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“Certainly, I have always thought of you. And you?”

“Often, very often.”

“But …”

“Well, what?”

“You are a man, you see!”

“Yes–but what do you mean by that?”

“I mean that certainly you must have loved many women.”

“Loved … loved … yes, I suppose I have.”

“But I,” she broke out with animation, as though the truth was too strong to be restrained within her; “I have loved no one but you.”

He took her hand and raised it to his lips.

“I think we might rather leave that undecided, though,” he said.

“Look, I have brought some violets with me for you.”

He smiled.

“Are they to prove that you have told me the truth? Anybody would think, from the way in which you said that, that you have done nothing else since we last met but pluck, or, at least, buy, violets for me. However, many thanks! But tell me, why didn’t you want to get into the carriage?”

“Oh, but you know, a walk is so nice.”

“But we can’t walk forever…. We are having supper together, though?”

“Yes, I shall be delighted–for instance, here in an hotel,” she added hastily.

At that time they were walking through quieter streets, and it was growing dusk.

Emil laughed.

“Oh, no, we will arrange things a little more cosily than that.”

Bertha cast her eyes down.

“However, we mustn’t sit at the same table as strangers,” she said.

“Certainly not. We will even go somewhere where there is nobody else at all.”

“What are you thinking of?” she asked. “I don’t do that sort of thing!”

“Just as you please,” he answered, shrugging his shoulders. “Have you an appetite yet?”

“No, not at all.”

They were both silent for a time.

“Shall I not make the acquaintance of your boy some day?” he asked.

“Certainly,” she replied, greatly pleased; “whenever you wish.”

She began to tell him about Fritz, and then went on to speak about her family. Emil threw in a question at times, and soon he knew all that happened in the little town, even down to the efforts of Klingemann, of which Bertha gave him an account, laughingly, but with a certain satisfaction.

The street lamps were alight; the rays glittered on the damp pavements.

“My dear girl, we can’t stroll about the streets all night, you know,” said Emil suddenly.

“No … but I cannot come with you … into a restaurant…. Just think, if I should happen to meet my cousin or anyone else!”

“Make your mind easy, no one will see us.”

Quickly he passed through a gateway and closed the umbrella.

“What are you going to do, then?”

She saw a large garden before her. Near the walls, from which canvas shelters were stretched, people were sitting at tables, laid for supper.

“There, do you mean?”

“No. Just come with me.”

Immediately on the right of the gate was a small door, which had been left ajar.

“Come in here.”

They found themselves in a narrow, lighted passage, on both sides of which were rows of doors. A waiter bowed and went in front of them, past all the doors. The last one he opened, allowed the guests to enter, and closed it again after them.

In the centre of the little room stood a small table laid for three; by the wall was a blue velvet sofa, and opposite that hung a gilt framed oval mirror, before which Bertha took her hat off and, as she did so, she noticed that the names “Irma” and “Rudi” had been scratched on the glass. At the same time, she saw in the mirror Emil coming up behind her. He placed his hands on her cheeks, bent her head back towards himself, and kissed her on the lips. Then he turned away without speaking, and rang the bell.

A very young waiter came in at once, as if he had been standing outside the door. When he had taken his order he left them, and Emil sat down. “Well, Bertha!”

She turned towards him. He took her gently by the hand and still continued to hold it in his, when Bertha had taken a seat beside him on the sofa. Mechanically she touched her hair with her other hand.

An older waiter came in, and Emil made his choice from the menu. Bertha agreed to everything. When the waiter had departed, Emil said:

“Mustn’t the question be asked: How is it that all this hasn’t happened before to-day?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Why didn’t you write to me long ago?”

“Well, I would … if you had got your Order sooner!”

He held her hand and kissed it.

“But you come to Vienna fairly often!”

“Oh, no.”

He looked up.

“But you said something like that in your letter!”

She remembered then, and grew red.

“Well, yes … often … Monday was the last time I was here.”

The waiter brought sardines and caviar, and left the room.

“Well,” said Emil; “it is probably just the right time.”

“In what way?”

“That we should have met again.”

“Oh, I have often longed for you.”

He seemed to be deep in thought.

“And perhaps it is also just as well that things _then_ turned out as they did,” he said. “It is on that very account that the recollection is so charming.”

“Yes, charming.”

They were both silent for a time.

“Do you remember …” she said, and then she began to talk of the old days, of their walks in the town-park, and of her first day at the Conservatoire.

He nodded in answer to everything she said, held his arm on the back of the sofa, and lightly touched the lock of hair, which curled over the nape of her neck. At times he threw in a word. Then Emil himself recalled something which she had forgotten; he had remembered a further outing: a trip to the Prater one Sunday morning.

“And do you still recollect,” said Bertha, “how we …” she hesitated to utter it–“once were almost in love with each other?”

“Yes,” he said. “And who knows …”

He was perhaps about to say: “It would have been better for me if I had married you”–but he did not finish the sentence.

He ordered champagne.

“It is not so long ago,” said Bertha, “since I tasted champagne. The last time was about six months ago, at the party which my brother-in-law gave on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday.”

She thought of the company at her brother-in-law’s, and it was amazing how remote from the present time it all seemed–the entire little town and all who lived there.

The young waiter brought an ice-tub with the wine. At that moment it occurred to Bertha that Emil had certainly been there before, many a time, with other women. That, however, was a matter of tolerable indifference to her.

They clinked glasses and drank. Emil embraced Bertha and kissed her. That kiss reminded her of something … what could it have been, though?… Of the kisses she had received when a young girl?… Of the kiss of her husband?… No…. Then it suddenly occurred to her that it was exactly like the kisses which her young nephew Richard had lately given to her.

The waiter came in with fruit and pastry. Emil put some dates and a bunch of grapes on a plate for Bertha.

“Why don’t you say something?” she asked. “Why do you leave me to do all the talking? And you know you could tell me so much!”

“I?…”

He slowly sipped the wine.

“Why, yes, about your tours.”

“Good Heavens, one town is just like all the others. You must not, of course, lose sight of the fact that I only rarely travel for my own pleasure.”

“Quite so, of course.”

During the whole time she had not given a thought to the fact that it was Emil Lindbach, the celebrated violin virtuoso, with whom she was sitting there; and she felt bound to say:

“By the way, you are playing in Vienna soon. I should be very glad to hear you.”

“Not a soul will hinder you from doing so,” he replied drily.

It passed through her mind that it would really be very much nicer for her to hear him play, not at the concert, but for herself alone. She had almost said so, but then it occurred to her that that would have meant nothing else than: “I will come with you”–and, who could say, perhaps very soon she would go with him. It would be as easy for her as ever, if she had had some wine…. Yet, not so, the wine was affecting her differently from usual–it was not the soft inebriation which made her feel a little more cheerful; it was better, lovelier. It was not the few drops of wine that made it so; it was the touch of his dear hand, as he stroked her brow and hair. He had sat down beside her and he drew her head onto his shoulder. How gladly would she have fallen asleep like that…. Yes, indeed, nothing else did she desire…. Then she heard him whisper: “Darling.”… She trembled softly.

Why was this the first time? Could she not have had all this before? Was there a grain of sense in living as she did?… After all, there was nothing wicked in what she was doing now…. And how sweet it was to feel the breath of a young man upon her eyelids!… No, not–not the breath of a young man… of a lover….

She had shut her eyes. She made not the slightest effort to open them again, she had not the least desire to know where she was, or with whom she was…. Who was it, after all?… Richard?… No…. Was she falling asleep, then?… She was there with Emil…. With whom?… But who was this Emil?… How hard it was to be clear as to who it was!… The breath upon her eyelids was the breath of the man she had loved when a girl … and, at the same time, that of the celebrated artist who was soon to give a concert … and, at the same time, of a man whom she had not seen for thousands and thousands of days … and, at the same time, of a gentleman with whom she was sitting alone in a restaurant, and who, at that moment, could do with her just as he pleased…. She felt his kiss upon her eyes…. How tender he was … and how handsome…. But what did he really look like, then?… She had only to open her eyes to be able to see him quite plainly…. But she preferred to imagine what he was like, without actually seeing him…. No, how funny–why, that was not in the least like his face!… Of course, it was the face of the young waiter, who had left the room a minute or two before…. But what did Emil look like, after all?… Like this?… No, no, of course, that was Richard’s face…. But away … away…. Was she then so low as to think of nothing but other men while she … was with him?… If she could only open her eyes!… Ah!

She shook herself violently, so that she almost pushed Emil away–and then she tore her eyes wide open.

Emil gazed at her, smiling.

“Do you love me?” he asked.

She drew him towards her and kissed him of her own accord…. It was the first time that day that she had given him a kiss of her own accord, and in doing so she felt that she was not acting in accordance with her resolve of the morning…. She tried to think what that resolve had been…. To compromise herself in no way; to deny herself…. Yes, there had certainly been a time when that had been her wish, but why? She was in love with him, really and truly; and the moment had arrived which she had been awaiting for days…. No, for years!

Still their lips remained pressed together…. Ah, she longed to feel his arms about her … to be his, body and soul. She would not let him talk any more … he would have to take her unto himself…. He would have to realize that no other woman could love him so well as she did….

Emil rose to his feet and paced up and down the little room a few times. Bertha raised her glass of champagne to her lips again.

“No more, Bertha,” said Emil, in a low tone.

Yes, he was right, she thought. What was she really doing? Was she going to make herself drunk, then? Was there any need for that? After all, she was accountable to no one, she was free, she was young; she was determined to taste of happiness at last.

“Ought we not to be thinking of going?” said Emil.

Bertha nodded. He helped her to put on her jacket. She stood before the mirror and stuck the pin through her hat. They went. The young waiter was standing before the door; he bowed. A carriage was standing before the gate; Bertha got in; she did not hear what instructions Emil gave the driver. Emil took his seat by her side. Both were silent; they sat pressing closely against each other. The carriage rolled on, a long, long way. Wherever could it be, then, that Emil lived? But, perhaps, he had purposely told the driver to take a circuitous route, knowing, no doubt, how pleasant it was to drive together through the night like this.

The carriage pulled up. Emil got out.

“Give me your umbrella,” he said.

She handed it out to him and he opened it. Then she got out and they both stood under the shelter of the umbrella, on which the rain was rattling down. Was this the street in which he lived? The door opened; they entered the hall; Emil took a candle which the porter handed to him. Before them was a fine broad staircase. When they reached the first floor Emil opened a door. They passed through an ante-chamber into a drawing-room. With the candle which he held in his hand Emil lighted two others upon the table; then he went up to Bertha, who was still standing in the doorway, as though waiting, and led her further into the room. He took the pin out of her hat, and placed the hat upon the table. In the uncertain light of the two feebly-burning candles, Bertha could only see that a few coloured pictures were hanging on the wall–portraits of the Emperor and Empress, so it appeared to her–that, on one side, was a broad divan covered with a Persian rug and that, near the window, there was an upright piano with a number of framed photographs on the lid. Over the piano a picture was hanging, but Bertha was unable to make it out. Yonder, she saw a pair of red curtains hanging down beside a door, which was standing half open and through the broad folds something white and gleaming could be seen within.

She could no longer restrain the question:

“Do you live here?”

“As you see.”

She looked straight before her. On the table stood a couple of little glasses, a decanter containing liqueur and a small epergne, loaded with fruit and pastry.

“Is this your study?” asked Bertha.

Mechanically her eyes sought for a desk such as violin players use. Emil put his arm round her waist and led her to the piano. He sat down on the piano stool and drew her on to his knees.

“I may as well confess to you at once,” he said to her, simply and almost drily, “that really I do not live here. It was only for our own sake … that I have … for a short while … I deemed it prudent … Vienna, you know, is a small town, and I didn’t want to take you into my house at night-time.”

She understood, but was not altogether satisfied. She looked up. She was now able to see the outlines of the picture which was hanging above the piano…. It was a naked female figure. Bertha had a curious desire to examine the picture, close at hand.

“What is that?” she asked.

“It is not a work of art,” said Emil.

He struck a match and held it up, so as to throw the light on the picture. Bertha saw that it was merely a wretched daub, but at the same time she felt that the painted woman, with the bold laughing eyes, was looking down at her, and she was glad when the match went out.

“You might just play something to me upon the piano,” said Emil.

She wondered at the coldness of his demeanour. Didn’t he realize that she was with him?… But, on the other hand, did she herself feel any special emotion?… No…. A strange sadness seemed to come welling forth from every corner of the room…. Why hadn’t he rather taken her to his own house?… What sort of a house was this, she wondered…. She regretted now that she had not drunk more wine…. She wished that she was not so sober….

“Well, won’t you play something to me?” said Emil. “Just think how long it is since I have heard you.”

She sat down and struck a chord.

“Indeed, I have forgotten everything.”

“Oh, do try!”

She played very softly Schumann’s Albumblatt, and she remembered how, a few days before, late in the evening, she had improvised as she was sitting at home, and Klingemann had walked up and down in front of the window. She could not help thinking also of the report that he had a scandalous picture in his room. And involuntarily, she glanced up again at the picture of the naked woman over the piano, but now the figure seemed to be gazing into space.

Emil had brought a chair beside Bertha’s. He drew her towards him and kissed her while her fingers first continued to play, and at length rested quietly upon the keys. Bertha heard the rain beating against the window-panes and a sensation as of being at home came over her.

Then she felt as though Emil was lifting her up and carrying her. Without letting her out of his arms he had stood up and was slowly bearing her out of the room. She felt her right arm graze against the curtain…. She kept her eyes closed; she could feel Emil’s cool breath upon her hair….

VIII

When they went out into the street the rain had left off, but the air was permeated with a wondrous mildness and humidity. Most of the street lamps had already been extinguished; the one at the street corner was the nearest that was alight; and, as the sky was still overcast with clouds, deep darkness hung over the city. Emil had offered Bertha his arm; they walked in silence. From a church tower a clock struck–one. Bertha was surprised. She had believed that it must be nearly morning, but now she was glad at heart to wander mutely through the night in the still, soft air, leaning on his arm–because she loved him very much.

They entered an open square; before them lay the Church of St. Charles.

Emil hailed a driver who had fallen asleep, sitting on the footboard of his open carriage.

“It is such a fine night,” said Emil; “we can still indulge in a short drive before I take you to your hotel–shall we?”

The carriage started off. Emil had taken off his hat; she laid it in her lap, an action which also afforded her pleasure. She took a sidelong glance at Emil; his eyes seemed to be looking into the distance.

“What are you thinking of?”

“I … To tell the truth, Bertha, I was thinking of a melody out of the opera, which that man I was telling you about played to me this afternoon. But I can’t get it quite right.”

“You are thinking of melodies now …” said Bertha, smiling, but with a slight-tone of reproach in her voice.

Again there was silence. The carriage drove slowly along the deserted Ringstrasse, past the Opera House, the Museum and the public gardens.

“Emil?”

“What do you want, my darling?”

“When shall I at last have an opportunity of hearing you play again?”

“I am playing at a concert to-day, as a matter of fact,” he said, as if it were a joke.

“No, Emil, that was not what I meant–I want you to play to me alone. You will do that just once … won’t you? Please!”

“Yes, yes.”

“It would mean so much to me. I should like you to know that there was no one in the room except myself listening to you.”

“Quite so. But never mind that now, though.”

He spoke in such a decided tone of voice that it seemed as if he was defending something from her. She could not understand for what reason her request could have been distasteful to him, and she continued:

“So then it is settled: to-morrow at five o’clock in the evening at your house?”

“Yes, I am curious to see whether you will like it there.”

“Oh, of course I shall. Surely it will be much nicer being at your house than at that place where we have been this evening. And shall we spend the evening together? Do you know, I am just thinking whether I ought not to see my cousin….”

“But, my dearest one, please, don’t let us map out a definite programme.”

In saying this he put his arm round her neck, as if he wanted to make her feel the tenderness which was absent from the tone of his voice.

“Emil!”

“Well?”

“To-morrow we will play the Kreatzer Sonata together–the Andante at least.”

“But, my dear child, we’ve talked enough about music; do let us drop the subject. I am quite prepared to believe that you are immensely interested in it.”

Again he spoke in that vague way, from which she could not tell whether he really meant what he said or had spoken ironically. She did not, however, venture to ask. At the same time her yearning at that moment to hear him play the violin was so keen that it was almost painful.

“Ah, here we are near your hotel, I see!” exclaimed Emil; and, as if he had completely forgotten his wish to go for a drive with her before leaving her at her door, he called out the name of the hotel to the driver.

“Emil–“

“Well, dearest?”

“Do you still love me?”

Instead of answering he pressed her close to him and kissed her on the lips.

“Tell me, Emil–“

“Tell you what?”

“But I know you don’t like anybody to ask much of you.”

“Never mind, my child, ask anything you like.”

“What will you…. Tell me, what are you accustomed to do with your forenoons?”

“Oh, I spend them in all sorts of ways. To-morrow, for instance, I am playing the violin solo in Haydn’s Mass in the Lerchenfeld Church.”

“Really? Then, of course, I won’t have to wait any longer than to-morrow morning before I can hear you.”

“If you want to. But it is really not worth the trouble…. That is to say, the Mass itself, of course, is very beautiful.”

“However does it happen that you are going to play in the Lerchenfeld Church?”

“It is … an act of kindness on my part.”

“For whom?”

“For whom … well, for Haydn, of course.”

A thrill of pain seemed to seize Bertha. At that moment she felt that there must be some special connexion between it and his taking part in the Mass at the Lerchenfeld Church. Perhaps some woman was singing in the Mass, who…. Ah, what did she know, after all?… But she would go to the church, yes, she must go … she could let no other woman have Emil! He belonged to her, to her alone … he had told her so, indeed…. And she would find a way to hold him fast… She had, she told herself, such infinite tenderness for him … she had reserved all her love for him alone…. She would completely envelop him in it … no more would he yearn for any other woman…. She would move to Vienna, be with him each day, be with him for ever.

“Emil–“

“Well, what is the matter with you, darling?”

He turned towards her and looked at her rather uneasily.

“Do you love me? Good Heavens, here we are already!”

“Really?” said Emil, with surprise.

“Yes–there, do you see?–that’s where I am staying. So tell me, please, Emil, tell me once more–“

“Yes, to-morrow at five o’clock, my darling. I am very glad.”

“No, not that…. Tell me, do you–” The carriage stopped. Emil waited by Bertha’s side until the porter came out and opened the door, then he kissed her hand with the most ceremonious politeness, and said:

“Good-bye till we meet again, dear lady.”

He drove away.

Bertha’s sleep that night was sound and heavy.

When she awoke, the light of the morning sun was streaming around her. She remembered the previous evening, and she was very glad that something which she had imagined to be so hard, and almost grievous, had been done and had proved to be quite easy and joyous. And then she felt a thrill of pride on recollecting her kisses, which had had nothing in them of the timidity of a first adventure. She could not observe the slightest trace of repentance in her heart, although it occurred to her that it was conventional to be penitent after such things as she had experienced. Words, too, like “sin” and “love affair” passed through her mind, without being able to linger in her thoughts, because they seemed to be devoid of all meaning. She believed herself certain that she replied to Emil’s tenderness just like a woman accomplished in the art of love, and was very happy in the thought that all those things which came to other women as the result of the experiences of nights of drunkenness had come to her from the depth of her feelings. It seemed to her as though in the previous evening she had discovered in herself a gift, of the existence of which she had hitherto had no premonition, and she felt a slight emotion of regret stir within her at not having turned that gift to the best advantage earlier. She remembered one of Emil’s questions as to her past, on account of which she had not been so shocked as she ought to have been, and now, as she recalled it to mind, the same smile appeared on her lips, as when she had sworn that she had told him the truth, which he had not wanted to believe. Then she thought of their next meeting; she pictured to herself how he would receive her and escort her through his rooms. The idea came to her that she would behave just as if nothing at all had yet happened between them. Not once would he be able to read in her glance the recollection of the previous evening; he would have to win her all over again, he would have to woo her–not with words alone, but also with his music…. Yes…. Wasn’t she going to hear him play that very forenoon?… Of course–in the Church…. Then she remembered the sudden jealousy which had seized her the previous evening…. Yes, but why?… It seemed to her now to be so absurd–jealousy of a singer who perhaps was taking part in singing the Mass, or of some other unknown woman. She would, however, go to the Church in any case. Ah, how fine it would be to stand in the dim light of the Church, unseen by him and unable to see him, and to hear only his playing, which would float down to her from the choir. And she felt as though she rejoiced in the prospect of a new tenderness which should come to her from him without his apprehending it.

Slowly she got up and dressed herself. A gentle thought of her home rose up within her, but it was altogether without strength. She even found it a trouble to think of it. Moreover, she felt no penitence on that account; rather, she was proud of what she had done. She felt herself wholly as Emil’s creature; all that had had part in her life previous to his advent seemed to be extinguished. If he were to demand of her that she should live a year, live the coming summer with him, but that then she should die–she would obey him.

Her dishevelled hair fell over her shoulders. Memories came to her which almost made her reel. … Ah, Heaven; why had all this come so late, so late? But there was still a long time before her–there were still five, still ten years during which she might remain beautiful…. Oh, there was even longer so far as he was concerned, if they remained together, since, indeed, he would change together with her. And again the hope flitted through her mind: if he should make her his wife, if they should live together, travel together, sleep together, night after night–but now she began to feel slightly ashamed of herself–why was it that these thoughts were for ever present in her mind? Yet, to live together, did it not mean something further–to have cares in common, to be able to talk with one another on all subjects? Yes, she would, before all things, be his friend. And that was what she would tell him in the evening before everything else. That day he would have at last to tell her everything, tell her about himself; he would have to unfold his whole life before her, from the moment when they had parted twelve years ago until–and she could not help being amazed as she pursued her thoughts–until the previous morning…. She had seen him again for the first time the morning before, and in the space of that one day she had become so completely his that she could no longer think of anything except him; she was scarcely any longer a mother … no, nothing but his beloved.

She went out into the brightness of the summer day. It occurred to her that she was meeting more people than usual, that most of the shops were shut–of course, it was Sunday! She had not thought of that at all. And now that, too, made her glad. Soon she met a very slender gentleman who was wearing his overcoat open and by whose side was walking a young girl with very dark, laughing eyes. Bertha could not help thinking that she and Emil looked just such another couple … and she pictured to herself how beautiful it must be to stroll about, not merely in the darkness of the night, but, just as these two were doing, openly in the broad light of day, arm in arm, and with happiness and laughter shining in their eyes. Many a time, when a gentleman going past her looked into her face, she felt as though she understood the language of glances, like something new to her. One man looked at her with a sort of grave expression, and he seemed to say: Well, you are also just like the others! Presently came two young people who left off talking to each other when they saw her. She felt as though they knew perfectly well what had happened the previous night. Then another man passed, who appeared to be in a great hurry, and he cast her a rapid sidelong glance which seemed to say: Why are you walking about here as imposingly, as if you were a good woman? Yesterday evening you were in the arms of one of us. Quite distinctly she heard within her that expression “one of us,” and, for the first time in her life, she could not help pondering over the fact that all the men who passed by were indeed men, and that all the women were indeed women; that they desired one another, and, if they so wished, found one another. And she had the feeling as though only on the previous day at that time she had been a woman apart, from whom all other women had secrets, whilst now she also was included amongst them and could talk to them. She tried to remember the period which followed her wedding, and she recalled to mind that she had felt nothing beyond a slight disappointment and shame. Very vague there rose in her mind a certain sentence–she could not tell whether she had once read it or heard it–namely: “It is always the same, indeed, after all.” And she seemed to herself much cleverer than the person, whoever it might have been, man or woman, who had spoken or written that sentence.

Presently she noticed that she was following the same route as she had taken on the previous morning. Her eye fell on an advertising column on which was an announcement of the concert in which Emil was one of those taking part. Delightedly she stopped before it. A gentleman stood beside her. She smiled and thought: if he knew that my eyes are resting upon the very name of the man who, last night, was my lover…. Suddenly, she felt very proud. What she had done she considered as something unique. She could scarcely imagine that other women possessed the same courage. She walked on through the public gardens in which there were more people than on the previous day. Once again she saw children playing, governesses and nursemaids gossiping, reading, knitting. She noticed particularly a very old gentleman who had sat down on a seat in the sun; he looked at her, shook his head and followed her with a hard and inexorable glance. The incident created a most unpleasant impression upon her, and she had a feeling of injury in regard to the did gentleman. When, however, she mechanically glanced back, she observed that he was gazing at the sunlit sand and was still shaking his head. She realized then that this was due to his old age, and she asked herself whether Emil, too, would not one day be just such an aged gentleman, who would sit in the sun and shake his head. And all at once she saw herself walking along by his side in the chestnut avenue at home, but she was just as young as she was now, and he was being wheeled in an invalid’s chair. She shivered slightly. If Herr Rupius were to know…. No–never, never would he believe that of her! If he had supposed her capable of such things he would not have called her to join him on the balcony and told her that his wife was intending to leave him….

At that moment she was amazed at what seemed to her to be the great exuberance of her life. She had the impression that she was existing in the midst of such complex relations as no other woman did. And this feeling also contributed to her pride.

As she walked past a group of children, of whom four were dressed exactly alike, she thought how strange it was that she had not for a moment considered the fact that her adventure of the previous day might possibly have consequences. But a connexion between that which had happened the day before between those wild embraces in a strange room–and a being which one day would call her “Mother” seemed to lie without the pale of all possibility.

She left the garden and took the road to the Lerchenfelderstrasse. She wondered whether Emil was now thinking that she was on her way to him. Whether his first thought that morning had been of her. And it seemed to her now that previously her imagination had pictured quite differently the morning after a night such as she had spent…. Yes, she had fancied it as a mutual awakening, breast on breast, and lips pressed to lips.

A detachment of soldiers came towards her. Officers paced along by the side of the pavement; one of them jostled her slightly, as he passed, and said politely:

“I beg your pardon.”

He was a very handsome man, and he gave himself no further concern on her account, which vexed her a little. And the thought came to her involuntarily: had he also a beloved? And suddenly she knew for a certainty that he had been with the girl he loved the previous night; also that he loved her only, and concerned himself with other women as little as Emil did.

She was now in front of the church. The notes of the organ came surging forth into the street. A carriage was standing there, and a footman was on the box. How came that carriage there? All at once, it was quite clear to Bertha that some definite connexion must have subsisted between it and Emil, and she resolved to leave the church before the conclusion of the Mass so as to see who might enter the carriage. She went into the crowded church. She passed forward between the rows of seats until she reached the High Altar, by which the priest was standing. The notes of the organ died away, the string orchestra began to take up the melody. Bertha turned her head in the direction of the choir. Somehow, it seemed strange to her that Emil should, incognito, so to speak, be playing the solo in a Haydn Mass here in the Lerchenfelder Church…. She looked at the female figures in the front seats. She noticed two–three–four young women and several old ladies. Two were sitting in the foremost row; one of them was very fashionably dressed in black silk, the other appeared to be her maid. Bertha thought that in any case the carriage must belong to that aristocratic old lady, and the idea greatly tranquillized her mind. She walked back again, half unconsciously keeping everywhere on the lookout for pretty women. There were still some who were passably good-looking; they all seemed to be absorbed in their devotions, and she felt ashamed that she alone was wandering about the church without any holy thoughts.

Then she noticed that the violin solo had already begun. He was now playing–he! he!… And at that moment she was hearing him play for the first time for more than ten years. And it seemed to her that it was the same sweet tone as of old, just as one recognized the voices of people whom one has not met for years. The soprano joined in. If she could only see the singer! It was a clear, fresh voice, though not very highly trained, and Bertha felt something like a personal connexion between the notes of the violin and the song. It was natural that Emil should know the girl who was now singing…. But was there not something more in the fact of their performing together in the Mass than appeared on the surface? The singing ceased, the notes of the violin continued to resound, and now they spoke to her alone, as though they wished to reassure her. The orchestra joined in, the violin solo hovered over the other instruments, and seemed only to have that one desire to come to an understanding with her. “I know that you are there,” it seemed to say, “and I am playing only for you….”

The organ chimed in, but still the violin solo remained dominant over the rest. Bertha was so moved that tears rose to her eyes. At length the solo came to an end, as though engulfed in the swelling flood of sound from the other instruments, and it arose no more. Bertha scarcely listened, but she found a wonderful solace in the music sounding around her. Many a time she fancied that she could hear Emil’s violin playing with the orchestra, and then it seemed quite strange, almost incredible, that she was standing there by a column, down in the body of the church and he was sitting at a desk up in the choir above, and the previous night they had been clasped in each other’s arms, and all the hundreds of people there in the church knew nothing at all about it….

She must see him at once–she must! She wanted to wait for him at the bottom of the staircase…. She did not want to speak a word to him–no, but she wished to see him and also the others who came out–including the singer of whom she had been jealous. But she had got completely over that now; she knew that Emil could not deceive her….

The music had ceased; Bertha felt herself thrust forward towards the exit; she wanted to find the staircase, but it was at a considerable distance from her. Indeed, it was just as well that it was so … no, she would not have dared to do it, to put herself forward, to wait for him–what would he have thought of her? He certainly would not have liked it! No, she would disappear with the crowd, and would tell him in the evening that she had heard him play. She was now positively afraid of being observed by him. She stood at the entrance, walked down the steps, and went past the carriage, just as the old lady and her maid were getting into it. Bertha could not help smiling when she called to mind in what a state of apprehension the sight of that carriage had thrown her, and it seemed to her that her suspicion in regard to the carriage having been removed, all the others must necessarily flicker out! She felt as though she had passed through an extraordinary adventure and was standing now on the brink of an absolutely new existence. For the first time it seemed to her to have a meaning; everything else had been but a fiction of the imagination and became as nothing in comparison with the happiness which was streaming through her pulses, while she slowly sauntered from the church through the streets of the suburbs towards her hotel. It was not until she had nearly reached her destination that she noticed that she had gone the whole way as though lost in a dream and could scarcely remember which way she had taken and whether she had met any people or not.

As she was taking the key of her room the porter handed her a note and a bouquet of violets and lilac blossoms…. Oh, why had not she had a similar idea and sent Emil some flowers? But what could he have to write to her about? With a slight thrill of fear at her heart, she opened the letter and read:

“DEAREST,

“I must thank you once again for that delightful evening. To-day, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to see you. Don’t be angry with me, my dear Bertha, and don’t forget to let me know in good time on the next occasion when you come to Vienna.”

Ever your own,

“EMIL.”

She went, she ran up the stairs, into her own room…. Why was he unable to see her that day? Why did he not at least tell her the reason? But then, after all, what did she know of his various obligations of an artistic and social nature?… It would certainly have been going too much into detail, and it would have appeared like an evasion if he had, at full length, given his reasons for putting her off. But in spite of that…. And then, why did he say: the next occasion when you came to Vienna?… Had she not told him that she would be remaining there a few days longer? He had forgotten that–he must have forgotten it! And immediately she sat down and wrote:

“MY DEAREST EMIL,

“I am very sorry indeed that you have had to put me off to-day, but luckily I am not leaving Vienna yet. Do please write to me at once, dearest, and tell me whether you can spare a little time for me to-morrow or the next day.

“A thousand kisses from your

“BERTHA.”

“P.S.–It is most uncertain when I shall be coming to Vienna again, and I should be very sorry in any case to go away without seeing you once more.”

She read the letter over. Then she added a further postscript:

“I must see you again!”

She hurried out into the street, handed the letter to a commissionaire, and impressed upon him strongly that he was on no account to come back without an answer. Then she went up to her room again and posted herself at the window. She wanted to keep herself from thinking, she wished only to look down into the street. She forced herself to fix her attention on the passers-by, and she recalled to mind a game, which she used to play as a child, and in which she and her brothers looked out of the window and amused themselves by commenting on how this or that passer-by resembled some one or other of their acquaintances. In the present circumstances, it was a matter of some difficulty for her to discover any such resemblances, for her room was situated on the third story; but, on the other hand, owing to the distance, it was easier for her to discover the arbitrary resemblances which she was looking for. First of all, came a woman who looked like her cousin Agatha; then some one who reminded her of her music teacher at the Conservatoire; he was arm in arm with a woman who looked like her sister-in-law’s cook. Yonder was a young man who bore a resemblance to her brother, the actor. Directly behind him, and in the uniform of a captain, a person who was the image of her dead father came along the road; he stood still awhile before the hotel, glanced up, exactly as if he were seeking her, and then disappeared through the doorway. For a moment Bertha was as greatly alarmed as if it really had been her father, who had come as a ghost from the grave. Then she forced herself to laugh–loudly–and sought to continue the game, but she was not able to play it any longer with success.

Her sole purpose now was to see whether the commissionaire was coming. At length she decided to have dinner, just to while away the time. After she had ordered it, she again went to the window. But now she no longer looked in the direction from which the commissionaire had to come, but her glances followed the crowded omnibuses and trams on their way to the suburbs. Then the captain, whom she had seen a short time before, struck her attention again, as he was just jumping on to a tram, a cigarette in his mouth. He no longer bore the slightest resemblance to her dead father.

She heard a clatter behind her; the waiter had come into the room. Bertha ate but little, and drank her wine very quickly. She grew sleepy, and leaned back in the corner of the divan. Her thoughts gradually grew indistinct; there was a ringing in her ears like the echoes of the organ which she had heard in the church. She shut her eyes and, all at once, as though evoked by magic, she saw the room in which she had been with Emil the previous evening, and behind the red curtains she perceived the gleaming whiteness of the coverlet. It appeared that she herself was sitting again before the piano, but another man was holding her in a close embrace–it was her nephew Richard. With an effort she tore her eyes open, she seemed to herself depraved beyond all measure, and she felt panic-stricken as though some atonement would have to be exacted from her, for these visionary fancies.

Once more she went to the window. She felt as if an eternity had passed since she had sent the commissionaire on his errand. She read through Emil’s letter once again. Her glance lingered on the last words: “Ever your own”; and she repeated them to herself aloud and in a tender tone, and called to mind similar words which he had spoken the previous evening. She concocted a letter which was surely on the point of arriving and would certainly be couched in these terms: “My dearest Bertha! Heaven be thanked that you are going to remain in Vienna until to-morrow! I shall expect you for certain at my house at three o’clock,” or: “to-morrow we will spend the whole day together,” or even; “I have put off the appointment I had, so we can still see each other to-day. Come to me at once; longingly I am waiting for you!”

Well, whatever his answer might be, she would see him again before leaving Vienna, although not that day perhaps. Indeed, anything else was quite unthinkable. Why, then, was she a prey to this dreadful agitation, as though all were over between them? But why was his answer so long in coming?… He had, in any case, gone out to dinner–of course, he had no one to keep house for him! So the earliest that he could be home again was three o’clock…. But if he were not to return home till the evening?… She had, indeed, told the commissionaire to wait in any case–even till the night, if necessary…. But what was she to do? Of course, she could not stand there looking out of the window all the time! The hours, indeed, seemed endless! She was ready to weep with impatience, with despair!

She paced up and down the room; then she again stood at the window for a while, then she sat down and took up for a short time the novel which she had brought with her in her travelling bag; she attempted, too, to go to sleep–but did not succeed in doing so. At length four o’clock struck–nearly three hours had passed since she had begun her vigil.

There was a knock at the door. The commissionaire came into the room and handed her a letter. She tore open the envelope and with an involuntary movement, so as to conceal the expression on her features from the stranger, she turned towards the window.

She read the letter.

“MY DEAREST BERTHA,

“It is very good of you still to give me a choice between the next few days but, as indeed I have already hinted to you in my former letter, it is, unfortunately, absolutely impossible for me to do just as I like during that time. Believe me, I regret that it is so, at least as much as you do.

“Once more a thousand thanks and a thousand greetings and I trust that we will be able to arrange a delightful time when next we meet.

“Don’t forget me completely,

“Your

“EMIL.”

When she had finished reading the letter she was quite calm; she paid the commissionaire the fee he demanded and found that, for a person in her circumstances, it was by no means insignificant. Then she sat down at the table and tried to collect her thoughts. She realized immediately that she could no longer remain in Vienna, and her only regret was that there was no train which could take her home at once. On the table stood the half empty bottle of wine, bread crumbs were scattered beside the plate, on the bed lay her spring jacket, beside it were the flowers which he had sent her that very morning.

What could it all mean? Was it at an end?

Indistinctly, but so that it seemed that it must bear some relation to her recent experiences, there occurred to her a sentence which she had once read. It was about men who desire nothing more than “to attain their object…” But she had always considered that to be a phrase of the novelists. But, after all, it was surely not a letter of farewell that she was holding in her hand, was it?… Was it really not a letter of farewell? Might not these kind words be also lies?… Also lies–that was it!… For the first time the positive word forced itself into her thoughts…. Lies!… Then it was certain that, when he brought her home the previous night, he had already made up his mind not to see her again. And the appointment for the present day and his desire to see her again that day were lies….

She went over the events of the previous evening in her mind, and she asked herself what could she have said or done to put him out of humour or disappoint him…. Really, it had all been so beautiful, and Emil had seemed so happy, just as happy as she had been … was all that going to prove to have been a lie too?… How could she tell?… Perhaps, after all, she had put him out of humour without being aware that she was doing so…. She had, indeed, been nothing more or less than a good woman all her life…. Who could say whether she had not been guilty of something clumsy or stupid?… whether she had not been ludicrous and repellent in some moment when she had believed herself to be sacrificing, tender, enchanted and enchanting?… But what did she know of all these things?… And, all at once, she felt something almost in the nature of repentance that she had set out upon her adventure so utterly unprepared, that, until the previous day, she had been so chaste and good, that she had not had other lovers before Emil…. Then she remembered, too, that he had evaded her shy questions and requests on the subject of his violin playing, as if he had not wanted to admit her into that sphere of his life. He had thus remained strange to her, intentionally strange, so far as concerned the very things which were of the deepest and most vital importance to him. All at once she realized that she had no more in common with him than the pleasures of a night, and that the present morning had found them both as far apart from one another as they had been during all the years in which they had each led a separate existence.

And then jealousy again flared up within her…. But she felt as though she was always thus, as though every conceivable emotion had always been present within her … love and distrust, and hope and penitence, and yearning and jealousy … and, for the first time in her life, she was so stirred, even to the very depths of her soul, that she understood those who in their despair have hurled themselves out of a window to meet their death…. And she perceived that the present state of affairs was impossible, that only certainty could be of any avail to her…. She must go to him and ask him … but she must ask in the manner of one who is holding a knife to another’s breast….

She hurried away through the streets, which were almost deserted, as though all Vienna had gone off into the country…. But would she find him at home?… Would he not, perhaps, have had a presentiment that the idea might come to her to seek him, to take him to task, and would he not have taken steps to evade the chance of such an occurrence?… She was ashamed of having had to think of that, too…. And if he was at home would she find him alone?… And if he was not alone, would she be admitted into his house?

And if she found him in the arms of some other woman, what should she say?… Had he promised her anything? Had he sworn to be true to her? Had she even so much as demanded loyalty of him? How could she have imagined that he was waiting for her here in Vienna until she congratulated him on his Spanish Order?… Yes, could he not say to her: “You have thrown yourself on my neck and have desired nothing more than that I should take you as you are….” And if she asked herself–was he not right?… Had she not come to Vienna to be his beloved?–and for no other reason … without any regard to the past, without any guarantee as to the future?… Yes, that was all she had come for! All other hopes and wishes had only transiently hovered around her passion, and she did not deserve anything better than that which had happened to her…. And if she was candid to herself, she must also admit that of all that she had experienced this had still been the best….

She stopped at a street corner. All was quiet around her; the summer air about her was heavy and sultry. She retraced her steps back to her hotel. She was very tired, and a new thought rose up convulsively within her: was it not possible that he had written to put her off only because he also was tired?… She seemed to herself very experienced when that idea occurred to her…. And yet another thought flashed through her mind: that he could also love no other woman in the way in which he had loved her…. And suddenly she asked whether, after all, the previous night would remain her only experience–whether she herself would belong to no other man save him? And she rejoiced in the doubt, as if, by cherishing it, she was taking a kind of revenge on his compassionate glance and mocking lips.

And now she was back again in the cheerless room away up in the third storey of the hotel. The remains of her dinner had not yet been cleared away. Her jacket and the flowers were still lying on the bed. She took the flowers in her hand and raised them to her lips, as though about to kiss them. Suddenly, however, as though her whole anger burst forth again, she flung them violently to the ground. Then she threw herself on the bed, her face buried in her hands.

After lying for some time in this position she felt her calmness gradually returning. It was perhaps just as well that she could return home that very day. She thought of her boy, how he was accustomed to lie in his little cot with his whole face beaming with laughter, if his mother leaned over the railings. She yearned for him. Also she yearned in some slight degree for Elly and for Frau Rupius. Yes, it was true–Frau Rupius, of course, was going to leave her husband…. What could there be at the bottom of it all?… A love affair?… But, strangely enough, she was now still less able than before to picture to herself the answer to that question.

It was growing late, it was time for her to get ready for her departure…. So, then, she would be home again by Sunday evening.

She sat in the carriage; on her lap lay the flowers, which she had picked up from the floor…. Yes, she was now travelling home, leaving the town where she … had experienced something–that was the right expression, wasn’t it?… Words which she had read or heard in connexion with similar circumstances kept recurring continually to her mind … such words as: “bliss” … “transports of love” … “ecstasy” … and a gentle thrill of pride stirred within her at having experienced what those words denoted. And yet another thought came to her which caused her to grow singularly calm: if he also–maybe–had an affair with another woman at that very time … she had taken him from _her_ … not for long indeed, but yet as completely as it was possible to take a man from a woman. She grew calmer and calmer, almost cheerful.

It was, indeed, clear to her that she, Bertha, the inexperienced woman, could not, with one assault, completely obtain possession of her beloved…. But might she not be successful on a second occasion, she wondered? She was very glad that she had not carried out her determination to hasten to him at once. Indeed, she even formed the intention of writing him such a cold letter that he would fall into a mild fit of anger; she would be coquettish, subtle…. But she must have him again … of that she was certain … soon, and, if possible, forever!… And so her dreams went on and on as the train carried her homewards…. Ever bolder they grew as the humming of the wheels grew deeper and deeper, lulling her into a semi-slumberous state.

On her arrival she found the little town buried in a deep sleep–she reached home and told the maidservant to fetch Fritz from her sister-in-law’s the first thing in the morning. Then she slowly undressed herself. Her glance fell on the portrait of her dead husband, which hung over the bed. She asked herself whether it should remain in that position. Then the thought occurred to her that there are some women who come from their lovers and then are able to sleep by the side of their husbands, and she shuddered…. She could never have done such a thing while her husband had been alive!… And, if she _had_ done it, she would never have returned home again….

IX

The next morning Bertha was wakened by Fritz. He had jumped on to her bed and had breathed softly on her eyelids. Bertha sat up, embraced and kissed him, and he immediately began to tell her how well he had fared with his uncle and aunt, how Elly had played with him, and how Richard had once had a fight with him without being able to beat him. On the previous day, too, he had learned to play the piano, and would soon be as clever at it as mamma.

Bertha was content just to listen to him.

“If only Emil could hear his sweet prattle now!” she thought.

She considered whether, on the next occasion, she should not take Fritz with her to Vienna to see Emil, by doing which she would at once remove anything of a suspicious nature in such a visit.

She thought only of the pleasant side of her experiences in Vienna, and of the letters which Emil had written to put her off scarcely anything remained in her memory, other than those words which had reference to a future meeting.

She got up in an almost cheerful frame of mind and, whilst she was dressing herself, she felt a quite new tenderness for her own body, which still seemed to her to be fragrant with the kisses of her beloved.

While the morning was yet young, she went to call on her relations. As she walked by the house of Herr Rupius she deliberated for a moment whether she should not go up and see him there and then. But she had a vague fear of being immediately involved again in the agitated atmosphere of the household, and she deferred the visit until the afternoon.

At her brother-in-law’s house Elly was the first to meet her, and she welcomed her as boisterously as if Bertha had returned from a long journey. Her brother-in-law, who was on the point of going out, jestingly shook a threatening finger at Bertha and said:

“Well, have you had a good time?”

Bertha felt herself blushing crimson.

“Yes,” he continued; “these are pretty stories that we hear about you!”

He did not, however, notice her embarrassment and, as he went out of the door, greeted her with a glance which plainly meant: “You can’t keep your secrets from me.”

“Father is always making jokes like that,” said Elly. “I don’t like him doing that at all!”

Bertha knew that her brother-in-law had only been talking at random, as his usual manner was, and that, if she had told him the truth, he would not have believed her for a moment.

Her sister-in-law came into the room, and Bertha had to relate all about her stay in Vienna.

To her own surprise she succeeded very well in cleverly blending truth with fiction. She told how she had been with her cousin to the public gardens and the picture gallery; on Sunday she had heard Mass at St. Stephen’s Church; she had met in the street a teacher from the Conservatoire; and finally she even invented a funny married couple, whom she represented as having had supper one evening at her cousin’s. The further she proceeded with her lies, the greater was her desire to tell all about Emil as well, and to inform them how she had met in the street the celebrated violinist Lindbach, who had formerly been with her at the Conservatoire, and how she had had a conversation with him. But a vague fear of not being able to stop at the right time caused her to refrain from making any reference to him.

Frau Albertine Garlan sat on the sofa in an attitude of profound lassitude, and nodded her head. Elly stood, as usual, by the piano, her head resting on her hands, and she gazed open-eyed at her aunt.

From her sister-in-law’s Bertha went on to the Mahlmanns’ and gave the twins their music lesson. The finger exercises and scales which she had to hear were at first intolerable to her, but finally she ceased to listen to them at all, and let her thoughts wander at will. The cheerful mood of the morning had vanished, Vienna seemed to her to be infinitely distant, a strange feeling of disquietude came over her and suddenly the fear seized her that Emil might go away immediately after his concert. That would indeed be terrible! He might go away all of a sudden without her having seen him once more–and who could say when he would return?

She wondered whether it would not be well to arrange to be in Vienna in any case on the day of the concert. She had to admit to herself that she had not: the slightest longing to hear him play. Indeed, it seemed to her that she would not in the least mind if he was not a violin virtuoso at all, if he was not even an artist, but just an ordinary kind of man–a bookseller, or something like that! If she could only have him for herself, for herself alone!…

Meanwhile the twins played through their scales. It was surely a terrible doom to have to sit there and give these untalented brats music lessons. How was it that she had been in good spirits only just a little earlier that day?…

Ah, those beautiful days in Vienna! Quite irrespective of Emil–the entire freedom, the sauntering about the streets, the walks in the public gardens…. To be sure, she had spent more money during her stay than she could afford; two dozen lessons to the Mahlmann twins would not recoup her the outlay…. And now, here she had to come back again to her relations, to give music lessons, and really it might even be necessary to look about for fresh pupils, for her accounts would not balance at all that year!… Ah, what a life!…

In the street Bertha met Frau Martin, who asked her how she had enjoyed herself in Vienna. At the same time she threw Bertha a glance which clearly said:

“I’m quite sure you don’t enjoy life so much as I do with my husband!”

Bertha had an overwhelming desire to shriek in that person’s face:

“I have had a much better time than you think! I have been with an enchanting young man who is a thousand times more charming than your husband! And I understand how to enjoy life quite as well as you do! You have only a husband, but I have a lover!–a lover!–a lover!”…

Yet, of course, she said nothing of the kind, but related how she had gone with her cousin and the children for a walk in the public gardens.

Bertha also met with some other ladies with whom she was superficially acquainted. She felt that her mental attitude towards those ladies had undergone a complete change since her visit to Vienna–that she was freer, superior. It seemed to her that she was the only woman in the town with any experience, and she was almost sorry that nobody knew anything about it, for although, publicly, they would have despised her, in their hearts all those women would have been filled with unutterable envy of her.

And if, after all, they _had_ known who…. Although in that hole of a town there were certainly many who had not so much as heard Emil’s name! If only there was some one in the world to whom she could open her heart! Frau Rupius–yes, there was Frau Rupius!… But, of course, she was in the habit of going away, of taking trips!… And, to tell the truth, thought Bertha, that was also a matter of indifference to her. She would only like to know how things would eventually turn out so far as she and Emil were concerned, she would like to know how matters actually stood. It was the uncertainty that was causing her that terrible uneasiness…. Had she only had a love affair with him, after all?… Ah, but why had she not gone to him once again?… But, of course, that was quite impossible!… That letter…. He didn’t want to see her, that was it!… But then, on the other hand, he had sent her flowers….

And now she was back again with her relations. Richard was going to meet her and embrace her in his playful manner. She pushed him away.

“Impudent boy!” she thought to herself. “I know very well what he means by doing that, although he himself does not know. I understand these things–I have a lover in Vienna!…”

The music lesson took its course and, at the end of it, Elly and Richard played as a duet Beethoven’s [Footnote: Query–Brahms (translator’s note).] “Festival Overture” which was intended by them to be a birthday surprise for their father.

Bertha thought only of Emil. She was nearly being driven out of her mind by this wretched strumming … no, it was not possible to live on like that, whichever way she looked at it!… She was still a young woman, too…. Yes, that was the secret of it all, the real secret…. She would not be able to live on like that any more…. And yet it would not do for her … any other man…. How could she ever think of such a thing!… What a very wicked person she must be, after all! Who could tell whether it had not been that trait in her character which Emil, with his great experience of life, had perceived in her, and which had been the cause of his being unwilling to see her any more?… Ah, those women surely had the best of it who took everything easily, and, when abandoned by one man, immediately turned to another…. But stay, whatever could it be that was putting such thoughts as these into her head? Had Emil, then, abandoned her?… In three or four days she would be in Vienna again; with him; in his arms!… And had she been able to live for three years as she had done?… Three?–Six years–her whole life!… If he only knew that, if he only believed that!

Her sister-in-law came into the room and invited Bertha to have supper with them that evening…. Yes, that was her only distraction: to go out to dinner or supper occasionally at some other house than her own!

If only there was a man in the town to whom she could talk!… And Frau Rupius was going off on her travels and leaving her husband…. Hadn’t a love affair, maybe, something to do with that, Bertha wondered.

The music lesson came to an end and Bertha took her leave. In the presence of her sister-in-law, too, she noticed that she had that feeling of superiority, almost of compassion, which had come over her when she had seen the other ladies. Yes, she was certain that she would not give up that one hour with Emil for a whole life such as her sister-in-law led. Moreover, as she thought to herself as she was walking homewards, she had not been able to arrive at a complete perception of her happiness, which, indeed, had all slipped by so quickly. And then that room, that whole house, that frightful picture…. No, no, it was all really hideous rather than anything else. After all, the only really beautiful moments had been those which had followed, when Emil had accompanied her to her hotel in the carriage, and her head had rested on his breast….

Ah, he loved her indeed; of course, not so deeply as she loved him; but how could that be possible? What a number of experiences he had had in his life! She thought of that now without any feeling of jealousy; rather, she felt a slight pity for him in having to carry so much in his memory. It was quite evident from his appearance that he was not a man who took life easily…. He was not of a cheerful disposition…. All the hours which she had spent with him seemed in her recollection as if encompassed by an incomprehensible melancholy. If she only knew all about him! He had told her so little about himself … nothing, indeed, absolutely nothing!… But how would that have been possible on the very first day that they had met again? Ah! if only he really knew her! If she were only not so shy, so incapable of expressing herself!

She would have to write to him again before seeing him…. Yes, she would write to him that very day. What a stupid concoction it was, that letter which she had sent him on the previous day! In truth, he could not have sent her any other answer than that which she had received. She would not write to him either defiantly or humbly…. No, after all, she was his beloved! She who, as she walked along the streets here in the little town, was regarded by every one who met her as one of themselves … she was the beloved of that magnificent man whom she had worshipped since her girlhood. How unreservedly and unaffectedly she had given herself to him–not one of all the women she knew would have done that!… Ah, and she would do still more! Oh, yes! She would even live with him without being married to him, and she would be supremely indifferent to what people might say … she would even be proud of her action! And later on he would marry her, after all … of course he would. She was such a capable housekeeper, too…. And how much good it would be sure to do him, after the unsettled existence which he had been leading during the years of his wanderings, to live in a well-ordered house, with a good wife by his side, who had never loved any man but him.

And now she was home again. Before dinner was served she had made all her preparations for writing the letter. She ate her dinner with feverish impatience; she scarcely allowed herself time to cut up Fritz’s dinner and give it to him. Then, instead of undressing him herself and putting him to bed for his afternoon sleep, as she was always accustomed to do, she told the maid to attend to him.

She sat down at the desk and the words flowed without effort from her pen, as though she had long ago composed in her head the whole letter.

“My EMIL, MY BELOVED, MY ALL!

“Since I have returned home again I have been possessed by an overwhelming desire to write to you, and I should like to say to you over and over again how happy, how infinitely happy, you have made me. I was angry with you at first when you wrote and said you could not see me on Sunday. I must confess that to you as well, for I feel that I am under the necessity of telling you everything that passes in my mind. Unfortunately, I could not do so while we were together; I had not the power of expressing myself, but now I can find the words and you must, I fear, put up with my boring you with this scribble. My dearest, my only one–yes, that you are, although it seems to me that you were not quite so certain of it as you ought to have been. I beseech you to believe that it is true. You see, I have no means, of course, wherewith to tell you this, other than these words, Emil, I have never, never loved any man, but you–and I will never love any other. Do with me as you will. I have no ties in the little town where I am living now–on the contrary, indeed, I often find it a terrible thing to be obliged to live my life here. I will move to Vienna, so as to be near you. Oh, do not fear that I will disturb you! I am not alone, you see, I have my boy, whom I _idolize_. I will cut down my expenses, and, in the long run, why shouldn’t I succeed in finding pupils even in a large town like Vienna just as I do here, perhaps, indeed, even more easily than here, and in that way improve my position? Yet that is a secondary consideration, for I may tell you that it has long been my intention to move to Vienna if only for the sake of my dearly loved boy, when he grows older.

“You cannot imagine how stupid the men are here! And I can no longer bear to look at any one of them at all, since I have again had the happiness of being in your company.

“Write to me, my dearest! Yet you need not trouble to send me a whole long letter. In any case I shall be coming to Vienna again this week. I would have had to do so in any event, because of some pressing commissions, and you will then be able to tell me everything–just what you think of my proposal, and what you consider best for me to do. But you must promise me this, that, when I live in Vienna, you will often visit me. Of course, no one need know anything about it, if you do not care that they should. But you may believe me–every day on which I may be allowed to see you will be a red-letter day for me and that, in all the world, there is nobody who loves you in such a true and life-long manner as I do.

“Farewell, my beloved!

“Your

“BERTHA.”

She did not venture to read over what she had written, but left the house at once so as to take the letter herself to the railway station. There she saw Frau Rupius, a few paces in front of her, accompanied by a maid who was carrying a small valise.

What could that mean?

She caught up Frau Rupius, just as the latter was going into the waiting room. The maid laid the valise on the large table in the centre of the room, kissed her mistress’s hand, and departed.

“Frau Rupius!” exclaimed Bertha, a note of inquiry in her voice.

“I heard that you had returned already. Well, how did you get on?” said Frau Rupius, extending her hand in a friendly way.

“Very well–very well indeed, but–“

“Why, you are gazing at me as though you were quite frightened! No, Frau Bertha, I am coming back again–no later than to-morrow. The long journey that I had in view came to nothing, so I have had to–settle on something else.”

“Something else?”

“Why, of course, staying at home. I shall be back again to-morrow. Well, how did you get on?”

“I told you just now–very well.”

“Yes, of course, you did tell me before. But I see you are going to post that letter, are you not?”

And then for the first time Bertha noticed that she was still holding the letter to Emil in her hand. She gazed at it with such enraptured eyes that Frau Rupius smiled.

“Perhaps you would like me to take it with me? It is to go to Vienna, I presume?”

“Yes,” answered Bertha, and then she added resolutely, as though she was glad to be able to say it out at last: “to him.”

Frau Ropius nodded her head, as if satisfied. But she neither looked at Bertha nor made any reply.

“I am so glad that I have met you again!” said Bertha. “You are the only woman here, you know, whom I trust; indeed, you are the only woman who could understand anything like this.”

“Ah, no,” said Frau Rupius to herself, as though she were dreaming.

“I do envy you so, because to-day in a few short hours you will see Vienna again. How fortunate you are!”

Frau Rupius had sat down in one of the leather armchairs by the table. She rested her chin on her hand, looked at Bertha, and said:

“It seems to me, on the other hand, that it is you who are fortunate.”

“No, I must, you see, remain here.”

“Why?” asked Frau Rupius. “You are free, you know. But go and put that letter into the box at once, or I shall see the address, and so learn more than you wish to tell me.”

“I will, though not because of that–but I should be glad if the letter went by this train and not later.”

Bertha hurried into the vestibule, posted the letter and at once returned to Anna, who was still sitting in the same quiet attitude.

“I might have told you everything, you know,” Bertha went on to say; “indeed I might say that I wished to tell you before I actually went to Vienna … but–just fancy, isn’t it strange? I did not venture to do so.”

“Moreover at that time, too, there probably had not been anything to tell,” said Frau Rupius, without looking at Bertha.

Bertha was amazed. How clever that woman was! She could see into everybody’s thoughts!

“No, at that time there had not been anything to tell,” she repeated, gazing at Frau Rupius with a kind of reverence. “Just think–you will probably find it hard to believe what I am going to tell you now, but I should feel a liar if I kept it secret.”

“Well?”

Bertha had sat down on a seat beside Frau Rupius, and she spoke in a lower tone, for the vestibule door was standing open.

“I wanted to tell you this, Anna: that I do not in the least feel that I have done anything wicked, not even anything immoral.”

“It wouldn’t be a very clever thing, either, if you had.”

“Yes, you are quite right…. What I really meant to say was rather that it seems to me as though I had done something quite good, as if I had done something outstanding. Yes, Frau Rupius, the fact of the matter is, I have been proud of myself ever since.”

“Well, there is probably no reason for that either,” said Frau Rupius, as if lost in thought, stroking Bertha’s hand, which lay upon the table.

“I am aware of that, of course, and yet I am so proud and seem quite different from all the women whom I know. You see if you knew … if you were acquainted with him–it is such a strange affair! You mustn’t think, let me tell you, that it is an acquaintanceship which I have made recently–quite the contrary; I have been in love with him, you must know, ever since I was quite a young girl, no less than twelve years ago. For a long time we had completely lost sight of one another, and now–isn’t it wonderful?–now he is my … my … my … lover!”

She had said it at last. Her whole face was radiant.

Frau Rupius threw her a glance in which could be detected a little scorn and a great deal of kindliness.

“I am glad that you are happy,” she said.

“How very kind you are indeed! But then, you see, on the other hand again, it is a dreadful thing that we are so far apart from one another; he, in Vienna; I, here–I don’t think I shall ever be able to endure that. Moreover, I have ceased to feel that I belong to this place, least of all to my relations. If they knew … no, if they knew! However, they would never be able to bring themselves to believe it. A woman like my sister-in-law, for instance–well, I am perfectly certain that she could never imagine such a thing to be in any way possible.”

“But you are really very ingenuous!” said Frau Rupius suddenly, almost with exasperation. Then she listened for a moment. “I thought I could hear the train whistling already.”

She rose to her feet, walked over to the large glass door leading on to the platform, and looked out. A porter came and asked for the tickets in order to punch them.

“The train for Vienna is twenty minutes late,” he remarked, at the same time.

Bertha had stood up and gone over to Frau Rupius.

“Why do you consider that I am ingenuous?” she asked shyly.

“But, indeed, you know absolutely nothing about men,” replied Frau Rupius, as if she were annoyed. “You haven’t, you know, the slightest idea among what kind of people you are living. I can assure you, you have no reason at all to be proud.”

“I know, of course, that it is very stupid of me.”

“Your sister-in-law–that is delightful!–your sister-in-law!”

“What do you mean, then?”

“I mean that she has had a lover too!”

“Whatever put such an idea as that into your head!”

“Well, she is not the only woman in this town.”

“Yes, there are certainly women who … but, Albertine–“

“And do you know who it was? That is very amusing! It was Herr Klingemann!”

“No, that is impossible!”

“Of course, it is now a long time ago, about ten or eleven years.”

“But at that time, by the way, you yourself had not come to live here, Frau Rupius!”

“Oh, I have heard it from the best source. It was Herr Klingemann himself who told me about it.”

“Herr Klingemann himself! But is it possible for a man to be so base as all that!”

“I don’t think there’s the least doubt about that,” answered Frau Rupius, sitting down on a seat near the door, whilst Bertha remained standing beside her, listening in amazement to her friend’s words. “Yes, Herr Klingemann himself…. As soon as I came to the town, you must know, he did me the honour of making violent love to me, neck or nothing, so to speak. You know yourself, of course, what a loathsome wretch he is. I laughed him to scorn, which probably exasperated him a great deal, and evidently he thought that he would be able conclusively to prove to me how irresistible he was by recounting all his conquests.”

“But perhaps he told you some things which were not true.”

“A great deal, probably; but this story, as it happens, is true…. Ah, what a rabble these men are!”

There was a note of the deepest hatred in Frau Rupius’ voice. Bertha was quite frightened. She had never thought it possible that Frau Rupius could have said such things.

“Yes, why shouldn’t you know what kind of men they are amongst whom you are living?” continued Frau Rupius.

“No, I would never have thought it possible! If my brother-in-law knew about it!–“

“If he knew about it? He knows about it as well as you or I do!”

“What do you say! No, no!”

“Indeed, he caught them together–you understand me! Herr Klingemann and Albertine! So that, however much inclined he might have been to make the best of things, there was no doubt possible!”

“But, for Heaven’s sake–what did he do, then?”

“Well, as you can see for yourself, he has not turned her out!”

“Well, yes, the children … of course!”

“The children–pooh-pooh! He forgave her for the sake of convenience–and chiefly because he could do as he liked after that. You can see for yourself how he treats her. When all is said and done, she is but little better than his servant; you know as well as I do in what a miserable, brow-beaten way she slinks about. He has brought it to this, that, ever since that moment, she has always had to look upon herself as a woman who has been treated with mercy. And I believe she has even a perpetual fear that he is reserving the punishment for some future day. But it is stupid of her to be afraid of that, for he wouldn’t look out for another housekeeper for anything…. Ah, my dear Frau Bertha, we are not by any means angels, as you know now from your own experiences, but men are infamous so long”–she seemed to hesitate to complete the phrase–“so long as they are men.”

Bertha was as though crushed; not so much on account of the things which Frau Rupius had told her as on account of the manner in which she had done so. She seemed to have become a quite different woman, and Bertha was pained at heart.

The door leading to the platform was opened and the low, incessant tinkling of the telegraph was heard. Frau Rupius stood up slowly, her features assumed a mild expression, and, stretching out her hand to Bertha, she said:

“Forgive me, I was only a little bit vexed. Things can be also very nice; of course, there are certainly decent men in the world as well as others. Oh, yes, things can be very nice, no doubt.”

She looked out on to the railway lines and seemed to be following the iron track into the distance. Then she went on to say with that same soft, harmonious voice which appealed so strongly to Bertha:

“I shalt be home again to-morrow evening…. Oh, yes, of course, my travelling case!”

She hurried to the table and took her valise.

“It would have been a terrible catastrophe if I had forgotten that! I cannot travel without my ten bottles! Well, good-bye! And don’t forget, though, that all I have been telling you happened ten years ago.”

The train came into the station. Frau Rupius hurried to a compartment, got in, and, looking out of the window, nodded affably to Bertha. The latter endeavoured to respond as cheerfully, but she felt that her wave of the hand to the departing Frau Rupius was stiff and forced.

Slowly she walked homewards again. In vain she sought to persuade herself that all that she had heard was not the least concern of hers; the long past affair of her sister-in-law, the mean conduct of her brother-in-law, the baseness of Klingemann, the strange whims of that incomprehensible Frau Rupius; all had nothing to do with her. She could not explain it to herself, but somehow, it seemed to her as though all these things were mysteriously related to her own adventure.

Suddenly the gnawing doubts appeared again…. Why hadn’t Emil wanted to see her again? Not on the following day, or on the second or on the third day? How was it? He had attained his object, that was sufficient for him…. However had she been able to write him that mad, shameless letter?

And a thrill of fear arose within her…. If he were to show her letter to another woman, maybe … make merry over it with her…. No, how on earth could such an idea come into her head? It was ridiculous even to think of such a thing!… It was possible, of course, that he would not answer the letter and would throw it into the wastepaper basket–but nothing worse than that…. No…. However, she must just have patience, and in two or three days all would be decided. She could not say anything with certainty, but she felt that this unendurable confusion within her mind could not last much longer. The question would have to be settled, somehow.

Late in the afternoon she again went for a walk amongst the vine-trellises with Fritz, but she did not go into the cemetery. Then she walked slowly down the hill and sauntered along under the chestnut trees. She chatted with Fritz, asked him about all sorts of things, listened to his stories and, as her frequent custom was, instilled some knowledge into his head on several subjects. She tried to explain to him how far the sun is distant from the earth, how the rain comes from the clouds, and how the bunches of grapes grow, from which wine is made. She was not annoyed, as often happened, if the boy did not pay proper attention to her, because she realized well enough that she was only talking for the sake of distracting her own thoughts.

Then she walked down the hill, under the chestnut trees, and so back to the town. Presently she saw Herr Klingemann approaching, but the fact made not the slightest impression upon her. He spoke to her with forced politeness; all the time he held his straw hat in his hand and affected a great and almost gloomy gravity. He seemed very changed, and she observed, too, that his clothes in reality were not at all elegant, but positively shabby. Suddenly she could not help picturing him tenderly embracing her sister-in-law, and she felt extremely disgusted.

Later on she sat down on a bench and watched Fritz playing with some other children, all the time making an effort to keep her attention fixed on him so that she would not have to think of anything else.

In the evening she went to her relatives. She had a sensation as though she had had a presentiment of everything long before, for otherwise how could she have failed to have been struck before this by the kind of relations which existed between her brother-in-law and his wife? The former again made jocular remarks about Bertha’s visit to Vienna. He asked when she was going there again, and whether they would not soon be hearing of her engagement. Bertha entered into the joke, and told how at least a dozen men had proposed to her, amongst others, a Government official; but she felt that her lips alone were speaking and smiling, while her soul remained serious and silent.

Richard sat beside her, and his knee touched hers, by chance. And as he was pouring out a glass of wine for her and she seized his hand to stop him, she felt a comforting glow steal up her arm as far as her shoulder. It made her feel happy. It seemed to her that she was being unfaithful to Emil. And that was quite as she wished; she wanted Emil to know that her senses were on the alert, that she was just the same as other women, and that she could accept the embraces of her nephew in just the same way as she did his…. Ah, yes, if he only knew it! That was what she ought to have written in her letter, not that humble, longing letter!…

But even while these thoughts were surging through her mind, she remained serious in the depths of her soul, and a feeling of solitude actually came over her, for she knew that no one could imagine what was taking place within her.

Afterwards, when she was walking homewards through the deserted streets, she met an officer whom she knew by sight. With him he had a pretty woman whom she had never seen before.

“Evidently a woman from Vienna!” she thought, for she knew that the officers often had such visitors.

She had a feeling of envy towards the woman; she wished that she was also being accompanied by a handsome young officer at that moment…. And why not?… After all, everybody was like that…. And now she herself had ceased to be a respectable woman. Emil, of course, did not believe that, any more than anybody else, and, anyhow, it was all just the same!

She reached home, undressed and went to bed. But the air was too sultry. She got up again, went to the window and opened it. Outside, all was dark. Perhaps somebody could see her standing there at the window, could see her skin gleaming through the darkness…. Indeed, she would not mind at all if anybody did see her like that!… Then she lay down on the bed again…. Ah, yes, she was no better than any of the others! And there was no good reason either why she should be….

Her thoughts grew indistinct…. Yes, he was the cause of it all, he had brought her to this, he had just taken her like a woman of the street–and then cast her off!… Ah, it was shameful, shameful!—how base men were! And yet … it was delightful….

She fell asleep.

X

A warm rain was gently falling the next morning. Thus Bertha was able to endure her immense impatience more easily than if the sun had been blazing down. She felt as though during her sleep much had been smoothed out within her. In the soft grey of the morning everything seemed so simple and so utterly commonplace. On the morrow she would receive the letter she was expecting, and the present day was just like a hundred others.

She gave her pupils their music lessons. She was very strict with her nephew that day and rapped him on the knuckles when he played unbearably badly. He was a lazy pupil–that was all.

In the afternoon she was struck by an idea, which seemed to herself to be extremely praiseworthy. She had for a long time past intended to teach Fritz how to read, and she would make a start that very day. For a whole hour she slaved away, instilling a few letters into his head.

The rain still kept falling; it was a pity that she could not go for a walk. The afternoon would be long, very long. Surely she ought to go and see Herr Rupius without further delay. It was too bad of her that she had not called on him since her return from Vienna. It was quite possible that he would feel somewhat ashamed of himself in her presence, because just lately he had been using such big words, and now Anna was still with him, after all….

Bertha left the house. In spite of the rain, she walked, first of all, out into the open country. It was long since she had been so tranquil as she was that day; she rejoiced in the day without agitation, without fear, and without expectation. Oh, if it could be always like that! She was astonished at the indifference with which she could think of Emil. She would be more than content if she should not hear another word from him, and could continue in her present state of tranquillity forever…. Yes, it was good and pleasant to be like that–to live in the little town, to give the few music lessons, which, after all, required no great effort, to educate her boy, to teach him to read, to write, and to count! Were her experiences of the last few days, she asked herself, worth so much anxiety–nay, so much humiliation? No, she was not intended for such things. It seemed as though the din of the great city, which had not disturbed her on her last visit, was now for the first time ringing in her ears, and she rejoiced in the beautiful calm which encompassed her in her present surroundings.

Thus the state of profound lassitude into which her soul had fallen after the unaccustomed agitations of the last few days appeared to Bertha as a state of tranquillity that would be final…. And yet, only a short time later, when she was wending her way back to the town, the internal quietude gradually disappeared, and vague forebodings of fresh agitations and sorrows awoke within her.

The sight of a young couple who passed her, pressed close to one another under an open umbrella, aroused in her a yearning for Emil. She did not resist it, for she already realized that everything within her was in such a state of upheaval that every breath brought some fresh and generally unexpected thing on to the surface of her soul.

It was growing dusk when Bertha entered Herr Rupius’ room. He was sitting at the table, with a portfolio of pictures before him. The hanging lamp was lighted.

He looked up and returned her greeting.

“Let me see; you, of course, came back from Vienna on the evening of the day before yesterday,” he said.

It sounded like a reproach, and Bertha had a sensation of guilt.

“Well, sit down,” he continued; “and tell me what happened to you in Vienna.”

“Nothing at all,” answered Bertha. “I went to the Museum, and I have seen the originals of several of your pictures.”

Herr Rupius made no reply.

“Your wife is coming back this very evening?”

“I believe not”–he was silent for a time, and then said, with intentional dryness: “I must ask your pardon for having told you recently things which I am sure could not possibly have been of any interest to you. For the rest, I do not think that my wife will return to-day.”

“But…. She told me so herself, you know.”

“Yes, she told me also. She simply wanted to spare me the farewell, or rather the comedy of farewell. By that I don’t mean anything at all untruthful, but just the things which usually accompany farewells: touching words, tears…. However, enough of that. Will you be good enough to come and see me at times? I shall be rather lonely, you know, when my wife is no longer with me.”

All this he said in a tone the sharpness of which was so little in keeping with the meaning of his words that Bertha sought in vain for a reply.

Rupius, however, continued at once:

“Well, and what else did you see besides the Museum?”

With great animation, Bertha began to tell all sorts of things about her visit to Vienna. She also mentioned that she had met an old friend of her schooldays, whom she had not seen for a long time. Strangely, too, the meeting had taken place exactly in front of the Falckenborg picture.

While she was speaking of Emil in this way without mentioning his name, her yearning for him increased until it seemed boundless, and she thought of writing to him again that day.

Then she noticed that Herr Rupius was keeping his gaze fixed intently on the door. His wife had come into the room. She went up to him, smiling.

“Here I am, back again!” she said, kissing him on the forehead; and then she held out her hand to Bertha.

“Good evening, Frau Rupius,” said Bertha, highly delighted.

Herr Rupius spoke not a word, but signs of violent agitation could be seen on his face. His wife, who had not yet taken off her hat, turned away for a moment, and then Bertha noticed how Herr Rupius had rested his face on both his hands, and had begun to sob inwardly.

Bertha left them. She was glad that Frau Rupius had returned; it seemed to be something in the nature of a good omen. By an early hour on the morrow she might receive the letter which would, perhaps, decide her fate. Her sense of restfulness had again completely vanished, but her being was filled with a different yearning from that which she had experienced before. She wished only to have Emil there, near her; she would have liked only to see him, to walk by his side.

In the evening, after she had put her little boy to bed, she stopped on for a long time alone in the dining-room; she went to the piano and played a few chords, then she walked over to the window and gazed out into the darkness. The rain had ceased, the earth was imbibing the moisture, the clouds were still hanging heavily over the landscape.

Bertha’s whole being became imbued with yearning; everything within her called to him; her eyes sought to see him before her in the darkness; her lips breathed a kiss into the air, as though it could reach his lips; and, unconsciously, as if her wishes had to soar aloft, away from all else that surrounded her, she looked up to Heaven and whispered:

“Give him back to me!…”

Never had she been as at that moment. She had an impression that for the first time she now really loved him. Her love was free from all the elements which had previously disturbed it; there was no fear, no care, no doubt. Everything within her was the purest tenderness, and now, when a faint breeze came blowing and stirring the hair on her forehead, she felt as though it was a breath from the lips of Emil.

The next morning came, but no letter. Bertha was a little disappointed, but not disquieted. Soon Elly, who had suddenly acquired a great liking for playing with Fritz, made her appearance. The servant, on returning from the market, brought the news that the doctor had been summoned in the greatest haste to Herr Rupius’ house, though she did not know whether it was Herr Rupius or his wife who was ill. Bertha decided to go and inquire herself without waiting until after dinner.

She gave the Mahlmaan twins their music lesson, feeling very absent-minded and nervous all the time, and then went to Herr Rupius’ house. The servant told her that her mistress was ill in bed, but that it was nothing dangerous, although Doctor Friedrich had strictly forbidden that any visitors should be admitted. Bertha was frightened. She would have liked to speak to Herr Rupius, but did not wish to appear importunate.

In the afternoon she made an attempt at continuing Fritz’s education, but, do what she could, she met with no success. Again, she had the impression that her own hopes were influenced by Anna having been taken ill; if Anna had been well, it would have surely happened also that the letter would have arrived by that time. She knew that such an idea was utter nonsense, but she could not resist it.

Soon after five o’clock she again set out to call on Herr Rupius. The maid admitted her. Herr Rupius himself wanted to speak to her. He was sitting in his easy-chair by the table.

“Well?” asked Bertha.

“The doctor is with her just at this moment–if you will wait a few minutes …”

Bertha did not venture to ask any questions, and both remained silent. After a few seconds, Doctor Friedrich came out from the bedroom.

“Well, I cannot say anything definite yet,” he said slowly; then, with a