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sudden resolution, he added: “Excuse me, Frau Garlan, but it is absolutely necessary for me to have a few words with Herr Rupius alone.”

Herr Rupius winced.

“Then I won’t disturb you,” said Bertha mechanically, and she left them.

But she was so agitated that it was impossible for her to go home, and she walked along the pathway leading between the vine-trellises to the cemetery. She felt that something mysterious was happening in that house. The thought occurred to her that Anna might, perhaps, have made an attempt to commit suicide. If only she did not die, Bertha said to herself. And immediately the thought followed: if only a nice letter were to come from Emil!

She seemed to herself to be encompassed by nothing but dangers. She went into the cemetery. It was a beautiful, warm summer’s day, and the flowers and blossoms were fragrant and fresh after the rain of the previous day. Bertha followed her accustomed path towards her husband’s grave, but she felt that she had absolutely no object in going there. It was almost painful to her to read the words on the tombstone; they had no longer the least significance for her:

“Victor Mathias Garlan, died the 6th June, 1895.”

It seemed to her, then, that any of her walks with Emil, which had happened ten years before, were nearer than the years she had spent by the side of her husband. Those years were as though they had not even existed … she would not have been able to believe in them if Fritz had not been alive…. Suddenly the idea passed through her mind that Fritz was not Garlan’s son at all … perhaps he was really Emil’s son…. Were not such things possible, after all?… And she felt at that moment that she could understand the doctrine of the Holy Ghost…. Then she was alarmed at the madness of her own thoughts.

She looked at the broad roadway, stretching straight from the cemetery gate to the opposite wall, and all at once she knew, for a positive fact, that in a few days a coffin, with the corpse of Frau Rupius within it, would be borne along that road. She wanted to banish the idea, but the picture was there in full detail; the hearse was standing before the gate; the grave, which two men were digging yonder just at that moment, was destined for Frau Rupius; Herr Rupius was waiting by the open grave. He was sitting in his invalid chair, his plaid rug across his knees, and was staring at the coffin, which the black-garbed undertakers were slowly carrying along…. The vision was more than a mere presentiment; it was a precognition…. But whence had this idea come to her?

Then she heard people talking behind her. Two women walked past her–one was the widow of a lieutenant-colonel who had recently died, the other was her daughter. Both greeted Bertha and walked slowly on. Bertha thought that these two women would consider her a faithful widow who still grieved for her husband, and she seemed to herself to be an impostor, and she retired hastily.

Possibly there would be some news awaiting her at home, a telegram from Emil, perhaps–though that, indeed, would be nothing extraordinary … after all, the two things were closely connected…. She wondered whether Frau Rupius still thought of what Bertha had told her at the railway station, and whether, perhaps, she would speak of it in her delirium … however, that was a matter of indifference, indeed. The only matters of importance were that Emil should write and that Frau Rupius should get better…. She would have to call again and see Herr Rupius; he would be sure to tell her what the doctor had had to say…. And Bertha hastened homewards between the vine-trellises down the hill….

Nothing had arrived, no letter, no telegram…. Fritz had gone out with the maid. Ah, how lonely she was. She hurried to Herr Rupius’ house once more, and the maid opened the door to her. Things were progressing very badly, Herr Rupius was unable to see anyone….

“But what is the matter with her? Don’t you know what the doctor said?”

“An inflammation, so the doctor said.”

“What kind of an inflammation?”

“Or it might even be blood poisoning, he said. A nurse from the hospital will be here immediately.”

Bertha went away. On the square in front of the restaurant a few people were sitting, and one table, right in front, was occupied by some officers, as was usual at that time of the day.

They didn’t know what was going on up yonder, thought Bertha, otherwise they wouldn’t be sitting there and laughing…. Blood poisoning–well, what could that mean?… Obviously Frau Rupius had attempted to commit suicide!… But why?… Because she was unable to go away–or did not wish to?–but she wouldn’t die–no, she must not die!

Bertha called on her relatives, so as to pass the time. Only her sister-in-law was at home; she already knew that Frau Rupius had been taken ill, but that did not affect her very much, and she soon began to talk of other things. Bertha could not endure it, and took her departure.

In the evening she tried to tell Fritz stories, then she read the paper, in which, amongst other things, she found another announcement of the concert at which Emil was to play. It struck her as very strange that the concert was still an event which was announced to take place, and not one long since over.

She was unable to go to bed without making one more inquiry at Herr Rupius’ house. She met the nurse in the anteroom. It was the one Doctor Friedrich always sent to his private patients. She had a cheerful-looking face, and a comforting expression in her eyes.

“The doctor will be sure to pull Frau Rupius through,” she said.

And, although Bertha knew that the nurse was always making such observations, she felt more reassured.

She walked home, went to bed, and fell quietly asleep.

XI

The next morning Bertha was late in waking up. She was fresh after her good night’s rest. A letter was lying beside the bed. And then, for the first time that morning, everything came back to her mind; Frau Rupius was very ill, and here was a letter from Emil. She seized it so hurriedly that she set the little candlestick shaking violently; she opened the envelope and read the letter.

“My DEAR BERTHA,

“Many thanks for your nice letter. I was very pleased to get it. But I must tell you that your idea of coming to live permanently in Vienna requires again to be carefully considered by you. Circumstances here are quite different from what you seem to imagine. Even the native, fully accredited musicians have the greatest difficulty in obtaining pupils at anything like decent fees, and for you it would be–at the beginning, at least–almost a matter of impossibility. Where you are now you have your assured income, your circle of relations and friends, your home; and, finally, it is the place where you lived with your husband, where your child was born, and so it is the place where you ought to be.

“And, apart from all these considerations, it would be a very foolish procedure on your part to plunge into the exhausting struggle for a livelihood in the city. I purposely refrain from saying anything about the part which your affection for me (you know I return it with all my heart) seems to play in your proposals; to bring that in would carry the whole question over to another domain, and we must not let that happen. I will accept no sacrifice from you, under any condition. I need not assure you that I would like to see you again, and soon, too, for there is nothing I desire so much as to spend another such an hour with you as that which you recently gave me (and for which I am very grateful to you).

“So, then, arrange matters, my child, in such a way that, say, every four or six weeks you can come to Vienna for a day and a night. We will often be very happy again, I trust. I regret I cannot see you during the next few days, and, moreover, I start off on a tour immediately after the concert. I have to play in London during the season there, and after that I am going on to Scotland. So I look forward to the joyful prospect of meeting you again in the autumn.

“I greet you and kiss that sweet spot behind your ear, which I love best of all.

“Your

“EMIL.”

When Bertha had read the letter to the end, for some little time she sat bolt upright in the bed. A shudder seemed to pass through her whole body. She was not surprised; she knew that she had expected no other kind of letter. She shook herself….

Every four or six weeks … excellent! Yes, for a day and a night…. It was shameful, shameful!… And how afraid he was that she might go to Vienna…. And then that observation right at the end, as if his object had been, while he was still at a safe distance, so to speak, to stimulate her senses, because that, forsooth, was the only kind of relations he desired to keep up with her…. It was shameful, shameful!… What sort of a woman had she been! She felt a loathing–loathing!…

She sprang out of bed and dressed herself…. Well, what was going to happen after that?… It was over, over, over! He had not time to spare for her–no time at all!… One night every, six weeks, after the autumn…. Yes, my dear sir, I at once accept your honourable proposals with pleasure. Indeed, for myself, I desire nothing better! I will go on turning sour; I will go on giving music lessons and growing imbecile in this hole of a town…. You will fiddle away, turn women’s heads, travel, be rich, famous and happy–and every four or six weeks I may hope to be taken for one night to some shabby room where you entertain your women of the street…. It was shameful, shameful, shameful!…

Quick! She would get ready to go to Frau Rupius–Anna was ill, seriously ill–what mattered anything else?

Before she went out, Bertha pressed Fritz to her heart, and she recalled the passage in Emil’s letter: it is the place where your child was born…. Indeed, that was quite right, too; but Emil had not said that because it was true, but only to avoid the danger of having to see her more than once in six weeks.

She hurried off…. How was it, then, that she did not feel any nervousness on Frau Rupius’ account?… Ah, of course, she had known that Frau Rupius had been better the previous evening. But where was the letter, though?… She had again thrust it quite mechanically into her bodice.

Some officers were sitting in front of the restaurant having breakfast. They were all covered with dust, having just returned from the manoeuvres. One of them gazed after Bertha. He was a very young man, and could only have obtained his commission quite recently….

Pray, don’t be afraid, thought Bertha. I am altogether at your disposal. I have an engagement which takes me into Vienna only once every four or six weeks … please, tell me when you would like …

The balcony door was open, the red velvet piano cover was hanging over the balustrade. Well, evidently order had been restored again–otherwise, would the cover have been hanging over the balustrade?… Of course not, so forward then, and upstairs without fear….

The maid opened the door. There was no need for Bertha to ask her any questions; in her wide-open eyes there was an expression of terrified amazement, such as is only called forth by the proximity of an appalling death.

Bertha went in. She entered the drawing-room first; the door leading to the bedroom was open to its full extent. The bed was standing in the middle of the room, away from the wall, and free on all sides. At the foot was sitting the nurse, looking very tired, with her head sunk upon her breast, Herr Rupius was sitting in his invalid’s chair by the head of the bed. The room was so dark that it was not until Bertha had come quite close that she could see Anna’s face clearly. Frau Rupius seemed to be asleep. Bertha came nearer. She could hear the patient’s breathing; it was regular, but inconceivably rapid–she had never heard a human being breathe like that before. Then Bertha felt that the eyes of the two others were fixed upon her. Her surprise at having been admitted in this unceremonious manner lasted only for a moment, since she understood that all precautionary measures had now become superfluous; the matter had been decided.

Suddenly another pair of eyes turned towards Bertha. Frau Rupius opened her eyes, and was watching her friend attentively. The nurse made room for Bertha, and went into the adjoining room. Bertha sat down, moving her chair closer to the bed. She noticed that Anna was slowly stretching out her hand towards her. She grasped it.

“Dear Frau Rupius,” she said, “you are already getting on much better now, are you not?”

She felt that she was again saying something awkward, but she knew she could not help doing so. It was just her fate to say such things in the presence of Frau Rupius, even in her last hour.

Anna smiled; she looked as pale and young as a girl.

“Thank you, dear Bertha,” she said.

“But whatever for, my dear, dear Anna?”

She had the greatest difficulty in restraining her tears. At the same time, however, she was very curious to hear what had actually happened.

A long interval of silence ensued. Anna closed her eyes again and appeared to sleep. Herr Rupius sat motionless in his chair. Bertha looked sometimes at Anna and sometimes at him.

In any case, she must wait, she thought. She wondered what Emil would say if _she_ were suddenly to die. Ah, surely it would cause him some slight grief if he had to think that she whom he had held in his arms a few days before now lay mouldering in the grave. He might even weep. Yes, he would weep if she were to die … wretched egoist though he was at other times….

Ah, but where were her thoughts flying to again? Wasn’t she still holding her friend’s hand in her own? Oh, if she could only save her!… Who was now in the worse plight–this woman who was doomed to die, or Bertha herself–who had been so ignominiously deceived? Was it necessary, though, to put it so strongly as that, because of one night?… Ah, but that had much too fine a sound!… for the sake of one hour–to humiliate her so–to ruin her so–was not that unscrupulous and shameless?… How she hated him! How she hated him!… If only he were to break down at the next concert, so that all the people would laugh him to scorn, and he would be put to shame, and all the papers would have the news–“The career of Herr Emil Lindbach is absolutely ended.” And all his women would say: “Ah, I don’t like that a bit, a fiddler who breaks down!”…

Yes, then he would probably remember her, the only woman who had loved him since the days of her girlhood, who loved him truly … and whom he was now treating so basely!… Then he would be sure to come back to her and beg her to forgive him–and she would say to him: “Do you see, Emil; do you see, Emil?”… for, naturally, anything more intelligent than that would not occur to her….

And there she was thinking again of him, always of him–and here somebody was dying, and she was sitting by the bed, and that silent person there was the husband…. It was all so quiet; only from the street, as though wafted up over the balcony and through the open door, came a confused murmur–men’s voices, the rumble of the traffic, the jingle of a cyclist’s bell, the clattering of a sabre on the pavement, and, now and then, the twitter of the birds–but it all seemed so far away, so utterly unconnected with actuality.

Anna became restless and tossed her head to and fro–several times, quickly, quicker and quicker….

“Now it’s beginning!” said a soft voice behind Bertha.

She turned round. It was the nurse with the cheerful features; but Bertha now perceived that that expression did not denote cheerfulness at all, but was only the result of a strained effort never to allow sorrow to be noticeable, and she considered the face to be indescribably fearful…. What was it the nurse had said?… “Now it’s beginning.”… Yes, like a concert or a play … and Bertha remembered that once the same words had been spoken beside her own bed, at the time when she began to feel the pangs of childbirth….

Suddenly Anna opened her eyes, opened them very wide, so that they appeared immense; she fixed them on her husband, and, vainly striving, meanwhile, to raise herself up, said in a quite clear voice:

“It was only you, only you … believe me, it was only you whom I have…”

The last word was unintelligible, but Bertha guessed it.

Then Herr Rupius bent down, and kissed the dying woman on the forehead. Anna threw her arms around him; his lips lingered long on her eyes.

The nurse had gone out of the room again. Suddenly Anna pushed her husband away from her; she no longer recognized him; delirium had set in.

Bertha rose to her feet in great alarm, but she remained standing by the bed.

“Go now!” said Herr Rupius to her.

She lingered.

“Go!” he repeated, this time in a stern voice.

Bertha realized that she must go. She left the room quietly on tip-toes, as though Anna might still be disturbed by the sound of footsteps. Just as she entered the adjoining room she saw Doctor Friedrich, who was taking off his overcoat and, at the same time, was talking to a young doctor, the assistant at the hospital.

He did not notice Bertha, and she heard him say:

“In any other case I would have notified the authorities, but, as this affair falls out as it does…. Besides, there would be a terrible scandal, and poor Rupius would be the worst sufferer–” then he saw Bertha–“Good day, Frau Garlan.”

“Oh, doctor, what is really the matter, then?”

Doctor Friedrich threw his colleague a rapid glance.

“Blood poisoning,” he replied. “You are, of course, aware, my dear Frau Garlan, that people often cut their fingers and die as a result; the wound cannot always he located. It is a great misfortune…. Yes, indeed!”

He went into the room, followed by the assistant.

Bertha went into the street like one stupified. What could be the meaning of the words which she had overheard–“information?”–“scandal?” Yes, had Herr Rupius, perhaps, murdered his own wife?… No, what nonsense! But some injury had been done to her, it was quite obvious … and it must have been, in some way, connected with the visit to Vienna; for she had been taken ill during the night subsequent to her journey…. And the words of the dying woman recurred to Bertha: “It was only you, only you whom I have loved!…” Had they not sounded like a prayer for forgiveness? “Loved only you”–but … another … of course, she had a lover in Vienna…. Well, yes, but what followed?… Yes, she had wished to go away, and had not done so after all…. What could it have been that she said on that occasion at the railway station?… “I have made up my mind to do something else.”… Yes, of course, she had taken leave of her lover in Vienna, and, on her return–had poisoned herself?… But why should she do that, though, if she loved only her husband?… And that was not a lie, certainly not!

Bertha could not understand….

Why ever had she gone away, then?… What should she do now, too?… She could not rest. She could neither go home nor to her relatives, she must go back again…. She wondered, too, whether Anna would have to die if another letter from Emil came that day?… In truth, she was losing her reason…. Of course, these two things had not the least connection between them … and yet … why was she unable to dissociate them one from the other?…

Once more she hurried up the steps. Not a quarter of an hour had elapsed since she had left the house. The hall door was open, the nurse was in the anteroom.

“It is all over,” she said.

Bertha went on. Herr Rupius was sitting by the table, all alone; the door leading to the death-chamber was closed. He made Bertha come quite close to him, then he seized the hand which she stretched out to him.

“Why, why did she do it?” he said. “Why did she do _that_?”

Bertha was silent.

“It wasn’t necessary,” continued Herr Rupius, “Heaven knows, it wasn’t necessary. What difference could the other men make to me–tell me that?”

Bertha nodded.

“The main point is to live–yes, that is it! Why did she do that?”

It sounded like a suppressed wail, although he seemed to be speaking very quietly. Bertha burst into tears.

“No, it wasn’t necessary! I would have brought it up–brought it up as my own child!”

Bertha looked up sharply. All at once she understood everything, and a terrible fear ran through her whole being. She thought of herself. If in that night she also … in that one hour?… So great was her terror that she believed that she must be losing her reason. What had hitherto been scarcely more than a vague possibility floating through her mind now loomed suddenly before her, an indisputable certainty. It could not possibly be otherwise, the death of Anna was an omen, the pointing of the finger of God.

At the same time there arose within her mind the recollection of the day, twelve years ago, when she had been walking with Emil on the bank of the Wien, and he had kissed her and for the first time she had felt an ardent yearning for a child. How was it that she had not experienced the same yearning when, recently, she felt his arms about her?… Yes, she knew now; she had desired nothing more than the pleasures of the moment; she had been no better than a woman of the streets. It would be only the just punishment of Heaven if she also perished in her shame, like the poor woman lying in the next room.

“I would like to see her once more,” she said.

Rupius pointed towards the door. Bertha opened it, went up slowly to the bed on which lay the body of the dead woman, gazed upon her friend for a long time, and kissed her on both eyes. Then a sense of unequalled restfulness stole over her. She would have liked to have remained beside the corpse for hours together, for, in proximity to it, her own sorrow and disappointment became as nothing to her. She knelt down by the bed and clasped her hands, but she did not pray.

All at once everything danced before her eyes. Suddenly a well-known attack of weakness came over her, a dizziness which passed off immediately. At first she trembled slightly, but then she drew a deep breath, as one who has been rescued, because, indeed, with the approach of that lassitude, she felt at the same time that, at that moment, not only her previous apprehensions, but all the illusion of that confused day, the last tremors of the desires of womanhood, everything which she had considered to be love, had begun to merge and to fade away into nothingness. And kneeling by the death-bed, she realized that she was not one of those women who are gifted with a cheerful temperament and can quaff the joys of life without trepidation. She thought with disgust of that hour of pleasure that had been granted her, and, in comparison with the purity of that yearning kiss, the recollection of which had beautified her whole existence, the shameless joys which she then had tasted seemed to her like an immense falsehood.

The relations which had existed between the paralysed man in the room beyond and this woman, who had had to die for her deceit, seemed now to be spread out before her with wonderful clearness. And, while she gazed upon the pallid brow of the dead woman she could not help thinking of the unknown man, on account of whom Anna had had to die, and who, exempt from punishment, and, perhaps, remorseless, too, dared to go about in a great town and to live on, like any other–no, like thousands and thousands of others who had stared at her with covetous, indecent glances. Bertha divined what an enormous wrong had been wrought against the world in that the longing for pleasure is placed in woman just as in man: and that with women that longing is a sin, demanding expiation, if the yearning for pleasure is not at the same time a yearning for motherhood.

She rose, threw a last farewell glance at her dearly loved friend, and left the death-chamber.

Herr Rupius was sitting in the adjoining room, exactly as she had left him. She was seized with a profound desire to speak some words of consolation to him. For a moment it seemed to her as though her own destiny had only had this one purpose: to enable her fully to understand the misery of that man. She would have liked to have been able to tell him so, but she felt that he was one of those who desire to be alone with their sorrow. And so, without speaking, she sat down opposite to him.