head
above water--managed to squeeze out of the business.
Suddenly her father died. People said that his death was due to
unconquerable rage over her folly....
She buried him, bearing herself all the while with blameless filial
piety and then awoke to the fact that she was rich.
She wrote to her beloved: "Don't worry another day. We are in a
position to choose the kind of life that pleases us."
He wired back: "Expect me to-morrow."
Full of delight and anxiety she ran to the mirror and discovered for
the thousandth time, that she was beautiful again. The results of
poisoning had disappeared, crime and degradation had burned no marks
into her face. She stood there--a ruler of life. Her whole being
seemed sure of itself, kindly, open. Only the wild glance might, at
times, betray the fact that there was much to conceal.
She kept wakeful throughout the night, as she had done through many
another. Plan after plan passed through her busy brain. It was with an
effort that she realised the passing of such grim necessities.
A bunch of crysanthemums stood on the table, asters in vases on
dresser and chiffonier--colourful and scentless.
Antonie wore a dress of black lace that had been made by the best
dressmaker in the city for this occasion. In festive array she
desired to meet her beloved and yet not utterly discard the garb of
filial grief. But she had dressed the child in white, with white silk
stockings and sky-blue ribands. It was to meet its father like the
incarnate spirit of approaching happiness.
From the kitchen came the odours of the choicest autumn dishes--roast
duck with apples and a grape-cake, such as she alone knew how to
prepare. Two bottles of precious Rhine wine stood in the cool without
the window. She did not want to welcome him with champagne. The
memories of its subtle prickling, and of much else connected
therewith, nauseated her.
If he left his village at six in the morning he must arrive at noon.
And she waited even as she had waited seven years. This morning seven
hours had been left, there were scarcely seven minutes now. And
then--the door-bell rang.
"That is the new uncle," she said to Amanda who was handling her
finery, flattered and astonished, and she wondered to note her brain
grow suddenly so cool and clear.
A gentleman entered. A strange gentleman. Wholly strange. Had she met
him on the street she would not have known him.
He had grown old--forty, fifty, an hundred years. Yet his real age
could not be over twenty-eight! ...
He had grown fat. He carried a little paunch about with him, round and
comfortable. And the honourable scars gleamed in round red cheeks. His
eyes seemed small and receding....
And when he said: "Here I am at last," it was no longer the old voice,
clear and a little resonant, which had echoed and re-echoed in her
spiritual ear. He gurgled as though he had swallowed dumplings.
But when he took her hand and smiled, something slipt into his
face--something affectionate and quiet, empty and without guile or
Where was she accustomed to this smile? To be sure; in Amanda. An
And for the sake of this empty smile an affectionate feeling for this
stranger came into her heart. She helped him take off his overcoat. He
wore a pair of great, red-lined rubber goloshes, typical of the
country doctor. He took these off carefully and placed them with their
toes toward the wall.
"He has grown too pedantic," she thought.
Then all three entered the room. When Toni saw him in the light of day
she missed the blue white golden scarf at once. But it would have
looked comical over his rounded paunch. And yet its absence
disillusioned her. It seemed to her as if her friend had doffed the
halo for whose sake she had served him and looked up to him so long.
As for him, he regarded her with unconcealed admiration.
"Well, well, one can be proud of you!" he said, sighing deeply, and it
almost seemed as if with this sigh a long and heavy burden lifted
itself from his soul.
"He was afraid he might have to be ashamed of me," she thought
rebelliously. As if to protect herself she pushed the little girl
"Here is Amanda," she said, and added with a bitter smile: "Perhaps
But he didn't even suspect the nature of that which she wanted to make
"Oh, I've brought something for you, little one!" he cried with the
delight of one who recalls an important matter in time. With measured
step he trotted back into the hall and brought out a flat paste-board
box tied with pink ribands. He opened it very carefully and revealed a
layer of chocolate-creams wrapped in tin-foil and offered one
And this action seemed to him, obviously, to satisfy all requirements
in regard to his preliminary relations to the child.
Antonie felt the approach of a head-ache such as she had now and then
ever since the arsenic poisoning.
"You are probably hungry, dear Robert," she said.
He wouldn't deny that. "If one is on one's legs from four o'clock in
the morning on, you know, and has nothing in one's stomach but a
couple of little sausages, you know!"
He said all that with the same cheerfulness that seemed to come to him
as a matter of course and yet did not succeed in wholly hiding an
They sat down at the table and Antonie, taking pleasure in seeing to
his comfort, forgot for a moment the foolish ache that tugged at her
body and at her soul.
The wine made him talkative. He related everything that interested
him--his professional trips across country, the confinements that
sometimes came so close together that he had to spend twenty-four
hours in his buggy. Then he told of the tricks by which people whose
lives he had just saved sought to cheat him out of his modest fees.
And he told also of the comfortable card-parties with the judge and
the village priest. And how funny it was when the inn-keeper's tame
starling promenaded on the cards....
Every word told of cheerful well-being and unambitious contentment.
"He doesn't think of our common future," a torturing suspicion
whispered to her.
But he did.
"I should like to have you try, first of all, Toni, to live there. It
isn't easy. But we can both stand a good deal, thank God, and if we
don't like it in the end, why, we can move away."
And he said that so simply and sincerely that her suspicion vanished.
And with this returning certitude there returned, too, the ambition
which she had always nurtured for him.
"How would it be if we moved to Berlin, or somewhere where there is a
"And maybe aim at a professorship?" he cried with cheerful irony. "No,
Tonichen, all your money can't persuade me to that. I crammed enough
in that damned medical school, I've got my income and that's good
enough for me."
A feeling of disgust came over her. She seemed to perceive the stuffy
odour of unventilated rooms and of decaying water in which flowers
"That is what I suffered for," involuntarily the thought came,
After dinner when Amanda was sleeping off the effects of the little
sip of wine which she had taken when they let her clink glasses with
them, they sat opposite each other beside the geraniums of the
window-box and fell silent. He blew clouds of smoke from his cigar
into the air and seemed not disinclined to indulge in a nap, too.
Leaning back in her wicker chair she observed him uninterruptedly. At
one moment it seemed to her as though she caught an intoxicating
remnant of the slim, pallid lad to whom she had given her love. And
then again came the corroding doubt: "Was it for him, for him...." And
then a great fear oppressed her heart, because this man seemed to live
in a world which she could not reach in a whole life's pilgrimage.
Walls had arisen between them, doors had been bolted--doors that rose
from the depths of the earth to the heights of heaven.... As he sat
there, surrounded by the blue smoke of his cigar, he seemed more and
more to recede into immeasurable distances....
Then, suddenly, as if an inspiration had come to him, he pulled
himself together, and his face became serious, almost solemn. He laid
the cigar down on the window-box and pulled out of his inner pocket a
bundle of yellow sheets of paper and blue note-books.
"I should have done this a long time ago," he said, "because we've
been free to correspond with each other. But I put it off to our
"Done what?" she asked, seized by an uncomfortable curiosity.
"Why, render an accounting."
"But dear Toni, surely you don't think me either ungrateful or
dishonourable. For seven years I have accepted one benefaction after
another from you.... That was a very painful situation for me, dear
child, and I scarcely believe that the circumstances, had they been
known, would ever have been countenanced by a court of honour."
"Ah, yes," she said slowly. "I confess I never thought of _that_
"But I did all the more, for that very reason. And only the
consciousness that I would some day be able to pay you the last penny
of my debt sustained me in my consciousness as a decent fellow."
"Ah, well, if that's the case, go ahead!" she said, suppressing the
bitter sarcasm that she felt.
First came the receipts: The proceeds of the stolen jewels began the
long series. Then followed the savings in fares, food and drink and
the furniture rebates. Next came the presents of the county-counsellor,
the profits of the champagne debauches during which she had flung
shame and honour under the feet of the drinking men. She was spared
nothing, but heard again of sums gained by petty thefts from
the till, small profits made in the buying of milk and eggs. It
was a long story of suspense and longing, an inextricable web of
falsification and trickery, of terror and lying without end. The
memory of no guilt and no torture was spared her.
Then he took up the account of his expenditures. He sat there, eagerly
handling the papers, now frowning heavily when he could not at once
balance some small sum, now stiffening his double chin in satisfied
self-righteousness as he explained some new way of saving that had
occurred to him.... Again and again, to the point of weariness, he
reiterated solemnly: "You see, I'm an honest man."
And always when he said that, a weary irony prompted her to reply:
"Ah, what that honesty has cost me." ... But she held her peace.
And again she wanted to cry out: "Let be! A woman like myself doesn't
care for these two-penny decencies." But she saw how deep an inner
necessity it was to him to stand before her in this conventional
spotlessness. And so she didn't rob him of his childlike joy.
At last he made an end and spread out the little blue books before
her--there was one for each year. "Here," he said proudly, "you can go
over it yourself. It's exact."
"It had better be!" she cried with a jesting threat and put the little
books under a flower-pot.
A prankish mood came upon her now which she couldn't resist.
"Now that this important business is at an end," she said, "there is
still another matter about which I must have some certainty."
"What is that?" he said, listening intensely.
"Have you been faithful to me in all this time?"
He became greatly confused. The scars on his left cheek glowed like
thick, red cords.
"Perhaps he's got a betrothed somewhere," she thought with a kind of
woeful anger, "whom he's going to throw over now."
But it wasn't that. Not at all. "Well," he said, "there's no help for
it. I'll confess. And anyhow, _you've_ even been married in the
"I would find it difficult to deny that," she said.
And then everything came to light. During the early days in Berlin he
had been very intimate with a waitress. Then, when he was an assistant
in the surgical clinic, there had been a sister who even wanted to be
married. "But I made short work of that proposition," he explained
with quiet decision. And as for the Lithuanian servant girl whom he
had in the house now, why, of course he would dismiss her next
morning, so that the house could be thoroughly aired before she
This was the moment in which a desire came upon her--half-ironic,
half-compassionate--to throw her arms about him and say: "You
But she did not yield and in the next moment the impulse was gone.
Only an annoyed envy remained. He dared to confess everything to
her--everything. What if she did the same? If he were to leave her in
horrified silence, what would it matter? She would have freed her
soul. Or perhaps he would flare up in grateful love? It was madness to
expect it. No power of heaven or earth could burst open the doors or
demolish the walls that towered between them for all eternity.
A vast irony engulfed her. She could not rest her soul upon this
pigmy. She felt revengeful rather toward him--revengeful, because he
could sit there opposite her so capable and faithful, so truthful and
decent, so utterly unlike the companion whom she needed.
Toward twilight he grew restless. He wanted to slip over to his mother
for a moment and then, for another moment, he wanted to drop in at the
fraternity inn. He had to leave at eight.
"It would be better if you remained until to-morrow," she said with an
emphasis that gave him pause.
"If you don't feel that...."
She shrugged her shoulders.
It wasn't to be done, he assured her, with the best will in the world.
There was an investigation in which he had to help the county-physician.
A small farmer had died suddenly of what did not seem an entirely
natural death. "I suppose," he continued, "one of those love
philtres was used with which superfluous people are put under
ground there. It's horrible that a decent person has to live
among such creatures. If you don't care to do it, I can hardly blame
you." She had grown pale and smiled weakly. She restrained him
"I'll be back in a week," he said, slipping on his goloshes, "and then
we can announce the engagement."
She nodded several times but made no reply.
The door was opened and he leaned toward her. Calmly she touched his
lips with hers.
"You might have the announcement cards printed," he called cheerfully
from the stairs.
Then he disappeared....
"Is the new uncle gone?" Amanda asked. She was sitting in her little
room, busy with her lessons. He had forgotten her.
The mother nodded.
"Will he come back soon?"
Antonie shook her head.
"I scarcely think so," she answered.
That night she broke the purpose of her life, the purpose that had
become interwoven with a thousand others, and when the morning came
she wrote a letter of farewell to the beloved of her youth.
THE SONG OF DEATH
With faint and quivering beats the clock of the hotel announced the
hour to the promenaders on the beach.
"It is time to eat, Nathaniel," said a slender, yet well-filled-out
young woman, who held a book between her fingers, to a formless
bundle, huddled in many shawls, by her side. Painfully the bundle
unfolded itself, stretched and grew gradually into the form of a
man--hollow chested, thin legged, narrow shouldered, attired in
flopping garments, such as one sees by the thousands on the coasts of
the Riviera in winter.
The midday glow of the sun burned down upon the yellowish gray wall of
cliff into which the promenade of Nervi is hewn, and which slopes down
to the sea in a zigzag of towering bowlders.
Upon the blue mirror of the sea sparkled a silvery meshwork of
sunbeams. So vast a fullness of light flooded the landscape that even
the black cypress trees which stood, straight and tall, beyond the
garden walls, seemed to glitter with a radiance of their own. The tide
was silent. Only the waters of the imprisoned springs that poured,
covered with iridescent bubbles, into the hollows between the rocks,
gurgled and sighed wearily.
The breakfast bell brought a new pulsation of life to the huddled
figures on the beach.
"He who eats is cured," is the motto of the weary creatures whose arms
are often too weak to carry their forks to their mouths. But he who
comes to this land of eternal summer merely to ease and rest his soul,
trembles with hunger in the devouring sweetness of the air and can
scarcely await the hour of food.
With a gentle compulsion the young woman pushed the thin, wrinkled
hand of the invalid under her arm and led him carefully through a cool
and narrow road, which runs up to the town between high garden walls
and through which a treacherous draught blows even on the
"Are you sure your mouth is covered?" she asked, adapting her springy
gait with difficulty to the dragging steps of her companion.
An inarticulate murmur behind the heavy shawl was his only answer.
She stretched her throat a little--a round, white, firm throat, with
two little folds that lay rosy in the rounded flesh. Closing her eyes,
she inhaled passionately the aromatic perfumes of the neighbouring
gardens. It was a strange mixture of odours, like that which is wafted
from the herb chamber of an apothecary. A wandering sunbeam glided
over the firm, short curve of her cheek, which was of almost milky
whiteness, save for the faint redness of those veins which sleepless
nights bring out upon the pallid faces of full-blooded blondes.
A laughing group of people went swiftly by--white-breeched Englishmen
and their ladies. The feather boas, whose ends fluttered in the wind,
curled tenderly about slender throats, and on the reddish heads bobbed
little round hats, smooth and shining as the tall head-gear of a
The young woman cast a wistful glance after those happy folk, and
pressed more firmly the arm of her suffering husband.
Other groups followed. It was not difficult to overtake this pair.
"We'll be the last, Mary," Nathaniel murmured, with the invalid's
But the young woman did not hear. She listened to a soft chatting,
which, carried along between the sounding-boards of these high walls,
was clearly audible. The conversation was conducted in French, and she
had to summon her whole stock of knowledge in order not to lose the
full sense of what was said. "I hope, Madame, that your uncle is not
"Not at all, sir. But he likes his comfort. And since walking bores
him, he prefers to pass his days in an armchair. And it's my function
to entertain him." An arch, pouting _voila_ closed the explanation.
Next came a little pause. Then the male voice asked:
"And are you never free, Madame?"
"And may I never again hope for the happiness of meeting you on the
"But surely you may!"
"_Mille remerciments; Madame_."
A strangely soft restrained tone echoed in this simple word of thanks.
Secret desires murmured in it and unexpressed confessions.
Mary, although she did not look as though she were experienced in
flirtation or advances, made a brief, timid gesture. Then, as though
discovered and ashamed, she remained very still.
Those two then.... That's who it was....
And they had really made each others' acquaintance!
She was a delicately made and elegant Frenchwoman. Her bodice was cut
in a strangely slender way, which made her seem to glide along like a
bird. Or was it her walk that caused the phenomenon? Or the exquisite
arching of her shoulders? Who could tell? ... She did not take her
meals at the common table, but in a corner of the dining-hall in
company of an old gouty gentleman with white stubbles on his chin and
red-lidded eyes. When she entered the hall she let a smiling glance
glide along the table, but without looking at or saluting any one. She
scarcely touched the dishes--at least from the point of view of Mary's
sturdy appetite--but even before the soup was served she nibbled at
the dates meant for dessert, and then the bracelets upon her
incredibly delicate wrists made a strange, fairy music. She wore a
wedding ring. But it had always been open to doubt whether the old
gentleman was her husband. For her demeanour toward him was that of a
spoiled but sedulously watched child.
And he--he sat opposite Mary at table. He was a very dark young man,
with black, melancholy eyes--Italian eyes, one called them in her
Pomeranian home land. He had remarkably white, narrow hands, and a
small, curly beard, which was clipped so close along the cheeks that
the skin itself seemed to have a bluish shimmer. He had never spoken
to Mary, presumably because he knew no German, but now and then he
would let his eyes rest upon her with a certain smiling emotion which
seemed to her to be very blameworthy and which filled her with
confusion. Thus, however, it had come to pass that, whenever she got
ready to go to table her thoughts were busy with him, and it was not
rare for her to ask herself at the opening of the door to the
dining-hall: "I wonder whether he's here or will come later?"
For several days there had been noticeable in this young man an
inclination to gaze over his left shoulder to the side table at which
the young Frenchwoman sat. And several times this glance had met an
answering one, however fleeting. And more than that! She could be seen
observing him with smiling consideration as, between the fish and the
roast, she pushed one grape after another between her lips. He was, of
course, not cognisant of all that, but Mary knew of it and was
surprised and slightly shocked.
And they had really made each others' acquaintance!
And now they were both silent, thinking, obviously, that they had but
just come within hearing distance.
Then they hurried past the slowly creeping couple. The lady looked
downward, kicking pebbles; the gentleman bowed. It was done seriously,
discreetly, as befits a mere neighbour at table. Mary blushed. That
happened often, far too often. And she was ashamed. Thus it happened
that she often blushed from fear of blushing.
The gentleman saw it and did not smile. She thanked him for it in her
heart, and blushed all the redder, for he _might_ have smiled.
"We'll have to eat the omelettes cold again," the invalid mumbled into
This time she understood him.
"Then we'll order fresh ones."
"Oh," he said reproachfully, "you haven't the courage. You're always
afraid of the waiters."
She looked up at him with a melancholy smile.
It was true. She was afraid of the waiters. That could not be denied.
Her necessary dealings with these dark and shiny-haired gentlemen in
evening clothes were a constant source of fear and annoyance. They
scarcely gave themselves the trouble to understand her bad French and
her worse Italian. And when they dared to smile...!
But his concern had been needless. The breakfast did not consist of
omelettes, but of macaroni boiled in water and mixed with long strings
of cheese. He was forbidden to eat this dish.
Mary mixed his daily drink, milk with brandy, and was happy to see the
eagerness with which he absorbed the life-giving fumes. The dark
gentleman was already in his seat opposite her, and every now and then
the glance of his velvety eyes glided over her. She was more keenly
conscious of this glance than ever, and dared less than ever to meet
it. A strange feeling, half delight and half resentment, overcame her.
And yet she had no cause to complain that his attention passed the
boundary of rigid seemliness.
She stroked her heavy tresses of reddish blonde hair, which curved
madonna-like over her temples. They had not been crimped or curled,
but were simple and smooth, as befits the wife of a North German
clergyman. She would have liked to moisten with her lips the fingers
with which she stroked them. This was the only art of the toilet which
she knew. But that would have been improper at table.
He wore a yellow silk shirt with a pattern of riding crops. A bunch of
violets stuck in his button-hole. Its fragrance floated across
Now the young Frenchwoman entered the hall too. Very carefully she
pressed her old uncle's arm, and talked to him in a stream of
The dark gentleman quivered. He compressed his lips but did not turn
around. Neither did the lady take any notice of him. She rolled bread
pellets with her nervous fingers, played with her bracelets and let
the dishes go by untouched.
The long coat of cream silk, which she had put on, increased the tall
flexibility of her form. A being woven of sunlight and morning dew,
unapproachable in her serene distinction--thus she appeared to Mary,
whose hands had been reddened by early toil, and whose breadth of
shoulder was only surpassed by her simplicity of heart.
When the roast came Nathaniel revived slightly. He suffered her to
fasten the shawl about his shoulders, and rewarded her with a
contented smile. It was her sister Anna's opinion that at such moments
he resembled the Saviour. The eyes in their blue hollows gleamed with
a ghostly light, a faint rosiness shone upon his cheek-bones, and even
the blonde beard on the sunken cheeks took on a certain glow.
Grateful for the smile, she pressed his arm. She was satisfied with so
Breakfast was over. The gentleman opposite made his silent bow and
"Will he salute her?" Mary asked herself with some inner timidity.
No. He withdrew without glancing at the corner table.
"Perhaps they have fallen out again," Mary; said to herself. The lady
looked after him. A gentle smile played about the corners of her
mouth--a superior, almost an ironical smile. Then, her eyes still
turned to the door, she leaned across toward the old gentleman in
"She doesn't care for him," Mary reasoned, with a slight feeling of
satisfaction. It was as though some one had returned to her what she
had deemed lost.
He had been gone long, but his violets had left their fragrance.
Mary went up to her room to get a warmer shawl for Nathaniel. As she
came out again, she saw in the dim hall the radiant figure of the
French lady come toward her and open the door to the left of her
"So we are neighbours," Mary thought, and felt flattered by the
proximity. She would have liked to salute her, but she did not dare.
Then she accompanied Nathaniel down to the promenade on the beach. The
hours dragged by.
He did not like to have his brooding meditation interrupted by
questions or anecdotes. These hours were dedicated to getting well.
Every breath here cost money and must be utilised to the utmost. Here
breathing was religion, and falling ill a sin.
Mary looked dreamily out upon the sea, to which the afternoon sun now
lent a deeper blue. Light wreaths of foam eddied about the stones. In
wide semicircles the great and shadowy arms of the mountains embraced
the sea. From the far horizon, in regions of the upper air, came from
time to time an argent gleam. For there the sun was reflected by
unseen fields of snow.
There lay the Alps, and beyond them, deep buried in fog and winter,
lay their home land.
Thither Mary's thoughts wandered. They wandered to a sharp-gabled
little house, groaning under great weights of snow, by the strand of a
frozen stream. The house was so deeply hidden in bushes that the
depending boughs froze fast in the icy river and were not liberated
till the tardy coming of spring.
And a hundred paces from it stood the white church and the comfortable
parsonage. But what did she care for the parsonage, even though she
had grown to womanhood in it and was now its mistress?
That little cottage--the widow's house, as the country folk called
it--that little cottage held everything that was dear to her at home.
There sat by the green tile oven--and oh, how she missed it here,
despite the palms and the goodly sun--her aged mother, the former
pastor's widow, and her three older sisters, dear and blonde and thin
and almost faded. There they sat, worlds away, needy and laborious,
and living but in each others' love. Four years had passed since the
father had been carried to the God's acre and they had had to leave
That had marked the end of their happiness and their youth. They could
not move to the city, for they had no private means, and the gifts of
the poor congregation, a dwelling, wood and other donations, could not
be exchanged for money. And so they had to stay there quietly and see
their lives wither.
The candidate of theology, Nathaniel Pogge, equipped with mighty
recommendations, came to deliver his trial sermon.
As he ascended the pulpit, long and frail, flat-chested and narrow
shouldered, she saw him for the first time. His emaciated, freckled
hand which held the hymn book, trembled with a kind of fever. But his
blue eyes shone with the fires of God. To be sure, his voice sounded
hollow and hoarse, and often he had to struggle for breath in the
middle of a sentence. But what he said was wise and austere, and found
favour in the eyes of his congregation.
His mother moved with him into the parsonage. She was a small, fussy
lady, energetic and very business-like, who complained of what she
called previous mismanagement and seemed to avoid friendly relations.
But her son found his way to the widow's house for all that. He found
it oftener and oftener, and the only matter of uncertainty was as to
which of the four sisters had impressed him.
She would never have dreamed that his eye had fallen upon her, the
youngest. But a refusal was not to be thought of. It was rather her
duty to kiss his hands in gratitude for taking her off her mother's
shoulders and liberating her from a hopeless situation. Certainly she
would not have grudged her happiness to one of her sisters; if it
could be called happiness to be subject to a suspicious mother-in-law
and the nurse of a valetudinarian. But she tried to think it
happiness. And, after all, there was the widow's house, to which one
could slip over to laugh or to weep one's fill, as the mood of the
hour dictated. Either would have been frowned upon at home.
And of course she loved him.
Assuredly. How should she not have loved him? Had she not sworn to do
so at the altar? And then his condition grew worse from day to day and
needed her love all the more.
It happened ever oftener that she had to get up at night to heat his
moss tea; and ever more breathlessly he cowered in the sacristy after
his weekly sermon. And that lasted until the hemorrhage came, which
made the trip south imperative.
Ah, and with what grave anxieties had this trip been undertaken! A
substitute had to be procured. Their clothes and fares swallowed the
salary of many months. They had to pay fourteen francs board a day,
not to speak of the extra expenses for brandy, milk, fires and drugs.
Nor was this counting the physician who came daily. It was a desperate
But he recovered. At least it was unthinkable that he shouldn't. What
object else would these sacrifices have had?
He recovered. The sun and sea and air cured him; or, at least, her
love cured him. And this love, which Heaven had sent her as her
highest duty, surrounded him like a soft, warm garment, exquisitely
flexible to the movement of every limb, not hindering, but yielding to
the slightest impulse of movement; forming a protection against the
rough winds of the world, surer than a wall of stone or a cloak
The sun sank down toward the sea. His light assumed a yellow, metallic
hue, hard and wounding, before it changed and softened into violet and
purple shades. The group of pines on the beach seemed drenched in a
sulphurous light and the clarity of their outlines hurt the eye. Like
a heavy and compact mass, ready to hurtle down, the foliage of the
gardens bent over the crumbling walls. From the mountains came a gusty
wind that announced the approaching fall of night.
The sick man shivered. Mary was about to suggest their going home,
when she perceived the form of a man that had intruded between her and
the sinking sun and that was surrounded by a yellow radiance. She
recognised the dark gentleman.
A feeling of restlessness overcame her, but she could not turn her
eyes from him. Always, when he was near, a strange presentiment came
to her--a dreamy knowledge of an unknown land. This impression varied
in clearness. To-night she was fully conscious of it.
What she felt was difficult to put into words. She seemed almost to be
afraid of him. And yet that was impossible, for what was he to her?
She wasn't even interested in him. Surely not. His eyes, his violet
fragrance, the flexible elegance of his movements--these things merely
aroused in her a faint curiosity. Strictly speaking, he wasn't even a
sympathetic personality, and had her sister Lizzie, who had a gift for
satire, been here, they would probably have made fun of him. The
anxious unquiet which he inspired must have some other source. Here
in the south everything was so different--richer, more colourful, more
vivid than at home. The sun, the sea, houses, flowers, faces--upon
them all lay more impassioned hues. Behind all that there must be a
secret hitherto unrevealed to her.
She felt this secret everywhere. It lay in the heavy fragrance of the
trees, in the soft swinging of the palm leaves, in the multitudinous
burgeoning and bloom about her. It lay in the long-drawn music of the
men's voices, in the caressing laughter of the women. It lay in the
flaming blushes that, even at table, mantled her face; in the
delicious languor that pervaded her limbs and seemed to creep into the
innermost marrow of her bones.
But this secret which she felt, scented and absorbed with every organ
of her being, but which was nowhere to be grasped, looked upon or
recognised--this secret was in some subtle way connected with the man
who stood there, irradiated, upon the edge of the cliff, and gazed
upon the ancient tower which stood, unreal as a piece of stage
scenery, upon the path.
Now he observed her.
For a moment it seemed as though he were about to approach to address
her. In his character of a neighbour at table he might well have
ventured to do so. But the hasty gesture with which she turned to
her sick husband forbade it.
"That would be the last inconvenience," Mary thought, "to make
But as she was going home with her husband, she surprised herself in
speculation as to how she might have answered his words.
"My French will go far enough," she thought. "At need I might have
The following day brought a sudden lapse in her husband's recovery.
"That happens often," said the physician, a bony consumptive with the
manners of a man of the world and an equipment in that inexpensive
courtesy which doctors are wont to assume in hopeless and poorly
To listen to him one would think that pulmonary consumption ended in
"And if something happens during the night?" Mary asked anxiously.
"Then just wait quietly until morning," the doctor said with the firm
decision of a man who doesn't like to have his sleep disturbed.
Nathaniel had to stay in bed and Mary was forced to request the
waiters to bring meals up to their room.
Thus passed several days, during which she scarcely left the sick-bed
of her husband. And when she wasn't writing home, or reading to him
from the hymn book, or cooking some easing draught upon the spirit
lamp, she gazed dreamily out of the window.
She had not seen her beautiful neighbour again. With all the more