BY ARTHUR SCHNITZLER
She was walking slowly down the hill; not by the broad high road which wound its way towards the town, but by the narrow footpath between the trellises of the vines. Her little boy was with her, hanging on to her hand and walking all the time a pace in front of her, because there was not room on the footpath for them to walk side by side.
The afternoon was well advanced, but the sun still poured down upon her with sufficient power to cause her to pull her dark straw hat a little further down over her forehead and to keep her eyes lowered. The slopes, at the foot of which the little town lay nestling, glimmered as though seen through a golden mist; the roofs of the houses below glistened, and the river, emerging yonder amongst the meadows outside the town, stretched, shimmering, into the distance. Not a quiver stirred the air, and it seemed as if the cool of the evening was yet far remote.
Bertha stooped for a moment and glanced about her. Save for her boy, she was all alone on the hillside, and around her brooded a curious stillness. At the cemetery, too, on the hilltop, she had not met anybody that day, not even the old woman who usually watered the flowers and kept the graves tidy, and with whom Bertha used often to have a chat. Bertha felt that somehow a considerable time had elapsed since she had started on her walk, and that it was long since she had spoken to anyone.
The church clock struck—six. So, then, scarcely an hour had passed since she had left the house, and an even shorter time since she had stopped in the street to chat with the beautiful Frau Rupius. Yet even the few minutes which had slipped away since she had stood by her husband's grave now seemed to be long past.
Suddenly she heard her boy call. He had slipped his hand out of hers and had run on ahead.
"I can walk quicker than you, mamma!"
"Wait, though! Wait, Fritz!" exclaimed Bertha. "You're not going to leave your mother alone, are you?"
She followed him and again took him by the hand.
"Are we going home already?" asked Fritz.
"Yes; we will sit by the open window until it grows quite dark."
Before long they had reached the foot of the hill and they began to walk towards the town in the shade of the chestnut trees which bordered the high-road, now white with dust. Here again they met but few people. Along the road a couple of wagons came towards them, the drivers, whip in hand, trudging along beside the horses. Then two cyclists rode by from the town towards the country, leaving clouds of dust behind them. Bertha stopped mechanically and gazed after them until they had almost disappeared from view.
In the meantime Fritz had clambered up onto the bench beside the road.
"Look, mamma! See what I can do!"
He made ready to jump, but his mother took hold of him by the arms and lifted him carefully to the ground. Then she sat down on the bench.
"Are you tired?" asked Fritz.
"Yes," she answered, surprised to find that she was indeed feeling fatigued.
It was only then that she realized that the sultry air had wearied her to the point of sleepiness. She could not, moreover, remember having experienced such warm weather in the middle of May.
From the bench on which she was sitting she could trace back the course of the path down which she had come. In the sunlight it ran between the vine-trellises, up and up, until it reached the brightly gleaming wall of the cemetery. She was in the habit of taking a walk along that path two or three times a week. She had long since ceased to regard such visits to the cemetery as anything other than a mere walk. When she wandered about the well-kept gravel paths amongst the crosses and the tombstones, or stood offering up a silent prayer beside her husband's grave, or, maybe, laying upon it a few wild flowers which she had plucked on her way up, her heart was scarcely any longer stirred by the slightest throb of pain. Three years had, indeed, passed since her husband had died, which was just as long as their married life had lasted.
Her eyes closed and her mind went back to the time when she had first come to the town, only a few days after their marriage—which had taken place in Vienna. They had only indulged in a modest honeymoon trip, such as a man in humble circumstances, who had married a woman without any dowry, could treat himself to. They had taken the boat from Vienna, up the river, to a little village in Wachau, not far from their future home, and had spent a few days there. Bertha could still remember clearly the little inn at which they had stayed, the riverside garden in which they used to sit after sunset, and those quiet, rather tedious, evenings which were so completely different from those her girlish imagination had previously pictured to her as the evenings which a newly-married couple would spend. Of course, she had had to be content.
She was twenty-six years old and quite alone in the world when Victor Mathias Garlan had proposed to her. Her parents had recently died. A long time before, one of her brothers had gone to America to seek his fortune as a merchant. Her younger brother was on the stage; he had married an actress, and was playing comedy parts in third-rate German theatres. She was almost out of touch with her relations and the only one whom she visited occasionally was a cousin who had married a lawyer. But even that friendship had grown cool as years had passed, because the cousin had become wrapped up in her husband and children exclusively, and had almost ceased to take any interest in the doings of her unmarried friend.
Herr Garlan was a distant relation of Bertha's mother. When Bertha was quite a young girl he had often visited the house and made love to her in a rather awkward way. In those days she had no reasons to encourage him, because it was in another guise that her fancy pictured life and happiness to her. She was young and pretty; her parents, though not actually wealthy people, were comfortably off, and her hope was rather to wander about the world as a great pianiste, perhaps, as the wife of an artist, than to lead a modest existence in the placid routine of the home circle. But that hope soon faded. One day her father, in a transport of domestic fervour, forbade her further attendance at the conservatoire of music, which put an end to her prospects of an artistic career and at the same time to her friendship with the young violinist who had since made such a name for himself.
The next few years were singularly dull. At first, it is true, she felt some slight disappointment, or even pain, but these emotions were certainly of short duration. Later on she had received offers of marriage from a young doctor and a merchant. She refused both of them; the doctor because he was too ugly, and the merchant because he lived in a country town. Her parents, too, were by no means enthusiastic about either suitor.
When, however, Bertha's twenty-sixth birthday passed and her father lost his modest competency through a bankruptcy, it had been her lot to put up with belated reproaches on the score of all sorts of things which she herself had begun to forget—her youthful artistic ambitions, her love affair of long ago with the violinist, which had seemed likely to lead to nothing, and the lack of encouragement which the ugly doctor and the merchant from the country received at her hands.
At that time Victor Mathias Garlan was no longer resident in Vienna. Two years before, the insurance company, in which he had been employed since he had reached the age of twenty, had, at his own request, transferred him, in the capacity of manager, to the recently-established branch in the little town on the Danube where his married brother carried on business as a wine merchant. In the course of a somewhat lengthy conversation which took place on the occasion of his farewell visit to Bertha's parents, and which created a certain impression upon her, he had mentioned that the principal reasons for his asking to be transferred to the little town were that he felt himself to be getting on in years, that he had no longer any idea of seeking a wife, and that he desired to have some sort of a home amongst people who were closely connected with him. At that time Bertha's parents had made fun of his notion, which seemed to them somewhat hypochondriacal, for Garlan was then scarcely forty years old. Bertha herself, however, had found a good deal of common sense in Garlan's reason, inasmuch as he had never appeared to her as, properly speaking, a young man.
In the course of the following years Garlan used often to come to Vienna on business, and never omitted to visit Bertha's family on such occasions. After supper it was Bertha's custom to play the piano for Garlan's entertainment, and he used to listen to her with an almost reverent attention, and would, perhaps, go on to talk of his little nephew and niece—who were both very musical—and to whom he would often speak of Fraulein Bertha as the finest pianiste he had ever heard.
It seemed strange, and Bertha's mother could not refrain from commenting now and again upon it, that, since his diffident wooing in the old days, Herr Garlan had not once ventured so much as to make the slightest further allusion to the past, or even to a possible future. And thus Bertha, in addition to the other reproaches to which she had to listen, incurred the blame for treating Herr Garlan with too great indifference, if not, indeed, with actual coldness. Bertha, however, only shook her head, for at that time she had not so much as contemplated the possibility of marrying this somewhat awkward man, who had grown old before his time.
After the sudden death of her mother, which happened at a time when her father had been lying ill for many months, Garlan reappeared upon the scene with the announcement that he had obtained a month's holiday—the only one for which he had ever applied. It was clearly evident to Bertha that his sole purpose in coming to Vienna was to be of help to her in that time of trouble and distress. And when Bertha's father died a week after the funeral of her mother, Garlan proved himself to be a true friend, and one, moreover, blessed with an amount of energy for which she had never given him credit. He prevailed on his sister-in-law to come to Vienna, so that she could help Bertha to tide over the first few weeks of her bereavement, besides, in some slight degree, distracting her thoughts. He settled the business affairs capably and quickly. His kindness of heart did much to cheer Bertha during those sad days, and when, on the expiration of his leave, he asked her whether she would be his wife she acquiesced with a feeling of the most profound gratitude. She was, of course, aware of the fact that if she did not marry him she would in a few months' time have to earn her own living, probably as a teacher, and, besides, she had come to appreciate Garlan and had become so used to his company that she was able, in all sincerity, to answer "Yes," both when he led her to the altar and subsequently when, as they set off for their honeymoon, he asked her, for the first time, if she loved him.
It was true that at the very outset of their married life she discovered that she felt no love for him. She just let him love her and put up with the fact, at first with a certain surprise at her own disillusionment and afterwards with indifference. It was not until she found that she was about to become a mother that she could bring herself to reciprocate his affection. She very soon grew accustomed to the quiet life of the little town, all the more easily because even in Vienna she had led a somewhat secluded existence. With her husband's family she felt quite happy and comfortable; her brother-in-law appeared to be a most genial and amiable person, if not altogether innocent of an occasional display of coarseness; his wife was good-natured, and inclined at times to be melancholy. Garlan's nephew, who was thirteen years old at the time of Bertha's arrival at the little town, was a pert, good-looking boy; and his niece, a very sedate child of nine, with large, astonished eyes, conceived a strong attachment for Bertha from the very first moment that they met.
When Bertha's child was born, he was hailed by the children as a welcome plaything, and, for the next two years, Bertha felt completely happy. She even believed at times that it was impossible that her fate could have taken a more favourable shape. The noise and bustle of the great city came back to her memory as something unpleasant, almost hazardous; and on one occasion when she had accompanied her husband to Vienna, in order to make a few purchases and it so chanced, to her annoyance, that the streets were wet and muddy with the rain, she vowed never again to undertake that tedious and wholly unnecessary journey of three hours' duration. Her husband died suddenly one spring morning three years after their marriage. Bertha's consternation was extreme. She felt that she had never taken into consideration the mere possibility of such an event. She was left in very straitened circumstances. Soon, however, her sister-in-law, with thoughtful kindness, devised a means by which the widow could support herself without appearing to accept anything in the nature of charity. She asked Bertha to take over the musical education of her children, and also procured for her an engagement as music teacher to other families in the town. It was tacitly understood amongst the ladies who engaged her that they should always make it appear as if Bertha had undertaken these lessons only for the sake of a little distraction, and that they paid her for them only because they could not possibly allow her to devote so much time and trouble in that way without some return. What she earned from this source was quite sufficient to supplement her income to an amount adequate to meet the demands of her mode of living, and so, when time had deadened the first keen pangs and the subsequent sorrow occasioned by her husband's death, she was again quite contented and cheerful. Her life up to then had not been spent in such a way as to cause her now to feel the lack of anything. Such thoughts as she gave to the future were occupied by scarcely any other theme than her son in the successive stages of his growth, and it was only on rare occasions that the likelihood of marrying a second time crossed her mind, and then the idea was always a mere fleeting fancy, for as yet she had met no one whom she was able seriously to regard in the light of a possible second husband. The stirrings of youthful desires, which she sometimes felt within her in her waking morning hours, always vanished as the day pursued its even course. It was only since the advent of the spring that she had felt a certain disturbance of her previous sensation of well-being; no longer were her nights passed in the tranquil and dreamless sleep of heretofore, and at times she was oppressed by a sensation of tedium, such as she had never experienced before. Strangest of all, however, was the sudden access of lassitude which would often come over her even in the daytime, under the influence of which she fancied that she could trace the course of her blood as it circled through her body. She remembered that she had experienced a similar sensation in the days when she was emerging from childhood. At first this feeling, in spite of its familiarity, was yet so strange to her that it seemed as though one of her friends must have told her about it. It was only when it recurred with ever-increasing frequency that she realized that she herself had experienced it before.
She shuddered, with a feeling as though she were waking from sleep. She opened her eyes.
It seemed to her that the air was all a-whirl; the shadows had crept halfway across the road; away up on the hilltop the cemetery wall no longer gleamed in the sunlight. Bertha rapidly shook her head to and fro a few times as though to waken herself thoroughly. It seemed to her as if a whole day and a whole night had elapsed since she had sat down on the bench. How was it, then, that in her consciousness time passed in so disjointed a fashion? She looked around her. Where could Fritz have gone to? Oh, there he was behind her, playing with Doctor Friedrich's children. The nursemaid was on her knees beside them, helping them to build a castle with the sand.
The avenue was now less deserted than it had been earlier in the evening. Bertha knew almost all the people who passed; she saw them every day. As, however, most of them were not people to whom she was in the habit of talking, they flitted by like shadows. Yonder came the saddler, Peter Nowak, and his wife; Doctor Rellinger drove by in his little country trap and bowed to her as he passed; he was followed by the two daughters of Herr Wendelein, the landowner; presently Lieutenant Baier and his fiancee cycled slowly down the road on their way to the country. Then, again, there seemed to be a short lull in the movement before her and Bertha heard nothing but the laughter of the children as they played.
Then, again, she saw that some one was slowly approaching from the town, and she recognized who it was while he was still a long way off. It was Herr Klingemann, to whom of late she had been in the habit of talking more frequently than had previously been her custom. Some twelve years ago or more he had moved from Vienna to the little town. Gossip had it that he had at one time been a doctor, and had been obliged to give up his practice on account of some professional error, or even of some more serious lapse. Some, however, asserted that he had never qualified as a doctor at all, but, failing to pass his examinations, had finally given up the study of medicine. Herr Klingemann, for his own part, gave himself out to be a philosopher, who had grown weary of life in the great city after having enjoyed it to satiety, and for that reason had moved to the little town, where he could live comfortably on what remained of his fortune.
He was now but little more than five-and-forty. There were still times when he was of a genial enough aspect, but, for the most part, he had an extremely dilapidated and disagreeable appearance.
While yet some distance away he smiled at the young widow, but did not hasten his steps. Finally he stopped before her and gave her an ironical nod, which was his habitual manner of greeting people.
"Good evening, my pretty lady!" he said.
Bertha returned his salutation. It was one of those days on which Herr Klingemann appeared to make some claim to elegance and youthfulness. He was attired in a dark grey frock coat, so tightly fitting that he might almost have been wearing stays. On his head was a narrow brimmed brown straw hat with a black band. About his throat, moreover, there was a very tiny red cravat, set rather askew.
For a time he remained silent, tugging his slightly grizzled fair moustache upwards and downwards.
"I presume you have come from up there, my dear lady?" he said.
Without turning his head or even his eyes, he pointed his finger over his shoulder, in a somewhat contemptuous manner, in the direction of the cemetery behind him.
Throughout the town Herr Klingemann was known as a man to whom nothing was sacred, and as he stood before her, Bertha could not help thinking of the various bits of gossip that she had heard about him. It was well known that his relations with his cook, whom he always referred to as his housekeeper, were of a somewhat more intimate nature than that merely of master and servant, and his name was also mentioned in connexion with the wife of a tobacconist, who, as he had himself told Bertha with proud regret, deceived him with a captain of the regiment stationed in the town. Moreover, there were several eligible girls in the neighbourhood who cherished a certain tender interest in him.
Whenever these things were hinted at Herr Klingemann always made some sneering remark on the subject of marriage in general, which shocked the susceptibilities of many, but, on the whole, actually increased the amount of respect in which he was held.
"I have been out for a short walk," said Bertha.
"Oh, no; with my boy."
"Yes—yes—of course, there he is! Good evening, my little mortal!"—he gazed away over Fritz's head as he said this—"may I sit down for a moment beside you, Frau Bertha?"
He pronounced her name with an ironic inflection and, without waiting for her to reply, he sat down on the bench.
"I heard you playing the piano this morning," he continued. "Do you know what kind of an impression it made upon me? This: that with you music must take the place of everything."
He repeated the word "everything" and, at the same time, looked at Bertha in a manner which caused her to blush.
"What a pity I so seldom have the opportunity of hearing you play!" he went on. "If I don't happen to be passing your open window when you are at the piano—"
Bertha noticed that he kept on edging nearer to her, and that his arm was touching hers. Involuntarily she moved away. Suddenly she felt herself seized from behind, her head pulled back over the bench and a hand clasped over her eyes.
For a moment she thought that it was Klingemann's hand, which she felt upon her lids.
"Why, you must be mad, sir," she cried.
"How funny it is to hear you call me 'Sir,' Aunt Bertha!" replied the laughing voice of a boy at her back.
"Well, do let me at least open my eyes, Richard," said Bertha, trying to remove the boy's hands from her face. "Have you come from home!" she added, turning round towards him.
"Yes, Aunt, and here's the newspaper which I have brought you."
Bertha took the paper which he handed to her and began to read it.
Klingemann, meanwhile, rose to his feet and turned to Richard.
"Have you done your exercises already?" he asked.
"We have no exercises at all now, Herr Klingemann, because our final examination is to take place in July."
"So you will actually be a student by this time next year?"
"This time next year! It'll be in the autumn!"
As he said this Richard drummed his fingers along the newspaper.
"What do you want, then, you ill-mannered fellow?" asked Bertha.
"I say, Aunt, will you come and visit me when I am in Vienna?"
"Yes, I should like to catch myself! I shall be glad to be rid of you!"
"Here comes Herr Rupius!" said Richard.
Bertha lowered the paper and looked in the direction indicated by her nephew's glance. Along the avenue leading from the town a maidservant came, pushing an invalid's chair, in which a man was sitting. His head was uncovered and his soft felt hat was lying upon his knees, from which a plaid rug reached down to his feet. His forehead was lofty; his hair smooth and fair and slightly grizzled at the temples; his feet were peculiarly large. As he passed the bench on which Bertha was seated he only inclined his head slightly, without smiling. Bertha knew that, had she been alone, he would certainly have stopped; moreover, he looked only at her as he passed by, and his greeting seemed to apply to her alone. It seemed to Bertha that she had never before seen such a grave look in his eyes as on this occasion, and she was exceedingly sorry, for she felt a profound compassion for the paralysed man.
When Herr Rupius had passed by, Klingemann said:
"Poor devil! And wifie is away as usual on one of her visits to Vienna, eh?"
"No," answered Bertha, almost angrily. "I was speaking to her only an hour ago."
Klingemann was silent, for he felt that further remarks on the subject of the mysterious visits of Frau Rupius to Vienna might not have been in keeping with his own reputation as a freethinker.
"Won't he really ever be able to walk again?" asked Richard.
"No," said Bertha.
She knew this for a fact because Herr Rupius had told her so himself on one occasion when she had called on him and his wife was in Vienna.
At that moment Herr Rupius seemed to her to be a particularly pitiful figure, for, as he was being wheeled past her in his invalid's chair, she had, in reading the paper, lighted upon the name of one whom she regarded as a happy man.
Mechanically she read the paragraph again.
"Our celebrated compatriot Emil Lindbach returned to Vienna a few days ago after his professional tour through France and Spain, in the course of which he met with many a triumphant reception. In Madrid this distinguished artist had the honour of playing before the Queen of Spain. On the 24th of this month Herr Lindbach will take part in the charity concert which has been organized for the relief of the inhabitants of Vorarlberg, who have suffered such severe losses as a result of the recent floods. A keen interest in the concert is being shown by the public in spite of the fact that the season is so far advanced."
Emil Lindbach! It required a certain effort on Bertha's part to realize that this was the same man whom she had loved—how many?—twelve years ago. Twelve years! She could feel the hot blood mount up into her brow. It seemed to her as though she ought to be ashamed of having gradually grown older.
The sun had set. Bertha took Fritz by the hand, bade the others good evening, and walked slowly homewards.
She lived on the first floor of a house in a new street. From her windows she had a view of the hill, and opposite were only vacant sites.
Bertha handed Fritz over to the care of the maid, sat down by the window, took up the paper and began to read again. She had kept the custom of glancing through the art news first of all. This habit had been formed in the days of her early childhood, when she and her brother, who was now an actor, used to go to the top gallery of the Burg-Theater together. Her interest in art naturally grew when she attended the conservatoire of music; in those days she had been acquainted with the names of even the minor actors, singers and pianists. Later on, when her frequent visits to the theatres, the studies at the conservatoire and her own artistic aspirations came to an end, there still lingered within her a kind of sympathy, which was not free from the touch of homesickness, towards that joyous world of art. But during the latter portion of her life in Vienna all these things had retained scarcely any of their former significance for her; just as little, indeed, as they had possessed since she had come to reside in the little town, where occasional amateur concerts were the best that was offered in the way of artistic enjoyment. One evening during the first year of her married life, she had taken part in one of these concerts at the "Red Apple" Hotel. She had played two marches by Schubert as a duet with another young lady in the town. On that occasion her agitation had been so great that she had vowed to herself never again to appear in public, and was more than glad that she had given up her hopes of an artistic career.
For such a career a very different temperament from hers was necessary—for example, one like Emil Lindbach's. Yes, he was born to it! She had recognized that by his demeanour the very moment when she had first seen him step on to the dais at a school concert. He had smoothed back his hair in an unaffected manner, gazed at the people below with sardonic superiority, and had acknowledged the first applause which he had ever received in the calm, indifferent manner of one long accustomed to such things.
It was strange, but whenever she thought of Emil Lindbach she still saw him in her mind's eye as youthful, even boyish, just as he had been in the days when they had known and loved each other. Yet not so long before, when she had spent the evening with her brother-in-law and his wife in a restaurant, she had seen a photograph of him in an illustrated paper, and he appeared to have changed greatly. He no longer wore his hair long; his black moustache was curled downwards; his collar was conspicuously tall, and his cravat twisted in accordance with the fashion of the day. Her sister-in-law had given her opinion that he looked like a Polish count.
Bertha took up the newspaper again and was about to read on, but by that time it was too dark. She rose to her feet and called the maid. The lamp was brought in and the table laid for supper. Bertha ate her meal with Fritz, the window remaining open. That evening she felt an even greater tenderness for her child than usual; she recalled once more to memory the times when her husband was still alive, and all manner of reminiscences passed rapidly through her mind. While she was putting Fritz to bed, her glance lingered for quite a long time on her husband's portrait, which hung over the bed in an oval frame of dark brown wood. It was a full-length portrait; he was wearing a morning coat and a white cravat, and was holding his tall hat in his hand. It was all in memory of their wedding day.
Bertha knew for a certainty, at that moment, that Herr Klingemann would have smiled sarcastically had he seen that portrait.
Later in the evening she sat down at the piano, as was a not infrequent custom of hers before going to bed, not so much because of her enthusiasm for music, but because she did not want to retire to rest too early. On such occasions she played, for the most part, the few pieces which she still knew by heart—mazurkas by Chopin, some passages from one of Beethoven's sonatas, or the Kreisleriana. Sometimes she improvised as well, but never pursued the theme beyond a succession of chords, which, indeed, were always the same.
On that evening she began at once by striking those chords, somewhat more softly than usual; then she essayed various modulations and, as she made the last triad resound for a long time by means of the pedal—her hands were now lying in her lap—she felt a gentle joy in the melodies which were hovering, as it were, about her. Then Klingemann's observation recurred to her.
"With you music must take the place of everything!"
Indeed he had not been far from the truth. Music certainly had to take the place of much.
But everything—? Oh, no!
What was that? Footsteps over the way....
Well, there was nothing remarkable in that. But they were slow, regular footsteps, as though somebody was passing up and down. She stood up and went to the window. It was quite dark, and at first she could not recognize the man who was walking outside. But she knew that it was Klingemann. How absurd! Was he going to haunt the vicinity like a love-sick swain?
"Good evening, Frau Bertha," he said from across the road, and she could see in the darkness that he raised his hat.
"Good evening," she answered, almost confusedly.
"You were playing most beautifully."
Her only answer was to murmur "really?" and that perhaps did not reach his ears.
He remained standing for a moment, then said:
"Good night, sleep soundly, Frau Bertha."
He pronounced the word "sleep" with an emphasis which was almost insolent.
"Now he is going home to his cook!" thought Bertha to herself.
Then suddenly she called to mind something which she had known for quite a long time, but to which she had not given a thought since it had come to her knowledge. It was rumoured that in his room there hung a picture which was always covered with a little curtain because its subject was of a somewhat questionable nature.
Who was it had told her about that picture? Oh, yes, Frau Rupius had told her when they were taking a walk along the bank of the Danube one day last autumn, and she in her turn had heard of it from some one else—Bertha could not remember from whom.
What an odious man! Bertha felt that somehow she was guilty of a slight depravity in thinking of him and all these things. She continued to stand by the window. It seemed to her as though it had been an unpleasant day. She went over the actual events in her mind, and was astonished to find that, after all, the day had just been like many hundreds before it and many, many more that were yet to come.
They stood up from the table. It had been one of those little Sunday dinner parties which the wine merchant Garlan was in the habit of occasionally giving his acquaintances. The host came up to his sister-in-law and caught her round the waist, which was one of his customs on an afternoon.
She knew beforehand what he wanted. Whenever he had company Bertha had to play the piano after dinner, and often duets with Richard. The music served as a pleasant introduction to a game of cards, or, indeed, chimed in pleasantly with the game.
She sat down at the piano. In the meantime the door of the smoking-room was opened; Garlan, Doctor Friedrich and Herr Martin took their seats at a small baize-covered table and began to play. The wives of the three gentlemen remained in the drawing-room, and Frau Martin lit a cigarette, sat down on the sofa and crossed her legs—on Sundays she always wore dress shoes and black silk stockings. Doctor Friedrich's wife looked at Frau Martin's feet as though fixed to the spot by enchantment. Richard had followed the gentlemen—he already took an interest in a game of taroc. Elly stood with her elbows leaning on the piano waiting for Bertha to begin to play. The hostess went in and out of the room; she was perpetually giving orders in the kitchen, and rattling the bunch of keys which she carried in her hand. Once as she came into the room Doctor Friedrich's wife threw her a glance which seemed to say: "Just look how Frau Martin is sitting there!"
Bertha noticed all those things that day more clearly, as it were, than usual, somewhat after the manner in which things are seen by a person suffering from fever. She had not as yet struck a note. Then her brother-in-law turned towards her and threw her a glance, which was intended to remind her of her duty. She began to play a march by Schubert, with a very heavy touch.
"Softer," said her brother-in-law, turning round again.
"Taroc with a musical accompaniment is a speciality of this house," said Doctor Friedrich.
"Songs without words, so to speak," added Herr Martin.
The others laughed. Garlan turned round towards Bertha again, for she had suddenly left off playing.
"I have a slight headache," she said, as if it were necessary to make some excuse; immediately, however, she felt as though it were beneath her dignity to say that, and she added: "I don't feel any inclination to play."
Everybody looked at her, feeling that something rather out of the common was happening.
"Won't you come and sit by us, Bertha?" said Frau Garlan.
Elly had a vague idea that she ought to show her affection for her aunt, and hung on her arm; and the two of them stood side by side, leaning against the piano.
"Are you going with us to the 'Red Apple' this evening?" Frau Martin asked of her hostess.
"No, I don't think so."
"Ah," broke in Herr Garlan, "if we must forgo our concert this afternoon we will have one in the evening instead—your lead, Doctor."
"The military concert?" asked Doctor Friedrich's wife.
Frau Garlan rose to her feet.
"Do you really mean to go to the 'Red Apple' this evening?" she asked her husband.
"Very well," she answered, somewhat flustered, and at once went off to the kitchen again to make fresh arrangements.
"Richard," said Garlan to his son; "you might make haste and run over and tell the manager to have a table reserved for us in the garden."
Richard hurried off, colliding in the doorway with his mother, who was just coming into the room. She sank down on the sofa as though exhausted.
"You can't believe," she said to Doctor Friedrich's wife; "how difficult it is to make Brigitta understand the simplest thing."
Frau Martin had gone and sat down beside her husband, at the same time throwing a glance towards Bertha, who was still standing silently with Elly beside the piano. Frau Martin stroked her husband's hair, laid her hand on his knee and seemed to feel that she was under the necessity of showing the company how happy she was.
"I'll tell you what. Aunt," said Elly suddenly to Bertha; "let's go into the garden for a while. The fresh air will drive your headache away."
They went down the steps into the courtyard, in the centre of which a small lawn had been laid out. At the back, it was shut off by a wall, against which stood a few shrubs and a couple of young trees, which still had to be propped up by stakes. Away over the wall only the blue sky was to be seen; in boisterous weather the rush of the river which flowed close by could be heard. Two wicker garden chairs stood with their backs against the wall, and in front of them was a small table. Bertha and Elly sat down, Elly still keeping her arm linked in her aunt's.
"Tell you what, Elly?"
"See, I am quite a big girl now; do tell me about him."
Bertha was somewhat alarmed, for it struck her at once that her niece's question did not refer to her dead husband, but to some one else. And suddenly she saw before her mind's eye the picture of Emil Lindbach, just as she had seen it in the illustrated paper; but immediately both the vision and her slight alarm vanished, and she felt a kind of emotion at the shy question of the young girl who believed that she still grieved for her dead husband, and that it would comfort her to have an opportunity for talking about him.
"May I come down and join you, or are you telling each other secrets?"
Richard's voice came at that moment from a window overlooking the courtyard. For the first time Bertha was struck by the resemblance he bore to Emil Lindbach. She realized, however, that it might perhaps only be the youthfulness of his manner and his rather long hair that put her in mind of Emil. Richard was now nearly as old as Emil had been in the days of her studies at the conservatoire.
"I've reserved a table," he said as he came into the courtyard. "Are you coming with us, Aunt Bertha?"
He sat down on the back of her chair, stroked her cheeks, and said in his fresh, yet rather affected, way:
"You will come, won't you, pretty Aunt, for my sake?"
Mechanically Bertha closed her eyes. A feeling of comfort stole over her, as if some childish hand, as if the little fingers of her own Fritz, were caressing her cheeks. Soon, however, she felt that some other memory as well rose up in her mind. She could not help thinking of a walk in the town park which she had taken one evening with Emil after her lesson at the conservatoire. On that occasion he had sat down to rest beside her on a seat, and had touched her cheeks with tender fingers. Was it only once that that had happened? No—much oftener! Indeed, they had sat on that seat ten or twenty times, and he had stroked her cheeks. How strange it was that all these things should come back to her thoughts now!
She would certainly never have thought of those walks again had not Richard by chance—but how long was she going to put up with his stroking her cheek?
"Richard!" she exclaimed, opening her eyes.
She saw that he was smiling in such a way that she thought that he must have divined what was passing through her mind. Of course, it was quite impossible, because, as a matter of fact, scarcely anybody in the town was aware that she was acquainted with Emil Lindbach, the great violinist. If it came to that, was she really acquainted with him still? It was indeed a very different person from Emil as he must now be that she had in mind—a handsome youth whom she had loved in the days of her early girlhood.
Thus her thoughts strayed further and further back into the past, and it seemed altogether impossible for her to return to the present and chatter with the two children.
She bade them good-bye and went away.
The afternoon sun lay brooding heavily upon the streets of the little town. The shops were shut, the pavements almost deserted. A few officers were sitting at a little table in front of the restaurant in the market square. Bertha glanced up at the windows of the first story of the house in which Herr and Frau Rupius lived. It was quite a long time since she had been to see them. She clearly remembered the last occasion—it was the day after Christmas. It was then that she had found Herr Rupius alone and that he had told her that his affliction was incurable. She also remembered distinctly why she had not called upon him since that day: although she did not admit it to herself, she had a kind of fear of entering that house which she had then left with her mind in a state of violent agitation.
On the present occasion, however, she felt that she must go up; it seemed as though in the course of the last few days a kind of bond had been established between her and the paralysed man, and as though even the glance with which he had silently greeted her on the previous day, when she was out walking, had had some significance.
When she entered the room her eyes had, first of all, to become accustomed to the dimness of the light; the blinds were drawn and a sunbeam poured in only through the chink at the top, and fell in front of the white stove. Herr Rupius was sitting in an armchair at the table in the centre of the room. Before him lay stacks of prints, and he was just in the act of picking up one in order to look at the one beneath it. Bertha could see that they were engravings.
"Thank you for coming to see me once again," he said, stretching out his hand to her. "You see what it is I am busy on just now? Well, it is a collection of engravings after the old Dutch masters. Believe me, my dear lady, it is a great pleasure to examine old engravings."
"Oh, it is, indeed."
"See, there are six volumes, or rather six portfolios, each containing twenty prints. It will probably take me the whole summer to become thoroughly acquainted with them."
Bertha stood by his side and looked at the engraving immediately before him. It was a market scene by Teniers.
"The whole summer," she said absent-mindedly.
Rupius turned towards her.
"Yes, indeed," he said, his jaw slightly set, as though it was a matter of vindicating his point of view; "what I call being thoroughly acquainted with a picture. By that I mean: being able, so to speak, to reproduce it in my mind, line for line. This one here is a Teniers—the original is in one of the galleries at The Hague. Why don't you go to The Hague, where so many splendid examples of the art of Teniers and so many other styles of painting are to be seen, my dear lady?"
"How can I think of making such a journey as that?"
"Yes, yes, of course, that's so," said Herr Rupius; "The Hague is a very beautiful town. I was there fourteen years ago. At that time I was twenty-eight, I am now forty-two—or, I might say, eighty-four"—he picked up the print and laid it aside—"here we have an Ostade—'The Pipe Smoker.' Quite so, you can see easily enough that he is smoking a pipe. 'Original in Vienna.'"
"I think I remember that picture."
"Won't you come and sit opposite to me, Frau Bertha, or here beside me, if you would care to look at the pictures with me? Now we come to a Falkenborg—wonderful, isn't it? In the extreme foreground, though, it seems so void, so cramped. Yes, nothing but a peasant lad dancing with a girl, and there's an old woman who is cross about it, and here is a house out of the door of which someone is coming with a pail of water. Yes, that is all—a mere nothing of course, but there in the background you see, is the whole world, blue mountains, green towns, the clouded sky above, and near it a tourney—ha! ha!—in a certain sense perhaps it is out of place, but, on the other hand, in a certain sense it may be said to be appropriate. Since everything has a background and it is therefore perfectly right that here, directly behind the peasant's house, the world should begin with its tourneys, and its mountains, its rivers, its fortresses, its vineyards and its forests."
He pointed out the various parts of the picture to which he was referring with a little ivory paper-knife.
"Do you like it?" he continued. "The original also hangs in the Gallery in Vienna. You must have seen it."
"Oh, but it is now six years since I lived in Vienna, and for many years before that I had not paid a visit to the museum."
"Indeed? I have often walked round the galleries there, and stood before this picture, too. Yes, in those earlier days I walked."
He was almost laughing as he looked at her, and; her embarrassment was such that she could not make any reply.
"I fear I am boring you with the pictures," Herr Rupius went on abruptly. "Wait a little; my wife will be home soon. You know, I suppose, that she always goes for a two hours walk after dinner now. She is afraid of becoming too stout."
"Your wife looks as young and slender as ... well, I don't think she has altered in the very least since I have come to live here."
Bertha felt as though Rupius' countenance had grown quite rigid. Then suddenly he said, in a gentle tone of voice which was not by any means in keeping with the expression of his face:
"A quiet life in a little town such as this keeps me young, of course. It was a clever idea of mine and hers, for it occurred simultaneously to both of us, to move here. Who can say whether, had we stayed in Vienna, it might not have been all over already?"
Bertha could not guess what he meant by the expression "all over"; whether he was referring to his own life, to his wife's youthfulness, or to something else. In any case, she was sorry that she had called that day; a feeling of shame at being so strong and well herself came over her.
"Did I tell you," continued Rupius, "that it was Anna who got these portfolios for me? It was a chance bargain, for the work is usually very expensive. A bookseller had advertised it and Anna telegraphed at once to her brother to procure it for us. You know, of course, that we have many relations in Vienna, both Anna and myself. Sometimes, too, she goes there to visit them. Soon after they pay us a return visit. I should be very glad indeed to see them again, especially Anna's brother and his wife, I owe them a great deal of gratitude. When Anna is in Vienna, she dines and sleeps at their house—but, of course, you already know all that, Frau Bertha."
He spoke rapidly and, at the same time, in a cool, businesslike tone. It sounded as though he had made up his mind to tell the same things to every one who should enter the room that day. It was the first time that he had as much as spoken to Bertha of the journeys of his wife to Vienna.
"She is going again to-morrow," he continued; "I believe the matter in hand this time is her summer costume."
"I think that is a very clever notion of your wife," said Bertha, glad to have found an opening for conversation.
"It is cheaper, at the same time," added Herr Rupius. "Yes, I assure you it is cheaper even if you throw in the cost of the journey. Why don't you follow my wife's example?"
"In that way, Herr Rupius?"
"Why, in regard to your frocks and hats! You are young and pretty, too!"
"Heavens above! On whose account should I dress smartly?"
"On whose account! On whose account is it that my wife dresses so smartly?"
The door opened and Frau Rupius entered in a bright spring costume, a red sunshade in her hand and a white straw hat, trimmed with red ribbon, on her dark hair, which was dressed high. A pleasant smile was hovering around her lips, as usual, and she greeted Bertha with a quiet cheerfulness.
"Are you making an appearance in our house once more?" she said, handing her sunshade and hat to the maid, who had followed her into the room.
"Are you also interested in pictures, Frau Garlan?"
She went up close behind her husband and softly passed her hand over his forehead and hair.
"I was just telling Frau Garlan," said Rupius, "how surprised I am that she never goes to Vienna."
"Indeed," Frau Rupius put in; "why don't you do so? Moreover, you must certainly have some acquaintances there, too. Come with me one day—to-morrow, for example. Yes, to-morrow."
Rupius gazed straight before him while his wife said this, as though he did not dare to look at her.
"You are really very kind, Frau Rupius," said Bertha, feeling as though a perfect stream of joy was coursing through her being.
She wondered, too, how it was that all this time the possibility of making such a journey had not once entered her mind, the more so as it could be accomplished with so little trouble. It appeared to her at that moment that such a journey might be a remedy for the strange sense of dissatisfaction under which she had been suffering during the past few days.
"Well, do you agree, Frau Garlan?"
"I don't really know—I daresay I could spare the time, for I have only one lesson to give tomorrow at my sister-in-law's, and she, of course, won't be too exacting; but wouldn't I be putting you to some inconvenience?"
A slight shadow flitted across Frau Rupius' brow.
"Putting me to inconvenience! Whatever are you dreaming of! I shall be very glad to have pleasant company during the few hours of the journey there and back. And in Vienna—oh, we shall be sure to have much to do together in Vienna."
"Your husband," said Bertha, blushing like a girl who is speaking of her first ball, "has told me ... has advised me ..."
"Surely, he has been raving to you about my dressmaker," said Frau Rupius, laughing.
Rupius still sat motionless in his chair and looked at neither of them.
"Yes, I should really like to ask you about her, Frau Rupius. When I see you I feel as if I should like to be well dressed again, just as you are."
"That is easily arranged," said Frau Rupius. "I will take you to my dressmaker, and by so doing I hope also to have the pleasure of your company on my subsequent visits. I am glad for your sake as well," she said to her husband, touching his hand which was lying on the table. Then she turned to Bertha and added: "and for yours. You will see how much good it will do you. Wandering about the streets without being known to a soul has a wonderful effect on one's spirits. I do it from time to time, and I always come back quite refreshed and—" in saying this she threw a sidelong glance, full of anxiety and tenderness, in the direction of her husband—"and then I am as happy here as ever it is possible to be; happier, I believe, than any other woman in the world."
She drew near her husband and kissed him on the temple. Bertha heard her say in a soft voice, as she did so:
Rupius, however, continued to stare before him as though he shrank from meeting his wife's glance.
Both were silent and seemed to be absorbed in themselves, as though Bertha was not in the room. Bertha comprehended vaguely that there was some mysterious factor in the relations of these two people, but what that factor was she was not clever, or not experienced, or not good enough to understand. For a whole minute the silence continued, and Bertha was so embarrassed that she would gladly have gone away had it not been necessary to arrange with Frau Rupius the details of the morrow's journey.
Anna was the first to speak.
"So then it is agreed that we are to meet at the railway station in time for the morning train—isn't it? And I will arrange matters so that we return home by the seven o'clock train in the evening. In eight hours, you see, it is possible to get through a good deal."
"Certainly," said Bertha; "provided, of course, that you are not inconveniencing yourself on my account in the slightest degree."
Anna interrupted her, almost angrily.
"I have already told you how glad I am that you will be travelling with me, the more so as there is not a woman in the town so congenial to me as you."
"Yes," said Herr Rupius, "I can corroborate that. You know, of course, that my wife is on visiting terms with hardly anybody here—and as it has been such a long time since you came to see us I was beginning to fear that she was going to lose you as well."
"However could you have thought such a thing? My dear Herr Rupius! And you, Frau Rupius, surely you haven't believed—"
At that moment Bertha felt an overwhelming love for both of them. Her emotion was such that she detected her voice to be assuming an almost tearful tone.
Frau Rupius smiled, a strange, deliberate smile.
"I haven't believed anything. As a matter of fact there are some things over which I do not generally ponder for long. I have no great need of friends, but you, Frau Bertha, I really and truly love."
She stretched out her hand to her. Bertha cast a glance at Rupius. It seemed to her that an expression of contentment should now be observable on his features. To her amazement, however, she saw that he was gazing into the corner of the room with an almost terrified look in his eyes.
The parlourmaid came in with some coffee. Further particulars as to their plans for the morrow were discussed, and finally they drew up a tolerably exact time-table which, to Frau Rupius' slight amusement, Bertha entered in a little notebook.
When Bertha reached the street again, the sky had become overcast, and the increasing sultriness foretold the approach of a thunderstorm. The first large drops were falling before she reached home, and she was somewhat alarmed when, on going upstairs, she failed to find the servant and little Fritz. As she went up to the window, however, in order to shut it, she saw the two come running along. The first thunderclap crashed out, and she started back in terror. Then immediately came a brilliant flash of lightning.
The storm was brief, but unusually violent. Bertha went and sat on her bed, held Fritz on her lap, and told him a story, so that he should not be frightened. But, at the same time, she felt as though there was a certain connexion between her experiences of the past two days and the thunderstorm.
In half an hour all was over. Bertha opened the window; the air was now fresh, the darkening sky was clear and distant. Bertha drew a deep breath, and a feeling of peace and hope seemed to permeate her being.
It was time to get ready for the concert in the gardens. On her arrival she found her friends already gathered at a large table beneath a tree. It was Bertha's intention to tell her sister-in-law at once about her proposed visit to Vienna on the morrow, but a sense of shyness, as though there was something underhand in the journey, caused her to refrain.
Herr Klingemann went by with his housekeeper towards their table. The housekeeper was getting on towards middle-age; she was a very voluptuous looking woman, taller than Klingemann, and, when she walked, always appeared to be asleep. Klingemann bowed towards them with exaggerated politeness. The gentlemen scarcely acknowledged the salutation, and the ladies pretended not to have noticed it. Only Bertha nodded slightly and gazed after the couple.
"That is his sweetheart—yes, I know it for a positive fact," whispered Richard, who was sitting near his aunt.
Herr Garlan's party ate, drank and applauded. At times various acquaintances came over from other tables, sat down with them for awhile, and then went away again to their places. The music murmured around Bertha without making any impression on her. Her mind was continuously occupied with the question as to how to inform them of her project.
Suddenly, while the music was playing very loudly, she said to Richard:
"I say, I won't be able to give you a music lesson to-morrow. I am going to Vienna."
"To Vienna!" exclaimed Richard; then he called across to his mother; "I say, Aunt Bertha is going to Vienna to-morrow!"
"Who's going to Vienna?" asked Garlan, who was sitting furthest away.
"I am," answered Bertha.
"What's this! What's this!" said Garlan, playfully threatening her with his finger.
So, then, it was accomplished. Bertha was glad. Richard made jokes about the people who were sitting in the garden, also about the fat bandmaster who was always skipping about while he was conducting, and then about the trumpet-player whose cheeks bulged out and who seemed to be shedding tears when he blew into his instrument. Bertha could not help laughing very heartily. Jests were bandied about her high spirits and Doctor Friedrich remarked that she must surely be going to some rendezvous at Vienna.
"I should like to put a stop to that, though!" exclaimed Richard, so angrily that the hilarity became general.
Only Elly remained serious, and gazed at her aunt in downright astonishment.
Bertha looked out through the open carriage window upon the landscape: Frau Rupius read a book, which she had taken out of her little traveling-bag very soon after the train had started. It almost appeared as though she wished to avoid any lengthy conversation with Bertha, and the latter felt somewhat hurt. For a long time past she had been cherishing a wish to be a friend of Frau Rupius, but since the previous day this desire of hers had become almost a yearning, which recalled to her mind the whole-hearted devotion of the friendships of the days of her childhood.
At first, therefore, she had felt quite unhappy, and had a sensation of having been abandoned, but soon the changing panorama to be seen through the window began to distract her thoughts in an agreeable manner. As she looked at the rails which seemed to run to meet her, at the hedges and telegraph poles which glided and leaped past her, she recalled to mind the few short journeys to the Salzkammergut, where she had been taken, when a child, by her parents, and the indescribable pleasure of having been allowed to occupy a corner seat on those occasions. Then she looked into the distance and exulted in the gleaming of the river, in the pleasant windings of the hills and meadows, in the azure of the sky and in the white clouds.
After a time Anna laid down the book, and began to chat to Bertha and smiled at her, as though at a child.
"Who would have foretold this of us?" said Frau Rupius.
"That we should be going to Vienna together?"
"No, no, I mean that we shall both—how shall I express it?—pass or end our lives yonder"—she gave a slight nod in the direction of the place from which they came.
"Very true, indeed!" answered Bertha, who had not yet considered whether there was anything really strange in the fact or not.
"Well, you, of course, knew it the moment you were married, but I—"
Frau Rupius gazed straight before her.
"So then your move to the little town," said Bertha, "did not take place until—until—"
She broke off in confusion.
"Yes, you know that, of course."
In saying this Frau Rupius looked Bertha full in the face as if reproaching her for her question. But when she continued to speak she smiled gently, as though her thoughts were not occupied by anything so sad.
"Yes, I never imagined that I should leave Vienna; my husband had his position as a government official, and indeed he would certainly have been able to remain longer there, in spite of his infirmity, had he not wanted to go away at once."
"He thought, perhaps, that the fresh air, the quiet—" began Bertha, and she at once perceived that she was not saying anything very sensible.
Nevertheless Anna answered her quite affably.
"Oh, no, neither rest nor climate could do him any good, but he thought that it would be better for both of us in every way. He was right, too—what should we have been able to do if we had remained in the city?"
Bertha felt that Anna was not telling her the whole story and she would have liked to beg her not to hesitate, but to open her whole heart to her. She knew, however, that she was not clever enough to express such a request in the right words. Then, as though Frau Rupius had guessed that Bertha was anxious to learn more, she quickly changed the subject of their conversation. She asked Bertha about her brother-in-law, the musical talent of her pupils, and her method of teaching; then she took up the novel again and left Bertha to herself.
Once she looked up from the book and said:
"You haven't brought anything with you to read, then?"
"Oh, yes," answered Bertha.
She suddenly remembered that she had bought a newspaper; she took it up and turned over the pages assiduously. The train drew near to Vienna. Frau Rupius closed her book and put it in the travelling-bag. She looked at Bertha with a certain tenderness, as at a child who must soon be sent away alone to meet an uncertain destiny.
"Another quarter of an hour," she remarked; "and we shall be—well, I very nearly said, home."
Before them lay the town. On the far side of the river chimneys towered up aloft, rows of tall yellow painted houses stretched away into the distance, and steeples ascended skywards. Everything lay basking in the gentle sunlight of May.
Bertha's heart throbbed. She experienced a sensation such as might come over a traveller returning after a long absence to a longed-for home, which had probably altered greatly in the meantime, and where surprises and mysteries of all kinds awaited him. At the moment when the train rolled into the station she seemed almost courageous in her own eyes.
Frau Rupius took a carriage, and they drove into the town. As they passed the Ring, Bertha suddenly leaned out of the window and gazed after a young man whose figure and walk reminded her of Emil Lindbach. She wished that the young man would turn round, but she lost sight of him without his having done so.
The carriage stopped before a house in the Kohlmarkt. The two ladies got out and made their way to the third floor, where the dressmaker's workroom was situated. While Frau Rupius tried on her new costume, Bertha had various materials displayed to her from which she made a choice. The assistant took her measure, and it was arranged that Bertha should call in a week's time to be fitted. Frau Rupius came out from the adjoining room and recommended that particular care should be given to her friend's order.
It seemed to Bertha that everybody was looking at her in a rather disparaging, almost compassionate manner, and, on looking at herself in the large pier glass she suddenly perceived that she was very tastelessly dressed. What on earth had put it into her head to attire herself on this occasion in the provincial Sunday-best, instead of in one of the simple plain dresses she usually wore? She grew crimson with shame. She had on a black and white striped foulard costume, which was three years out of date, so far as its cut was concerned, and a bright-coloured hat, trimmed with roses and turned up at an extravagant angle in front, which seemed to weigh heavily upon her dainty figure and made her appear almost ridiculous.
Then, as if her own conviction needed further confirmation by some word of consolation, Frau Rupius said, as they went down the stairs:
"You are looking lovely!"
They stood in the doorway.
"What shall be done now?" asked Frau Rupius. "What do you propose?"
"Will you then ... I ... I mean ..."
Bertha was quite frightened; she felt as though she was being turned adrift.
Frau Rupius looked at her with kindly commiseration.
"I think," she said, "that you are going to pay a visit to your cousin now, are you not? I suppose that you will be asked to stay to dinner."
"Agatha will be sure to invite me to dine with her."
"I will accompany you as far as your cousin's, if you would like me to; then I will go to my brother and, if possible, I will call for you at three in the afternoon."
Together they walked through the most crowded streets of the central part of the town and looked at the shop windows. At first Bertha found the din somewhat confusing; afterwards, however, she found it more pleasant than otherwise. She gazed at the passers-by and took great pleasure in watching the well-groomed men and smartly-attired ladies. Almost all the people seemed to be wearing new clothes, and it seemed to her they all looked much happier than the people at home.
Presently she stopped before the window of a picture-dealer's shop and immediately her eyes fell on a familiar portrait; it was the same one of Emil Lindbach as had appeared in the illustrated paper, Bertha was as delighted as if she had met an acquaintance.
"I know that man," she said to Frau Rupius.
"That man there"—she pointed with her finger at the photograph—"what do you think? I used to attend the conservatoire at the same time he did!"
"Really?" said Frau Rupius.
Bertha looked at her and observed that she had not paid the slightest attention to the portrait, but was thinking of something else. Bertha, however, was glad of that, for it seemed to her that there had been too much warmth lurking in her voice.
All at once a gentle thrill of pride stirred within her at the thought that the man whose portrait hung there in the shop window had been in love with her in the days of his youth, and had kissed her. She walked on with a sensation of inward contentment. After a short time they reached her cousin's house on the Riemerstrasse.
"So it's settled then," she said; "you will call for me at three o'clock, won't you?"
"Yes," replied Frau Rupius; "that is to say—but if I should be a little late, do not on any account wait for me at your cousin's any longer than you want to. In any case, this much is settled: we will both be at the railway station at seven o'clock this evening. Good-bye for the present."
She shook hands with Bertha and hurried away.
Bertha gazed after her in surprise. Once more she felt forlorn, just as she had done in the train when Frau Rupius had read the novel.
Then she went up the two flights of stairs. She had not sent her cousin word as to her visit, and she was a little afraid that her arrival might be somewhat inopportune. She had not seen Agatha for many years, and they had exchanged letters only at very rare intervals.
Agatha received her without either surprise or cordiality, as though it was only the day before that they had seen each other for the last time. A smile had been playing around Bertha's lips—the smile of those who think that they are about to give some one else a surprise—she repressed it immediately.
"Well, you are not a very frequent visitor, I must say!" said Agatha, "and you never let us have a word from you."
"But, Agatha, you know it was your turn to write; you have been owing me a letter these last three months."
"Really!" replied Agatha. "Well, you'll have to excuse me; you can imagine what a lot of work three children mean. Did I write and tell you that Georg goes to school now?"
Agatha took her cousin into the nursery, where Georg and his two little sisters were just having their dinner given them by the nursery-governess. Bertha asked them a few questions, but the children were very shy, and the younger girl actually began to cry.
"Do beg Aunt Bertha to bring Fritz with her next time she comes," said Agatha to Georg at length.
It struck Bertha how greatly her cousin had aged during the last few years. Indeed, when she bent down to the children Agatha appeared almost like an old woman; and yet she was only a year older than Bertha, as the latter knew.
By the time they had returned to the dining-room they had already told each other all that they had to say, and when Agatha invited Bertha to stay to dinner, it seemed that she spoke only for the mere sake of making some remark. Bertha accepted the invitation, nevertheless, and her cousin went into the kitchen to give some orders.
Bertha gazed around the room, which was furnished economically and in bad taste. It was very dark, for the street was extremely narrow. She took up an album which was lying on the table. She found hardly any but familiar faces in it. At the very beginning were the portraits of Agatha's parents, who had died long ago; then came those of her own parents and of her brothers, of whom she scarcely ever heard; portraits of friends whom they both had known in earlier days, and of whom she now knew hardly anything; and, finally, there was a photograph, the existence of which she had long forgotten. It was one of herself and Agatha together, and had been taken when they were quite young girls. In those days they had been very much alike in appearance, and had been great friends. Bertha could remember many of the confidential chats which they had had together in the days of their girlhood.
And that lovely creature there with the looped plaits was now almost an old woman! And what of herself? What reason had she, then, for still looking upon herself as a young woman? Did she not, perhaps, appear to others as old as Agatha had seemed to her? She resolved that, in the afternoon, she would take notice of the glances which passers-by bestowed upon her. It would be terrible if she really did look as old as her cousin! No, the idea was utterly ridiculous! She called to mind how her nephew, Richard always called her his "pretty aunt," how Klingemann had walked to and fro outside her window the other evening—and even the recollection of her brother-in-law's attentions reassured her. And, when she looked in the mirror which was hanging opposite to her, she saw two bright eyes gazing at her from a smooth, fresh face—they were her face and her eyes.
When Agatha came into the room again Bertha began to talk of the far-away years of their childhood, but it seemed that Agatha had forgotten all about those early days, as though marriage, motherhood and week-day cares had obliterated both youth and its memories. When Bertha went on to speak of a students' dance they had both attended, of the young men who had courted Agatha, and of a bouquet which some unknown lover had once sent her, Agatha at first smiled rather absent-mindedly, then she looked at Bertha and said:
"Just fancy you still remembering all those foolish things!"
Agatha's husband came home from his Government office. He had grown very grey since Bertha had last seen him. At first sight he did not appear to recognize Bertha, then he mistook her for another lady, and excused himself by remarking that he had a very bad memory for faces. At dinner he affected to be smart, he inquired in a certain superior way about the affairs of the little town, and wondered, jestingly, whether Bertha was not thinking of marrying again. Agatha also took part in this bantering, although, at the same time, she occasionally glanced reprovingly at her husband, who was trying to give the conversation a frivolous turn.
Bertha felt ill at ease. Later on she gathered from some words of Agatha's husband that they were expecting another addition to their family. Usually Bertha felt sympathy for women in such circumstances, but in this case the news created an almost unpleasant impression upon her. Moreover there was not a trace of love to be discerned in the tone of the husband's voice when he referred to it, but rather a kind of foolish pride on the score of an accomplished duty. He spoke of the matter as though it was a special act of kindness on his part that, in spite of the fact that he was a busy man, and Agatha was no longer beautiful, he condescended to spend his time at home. Bertha had an impression that she was being mixed up in some sordid affair which did not concern her in the least. She was glad when, as soon as he had finished his dinner, the husband went off—it was his custom, "his only vice," as he said with a smile, to play billiards at the restaurant for an hour after dinner.
Bertha and Agatha were left together.
"Yes," said Agatha, "I've got that to look forward to again."
Thereupon she began, in a cold, businesslike way, to talk about her previous confinements, with a candour and lack of modesty which seemed all the more remarkable because they had become such strangers. While Agatha was continuing the relation of her experiences, however, the thought suddenly passed through Bertha's mind that it must be glorious to have a child by a husband whom one loved.
She ceased to pay attention to her cousin's unpleasant talk; and her thoughts were only occupied by the infinite yearning for motherhood which had often come over her when she was quite a young girl, and she called to mind an occasion when that yearning had been more keen than it had ever been, either before or after. This had happened one evening when Emil Lindbach had accompanied her home from the conservatoire, her hand clasped in his. She still remembered how her head had begun to swim, and that at one moment she had understood what the phrase meant which she had sometimes read in novels: "He could have done with her just as he liked."
Then she noticed that it had grown quite silent in the room, and that Agatha was leaning back in the corner of the sofa, apparently asleep. It was three by the clock. How tiresome it was that Frau Rupius had not yet arrived! Bertha went to the window and looked out into the street. Then she turned towards Agatha, who had again opened her eyes. Bertha quickly tried to begin a fresh conversation, and told her about the new costume which she had ordered in the forenoon, but Agatha was too sleepy even to answer. Bertha had no wish to put her cousin out, and took her departure. She decided to wait for Frau Rupius in the street. Agatha seemed very pleased when Bertha got ready to go. She became more cordial than she had been at any time during her cousin's visit, and said at the door, as if struck by some brilliant idea:
"How the time does pass! I do hope you'll come and see us again soon."
Bertha, as she stood before the door of the house, realized that she was waiting for Frau Rupius in vain. There was no doubt that it had been the latter's intention from the beginning to spend the afternoon without her. Of course, it did not necessarily follow that there was anything wicked in it; as a matter of fact there was nothing wicked in it, but it hurt Bertha to think that Anna had so little trust in her.
She walked along with no fixed purpose. She had still more than three hours to while away before she was to be at the station. At first, she took a walk in the inner town, which she had passed through in the morning. It was really a pleasant thing to wander about unobserved like this, as a stranger in the crowd. It was long since she had experienced that pleasure. Some of the men who passed her glanced at her with interest, and more than one, indeed, stopped to gaze after her. She regretted that she was dressed to so little advantage, and rejoiced at the prospect of obtaining soon the beautiful costume she had ordered from the Viennese dressmaker. She would have liked to find some one following her.
Suddenly the thought passed through her mind: would Emil Lindbach recognize her if she were to meet him? What a question! Such things never happened, of course. No, she was quite sure that she could wander about Vienna the whole day long without ever meeting him. How long was it since she had seen him? Seven—eight years.... Yes, the last time she had met him was two years before her marriage. She had been with her parents one warm summer evening in the Schweitzerhaus on the Prater; he had gone by with a friend and had stopped a few minutes at their table. Ah, and now she remembered also that amongst the company at their table there had been the young doctor who was courting her. She had forgotten what Emil had said on that occasion, but she remembered that he had held his hat in his hand during the whole time he was standing before her, which had afforded her inexpressible delight. Would he do the same now, she thought to herself, if she were to meet him?
Where was he living now, she wondered. In the old days he had a room on the Weiden, near St. Paul's Church.... Yes, he had pointed out the window as they passed one day, and had ventured, as they did so, to make a certain remark—she had forgotten the exact words, but there was no doubt that they had been to the effect that he and she ought to be in that room together. She had rebuked him very severely for saying such a thing; she had even gone the length of telling him that if that was the sort of girl he thought she was, all was over between them. And, in fact, he had never spoken another word on the subject.
Would she recognize the window again? Would she find it? It was all the same to her, of course, whether she went for a walk in this direction or that. She hurried towards the Weiden as though she had suddenly found an object for her walk. She was amazed at the complete change which had come over the neighbourhood. When she looked down from the Elizabeth Bridge she saw walls that rose from the bed of the Wien, half finished tracks, little trucks moving to and fro, and busy workmen. Soon she reached St. Paul's Church by the same road as she had so often followed in the old days. But then she came to a standstill; she was absolutely at a loss to remember where Emil had lived—whether she had to turn to the right or to the left. It was strange how completely it had escaped her memory. She walked slowly back as far as the Conservatoire, then she stood still. Above her were the windows from which she had so often gazed upon the dome of St. Charles' Church, and longingly awaited the end of the lesson so that she might meet Emil. How great had been her love for him, indeed; and how strange it was that it should have died so completely!
And now, when she had returned to these scenes, she was a widow, had been so for years, and had a child at home who was growing up. If she had died, Emil would never have heard of it, or perhaps not until years afterwards. Her eyes fell on a large placard fixed on the entrance, gates of the Conservatoire. It was an announcement of the concert at which he was going to play, and there was his name appearing among a number of other great ones, many of which she had long since admired with gentle awe.
"BRAHMS VIOLIN CONCERTO—EMIL LINDBACH, VIOLINIST TO THE COURT OF BAVARIA."
"Violinist to the Court of Bavaria!"—she had never heard anything about that before.
Gazing up at his name, which stood out in glittering letters, it seemed to her as though the next moment Emil himself might come out through the gate, his violin case in his hand, a cigarette between his lips. Of a sudden it all seemed so near, and nearer still when all at once from the windows above came floating down the long-drawn notes of a violin, just as she had so often heard in the old days.
She thought she would like to come to Vienna for that concert—yes, even if she should be obliged to spend the night at an hotel! And she would take a seat right in front and see him quite close at hand. She wondered whether he, in his turn, would see her, and, if so, whether he would recognize her. She remained standing before the yellow placard, wholly absorbed in thought, until she felt that some young people coming out of the Conservatoire were staring at her and then she realized that she had been smiling to herself the whole time, as if lost in a pleasant dream.
She proceeded to walk on. The district around the town-park had also changed, and, when she sought the places where she and Emil had often been for walks together, she found that they had quite' disappeared. Trees had been felled, boardings barred the way, the ground had been dug up, and in vain she tried to find the seat where she and Emil had exchanged words of love, the tone of which she remembered so well without being able to recall the actual phrases.
Presently she reached the trim well-kept part of the park, which was full of people. But she had a sensation that many were looking at her, and that some ladies were laughing at her. And once more she felt that she was looking very countrified. She was vexed at being embarrassed, and thought of the time when, as a pretty young girl, she had walked, proud and unconcerned, along these very avenues. It seemed to her that she had fallen off so much since then, and become so pitiable. Her idea of sitting in the front row of the concert hall appeared presumptuous, almost unfeasible. It seemed also highly improbable now that Emil Lindbach would recognize her; indeed, it struck her as almost impossible that he should remember her existence. What a number of experiences he must have had! How many women and girls might well have loved him—and in a manner quite different from her own!
And whilst she continued her way, walking, now along the less frequented avenues and at length out of the park upon the Ringstrasse again, she drew a mental picture of the beloved of her youth figuring in all manner of adventures, in which confused recollections of events depicted in the novels she had read and indistinctly formed ideas of his professional tours were strangely intermingled. She imagined him in Venice with a Russian princess in a gondola; then in her mind's eye she saw him at the court of the King of Bavaria, where duchesses listened to his playing, and fell in love with him; then in the boudoir of an opera singer; then at a fancy-dress ball in Spain, with crowds of alluring masqueraders about him. The further he seemed to soar away, unapproachable and enviable, the more miserable she felt herself to be, and all at once it seemed utterly inconceivable that she had so lightly surrendered her own hopes of an artistic career and given up her lover, in order to lead a sunless existence, and to be lost in the crowd. A shudder seemed to seize her as she recalled that she was nothing but the widow of an insignificant man, that she lived in a provincial town, that she earned her living by means of music lessons, and that she saw old age slowly approaching. Never had there fallen upon her way so much as a single ray of the brilliance which shone upon the road his footsteps would tread so long as he lived. And again the same shudder ran through her at the thought that she had always been content with her lot, and that, without hope and indeed, without yearning, she had passed her whole existence in a gloom, which, at that moment, seemed inexplicable.
She reached the Aspernbrueke without in the least giving heed to where her footsteps were taking her. She wished to cross the street at this point, but had to wait while a great number of carriages drove by. Most of them were occupied by gentlemen, many of whom carried field-glasses. She knew that they were returning from the races at the Prater.
There came an elegant equipage in which were seated a young man and a girl, the latter dressed in a white spring costume. Immediately behind was a carriage containing two strikingly dressed ladies. Bertha gazed long after them, and noticed that one of the ladies turned round, and that the object of her attention was the carriage which followed immediately behind, and in which sat a young and very handsome man in a long grey overcoat. Bertha was conscious of something very painful—uneasiness and annoyance at one and the same time. She would have liked to be the lady whom the young man followed; she would have liked to be beautiful, young, independent, and, Heaven knows, she would have liked to be any woman who could do as she wanted, and could turn round after men who pleased her.
And at that moment she realized, quite distinctly, that Frau Rupius was now in the company of somebody whom she loved. Indeed why shouldn't she? Of course, so long as she stayed in Vienna, she was free and mistress of her own time—besides, she was a very pretty woman, and was wearing a fragrant violet costume. On her lips there hovered a smile such as only comes to those who are happy—and Frau Rupius was unhappy at home. All at once, Bertha had a vision of Herr Rupius sitting in his room, looking at the engravings. But on that day, surely, he was not doing so; no, he was trembling for his wife, consumed with an immense fear that some one yonder in the great city would take her away from him, that she would never return, and that he would be left all alone with his sorrow. And Bertha suddenly felt a thrill of compassion for him, such as she had never experienced before. Indeed, she would have liked to be with him, to comfort and to reassure him.
She felt a touch on her arm. She started and looked up. A young man was standing beside her and gazing at her with an impudent leer. She stared at him, full in the face, still quite absentmindedly; then he said with a laugh:
She was frightened, and almost ran across the street, quickly passing in front of a carriage. She was ashamed of her previous desire to be the lady in the carriage she had seen coming from the Prater. It seemed as though the man's insolence had been her punishment. No, no, she was a respectable woman; in the depth of her soul she had an aversion to everything that savoured of the insolent.... No, she could no longer stay in Vienna, where women were exposed to such things! A longing for the peace of her home came over her, and she rejoiced in the prospect of meeting her little boy again, as in something extraordinarily beautiful.
What time was it, though? Heavens, a quarter of seven! She would have to take a carriage; there was no question about that now, indeed! Frau Rupius had, of course, paid for the carriage in the morning, and so the one which she was now going to take would only cost her half, so to speak. She took her seat in an open cab, leaned back in the corner, in almost the same aristocratic manner as that of the lady she had seen in the white frock. People gazed after her. She knew that she was now looking young and pretty. Moreover, she was feeling quite safe, nothing could happen to her. She took an indescribable pleasure in the swift motion of the cab with its rubber-tyred wheels. She thought how splendid it would be if on the occasion of her next visit she were to drive through the town, wearing her new costume and the small straw hat which made her look so young.
She was glad that Frau Rupius was standing in the entrance to the station and saw her arrive. But she betrayed no sign of pride, and acted as though it was quite the usual thing for her to drive up to the station in a cab.
"We have still ten minutes to spare," said Frau Rupius. "Are you very angry with me for having kept you waiting? Just fancy, my brother was giving a grand children's party to-day, and the little ones simply wouldn't let me go. It occurred to me too late that I might really have called for you; the children would have amused you so much. I have told my brother that, next time, I will bring you and your boy with me."
Bertha felt heartily ashamed of herself. How she had wronged this woman again! She could only press her hand and say:
"Thank you, you are very kind!"
They went on to the platform and entered an empty compartment. Frau Rupius had a small bag of cherries in her hand, and she ate them slowly, one after another, throwing the stones out of the window. When the train began to move out of the station she leaned back and closed her eyes. Bertha looked out of the window; she felt very tired after so much walking, and a slight uneasiness arose within her; she might have spent the day differently, more quietly and enjoyably. Her chilly reception and the tedious dinner at her cousin's came to her mind. After all, it was a great pity that she no longer had any acquaintances in Vienna. She had wandered like a stranger about the town in which she had lived twenty-six years. Why? And why had she not made the carriage pull up in the morning, when she saw the figure that seemed to have a resemblance to Emil Lindbach? True, she would not have been able to run or call after him—but if it had been really he, if he had recognized her and been pleased to see her again? They might have walked about together, might have told each other all that had happened during the long time that had passed since they had last known anything about one another; they might have gone to a fashionable restaurant and had dinner; some would naturally have recognized him, and she would have heard quite distinctly people discussing the question as to who "she" might really be. She was looking beautiful, too; the new costume was already finished; and the waiters served her with great politeness, especially a small youth who brought the wine—but he was really her nephew, who had, of course, become a waiter in that restaurant instead of a student. Suddenly Herr and Frau Martin entered the dining-hall; they were holding one another in such a tender embrace as if they were the only people there. Then Emil rose to his feet, took up the violin bow which was lying beside him, and raised it with a commanding gesture, whereupon the waiter turned Herr and Frau Martin out of the room. Bertha could not help laughing at the incident, laughing much too loudly indeed, for by this time she had quite forgotten how to behave in a fashionable restaurant. But then it was not a fashionable restaurant at all; it was only the coffee room at the "Red Apple," and the military band was playing somewhere out of sight. That, be it known, was a clever invention on the part of Herr Rupius, that military bands could play without being seen. Now, however, it was her turn that was immediately to follow. Yonder was the piano—but, of course, she had long since completely forgotten how to play; she would run away rather than be forced to play. And all at once she was at the railway station, where Frau Rupius was already waiting for her. "It is high time you came," she said. She placed in Bertha's hand a large book, which, by the way, was her ticket. Frau Rupius, however, was not going to take the train; she sat down, ate cherries and spat out the stones at the stationmaster, who took a huge delight in the proceedings. Bertha entered the compartment. Thank God, Herr Klingemann was already there! He made a sign to her with his screwed-up eyes, and asked her if she knew whose funeral it was. She saw that a hearse was standing on the other line. Then she remembered that the captain with whom the tobacconist's wife had deceived Herr Klingemann was dead—of course, it was the day of the concert at the "Red Apple." Suddenly Herr Klingemann blew on her eyes, and laughed in a rumbling way.