Part 3 out of 5
attention she sought to catch any sound, any word that might give her
a glimpse into the radiant Paradise of that other life.
A soft singing ushered in the day. Then followed a laughing chatter
with the little maid, accompanied by the rattle of heated
curling-irons and splashing of bath sponges. Occasionally, too, there
was a little dispute on the subject of ribands or curls or such
things. Mary's French, which was derived from the _Histoire de Charles
douze,_ the _Aventures de Télémaque_ and other lofty books, found an
end when it came to these discussions.
About half-past ten the lady slipped from her room. Then one could
hear her tap at her uncle's door, or call a laughing good-morning to
him from the hall.
From now on the maid reigned supreme in the room. She straightened it,
sang, rattled the curling-irons even longer than for her mistress,
tripped up and down, probably in front of the mirror, and received the
kindly attentions of several waiters. From noon on everything was
silent and remained silent until dusk. Then the lady returned. The
little songs she sang were of the very kind that one might well sing
if, with full heart, one gazes out upon the sea, while the
orange-blossoms are fragrant and the boughs of the eucalyptus rustle.
They proved to Mary that in that sunny creature, as in herself, there
dwelt that gentle, virginal yearning that had always been to her a
source of dreamy happiness.
At half-past five o'clock the maid knocked at the door. Then began
giggling and whispering as of two school-girls. Again sounded the
rattle of the curling-irons and the rustling of silken skirts. The
fragrance of unknown perfumes and essences penetrated into Mary's
room, and she absorbed it eagerly.
The dinner-bell rang and the room was left empty.
At ten o'clock there resounded a merry: "_Bonne nuit, mon oncle!_"
Angeline, the maid, received her mistress at the door and performed
the necessary services more quietly than before. Then she went out,
received by the waiters, who were on the stairs.
Then followed, in there, a brief evening prayer, carelessly and half
poutingly gabbled as by a tired child. At eleven the keyhole grew
dark. And during the hours of Mary's heaviest service, there sounded
within the peaceful drawing of uninterrupted breath.
This breathing was a consolation to her during the terrible, creeping
hours, whose paralysing monotony was only interrupted by anxious
crises in the patient's condition.
The breathing seemed to her a greeting from a pure and sisterly
soul--a greeting from that dear land of joy where one can laugh by day
and sing in the dusk and sleep by night.
Nathaniel loved the hymns for the dying.
He asserted that they filled him with true mirth. The more he could
gibe at hell or hear the suffering of the last hours put to scorn, the
more could he master a kind of grim humour. He, the shepherd of souls,
felt it his duty to venture upon the valley of the shadow to which he
had so often led the trembling candidate of death, with the boldness
of a hero in battle.
This poor, timid soul, who had never been able to endure the angry
barking of a dog, played with the terror of death like a bull-necked
"Read me a song of death, but a strengthening one," he would say
repeatedly during the day, but also at night, if he could not sleep.
He needed it as a child needs its cradle song. Often he was angry
when in her confusion and blinded by unshed tears, she chose a wrong
one. Like a literary connoisseur who rolls a Horatian ode or a
Goethean lyric upon his tongue--even thus he enjoyed these
There was one: "I haste to my eternal home," in which the beyond was
likened to a bridal chamber and to a "crystal sea of blessednesses."
There was another: "Greatly rejoice now, O my soul," which would admit
no redeeming feature about this earth, and was really a prayer for
release. And there was one filled with the purest folly of
Christendom: "In peace and joy I fare from hence." And this one
promised a smiling sleep. But they were all overshadowed by that
rejoicing song: "Thank God, the hour has come!" which, like a cry of
victory, points proudly and almost sarcastically to the conquered
miseries of the earth.
The Will to Live of the poor flesh intoxicated itself with these pious
lies as with some hypnotic drug. But at the next moment it recoiled
and gazed yearningly and eager eyed out into the sweet and sinful
world, which didn't tally in the least with that description of it as
a vale of tears, of which the hymns were so full.
Mary read obediently what he demanded. Close to her face she held the
narrow hymn-book, fighting down her sobs. For he did not think of
the tortures he prepared for his anxiously hoping wife.
Why did he thirst for death since he knew that he _must_ not die?
Not yet. Ah, not yet! Now that suddenly a whole, long, unlived life
lay between them--a life they had never even suspected.
She could not name it, this new, rich life, but she felt it
approaching, day by day. It breathed its fragrant breath into her face
and poured an exquisite bridal warmth into her veins.
It was on the fourth day of his imprisonment in his room. The
physician had promised him permission to go out on the morrow.
His recovery was clear.
She sat at the window and inhaled with quivering nostrils the sharp
fragrance of the burning pine cones that floated to her in
The sun was about to set. An unknown bird sat, far below, in the
orange grove and, as if drunk with light and fragrance, chirped
sleepily and ended with a fluting tone.
Now that the great dread of the last few days was taken from her, that
sweet languor the significance of which she could not guess came over
Her neighbour had already come home. She opened her window and closed
it, only to open it again. From time to time she sang a few brief
tones, almost like the strange bird in the grove.
Then her door rattled and Angeline's voice cried out with jubilant
laughter: "_Une lettre, Madame, une lettre_!"
"_Une lettre--de qui?_"
Then a silence fell, a long silence.
Who was this "he?" Surely some one at home. It was the hour of the
But the voice of the maid soon brought enlightenment.
She had managed the affair cleverly. She had met him in the hall and
saluted him so that he had found the courage to address her. And just
now he had pressed the envelope, together with a twenty-franc piece,
into her hand. He asserted that he had an important communication to
make to her mistress, but had never found an opportunity to address
himself to her in person.
"_Tais-toi donc--on nous entend_!"
And from now on nothing was to be heard but whispering and giggling.
Mary felt now a wave of hotness, started from her nape and overflowing
Listening and with beating heart, she sat there.
What in all the world could he have written? For that it was he, she
could no longer doubt.
Perhaps he had declared his love and begged for the gift of her hand.
A dull feeling of pain, the cause of which was dark to her,
oppressed her heart.
And then she smiled--a smile of renouncement, although there was
surely nothing here for her to renounce!
And anyhow--the thing was impossible. For she, to whom such an offer
is made does not chat with a servant girl. Such an one flees into some
lonely place, kneels down, and prays to God for enlightenment and
grace in face of so important a step.
But indeed she did send the girl away, for the latter's slippers could
he heard trailing along the hall.
Then was heard gentle, intoxicated laughter, full of restrained
jubilation and arch triumph: "_O comme je suis heureuse! Comme je suis
Mary felt her eyes grow moist. She felt glad and poignantly sad at the
same time. She would have liked to kiss and bless the other woman, for
now it was clear that he had come to claim her as his bride.
"If she doesn't pray, I will pray for her," she thought, and folded
her hands. Then a voice sounded behind her, hollow as the roll of
falling earth; rasping as coffin cords:
"Read me a song of death, Mary."
A shudder came over her. She jumped up. And she who had hitherto
taken up the hymn-book at his command without hesitation or complaint,
fell down beside his bed and grasped his emaciated arm: "Have pity--I
can't! I can't!"
Three days passed. The sick man preferred to stay in bed, although his
recovery made enormous strides. Mary brewed his teas, gave him his
drops, and read him his songs of death. That one attempt at rebellion
had remained her only one.
She heard but little of her neighbour. It seemed that that letter had
put an end to her talkative merriment. The happiness which she had so
jubilantly confessed seemed to have been of brief duration.
And in those hours when Mary was free to pursue her dreams, she shared
the other's yearning and fear. Probably the old uncle had made
difficulties; had refused his consent, or even demanded the separation
of the lovers.
Perhaps the dark gentleman had gone away. Who could tell?
"What strange eyes he had," she thought at times, and whenever she
thought that, she shivered, for it seemed to her that his hot, veiled
glance was still upon her.
"I wonder whether he is really a good man?" she asked herself. She
would have liked to answer this question in the affirmative, but there
was something that kept her from doing so. And there was another
something in her that took but little note of that aspect, but only
prayed that those two might be happy together, happy as she herself
had never been, happy as--and here lay the secret.
It was a Sunday evening, the last one in January.
Nathaniel lay under the bed-clothes and breathed with difficulty. His
fever was remarkably low, but he was badly smothered.
The lamp burned on the table--a reading lamp had been procured with
difficulty and had been twice carried off in favour of wealthier
guests. Toward the bed Mary had shaded the lamp with a piece of red
blotting paper from her portfolio. A rosy shimmer poured out over the
couch of the ill man, tinted the red covers more red, and caused a
deceptive glow of health to appear on his cheek.
The flasks and vials on the table glittered with an equivocal
friendliness, as though something of the demeanour of him who had
prescribed their contents adhered to them.
Between them lay the narrow old hymnal and the gilt figures, "1795"
shimmered in the middle of the worn and shabby covers.
The hour of retirement had come. The latest of the guests, returning
from the reading room, had said good-night to each other in the
hall. Angeline had been dismissed. Her giggles floated away into
silence along the bannisters and the last of her adorers tiptoed by to
turn out the lights.
From the next room there came no sound. She was surely asleep,
although her breathing was inaudible.
Mary sat at the table. Her head was heavy and she stared into the
luminous circle of the lamp. She needed sleep. Yet she was not sleepy.
Every nerve in her body quivered with morbid energy.
A wish of the invalid called her to his side.
"The pillow has a lump," he said, and tried to turn over on his other
Ah, these pillows of sea-grass. She patted, she smoothed, she did her
best, but his head found no repose.
"Here's another night full of the torment and terror of the flesh," he
said with difficulty, mouthing each word.
"Do you want a drink?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"The stuff is bitter--but you see--this fear--there's the air and it
fills everything--they say it's ten miles high--and a man like myself
can't--get enough--you see I'm getting greedy." The mild jest upon
his lips was so unwonted that it frightened her.
"I'd like to ask you to open the window."
She opposed him.
"The night air," she urged; "the draught----"
But that upset him.
"If you can't do me so small a favour in my suffering--"
"Forgive me," she said, "it was only my anxiety for you--"
She got up and opened the French window that gave upon a narrow
The moonlight flooded the room.
Pressing her hands to her breast, she inhaled the first aromatic
breath of the night air which cooled and caressed her hot face.
"Is it better so?" she asked, turning around.
He nodded. "It is better so."
Then she stepped out on the balcony. She could scarcely drink her fill
of air and moonlight.
But she drew back, affrighted. What she had just seen was like an
On the neighbouring balcony stood, clad in white, flowing garments of
lace, a woman's figure, and stared with wide open eyes into the
It was she--her friend.
Softly Mary stepped out again and observed her, full of shy curiosity.
The moonlight shone full upon the delicate slim face, that seemed to
shine with an inner radiance. The eye had a yearning glow. A smile,
ecstatic and fearful at once, made the lips quiver, and the hands that
grasped the iron railing pulsed as if in fear and expectation.
Mary heard her own heart begin to beat. A hot flush rose into her
What was all that? What did it mean?
Such a look, such a smile, she had never seen in her life. And yet
both seemed infinitely familiar to her. Thus a woman must look who--
She had no time to complete the thought, for a fit of coughing
recalled her to Nathaniel.
A motion of his hand directed her to close the window and the
shutters. It would have been better never to have opened them. Better
for her, too, perhaps.
Then she sat down next to him and held his head until the paroxysm was
He sank back, utterly exhausted. His hand groped for hers. With
abstracted caresses she touched his weary fingers.
Her thoughts dwelt with that white picture without. That poignant
feeling of happiness that she had almost lost during the past few
days, arose in her with a hitherto unknown might.
And now the sick man began to speak.
"You have always been good to me, Mary," he said. "You have always
had patience with me."
"Ah, don't speak so," she murmured.
"And I wish I could say as full of assurance as you could before the
throne of God: 'Father, I have been true to the duty which you have
allotted to me.'"
Her hand quivered in his. A feeling of revulsion smothered the
gentleness of their mood. His words had struck her as a reproach.
Fulfillment of duty! That was the great law to which all human kind
was subject for the sake of God. This law had joined her hand to his,
had accompanied her into the chastity of her bridal bed, and had kept
its vigil through the years by her hearth and in her heart. And thus
love itself had not been difficult to her, for it was commanded to her
and consecrated before the face of God.
And he? He wished for nothing more, knew nothing more. Indeed, what
lies beyond duty would probably have seemed burdensome to him, if not
But there was something more! She knew it now. She had seen it in that
glance, moist with yearning, lost in the light.
There was something great and ecstatic and all-powerful, something
before which she quailed like a child who must go into the dark,
something that she desired with every nerve and fibre.
Her eye fastened itself upon the purple square of blotting paper which
looked, in the light of the lamp, like glowing metal.
She did not know how long she had sat there. It might have been
minutes or hours. Often enough the morning had caught her
The sick man's breath came with greater difficulty, his fingers
grasped hers more tightly.
"Do you feel worse?" she asked.
"I am a little afraid," he said; "therefore, read me----"
He stopped, for he felt the quiver of her hand.
"You know, if you don't want to--" He was wounded in his wretched
valetudinarian egotism, which was constantly on the scent of neglect.
"Oh, but I do want to; I want to do everything that might----"
She hurried to the table, pushed the glittering bottles aside, grasped
the hymnal and read at random.
But she had to stop, for it was a prayer for rain that she had begun.
Then, as she was turning the leaves of the book, she heard the hall
door of the next room open with infinite caution; she heard flying,
trembling footsteps cross the room from the balcony.
_"Chut!"_ whispered a trembling voice.
And the door closed as with a weary moan.
What was that?
A suspicion arose in her that brought the scarlet of shame into her
cheek. The whispering next door began anew, passionate, hasty,
half-smothered by anxiety and delight. Two voices were to be
distinguished: a lighter voice which she knew, and a duller voice,
broken into, now and then, by sonorous tones.
The letters dislimned before her eyes. The hymn-book slipped from her
hands. In utter confusion she stared toward the door.
_That_ really existed? Such things were possible in the world;
possible among people garbed in distinction, of careful Christian
training, to whom one looks up as to superior beings?
There was a power upon earth that could make the delicate, radiant,
distinguished woman so utterly forget shame and dignity and
womanliness, that she would open her door at midnight to a man who had
not been wedded to her in the sight of God?
If that could happen, what was there left to cling to in this world?
Where was one's faith in honour, fidelity, in God's grace and one's
own human worth? A horror took hold of her so oppressive that she
thought she must cry out aloud.
With a shy glance she looked at her husband. God grant that he hear
She was ashamed before him. She desired to call out, to sing, laugh,
only to drown the noise of that whispering which assailed her ear like
the wave of a fiery sea.
But no, he heard nothing.
His sightless eyes stared at the ceiling. He was busied with his
breathing. His chest heaved and fell like a defective machine.
He didn't even expect her to read to him now. She went up to the bed
and asked, listening with every nerve: "Do you want to sleep,
He lowered his eyelids in assent.
"Yes--read," he breathed.
"Shall I read softly?"
Again he assented.
"But read--don't sleep."
Fear flickered in his eyes.
"No, no," she stammered.
He motioned her to go now, and again became absorbed in the problem of
Mary took up the hymnal.
"You are to read a song of death," she said to herself, for her
promise must be kept. And as though she had not understood her own
admonition, she repeated: "You are to read a song of death."
But her hearing was morbidly alert, and while the golden figures on
the book danced a ghostly dance before her eyes, she heard again what
she desired to hear. It was like the whispering of the wind against a
forbidden gate. She caught words:
"_Je t'aime--follement--j'en mourrai--je t'adore--mon amour--mon
Mary closed her eyes. It seemed to her again as though hot waves
streamed over her. And she had lost shame, too.
For there was something in all that which silenced reproach, which
made this monstrous deed comprehensible, even natural. If one was so
mad with love, if one felt that one could die of it!
So that existed, and was not only the lying babble of romances?
And her spirit returned and compared her own experience of love with
what she witnessed now.
She had shrunk pitifully from his first kiss. When he had gone, she
had embraced her mother's knees, in fear and torment at the thought of
following this strange man. And she remembered how, on the evening of
her wedding, her mother had whispered into her ear, "Endure, my child,
and pray to God, for that is the lot of woman." And it was that
which, until to-day, she had called love.
Oh, those happy ones there, those happy ones!
"Mary," the hollow voice from the bed came.
She jumped up. "What?"
"I'll read; I'll read."
Her hands grovelled among the rough, sticky pages. An odour as of
decaying foliage, which she had never noted before, came from the
book. It was such an odour as comes from dark, ill-ventilated rooms,
and early autumn and everyday clothes.
At last she found what she was seeking. "Kyrie eleison! Christe
eleison! Dear God, Father in heaven, have mercy upon us!"
Her lips babbled what her eyes saw, but her heart and her senses
prayed another prayer: "Father in Heaven, who art love and mercy, do
not count for sin to those two that which they are committing against
themselves. Bless their love, even if they do not desire Thy blessing.
Send faithfulness into their hearts that they cleave to one another
and remain grateful for the bliss which Thou givest them. Ah, those
happy ones, those happy ones!"
Tears came into her eyes. She bent her face upon the yellow leaves of
the book to hide her weeping. It seemed to her suddenly as though
she understood the speech spoken in this land of eternal spring by sun
and sea, by hedges of flowers and evergreen trees, by the song of
birds and the laughter of man. The secret which she had sought to
solve by day and by night lay suddenly revealed before her eyes.
In a sudden change of feeling her heart grew cold toward that sinful
pair for which she had but just prayed. Those people became as
strangers to her and sank into the mist. Their whispering died away as
if it came from a great distance.
It was her own life with which she was now concerned. Gray and morose
with its poverty stricken notion of duty, the past lay behind her.
Bright and smiling a new world floated into her ken.
She had sworn to love him. She had cheated him. She had let him know
want at her side.
Now that she knew what love was, she would reward him an hundred-fold.
She, too, could love to madness, to adoration, to death. And she must
love so, else she would die of famishment.
Her heart opened. Waves of tenderness, stormy, thunderous, mighty,
broke forth therefrom.
Would he desire all that love? And understand it? Was he worthy
of it? What did that matter?
She must give, give without measure and without reward, without
thought and without will, else she would smother under all her riches.
And though he was broken and famished and mean of mind and wretched, a
weakling in body and a dullard in soul; and though he lay there
emaciated and gasping, a skeleton almost, moveless, half given over to
dust and decay--what did it matter?
She loved him, loved him with that new and great love because he alone
in all the world was her own. He was that portion of life and light
and happiness which fate had given her.
She sprang up and stretched out her arms toward him.
"You my only one, my all," she whispered, folding her hands under her
chin and staring at him.
His chest seemed quieter. He lay there in peace.
Weeping with happiness, she threw herself down beside him and kissed
his hands. And then, as he took no notice of all that, a slow
astonishment came over her. Also, she had an insecure feeling that his
hand was not as usual.
Powerless to cry out, almost to breathe, she looked upon him. She
felt his forehead; she groped for his heart. All was still and cold.
Then she knew.
The bell--the waiters--the physician--to what purpose? There was no
need of help here. She knelt down and wanted to pray, and make up for
A vision arose before her: the widow's house at home; her mother; the
tile oven; her old maidenish sisters rattling their wooden crocheting
hooks--and she herself beside them, her blonde hair smoothed with
water, a little riband at her breast, gazing out upon the frozen
fields, and throttling, throttling with love. For he whom fate had
given her could use her love no longer.
From the next room sounded the whispering, monotonous, broken,
assailing her ears in glowing waves:
"_J'en mourrai--je t'adore--mon amour._"
That was his song of death. She felt that it was her own, too.
Madame Nelson, the beautiful American, had come to us from Paris,
equipped with a phenomenal voice and solid Italian technique. She had
immediately sung her way into the hearts of Berlin music-lovers,
provided that you care to call a mixture of snobbishness,
sophisticated impressionableness and goose-like imitativeness--heart.
She had, therefore, been acquired by one of our most distinguished
opera houses at a large salary and with long leaves of absence. I use
the plural of opera house in order that no one may try to scent out
Now we had her, more especially our world of Lotharios had her. Not
the younger sons of high finance, who make the boudoirs unsafe with
their tall collars and short breeches; nor the bearers of ancient
names who, having hung up their uniforms in the evening, assume
monocle and bracelet and drag these through second and third-class
drawing-rooms. No, she belonged to those worthy men of middle age, who
have their palaces in the west end, whose wives one treats with
infinite respect, and to whose evenings one gives a final touch of
elegance by singing two or three songs for nothing.
Then she committed her first folly. She went travelling with an
Italian tenor. "For purposes of art," was the official version. But
the time for the trip--the end of August--had been unfortunately
chosen. And, as she returned ornamented with scratches administered by
the tenor's pursuing wife--no one believed her.
Next winter she ruined a counsellor of a legation and magnate's son so
thoroughly that he decamped to an unfrequented equatorial region,
leaving behind him numerous promissory notes of questionable value.
This poor fellow was revenged the following winter by a dark-haired
Roumanian fiddler, who beat her and forced her to carry her jewels to
a pawnshop, where they were redeemed at half price by their original
donour and used to adorn the plump, firm body of a stupid little
Of course her social position was now forfeited. But then Berlin
forgets so rapidly. She became proper again and returned to her
earlier inclinations for gentlemen of middle life with extensive
palaces and extensive wives. So there were quite a few houses--none of
the strictest tone, of course--that were very glad to welcome the
radiant blonde with her famous name and fragrant and modest
gowns--from Paquin at ten thousand francs a piece.
At the same time she developed a remarkable business instinct. Her
connections with the stock exchange permitted her to speculate without
the slightest risk. For what gallant broker would let a lovely woman
lose? Thus she laid the foundation of a goodly fortune, which was made
to assume stately proportions by a tour through the United States, and
was given a last touch of solidity by a successful speculation in
Dresden real estate.
Furthermore, it would be unjust to conceal the fact that her most
recent admirer, the wool manufacturer Wormser, had a considerable
share in this hurtling rise of her fortunes.
Wormser guarded his good repute carefully. He insisted that his
illegitimate inclinations never lack the stamp of highest elegance. He
desired that they be given the greatest possible publicity at
race-meets and first nights. He didn't care if people spoke with a
degree of rancour, if only he was connected with the temporary lady of
Now, to be sure, there was a Mrs. Wormser. She came of a good
Frankfort family. Dowry: a million and a half. She was modern to the
very tips of her nervous, restless fingers.
This lady was inspired by such lofty social ideals that she would
have considered an inelegant _liaison_ on her husband's part, an
insult not only offered to good taste in general, but to her own in
particular. Such an one she would, never have forgiven. On the other
hand, she approved of Madame Nelson thoroughly. She considered her the
most costly and striking addition to her household. Quite
figuratively, of course. Everything was arranged with the utmost
propriety. At great charity festivals the two ladies exchanged a
friendly glance, and they saw to it that their gowns were never made
after the same model.
Then it happened that the house of Wormser was shaken. It wasn't a
serious breakdown, but among the good things that had to be thrown
overboard belonged--at the demand of the helping Frankforters--Madame
And so she waited, like a virgin, for love, like a man in the weather
bureau, for a given star. She felt that her star was yet to rise.
This was the situation when, one day, Herr von Karlstadt had himself
presented to her. He was a captain of industry; international
reputation; ennobled; the not undistinguished son of a great father.
He had not hitherto been found in the market of love, but it was said
of him that notable women had committed follies for his sake. All in
all, he was a man who commanded the general interest in quite a
different measure from Wormser.
But artistic successes had raised Madame Nelson's name once more, too,
and when news of the accomplished fact circulated, society found it
hard to decide as to which of the two lent the other a more brilliant
light, or which was the more to be envied.
However that was, history was richer by a famous pair of lovers.
But, just as there had been a Mrs. Wormser, so there was a Mrs. von
And it is this lady of whom I wish to speak.
Mentally as well as physically Mara von Karlstadt did not belong to
that class of persons which imperatively commands the attention of the
public. She was sensitive to the point of madness, a little sensuous,
something of an enthusiast, coquettish only in so far as good taste
demanded it, and hopelessly in love with her husband. She was in love
with him to the extent that she regarded the conquests which
occasionally came to him, spoiled as he was, as the inevitable
consequences of her fortunate choice. They inspired her with a certain
woeful anger and also with a degree of pride.
The daughter of a great land owner in South Germany, she had been
brought up in seclusion, and had learned only very gradually how to
glide unconcernedly through the drawing-rooms. A tense smile upon her
lips, which many took for irony, was only a remnant of her old
diffidence. Delicate, dark in colouring, with a fine cameo-like
profile, smooth hair and a tawny look in her near-sighted eyes--thus
she glided about in society, and few but friends of the house took any
notice of her.
And this woman who found her most genuine satisfaction in the
peacefulness of life, who was satisfied if she could slip into her
carriage at midnight without the annoyance of one searching glance, of
one inquiring word, saw herself suddenly and without suspecting the
reason, become the centre of a secret and almost insulting curiosity.
She felt a whispering behind her in society; she saw from her box the
lenses of many opera glasses pointing her way.
The conversation of her friends began to teem with hints, and into the
tone of the men whom she knew there crept a kind of tender compassion
which pained her even though she knew not how to interpret it.
For the present no change was to be noted in the demeanour of her
husband. His club and his business had always kept him away from home
a good deal, and if a few extra hours of absence were now added, it
was easy to account for these in harmless ways, or rather, not to
account for them at all, since no one made any inquiry.
Then, however, anonymous letters began to come--thick, fragrant ones
with stamped coronets, and thin ones on ruled paper with the smudges
of soiled fingers.
She burned the first batch; the second she handed to her husband.
The latter, who was not far from forty, and who had trained himself to
an attitude of imperious brusqueness, straightened up, knotted his
bushy Bismarck moustache, and said:
"Well, suppose it is true. What have you to lose?"
She did not burst into tears of despair; she did not indulge in fits
of rage; she didn't even leave the room with quiet dignity; her soul
seemed neither wounded nor broken. She was not even affrighted. She
only thought: "I have forgiven him so much; why not forgive him
And as she had shared him before without feeling herself degraded, so
she would try to share him again.
But she soon observed that this logic of the heart would prove wanting
in this instance.
In former cases she had concealed his weakness under a veil of care
and considerateness. The fear of discovery had made a conscious but
silent accessory of her. When it was all over she breathed deep relief
at the thought; "I am the only one who even suspected."
This time all the world seemed invited to witness the spectacle.
For now she understood all that, in recent days had tortured her like
an unexplained blot, an alien daub in the face which every one sees
but he whom it disfigures. Now she knew what the smiling hints of her
friends and the consoling desires of men had meant. Now she recognised
the reason why she was wounded by the attention of all.
She was "the wife of the man whom Madame Nelson ..."
And so torturing a shame came upon her as though she herself were the
cause of the disgrace with which the world seemed to overwhelm her.
This feeling had not come upon her suddenly. At first a stabbing
curiosity had awakened in her a self-torturing expectation, not
without its element of morbid attraction. Daily she asked herself:
"What will develope to-day?"
With quivering nerves and cramped heart, she entered evening after
evening, for the season was at its height, the halls of strangers on
her husband's arm.
And it was always the same thing. The same glances that passed from
her to him and from him to her, the same compassionate sarcasm upon
averted faces, the same hypocritical delicacy in conversation, the
same sudden silence as soon as she turned to any group of people to
listen--the same cruel pillory for her evening after evening, night
And if all this had not been, she would have felt it just the same.
And in these drawing-rooms there were so many women whose husbands'
affairs were the talk of the town. Even her predecessor, Mrs. Wormser,
had passed over the expensive immorality of her husband with a
self-sufficing smile and a condescending jest, and the world had bowed
down to her respectfully, as it always does when scenting a
temperament that it is powerless to wound.
Why had this martyrdom come to her, of all people?
Thus, half against her own will, she began to hide, to refuse this or
that invitation, and to spend the free evenings in the nursery,
watching over the sleep of her boys and weaving dreams of a new
happiness. The illness of her older child gave her an excuse for
withdrawing from society altogether and her husband did not
It had never come to an explanation between them, and as he was always
considerate, even tender, and as sharp speeches were not native to
her temper, the peace of the home was not disturbed.
Soon it seemed to her, too, as though the rude inquisitiveness of the
world were slowly passing away. Either one had abandoned the critical
condition of her wedded happiness for more vivid topics, or else she
had become accustomed to the state of affairs.
She took up a more social life, and the shame which she had felt in
appearing publicly with her husband gradually died out.
What did not die out, however, was a keen desire to know the nature
and appearance of the woman in whose hands lay her own destiny. How
did she administer the dear possession that fate had put in her power?
And when and how would she give it back?
She threw aside the last remnant of reserve and questioned friends.
Then, when she was met by a smile of compassionate ignorance, she
asked women. These were more ready to report. But she would not and
could not believe what she was told. He had surely not degraded
himself into being one of a succession of moneyed rakes. It was clear
to her that, in order to soothe her grief, people slandered the woman
and him with her.
In order to watch her secretly, she veiled heavily and drove to the
theatre where Madame Nelson was singing. Shadowlike she cowered
in the depths of a box which she had rented under an assumed name and
followed with a kind of pained voluptuousness the ecstasies of love
which the other woman, fully conscious of the victorious loveliness of
her body, unfolded for the benefit of the breathless crowd.
With such an abandoned raising of her radiant arms, she threw herself
upon _his_ breast; with that curve of her modelled limbs, she lay
before _his_ knees.
And in her awakened a reverent, renouncing envy of a being who had so
much to give, beside whom she was but a dim and poor shadow, weary
with motherhood, corroded with grief.
At the same time there appeared a California mine owner, a
multi-millionaire, with whom her husband had manifold business
dealings. He introduced his daughters into society and himself gave a
number of luxurious dinners at which he tried to assemble guests of
the most exclusive character.
Just as they were about to enter a carriage to drive to the "Bristol,"
to one of these dinners, a message came which forced Herr von
Karlstadt to take an immediate trip to his factories. He begged his
wife to go instead, and she did not refuse.
The company was almost complete and the daughter of the mine owner
was doing the honours of the occasion with appropriate grace when the
doors of the reception room opened for the last time and through the
open doorway floated rather than walked--Madame Nelson.
The petrified little group turned its glance of inquisitive horror
upon Mrs. von Karlstadt, while the mine owner's daughter adjusted the
necessary introductions with a grand air.
Should she go or not? No one was to be found who would offer her his
arm. Her feet were paralysed. And she remained.
The company sat down at table. And since fate, in such cases, never
does its work by halves, it came to pass that Madame Nelson was
assigned to a seat immediately opposite her.
The people present seemed grateful to her that they had not been
forced to witness a scene, and overwhelmed her with delicate signs of
this gratitude. Slowly her self-control returned to her. She dared to
look about her observantly, and, behold, Madame Nelson appealed
Her French was faultless, her manners equally so, and when the
Californian drew her into the conversation, she practised the delicate
art of modest considerateness to the extent of talking past Mrs. von
Karlstadt in such a way that those who did not know were not
enlightened and those who knew felt their anxiety depart.
In order to thank her for this alleviation of a fatally painful
situation, Mrs. von Karlstadt occasionally turned perceptibly toward
the singer. For this Madame Nelson was grateful in her turn. Thus
their glances began to meet in friendly fashion, their voices to
cross, the atmosphere became less constrained from minute to minute,
and when the meal was over the astonished assembly had come to the
conclusion that Mrs. von Karlstadt was ignorant of the true state
The news of this peculiar meeting spread like a conflagration. Her
women friends hastened to congratulate her on her strength of mind;
her male friends praised her loftiness of spirit. She went through the
degradation which she had suffered as though it were a triumph. Only
her husband went about for a time with an evil conscience and a
Months went by. The quietness of summer intervened, but the memory of
that evening rankled in her and blinded her soul. Slowly the thought
arose in her which was really grounded in vanity, but looked, in its
execution, like suffering love--the thought that she would legitimise
her husband's irregularity in the face of society.
Hence when the season began again she wrote a letter to Madame Nelson
in which she invited her, in a most cordial way, to sing at an
approaching function in her home. She proffered this request, not only
in admiration of the singer's gifts, but also, as she put it, "to
render nugatory a persistent and disagreeable rumour."
Madame Nelson, to whom this chance of repairing her fair fame was very
welcome, had the indiscretion to assent, and even to accept the
condition of entire secrecy in regard to the affair.
The chronicler may pass over the painful evening in question with
suitable delicacy of touch. Nothing obvious or crass took place.
Madame Nelson sang three enchanting songs, accompanied by a first-rate
pianist. A friend of the house of whom the hostess had requested this
favour took Madame Nelson to the _buffet_. A number of guileless
individuals surrounded that lady with hopeful adoration. An ecstatic
mood prevailed. The one regrettable feature of the occasion was that
the host had to withdraw--as quietly as possible, of course--on
account of a splitting head-ache.
Berlin society, which felt wounded in the innermost depth of its
ethics, never forgave the Karlstadts for this evening. I believe that
in certain circles the event is still remembered, although years
Its immediate result, however, was a breach between man and wife.
Mara went to the Riviera, where she remained until spring.
An apparent reconciliation was then patched up, but its validity was
Socially, too, things readjusted themselves, although people continued
to speak of the Karlstadt house with a smile that asked for
Mara felt this acutely, and while her husband appeared oftener and
more openly with his mistress, she withdrew into the silence of her
* * * * *
Then she took a lover.
Or, rather, she was taken by him.
A lonely evening ... A fire in the chimney ... A friend who came in by
accident ... The same friend who had taken care of Madame Nelson for
her on that memorable evening ... The fall of snow without ... A burst
of confidence ... A sob ... A nestling against the caressing hand ...
It was done ...
Months passed. She experienced not one hour of intoxication, not one
of that inner absolution which love brings. It was moral slackness and
weariness that made her yield again....
Then the consequences appeared.
Of course, the child could not, must not, be born. And it was not
born. One can imagine the horror of that tragic time: the criminal
flame of sleepless nights, the blood-charged atmosphere of guilty
despair, the moans of agony that had to be throttled behind
What remained to her was lasting invalidism.
The way from her bed to an invalid's chair was long and hard.
Time passed. Improvements came and gave place to lapses in her
condition. Trips to watering-places alternated with visits to
In those places sat the pallid, anaemic women who had been tortured
and ruined by their own or alien guilt. There they sat and engaged in
wretched flirtations with flighty neurasthenics.
And gradually things went from bad to worse. The physicians shrugged
their friendly shoulders.
And then it happened that Madame Nelson felt the inner necessity of
running away with a handsome young tutor. She did this less out of
passion than to convince the world--after having thoroughly fleeced
it--of the unselfishness of her feelings. For it was her ambition to
be counted among the great lovers of all time.
* * * * *
One evening von Karlstadt entered the sick chamber of his wife, sat
down beside her bed and silently took her hand. She was aware of
everything, and asked with a gentle smile upon her white lips:
"Be frank with me: did you love her, at least?"
He laughed shrilly. "What should have made me love this--business
They looked at each other long. Upon her face death had set its seal.
His hair was gray, his self-respect broken, his human worth
And then, suddenly, they clung to each other, and leaned their
foreheads against each other, and wept.
It was on a sunny afternoon in October. Human masses streamed through
the alleys of the _Tiergarten_. With the desperate passion of an
ageing woman who feels herself about to be deserted, the giant city
received the last caresses of summer. A dotted throng that was not
unlike the chaos of the _Champs Élysées_, filled the broad, gray road
that leads to Charlottenburg.
Berlin, which cannot compete with any other great European city, as
far as the luxury of vehicular traffic is concerned, seemed to have
sent out to-day all it possessed in that kind. The weather was too
beautiful for closed _coupés_, and hence the comfortable family landau
was most in evidence. Only now and then did an elegant victoria glide
along, or an aristocratic four-in-hand demand the respectful yielding
of the crowd.
A dog-cart of dark yellow, drawn by a magnificent trotter, attracted
the attention of experts. The noble animal, which seemed to feel the
security of the guiding hand, leaned, snorting, upon its bit. With far
out-reaching hind legs, it flew along, holding its neck moveless, as
became a scion of its race.
The man who drove was sinewy, tall, about forty, with clear, gray
eyes, sharply cut profile and a close-clipped moustache. In his thin,
brownish cheeks were several deep scars, and between the straight,
narrow brows could be seen two salient furrows.
His attire--an asphalt-gray, thick-seamed overcoat, a coloured shirt
and red gloves--did not deny the sportsman. His legs, which pressed
against the footboard, were clad in tight, yellow riding boots.
Many people saluted him. He returned their salutations with that
careless courtesy which belongs to those who know themselves to have
transcended the judgment of men.
If one of his acquaintances happened to be accompanied by a lady, he
bowed deeply and respectfully, but without giving the ladies in
question a single glance.
People looked after him and mentioned his name: Baron von Stueckrath.
Ah, that fellow ...
And they looked around once more.
At the square of the _Great Star_ he turned to the left, drove along
the river, passed the well-known resort called simply _The Tents_,
and stopped not far from the building of the general staff of the army
and drew up before a large distinguished house with a fenced front
garden and cast-iron gate to the driveway.
He threw the reins to the groom, who sat statuesquely behind him, and
said: "Drive home."
Jumping from the cart, he observed the handle of the scraper sticking
in the top of one of his boots. He drew it out, threw it on the seat,
and entered the house.
The janitor, an old acquaintance, greeted him with the servile
intimacy of the tip-expecting tribe.
On the second floor he stopped and pulled the bell whose glass knob
glittered above a neat brass plate.
"Ludovika Kraissl," was engraved upon it.
A maid, clad with prim propriety in a white apron and white lace cap,
opened the door.
He entered and handed her his hat.
"Is Madame at home?"
He looked at her through half-closed lids, and observed how her
milk-white little madonna's face flushed to the roots of her
"Where did she go?"
"Madame meant to go to the dressmaker," the girl stuttered, "and to
make some purchases." She avoided his eyes. She had been in service
only three months and had not yet perfected herself in lying.
He whistled a tune between his set teeth and entered the drawing-room.
A penetrating perfume streamed forth.
"Open the window, Meta."
She passed noiselessly through the room and executed his command.
Frowning, he looked about him. The empty pomp of the light woman
offended his taste. The creature who lived here had a gift for filling
every corner with banal and tasteless trivialities.
When he had turned over the flat to her it had been a charming little
place, full of delicate tints and the simple lines of Louis Seize
furniture. In a few years she had made a junk shop of it.
"Would you care for tea, sir, or anything else?" the girl asked.
"No, thank you. Pull off my boots, Meta. I'll change my dress and then
go out again."
Modestly, almost humbly, she bowed before him and set his spurred foot
gently on her lap. Then she loosened the top straps. He let his glance
rest, well pleased, upon her smooth, silvery blonde hair.
How would it work if he sent his mistress packing and installed this
girl in her place?
But he immediately abandoned the thought. He had seen the thing done
by some of his friends. In a single year the chastest and most modest
servant girl was so thoroughly corrupted that she had to be driven
into the streets.
"We men seem to emit a pestilential air," he reflected, "that corrupts
"Or at least men of my kind," he added carefully.
"Have you any other wishes, sir?" asked the girl, daintily wiping her
hands on her apron.
"No, thank you."
She turned to the door.
"One thing more, Meta. When did Madame say she would be back?"
Her face was again mantled with blood.
"She didn't say anything definite. I was to make her excuses. She
intended to return home by evening, at all events."
He nodded and the girl went with a sigh of relief, gently closing the
door behind her.
He continued to whistle, and looked up at a hanging lamp, which
defined itself against the window niche by means of a wreath of gay
In this hanging lamp, which hung there unnoticed and unreachable from
the floor, he had, a year ago, quite by accident, discovered a store
of love letters. His mistress had concealed them there since she
evidently did not even consider the secret drawer of her desk a
sufficiently safe repository.
He had carefully kept the secret of the lamp to himself, and had only
fed his grim humour from time to time by observing the changes of her
heart by means of added missives. In this way he had been able to
observe the number of his excellent friends with whom she
Thus his contempt for mankind assumed monstrous proportions, but this
contempt was the one emotional luxury which his egoism was still
He grasped a chair and seemed, for a moment about to mount to the lamp
to inspect her latest history. But he let his hand fall. After all, it
was indifferent with whom she was unfaithful to-day....
And he was tired. A bad day's work lay behind him. A three-year-old
full-blooded horse, recently imported from Hull, had proven itself
abnormally sensitive and had brought him to the verge of despair by
its fearfulness and its moods. He had exercised it for hours, and had
only succeeded in making the animal more nervous than before. Great
sums were at stake if the fault should prove constitutional and
He felt the impulse to share his worries with some one, but he knew of
no one. From the point of view of Miss Ludi's naïve selfishness, it
was simply his duty to be successful. She didn't care for the
troublesome details. At his club, again, each one was warily guarding
his own interests. Hence it was necessary there to speak carefully,
since an inadvertent expression might affect general opinion.
He almost felt impelled to call in the maid and speak to her of his
Then his own softness annoyed him.
It was his wont to pass through life in lordly isolation and to
astonish the world by his successes. That was all he needed.
Yawning he stretched himself out on the _chaise longue_. Time dragged.
Three hours would pass until Ludi's probable return. He was so
accustomed to the woman's society that he almost longed for her. Her
idle chatter helped him. Her little tricks refreshed him. But the most
important point was this: she was no trouble. He could caress her or
beat her, call to her and drive her from him like a little dog. He
could let her feel the full measure of his contempt, and she would not
move a muscle. She was used to nothing else.
He passed two or three hours daily in her company, for time had to be
killed somehow. Sometimes, too, he took her to the circus or the
theatre. He had long broken with the families of his acquaintance and
could appear in public with light women.
And yet he felt a sharp revulsion at the atmosphere that surrounded
him. A strange discomfort invaded his soul in her presence. He didn't
feel degraded. He knew her to be a harlot. But that was what he
wanted. None but such an one would permit herself to be so treated. It
was rather a disguised discouragement that held him captive.
Was life to pass thus unto the very end? Was life worth living, if it
offered a favourite of fortune, a master of his will and of his
actions, nothing better than this?
"Surely I have the spleen," he said to himself, sprang up, and went
into the next room to change his clothes. He had a wardrobe in Ludi's
dressing room in order to be able to go out from here in the evening
It was near four o'clock.
The sun laughed through the window. Its light was deep purple,
changing gradually to violet. Masses of leaves, red as rust, gleamed
over from the _Tiergarten_. The figure of Victory upon the triumphal
column towered toward heaven like a mighty flame.
He felt an impulse to wander through the alleys of the park idly and
aimlessly, at most to give a coin to a begging child.
He left the house and went past the Moltke monument and the winding
ways that lead to the Charlottenburg road.
The ground exhaled the sweetish odour of decaying plants. Rustling
heaps of leaves, which the breezes of noon had swept together, flew
apart under his tread. The westering sun threw red splotches of light
on the faint green of the tree trunks that exuded their moisture in
Here it was lonely. Only beyond the great road, whose many-coloured
pageant passed by him like a kinematograph, did he hear again in the
alleys the sounds of children's voices, song and laughter.
In the neighbourhood of the _Rousseau Island_ he met a gentleman whom
he knew and who had been a friend of his youth. Stout of form, his
round face surrounded by a close-clipped beard, he wandered along,
leading two little girls in red, while a boy in a blue sailor suit
rode ahead, herald-like, on his father's walking-stick.
The two men bowed to each other coolly, but without ill-will. They
were simply estranged. The busy servant of the state and father of a
family was scarcely to be found in those circles were the daily work
consists in riding and betting and gambling.
Stueckrath sat down on a bench and gazed after the group. The little
red frocks gleamed through the bushes, and Papa's admonishing and
restraining voice was to be heard above the noise of the boy who made
a trumpet of his hollow hand.
"Is that the way happiness looks?" he asked himself. "Can a man of
energy and action find satisfaction in these banal domesticities?"
And strangely enough, these fathers of families, men who serve the
state and society, who occupy high offices, make important inventions
and write good books--these men have red cheeks and laughing eyes.
They do not look as though the burden which they carry squeezes the
breath of life out of them. They get ahead, in spite of the childish
hands that cling to their coats, in spite of the trivialities with
which they pass their hours of leisure.
An indeterminate feeling of envy bored into his soul. He fought it
down and went on, right into the throng that filled the footpaths of
the _Tiergarten_. Groups of ladies from the west end went by him in
rustling gowns of black. He did not know them and did not wish to
Here, too, he recognized fewer of the men. The financiers who have
made this quarter their own appear but rarely at the races.
Accompanying carriages kept pace with the promenaders in order to
explain and excuse their unusual exertion. For in this world the
continued absence of one's carriage may well shake one's credit.
The trumpeting motor-cars whirred by with gleaming brasses. Of the
beautiful women in them, little could be seen in the swift gleams. It
was the haste of a new age that does not even find time to display
Upon the windows of the villas and palaces opposite lay the iridescent
glow of the evening sun. The façades took on purple colours, and the
decaying masses of vines that weighed heavily upon the fences seemed
to glow and shine from within with the very phosphorescence of decay.
Flooded by this light, a slender, abnormally tall girl came into
Stueckrath's field of vision. She led by the arm an aged lady, who
hobbled with difficulty along the pebbly path. A closed carriage with
escutcheon and coronet followed the two slowly.
He stopped short. An involuntary movement had passed through his body,
an impulse to turn off into one of the side paths. But he conquered
himself at once, and looked straight at the approaching ladies.
Like a mere line of blackness, thin of limb and waist, attired with
nun-like austerity in garments that hung as if withering upon her, she
stood against the background of autumnal splendour.
Now she recognised him, too. A sudden redness that at once gave way to
lifeless pallor flashed across her delicate, stern face.
They looked straight into each other's eyes.
He bowed deeply. She smiled with an effort at indifference.
"And so she is faded, too," he thought. To be sure, her face still
bore the stamp of a simple and severe beauty, but time and grief had
dealt ungently with it. The lips were pale and anaemic, two or three
folds, sharp as if made with a knife, surrounded them. About the eyes,
whose soft and lambent light of other days had turned into a hard and
troubled sharpness, spread concentric rings, united by a net-work of
veins and wrinkles.
He stood still, lost in thought, and looked after her.
She still trod the earth like a queen, but her outline was detestable.
Only hopelessness bears and attires itself thus.
He calculated. She must be thirty-six. Thirteen years ago he had known
her and--loved her? Perhaps....
At least he had left her the evening before their formal betrothal was
to take place because her father had dared to remark upon his way
He loved his personal liberty more than his beautiful and wealthy
betrothed who clung to him with every fibre of her delicate and noble
soul. One word from her, had it been but a word of farewell, would
have recalled him. That word remained unspoken.
Thus her life's happiness had been wrecked. Perhaps his, too. What did
Since then he had nothing but contempt for the daughters of good
families. Other women were less exacting; they did not attempt to
circumscribe his freedom.
He gazed after her long. Now groups of other pedestrians intervened;
now her form reappeared sharp and narrow against the trees. From time
to time she stooped lovingly toward the old lady, who, as is the wont
of aged people, trod eagerly and fearfully.
This fragile heap of bones, with the dull eyes and the sharp voice--he
remembered the voice well: it had had part in his decision. This
strange, unsympathetic, suspicious old woman, he would have had to
What madness! What hypocrisy!
And yet his hunger for happiness, which had not yet died, reminded him
of all that might have been.
A sea of warm, tender and unselfish love would have flooded him and
fructified and vivified the desert of his soul. And instead of
becoming withered and embittered, she would have blossomed at his side
more richly from day to day.
Now it was too late. A long, thin, wretched little creature--she went
her way and was soon lost in the distance.
But there clung to his soul the yearning for a woman--one who had more
of womanliness than its name and its body, more than the harlot whom
he kept because he was too slothful to drive her from him.
He sought the depths of his memory. His life had been rich in gallant
adventures. Many a full-blooded young woman had thrown herself at him,
and had again vanished from his life under the compulsion of his
He loved his liberty. Even an unlawful relation felt like a fetter so
soon as it demanded any sacrifice of time or interests. Also, he did
not like to give less than he received. For, since the passing of his
unscrupulous youth, he had not cared to receive the gift of a human
destiny only to throw it aside as his whim demanded.
And therefore his life had grown quiet during the last few years.
He thought of one of his last loves ... the very last ... and smiled.
The image of a delicately plump brunette little woman, with dreamy
eyes and delicious little curls around her ears, rose up before him.
She dwelt in his memory as she had seemed to him: modest, soulful, all
ecstatic yielding and charming simple-heartedness.
She did not belong to society. He had met her at a dinner given by a
financial magnate. She was the wife of an upper clerk who was well
respected in the business world. With adoring curiosity, she peeped
into the great strange world, whose doors opened to her for the
He took her to the table, was vastly entertained by the lack of
sophistication with which she received all these new impressions, and
smilingly accepted the undisguised adoration with which she regarded
him in his character of a famous horseman and rake.
He flirted with her a bit and that turned her head completely. In
lonely dreams her yearning for elegant and phantastic sin had grown to
enormity. She was now so wholly and irresistibly intoxicated that he
received next morning a deliciously scribbled note in which she begged
him for a secret meeting--somewhere in the neighbourhood of the
_Arkona Place_ or _Weinmeisterstrasse_, regions as unknown to him as
the North Cape or Yokohama.
Two or three meetings followed. She appeared, modest, anxious and in
love, a bunch of violets for his button-hole in her hand, and some
surprise for her husband in her pocket.
Then the affair began to bore him and he refused an appointment.
One evening, during the last days of November, she appeared, thickly
veiled, in his dwelling, and sank sobbing upon his breast. She could
not live without seeing him; she was half crazed with longing; he was
to do with her what he would. He consoled her, warmed her, and kissed
the melting snow from her hair. But when in his joy at what he
considered the full possession of a jewel his tenderness went beyond
hers, her conscience smote her. She was an honest woman. Horror and
shame would drive her into her grave if she went hence an adulteress.
He must have pity on her and be content with her pure adoration.
He had the requisite pity, dismissed her with a paternal kiss upon her
forehead, but at the same time ordered his servant to admit her
Then came two or three letters. In her agony over the thought of
losing him, she was willing to break down the last reserve. But he did
not answer the letters.
At the same time the thought came to him of going up the Nile in a
dahabiyeh. He was bored and had a cold.
On the evening of his departure he found her waiting in his rooms.
"What do you want?"
"Take me along."
"How do you know?"
"Take me along."
She said nothing else.
The necessity of comforting her was clear. A thoroughgoing farewell
was celebrated, with the understanding that it was a farewell forever.
The pact had been kept. After his return and for two years more she
had given no sign of life. He now thought of this woman. He felt a
poignant longing for the ripe sweetness of her oval face, the veiled
depth of her voice. He desired once more to be embraced by her firm
arms, to be kissed by her mad, hesitating lips.
Why had he dropped her? How could he have abandoned her so rudely?
The thought came into his head of looking her up now, in this very
He had a dim recollection of the whereabouts of her dwelling. He could
soon ascertain its exact situation.
Then again the problems of his racing stable came into his head. The
thought of "Maidenhood," the newly purchased horse, worried him. He
had staked much upon one throw. If he lost, it would take time to
repair the damage.
Suddenly he found himself in a tobacconist's shop, looking for her
name in the directory. _Friedrich-Wilhelm Strasse_ was the address.
Quite near, as he had surmised.
He was not at loss for an excuse. Her husband must still be in his
office at this hour. He would not be asked for any very strict
accounting for his action. At worst there was an approaching riding
festival, for which he could request her cooperation.
Perhaps she had forgotten him and would revenge herself for her
humiliation. Perhaps she would be insulted and not even receive him.
At best he must count upon coldness, bitter truths and that appearance
of hatred which injured love assumes.
What did it matter? She was a woman, after all.
The vestibule of the house was supported by pillars; its walls were
ornately stuccoed; the floor was covered with imitation oriental rugs.
It was the rented luxury with which the better middle-class loves to
He ascended three flights of stairs.
An elderly servant in a blue apron regarded the stranger suspiciously.
He asked for her mistress.
She would see. Holding his card gingerly, she disappeared.
Now _he_ would see....
Then, as he bent forward, listening, he heard through the open door a
cry--not of horrified surprise, but of triumph and jubilation, such a
cry of sudden joy as only a long and hopeless and unrestrainable
yearning can send forth.
He thought he had heard wrong, but the smiling face of the returning
servant reassured him.
He was to be made welcome.
He entered. With outstretched hands, tears in her eyes, her face
a-quiver with a vain attempt at equanimity--thus she came forward
to meet him.
"There you are ... there you are ... you...."
Overwhelmed and put to shame by her forgiveness and her happiness, he
stood before her in silence.
What could he have said to her that would not have sounded either
coarse or trivial?
And she demanded neither explanation nor excuse.
He was here--that was enough for her.
As he let his glance rest upon her, he confessed that his mental image
of her fell short of the present reality.
She had grown in soul and stature. Her features bore signs of power
and restraint, and of a strong inner tension. Her eyes sought him with
a steady light; in her bosom battled the pent-up joy.
She asked him to be seated. "In that corner," she said, and led him to
a tiny sofa covered with glittering, light-green silk, above which
hung a withered palm-leaf fan.
"I have sat there so often," she went on, "so often, and have thought
of you, always--always. You'll drink tea, won't you?"
He was about to refuse, but she interrupted him.
"Oh, but you must, you must. You can't refuse! It has been my dream
all this time to drink tea with you here just once--just once. To
serve you on this little table and hand you the basket with cakes! Do
you see this little lacquer table, with the lovely birds of inlaid
mother-of-pearl? I had that given to me last Christmas for the
especial purpose of serving you tea on it. For I said to myself: 'He
is accustomed to the highest elegance.' And you are here and are going
to refuse? No, no, that's impossible. I couldn't bear that."
And she flew to the door and called out her orders to the servant.
He regarded her in happy astonishment. In all her movements there was
a rhythm of unconscious loveliness, such as he had rarely seen in any
woman. With simple, unconscious elegance, her dress flowed about her
taller figure, whose severe lines were softened by the womanly curves
of her limbs. And all that belonged to him.
He could command this radiant young body and this radiant young soul.
All that was one hunger to be possessed by him.
"Bind her to yourself," cried his soul, "and build yourself a new
Then she returned. She stopped a few paces from him, folded her hands
under her chin, gazed at him wide-eyed and whispered: "There he is!
There he is!"
He grew uncomfortable under this expense of passion.
"I should wager that I sit here with a foolish face," he thought.
"But now I'm going to be sensible," she went on, sitting down on a low
stool that stood next to the sofa. "And while the tea is steeping you
must tell me how things have gone with you all this long time. For it
is a very long time since ... Ah, a long time...."
It seemed to him that there was a reproach behind these words. He gave
but a dry answer to her question, but threw the more warmth into his
inquiries concerning her life.
She laughed and waved her hand.
"Oh, I!" she cried. "I have fared admirably. Why should I not? Life
makes me as happy as though I were a child. Oh, I can always be
happy.... That's characteristic of me. Nearly every day brings
something new and usually something delightful.... And since I've been
in love with you.... You mustn't take that for a banal declaration of
passion, dear friend.... Just imagine you are merely my confidant, and
that I'm telling you of my distant lover who takes little notice of a
foolish woman like myself. But then, that doesn't matter so long as I
know that he is alive and can fear and pray for him; so long as the
same morning sun shines on us both. Why, do you know, it's a most
delicious feeling, when the morning is fair and the sun golden and one
may stand at the window and say: 'Thank God, it is a beautiful day
He passed his hand over his forehead.
"It isn't possible," he thought. "Such things don't exist in this
And she went on, not thinking that perhaps he, too, would want to
"I don't know whether many people have the good fortune to be as happy
as I. But I am, thank God. And do you know, the best part of it all
and the sunniest, I owe to you. For instance: Summer before last we
went to Heligoland, last summer to Schwarzburg.... Do you know it?
Isn't it beautiful? Well, for instance: I wake up; I open my eyes to
the dawn. I get up softly, so as not to disturb my husband, and go on
my bare feet to the window. Without, the wooded mountains lie dark and
peaceful. There is a peace over it all that draws one's tears ... it
is so beautiful ... and behind, on the horizon, there shines a broad
path of gold. And the fir-trees upon the highest peaks are sharply
defined against the gold, like little men with many outstretched arms.
And already the early piping of a few birds is heard. And I fold my
hands and think: I wonder where he is.... And if he is asleep, has he
fair dreams? Ah, if he were here and could see all this loveliness.
And I think of _him_ with such impassioned intensity that it is not
hard to believe him here and able to see it all. And at last a chill
comes up, for it is always cool in the mountains, as you know.... And
then one slips back into bed, and is annoyed to think that one must
sleep four hours more instead of being up and thinking of him. And
when one wakes up for a second time, the sun throws its golden light
into the windows, and the breakfast table is set on the balcony. And
one's husband has been up quite a while, but waits patiently. And his
dear, peaceful face is seen through the glass door. At such moments
one's heart expands in gratitude to God who has made life so beautiful
and one can hardly bear one's own happiness--and--there is the tea."
The elderly maid came in with a salver, which she placed on the piano,
in order to set the little table properly. A beautiful napkin of
damask silk lay ready. The lady of the house scolded jestingly. It
would injure the polish of the piano, and what was her guest to think
of such shiftlessness.
The maid went out.
She took up the tea-kettle, and asked in a voice full of bliss.
"Strong or weak, dear master?"
"One or two lumps of sugar?"
"Two lumps, please."
She passed him the cup with a certain solemnity.
"So this is the great moment, the pinnacle of all happiness as I have
dreamed of it! Now, tell me yourself: Am I not to be envied? Whatever
I wish is fulfilled. And, do you know, last year in Heligoland I had a
curious experience. We capsised by the dunes and I fell into the
water. As I lost consciousness, I thought that you were there and were
saving me. Later when I lay on the beach, I saw, of course, that it
had been only a stupid old fisherman. But the feeling was so wonderful
while it lasted that I almost felt like jumping into the water again.
Speaking of water, do you take rum in your tea?"
He shook his head. Her chatter, which at first had enraptured him,
began to fill him with sadness. He did not know how to respond. His
youthfulness and flexibility of mind had passed from him long ago: he
had long lost any inner cheerfulness.
And while she continued to chat, his thoughts wandered, like a horse,
on their accustomed path on the road of his daily worries. He thought
of an unsatisfactory jockey, of the nervous horse.
What was this woman to him, after all?
"By the way," he heard her say, "I wanted to ask you whether
'Maidenhood' has arrived?"
He sat up sharply and stared at her. Surely he had heard wrong.
"What do you know about 'Maidenhood'?"
"But, my dear friend, do you suppose I haven't heard of your beautiful
horse, by 'Blue Devil' out of 'Nina'? Now, do you see? I believe I
know the grandparents, too. Anyhow, you are to be congratulated on
your purchase. The English trackmen are bursting with envy. To judge
by that, you ought to have an immense success."
"But, for heaven's sake, how do you know all this?"
"Dear me, didn't your purchase appear in all the sporting papers?"
"Do you read those papers?"
"Surely. You see, here is the last number of the _Spur_, and yonder is
the bound copy of the _German Sporting News_."
"I see; but to what purpose?"
"Oh, I'm a sporting lady, dear master. I look upon the world of
horses--is that the right expression?--with benevolent interest. I
hope that isn't forbidden?"
"But you never told me a word about that before!"
She blushed a little and cast her eyes down.
"Oh, before, before.... That interest didn't come until later."
He understood and dared not understand.
"Don't look at me so," she besought him; there's nothing very
remarkable about it. I just said to myself: "Well, if he doesn't want
you, at least you can share his life from afar. That isn't immodest,
is it? And then the race meets were the only occasions on which I
could see you from afar. And whenever you yourself rode--oh, how my
heart beat--fit to burst. And when you won, oh, how proud I was! I
could have cried out my secret for all the world to hear. And my poor
husband's arm was always black and blue. I pinched him first in my
anxiety and then in my joy."
"So your husband happily shares your enthusiasm?"
"Oh, at first he wasn't very willing. But then, he is so good, so
good. And as I couldn't go to the races alone, why he just had to go
with me! And in the end he has become as great an enthusiast as I am.
We can sit together for hours and discuss the tips. And he just
admires you so--almost more than I. Oh, how happy he'd be to meet you
here. You mustn't refuse him that pleasure. And now you're laughing at
me. Shame on you!"
"I give you my word that nothing--"
"Oh, but you smiled. I saw you smile."
"Perhaps. But assuredly with no evil intention. And now you'll permit
me to ask a serious question, won't you?"
"Do you love your husband?"
"Why, of course I love him. You don't know him, or you wouldn't ask.
How could I help it? We're like two children together. And I don't
mean anything silly. We're like that in hours of grief, too. Sometimes
when I look at him in his sleep--the kind, careworn forehead, the
silent serious mouth--and when I think how faithfully and carefully he
guides me, how his one dreaming and waking thought is for my
happiness--why, then I kneel down and kiss his hands till he wakes up.
Once he thought it was our little dog, and murmured 'Shoo, shoo!' Oh,
how we laughed! And if you imagine that such a state of affairs can't
be reconciled with my feeling for you, why, then you're quite wrong.
_That_ is upon an entirely different plane."
"And your life is happy?"
Radiantly she folded her hands.
She did not suspect her position on the fearful edge of an abyss. She
had not yet realised what his coming meant, nor how defenceless
He had but to stretch out his arms and she would fly to him, ready to
sacrifice her fate to his mood. And this time there would be no
returning to that well-ordered content.
A dull feeling of responsibility arose in him and paralysed his will.
Here was all that he needed in order to conquer a few years of new
freshness and joy for the arid desert of his life. Here was the spring
of life for which he was athirst. And he had not the courage to touch
it with his lips.
A silence ensued in which their mood threatened to darken and grow
Then he pulled himself together.
"You don't ask me why I came, dear friend."
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
"A moment's impulse--or loneliness. That's all."
"And a bit of remorse, don't you think so?"
"Remorse? For what? You have nothing with which to reproach yourself.
Was not our agreement made to be kept?"
"And yet I couldn't wholly avoid the feeling as if my unbroken silence
must have left a sting in your soul which would embitter your
memory of me."
Thoughtfully she stirred her tea.
"No," she said at last, "I'm not so foolish. The memory of you is a
sacred one. If that were not so, how could I have gone on living? That
time, to be sure, I wanted to take my life. I had determined on that
before I came to you. For that one can leave the man with whom.... I
never thought that possible.... But one learns a good deal--a good
deal.... And now I'll tell you how it came to pass that I didn't take
my life that night. When everything was over, and I stood in the
street before your house, I said to myself: 'Now the river is all that
is left.' In spite of rain and storm, I took an open cab and drove out
to the _Tiergarten_. Wasn't the weather horrible! At the _Great Star_
I left the cab and ran about in the muddy ways, weeping, weeping. I
was blind with tears, and lost my way. I said to myself that I would
die at six. There were still four minutes left. I asked a policeman
the way to _Bellevue_, for I did remember that the river flows hard
behind the castle. The policeman said: 'There it is. The hour is
striking in the tower now.' And when I heard the clock strike, the
thought came to me: 'Now my husband is coming home, tired and hungry,
and I'm not there. If at least he wouldn't let his dinner get cold.
But of course he will wait. He'd rather starve than eat without me.
And he'll be frightened more and more as the hours pass. Then he'll
run to the police. And next morning he'll be summoned by telegram to
the morgue. There he'll break down helplessly and hopelessly and I
won't be able to console him.' And when I saw that scene in my mind, I
called out: 'Cab! cab!' But there was no cab. So I ran back to the
_Great Star_, and jumped into the street-car, and rode home and rushed
into his arms and cried my fill."
"And had your husband no questions to ask? Did he entertain no
"Oh, no, he knows me, I am taken that way sometimes. If anything moves
or delights me deeply--a lovely child on the street--you see, I
haven't any--or some glorious music, or sometimes only the park in
spring and some white statue in the midst of the greenery. Oh,
sometimes I seem to feel my very soul melt, and then he lays his cool,
firm hand on my forehead and I am healed."
"And were you healed on that occasion, too?"
"Yes. I was calmed at once. 'Here,' I said to myself, 'is this dear,
good man, to whom you can be kind. And as far as the other is
concerned, why it was mere mad egoism to hope to have a share in his
life. For to give love means, after all, to demand love. And what can
a poor, supersensitive thing like you mean to him? He has others. He
need but stretch forth his hand, and the hearts of countesses and
princesses are his!'"
"Dear God," he thought, and saw the image of the purchasable harlot,
who was supposed to satisfy his heart's needs.
But she chatted on, and bit by bit built up for him the image of him
which she had cherished during these two years. All the heroes of
Byron, Poushkine, Spielhagen and Scott melted into one glittering
figure. There was no splendour of earth with which her generous
imagination had not dowered him.
He listened with a melancholy smile, and thought: "Thank God, she
doesn't know me. If I didn't take a bit of pleasure in my stable, the
contrast would be too terrible to contemplate."
And there was nothing forward, nothing immodest, in this joyous
enthusiasm. It was, in fact, as if he were a mere confidant, and she
were singing a hymn in praise of her beloved.
And thus she spared him any feeling of shame.
But what was to happen now?
It went without saying that this visit must have consequences of some
sort. It was her right to demand that he do not, for a second time,
take her up and then fling her aside at the convenience of a
Almost timidly he asked after her thoughts of the future.
"Let's not speak of it. You won't come back, anyhow."
"How can you think...."
"Oh, no, you won't come back. And what is there here for you? Do you
want to be adored by me? You spoiled gentlemen soon tire of that sort
of thing.... Or would you like to converse with my husband? That
wouldn't amuse you. He's a very silent man and his reserve thaws only
when he is alone with me.... But it doesn't matter.... You have been
here. And the memory of this hour will always be dear and precious to
me. Now, I have something more in which my soul can take pleasure."
A muffled pain stirred in him. He felt impelled to throw himself at
her feet and bury his head in her lap. But he respected the majesty of
"And if I myself desired...."
That was all he said; all he dared to say. The sudden glory in her
face commanded his silence. Under the prudence which his long
experience dictated, his mood grew calmer.
But she had understood him.
In silent blessedness, she leaned her head against the wall. Then she
whispered, with closed eyes: "It is well that you said no more. I
might grow bold and revive hopes that are dead. But if you...."
She raised her eyes to his. A complete surrender to his will lay in
Then she raised her head with a listening gesture.
"My husband," she said, after she had fought down a slight involuntary
fright, and said it with sincere joy.
Three glowing fingers barely touched his. Then she hastened to the
"Guess who is here," she called out; "guess!"
On the threshold appeared a sturdy man of middle size and middle age.
His round, blonde beard came to a grayish point beneath the chin. His
thin cheeks were yellow, but with no unhealthful hue. His quiet,
friendly eyes gleamed behind glasses that sat a trifle too far down
his nose, so that in speaking his head was slightly thrown back and
his lids drawn.
With quiet astonishment he regarded the elegant stranger. Coming
nearer, however, he recognised him at once in spite of the twilight,
and, a little confused with pleasure, stretched out his hand.
Upon his tired, peaceful features, there was no sign of any sense of
strangeness, any desire for an explanation.
Stueckrath realized that toward so simple a nature craft would have
been out of place, and simply declared that he had desired to renew an
acquaintance which he had always remembered with much pleasure.
"I don't want to speak of myself, Baron," the man replied, "but you
probably scarcely realise what pleasure you are giving my wife." And
he nodded down at her who stood beside him, apparently unconcerned
except for her wifely joy.
A few friendly words were exchanged. Further speech was really
superfluous, since the man's unassailable innocence demanded no
caution. But Stueckrath was too much pleased with him to let him feel
his insignificance by an immediate departure.
Hence he sat a little longer, told of his latest purchases, and was
shamed by the satisfaction with which the man rehearsed the history of
He did not neglect the courtesy of asking them both to call on him,