THE MALADY OF THE CENTURY
Author of "THE COMEDY OF SENTIMENT," "HOW WOMEN LOVE," Etc., Etc.
I. Mountain and Forest II. Vanity of Vanities III. Heroes IV. It was not to be V. A Lay Sermon VI. An Idyll VII. Symposium VIII. Dark Days IX. Results X. A Seaside Romance XI. In the Horselberg XII. Tannhauser's Plight XIII. Consummation XIV. Uden Horizo
THE MALADY OF THE CENTURY
MOUNTAIN AND FOREST.
"Come, you fellows, that's enough joking. This defection of yours, melancholy Eynhardt, combines obstinacy with wisdom, like Balaam's ass! Well! may you rest in peace. And now let us be off."
The glasses, filled with clear Affenthaler, rang merrily together, the smiling landlord took up his money, and the company rose noisily from the wooden bench, overturning it with a bang. The round table was only proof against a similar accident on account of its structure, which some one with wise forethought had so designed that only the most tremendous shaking could upset its equilibrium. The boisterous group consisted of five or six young men, easily recognized as students by their caps with colored bands, the scars on their faces, and their rather swaggering manner. They slung their knapsacks on, stepped through the open door of the little arbor where they had been sitting, on to the highroad, and gathered round the previous speaker. He was a tall, good-looking young man, with fair hair, laughing blue eyes, and a budding mustache.
"Then you are determined, Eynhardt, that you won't go any further?" asked he, with an accent which betrayed him as a Rhinelander.
"Yes, I am determined," Eynhardt answered.
"A groan for the worthless fellow; but more in sorrow than in anger," said the tall one to the others. They groaned three times loudly, all together, while the Rhinelander gravely beat time. An unpracticed ear would very likely have failed to note the shade of feeling implied in the noise; but he appeared satisfied.
"Well, just as you like. No compulsion. Freedom is the best thing in life—including the freedom to do stupid things."
"Perhaps he knows of some cave where he is going to turn hermit," said one of the group.
"Or he has a little business appointment, and we should be in the way," said another.
They laughed, and the Rhinelander went on:
"Well! moon away here, and we will travel on. But before all things be true to yourself. Don't forget that the whole world is as much a phantom as the brown Black Forest maiden. And now farewell; and think a great deal about us phantom people, who will always keep up the ghost of a friendship for you."
The young man whom he addressed shook him and the others by the hand, and they all lifted their caps with a loud "hurrah," and struck out vigorously on the road. The sentiment of the farewell, and the tender speeches, had been disposed of in the inn, so they now parted gayly, in youth's happy fullness of life and hope for the future, and without any of that secret melancholy which Time the immeasurable distils into every parting. Hardly had they turned their backs on the friend they left behind them when they began to sing, "Im Schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon," exaggerating the melancholy of the first half of the tune, and the gayety of the second, passing riotously away behind a turn of the road, their song becoming fainter and fainter in the distance.
This little scene, which took place on an August afternoon in the year 1869, had for its theater the highroad leading from Hausach to Triberg, just at the place where a footpath descends into the valley to the little town of Hornberg. The persons represented were young men who had lately graduated at Heidelberg, and who were taking a holiday together in the Black Forest, recovering from the recent terrors of examination in the fragrant air of the pine woods. As far off as Offenburg they had traveled by the railway in the prosaic fashion of commercial travelers, from there they had tramped like Canadian backwoodsmen, and reached Hasslach—twelve miles as the crow flies. After resting for a day they set out at the first cockcrow, and before the noontide heat reached the lovely Kinzigthal, which lies all along the way from Hausach to Hornberg. Over the door of a wayside inn a signboard, festooned with freshly-cut carpenter's shavings, beckoned invitingly to them, and here the young men halted. The view from this place was particularly beautiful. The road made a kind of terrace halfway up the mountain, on one side rising sheer up for a hundred feet to its summit, thickly wooded all the way, on the other side sloping to the wide valley, where the Gutach flowed, at times tumbling over rough stones, or again spreading itself softly like oil, through flat meadow land. Below lay the little town of Hornberg, with its crooked streets and alleys, its stately square, framing an old church, several inns, and prosperous-looking houses and shops. Beyond the valley rose a high, steep hill, with a white path climbing in zigzags through its wooded sides. On the summit a white house with many windows was perched, seeming to hang perpendicularly a thousand feet above the valley. Its whitewashed walls stood out sharply against the background of green pine trees, clearly visible for many miles round. A conspicuous inscription in large black letters showed that this audacious and picturesque house was the Schloss hotel, and a glance at the gray ruined tower which rose behind it gave at once a meaning to the name. Behind the hill, with its outline softened by trees and encircled by the blue sky, were ridges of other hills in parallel lines meeting the horizon, alternately sharp-edged and rounded, stretching from north to south. They seemed like some great sea, with majestic wave-hills and wave-valleys; behind the first appeared a second, then a third, then a fourth, as far as one's eye could see; each one of a distinct tone of color, and of all the shades from the deepest green through blue and violet to vaporous pale gray.
The sight of this picture had decided Wilhelm Eynhardt not to go any further. The others had resolved to push on to Triberg the same day, and above all, not to turn back till they had bathed in the Boden-see. As every persuasion was powerless to alter Eynhardt's decision, they separated, and the travelers started on their walk to Triberg. Eynhardt, however, stayed at Hornberg, meaning to climb to the Schloss hotel again from the other side.
Wilhelm Eynhardt was a young man of twenty-four, tall and slim of figure, with a strikingly handsome face. His eyes were almond-shaped, not large but very dark, with much charm of expression. The finely-marked eyebrows served by their raven blackness to emphasize the whiteness of the forehead, which was crowned by an abundant mass of curling black hair. His fresh complexion had still the bloom of early youth, and would hardly have betrayed his age, if it had not been shaded by a dark brown silky beard, which had never known a razor. It was an entirely uncommon type, recalling in profile, Antinous, and the full face reminding one of the St. Sebastian of Guido Roni in the museum of the Capitol; a face of the noblest manhood, without a single coarse feature. His manner, although quiet, gave the impression of keen enthusiasm, or, more rightly speaking, of unworldly inspiration. All who saw him were powerfully attracted, but half-unconsciously felt a slight doubt whether even so fine a specimen of manhood was quite fitly organized and equipped for the strife of existence. At the university he had been given the nickname of Wilhelmina, on account of a certain gentleness and delicacy of manner, and because he neither drank nor smoked. Such jokes, not ill-natured, were directed against his outward appearance, but had a shade of meaning as regards his character.
As Wilhelm walked into the courtyard of the Schloss hotel he stopped a moment to regain his breath. Before him was the stately new house, whose white-painted walls and many windows had looked down on the high-road; to the left stood the round tower inclosed within a ruined wall, shading an airy lattice-work building, in which on a raised wooden floor stood a table and some benches. Several people, evidently guests at the hotel, sat there drinking wine and beer, and eying the newcomer curiously. The burly landlord, in village dress, emerged from the open door of the cellar in the tower, and wished him "good-day." He had a thick beard and a sunburned face, with good-natured blue eyes. With a searching glance at the young man's cap and knapsack, he waited for Wilhelm to speak.
"Can I have a room looking on to the valley?" asked the latter.
"Not at this moment," the landlord answered, clearing his throat loudly; "there is hardly a room free here, and that only in the top story. But to-morrow, or the day after, many people are leaving, and then I can give you what you want."
Wilhelm's face clouded with disappointment, but only for a moment, then he said: "Very well, I will stay."
"Luggage?" said the landlord, in his short, unceremonious way. "My luggage is at Haslach. It can come up to-morrow."
"Bertha," called the landlord, in such a strident tone that the mountains echoed the sound. The visitors drinking in the kiosk smiled; they were well accustomed to the man. A neat red-cheeked girl appeared in the doorway. "Number 47," shouted the landlord, and went off to his other duties.
Bertha led the new guest up three flights of uncarpeted wooden staircase, down a long passage to a light, clean, but sparely-furnished room. The girl told him the hours of meals, brought some water, and left him alone. He hung his knapsack on a hook on the wall, opened the little window, and gazed long at the view. Underneath was the open space where he had been standing, to the left the tower, and behind, over the ruined walls, he could see the old, neglected castle yard full of weeds and heaps of rubbish—a picture of decay and desolation.
"I have chosen well," thought Wilhelm, for he loved solitude, and promised himself enjoyable hours of wandering in the ruins in company with luxuriant flowers and singing birds.
He barely gave himself time to freshen his face with cold water, and to change his thick walking shoes for lighter ones; immediately hurrying out to make acquaintance with the castle. Before he could get there he had first to find in the tumbledown wall a hole large enough to enable him to get through. He shortly found himself in a fairly large square space, the uneven ground being formed of a mass of rubbish, mounds of earth, and deep holes. Woods protected the greater part of it, most of the trees stunted and choked by undergrowth and shrubs, with occasionally a high, solitary pine tree, and near to the west and south walls half-withered oaks and mighty beeches stood thickly. Here and there from the bushes peeped up bare pieces of crumbling stone and broken pieces of mortar, in whose crevices hung long grasses, and where yellow, white, and red flowers nestled. Climbing, stumbling, and slipping, he worked his way through this wilderness, the length and breath of which he wished to inspect so as to discover a place where he could rest quietly, when he suddenly came to a precipitous fall of the ground, concealed from him by a thick curtain of leaves. Startled and taken by surprise, the ground seemed to him to sink under his feet. He instinctively caught hold of some branches to keep himself from falling, pricking his hands with the thorns, and breaking a slender bough, finally rolling in company with dust and earth, torn-out bushes and stone, down a steep declivity of several feet to a little grass plot at the bottom. He heard a slight scream near him, and a girlish form sprang up and cried in an anxious voice:
"Have you hurt yourself?"
Wilhelm picked himself up as quickly as he could, brushed the earth from his clothes, and taking off his cap said, "Thanks, not much. Only a piece of awkwardness. But I am afraid I have frightened you?" he added.
"A little bit; but that is all right."
They looked at each other for the first time, and the lady laughed, while Wilhelm blushed deeply. She stopped again directly, blushed also, and dropped her eyes. She was a girl in the first bloom of youth, of particularly fine and well-made figure, with a beautiful face; two dimples in her cheeks giving her a roguish expression, and a pair of lively brown eyes. A healthy color was in her cheeks, and in the well-cut, seductive little mouth. Her luxuriant, golden-brown hair, in the fashion of the day, was brushed back in long curls. She had as her only ornament a pale gold band in her hair, and wore a simple dress of light-flowered material, the high waistband fitting close to the girlish figure. Conventionality began to assert its rights over nature, and the girl too felt confused at finding herself in the middle of a conversation with a strange man, suddenly shot down at her very feet. Wilhelm understood and shared her embarrassment, and bowing, he said:
"As no doubt we are at the same house, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Wilhelm Eynhardt. I come from Berlin, and took up my abode an hour ago at the Schloss hotel."
"From Berlin," said the girl quickly; "then we are neighbors. That is very nice. And where do you live in Berlin, if I may ask?"
"Of course you do," and a clear laugh deepened the shadow of her dimples.
"Why 'of course?'" asked Wilhelm, rather surprised.
"Why, because that is our Latin quarter, and as a student—you are a student, I suppose?"
"Yes, and no. In the German sense I am no longer a student, for I took my degree a year ago; but the word in English is better and truer, as there 'student' is used where we should say scholar (gelehrter). Scholars we are, not only learners. In the English sense then I am a student, and hope to remain so all my life."
"Ah, you speak English," she said, quickly catching at the word; "that is charming. I am tremendously fond of English, and am quite accustomed to it, as I spent a great part of my time in England when I was very young. I have been told that I have a slight English accent in speaking German. Do you think so?"
"My ear is not expert enough for that," said Wilhelm apologetically.
"My friends," she chattered on, "nearly all speak French; but I think English is much more uncommon. Fluent English in a German is always proof of good education. Don't you think so?"
"Not always," said Wilhem frankly; "it might happen that one had worked as a journeyman in America."
The girl turned up her nose a little at this rather unkind observation, but Wilhelm went on:
"With your leave I would rather keep to our mother-tongue. To speak in a foreign language with a fellow-country-woman without any necessity would be like acting a charade, and a very uncomfortable thing."
"I think a charade is very amusing," she answered; "but just as you like. Opportunities of speaking English are not far to seek. Most of the visitors at the hotel are English. I dare say you have noticed it already. But they are not the best sort. They are common city people, who even drop their h's, but who play at being lords on the Continent. Of course I have learned already to tell a 'gentleman' from a 'snob.'"
Wilhelm smiled at the self-conscious importance with which she spoke. His eyes wandered over her beautiful hair, to the tender curve of her slender neck and beautiful shoulders, while she, feeling perfectly secure again, settled herself comfortably. Her seat was a projecting piece of stone, which had been converted by a soft covering of moss into a delightful resting-place. An overhanging bush shaded it pleasantly. In front lay a corner of the castle; across a smooth piece of turf and through a wide gap in the wall they caught a view of the mountains, as if painted by some artist's brush—a perfect composition which would have put the crowning touch to his fame. The girl had been trying to make a sketch of the view in a well-worn sketchbook which lay near.
"You have given a sufficient excuse for your sketches by your feeling for natural beauty," remarked Wilhelm. "May I look at the page?"
"Oh," she said, somewhat confused, "my will is of the best, but I can do so little," and she hesitatingly gave him her album. He took it and also the pencil, looked alternately at the mountains and on the page of the book, and without asking leave began to improve upon it, strengthening a line here, lightening a shadow and giving greater breadth, and then growing deeply interested in his work, he sat down without ceremony on the mossy bank, took a piece of india-rubber, and erasing here, adding lines there, sometimes laying in a shadow, giving strength to the foreground and lightness to the background, he ended by making a really pretty and artistic sketch.
The girl had watched him wonderingly, and said as he returned the album, "But you are a great artist," and without letting him speak she went on, "and by your appearance I had taken you for a student! But you are not in the least like a student, nor in fact like a German either. I have often met Indian princes in society in London, and I think you are very much like them."
Wilhelm smiled. "There is a grain of truth in what you say, although you overrate it a little. A great artist I certainly am not, nor even a little one, but I have always observed much and painted a good deal myself, and originally I thought of devoting myself to an artist's career; and if I have nothing in common with Indian princes, and am merely a plebeian German, I very likely have a drop of Indian blood in my veins."
"Really," she said, with curiosity.
"Yes, my mother was a Russian German living in Moscow, and whose father, a Thuringian, had married a Russian girl of gypsy descent. Through this grandmother, whom I never knew, I am related by remote genealogical descent to Indians. But you do not look like a German either, with your beautiful dark hair and eyebrows."
She took this personal compliment in good part as she answered quickly:
"There is some reason for that too. Just as you have Indian, I have French blood in my veins. My father's mother was a Colonial, her maiden name was Du Binache."
So they gossiped on like old acquaintances. Young and beautiful as they were, they found the deepest pleasure in one another, and the cold feeling of strangeness melted as by a charm. They were awakened to the consciousness that half an hour earlier neither of them had an idea of the other's existence, by the appearance of a girl in the gap in the wall, who seemed very much surprised at the sight of their evident intimacy. The young lady stood up rather hastily and went a few steps toward the newcomer, a servant-maid, who had brought a cloak for her mistress, and took charge of her album, sunshade, and large straw hat.
"Is it so late already?" she said, with a naive surprise, which left no room for doubt even to Wilhelm's modesty.
"Certainly, fraulein," said the maid, pointing with her hand to the distant mountain, whose peaks were already clothed with the orange hue of twilight; then she looked alternately at her young mistress and the strange gentleman, whose handsome face she inwardly noted.
"Do you think of making any stay here?" asked the young lady of Wilhelm, who followed slowly.
"Yes, certainly," he answered at once.
"Then we may become good friends. My parents will be glad to make your acquaintance. I did not tell you before that my father is Herr Ellrich."
As Wilhelm merely bowed, without seeming to recognize the name, she said rather sharply, and slightly raising her voice:
"I thought as you came from Berlin you would be sure to know my father's name—Councilor Ellrich, Vice-President of the 'Seehandlung.'"
The name and title made very little impression on Wilhelm, but his politeness brought forth an "Ah!" which satisfied Fraulein Ellrich. They left the ruins by an easy path which Wilhelm had not noticed before, and walked together to the entrance of the hotel, where she took leave of him by an inclination of her head. He betook himself to his room in a dream, and while he recalled to his mind the picture of her beautiful face, and the clear ring of her voice, he thought how grateful he was to this chance, that not only had he become acquainted with the girl, but that he had avoided in such a glorious fashion the discomfort of a formal introduction. Also Wilhelm knew himself well, and felt sure that, badly endowed as he was for forming new acquaintances, he could never have become friends with Fraulein Ellrich apart from the accident of his fall in the castle yard.
Dinner was served at separate tables where single guests might take it as they pleased, and Wilhelm was absentminded and dreamy when he sat down. He scarcely glanced at the large, cool dining-room, ornamented with engravings of portraits of the Grand Dukes of Baden and their wives. Six large windows looked into the valley of the Gutach with its little town of Hornberg, and the mountains lying beyond. He hardly noticed the rather silent people at the other tables, in which the English element predominated. He had come in purposely late in the hope of finding Fraulein Ellrich already there. She was not present; but he was not kept long in suspense before a waiter opened the door, and the lovely girl appeared accompanied by a stately gentleman and a stout lady. They seemed to be known to the servants, for as soon as they appeared the headwaiter and his subordinates rushed toward them, and with many bows and scrapes took their wraps from them and ushered them to their places.
Wilhelm, who possessed very little knowledge of society, was somewhat at a loss. Ought he to recognize the young lady? If he followed his inclination, he certainly would do so. But her parents! They seemed to be cold and reserved-looking. Happily all fell out for the best. The Ellrichs walked straight to the table where he was sitting, and in a moment Wilhelm was greeting his lovely acquaintance with a low bow. Her quick eyes had already recognized him from the doorway. She returned his greeting smiling and blushing, and as her father nodded kindly, the ice was broken. Wilhelm introduced himself, and the councilor gave him the tips of his fingers and said: "If you have no objection we will sit at your table." His wife, who gazed at Wilhelm through a gold "pince-nez" with hardly concealed surprise, took her place next to him; on the other side sat her husband, and opposite the daughter's face smiled at him.
The councilor was a well-preserved man of about fifty, of good height, dressed in a well-made gray traveling suit, with a light gray silk tie adorned with a pin of black pearl. His closely-cut hair was very thin, and had almost disappeared from the top of his head. His chin was clean-shaven, but his well-brushed whiskers and closely-cut mustache showed signs of gray. His light blue eyes were cold and rather tired-looking, at the corners of the mouth were evident signs of indolence, and his whole appearance gave an impression of self-consciousness mixed with indifference toward the rest of mankind; his wife, stout, blooming, and tranquil, appeared to be a kindly soul.
The conversation opened trivially on the circumstances of Wilhelm meeting with Fraulein Ellrich, and on the beauty of the neighborhood, which Herr Ellrich glorified as not being overrun.
"I would much rather recommend it for quiet than Switzerland with its crowds," he said.
Wilhelm agreed with him, and related how he was induced by the romantic aspect of the place to give up his original plans, and to anchor himself here. When they questioned him, he gave them some information about Heidelberg and his journey to Hornberg. Frau Ellrich complimented him on his sketch, and while he modestly disclaimed the praise, she asked him why he had not devoted himself to art.
"That is a peculiar result of my development," answered Wilhelm thoughtfully. "While I was still at the gymnasium I sketched and painted hard, and after the final examination I went to the Art Academy for two years; but the further I went into the study of art, and the more attentively I followed in the beaten track of art-studies, the clearer it was to me that he who would secure an abiding success in art must be a blind copyist of nature. Certainly the personal peculiarities of an artist often please his contemporaries. It is the fashion to do him honor if he flatters the prevailing direction of taste. But those of the race who follow after, scorn what those before them have admired, and exactly what those of one time have prized as progressive innovations, they who come after reject as mere aberration. What the artist has himself accomplished, I mean his so-called personal comprehension or his capricious interpretation of nature, passes away; but what he simply and honorably reproduces, as he has truly seen it, lives forever, and the remotest age will gladly recognize in such art-work its old acquaintance, unchanging nature."
Fraulein Ellrich hung on his words in astonishment, while her parents calmly went on eating their fish.
"So," went on Wilhelm, speaking chiefly to his opposite neighbor, "so, I tried when I drew or painted to reproduce nature with the greatest truth; but at a certain point I became conscious of a perception that a hidden meaning in an unintelligible language lay written there. The form of things, and also every so-called accident of form, appeared to me to be the necessary expression of something within, which was hidden from me. The wish arose in me to penetrate behind the visible face of nature, to know why she appears in such a way, and not in another. I wanted to learn the language, the words of which, with no understanding of their sense, I had been slavishly copying; and so I turned to the study of physical science."
"So your two years at the Art School were not wasted," remarked Herr Ellrich.
"Certainly not, for to an observer of natural objects it is most valuable to have a trained eye for form and color."
"Yes, and beside, drawing and painting are such charming accomplishments, and so useful to a young man in society."
"Playing the piano and singing are still more so," put in Frau Ellrich.
"But dancing most of all," cried Fraulein Ellrich. "Do you dance?"
"No," answered Wilhelm shortly.
The words jarred upon him, and a silence ensued.
The councilor broke this with the question:
"Then you are a doctor of physical science?"
"What is your particular department? Zoology, botany?"
"I have principally studied chemistry and physics, and I think of devoting myself to the latter."
"Physics, oh yes. A wide and beautiful sphere. So much is included in it. Electricity, galvanism, magnetism—those are all new faculties very little known; and as regards submarine telegraph the knowledge cannot be too useful."
"These sides of the question have not hitherto interested me. I ask of physics the unlocking of the nature of things. It has not yet given me the key, but it is something to know on what insecure, weak, and limited experiments our vaunted knowledge of the existence of the world of energy, of matter and their properties, depend."
Frau Ellrich looked at him approvingly.
"You speak beautifully, Herr Eynhardt, and it must be a great enjoyment to hear you lecture."
"You will soon have a professorship, I suppose?" remarked Herr Ellrich, turning around to the blushing Wilhelm.
"Oh, no!" said he quickly, "I do not aspire to that; I believe in Faust's verse: 'Ich ziehe... meine Schuler an der Nase herum—Und sehe dass wir nichts wissen konnen;' and I also bilde mir nicht ein, Ich konnte was lehren.' I wonder at and envy the men who teach such things with so much influence and conviction, and I am very grateful to them for initiating me into their methods and power of working properly. But there has never been a likelihood of my venturing to approach young men and saying to them, 'You must work with me for three years earnestly and diligently, and I will lead you to knowledge, so that at last, through the contents of a book, you may get a flying glimpse of the phantom which has so often eluded you.'"
"Your opinions are very interesting," said Herr Ellrich; "but a professorship is still the one practical goal for a man who studies physics. Forgive me if I express my meaning bluntly; there is money to be made in physics through a professorship."
"Happily I am in a position which makes it unnecessary for me to work for my bread."
"That is quite another thing," said the councilor in a friendly way, while his wife cast a quick glance over Wilhelm's clothes, unfashionable and rather worn, but scrupulously clean.
"One can see that this idealist neglects his outward appearance," her good-natured glance, half-apologetic, half-compassionate, seemed to say.
Herr Ellrich changed the conversation to the management of the hotel; discussing for a time the Margrave's wines, the south German cookery, the Black Forest tourists, and a variety of other minor topics. He then asked his daughter:
"Now, Loulou, have you made a programme for tomorrow yet? She is our maitre de plaisir," he explained to Wilhelm.
"A frightfully difficult post," exclaimed Loulou. "Papa and mamma love quiet; I like moving about, and I endeavor to harmonize the two."
Wilhelm thought that the opposing tasks would very soon be harmonized if Loulou subordinated her inclinations to her parents' comfort; but he kept his thoughts to himself.
"I vote that to-morrow morning we go for a little drive. As to the afternoon, we can arrange that later. Perhaps Dr.—-" She stopped short, and her mother came to her help and completed the invitation.
"It would be very kind of you to join us."
"I am only afraid that I might be in the way."
"Oh, no; certainly not," said the mother and daughter together, and Herr Ellrich nodded encouragingly.
Wilhelm felt that the invitation was meant cordially, and his fear of obtruding himself overcome, he accepted.
Circumstances at the castle very greatly favored Wilhelm's intercourse with the Ellrich's, or rather with Loulou. In this house on the summit of the hill they met constantly in close companionship. Frau Ellrich enjoyed nothing better than walking on the arm of this handsome young man up and down the wooded slopes, as till now she had been obliged to go without such escort. Herr Ellrich liked to take his holiday in a different way from the ladies. If he felt obliged to take exercise he would borrow the landlord's gun and dogs and shoot. At other times he would lie down anywhere on a plaid on the grass, smoke a cigar, and read foreign papers like the Times from beginning to end. The afternoon was taken up by a nap, and in the evening he would be ready to hear an account of how his family had spent the day—perhaps in a long carriage excursion through the neighboring valleys.
Frau Ellrich was in the habit of appearing at the first table d'hote, and then doing homage to the peaceful custom of afternoon sleep. In the first cool hours of the morning she walked a little in the perfumed air of the pine woods, and the rest of the time she devoted to a voluminous correspondence, which seemed to be her one passion. Thus Loulou was alone nearly always in the morning, and frequently in the afternoon as well, and quite contented to ramble with Wilhelm through the woods, or to sit with him in the ruins, where they learned to know each other, and chattered without ceasing.
The subject of conversation mattered not. They had the story of their short lives to relate to one another. Loulou's was soon told. Her narrative was like the merry warbling of birds, and was from beginning to end the story of a serene dream of spring. She was the only child of her parents, who in spite of outward indifference and apparent coldness adored her, and had never denied her anything. The first fifteen years of her life were spent in her charming nest, in the beautiful house in the Lennestrasse, where she was born. "When we return to Berlin you shall see how pleasant my home is. I will show you my little blue sitting-room, my winter garden, my aviary, my parrots and blackbirds." A heavy trial had befallen her—the only trial that she had yet experienced. She had been sent to England for the completion of her education, and had to suddenly part from all her home surroundings. She stayed there for three years with an aunt who had married an English banker. The visit proved delightful, and she grew to love England enthusiastically. She drove and rode, and even followed the hounds. In winter there was the pantomime at Drury Lane, the flights to St. Leonards, Hastings, Leamington, the mad rides across country through frosted trees behind the hounds in full cry; in summer during the season there were parties, balls, the opera, the park; then in the holidays splendid travels with papa and mamma, once to Belgium, France, and the Rhine, another time to Switzerland and Italy, then to Heligoland and Norway. No, she could never have such good times again. In the following year she went back to Berlin, and had spent a very agreeable winter, a subscription ball, several other balls, innumerable soirees, a box at the opera, lovely acquaintances, with naturally many successes—the envy of false friends, but she did not allow herself to be much disturbed by them.
Wilhelm listened to this chatter with mixed feelings. If she seemed superficial, he reconciled himself by a glance at her beautiful silken hair, at her laughing brown eyes, at her roguish dimples, and instantly he pleaded with his cooler reason for pardon for the lovely girl—he for nineteen years had had other things beside pleasure to think of! These charms seemed enough to work the taming magic of Orpheus over the wild animals of the woods.
"And you were never," he asked timidly as she paused, "a little bit in love?"
"I can look after myself," she answered, with a silvery laugh, and Wilhelm felt as if an iron band had been lifted from his heart, like the trusty Henry's in the story.
"That points to marvelous wisdom in a child of society—seeing so many people—so attractive! You are indifferent then to admiration?"
"I did not say that. My fancy has been often enough touched, but—"
"But your heart has not?"
"Really not?" continued he, in a tone of voice in which, he himself detected the anxiety.
She shook her head, and looked down thoughtfully. But after a short pause she raised her rosy face and said, "No—better die than speak untruths—I was rather in love with our pastor who confirmed me. He was thin and pale with long hair, much longer than yours. And he spoke very beautifully and powerfully—I felt sentimental when I thought of him. But I soon got to know his wife, who was as pointed and hard as a knitting needle, and his children, whose number I never could count exactly, and my youthful feelings received a severe chill." She laughed, and Wilhelm joined her heartily.
It was now his turn to relate his story. He was as to his birthplace hardly a German, but a Russian, as he first saw the light in Moscow, in the year 1845.
"So you are now twenty-four?"
"Last May. Are you frightened at such an age, fraulein?"
"That is not so old, twenty-four—particularly for a man," she protested with great earnestness.
His father, he went on, was from Konigsberg, had studied philology, and when he left the university had become a tutor in a distinguished Russian family. He was the child of poor parents, and had to take the first opportunity which presented itself of earning his living. So he went to Russia, where he lived for twenty years as a tutor in private families, and then as a teacher in a Moscow gymnasium. He married late in life, an only child of German descent, who helped her middle-aged husband by a calm observance of duty and a mother's love for his children. "My mother was a remarkable woman. She had dark eyes and hair, and an enthusiastic and devoted expression in her face, which made me feel sad, as a child, if I looked at her for long. She spoke little, and then in a curious mixture of German and Russian. Strangely enough, she always called herself a German, and spoke Russian like a foreigner; but later, when we went to Berlin, she discovered that she was really a Russia, and always wished she were back in Moscow, never feeling at home amid her new surroundings. She was a Protestant like her father, but had inherited from her Russian mother a lingering affection for the orthodox faith, and she often used to go to the Golden Church of the Kremlin, whose brown, holy images had a mystical effect on her. She loved to sing gypsy songs in a low voice. She would not teach them to us. She was always very quiet, and preferred being alone with us to any society or entertainment."
When Wilhelm was four years old there came a little sister, a bright, light-haired, blue-eyed creature after her father's heart. She was named Luise, but she was always called Blondchen. She was his only playfellow, as the irritable father in Moscow cared for no acquaintances. His father's one wish was to return to his home, but for a long time the mother would not have it so. At last, in the year 1858, he accomplished his wish. He was then sixty-three years old, and he represented to his wife that after his life of unremitting work, now in its undoubted decline, he had a right to spend the last few years in peace in his native land. He possessed enough for his family to live on; the children would grow and get a better education than in Russia, and above all he wished to keep his Prussian nationality. The mother yielded, and so they came to Berlin, where the father bought a modest house near the Friedrich-Wilhelm gymnasium. This house was now Wilhelm's property. "We children liked Berlin very much. I soon became independent and self-reliant, after school hours wandering in the streets as much as I pleased, and used to make eager explorations in all directions, coming home enraptured when I had found a beautiful neighborhood, a stately house, a statue of some general in bronze or marble. I used to take Blondchen by the hand, and show her my discovery. The Friedrichstadt with its straight streets interested us very much; I had a fancy that the houses were marshaled in battalions, as if by an officer on parade, and that when he gave the word 'March,' they would suddenly walk away in step, like the soldiers on the parade ground. I explained this to my sister, and often when we were in our own street she would call out 'March!' to see if the long row of houses would not begin to move. However, we liked the old part of Berlin better, where the streets, with their capricious and serpent-like windings, reminded us of the crooked alleys of Moscow. The streamlets of the Spree exercised a powerful attraction over us. Blondchen thought they played hide-and-seek with children, who would run through the streets to search for them. They came suddenly into sight where one would least expect to see them, in the yard of a house in the Werderschen Market, behind an apparently innocent archway on the Hausvogtei Platz, at the backs of houses whose fronts betrayed no existence of any water near. My sister so often longed to catch sight of the oily satiny sheen of the river's light in unsuspected places that she would drag me off to note her discoveries. She wanted all the varying sights of the Spree, which showed itself at the ends of alleys, or in courtyards or behind houses, suddenly to appear to her, so that she might have the right to first name her discovery."
He was silent awhile, deep in memories of the past. Then he said: "If I have lingered over these childish reminiscences it is because I have not my Blondchen any longer. On one of our wandering excursions we were caught in a heavy shower of rain, and became wet through. My sister was taken ill with rheumatism, and eight days afterward we buried her in the churchyard."
The mother soon followed Blondchen. Sorrow over the child, and homesickness, combined with weak health, proved too great a strain. Wilhelm remained alone with the dispirited and sorrowful old father, whom he never left except for his three years' military service in the field. Then the father, to shorten the time of separation, accompanied the army (in spite of his seventy years) as an ambulance assistant. The following year he died, and Wilhelm was left alone in the world.
Loulou was not wanting in heart, and she had as much feeling as it is proper for an educated German girl to show. By an involuntary movement, she held out her hand, which Wilhelm caught and kissed. They both grew very red, and she looked wistfully at him with her eyes wet. Had he understood the look, and been of a bold nature, he would have clasped the girl to his breast and kissed her. Her red lips would have made scarcely any resistance. But the confusion of mind passed quickly, the light afternoon sunshine and the sight of the people passing through the breach in the castle wall brought him to full consciousness, and the dangerous step was not taken. Loulou recovered her sprightliness, and going back to his story asked him, "So you have been in a campaign?"
"Did you become an officer?"
"No, fraulein, only a 'vize-Feldwebel.'"
"Have you fought in a battle?"
"Oh, yes, at Burkersdork, Skalitz, Koniginhof, and Koniggratz."
"That must have been frightfully interesting. And have you ever killed one of the enemy?"
"Happily not. It does not fall to the lot of every soldier to kill a man. He does his duty if he stands up in his place ready to be killed."
"Have you any photographs of yourself in uniform?"
He looked at her surprised and said:
A roguish smile, which at the last question had curled at the corners of her mouth, broke into a merry laugh.
"I wanted to know whether you marched into battle with your curls, or whether you sacrificed them to the fatherland?"
Wilhelm was not offended, but said simply:
"Dear young lady, appearances give you the right to make fun—"
"Ah, don't be angry, I am ill-mannered."
"No, no, you are quite right; but, believe me, I only wear my hair long so as to save myself the trouble of going to the hairdresser's. If I dared imagine that I should be less insupportable with a tonsure—"
"For heaven's sake, don't think of it, the curls suit you very well." She said this with a frivolity of manner which she immediately perceived to be unsuitable, and to get over her embarrassment, she jumped at another subject of conversation. "So you live quite alone? That strikes me as being very dreary. Still you must have many friends?"
"Yes, so-called friends—comrades from the gymnasium, from the academy, and the university. But I do not count much on these superficial acquaintances—I have really only one friend."
"Who is she"
"He is called Paul Haber, and is Assistant of Chemistry at the Agricultural College."
"A nice man?"
"How old is he?"
"About a year older than I am."
"What is he like?"
"I believe he is very good-looking, strong, not very tall, with a fair mustache, otherwise closely shaved, and with short hair, not like me! He thinks a good deal of appearance, and always knows what sort of ties are worn. He dances well, and is very pleased if people take him for an officer in civilian's clothes. But he is a true soul, and has a heart of gold. He is clever too, practical, and would do for me as much as I would do for him with all my heart."
"Hardly one unpleasant word for an absent friend. That is scarcely as my friends speak of me," and she quietly added: "Nor as I speak of my friends. You make me curious about Herr—"
"You must introduce him to us."
"He would be most happy."
Loulou now knew more about Wilhelm than she had hitherto known of any man in the world. Only on one point was she unenlightened, and this she hastened to clear up on the following day, when they were looking for berries in the wood.
"You asked me if my heart had been touched yet. Would it be right if I were to ask you the same question?"
"The question seems very natural to me—I can truthfully assure you I have never been in love, not even with a pastor with long hair."
"And has no one been in love with you?"
Wilhelm looked at the distance, and said dreamily:
"No; yet once—"
She felt a little stab at her heart, and said:
"Quick, tell me about it."
"It is a wonderful story—it happened in Moscow."
"But you were only a child then?"
"Yes, and she who loved me was a child too. She was four years old."
"Ah," said Loulou, with an involuntary sigh of relief.
"When I was about ten years old I was sitting one sunny autumn afternoon in the yard of our house on a little stool, and was deep in a story of pirates. Suddenly a shadow fell on my book. I looked up, and saw a wonderfully beautiful child before me, a long-haired, rosy-cheeked little girl, who looked at me with deep shining eyes, half-timidly, and shyly held her hand before her mouth. I smiled in a friendly way, and called to her to come nearer. She sprang close to me, at once threw her arms joyfully round my neck, kissed me, sat down on my knee, and said, 'Now tell me what your name is. I am a little girl, and my name is Sonia. I am not going away from you. Let me go to sleep for a little.' An old servant who had followed her came up and said in astonishment, 'Well, young sir, you may be proud of yourself, the child is generally so wild and rough, and with you she is as tame as a kitten.' I learned from her that little Sonia lived in the neighborhood, and that her aunt had come to look for her in our house. She would not go away from me, and the old servant had to call her mother, who only persuaded her to return home with great difficulty. She wanted to take me with her, and she was miserable when they told her that my mamma would not allow me. The next morning early she was there again, and called to me from the threshold, 'I am going to stay with you all day, Wilhelm, the whole day.' I had to go to school, however, and I told her so. She wanted to go with me, and cried and sobbed when they prevented her. Then her relations took her home, and I did not see her again. Later I heard that the same afternoon she was taken ill with diphtheria, and in her illness she cried so much for me that her mother came to mine to beg her to send me to her. My mother said nothing to me about it, fearing I might catch the disease. Sonia died the second day, and my name was the last word on her lips. I cried very much when they told me, and since then I have never forgotten my little Sonia."
"A strange story," said Loulou softly; "such a little girl to fall in love so suddenly. Yes," she went on, "if she had grown up—"
She could not say more, as Wilhelm, who had come near her, looked at her with wide-open, far-seeing eyes, and suddenly threw his arms round her. She cried out softly, and sank on his breast. "Loulou," "Wilhelm," was all they said. It had happened so quickly, so unconsciously, that they both felt as if they were awaking from a dream, as Loulou a minute later freed herself from his burning lips and encircling arms, and Wilhelm, confused and hardly master of his senses, stood before her. They turned silently homeward. She trembled all over and did not dare to take his arm. He inwardly reproached himself, yet he felt very happy in spite of it. Then, before they had reached the summit of the castle hill, he gathered all his courage together and said anxiously:
"Can you forgive me, Loulou? I love you so much."
"I love you too, Wilhelm," she answered, and stretched out her hand to him.
"Dare I speak to your mother, my own Loulou?" whispered he into her ear.
"Not here, Wilhelm," she said quickly, "not here. You do not know my parents well enough yet. Wait till we are in Berlin."
"I will do as you like," sighed he, and took leave of her with an eloquent glance, as they reached the hotel.
On this evening a quantity of curious things happened, which Wilhelm so far had not observed in spite of his studies in natural science. He could not touch his dinner, and Herr and Frau Ellrich's voices, against all the laws of acoustics, seemed to come from the far distance, and several minutes elapsed before the sounds reached his ears, although he sat close to the speakers. The waiters and hotel guests looked odd, and seemed to swim in a kind of rosy twilight. In the sky there seemed to be three times as many stars as usual. When the Ellrichs had withdrawn he went toward midnight alone into the fir woods, and heard unknown birds sing, caught strange and magic harmonies in the rustling of the branches, and felt as if he walked on air. He went to bed in the gray of early dawn, after writing from his overflowing heart the following letter to his friend Haber in Berlin:
"MY DEAREST PAUL: I am happy as I never thought of being happy. I love an unspeakably beautiful sweet brown maiden, and I really think she loves me too. Do not ask me to describe her. No words or brush could do it. You will see her and worship her. Oh, Paul, I could shout and jump or cry like a child. It is too foolish, and yet so unspeakably splendid, I can hardly understand how the dull, stupid people in this house can sleep so indifferently while she is under the same roof. If only you were here! I can hardly bear my happiness alone. I write this in great haste. Always your
Four days later the post brought this answer from his friend:
"Well, you are done for, that is certain, my dear Wilhelm. Confound it, you have gone in for it with a vengeance! I always thought that when you did catch fire, you would give no end of a blaze. So all your philosophy of abnegation, all your contempt for appearance go for nothing. What is your sweet brown maiden but a charming appearance! Nevertheless you have fallen completely in love with her, for which I wish you happiness with all my heart. I do not doubt that she loves you, because I should have been in love with you long ago if I had been a sweet brown maiden, you shockingly beautiful man. One thing is very like you, you say no word on what would most interest a Philistine like myself, viz., the worldly circumstances of the adored one. I must know her name, her relations, her descent. For all this you have naturally no curiosity. A name is smoke and empty sound. Now don't let your love go too far—sleep, and take care of your appetite, and keep a corner in your perilously full heart for your true
Wilhelm smiled as he read these lines in the strong symmetrical handwriting of his friend, and hastened to send him the news he desired. In the meanwhile his happiness was continual and increasing, and nothing troubled it but the thought of the coming separation. These two innocent children could hide their love as little as the sun his light. They were always together, their eyes always fixed on one another, their hands as often as possible clasped in each other's. All the people in the hotel noticed it, and were pleased about it, so natural did it seem that this handsome couple should be united by love. The chambermaid, rosy Bertha, saw what was going on with her sly peasant's eye, and by way of making herself agreeable used to whisper to him where he could find the young lady when she happened to meet him on the staircase. Wilhelm good-naturedly forgave the girl her obtrusiveness. Only Herr Ellrich saw nothing. In his foreign newspapers, in the blue smoke from his cigars, in the clouds of powder from his gun, he found nothing which could enlighten him as to the two young people's beautiful secret.
Frau Ellrich certainly had more knowledge than that. In spite of her correspondence and her long afternoon naps, she retained enough observation to see the condition of things pretty clearly. She waited for a confession from Loulou, and as this did not come soon enough for the impatience of her mother's heart, she tried a loving question. After a warm embrace from the girl, a few tears, a great many kisses, the mother and daughter understood each other. Wilhelm had pleased Frau Ellrich very much, and she had no objection to raise, but she could make no answer on her own responsibility, as she knew the views of her husband on the marriage of his only child, and after a few days she made him a cautious communication. Herr Ellrich did not take it badly, but as a practical man of the world he wished to give the feelings of the young people opportunity to bear the trials of separation, and for the present thought a decision useless. The projected visit to Ostend was hastened by some ten days. At dinner he made his decision known, adding, "You have pleased yourselves for three weeks, and now I want you to wait so long to please me." Wilhelm felt bitterly grieved that no one invited him to go to the fashionable watering-place, and Loulou even did not seem particularly miserable. The fact was, that at the bottom of her not very sentimental nature, she did not take the leaving of the Schloss hotel as a matter of great importance, and Ostend with its balls and concerts, its casino and lively society, was not in the least alarming to her. She found the opportunity that evening of consoling Wilhelm, and promised him always to think about him, and to write to him very often, and said she could not be very miserable about their separation, as she felt so happy at the thought of meeting him again in Berlin. The following morning they made a pilgrimage to the castle, the woods, the neighboring valley, to all the places where they had been so happy during the last fortnight. The sky was blue, the pine woods quiet, the air balmy, and the beautiful outline of the mountains unfolded itself far away in the depth of the horizon. Wilhelm drank in the quiet, lovely picture, and felt that a piece of his life was woven into this harmony of nature, and that these surroundings had become part of his innermost "ego," and would be mingled with his dearest feelings now and ever. His love, and these mountains and valleys, and Loulou, the mist and perfume of the pine trees, were forever one, and the pantheistic devotion which he felt in these changing flights of his mind with the soul of nature grew to an almost unspeakable emotion, as he said in a trembling voice to Loulou:
"It is all so wonderful, the mountains and the woods, and the summer-time and our love. And in a moment it will be gone. Shall we ever be so happy again? If we could only stay here always, the same people in the midst of the same nature!"
She said nothing, but let him take her answer from her fresh lips.
They left by the Offenberg railway station in the afternoon. Loulou's eyes were wet. Frau Ellrich smiled in a motherly way at Wilhelm, and Herr Ellrich took his hand in a friendly manner and said:
"We shall see you in Berlin at the end of September."
As the train disappeared down the Gutach valley, it seemed to Wilhelm as if all the light of heaven had gone out, and the world had become empty. He stayed a few days longer at the Schloss hotel, and cherished the remembrance of his time there with Loulou, dreaming for hours in the dearly-loved spots. In this tender frame of mind he received another letter from Paul Haber, who wrote thus:
"DEAREST WILHELM: Your letter of the 13th astonished me so much that it took me several days to recover. Fraulein Loulou Ellrich, and you write so lightly! Don't you know—that Fraulein Ellrich is one of the first 'parties' in Berlin? That the little god of love will make you a present of two million thalers? You have shot your bird, and I am most happy that for once fortune should bring it to the hand of a fellow like yourself. In the hope that as a millionaire you will still be the same to me, I am your heartily congratulatory
Wilhelm was painfully surprised. What a mercy that the letter had not come sooner. It might have influenced his manner so much as to spoil his relations with Loulou. Now that the Ellrichs were gone, it could for the moment do no harm.
VANITIES OF VANITIES.
A brilliant company filled the Ellrichs' drawing-rooms. These lofty rooms, thrown open to the guests, were more like the reception-rooms in a great castle than those of a bourgeois townhouse in Berlin.
The councilor's drawing-rooms occupied the first floor of the largest house in the Lannestrasse. The carpeted staircase was decorated with plants and candelabra, and the guests were shown into a well-lighted anteroom, and on through folding doors into the large square drawing-room. The walls were covered with gold-framed mirrors reflecting the great marble stove, with its Chinese bronze ornaments; the Venetian glass chandelier, the painting on the ceiling representing Apollo in his sun chariot, while the rows of pretty gilt chairs in red silk, the palm trees in the corner, and the wax candles in the brass sconces on the walls were repeated in endless perspective. On the right was a little room not intended for dancing, thickly carpeted, with old Gobelin tapestry on all the walls and doors; inlaid tables, ebony tables, and silk, satin, and tapestry in every conceivable form. A glass door, half-covered by a portiere, gave a glimpse into a well-lighted winter garden, full of fantastic plants in beds, bushes and pots. On the left of the large drawing-room was the dining-room, with white varnished walls divided into squares by gold beading, and decorated by a number of bright pictures of symbolic female figures representing various kinds of wine. A gigantic porcelain stove filled one end of the room, and a sideboard the other. Through the dining-room was a smoking-room furnished with Smyrna carpets, low divans, chairs in mother-of-pearl, and from the ceiling hung a number of colored glass lanterns. This was intended for old gentlemen who wished to enjoy the latest scandal, and a card table was arranged for them with an open box of cigars.
The decoration of these rooms was handsome without being overloaded, and tasteful without being odd or obtrusive, qualities which one does not often find in Germany, even in princes' palaces. A fine perception would perhaps have felt the want of similarity in style in the numerous rooms, giving them the character of a museum or curiosity shop, rather than that of the harmonious dwelling of educated people of a particular period, and in a certain country. Herr Ellrich was, however, quite innocent of this imperfection. He had not chosen anything himself. Everything had come from Paris, and was the selection of a Parisian decorator, and one of the proudest moments in the councilor's life was on the occasion of the ball he gave on his daughter's return from England, when Count Benedetti, the French ambassador, said to him: "One would imagine oneself in an historical house in the Faubourg St. Germain, c'est tout a fait Parisien, Monsieur, tout a fait Parisien."
The Ellrichs' party was to celebrate the New Tear. Even the richest of the members of the German bourgeoisie is obliged to be educated gradually to the cultured usages of society, and are still far from accomplished in the art of easy familiarity. It finds in its homely culture no hard-and-fast traditions by which it can regulate its conduct, and by a deficiency of observation, or by the want of development of the finer feelings, is only imperfectly helped by foreign or aristocratic manners. Herr Ellrich, who loved splendor and expense, felt that the New Year must be celebrated by rejoicings, and he had therefore invited his whole circle of acquaintances to this New Year's party to rejoice with him.
In the third room the councilor's wife sat near the fireplace in a claret-colored silk dress, ostrich feathers in her hair, and resplendent with diamonds. Nevertheless there was nothing stiff in her demeanor, and she was friendly and good-natured as ever. Grouped around her in armchairs were several ladies, who in their own judgment had passed the age of dancing. Among them were the wives of civil officers, in whose dresses a practiced and capable eye might detect a simplicity and old-fashioned taste, while the wives of certain financiers were gorgeous in then fashionable costumes and the brilliancy of their ornaments. The former felt compensated by the consciousness of their rank and worth for any deficiency in mere outward signs of grandeur, the latter tried by the glitter of their pearls, diamonds, silks, and laces to appear easy and fearlessly familiar. Among the men, the soldiers had everything in their favor. The orders which the civilians wore fastened on the lapels of their dress coats were hopelessly thrown in the shade by the epaulettes of the officers, and the medals decorating their colored uniforms.
Herr Ellrich made a good host, passing quickly but quietly from one group to another. His blight blue eves were cold and tired-looking as ever, and took no part in the rather banal smile which played over his lips, as if the accustomed expression of indifference could never be obliterated. The indolent lines about his mouth were not those of temperament, because if he spoke to a Finance Minister or other notability, although there was no arrogance in his manner, it might be noticed that the instinctive consciousness of his own millions never left him. He had a naturally honorable disposition, which showed itself in every line, and made any cringing an impossibility. The guests praised everything, especially the costly refreshments handed by the servants in faultless liveries.
The dancing-room was a cheerful sight. Girls and young married women flew round over the polished floor on the arms of well-dressed men, mostly officers, spinning and whirling round to Offenbach's dance music, led with bacchanalian fire by a small but distinguished conductor from a red covered platform. It was exciting to watch the rows of couples as they waltzed wildly round, and to the dazzled sight it seemed like a glimpse in a dream into Mohammed's Paradise; as if in his wonderful mirror he had reflected the slim figures of the dancers, with their flashing blue or black eyes, their burning cheeks, their parted lips, their bosoms rising and falling, the scene moving in ever-changing perspective; a sight gay and wonderful as the freakish games of a crowd of elves.
The untiring energy of the dancers was wonderful. During the pauses a girl could hardly sit for a moment to rest, but a strong arm would whirl her away again in the vortex of the dance. A few old gentlemen stood in the recesses of the windows and in the doorways, with the quiet enjoyment of those who look on, and among them was Wilhelm Eynhardt. He stood with his back against a window-frame, almost enveloped in the flowing red silk curtain, so that scarcely any one noticed him. His curls had been shorn, and his thick dark hair only just waved, otherwise nothing was changed in his appearance since the Hornberg days. His black eyes wandered thoughtfully over the changing picture before him. The expression on his face, now slightly melancholy, bore more resemblance to that of a young Christian devotee than to that of the beautiful Antinous, and the intoxication of the gayety around him appealed so little to him, that not once did he beat his foot, nod his head, or move a muscle in time to the satanic music of the Parisian enchanter.
For the first time in his life Wilhelm found himself in fashionable society, and for the first time he wore evening dress. Certainly to look at him no one would have guessed it, for there was no awkwardness in his manner, not a trace of the anxiety and inability to do the right thing, which in most men placed amid new surroundings and in unaccustomed dress would have been so apparent. He wore his evening dress with the same natural self-possession as one of the gray-haired diplomats. The secret of this demeanor was the sense of equality he felt toward the others. It never occurred to him to think, "How do I look? Am I like everyone else?" and so he was as free from constraint in his dress coat as in his student's jacket. He had even the gracefulness which every man has in the flower of his age, if he allows the unconscious impulses of his limbs to assert themselves, and does not spoil the freedom of their play by confusing efforts to improve them. The company did not disconcert him either, in spite of their epaulettes and orders, and titles thick as falling snowflakes. An impression received in his boyhood came back to him, in which he, among strange people in a foreign land, had been accustomed by his father to consider himself as an onlooker. In Moscow he had often met aristocratic people, with as thick epaulettes, and more orders than these, but at the sight of them he had always thought, "They are only barbarous Russians, and I am a German, although I have no gold lace on my coat." From that time he had always in his mind connected the use of uniforms, as outward signs of bravery, with the conception of an ostentatious and showy barbarism which a civilized European might afford to laugh at. He had gone further; he regarded rank and titles as only a kind of clothing of circumstances, which the State lends to certain persons for useful purposes, just as the wardrobe-keeper at a theater gives out costumes to the supers. He was so convinced on this point that he felt sure it was only the stupid yokel at the back of the gallery who could look with any admiration on a human being merely because he struts about the stage in purple and gold tinsel.
Wilhelm did not give the impression of a man who was enjoying himself. His discontented gaze persistently followed one dark head adorned with a yellow rose.
Loulou, for of course it was she, wore a cream-colored silk crepon dress. Her little feet in pale yellow satin shoes played at hide-and-seek under her skirt. She looked charming, and seemed very happy. She danced with a magic lightness and gracefulness, and she showed an endurance which had elicited applause and acknowledgments from her partners. People were delighted with her, and she hardly allowed herself time to breathe, for as the privileged daughter of the house, she wandered from one partner to another, trying hard to offend as few of her admirers as possible by a refusal. But Wilhelm had no cause for jealousy, as her sparkling eyes continually sought his, and as often as she danced near him she gave him an electrifying glance and a sweet smile, telling him that he might now hold his head high like a conqueror, or humble himself with languishing sentiment, that for her there was only one man in the room, one man in all the mirrors, the handsome youth in the window recess between the red silk curtains. In the short pauses she came over to him and spoke a word or two, always the same sort of thing: "Ah! how So-and-so worries me. What a pity that you don't dance, it would be so lovely. Oh! if only you knew how Fraulein S——admires you, and how angry all the ladies are that you won't be introduced to them." And Wilhelm thanked her with the same quiet smile, took her fingers when he could and pressed them, and stayed in his window corner.
Presently Loulou went toward someone in the room, who looked back at the same time toward Wilhelm. It was his friend Paul Haber, for whom he had obtained an invitation. Paul looked at him proudly and gayly. His short hair was beautifully cut and brushed, his thick blonde mustache curled in the most approved fashion. In his buttonhole he wore the decoration of the 1866 war medal, and when he saw himself in the glass he could say with perfect self-satisfaction, that he looked just as much like an officer as the men in uniform, not even excepting those of the Guard. Since the campaign of 1866, in which Paul had served in the same company as Wilhelm, they had been firm friends, and on this evening he wished to offer his respects before the manifest possessor of her heart, to one of the greatest heiresses in Berlin, also his gratitude for his introduction to this splendid house, and his tender feelings for his comrade. In spite of being occupied with his partners he had time to observe Wilhelm, and the sight of him standing alone in the window recess immediately cooled the nervous excitement wrought by the crowd of strangers. These society gatherings were what he delighted in, and he thought it his duty to try to model his friend in the same way. It was not without a struggle with himself that he let a dance go by and went over to where Wilhelm stood.
"What a great pity it is that you don't dance."
"Fraulein Ellrich has just said the same thing," answered Wilhelm, smiling a little.
"And she is quite right. You are like a thirsty man beside a delicious spring, and are not able to drink. It is pure Tantalus."
"Your analogy does not hold good. What I am looking at does not give me the sensation of a delicious spring, and does not make me thirsty."
Paul looked at him surprised. "Still you are a man of flesh and blood, and the sight of all these charming girls must give you pleasure."
"You know I am engaged to only one girl here, and her I have seen under more favorable circumstances."
"Well! She probably does not always wear such beautiful dresses, and if she were not excited by the music and dancing her eyes might possibly not sparkle so much; that is what I mean about its being a pity that you don't dance."
"That is not it. I have seen this beautiful girl on other occasions engaged in the highest intellectual occupation, and I am sorry to see her sink to this sort of thing."
"Now the difference is defined. I was silly enough till now to think that even in a drawing-room one saw something of the highest form of humanity, and that aristocratic society is the flower of civilization."
"Those are opinions which are spread by clever men of the world to excuse their shallow behavior in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. What these people come here for is to satisfy their lower inclinations—you must see this for yourself; if you do not allow yourself to be influenced by these pretentious, ceremonious forms, at least try to discover the reality that lies beneath them. What you call the height of civilization seems to me the lowest. Do you understand? I feel that cultured people in their drawing-room society are in the condition of savages, and even allied to animals."
"Bravo, Wilhelm! go on; this is most edifying."
"You may jeer, but in spite of you I believe that this is so. Try to discover what is going on in the brains of all these people at this moment. Their highest power of activity of mind, which makes men of them, slumbers. They do not think, they only feel. The old gentlemen enjoy themselves with cigars, ices, the prospect of supper; the young men seek pleasant sensations in dancing with beautiful girls. The ladies seek in their partners and admirers to kindle feelings and desires—vanity, self-seeking, pleasure of the senses, gratification of the palate, in short, all the grosser tastes. All that is not only like savages, but like animals. They are merry and contented at the prospect of a savory meal, and they are fond of playing tricks on each other—both sexes chaff and tease constantly. I believe that the development of our larger brain is the intellectual work of man during hundreds and thousands of years, and it would gratify me to see it raised to a still greater state of activity."
"I am listening to you so quietly that I don't interrupt you—even when you talk absurd nonsense. How can one look doleful and disagreeable if honest, highly constituted men indulge in conversation with each other for a few hours after hard work? I delight in this harmless enjoyment, in which people forget all the cares of the day. Here people shake off the burdens of their vocation and the accidents of their lot. Here am I, a poor devil enjoying the society of the minister's friends, and admiring the same beautiful eyes as he does."
"The harmless enjoyments of which you speak are exactly the signs by which one may recognize the vegetative lives of the savage and the animal. A serene enjoyment is what naturally appertains to the lower forms of life when they are satiated, and in no danger of being tracked for their lives. The oldest drawings on the subject always represent men with a foolish serene smile. So the privilege of development is to rejoice in a satisfied stomach and untroubled security, and all through his life to know no other care or want but comfort of body."
"At last I understand you. The artist's ideal is the 'Penseroso,' and in order to recognize the highly developed man he must be furnished with a proof of his identity, so that the meaning of the creature may not be lost to sight for a moment."
"You may put it in the joking way, but I really mean it. I don't forget how much of the animal is still in us. Of course one wants relaxation. But I don't want to look on while animals feed. Recovery after hard intellectual work means, in your sense, the return for some hours to animal life. Now I prefer the painful ascent of mankind to the comfortable, backward slide into animal nature. If I wished to pose as a statue for you it would have to be 'Penseroso' while eating or drinking, or with a foolish, smiling mask indicating animal contentment."
"Very well. Let us also abolish the public announcement of eating, drinking, dancing and other performances, as the remnants of barbarism or of original animal nature, and let us introduce the universal duty of philosophy. A soiree of Berlin bankers—sub specie oeiernitatis—that would do very well, and you must take out a patent for it."
"Students' jokes, my friend, are not arguments. I am quite in earnest in what I say, and I feel melancholy when I see Loulou and the others playing about like thoughtless animals."
"I am going to speak seriously about the joke now, and show you another side to the question. Is it not in the highest degree foolish of a young man without position, to set against him men who carry the sign of recognition from their king, and the esteem of their fellow-citizens? Cannot the example of the consideration they enjoy spur us to endeavors to attain the same? Cannot your acquaintance with them be made useful?"
Wilhelm shook his head. "No, I prefer all these distinguished men when they are doing their own work. They do not interest me here, because they have laid aside all the characteristics which make distinguished people of them. I think they lower their dignity when I see these statesmen, heroes of campaign, representatives of the people, laughing, joking, and playing together like any little shopkeeper after closing hours."
Paul could not give an immediate answer, and he had not time to think of one; as the music stopped the dance ended, and many people moved toward them, making further conversation impossible. The gentlemen came out of the drawing-room and smoking-rooms and mingled with the dancers. Paul made his way neatly through the crowd toward a fresh, pretty, but otherwise insignificant-looking girl, to whom he had paid a great deal of attention, and with whom he wished to dance again. Wilhelm looked for Loulou, whom he found near her mother. Frau Ellrich spoke to him in a friendly way. "Are you enjoying yourself?" she asked, with a kind, almost tender expression on her melancholy face. Wilhelm would not have grieved her for worlds, so for all answer he took her soft hand and kissed it. To keep himself from speaking the truth he was silent. From the four doors of the room servants now appeared bearing large silver trays covered with glasses of champagne. Loulou stood by the chimney-piece and gave several forced and absent-minded answers to the young man. She followed with her eyes the minute-hand on the clock, and at a slight sign from her little hand a servant came up to her. She took the glass in which the wine sparkled, and at the same moment, the hands of the clock pointing to twelve, she cried loudly like a child, "Health to the New Year! Health to the New Year!" Every guest took a glass, crying joyfully, "Health to the New Year!" and clinked his glass against his neighbor's. Loulou went in search of her father to drink with him; after he had given her a friendly kiss on her rosy cheek, he regarded her with fatherly pride. She went to her mother, taking her in her arms and kissing her on both cheeks. The third person whom she sought was Wilhelm. They could not exchange words, but her eyes sought his and they both flashed a mutual and joyous recognition. Her brown eyes had said to his black ones, "May this be a year of happiness for us," and the black eyes had understood the brown ones in their flight and thanked them. The gay tumult lasted for several minutes, the buzz of talking, the clatter of glasses, and the coming and going of servants. Then suddenly an invisible hand seemed to lay hold of the general disorder, ruling and directing it, dissolving groups who had chanced together, here driving them forward, there arranging them backward. According to some fixed law, without delaying or waiting, an orderly procession was formed into the dining-room. The invisible spirit hand which possessed all this power was thrice-holy etiquette; the law which brought order out of confusion, and gave to everyone his place, was that of precedence. Paul and Wilhelm, these strangers to drawing-room customs, were new to the performance. A smile flitted over Wilhelm's face, over Paul's came a reverent expression. What he saw made a distinct impression of wonderment on him. The constraint ceased immediately the guests had taken their places at the table. The scent of the flowers vied with the perfumes worn by the women and could not overcome them. The crystal glasses sparkled in the light of the wax candles, the jewels, and the bright eyes round the table. The servants poured out the noble Rhine wine, the celebrated Burgundy, the elegant Bordeaux, and the mischievous Champagne, whose colored embodiment was reflected on the white hands of the guests, and carried their imaginations away in its flight from gray reality to the immortal land of rosy dreams.
The meal lasted a long time, then a few of the guests rose; the older ones, who had principally chatted, played, and smoked before midnight, now withdrew, if they had no daughters to chaperon; the young people, however, went back to the dancing-room, the musicians fiddled anew as if they were possessed, and an hour's cotillion was begun, the pretty quick-moving figures being led by a lieutenant of the Guards, who seemed as proud of the honor as if he were commanding on a battlefield. Loulou, who had gone back to the dance, had begged Wilhelm in vain to take part at least in the cotillion, where he need not dance much. She had assured him that he would be more decorated than any other man in the room, and would have more orders, ribbons, and wreaths given him than all the lieutenants put together; but even the prospect of such a triumph could not make him ambitious, and for the first time this evening the beautiful excited girl left him looking out of humor, and glanced at him in a way which was not merely sorrowful but reproachful. Paul, on the other hand, was happy. He kept more than ever near the pretty insignificant girl with whom he had danced so much, and the good-hearted fellow did not feel in the least jealous when, in the long pause of the cotillion, his partner went to speak to his friend who had stood lonely for so long, and had hardly enjoyed himself at all. Paul was sufficiently decorated; he got a sufficient number of glances from girls' bright eyes to be quite contented, he paid a sufficient number of compliments, great and small, for which he was thanked by sweet smiles, and perhaps with tiny sighs, and he had the feeling that he had lived in every fiber of his being, and that his time had been marvelously well employed. He could have stayed for several hours longer, and was quite astonished when toward four o'clock the tireless young people's parents put an end to the evening by their departure.
As Wilhelm came up to Loulou she had ceased to look cross. Near her stood the hero of the cotillion, the lieutenant of the Guards, covered with the little favors the ladies had given him. But that did not prevent her saying in quite a tender voice, "I shall see you soon again, shall I not?" and Wilhelm pressed her little hand warmly.
In the hall Wilhelm and Paul had to distribute gratuities to the waiting servants, a custom (unknown in France and England) which dishonors German hospitality, and a minute later they found themselves outside in the starlit night. It blew icy cold over the Thiergarten; across the darkness the snow-laden trees and the closely-cropped grass looked feebly white. Wilhelm, shivering, wrapped himself in his fur coat. Paul, on the other hand, did not seem to mind the cold; he was still too hot with the excitement of the evening. The waltz rang so clearly in his ears that he could have danced over the snow-covered pavement, and the lights and mirrors of the ballroom shone so clearly before his eyes, and enveloped the dancers with such reality that the desert of the silent, faintly-lit Koniggratzer Strasse was alive as if by ghosts. He recalled to his mind the whole evening, and in the fullness of his heart exclaimed, "Wilhelm, I hope never to forget this New Year's Eve." Wilhelm looked at him astonished. "I do not share in your feelings. How can a glance at such vanity in thinking men give one any feeling except that of pity?"
"I am not hurt at the hardness of your judgment, because you don't understand what I am saying. You know very well I am not frivolous, and that I have learned long ago the seriousness of life. But at the same time I value the entree into the best society of Berlin for what it is worth. Now the opportunity has come, and I shall make it useful."
"Paul, you grieve me. A tuft-hunter talks like that."
"What do you call a tuft-hunter?—if you mean a man who does not want to hide his light under a bushel, I say yes, I am one, and I think that is entirely honorable. I don't want to get on by means of any false pretenses, but by honest work. What is the use of capability if no one notices it? If I can inspire the right people with this conviction, I am in luck. There is no injustice in that."
"I thought you had more pride."
"Dear Wilhelm, don't speak to me of pride. That is all right for you. If my father had left me a house in the Kochstrasse, I would snap my fingers at everyone, and go my own way, as it pleased me best. Or put it the other way round, if you were the middle son in a Brandenburg family of nine, I tell you that you would attribute a certain importance to seeking the favor of influential people. You would become as frivolous as I," added he after a little pause, in which he gave a gentle clap on Wilhelm's shoulder.
"You ought not to throw my father's house in my teeth; you know how I live."
Paul tried to interrupt him.
"Let me finish. A man of your capability can nowadays allow himself the luxury of independence and manly self-reliance, even if he is one of the nine children of a poor farmer; if one has few wants, one is rich whatever one's fortune."
"That is all very well. I know your philosophy of abnegation, and it is a matter of temperament. I am not in favor of starving myself when there is a steaming dish before me. The world is full of good things, and I have a taste for them; why should I not reach out my hand?"
"And so you would dance in the present for what it would win you in the future."
"Why not? It is a very usual way to gain a usual end."
"And the modern society household is the result."
"What would become of a poor fellow without these merciful arrangements for introductions to nice girls? Is one to advertise?"
"So you thought of this in the midst of your poetical soiree?"
"Certainly. You are provided for. Don't think ill of me if I follow your example."
Wilhelm felt the blood flow to his cheeks. He perceived his friend's evident meaning.
"Paul! A fortune-hunter!"
"You may talk. Luck flew to you without your lifting a finger to attract it. Other people must help themselves. Fortune-hunter! That name was invented by hysterical girls whose heads are turned by silly novels. These absurd creatures wish in their childish vanity to be married merely for their beautiful eyes. I should like to ask such a girl whether she would marry a man merely for his beautiful eyes! I have no patience with such nonsense. Suppose a poor man, who is capable and clever, acknowledges in a straightforward way that he is trying to win the hand of a rich woman. He need not upbraid himself about anything, for he gives as much as he receives. What do people want from the world? Happiness. That is the aim of my life, just as it is the aim of the rich woman's. She has money, and for happiness she lacks love; I have love, and for happiness I lack money. We make an equal exchange of what we own. It is the most beautiful supplement to a dual incompleteness."
"It is in this way then that you would offer what you call love to a rich girl! A love cleverly conducted, carefully mapped out—a love which one could control, and on no account offer to a poor girl."
"Rubbish! The love of every man who is in his right mind is carefully planned. Would you be in love with a king's daughter? It is to be hoped not. You could keep out of the way of the king's daughter. Why can I not keep out of the way of the poor girl?"
"That means that the princess' rank is as much a hindrance to love as the poverty of the work-girl."
"I swear to you, Wilhelm, that if I were as rich, or as independent as you, I would not think of a dowry. But I am a poor devil. If I were so unfortunate as to fall in love with a poor girl, I would try to get the better of the feeling. I would say to myself, better endure a short time of unhappiness and disappointment than that she and I should be condemned through life to the keenest want, which, with prosaic certainty, would smother love."
While Paul argued with such ardor and earnestness, he was thinking all the time of Fraulein Malvine Marker, the pretty girl with whom he had danced so often, and he fondled tenderly with his right hand the ribbon and cotillion order hidden under his waistcoat. He did not notice that Wilhelm's expression of face was painfully distorted, nor that his words wounded him deeply. They had come to the Brandenburger Thor, and were walking over the Pariser Platz. Under the lindens they were surrounded at once by noise and bustle. The streets were full of rowdy bands of men who sang and shouted all together, now pushing one another in violent rudeness, now shouting "Health to the New Year," here knocking off an angry Philistine's hat, there surrounding and embracing some honest man who was wearily making his way homeward; insulting the police by imitating their military ways, laying hold of their sticks, talking pompously to the night-watchman, and otherwise playing the fool. After the silence of the Koniggratzer Strasse, the drunken turmoil of this noisy mob was doubly unpleasant, and the two friends hastened to escape into the Schadowstrasse. At Wilhelm's doorstep they took leave of each other; Paul went off humming a snatch of Offenbach up the Friedrichstrasse to his home near the Weidendamme.
Wilhelm was tired, but much too excited to sleep. He lived over again in thought the last few months, and, as often happened lately, he lapsed into painful meditation on his relations to Loulou. After her departure from Hornberg she had not written to him for eight days. Then came a letter from Ostend, in which she called Wilhelm "Sie." She said she was very sorry for this, that it would be painful if she called him "Du" and he did not return it, but it would be safer not to do so, as his answer would certainly be read by her mother, and perhaps by her father also, and they would not wish them to say "Du" to each other. Already this change of tone between them cut Wilhelm to the heart, but almost more still the contents of Loulou's letter. She spoke a little of the sea, whose breakers continually sounded in her soul, and her thoughts, which accompanied them like an orchestra; she seldom mentioned the delightful time in the mountains of the Black Forest, which remembrance he carried always with him; but a great deal about the Promenade, the concerts, the Casino balls, her own charming bathing and society toilettes, and those of extravagant Parisians, who tried by incredible mixtures of colors and style to outstrip each other. She wrote particularly about her acquaintances with celebrated people, and her personal following, and for the rest she hardly missed expressing in any of her letters her regret that he was not with her, and enjoying her varied life. Often in the letter there was a flower, or a piece of wild thyme, which betrayed an undercurrent of feeling beneath the shallowness of the words, and once she sent him her photograph with the words "Loulou to her dearest Wilhelm." So he gathered from her frivolous letters much that was unspoken, and through signs and indications believed that her feeling for him was there and gained strength. His answers were short and rather compressed. The knowledge that they would be seen by her prosaic parents, and that Loulou herself would hardly trouble to read anything in the midst of her whirl of gayety, deprived him of words, stopped the flow of his feelings, and turned his expressions into mere Philistinisms. But, on the other Land, Loulou's mother was delighted to have another correspondent, and so she wrote to him often. These perfumed letters from Ostend refreshed him by the remembrance of the lovable face with the dimples, bringing back again the whole charm of the Hornberg days.
At the end of September came the announcement that the Ellrichs had left Ostend, and were going to pay a visit for a fortnight to friends in England, and toward the middle of October a letter, bearing the Berlin postmark, arrived in Loulou's handwriting. It said:
"DEAREST WILHEM: We came home to-day. I cannot sleep until I have written to you. Come to see me quite soon. Will you not? How glad I am! Are you glad too? A thousand greetings. LOULOU."
He would like to have gone directly to the Lennestrasse, but etiquette stood between him and his fiancee, and showed him in its cold fashion that they were now in the city and not in the forest, that nature had nothing to do with them here, and had handed them over to the laws of society. However, as soon as he dared venture, he went and rang at the door-bell. This first visit was a combination of painful feelings for Wilhelm, for while his heart beat, that now he was near the dearest one on earth, he was conscious that here he was a stranger. A servant dressed in black who opened the door did not seem to expect him, and asked him whom he wanted. When Wilhelm asked for Frau Ellrich, he said shortly that she was not at home. In spite of this Wilhelm took out his card, and holding it out said, "Will you kindly announce me, as I am expected." The man left him in an anteroom, and after a short pause took him into the drawing-room. He soon returned, with a manner entirely changed, and submissively asked Wilhelm to follow him to a little blue boudoir, where Loulou received him with a joyful exclamation, but the first greetings, owing to the servant's presence, were exchanged without an embrace, and when they were alone Wilhelm only found sufficient courage to kiss her hand.
It was quite different now from the old times at the Scloss hotel, and in the woodland paths at Hornberg. Wilhelm had to keep to visiting hours, and was seldom alone with Loulou. He took courage then to say "Du," but it was forbidden before other people. To kiss her in those drawing rooms with their betraying mirrors, and their portieres, and carpets was hardly possible. He was frequently asked to lunch or dinner, and he often went with Frau Ellrich and Loulou to the opera or theater, but all these opportunities were not favorable for young lovers. Loulou wore beautiful frocks, which made her much admired; the people were formal, and tolerated nothing that was not ultra polite and polished, in short, it was impossible to be true and natural as things had been in the forest, where the birds and the happy little squirrels served for playfellows.
Loulou was the first to have pity on Wilhelm's discomfort, and to find means to give their intercourse in Berlin at least a little of the beautiful unconstraint of the old times. Under the pretext that she wished to improve herself in drawing, she obtained many precious hours spent in the blue-room or in the winter garden, where their hands often found opportunities to clasp, and their lips to seek each other's. On the strength of Loulou's English education, which had made her independent and self-reliant, and had freed her from any affectation of shyness, she often walked with Wilhelm to parts of the town which she did not know, or which she had only seen from the windows of a carriage. On one of these voyages of discovery, as she called them, she saw Paul for the first time. He met them in the Konigstrasse, as they stood on the Konigsmauer, Loulou looking half-fearfully down the narrow street. Paul looked very much astonished, and seemed as if he were not going to notice the pair of lovers, but Wilhelm nodded and asked him to join them. So he went home with them, and as soon as he was alone with his friend he fell into rapturous admiration of the lovely girl, as Wilhelm had predicted in his letter from Hornberg. One thing Paul could not understand, and he said so: why had not Wilhelm formally asked for Loulou's hand, why he was not properly engaged to her, and how could an impulsive man bear such a constrained position, which would cease the instant that he was Fraulein Ellrich's declared fiance?
Wilhelm had at first no explanation to give his friend, but he knew very well that he delayed, and that he put off from day to day going to Loulou's parents. His was a sensitive, dreamy nature, and much too thoughtful to allow himself to act from passion. He was accustomed to make his impulses subordinate to his reason, and to ask himself severe questions as to the where, how, and why of things. He was not clear himself as to the condition of things between him and Loulou. Did she love him? There were many answers to that. She seemed pleased when she saw him, and displeased if he appeared to forget her for a day. But what he could not understand was that her head seemed as full as ever of her usual acquaintances, and that she was capable of spending some time in theaters, concerts, and society without looking for him. Full too of talk of her frocks and neighbors, without wishing to interrupt the empty gossip with a look or a kiss to let him know that she was conscious of his presence, and in the middle of her idle talk to say nevertheless that her heart was with him. On the other hand, she showed the tenderest sympathy for him. She longed for a picture of his rooms in the Dorotheenstrasse, where he lived and thought of her. She had been to see his house in the Kochstrasse from the outside. She was apparently proud of him, and repeated to him all the flattering remarks which people made on his appearance and cleverness, with as much satisfaction, as if she spoke of one of her own people. Still all this was only on the surface, and he often had the impression that her feeling for him was weakened at its foundation both by her cold intelligence, and by her pleasure in worldly things.