If he could approach neither Frau Brohl nor Malvine, there was one way clearly open to him, and he took it without further delay.
One sunny afternoon in May, a few weeks after the Labor meeting at the Tivoli, Paul came to see Wilhelm, and asked him to go for a walk with him in the Thiergarten. Wilhelm was soon ready, and while they were walking Paul was astonishingly quiet, and seemed sunk in deep thought. He suddenly broke the silence, and when they were under the trees, without any beating about the bush, asked his friend:
"Wilhelm, do you love Malvine?"
Wilhelm stood still, as if rooted to the ground, and in boundless astonishment he said:
"Are you off your head, Paul?"
"I implore you, Wilhelm," said he in an anxious way, "just answer 'yes' or 'no,' because the happiness of my life depends on your answer."
"But I never thought of it," cried Wilhelm, grasping Paul's hand. "What put such an idea into your head?"
"Then you are not in love with Malvine?" asked Paul obstinately.
"No, I am not in love with Malvine, if you will have the answer in that precise form."
"I thought as much, but I wished to have the answer from your own lips;" and as they walked, he continued, "Do you see, Wilhelm, if you had loved Malvine, I would have got out of your way; I would have submitted to fate without any struggle or opposition."
"Have I been injudicious? Perhaps too intimate? Forgive me, Paul, if it is so. It happened quite unintentionally. I only thought of her as my friend's fiancee, and believed her also to be a friend of mine."
"I don't mean that, Wilhelm; you have always behaved awfully well—with great tact, and all that. But you have not seen how it has been with Malvine; she is quite mad about you, especially since you have been free."
"You imagine these things."
"Be quiet, you impatient baby, and hear what I have to say. I believe it is not love Malvine has for you, but it only wants a word or a look from you to turn it into love. If she were convinced that you feel only as a friend for her, she would be contented to admire you from a distance, and begin to care a little more for an inferior specimen of mankind like myself."
"I feel quite in despair about it. How could I be so blind, so stupid?"
"Never mind; it is not all over yet. I know Malvine. She is a simple-minded girl, without a bit of sentiment in her, mentally and morally healthy. If she knew she had nothing to expect from you, I am perfectly certain that nothing would stand in the way of my happiness."
"I will do whatever you wish—and first of all, I must put a stop to my visits there."
"I must ask more from you than that, my poor Wilhelm. Merely staying away is too passive. You must act. I want you to talk to Malvine, and somehow explain to her that you don't love her."
"How can I possibly do that?" cried Wilhelm, really startled. "I should have no right! If she laughed in my face and called me a fool and a lout, I should feel I deserved it."
"You ought to know that she would not do that. I know I am asking a very unusual thing, and a very difficult thing, but I feel I can ask such a sacrifice from your friendship."
As Wilhelm did not immediately answer, Paul said, seizing his hand:
"Once more, Wilhelm, if you have any thought of Malvine, I will not stand in your way."
"And perhaps I ought to wish it for you; Malvine is a good, dear girl, and will make the man who marries her happy all his life."
"Don't say any more; I have already told you that she is sacred to me as your fiancee, and beside, I should have no claim on her, even if I did not know how you stand with regard to her."
"Well, then, you must help me to reclaim her from her mistake. You alone can do it, and I am sure that later—very soon, in fact, she will be grateful to you."
Wilhelm was silent, looking at Paul in anxious suspense. At last, with a deep sigh, he said:
"Well, if I must—-"
"You are a brick," cried Paul, and embraced him before the passers-by, who turned round to look at them with astonishment.
On the next day, at twelve o'clock, Wilhelm rang at the Markers' flat in the Lutzowstrasse. Through the little peephole he caught a glimpse of some one, then the door flew open, a maid ushered him into the drawing-room, and without waiting for him to speak, said:
"Frau Brohl is in the kitchen; I will fetch her."
"Thank you," said Wilhelm, rather feebly; "there is no hurry. Is—is—the Fraulein at home?"
The girl was already at the door, and turning round, stared at Wilhelm with astonished eyes.
"Yes; shall I say that you would like to speak to her?"
Wilhelm nodded, and the girl went out. After a short pause Malvine stood before him, offering him her white hand, with its short fingers, while her face flushed to the roots of her hair.
"Might I speak to you, Fraulein?" he said, in a low, constrained voice.
Malvine went very white, all the blood seemed to leave her heart, and she almost gasped for breath. After a short silence she whispered, "Certainly, Herr Doctor," and took him into the little room next the drawing-room, which contained a modest bookcase, a writing table, and chairs in red damask. She sat down, and Wilhelm took a chair near; they were silent for a minute or two, while she, with eyes downcast, went alternately red and white, and could scarcely breathe. There was no pretense this time about her agitation. It seemed as if suddenly a flash of lightning had illuminated his mind, showing him a picture of this trembling, pretty girl clashed to his heart, and he with his arms round her. It only lasted for a second, but it struck him like an electric shock, and left in his mind a mingled feeling of trouble, shame, remorse and vexation. He had a consciousness of danger, and he felt that he must make a great effort to become master of the situation and of himself.
"Gnadiges Fraulein," he began, "what I want to say to you will seem odd, and perhaps audacious, but I beg you in spite of that to hear me to the end."
Malvine sat motionless, breathing quickly.
"I do not know," he went on, "in what position you and my friend Haber are with regard to each other, but you must have noticed, without any explanation, that he loves you."
At the mention of Paul's name, Malvine for the first time raised her eyes, and looked at Wilhelm with such a troubled expression that he felt still further alarmed. He had broken the ice, however, and he made a courageous effort to regain his asssurance.
"Dear Fraulein," he said impressively, "I am afraid there has been some misunderstanding between us, which it is my duty toward you, toward my friend, and toward myself, to explain. My behavior has perhaps aroused an impression which it should not have done. There is no doubt that I ought not to have shown you how warm my friendship is for you—for you, a good and beautiful girl, who have inspired my best friend with such a love; but really I considered that so long as the engagement between you and Paul was not clearly arranged, that you would understand my position. If I seemed happy to be near you, it was because I told myself how happy my friend would be when he could call you his own; if you seemed to read warmth and tenderness when I looked at you, it was because I was and am so grateful to you for so happily influencing Paul."
While he was speaking Malvine had sunk back in her corner, and had closed her eyes with a deep sigh. A few large tears began to roll down her cheeks. Wilhelm touched her hand, which was cold as ice. She made a feeble effort to draw it away, but he held it fast and went on:
"Dearest, best Malvine, do not bear me any grudge for this abominable half-hour, and believe me that it is only out of consideration for your life's happiness. I quite understand how it has all happened. Your kind heart was filled with pity for me, and in your innocence you gave the pity another name. It was quite natural that you should be uncertain of yourself, while you thought you were loved by two men, and that the confusion prevented you seeing clearly with your own heart. Now you know that Paul loves you, and that the day on which he dares call you his will be the first happy one I have had for a year. You will be able to come to a determination more easily, as it concerns your own happiness equally with Paul's. Paul is a good fellow, and worthy of the woman who will bear his name."
He bent over her hand and pressed his lips to it. Malvine sobbed aloud, and putting her arms on his shoulders kissed his hair, then sprang away and flew to her room. Wilhelm hurried away in great confusion, thankful that he had been spared meeting either Frau Brohl or Frau Marker. He only breathed freely when he found himself in the street.
Paul was informed the same afternoon of the conversation which had taken place, Wilhelm delicately passing over Malvine's outburst of feeling, and he hurried at once to the Lutzowstrasse to take by storm the fortress in which his friend had already made a breach. He was received by Frau Brohl, who nodded in mysterious manner, and took him into her bedroom, at the back of the flat, through the dining-room. In her soft, feeble voice she mildly reproached him for not having more confidence and coming to speak to her sooner. She then related to him what had happened. She had heard with great surprise that Dr. Eynhardt had come and gone away again, without saying good-day to her. As she was going to ask what the visit meant, Malvine came and embraced her grandmother, crying bitterly, to the old lady's great distress. With many tears she had given a confused and broken account of the interview with Wilhelm, begging Frau Brohl to comfort her and foretell that it should end well. Frau Brohl explained that Malvine was now in her room, meaning that Paul must not try to see her just at present. Such a silly, inexperienced creature must have time given her to learn to be reasonable, beside, she (Frau Brohl) would take care of everything, and Herr Haber could call her grandmamma now if he liked. He kissed her hand, deeply moved and grateful, and her eyes filled with tears. She then explained the situation to Frau Marker, who, after looking very much surprised, also embraced her son-in-law. It was a dignified scene, tender, and, as befitted an honorable family, without any over display of feeling; if all the wealthy people of Stettin had been assembled there, they could have expressed nothing but admiration.
On the next day Frau Brohl spoke to her grand-daughter. She made her understand that there were no real objections to be made, that she was silly and was acting against her own happiness. Paul was much the better match of the two, was more chic and practical than Wilhelm, had better prospects in life, and was really better-looking than his friend. Above all she liked Paul, and did not like Wilhelm, and that ought to be taken into account. Malvine was not inaccessible to such arguments, as Paul was really sympathetic to her. Soon her tears ceased to flow, and her sighs became fainter and fainter. In two days' time she regained her appetite, signs which Frau Brohl noticed, and quickly imparted to Paul. At their first meeting he showed a little anxiety, and she, a good deal of constraint, but that soon passed off, and as they were constantly together, she found a great deal of pleasure in his manly good looks and honorable qualities. Beside, it was spring! the sun shone, the sky was blue, her room was full of the fragrance of flowers, which Paul brought every day with the regularity of a postman, and fourteen days later they were engaged, and his first kiss was given in the presence of her grandmother, mother, and Paul's parents. Her heart felt very warmly toward him, and she would have felt dreadfully confused had not Wilhelm, with characteristic good feeling, declined the invitation to be present.
Frau Brohl arranged for the wedding to take place after Whitsuntide. At the Zwolf-Apostelkirche she wore her heavy silk dress and all the family ornaments, as on the Sundays at church at Stettin. Her bent figure was straighter than usual, and a smile of proud satisfaction lighted up her pale, melancholy face. Several rich friends from Stettin had come over to Berlin for the wedding. She leaned on the arm of the bridegroom's father, Herr Haber, a dignified old gentleman with a long beard. Paul wore his uniform and a Japanese order, which had been conferred on him by a Japanese pupil at his lectures on agricultural chemistry. Several officers in uniform were in the church, and a large number of professors, councilors, etc. Paul's round face beamed with happiness, his blond mustache looked triumphant, his hair was mathematically cut, and a field-marshal might have sworn that he was a regular officer. The bride was rosy, and looked happy. Her veil and wreath were made by the family, and her satin dress covered with their embroidery. Wilhelm was one of Paul's witnesses. When he went to congratulate the happy pair after the ceremony, Malvine looked at him; a gentle glance, with perhaps a mild reproach in it. Paul, however, grasped his hand, and whispered into his ear:
"Your friend for life, Wilhelm, for life."
Paul had hardly returned from his wedding trip to Paris when he surprised his friends by a series of quite unexpected business engagements. He gave up his post as lecturer, in spite of the fact that the appointment as professor for the next six months depended on it; he left his young wife for three weeks, during which nothing was heard of him, except an occasional letter bearing the postmarks of Hamburg, Altona, or Harburg, then he appeared again, and told Malvine that they were to remove from Berlin, to spend in future a portion of the year in Hamburg, but to live chiefly on some property near Harburg. He had decided to leave his academic profession and become a practical landowner, and accordingly had taken a large leasehold estate. He gave Wilhelm and Schrotter further particulars of his plans. The place he had bought was hardly to be called an estate, but a wild desert bit of moorland called "Friesenmoor," growing only a kind of marsh grass. This piece of land, from which nothing but peat could be obtained, was worthless, and he had bought it for a few thalers. After many years of study on the subject, and without saying a word to any living soul, Paul had come to the conclusion that this arid moor could be made into rich arable land by proper cultivation, and seeing money was to be made out of this possession, he decided without loss of time to put his theories into practice. There was always the risk that he might lose his money, but he had great confidence in his science, and "nothing venture, nothing have." He considered it quite unnecessary to explain everything about his speculation to Malvine and the old lady. He knew, too, that merely the word "speculation" would frighten them to death.
The separation from Malvine dissolved her grandmother and mother into sighs and tears, but during the short time that they had known Paul, his quiet, determined character had made such an impression on the two women that they submitted without a word to whatever he arranged. Frau Brohl packed up several boxes for her granddaughter, filled with the work of her hands, gave her various recipes for preserving fruits and for fish sauces, and let her go. She withstood bravely the temptation to fill up the empty room with the overflow furniture from the drawing-room, and spoke on the contrary of leaving the room free, so that the young couple might make it their headquarters when they came to Berlin. Paul hypocritically invited Frau Brohl and Frau Marker to come and live on his estate—he did not even fear two mothers-in-law. Grandmother and mother, though pleased with his attachment for them, declined with thanks. The cunning dog had reckoned on that refusal. He would have been in a terrible dilemma had they accepted. He would then have had to reveal the whole truth, and tell them that his so-called "property" was a mere swamp, where there was no place for one's feet to tread unless clad in waterproof boots; hardly a fit place for townspeople, accustomed to comfort. Before the changes on the Friesenmoor could be brought about one fell into pools, one's feet got fast in boggy earth, and the only inhabitants at present were waterfowl, frogs and toads. He did not even take Malvine to his property but lived in Hamburg, going to Harburg every morning and returning in the evening.
In a short time the neighborhood between the Seeve and the Suderelbe wore a different appearance. Hundreds of laborers were to be seen on the moor, which hitherto had reflected only the sky in its silent pools. Dams were thrown up, trenches dug, a dwelling house was raised on piles, numbers of business offices, and quite a village for workmen, all mounted and secure on piles of wood, stakes, and stone foundations. Flatboats floated on the pools, the houses were roofed in, windmills flapped their sails, and Paul, who had ordered and built everything, came every day to see how the workmen were getting on. In the autumn he took Malvine for the first time to Harburg, and leaving the carriage at the office brought her by boat to the border of the Friesenmoor, to show her the picture all at once. The men stood on each side of the new house with their shovels and pickaxes, and greeted the young wife with such a hearty cheer that her eyes filled with tears. The broad flat surface of the marsh was now arranged in regular lines where the water was being drawn off, all so well superintended and orderly, that Malvine could not help thinking of a chessboard. The windmill moved its long restless arms, as if to welcome her as mistress here; the one-storied dwelling house, raised on stone steps, lay there hospitably built on a raised terrace, with its number of large well-lighted rooms opening a vista of peace and happiness to Malvine, and she thought it all so delightful that she would have liked to send for her furniture from Hamburg and stay there. Paul, however, reflected what danger there might be to her in her condition to stay through the winter in a house not yet dry, and so she gave in to his wishes.
At the end of March a telegram from Hamburg announced the birth of a fine boy, to whom Wilhelm was to stand godfather. He was to be named Paul Wilhelm, and to be known by the latter name. When the warm weather came, Paul and his family were to go to the moor, and during the removal Malvine went with her mother and grandmother, who had both nursed her tenderly, to Berlin for a visit. Paul went through a great deal of worry and anxiety this summer. He had everything at stake in waiting for the results of his undertaking. All his money was in the buildings, the earth-works, and waterworks; if the barren swamp did not yield twice the sum intrusted to it he was a ruined man. But as July drew near, and Paul looked at the thick standing ears of barley and wheat, he felt the weight of his anxiety lifted, and in August he proclaimed in letters to his friends that the battle was won, the harvest more abundant than he had dared to hope for, and the remaining half-year would complete the transformation of the worthless moorland into a veritable Australian gold mine. He regarded his property now with a parental tenderness, as if it were some living being whom he had trained and educated. The first harvest had given him experience, and opportunity for new work, and he stayed through the autumn and winter in his house in the midst of his workmen, whom he felt inclined to canonize. The men now formed a little colony with their wives and children, and Paul was as happy as possible within the limited boundary of his horizon, between the Suderelbe and the Seeve.
These two years had been outwardly uneventful for Wilhelm. In the mornings he worked in the Physical Institute, in the afternoons he worked at home, in the evenings he gossiped with Schrotter—a journey to Hamburg and a fortnight's visit to the house on the Friesenmoor had given him change. Paul came pretty often to Berlin, and found in the society of his old friends the enjoyment of his early years renewed, and Wilhelm with his girlish face, his enthusiastic eyes, and his unworldly manner did not seem a year older. The professor of physics, who had frequently been invited to go abroad to direct the teaching in other European and foreign schools, asked Wilhelm to go with him to Turkey, Japan, and Chili—as professor. He had the highest opinion of Wilhelm, and deeply regretted that his misadventure with Herr von Pechlar made an appointment in Germany impossible. Wilhelm, however, declined, on the ground that he did not feel an aptitude for teaching, only for learning.
He had scarcely any intercourse now with Barinskoi, whose immoral views at last became unbearable; he rarely saw him except when he came to borrow money. Of late a new acquaintance had come into his limited social circle. This was a man of about thirty-five, called Dorfling, an overgrown thin creature, with long, straight gray hair, and deep intellectual eyes in his thin face. He came from the Rhine, and was the son of a rich merchant, into whose business he should have gone. However, when he was twenty-six he boldly told his father that the world outside was of deeper and wider interest to him than account books. The father died, and Dorfling hastened to put the business into liquidation, and devote himself to philosophical studies. For a year he drifted from one school to another, sitting at the feet of the most celebrated teachers and plunging himself into their systems. In the autumn of 1872 he appeared suddenly in Berlin, and renewed his old acquaintance with Wilhelm. Since then he had become a frequent guest at Dr. Schrotter's dinner table, and a companion to Wilhelm, in his afternoon walks.
Dorfling was the most wonderful listener that any one could wish to have, though he himself was rather silent. If the talk turned on great questions of knowledge, morality, the object of life, Dorfling's share in the conversation consisted in the following half-audible remark: "Yes, it is a powerful and interesting subject. I have just been working at it, and you will find my opinions in my book." If he were asked to give his opinions now, or at least to indicate them, he shook his head and gently said, "I am not good at extempore speaking. My thoughts only come out clearly when I have a pen in my hand." Not a day passed by without an allusion to "the book," to which he devoted his nights, and of which he always spoke, with emotion in his voice, as the work of his life.
It was impossible to get more information out of him, either about its title, scope, or contents. It was a philosophic work, no doubt, as he always said on speaking of such subjects, "I have mentioned that in my book." But that was all that could be got out of him. Schrotter and Wilhelm were too good to tease him much about it, though the former, with a suspicion of a smile, would say that he hoped this and that would have a place in the book, so that one might at least know his opinion on it. Paul, who always saw him when he came to Berlin, used to ask whether the book was not yet ready. Dorfling gave no answer, but his pale face grew paler, and an expression of pain came to his eyes.
Barinskoi, who now sponged on Dorfling just as he had previously done on Wilhelm, giving them in fact turn and turn about, had the bad taste to make jokes continually about the book, at one time calling it the Holy Grail, another time comparing it to the diamond country of Sindbad's tale, and in a hundred ways making vulgar and sceptical jokes. On one of his outbreaks of dissipation he had disappeared far longer than usual, and on his return he looked more miserable than ever. Dorfling made some kindly inquiries, and learned that he was recovering from an attack of inflammation of the lungs, and Barinskoi, by way of showing gratitude, remarked, "The doctors gave me up, but I held out, as I do not mean to die until I have read your book." Dorfling, with a contemptuous look, turned his back on him.
One day, soon after the Easter of 1874, Dorfling brought his friends a great piece of news. The book was ready, it was even in the press, and would be published in a few days by a large firm, but he wanted to present them with copies before the book appeared at the shops. He therefore invited them to a little festival to celebrate the occasion. He had been thinking over the book for seventeen years, had been eight years in writing it, and as it had taken such an important place in his life, he must be pardoned a little vanity about it now. Paul had a written invitation sent him, and he thought the occasion was sufficiently important to come to Berlin on purpose.
On the appointed evening they all met at eight o'clock at Borchardt's in the Franzbsischen Strasse. A dignified waiter, who in appearance and manner looked more like an ambassador, received the guests, and took them into a private room on the left side of the large room above the ground floor. This little room was all lined with red like a jewel case, thick red portieres were over the doors, and the amount of gas with which it was lighted made it rather warmer than was comfortable. A large table with divans on three sides of it nearly filled the room; it was beautifully decorated and covered with flowers. Numerous wineglasses were placed before each guest, and champagne was cooling in an ice-bucket near the door.
Dorfling was there, and received his guests as the waiter lifted the heavy portiere. He was in evening dress, and his slightly flushed face beamed with pleasure. His friends regretted keenly that they had come in ordinary morning clothes, and expressed their apologies. He interrupted them, saying they must overlook one of his little whims and not say anything more about it.
Then they sat down to table, impressed by his charming manner. Dorfling put Schrotter on his right hand, and Wilhelm and Paul on his left; near Schrotter was Barinskoi and a friend of Dorfling's, named Mayboorn. This man was, like Dorfling, a Rhinelander, he combined a successful career as a writer of comic verses with a confirmed pessimism. When he had written one of his merriest couplets, he would stop his work and sigh with Dorfling over the tragedy of life. The papers treated his farces as rubbish, but the public adored them. The earnest critic would hardly touch his name with a pair of tongs, but the theatre managers fought for possession of his work. He had a beautiful wife who worshiped him, two wonderful children, and the appearance and bearing of Timon of Athens.
At Dorfling's summons two waiters came in; one of them put a large dish of oysters on the table, while the other placed a thick octavo volume before each guest.
"The last of the season," cried Barinskoi gayly, and helped himself to oysters.
"The book! Bravo!" said Paul, and held out his hand to Dorfling.
There was a short silence, while they all, even the cynical Barinskoi, contemplated the book before them, On the pearl-gray cover they read;
"The Philosophy of Deliverance, by X. Rheinthaler."
"What an expressive title," said Wilhelm, breaking the silence first.
"Admirably adapted for a comic song," remarked Mayboom, with a melancholy air. Barinskoi laughed loudly, while Dorfling looked blandly at him. The comic poet sighed deeply and began to eat.
"But why Rheinthaler?" asked Paul.
"I at first wanted the book to appear anonymously; but the public is accustomed now to see a proper name on the title page. If it does not find one, its curiosity is excited, and what I particularly wished to avoid comes to pass, namely, the diversion of attention from the essential to the unessential."
"That does not explain why you have not put your own name to it," said Paul.
"My own name? What for? What is a name? What is an individuality, which a name symbolizes? The thoughts which I have put down in this book are not from me, the transient accident called Dorfling, but from the absolute everlasting thing which thinks in my brain. I am merely the carrier of the truth, appointed by it. What would you say if a postman put his name on all the letters he delivers?"
"I should not be capable of such self-effacement," said Paul. "If I had devoted the best years of my life to any work I should be unable to renounce the recognition I had earned."
"Recognition, Herr Haber. What sort of word is that? One does what one does, not because one wills, but because one must; not on account of an operation aimed at, but because of a compelling cause. He who reckons on any kind of reward for his works is on the same footing as a silly woman who claims men's approbation because she is pretty or an unreasoning child, who wants to be praised and petted because he has eaten his dinner. A mature perception arrives at this idea of the duty which one must fulfill, and in no hope of the gratification of individual vanity or self-seeking. Recognition! Does the wind hope for recognition from the ships it helps to sail? Is it blamed if it dashes the ship to pieces? It blows, as it must, and is perfectly indifferent about what men say, and as to its effect on trees, and chimney-pots, and ships. My brain is now thinking just as the wind blows. There is no difference between my organism and what goes on in the atmosphere. Both obey the laws of nature, and I merely fulfill these when I write a book."
"I quite agree with you," said Wilhelm.
The oysters had been eaten, and some wonderful Markobrunner drunk. The waiter now brought some Printaniere soup. The conversation halted, as everyone had involuntarily opened his copy of the book, some of them perhaps really curious to read, the others out of sympathy for the writer.
"Please don't read it now," said Dorfling, "the book will be just the same to-morrow, but the soup will be cold."
"That is the remark of a philosopher," said Barinskoi, and poked his pointed red nose in the savory steam from his soup.
"It is difficult to tear oneself away," said Schrotter; "it would be very friendly of you to give an idea of the thoughts at the foundation of your thesis."
"How could I explain a whole system intelligibly in a few words?" said Dorfling.
"You could leave out all the proofs and the development, we can read those presently in your book. You need only just give us the main ideas of your 'Philosophy of Deliverance.'"
All the guests joined in Schrotter's request, Paul the most eagerly, for the idea of having to read through that thick, dry book had frightened him, and now he saw the possibility of knowing its contents in an agreeable and comfortable way.
Dorfling objected at first, but as his friends insisted he began.
"The phenomenal world, in my opinion, is the foundation of a single spiritual principle which you can call what you like—strength, final cause, will, consciousness, God. This eternal principle separates part of itself from its own being—and this is the soul of mankind. Every soul perceives clearly that it is a part of an eternal whole; it feels itself unhappy and uneasy in its fragmentary existence, and yearns to go back again to the whole from whence it came. Individual life means removal from that all-embracing whole; individual death is the complete union of finite parts with the infinite whole. Thus, although life is a necessity, it is a continual pain, and ceaseless yearning; death is the freedom from pain and the fulfillment of that yearning. The only aim of life is death at the end of it, and death is the goal toward which every activity of the living organism eagerly strives."
Paul looked at Wilhelm and Schrotter, but as they were silent he said nothing. Schrotter after consideration, said:
"Why do you separate a part of the eternal principle from itself?"
"To make its unity manifold through divisibility, to arrive at the consciousness of the 'ego,' through the creation of an absolute negation."
"Your eternal principle then," said Schrotter, "appears to you like some lord or master, who is lonely because he is by himself in the world, and wishes to have the society of others."
"Over this, however, is placed the creation of the negation arriving at the consciousness of its own 'ego,' in addition to the knowledge of the object it has in view; thus consciousness precedes the rest," said Wilhelm.
Dorfling shook his head.
"These objections are close reasoning. You will find them answered in the book."
"You are right," said Schrotter, "it is unfair to criticize before we have read the book. I only want to make one remark, not in the sense of criticism, but rather to confirm a fact. Your "Philosophy of Deliverance" is no other than a form of Christianity which looks upon the earth as a vale of tears, on life as a banishment, and on death as going home to the Father's house. The theology of the Vatican would not find a hitch in your system."
"Forgive me, doctor," answered Dorfling. "I see a great difference between my system and Christianity. Both of them hold that life is a misery, and death is the deliverance. But Christianity does not explain why God creates men, and sends them to the misery of earth, instead of leaving them in peace in heaven. I, on the contrary, claim that I explain the creation of living and conscious beings."
"Your assertion then means that the eternal principle of phenomena creates organisms, with the object of arriving at the consciousness of itself?"
"Now, we have already answered you as to that," said Schrotter, "and I will not keep back my objection any longer. Let me get away for a moment from your system, and say that between metaphysics and theology I do not see the least difference. A metaphysical system and a religious dogma are both attempts to explain the incomprehensible secret to human reason. The negro solves the riddle of the musical-box, believing that a spirit is inside it, which gives forth musical sounds at the white man's command; and that is precisely what priests and philosophers do when they explain the great workings of the universe by a God, or a principle, or whatever they call their fetich. Human nature always wants to know the why and wherefore of things. When we are not sure of our ground, we help ourselves by conjectures, or even by imagination. These conjectures are senseless or reasonable, according to whether our knowledge is insufficient or comprehensive. Men are satisfied in their childhood with stories as explanations of the world's mysteries, in their maturity they advance to plausible hypotheses: the stories yield to theology, hypotheses to philosophy. Religion presents a fictitious solution to the riddle in a concrete form, and metaphysics in an abstract form; the one relates and asserts, the other argues and avoids the improbable. It is only a difference of degree, not of character."
"That is just so," cried Wilhelm. "Metaphysics are as incapable as religion of disclosing what lies behind the phenomenal world, and I cannot conceive (forgive me, Dorfling, if I say straight out what I mean), I cannot conceive how a philosopher can really take his own system in earnest. He must know that his explanation is only a conjecture, a possibility at the best, and he actually has the temerity to preach it as a fixed truth. No, my friend, I do not expect anything from metaphysics. It only interests me as a means for studying psychology. The history of philosophical systems is a history of the development of the mind of humanity. The systems are only valuable as testimonials to the endless extent and possibility of human thought. All the systems put together do not contain a spark of objective truth."
"That is upon the whole the difference between natural science and metaphysics," said Schrotter. "Science regulates the boundary between what is known and what is not known, and declares when the limit is reached. Our knowledge has attained to a certain point, and beyond that we know and understand nothing, absolutely nothing. Metaphysics will not stop at that limit. It confuses knowledge and dreams together, and manufactures out of the two something quite worthless. It explains things which it does not understand, and which cannot be understood, and offers us detailed descriptions of countries into which it has never traveled, and where mankind probably never will travel."
"May I say a word in defence of your metaphysics?" said Dorfling, with a slight smile.
"Yes, go on," cried Barinskoi. He had drunk more than all the rest put together, and the serious conversation seemed to afford him great amusement.
"Look here, Eynhardt. I cannot possibly uphold your statement that metaphysics do not contain a spark of objective truth. To be certain of that, one must also be certain what objective truth is. But you are not certain, as you very well know, and so logically you must admit the possibility that metaphysics can hold a spark of objective truth. I am of an entirely different opinion on this point. I believe that the science of the actual content of things, the foundation of all appearances, the laws of the universe, in short, everything which you call objective truth, is the property peculiar to the atoms, of which the world formerly existed. Absolute science, I say, is inherent matter, like motion and gravitation. Matter does not learn of them, it possesses them. A cell has not studied chemistry, but with unfailing accuracy it executes its wonderful chemical operations. Water knows nothing of physics and mathematics, but it flows from the spring, just as high as the laws of hydraulic pressure command."
"Bravo," interrupted Mayboom, "that explains at last something I never understood; and that is, why a flower pot should fall off a window straight on the heads of people in the street, with unfailing accuracy."
"Please, Mayboom, no bad jokes to-day," said Dorfling gently.
The comic song writer sighed and again sank into deep thought, and the philosopher went on:
"The science of truth, to which every atom adheres, dwells in men. We must not forget that man is a collection of countless millions of atoms; the collected consciousness of mankind can know just as much of what each atom knows, as a whole people can understand of Greek or Sanscrit because one or other of its members can read those languages. Only through intercommunication can the knowledge of the few become the knowledge of the many. The development of the living being I regard in this way, that the atoms at first only hang loosely, gradually becoming more closely knit together, until they make a substantial organism. The single atoms in the course of this process of development step over the boundary toward consciousness. At first it is a trembling, insecure foreboding, like the sensation of light to one nearly blind, then the outlines of truth become clearer, and all at once grow sharp and clearly defined. The different attempts at explanation of the secrets of the world are the expression of these forebodings of truth. So every one of the religious and philosophical systems is to my mind a grain of the truth, and the whole of it will be found in the great unity which we shall reach in a higher development."
"As charming as a pretty story," said Schrotter, "but—it is only a story after all. You conjecture that the thing is so situated, but you are not in a condition to prove it; and if I deny it, you have no means of compelling me to believe, as I can compell you to believe that twice two makes four. No, no; nothing can come of these metaphysical speculations. The whole philosophy is not worth psychological treatment. We are no further to-day than the old Greeks, whose knowledge led to the formula, 'Know thyself.' We can hope to know ourselves some day, to know what goes on in our brains. I hardly believe, however, that science will ever arrive at it."
"The study of natural science has brought me to the same conclusion," said Wilhelm. "We know nothing to-day of the nature of phenomena—we knew nothing yesterday, and we shall know nothing to-morrow. The great advance in thought has only brought us to the point of no more self-deception, and exactly knowing what we do know, whereas yesterday men deceived themselves, and imagined that the fables of religion and metaphysics were positive knowledge. The history of physical science is in this respect very interesting. It teaches that every step forward does not consist of a new explanation, but rather goes to prove, that the earlier explanations were untrustworthy. The sphere of the exact sciences does not grow wider, but narrower. It would be very instructive to study the history of natural science at the point it has reached."
"Why do you not write such a history?" asked Schrotter.
"Why? It would be foolish to add another book to the millions of books already written. All that one can say about it is soon said. Anything really new is written once in a thousand years, all the rest is repetition, dilution, compilation. If everyone who writes on a subject were to read first everything which has been written on that subject, he would very soon throw his pen out of the window."
"I must again differ from you," said Dorfling. "I think it is best, that we so seldom know all that has been thought and written on a subject. It is best that we write new books without wearying to read the millions of others. I grant that most books are only repetitions of earlier ones. But it is unconscious repetition, and it is exactly that which gives it a wonderfully new meaning. It proves unity of mind, identity of science. Thousands of men daily discover gunpowder. Many of them laugh, because gunpowder was first discovered two hundred years ago. I do not laugh. I see in it the manifestation of the eternal unity of phenomenal principle. So many men could not arrive at the same thought if they were not fragments of a whole; now you know why I have written a book, and also, why I have not put my individual name on the title-page."
From the next room they heard a woman laugh in a wild, excited way, glasses chinked together, and a man's voice was just distinguished in conversation. Barinskoi pricked up his ears and winked at Paul; the others paid no attention.
"Do not misunderstand me," said Wilhelm, answering Dorfling's last remark. "I do not mean to say that your book is superfluous. You had every right to it, having made it the object of your life."
"Not the object of my life," interrupted Dorfling. "The only object I have in life is death, which I call deliverance."
"Very good; I will say then, when you conceived it your duty to write it."
"'Duty' yes, I will allow that word to pass. Let us rather say impulse, or instinct. If one has a perception one also feels an impulse, which one calls a feeling of duty to share it with others."
"You believe even in perception. That proves above all what you mean by your duty. I know, to my regret, that I have no perceptions to share with others, and the duty of my life is only toward my own moral education and greatest possible perfection."
"That is not enough," Paul broke in, "this self-culture in one's own study does no one any good. For that reason I do not mind if I appear unphilosophical. One has duties toward one's fellowmen. One must be useful to the State, as a good citizen. One must make money, to add to the national wealth."
"Bravo, Herr Haber," said Mayboom gravely. "You speak like a town-crier," and after a short pause he added, "That is a great compliment from me."
"We express the same meaning in different forms," answered Wilhelm. "How can you add to the national wealth? By making yourself a rich man. And I try to be useful to the community by educating myself in the greatest possible morality, and the highest ideal of a citizen. No one can work outside of himself when every individual strives to be good and true, then the whole people will be good and noble."
"Now you are disputing as to your life's duty," cried Baninskoi, whose eyes glowed, and whole face was red with the alcohol he had imbibed. "Prove first that it is a duty. I deny without exception every duty to others. Why should I trouble myself about the world? What are my fellow-creatures to me? Dinner is trumps, and long live wine!" and he drank a glassful.
"It is an instinct born with us," said Wilhelm, without any vexation, "to care for one's fellow-creatures, and to feel a duty in sympathy for others."
"But suppose I have not got this instinct?" answered Barinskoi.
"Then you are an unhealthy exception."
"The best proof is the continuance of mankind. If the instinct of sympathy with others were to fail among men, humanity would long ago have ceased to exist."
"That is a convenient arrangement. Instinct then is the only foundation for your duty, and the continuance of humanity is the only sanction of your instinct. I will leave you to listen to your instinct, and sympathize as much as you like, but for my part I joyfully renounce this duty; the only punishment I should be afraid of is the destruction of mankind, and that is not likely to happen in my lifetime."
"There is another punishment," said Mayboom solemnly, "that I take this bottle of champagne away from you on account of—your bad behavior."
While he spoke he took away the bottle, and Barinskoi tried to get it back again; a little struggle ensued. Dorfling put an end to it by an emphatic "Please don't do that." Turning to Wilhelm he went on:
"I do not believe in your idea of duty; you place instinct at the foundation. I use another word. I call your instinct the foreboding that each has of its being, and its outflow toward the eternal phenomenon of principle. At all events, that seems to suffice for a foundation. But I conceive duty to be quite a different thing. You limit your view to self-culture, and have love for your fellow-creatures, but no desire to instruct them. Now, I think that culture should begin with oneself, but end with others. That is my idea of love for humanity. One need hardly go out of oneself to do this. One can influence things remote without disturbing oneself. Just think of the magnet; it is an immense source of influence, called example. It sets an astonishing example without moving out of itself—an example which cannot be overlooked, and powerfully affects the imagination."
"One illustration for another," said Schrotter, who had shown his interest in the conversation by nodding his head now and then. "You wish man to play the part of a magnet; that is not enough, I want him to play the part of a cogwheel. He must catch hold of his surroundings while he moves, he must also move all those round him. Everyone cannot be a magnet; we are not all made of the same stuff. But one can make a cogged wheel out of whatever one will—and beside, a magnet only influences certain substances. It will draw iron, but cannot attract copper, wood, or stone; but the cogwheel takes hold of anything near it, of whatever material it is made. I will not work the illustration to death. You can see by this what I mean. I think a far-reaching activity is the first business of mankind. Our nerves are not so much those of sensation as of movement; we do not only take in impressions from the outside, we are provided with organs which give out impressions received from within. Every sensation of movement which nature sends through us is a summons to be answered by an action, not only self-culture, not example, not passive good-will toward others, but by the intention an object of activity toward the world and humanity. The Middle Ages summoned up the business of life in the words, 'Ora et Labora.' They are beautiful words, and after this lapse of time we take the meaning out for ourselves, in other words, 'Think and Act.'"
The woman's laughter from the next room became louder, and then they heard chairs pushed back, and the noise of departure. The rustling of a silk dress, with the clinking of spurs and sword, passed the door, became fainter, and then ceased. It was near midnight, and Schrotter rose to go. He was thinking of Bhani, who was sitting up for him at home. The dinner must have been paid for beforehand, for the guests were spared the sight of a money transaction to chill the end of their pleasant evening. The cool night air felt refreshing after the heat of the small room. Dorfling declined the offers his friends made to accompany him home. They all wished him "Farewell."
"Die well, would be a better wish," replied Dorfling, and with these strange words in their ears they left him.
Schrotter and Wilhelm went a part of the way with Paul, who had the furthest to go. For a little while he was silent, then he broke out:
"I declare this is beyond my comprehension. The whole time I was there I felt as if I were in a vault with a lot of ghosts. You, Herr Doctor, were the only living being among them; I breathed again when I heard you talking. If I had not head the sounds from next door, and had not had the realities of our dinner before me, I should have thought I was dreaming."
"What has put you out so, my dear Paul?" said Wilhelm.
"What! Are you men of flesh and blood? Are you really alive? There we sat for four mortal hours, and the talk was wearisome to a degree, never one sensible word."
"Now! now!" protested Schrotter.
"Herr Doctor, forgive me, but I must repeat it, never one sensible word. Do you call Dorfling's 'Philosophy of Deliverance' sensible? or, Wilhelm, your philosophy of self-culture, which, with all deference to you, I call philosophical onanism? Only six men, two of them under thirty-five, and the whole blessed evening not one word about either pleasure or love."
They had come to the place where Friedrichstrasse and Leipzigerstrasse cross each other; and Schrotter signed to them to look toward the left corner. There under a gas lamp they saw Barinskoi in earnest conversation with a woman.
"Yes, look at him! That brute is still the most reasonable among all your philosophics. He has his method of sponging, and enjoys himself according to the category of Aristotle. But your metaphysics—"
"What do you really want, Paul?"
"Well, I want you all to have to do for once with practical life, with two hundred workmen to pay and ten thousand acres of land to see after; and artificial manures and the price of corn to worry you; then perhaps you would take a little less interest as to whether the soul was a phenomenon or an india-rubber ball, or whether men were magnets or cogwheels."
Wilhelm only smiled. He had long ago given up trying to bring his practical friend to ideal views. At the corner of the Kochstrasse they separated, and Paul continued his way to the Lutzowstrasse, while Wilhelm and Schrotter turned back.
Twenty minutes later, as Wilhelm entered his bedroom, his eyes fell on a letter for him in Dorfling's handwriting. He opened it, greatly surprised, and read as follows:
"DEAR FRIEND: When you read this I shall be free from all trouble and all doubt. I have accomplished what I set myself to do, and I am going back to eternity from this limited sphere. May you be as happy as I shall be in a few hours! Keep a friendly thought for me as long as you stay in this world of misery, and believe that he who writes this had the warmest friendship for you."
Wilhelm stood as if thunderstruck. Was it by any chance a dreadful joke? No; Dorfling was incapable of that. It must be a grim reality. He ran quickly out of the house to seek Schrotter. The old Indian servant opened the door, and in his broken English informed him that Schrotter Sahib had found a letter when he reached home and had immediately gone out again.
Wilhelm could now doubt no longer, and running swiftly, he reached the street where Dorfling lived, waited in agonizing suspense for the door to be opened, flew up the stairs, and through the open door to his friend's bedroom. There he found Schrotter; Mayboom was also there sobbing, and a tearful old servant. In an arm chair near the bed was Dorfling, still in his dress coat and tie, his head sunk on his breast, his face hardly whiter than in life, his arms hanging down, and in the middle of the white shirt-front a great red stain. On the floor lay a revolver.
Wilhelm, horrified, took his friend's hand. It was still quite warm. His agonizing look sought Schrotter's, who answered in a hushed voice, "He is dead."
Then his tears broke out, and his trembling fingers had hardly strength to close the lids over his friend's eyes, those eyes which looked so strangely quiet and peaceful as if they now knew the answer to the Great Secret.
Dorfling's suicide made a profound impression on Wilhelm, and for months he was haunted by the vision of that motionless form with its white face and blood-stained breast. It had a weird fascination for him, causing him to revert constantly to that tragical May night that had begun with a cheerful dinner, and ended in a fatal pistol shot. Paul's comment on the occurrence was short and concise. "The poor chap was mad," he said, and there the matter ended as far as he was concerned. Mayboom revered his friend's memory as he would a saint, and erected a kind of chapel to him in his house, in which Dorfling's portrait, his book, and various objects belonging to him, thrown up in relief against draperies and surrounded by a variety of symbolical accessories, were set forth for the pious delectation of the master of the house and his visitors. Schrotter held aloof from this cult. He appreciated Dorfling's character, his consistency, his strength of will and highmindedness as they deserved, but he was never tired of preaching and demonstrating to Wilhelm that all these admirable qualities had been turned out of their proper course by a disturbing morbid influence. It was monstrous, he contended, that a system of philosophy should arm you for suicide. What if the premises should prove false? Then your voluntary death would be a frightful mistake which nothing could retrieve. One has no right to risk making such a mistake. He believed in development, in the progress of the organic world from a lower to a higher stage. Progress and development, however, were conditional upon life, and he who has recourse to self-destruction sets an example of unseemly revolt against one of the most beautiful and comforting of all the laws of nature. Moreover, suicide was a waste of force on which it was simply heartrending to have to look. There were so many great deeds to be done which called for the laying down of life. In a thousand different ways one might benefit mankind by Winkelried-like actions. If one was determined to die, one should at least render thereby to those left behind one of those sublime services which demand the sacrifice of a life.
In their frequent conversations upon this subject, he was so earnest, so eloquent, so markedly intentional, that Wilhelm finally gave him the smiling assurance that he was preaching to a convert. It was true, he had the highest respect for a man who did not hesitate to cast life from him when his whole mind and thought led him to the conviction that death was preferable to life; and unprincipled as suicide might be from an objective point of view, subjectively considered, there surely was an ideal fitness in making one's actions agree to the uttermost point with one's opinions? Nevertheless, he himself did not approve of Dorfling's deed, and would certainly never imitate it, for one could never know what intentions the unknown powers might not have with regard to the individual; by committing suicide he maybe threw up some possible mission, or by his premature departure disturbed the action of the great machine in which he—as some small screw or wheel—doubtless had his modest place and function.
As if to prove to Schrotter that he was no disciple of the "Philosophy of Deliverance," he turned his attention, more than he had ever done before, to the realities of life. Dorfling left a remarkable will. He bequeathed his fortune—most advantageously invested in a house in Dusseldorf and in public funds—yielding a yearly income of about thirty-five thousand marks, to his two friends, Dr Schrotter and Dr Eynhardt, with the sole charge that out of it they should provide a sufficient competency for his old servant, dating from his father's time, who had attended him literally from the cradle to the grave. The fortune was to be theirs conjointly and indivisibly, and should one of them die, to devolve to the survivor, who in his turn was to make such arrangements as he thought best to insure its being applied, after his death, in accordance with the testator's views. He expressed the hope that his two heirs would use the income derived from the property in alleviating the misery inseparable from human existence, of which throughout life they must be witnesses. Dorfling's only near relative was herself very wealthy and generous-minded, and did not dispute the will, it was accordingly proved.
Wilhelm declared from the first that he understood nothing of the management of a fortune, of business papers, and so forth, and wanted to hand over the administration of the whole to Schrotter. Schrotter, however, would not hear of it, and after vying with one another in generous self-disparagement and mutual confidence, they finally agreed that Schrotter, being a practical man, and conversant with the ways of business and the world, should take the management of the fortune upon himself, but that Wilhelm should receive a monthly sum of fifteen hundred marks out of the income to apply as he thought best to the relief of the needy. The other half of the income was at Schrotter's disposal, who put it, of course, to the same use. In his capacity as member of the deputation for the poor, and also as parish doctor, he came in contact with much poverty and misery, and was able to direct Wilhelm's charity into the right channels. It became Wilhelm's regular afternoon employment to visit the homes of those mentioned to him as in need of relief, that he might the better judge for himself of the true state of the case, make personal inquiries about the people, and step in where help was necessary and deserved.
Only now did he learn what life really was, and what he saw neither increased his pleasure in being alive nor made him proud to be a man among men. Needless to say, it was not long before the news reached the circles of the professional beggars that there was a gentleman in the Dorotheenstrasse who had a considerable yearly sum of money to give away. The result was that his modest apartment was so besieged by petitioners that his old landlady, Frau Muller, the widow of a post-office official, with whom he had boarded and lodged for seven years, was goaded to desperation, and declared that if the disgraceful rabble was encouraged she would be obliged to part from Wilhelm, though it would be her death, she being so fond of him and so used to his ways. Wilhelm was wise enough to admit the justice of her complaint, and empowered Frau Muller to turn away ruthlessly all such visitors whose names were unknown to her, or who came without recommendation, which orders she carried out with such virulence and relentlessness, that the worshipful company of professional beggars rapidly came to the conclusion that it was useless trying to gain admittance to Dr. Eynhardt as long as he was guarded by the tall, bony old lady who opened the door but would not leave hold of it. So the unceasing tramp of dirty boots on the echoing stair was hushed, and Wilhelm saw no more of the crape-clad widows of eminent officials who required a sewing machine or a piano to save them from starvation; the gentlemen who would be forced to put a bullet through their brains if they did not procure the money to pay a debt of honor; or the unemployed clerks who had eaten nothing for days, and who all had a sick wife and from six to twelve children (all small) at home crying for bread; or the foreigners who could find no work in Berlin, and would return to their native countries if he would give them a few thalers to pay their fourth-class railway fare; and similar interesting persons, the endless diversity of whose life-histories had kept him in a chronic state of surprise for months. In place of the visitors he now received letters, as many as if he had been a cabinet minister. It was the same old story, only less affecting, because generally deficient in style, and faulty as to spelling, and no longer illustrated by tearful, vigorously mopped eyes, abysmal sighs, and hands wrung till they cracked. For a time Wilhelm went to every address given in these letters, in order to see and hear for himself, but after awhile his powers of discrimination were sharpened, and he learned to distinguish between the impositions of swindlers and professional beggars, and the real distress which has a claim to sympathy.
By degrees, it is true, he became convinced, even in the chill dwellings of real poverty, that this was hardly ever entirely unmerited. Where it had not been brought about by laziness, frivolity, or drink, its source was to be found in ignorance or incapacity, in other words, in an inefficient equipment for the battle of life. He judged all these circumstances, however, to be the outward and visible signs of obscure natural laws, and that to interfere with rash and ignorant hands in their workings was as useless as it was unreasonable. He therefore pondered seriously whether, by denying to a portion of mankind the qualities indispensable to success in the struggle for existence, Nature herself did not predestine them to misery and destruction; whether the irredeemable poor—those who after each help upward invariably fell back in the former state—were not the offscourings of humanity, the preservation of whom was a fruitless task, and altogether against the design of Nature?
Fortunately, he did not allow his deeds of brotherly love to be darkened by the shadow of these and kindred thoughts. He brought forward reasons which always ended by triumphing over his cold doubts. Misery was possibly the outcome of inexorable natural laws, but then was not compassion the same? The poor were poor under the pressure of some irresistible force, but did not the charitable act under the same pressure? Moreover, was Wilhelm so sure that he himself was better equipped for the race of life than those unfortunates who went under because they chose a trade for which they were neither mentally nor physically competent, or because, from laziness or obstinacy, they insisted on remaining in Berlin, where nobody wanted them, when a few miles off they might have found all the conditions conducive to their prosperity? How could he know whether he would have been capable of earning his living if his father had not left him a plentifully-spread table? In the rooms that contained so little furniture and so many emaciated human beings, into which his charitable zeal led him every day, he pictured himself, pale and thin, without food, without books; and although he had the harmless vanity to believe that privation and penury would affect him less deeply than the poor devils he visited, the idea that he saw his own face before him, as it might have been had he not had the good luck to be his father's heir opened his hand still wider, and added to the money words of sympathy and comfort, which afforded the recipients—unless they were utterly hardened—as much pleasure as the donation itself.
Beside his almsgiving, he now had another occupation which took up all his surplus time. Schrotter had not let the suggestion drop which he made at Dorfling's dinner-party, and had persuaded Wilhelm so long that he finally rouse himself to attempt an account of the ways and means by which the human mind has freed itself of its grossest errors. It was to be entitled "A History of Human Ignorance," and promised to be a most original work. He would endeavor to show what idea people had had of the universe at various periods, how they explained the phenomena of nature, their connection, their causes and effects. He would begin with the childish superstitions of the savages, and continuing through the so-called learned systems of the ancients and of the Middle Ages, would bring his history up to the theories of contemporary scientists. He would demonstrate the psychological causes of the fact that man, at a certain stage of intellectual development, must necessarily fall into certain errors, and by the aid of what experiments, experiences, and conclusions he had come gradually to recognize them as such. How the fresh interpretation of a single phenomenon would overturn, at one blow, a number of other phenomena hitherto considered entirely satisfactory, how prevailing scientific theories, instead of assisting the fearless observer or discoverer, invariably hindered him and turned him from the right path, in proof of which assertion he brought forward such striking examples as Aristotle's convulsive endeavors to make each of the senses correspond to one of the four elements in which they believed in his day, and Kepler with his fantastic efforts to prove the supremacy of the Pythagorean seven in the solar system. The object of the book was to show that the history of human knowledge is a history of false inferences and the erroneous interpretations of correctly observed phenomena, that the increase of knowledge always means the destruction of existing opinions, that of all the scientific systems up to the present day, only those retained their position which proved the futility of earlier theories—never those which built up new structures on the foundations of the old house of cards that had been blown down. In a word, that progress means not the acquisition of fresh knowledge, but an ever-extended consciousness of the futility of the knowledge we thought to possess.
Wilhem spared himself no pains with this work. He brought all the thoroughness and industry of his honest nature to bear upon it, would accept no statement at second-hand, but went for every information to the fountain head. It would cost an immense amount of time, but after all he had that at his disposal. There was no need for him to hurry, seeing that he did not write from ambition or for any material advantage, but simply for his own gratification. He began by rubbing up his school Greek sufficiently to enable him to read the ancient philosophers with ease, which he achieved in a few months, and then set to work to learn Arabic, that being the chief language of science in the Middle Ages. Schrotter was seriously alarmed at these extensive preparations, and hastened to procure, through his pandit friends, some English extracts from the scientific literature of India, lest Wilhelm might think fit to study Sanscrit, and decades would pass before he came to write the first word of his book.
Thus four years went by, years full of work, though they left no visible traces. Meanwhile the aspect of things in the new Empire had become very different. Men breathed the oppressive air with laboring breasts; the bright dawn which promised so glorious a day had, been followed by sullen mists, and the blue sky had disappeared behind heavy, leaden-gray clouds, through which no comforting ray of sunshine pierced. Where was all the glowing enthusiasm, the rapture of hope and joy that, in the first years after the great war, had flushed every German cheek and lit up every eye? Throughout the length and breath of the land the opposing factions confronted one another like armed antagonists preparing for a duel to the death. Town and village rang with execration and satire, with howls of rage or satisfied revenge vented by German against German. The Roman Catholic shook his clinched fist at the Protestant, the liberal at the conservative, the protectionist at the free-trader, the partisan of absolute government at the defender of the people's rights. Everywhere hatred and malice, everywhere a mad desire to gag, to maltreat, to tear limb from limb; this unfettering of the basest human passions giving meanwhile such an impetus to bribery, corruption, and unprincipled advancement for party purposes as to resemble the loathsome luxuriant growth of mildew in the damp corners of some neglected storeroom.
The high tide of the foreign millions had ebbed away, showing itself to have been no fructifying Nile but a destructive lava stream, leaving the country charred and desolate after its passage. The gold that only yesterday had poured through greedy fingers, had turned to-day to ashes and withered leaves like the goblin gold of a fairy tales. Diminished inclination for work, an insanely increased demand for the luxuries of life, the accepted ideas of morality shaken to their foundations by scandalous examples of triumphant vice and villainy—these were the blessings that remained after the so-called impetus following on the "Downfall." Work was scarcer, wages lower, but the flood of country people seeking work continued to roll toward the capital, overcoming with irresistible force the backward wave of unfortunates who could find no employment in the building yards, the factories or the workshops, trampling blindly over the bodies of the fallen, like a herd of buffaloes which marches ever straight ahead, which nothing can turn out of its course, and when it arrives at a precipice over which the leaders fall, presses onward till the last one is swallowed up in the depths. The misery and privation became heartrending to witness. Each morning you might see in the working quarters of the town and suburbs hundreds of strong men, their hands—perforce idle—buried in their torn and empty pockets, going from factory to factory asking for work, while the overseers would wave them off from afar to avoid a useless interchange of words. If, in the years of the French milliards, the workingman had turned socialist out of sheer envy and wantonness, he became so now under the sting of adversity, and in all the length and breadth of Berlin there was hardly one of the proletariat who was not a fanatical disciple of the new doctrine, with its slashing denunciations against all that was, and its intoxicating promises of all that was to be. Wilhelm had many opportunities of intercourse with the unemployed. He gave help as far as his fifty marks a day would reach, and kept the wolf from many a door. But the miraculous loaves and fishes of the gospel would have been necessary to successfully alleviate even the distress which he saw with his own eyes, and although much of the preaching of the social democrats still seemed to him mere phrase-making and altogether mistaken, he yet came gradually to the conclusion that somewhere—he did not precisely know where—in the construction of the social machine there must be a flaw, seeing that there were so many people who could and would work, and yet were doomed to despair and ruin for lack of employment. The spring of 1878 came round, and brought with it two attempts on the life of the emperor within three weeks. Scarcely had the people recovered from the horror caused by Hodel's crime when it was shaken to its depths by Nobiling's murderous shot.
On that terrible Sunday, June the 2d, Wilhelm had dined with Schrotter, and about three o'clock they started for a walk. In the few steps that separate the Mittelstrasse from the Linden they saw what was going on in the town. In Unter den Linden, however, they were received by the yells of the newspaper men calling out the first special editions, and found themselves in the stream of people pouring toward the Palace or to No. 18, where they pointed out the window on the second floor from which the too-well-aimed shot had fallen.
From the special editions, from the confused remarks and exclamations of the crowd in which the two friends found themselves, and the information they obtained from the grim-looking policemen, rougher and less communicative than ever, they learned all that was necessary of the bloody deed which had taken place an hour ago. Wilhelm could scarcely control his horror, and even Schrotter, though calmer, was deeply moved and downcast. All pleasure in their walk was gone, and they decided to return to Schrotter's house.
"It is simply hideous," said Wilhelm, as they turned into the Friedrichstrasse, "that we have such brutes living among us! We know, of course, that there is a great deal of distress, but a man who can revenge his own trouble on the person of the emperor must be lower than the beasts of the field. And men who at this time of day have such ideas on State organization are electors!"
"Good heavens!" cried Schrotter, with unconscious vehemence, "you are surely not going to make the popular mistake of drawing sweeping conclusions from these outrages? Such occurrences have no outside importance. They are the acts of madmen. Their following so closely upon one another is the very surest proof of that. There are in Germany thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of unhappy creatures whose minds are more or less unhinged, though their inexperienced surroundings do not know it. Some exceptional event will suddenly put the entire population in a state of ferment, the imagination of the already morbidly inclined will be particularly strongly affected thereby; they picture the occurrence to themselves till it takes hold of them, and drives out every other thought from their minds, becomes a nightmare, a possession, and finally an irresistible impulse to do the same. After every event of the kind, you hear that a whole number of people have gone mad, and that their insanity is somehow connected with it. No such thing. They were mad before, and the insanity which had lain dormant in them only waited for a chance shock to give it definite form and character."
They had reached Schrotter's door by this time, and were on the point of entering, when a policeman stepped up to them, and touching Wilhelm's arm, said:
"Gentlemen, you will have to come with me."
"Why, what do you mean?" they exclaimed, very much taken aback.
"Better make no fuss, but come quietly with me," answered the policeman, "This gentleman accuses you of making insulting remarks against his majesty."
Only now did they become aware of a man standing behind the policeman and glaring at them in fury.
"Are you mad?" Schrotter burst out angrily. "That is for the magistrate to decide," exclaimed the man, in a voice trembling with rage; "and you, policeman, do your duty."
Passers-by began to gather round the group, so, to bring a disagreeable scene to a close, Schrotter said to Wilhelm:
"We had better go with the policeman; I suppose we shall be enlightened presently."
A short walk brought them to the police office in the Neue Wilhelms Strasse, where they were taken before the lieutenant of police. The policeman deposed in a few words that he had been standing at the corner of the Friedrich and Mittelstrasse, the two gentlemen passed him in loud conversation; the third gentleman, who was following them, then came up to him, and told him to arrest them because they had spoken insultingly of his majesty, and here they were. He had neither seen nor heard anything further.
The lieutenant of police began by asking their names. When they told him—"Dr. Schrotter, M. D. one of the members for Berlin and Professor Emeritus," and "Dr. Eynhardt, Doctor of Philosophy, householder," he offered them chairs. The informer introduced himself as "non-commissioned officer Patke, retired, member of a military association, and candidate for the private constabulary."
"What have you to bring forward against the gentlemen?"
"I walked behind the two gentlemen from the Linden to the Mittelstrasse. They were conversing loudly about the attempted assassination, and I naturally listened."
"It does not appear to me so very natural," commented the lieutenant dryly.
The informer was a trifle disconcerted, but he soon recovered himself, and proceeded in a declamatory manner:
"The younger gentleman—the dark one—expressed himself in very unbecoming terms with regard to his majesty the emperor, and said among other things, that the outrage was of no real importance. I am a patriot, I have served his august majesty; if his majesty—"
"That will do," the lieutenant broke in, ruthlessly interrupting the retired non-commissioned officer's flow of language, which he accompanied with a dramatic waving of the right arm. "Can you repeat the 'unbecoming terms' of which, according to your account, this gentleman made use?"
"I cannot remember the exact words. I was too excited. So much, however, I remember distinctly—he declared the attempt upon his majesty's life to be an occurrence of no importance."
Wilhelm now broke in.
"Not a word of that is true," he said quietly. "Neither of us said one word which could justify this inconceivable charge."
"The remark which this informer seems to have taken hold of," Schrotter observed, "was not made by my friend, Dr. Eynhardt, but by me. I did not say either that the occurrence was unimportant, but that it had no general significance—that it was not a proof of the prevailing feeling at large."
"It comes to the same thing whether you say it has no importance or no significance," interrupted the informer. "That gentleman may have made the remark, but I certainly heard it, and as a loyal servant of his majesty—"
"That is quite enough," said the lieutenant of police authoritatively. Then turning to the two friends—"I am very sorry, but as things stand at present, I must let the law take its course. Do you persist in your charge?" he asked the informer.
"Yes, Herr Lieutenant; my duty to my sovereign—"
"Silence. Gentlemen, I shall be obliged to notify the matter to the proper authorities. I expect you will be called upon to clear yourselves before the magistrate, which I have no doubt you will be able to do successfully. I need not detain you any longer."
Wilhelm and Schrotter bowed courteously and withdrew, without vouchsafing a glance at the informer. The latter lingered, as if he would have liked to continue the conversation with the lieutenant of police, but an emphatic "You may go!" sent him rapidly over the threshold of the office.
Five days afterward, on a Friday, Schrotter and Wilhelm were summoned to appear in the Stadtvogtei [Footnote: A certain prison in Berlin.] before the magistrate, a disagreeable person with a bilious complexion, venomous eyes behind his spectacles, and the unpleasing habit of continually scooping out his ear with the little finger of his left hand. The two friends, the informer, and the policeman were present. The magistrate could not have received them differently if they had been accused of robbing and murdering their parents. To be sure, he behaved no better to the informer. His expression of unmitigated disgust was perhaps a freak of nature, and no indication of the true state of his feelings.
He had a bundle of papers before him, in which he searched for some time before opening his mouth.
"You are accused of having made use of offensive expressions regarding his majesty," he said to Schrotter.
"On a preposterously unfounded charge," he retorted.
"And you too," he turned to Wilhelm.
"I can only repeat Dr. Schrotter's answer."
"Give your evidence," he ordered the policeman.
The man did so.
"Could you understand what the gentleman said?"
"How far was Patke behind them?"
"A few steps."
"You must be more exact."
"I can't say more exactly than that, for I paid no attention to the gentlemen till I was told to arrest them."
"Is it your opinion that Herr Patke could have heard distinctly what the gentlemen were saying to one another?"
"I dare say he might have understood if they spoke very loud, but I can't say for certain."
"Herr Patke, what have you to say?"
The former non-commissioned officer, who had donned his 1870 medal for the occasion, hereupon assumed a strictly military bearing, fixed his eye firmly on the magistrate, and began in a sing-song voice:
"I happened to be in the street last Sunday when the infamous wretch lifted his murderous hand against the sacred person of our august monarch. My heart bled; I was beside myself; I could have torn everybody and everything to pieces. As I walked along I noticed these two gentlemen, who looked to me suspicious from the first—"
"Why?" asked the magistrate.
"Well—the one with his black hair, and the other with his hooked nose—I said to myself, 'Those are Jews!'"
The magistrate suddenly bent over his papers, and gave a kind of grunt. Even the policeman, in spite of his wooden official air, could not repress a smile. Patke continued:
"Then I heard the younger gentleman say, 'It serves his majesty the emperor quite right.'"
"Did he actually say, his majesty the emperor?" interrupted the magistrate.
"No," answered Patke eagerly, "I say that."
"You are only to repeat the gentleman's actual words."
"He actually did say that it served the emperor right."
"This is beyond a joke," Schrotter burst out. "Why, man, I wonder the lie does not stick in your throat and choke you!"
"I must beg you not to address the witness," said the magistrate brusquely. Then to Patke severely—"That is not what you said in your first charge."
"I was confused then; I did not recollect distinctly. But later on it came back to me."
"That is very improbable. What have you to answer, Dr. Eynhardt?"
"Simply, that the man's statement is absolutely untrue. I never uttered or thought words bearing the remotest resemblance to those he quotes."
"What my friend does not say is," broke in Schrotter, "that, on the contrary, he expressed the deepest and most painful emotion at the crime."
The magistrate shot a venomous glance from under his spectacles at Schrotter, but quailed before those flaming half-closed blue eyes fixed so sternly upon him.
"Well, and what have you to bring forward against the other gentleman?"
"That gentleman said the outrage was of no great importance."
"In your first account you said the outrage had no real significance, and that Dr. Eynhardt made the remark."
"Whether he said 'no importance' or 'no significance,' it is all the same thing, and one cannot so easily distinguish the speaker when one is walking behind. I may have been mistaken on that point."
"You do not repudiate the remark?" asked the magistrate of Schrotter in his most biting tones.
"Your expression is not very happily chosen. By repudiating I understand the declaring of a fact to be false when we know it to be true. I am not in the habit of doing that, nor should I suppose it of you, Herr Staatsanwalt."
"I need no instruction from you," the other returned angrily.
"It would seem so, however" Schrotter calmly rejoined.
The magistrate grunted several times and then asked, after a pause, during which he was particularly busy with his ear:
"You admit the statement, then?"
"Not altogether. It is true that I said the attempt on the emperor's life had no general significance, but I meant by that and the rest of what I said, that if the political parties should make this isolated crime (committed by an undoubtedly insane person) the excuse for adopting measures inimical to the liberty of the public in general, they would be doing something both unjustifiable and reprehensible."
"Can he have said that?" asked the magistrate, turning to Patke.
"I don't know. I only know what I said just now."
Renewed grunting, renewed digging in the ear and turning over of papers. "Hm—hm," he muttered to himself testily, "that is not enough. It is too indefinite, in spite of strong grounds for suspicion." Then he looked up, and in a tone which was meant to convey as much scorn as possible, he asked Schrotter—"You played a part in the political events of 1848?"
"Yes, and the recollection of it is the pride of my life."
"I did not ask you about that. And you are at present the chairman of a district society of progressive opinions?"
"I have that honor."
"There is nothing further against you. And you, Dr. Eynhardt, you refused the Iron Cross in the late campaign?"
"You were discharged from the army without comment?"
"For declining a duel," observed Schrotter.
"Dr. Eynhardt is of age, and can answer for himself. You have attended Socialist meetings?"
"And made speeches?"
"And that was directed against Socialism," said Schrotter again.
The magistrate grew lobster-red in the face.
"It is really scandalous," he cried, quivering with rage, "that I am repeatedly obliged to remind a man of your position that he is only to answer when spoken to. Why didn't you say yourself, Dr. Eynhardt, that you had spoken against the Socialists?"
"Because you did not ask me," answered Wilhelm, with a gentle smile.
After a slight pause the magistrate resumed—"You are on friendly terms with a Russian named Dr. Barinskoi?"
"You can hardly call it that. I did know him, though not exactly in a friendly way, but for two years I have quite lost sight of him."
"Did you know that Dr. Barinskoi was a Nihilist?"
"And you did not let that make any difference to you?"
"I was not afraid of infection," said Wilhelm, and smiled again.
"Perhaps not, but of being compromised," growled the magistrate.
"That idea has not troubled me as yet."
"You inherited from a friend who committed suicide a large fortune, which you use chiefly for the benefit of Socialist workmen?"
"I use it for the benefit of the poor, and those I certainly find more frequently among the Socialist workmen than among factory owners and householders."
"I'll thank you to remember that this is not the place for making bad jokes!" roared the magistrate.
"You are quite right," Wilhelm answered serenely. "I know nothing more unpleasant than bad jokes."
Schrotter looked as if he were going to embrace his friend. He had never seen him from this side.
"Did it never occur to you to put yourself in communication with the clergymen of your district, these gentlemen having far greater facilities for finding out deserving objects of charity than a private person?"
"I will answer that question when you have had the goodness to explain to me what connection it has with this man's denunciation."
The magistrate glared at him in a manner calculated to wither him on the spot, but only met a quiet, smiling face which he was incapable of intimidating.
"May I request you now," said Schrotter in his turn, "to ask the witness Patke if for the last few weeks he has not been a candidate for a post as detective on the political police staff?" Schrotter too had made a variety of inquiries since last Sunday, and had learned this fact.
"That is so," stammered Patke, turning very red. "In these terrible times, when the Socialists and the enemies of the country—"
"Silence, Herr Patke," interrupted the magistrate angrily; "that has nothing to do with the business on hand." He reflected for awhile, and then said with the most deeply grudging manner—"The statement of the one witness—seeing too that it is indefinite in some important points—is not sufficient to warrant me in passing a sentence, in spite of many good grounds for suspicion afforded by your past history and known opinions. I will therefore dismiss the charge, if only to avoid the public scandal of a Member being accused of lese majeste."
Schrotter was boiling with rage, and had the greatest difficulty in restraining his naturally passionate temper. "Many thanks for your kindness," he said in a choking voice, "and for this scoundrel you have no reprimand?"
"Sir," screamed the magistrate, springing out of his chair with fury, "leave this room instantly; and you, Herr Patke, if you wish to bring an action for libel against the gentleman you may call upon me as a witness."
Patke was too modest to avail himself of this friendly offer. Wilhelm dragged Schrotter out of the office as fast as he could, and even outside they still heard the magistrate's grunts of wrath.
Dark days followed, in which Schrotter seemed to live over again the worst horns of the "wild year." A moral pestilence—the craze for denunciation—spread itself over the whole of Germany, sparing neither the palace nor the hut. No one was safe, either in the bosom of the family, at the club table, in the lecture room, or in the street, from the low spy who, from fanaticism or stupidity, from personal spite or desire to make himself conspicuous, took hold of some hasty or imprudent word, turned it round, mangled it, and brought it redhot to the magistrates, who seldom had the courage to kick the informer downstairs. Such unspeakable depths of human baseness came to light, so full of corruption and pestilence, that the eye turned in horror from the incredible spectacle. The newspapers brought daily reports of denunciations for "lese majeste," and when Schrotter read them he clasped his hands in horrified dismay and exclaimed, "Are we in Germany? are these my fellow-countrymen?" He became at last so disgusted that he gave up reading the German papers, and derived his knowledge of what was going on in the world from the two London papers which, from the habit of a quarter of a century, he still took in. He wished to hear no more about denunciations by which, with the aid of police and magistrates, every kind of cowardice and vileness, social envy and religious hatred, rivalry, spite, and inborn malevolence, sought a riskless gratification, and usually found it in full measure. But it took away all pleasure in social intercourse. One learned to be cautious and suspicious. One grew accustomed to see an enemy in every stranger, and to be upon one's guard before a neighbor as before some lurking traitor. Hypocrisy became an instinct of self-preservation; every one carefully avoided speaking of those things of which the heart was full, and Berlin afforded an insight into the mental condition of the people of Spain during the most flourishing period of the Inquisition, or of Venice in the days when anonymous denunciations poured into the yawning jaws of the Lions of St. Mark's square.
The Reichstag was dissolved, the people of Germany must choose new representatives, and the chief, if not the sole question to be decided by the election was, Are the Socialists to be dealt with under a special act, or to come under the common law? Schrotter now felt it justifiable, nay, that it was his duty, to throw off the reserve he had maintained since his return to the Fatherland, and come forward as a candidate for the Reichstag, though for a suburban district, as the city district to whose poor he had been an untiring benefactor as physician and friend, with help, counsel, and money, was not available.
At a meeting of his constituents he laid down his confession of faith. A special act, he explained, was in no way justified, would indeed be ineffectual, and lead away from the object they had in view. The government would be guilty of libel if it made the Socialists answerable for a crime committed by two half or wholly insane persons; it was the duty of the government to prove that these attacks were the work of the Socialists: that proof, however, it had been unable to discover. Moreover, no special act in the world could hinder people of unsound mind from committing insane deeds—the crimes of a Hodel or a Nobiling could not be predicted, but neither could they be prevented by any kind of precautionary measure. The sole result of a special act would be to make the Socialists practically outlaws in their own country. That would constitute not only a terrible severity against a large class of their fellow-citizens, but a frightful danger to the State. In hundreds and thousands of hearts it would destroy the sense of fellowship with the community in which they lived; they would look upon themselves as outcasts, and become the enemies of their pursuers. It would be exactly as if some thousands of Frenchmen were set down in the midst of the German population—in the army, in the cities, the factories, the arsenals and railways, where they would only wait for a favorable opportunity to revenge themselves on their conquerors. That would be the inevitable result if the Socialists were deprived of the security of the common law. He considered the Socialist doctrines false and mischievous, and their aims senseless and—fortunately—unattainable, and for that very reason he did not fear them. But deprive the Socialists of the possibility of expressing themselves freely in word and print, and their grievances, which now found vent in harmless speechifying, would assume the form of practical violence.
His speech made an impression, but that of a rival candidate a still greater, for he succeeded in rousing the deepest and most powerful emotions of his hearers, by the plain statement that whoever refused the government the right of adopting such measures as it thought necessary for the safety of the public, simply delivered the life of their aged and beloved sovereign into the hands of assassins. At the election, Schrotter had on his side only a small number of independent-minded voters, who were able to remain unmoved by sentimental arguments. The workingmen would not vote for him, knowing him to be an opponent of Socialism. The rival candidate was returned by a large majority.
The Reichstag assembled, the Socialist Act was passed, Berlin declared to be in a state of semi-siege, and a great number of workmen dismissed from the city. It was November, and winter had set in with unusual severity. On a dark and bitterly cold afternoon, old Stubbe, who had been agent in the Eynhardts' house for twenty years, entered Wilhelm's room.
"What is the news, Father Stubbe?" cried Wilhelm, as he came in.
"No good news, Herr Doctor. Wander the locksmith—you know the man who rents the second floor of the house in our court—has been turned out by the police. It seems he's a very dangerous customer; I must say I have never noticed it. He was always very decent; the children were a bother, certainly—always running about the court and getting between your feet. Well, we all have our faults; and then, too, he didn't pay his rent in October."
Wilhelm, who was well acquainted with Father Stubbe's flow of language, and did not greatly admire it, interrupted him at this point.
"Well, and what is the matter?"
"What's the matter, Herr Doctor? Why, the wife is there now with the five children, and there's no earning anything, and yesterday she took away a cupboard to turn it into money somewhere—not that she can have got much for it, it was all tumbling to pieces. The rest of the furniture will take legs to itself soon, I dare say, for six mouths must be fed, and where is food to come from? There will be no removal expenses anyhow, for there will soon be nothing but the bare walls. There's no question of paying the rent, and never will be, as far as I can see; so I thought I had better ask what was to be done with the poor things."
"What can we do?"
"We could seize the bits of sticks they still have, though that would not cover the rent that is owing. The best thing, perhaps, would be to tell Frau Wander just to take her things and clear out; then at least we could relet the rooms."
"Frau Wander does not work?"
"How can she?—five children, and the youngest still at the breast."
"I will see to it myself, and let you know what is to be done."
"Very good, Herr Doctor," said Stubbe, much relieved. He had a kind heart and it was only his strict sense of duty that led him to mention the case of the Wanders, and particularly the unpermissible selling of the furniture, to the owner of the house.
Stubbe had barely reached home before Wilhelm appeared in the Kochstrasse. His house lay between the Charlotten and Markgrafenstrasse, and was an old and unpretentious structure, looking, among the stately houses of a later period which surrounded it on all sides, like a poor relation at a rich and distinguished family gathering. During the "milliard years," building speculators had offered him considerable sums for the ground, but he was not to be prevailed upon to sell the house left him by his father. It was only seven windows wide, and had consisted originally of one story only, but a low second story had been added, recognizable instantly as a piece of patchwork. A great key hanging over the entrance announced the fact that there was a locksmith's workshop inside. The courtyard was very low and narrow, and roughly paved with cobblestones, between which the grass sprouted luxuriantly. At the further end of this court stood the "Hinterhaus," likewise two-storied, on the ground floor of which the locksmith carried on his resounding trade.
Accompanied by Stubbe, Wilhelm mounted the worn wooden staircase leading to the second floor. The flat consisted of a kitchen and a room with one window. Even when the sun was most lavish of his rays, it was none too light there; now, in the early-falling dusk of a dull late autumn day, Wilhelm found himself in a dim half-light as he opened the door. There was no fire in the stove, no lamp upon the table. In the cold and darkness he could just distinguish among the sparse furniture a slim, wretched-looking woman sitting on a chair by the table, nursing a baby wrapped in an old blanket; a tall, large-boned man in workman's clothes, with a bushy beard and gloomy eyes, leaning against the wall beside the window, and some fair-haired children, unnaturally silent and motionless for their age, crouching side by side on the bed, only swinging their legs a little from time to time.
At Wilhelm's entrance with a friendly "Good-evening," the woman rose from her seat and gazed at the intruder with hostile eyes, the children ceased swinging their legs, and the workman shrank away from the window into the deeper shadow of the corner.
"The landlord," Stubbe announced solemnly.
Frau Wander threw up her head. "Now then, what do you want now?" she said hurriedly, her bitter tone beginning on the ordinary pitch, but rising rapidly to a shrewish scream. "It's the rent, I suppose; and I suppose we're to have notice to quit? It's all one to me. I've got no money and so I tell you; but what's here you can keep, and you can have the skin off my back too, and I'll throw in the children beside. They can drag a milk-cart as well as dogs. Why don't you cut my throat at once and have done with it?"