"But, my good woman," cried Stubbe, horror-stricken, "what are you thinking of? The Herr Doctor only means well by you."
Wilhelm had come quite close to the poor thing, who had worked herself up into such a state of excitement that she was trembling from head to foot, and said in that gentle voice of his that always found its way to the heart:
"You are worrying yourself unnecessarily, Frau Wander. I have not come about the rent, and nobody is going to turn you out of your home. Herr Stubbe here has been telling me about your troubles, and I came to see if we could not give you a little assistance."
She stared at him speechless, with wide-open eyes. The children on the bed began to whisper to one another. Wilhelm took advantage of the pause to say a few words in Father Stubbe's ear, whereupon the old man vanished.
"Why don't you offer the gentleman a chair?" said the workman, coming out of his dark corner.
The woman slowly drew forward a chair, round the torn seat of which the straw stood up raggedly on all sides. Wilhelm thanked her with a wave of the hand.
"Do not be afraid of me, dear Frau Wander," he went on. "Tell me something of your circumstances."
"What was there to tell?" answered the woman, still somewhat ruffled. He could see for himself how things stood with her. Her husband had been turned out of Berlin; but much the police cared if she and her five children starved or froze to death. It would have come to that already if some of her husband's fellow-workmen had not given them a little help in their distress, like her present visitor, the iron-worker, Groll. But what could they do? They had not anything themselves, and the police were always after them like the devil after a poor soul. What did they want of them after all? Her husband had held with the Socialists certainly, but he had done nobody any harm by that. Ever since Wander had gone over to the Socialists he had left off drinking—not a drop—only coffee, and sometimes a little beer; and he was always good to his wife and children, and he had no debts as long as he had been able to earn anything. The locksmith downstairs had discharged him after the second attack on the emperor, although he was a clever workman; but the master was afraid of the police, and none of the others would risk taking him on. That was bad enough, but it was not so hard to bear in the summer, and the Socialists held faithfully together, and now and then there was a penny to be earned. But now—now that he had to go away, and winter was at the door— She could keep up no longer, and burst into tears.
Wilhelm seated himself cautiously on the broken chair, and asked, "Where is your husband now? and what does he think of doing?"
"He is trying to get through to the Rhine, and get work at Dortmund, or somewhere in that neighborhood," she answered, while the tight sobs caught her breath, and she wiped away the tears with the back of her hand. "If he can't get any work he will go to France, or Belgium, or even America, if he must. But that takes a lot of money, and where is one to get it without stealing? We are to come to him when he has found work, and can send us the money for the journey. Till then—"
With the free arm that was not holding the child she made a hopeless gesture.
At that moment the door opened and Father Stubbe came in, carrying in one hand a lighted candle, and in the other a great, fresh-smelling loaf of bread. He placed both upon the bare table, and then discreetly withdrew.
"Bread! bread!" cried the children, awakened to sudden life, and jumping off the bed they gathered round the table with greedy eyes, clapping their hands. There were four of them—the youngest a mite of two or three, who only babbled with the others; the eldest, a pale little girl of seven or eight years.
"Children! Just let me catch you!" scolded the mother; but her voice shook with nervous excitement.
"Please, Frau Wander, won't you cut the children some bread first? We can talk afterward."
In a twinkling the eldest girl had fetched a knife from the kitchen, the children continuing to clap their hands delightedly, and Frau Wander cut them large slices, and while she was so engaged, "We have never had anything given us, Herr Doctor," she said; "we have always earned our living with honest work. It is hard to have to come to this; but what can you do when the police put a rope round your neck?"
"You must not worry any longer, dear Frau Wander," said Wilhelm, "but you must not speak like that of the police. You do yourself no good by it, and perhaps a great deal of harm. We will do what we can for you. Never mind about the rent. You will stay on quietly here, and allow me to assist you with this trifle." He pressed two twenty-mark pieces into the half-reluctant hand so unused to accepting alms. "And Herr Stubbe will give you the same sum every month till you are able to join your husband."
He held out his hand, which she grasped in silence, incapable of finding suitable words to thank him, and he hurried to the door. The mechanic hastily snatched up the candle from the table, ran after him and lighted him downstairs, murmuring with real emotion:
"Thank you a thousand times, Herr Doctor, and may God bless you!"
And all the way downstairs Wilhelm was followed by the children's jubilant song of "Bread! bread!"
One morning a few days later—it was December the 2d—as Wilhelm was sitting at his writing-table engaged in making notes from a thick English book of travels on the Australian savage's ideas on nature, he heard a sound of quarreling going on in the hall. He could distinguish Frau Muller's irate tones, and then a man's voice mentioning his name. He gave no further heed to the dispute, thinking it was doubtless some importune person in whom worthy Frau Muller had detected the professional beggar, and was therefore driving away. But it did not leave off, and grew louder and louder, Frau Muller's voice rising at last to an exasperated scream—there even seemed to be something like a hand-to-hand fight going on—till Wilhelm thought it behooved him to see what was happening, and, if need be, come to the rescue of his faithful house-dragon. He opened the door quickly and received Frau Muller in his arms. If he had not caught her, she would have fallen backward into the room, for she had leaned—a living bulwark—against the door, defending the entrance with her body against two men, one of whom was trying to push her away, while the other, standing further back, was restraining his companion from grasping Frau Muller all too roughly. In the daring man who did not shrink from laying sacrilegious hands upon the furious and snorting landlady, Wilhelm instantly recognized the mechanic whom he had seen at Frau Wander's. At sight of him the man raised his hat politely, and before the gasping Frau Muller, who was simply choking with excitement, could find her tongue, he said:
"Beg pardon, I am sure, Herr Doctor, for disturbing you; but we really must speak to you. I knew from Herr Stubbe that you are always at home at this hour, so I would not let the lady send us away."
"The lady indeed!" Frau Muller managed at last to exclaim. "Now he talks about ladies, and a minute ago he had the impudence—"
"You must excuse us, madam," said the workman with the utmost civility; "we meant no harm, and we simply must speak to the Herr Doctor."
"Come in," said Wilhelm curtly, and not overwarmly, while he pressed the still angrily glaring Frau Muller's hand gratefully.
The second visitor now mentioned his name—it was that of one of the most prominent leaders of the Social Democrats in Germany. Wilhelm signed to the two men to be seated, and asked what he could do for them.
"I heard through the mechanic Groll here," answered the stranger, pointing to the other man, "what you did for Frau Wander. That encouraged us to come to you with a request."
At a sign from Wilhelm he continued:
"You have seen one of our cases for yourself, and that not by any means the worst. We have dozens of such cases, and there will probably be hundreds more. Our union does what it can. Every member gives up part of his week's wages for the unfortunate victims, and thereby we perhaps save the government from the crime of having condemned innocent women and children to death by starvation. But our people are poor, and have to fight against want themselves. We cannot expect any great sacrifice from them. What we want is a considerable lump sum to enable us to send on the families of the exiled workmen to join their respective bread-winners. So we go round knocking at the doors of our wealthy associates, who, though in consideration of the times they do not care to declare themselves openly for us, nevertheless have a feeling heart for the workingman's distress."
All the time he was speaking he looked Wilhelm straight in the eyes. Wilhelm bore his gaze quietly, and answered:
"If you think I share your opinions you are much mistaken. I consider that you are pursuing a false course, that you make assertions to the workingman which you cannot prove, and promise him things you cannot fulfill, and I frankly confess that I do not envy you the responsibility you have taken upon your own shoulders."
The leader stroked his short beard with a nervous movement, and the mechanic twisted his hat awkwardly between his hands. Wilhelm went on after a short pause:
"But that does not prevent me from sympathizing with the distress of women and children, and I shall be very glad to do what I can if you will give me a detailed account of the state of affairs."
In a few plain words the visitor gave a sketch of the circumstances, all the more heartbreaking for its very unpretentiousness. So many men dismissed, so many wives, so many children, so many parents and near relatives unable to support themselves. Of these so many were sick, so many women lately confined, so many cripples. So many had prospects of better circumstances if they could get away from Berlin. For that purpose such and such a sum was necessary. So much was already in hand. He stated the amount of certain large donations, and added—"I will not mention the names of the subscribers, as it might happen that it would be to your advantage not to know them."
Wilhelm had listened in silence. He now opened a drawer of his writing-table, took out a yellow envelope in which Schrotter was in the habit of giving him, on the first of every month, fifteen hundred marks out of the Dorfling bequest, and handed the sum which he had received the day before, and was still unbroken, to the workingmen's leader. The man turned over the three five-hundred-mark notes, and then looked up startled. Wilhelm only nodded his head slightly.
The leader rose. "It would be inadvisable to give you a receipt. You have no doubt, I think, that your noble gift will be used for its proper object. Thank you a thousand times, and if you should ever stand in need of faithful and determined men, then think of us."
A week later, to the very day, early in the morning a police officer brought Wilhelm an official document summoning him to appear that afternoon before the head police authorities in the Stadtvogtei. He presented himself at the appointed hour in the office, and handed the document to an official, who, after glancing at it, asked:
"You are Dr. Wilhelm Eynhardt?
He took up a paper lying ready at hand, and said dryly: "I have to inform you that, in accordance with the Socialist Act, you are ordered out of Berlin and its purlieus, and must be out of the city by to-morrow at midnight at the latest."
"Ordered out of Berlin!" cried Wilhelm, utterly taken, aback. "And may I ask what I have done?"
"You must know that better than I," answered the official sternly. "However, I have no further information to give you, and can only advise you to address yourself to the Committee of Police, in case you require a day or two more to regulate your affairs."
At the same time he handed him the paper, which proved to be the written order of banishment, and dismissed him with a slight bend of the head.
Wilhelm went without a word. Naturally he turned his steps almost unconsciously to Schrotter, to whom he held out the police paper in silence. Schrotter read it, and struck his hands together.
"Is it possible?" he murmured. "Is it possible?" He paced the room with long strides, then suddenly stood still before his friend, and laying his hands on Wilhelm's shoulder, he said in tones of profound emotion: "I never thought I should live to see such things in my own country. I am nearly sixty, and it is late in the day for me to begin a new life. But really I find it difficult to breathe this air any longer. Where shall you go?"
"I do not know yet myself. I must collect my thoughts a little first."
"Whatever you decide upon, I have a very good mind to go with you. There is nothing left for me to do in my old age but emigrate again."
"You will not do that!" answered Wilhelm hurriedly. "Men like you are more badly needed here than ever. You must stay. I implore you to do so. Remember how you reproached yourself for twenty years, because you were not there when the people were struggling against the Manteuffel reaction. And then—your patients, your poor, the hundreds who have need of you."
Schrotter did not answer, and seated himself on the divan. His massive face was gloomy as midnight, and the fiery blue eyes almost closed. After awhile he growled: "But why—why?"
"Oh, I suppose because of the fifteen hundred marks for the families of the dismissed workmen."
"Of course!" cried Schrotter, clapping his hand to his forehead.
"Dorfling's gold does not come from the Rhine for nothing," Wilhelm smiled sadly. "Like the Nibleungen treasure, it is doomed to bring disaster on all who possess it."
As Schrotter did not answer, Wilhelm resumed: "And as we are on the subject, we may as well settle that matter at once. Of course you will use the whole income now for your poor?"
"Not at all!" cried Schrotter. "Why should things not remain as they are? Wherever you may take up your abode, the poor you have always with you."
Wilhelm shook his head. "I may possibly go abroad, and you see, Herr Doctor, I am prejudiced in favor of my own country. I think we shall carry our Dorfling's intentions best by using his money for the relief of German necessity."
Schrotter made no further objection. That Wilhelm would not, under any circumstances, use a penny of the money for himself he knew perfectly well, and in the end it was all the same whether the poor received it from his hand or Wilhelm's. He merely wrote down some addresses which Wilhelm gave him of people to whom he gave regular assistance, and whom he recommended to Schrotter to that end.
When toward evening Wilhelm returned home, and, as was inevitable, told Frau Muller the news, she nearly fainted, and had to sit down. She was struck dumb for some time, and then only found strength to utter low groans. Her lodger turned out of Berlin like a vagrant. A householder too! Such a respectable, fine young gentleman, whom she had watched over like the apple of her eye for seven years—dreadful—dreadful. But it was all the fault of the low wretches who had forced their way in last week. She had thought as much at the time. If she had only called in the police at once! The police—oh yes, she had all due respect for the police, she was the widow of a government official, and she loved her good old king certainly—but that they should have banished the Herr Doctor—that was not right—that could not possibly be right! Frau Muller could not reconcile herself to the thought of parting. She would go to her friend and patron the "Geheimer Oberpostrath," and he would use his influence in the matter; and at last, seeing that Wilhem only smiled or spoke a few soothing words to her, she burst into tears and sobbed out: "I am so used to you, Herr Doctor, I don't know how I am going to live without you." She only composed herself a little when Wilhelm told her that, for the present at any rate, he was going to leave his books and other goods and chattels where they were, for he might perhaps be allowed to return after a time, and meanwhile a young man, whom she knew, and who was studying at Wilhelm's at Schrotter's expense, should board and lodge with her, and she would receive the same sum as Wilhelm had always paid.
With night came counsel. Wilhelm decided to go first to Hamburg, where Paul lived during the winter, wait there till the spring, and then arrange further plans. He visited the grave of his father and mother, gave Stubbe orders as to the management of the house, took leave of a few friends, visited one or two poor people whom he was in the habit of looking after, and then had nothing further to keep him in Berlin. The rest of the day he passed with Schrotter, who found the parting very hard to bear. Bhani, whom they had acquainted with the matter, had tears in her beautiful dark eyes—the last remnant of youth in the withered face. And as he left the dear familiar house in the Mittelstrasse she begged him—translating the Indian words plainly enough by looks and gestures—to accept an amulet of cold green jade as a remembrance of her.
That night at eleven o'clock a slow train bore Wilhelm away from Berlin.
At the station he caught sight of the face of his old friend Patke, whom he had come across more than once during that day. The former non-commissioned officer had apparently reached the goal of his ambitions and become a private detective.
Schrotter had stood on the step of the carriage till the very last moment, holding his friend's hand. Now Wilhelm leaned back in his corner and closed his eyes, and while the train rattled along over the snow-covered plain, he asked himself for the first time whether after all Dorfling had been quite such a fool as most of them considered him to have been?
On alighting next morning at the station in Hamburg, Wilhelm found himself clasped in a pair of strong arms and pressed to a magnificent fur coat. Inside this warm garment there beat a still warmer heart, that of Paul Haber, who had received a letter from Wilhelm the day before, telling him of his dismissal from Berlin, and that he was leaving for Hamburg by the last train before midnight, and whom neither the cold and darkness nor the extreme earliness of the hour could restrain from meeting his friend at the station.
Their greeting was short and affectionate.
"A hearty welcome to you!" cried Paul. "We will do our best to make a new home for you here."
"You see, I thought of you at once when I had to look about me for some resting-place in the wide world."
"I should have expected no less of you. Keep your ears stiff, and don't let the horrid business worry you."
Wilhelm's bag was handed to an attendant servant, and the two friends walked off arm in arm toward an elegant brougham lined with light blue, with a conspicuously handsome long-limbed chestnut and a stout, bearded coachman, which stood waiting for them.
Wilhelm mentioned the name of the hotel where he intended to stay, but Paul cut him short. "Not a bit of it! Home, Hans, and look sharp about it!" And before Wilhelm could offer any remonstrance, he found himself pushed into the carriage, Paul at his side. The door banged, the footman sprang on to the box, and off they went as fast as the long legs of the chestnut would carry them.
For the last two years Paul had owned a villa on the Uhlenhorst, in the Carlstrasse, and there the fast trotter drew up. Wilhelm had said but little during the drive, and Paul had confined the expression of his feeling of delight to clapping his friend on the shoulder from time to time, and pressing his hand. Rather less than half an hour's drive brought them to their destination. Paul would not hear of Wilhelm making any alteration in his dress, but drew him as he was into the smoking room on the ground floor, where Malvine came to meet him, and received him in her hearty but quiet and uneffusive manner. She was the picture of health, but had grown perhaps a little too stout for her age. She wore a morning wrap of red velvet and gold lace, and looked, in that costly attire, like a princess or a banker's wife.
"You must be very cold and tired," she said; "the coffee is ready, come at once to breakfast—that will put some warmth into you—you can dress afterward." She hurried before them into the next room, where they found an amply spread table over which hovered the fragrant smell of several steaming dishes. It was a lavish breakfast in the English style; beside tea and coffee there were eggs, soles, ham, cold turkey, lobster salad, and several excellent wines. A servant in the livery of a "Jager" waited at table.
Wilhelm shook his head at the sight of all this splendor. "But, my dear lady, so much trouble on my behalf!"
"You are quite mistaken," Paul answered for Malvine, and not without a smile of satisfied pride; "it is our usual breakfast—we have it so every day."
Wilhelm looked at him surprised, and then remarked after a short pause: "I would never have written to you, if I had dreamed that you would get up before daybreak, and upset your whole household in order to fetch me from the station."
"Why, what nonsense! We are quite used to getting up early. At Friesenmoor we have to be still earlier."
"But that is in the summer."
"So it is, but then our broken rest is not made up to us by the sight of a friend."
While they devoured the good things, and Paul, who despised tea and coffee, sipped his slightly warmed claret, he remarked, between two mouthfuls, "I was struck all of a heap by your letter. You turned out! the most harmless, law-abiding citizen I ever heard of! What in the world did you do? You need not mind telling me."
"I cannot say that I am aware of having committed any crime, Paul."
"Come now, something must have happened, for the police does not take a step of that kind without some provocation—it's only your beggarly Progressives who think that, but nobody who knows the fundamental principles of our government and its officials would believe it."
"You seem to have become a warm admirer of the government."
"Always was! But, upon my word, when I see the way the opposition parties go on I am more so than ever—positively fanatical."
"Then I have no doubt that you will consider that I did commit a crime."
"Ah! so there was something after all?"
"Yes, I contributed fifteen hundred marks to a collection for the distressed families of the Social Democrats who had been dismissed from Berlin."
"You did?" cried Paul, dropping his knife and fork, and staring at Wilhelm in amazement.
"And that seems so criminal to you?"
"Look here, Wilhelm, you know I'm awfully fond of you, but I must say you have only got what you deserve. How could you take part in a revolutionary demonstration of the kind?"
"I did not, nor do I now see anything political in it. It was a question of women and children deprived of their bread-winners, and whom one cannot allow to starve or freeze to death."
"Oh, go along with your Progressionist phrases! Nobody need starve or freeze in Berlin. The really poor are thoroughly well looked after by the proper authorities. The supposed distress of these women and children is a mere trumped-up story on the part of the Revolutionists—a means of agitation, a weapon against the government. The beggars simply speculate on the tears of sentimental idiots. They get up a sort of penny-dreadful, whereon the one side you have a picture of injured innocence in the shape of pale despairing mothers and clamoring children, and on the other, villainy triumphant in the form of a police constable or a government official. And to think that you should have been taken in by such a swindle!"
"I suppose you do not see how heartless it appears to speak so lightly of other people's hunger, sitting oneself at such a table as this?"
"Bravo, Wilhelm! Now you are throwing my prosperity in my teeth like any advocate of division of property. I trust you have not turned Socialist yourself? you who used not to have a good word to say for the lot."
"Never fear—I am not a Socialist. Their doctrines have not been able to convince me yet. But for years I have seen the distress of the working people with my own eyes, and I know that every human being with a heart in his body is in duty bound to help them."
"And who says anything against that? Don't we all do our duty? Poverty has always existed and always will to the end of time. But, on the other hand, that is what charity is there for. We have hospitals for the sick, workhouses and parish relief for the aged and incapable, for lazy vagabonds who won't work, it is true, only the treadmill."
"That is all very fine, but what are you going to do with the honest men who want to work but can find none?"
"Wilhelm, I have always had the highest respect for you, your wisdom, your intellect, but forgive me if I say that, in this case, you are talking of things you do not understand. Everybody who wants work finds it. I hope you will be at my place next summer. Then you'll see how I positively sweat blood in harvest-time trying to get the necessary number of laborers together, and what I have to put up with from the rascals only to keep them in good humor. Don't try on any of these windy arguments with a landowner—people that want work and can't find it indeed! Let me tell you, my son, neither I nor any one of my country neighbors can scrape together as many people as we need."
"But everybody cannot work in the fields."
"There, at last, you have hit the bull's eye—that is where the shoe pinches. Agriculture offers a certain means of livelihood to all who can and will work properly. But that does not suit the lazy beggars. The work is too hard, and, more particularly, the discipline on an estate is too strict for their fancy. They would rather be in the town, rather starve in a workshop, or ruin their lungs in a factory, because there they have more freedom—that is, they can go on the spree all night and shirk their work all day, if they like—they can play the gentleman, and think themselves as good as any general or minister. Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that they soon come to want, and instead of admitting that it is entirely the fault of their own pigheadedness and perversity, they go and turn unruly against the government. They should be turned out neck and crop, the whole pack of them."
"Don't excite yourself so, Paul," warned Malvine gently, as her husband grew crimson in the face and ceased to eat.
Wilhelm remained unruffled. "So you think the Socialist Act was quite justified?"
"Justified! Why, my only objection to it is that it is much too mild. A State has a right to use every means it can—even the sharpest—to defend itself against its deadly enemies. To deal mildly with the enemies of society is to be unjust to us, the orderly and industrious members of the community, who work hard to get on, and who don't want to be for ever trembling for their well-earned possessions, because thieves and vagabonds—as is the way of all robbers—would like to enjoy the good things of this life without working for them."
"My good Paul, that is the language of fanaticism, and, of course, it is useless to try to reason against that. Only let me tell you this. I do not believe that the Socialists want to rob anybody; I do not believe that they are enemies to the State and to society. They too desire a State and a society, but different from the existing ones; they too have an ideal of justice, but it is not the one that has become traditional with us. Under the new order of things, as they have arranged it in their minds, there should be room for every individual, every opinion, all sorts and conditions of men. What the ruling classes say against them to-day has been said against the adherents of all new ideas since the beginning of time. Whoever tried to make the slightest alteration in the existing order of things was always considered, by those who derived advantages therefrom, to be a foe to the State and to society in general-a robber and a revolutionist. The early Christians enjoyed exactly the same reputation as the Socialists to-day. They were looked upon as enemies of the whole human race, and were torn to pieces by wild beasts, though—doubtless to your regret—it has not come to that with, the Socialists. And nevertheless, though lions and tigers are a good deal worse than police officers, the principles of Christianity have triumphed, and there is nothing to prove that the principles of Socialism will not triumph in their turn."
"Prophet of evil omen!" cried Paul.
"Not necessarily so. Where would be the misfortune? I am firmly persuaded that a Socialist State would not differ in any important point from the accepted forms of government of the day. The administrative power would merely be transferred from the hands of the military and the landed aristocracy to another class. To those who do not want a share in the governing power, it is all the same who wields it. You see, human nature remains the same, and its organization alters only very gradually, almost imperceptibly, though it sometimes changes its name. Christianity promised to be the beginning of the thousand years' reign, but in the main, everything has gone on just as it was before. A Socialist State would not be able to make the sun rise in the west, or do away with death any more than we can. They would have ministers, custom-house officers, policemen, virtue, vice and ambition, self-interest, oppression and brotherly love just as we do, and if the Socialists come into power, they will soon pass special acts and prosecute the followers of other opinions just as they are being prosecuted to-day. That is all upon the surface, and does not touch the root of things. Why excite yourself about a mere shadowplay?"
"In practical matters," answered Paul, laughing, "I consider I am the better man, but you certainly beat me at metaphysics. Prophecy decidedly comes under the heading of metaphysics, so I strike my colors before you."
"The sooner the better," said Malvine; "especially as it is quite unpardonable of you to start off on a long discussion when our poor friend must be so tired and sleepy."
It was eight o'clock by this time, and Wilhelm really felt the want of rest. But before going to his room he asked after his godson, little Willy. Malvine was evidently expecting this, she ran to the door and called into the next room: "Come here, Willy—come quick—Uncle Eynhardt is here and wants to see you." Whereupon the boy came bounding in, and threw himself with a shout of delight upon Wilhelm's neck. Willy was still his mother's only child. He was nearly six years old, not very tall for his age, but a fine, handsome, thoroughly healthy child, with firm legs, a blooming complexion, the dark eyes of his grandmother, and long fair curls. He was charmingly dressed in a sailor suit with a broad turned-back collar over a blue-and-white striped jersey, long black stockings, and pretty little patent leather shoes with silk ties. Wilhelm lifted up this young prince, kissing him, and asked, "Well, Willy, do you remember me?" He had not seen, him for eighteen months.
"Of course, I do, uncle, we talk about you every day," cried the child in his clear voice. "Are you going to stay with us now?"
"Yes, that he is!" his father answered for the friend.
"How jolly! how jolly!" cried Willy, clapping his hands with glee. "And you will teach me to ride, won't you, uncle? Papa has no time."
"But I don't know how to ride myself," returned Wilhelm with a smile.
Willy looked up disappointed. "What can you do then?"
"Be a good boy now," Malvine broke in, "and leave uncle in peace and go back to the nursery. You shall have him again later on."
After more kisses and caresses Willy ran off, and Paul led his guest to the room prepared for him, where at last he left him to himself.
Wilhelm had visited Paul on his estate during the preceeding summer, but since then had only seen him in Berlin. The house on the Uhlenhorst was new to him, and he marveled at the solid sumptuousness that met the eye at every turn. The visitor's room was not less splendidly furnished than the smoking and breakfast rooms he had already seen, and when he looked about him at the great carved bedstead with its ample draperies, the silk damask-covered chairs, the thick rugs, the marble washstand, and the toilet table with its array of bottles and dishes of china, cut glass, and silver, he could not help feeling almost abashed. His friend Paul had become a very great gentleman apparently!
And so in point of fact he had. The Friesenmoor had proved itself a very gold mine, and in the district round about they calculated that it yielded a clear return of a hundred or a hundred and twenty thousand marks a year. Paul had long ago been in a position to make use of his right of purchase on the estate, and had acquired about two thousand acres of adjoining marsh lands beside, though at a considerably higher price, and was now the owner of a well-rounded estate of twelve thousand acres, the admiration and pride of the whole neighborhood. He had converted the cultivation of the marshland, which six years ago had been but a bold theory, into an established scientific fact, and his methods, the excellence of which was amply proved by his almost tropically luxuriant harvests and uninterruptedly increasing wealth, were assiduously imitated on all sides. Paul Haber was acknowledged far and wide to be the first authority on the management of marsh land. The government had long since taken note of his success and kept an eye upon his doings, and was furnished by the Landrath with regular accounts of his agricultural progress. Young men of the best county families contended for the privilege of being under him for a year's practical farming. Foreign governments sent professors, lecturers, and practical agriculturists to him, partly to inspect his arrangements, partly to study his methods under his personal supervision, in order to adopt them in their own countries. Paul was more than a landed proprietor, he was a kind of professor holding his unpretentious lecture in the open air or in the appropriately decorated smoking-room of the Priesenmoor house, always surrounded by a troop of eager and admiring listeners of various nationalities, and mostly of high rank.
Of course, under these circumstances there was no lack of outward marks of distinction. Two years before he had been promoted to a first lieutenancy of the Landwehr. A row of foreign decorations adorned his breast, and last year, when he was visited by the Minister for Agriculture, accompanied by the Landrath, the Kronen Order of the fourth class was added to the rest. Paul was on the District Committee and County Council, and if he was not deputy of the Landtag and member of the Reichstag, it was only because he considered all parliamentary work a barren expenditure of time and strength. He stood in high repute in the county, which was proved by his election to be the president of the Society for the Cultivation of Moors and Marshes, a society founded by his followers and admirers, and which counted among its members some of the most important landowners of the whole of Northern Germany.
These circumstances could not fail to react on Paul's character. He no longer tried to look as much as possible like a smart officer, but rather like a country gentleman of ancient lineage. The thick fair mustache had abandoned its enterprising upward curl, and now hung down straight and long. The model parting of the hair was in any case out of the question, a distinguished baldness having taken the place of the old luxuriance, and his figure had fulfilled all the promises of his youth. In his dress Paul still cultivated extreme elegance, only that it partook more of the bucolic now in style than of the drawing-room as in former days. He wore high patent leather boots with small silver spurs, well-fitting riding breeches, a gray coat with green facings and large buckhorn buttons, a blue-and-white spotted silk necktie tied in a loose knot with fluttering ends, an artistically crushed soft felt hat, and in his dog-skin gloved hand a small riding-whip with a chased gold head. With all its dandyism it was a model of good taste, and in no single detail smacked of the parvenu, and that for the very good reason that Paul was no parvenu, but a man who was conscious of having attained to a position which was his by nature and by right. He had never suffered from undue diffidence, and his success had naturally increased his sense of his own value, which, however, he did not display in any bumptious or aggressive manner as one who would force reluctant acknowledgment of his merits, but quietly and naturally, seeing that he received full and voluntary recognition from all sides. He believed in himself, and was quite right to do so, for everybody else believed in him too. He spoke with authority, for there was no one about him who did not hang upon his lips with respect, and mostly with admiration. He made assertions and gave his opinion with the assurance of superior knowledge, but he had a right to do so, for it always referred only to matters about which he knew, or was fully persuaded that he knew, more than most people. Even his wealth did not go to his head, but acted on him like a moderate amount of drink upon a man who can stand a great deal. He enjoyed to the full the comforts and amenities of life which his large income enabled him to procure, but he did it for his own pleasure, not for the sake of what others would think; for his own comfort, and not for show. He liked to keep good horses and dogs, an admirably appointed table and cellar, and a large staff of well-drilled servants. On the other hand, he avoided anything approaching to display, was never seen at races, went to no fashionable baths, gave no grand entertainments, nor had a box at either theatre or operahouse, belonged to no club, and never played high. His wife wore perhaps rather more jewelry and followed the newest Paris fashions a trifle more closely than was absolutely necessary at Friesenmoor or even the Uhlenhorst, but as she remained as simple and unaffected as before, nobody could think any the worse of her for this small inherited weakness.
Toward his own family Paul had behaved in a most exemplary manner, affording thereby the strongest proof that though he had risen he was no upstart. The numerous members of his family and the men who had married into it nearly all had to thank him for their advancement or actual support. Some were employed on his estate, others he had trained in his particular branch of agriculture, after which, and with his recommendation, they had found no difficulty in obtaining brilliant positions as stewards or lease-holders of estates, and two of his brothers had appointments on royal domains. He had, therefore, every right to self-congratulation, as having fulfilled all the duties of a model man and citizen far beyond what necessity demanded.
For Wilhelm, Paul still retained the affection and friendship of his early days, only that, unconsciously to himself, it had taken on a certain fatherly tone; although there was a difference of but one year between them, there was a touch of protecting consideration and pity about it, such as strong men feel toward a weaker and less perfectly developed creature.
The first day Paul left his friend to have a thorough rest, but the next morning early he knocked at his door and asked if he might come in.
"Certainly," was the answer, and opening the door at the same moment, Wilhelm appeared fully dressed and ready for inspection.
"You have kept up your old habit of early rising—that is right," said Paul, and clapped him on the shoulder.
"So have you," returned Wilhelm with a smile.
"I—oh, that's different. I am a farmer, and you know the proverb—'The master's eye makes the cattle fat.' But your books don't require to be fed and watered at break of day. As you are ready, come down now, and we can have a chat over breakfast."
Malvine met him downstairs with a friendly smile and shake of the hand. This morning she wore a long blue morning gown with gay colored embroidery at the throat and wrists and a little lace cap with blue ribbons. The breakfast was as elaborate as on the day before.
"I want to take you over to my place to-day, Wilhelm. We have a shooting party, the weather is lovely, and it will be a nice change for you."
"Thanks, Paul, but I would much rather you left me here. I am no sportsman, as you know very well."
"We'll soon make you into one. Nobody is born a sportsman, or rather we are all born sportsmen, but forget it in our wretched town life, and afterward have to set to work and learn laboriously the art that came so naturally to our forefathers. Not, however, that you need fire a single shot, it is more for the healthy out-of-door exercise, and to show you Friesenmoor in its winter dress, and for the society which will interest you. They are neighbors of mine—nearly every one of them a character—old Baron Huning, who fought in the Crimea as an English officer, Count Chamberlain von Swerte, crammed with curious court stories, Graf Olderode, who, in spite of his gout, will jump for joy when I introduce you as the best friend I have in the world, and add that you have just been banished from Berlin under the Socialist Act. And then there are my pupils—I've got a Russian prince among them, and a very near neighbor, a young nobleman from the Marches, an officer in the Red Hussars. Now don't be a slow coach, come along."
"You are very kind, but I should be very sorry to make your gouty Graf jump, even for joy."
"Dr. Enyhardt is quite right," Malvine now joined in. "What an idea too to carry him off from me before he has had time to settle comfortably. You stay with me. Herr Doctor; this is my day, and you shall make the acquaintance of some charmingly pretty girls this afternoon. That will interest you more than Paul's old Chamberlains."
"All right," laughed Paul; "but you had better look out, Wilhelm, I smell a rat. Malvine has designs upon you, she wants to get you married. If you came with me you would be the hunter, but if you stay here you will find yourself in the position of the game."
"And if he is," retorted Malvine, "it is surely the better part to let yourself be caught by a pretty girl than to go and shoot poor hares and wild ducks."
Paul did not press his invitation, and drove off a minute or two later, not to return till the following day. Malvine, however, put her threat into practice, and persuaded Wilhelm with gentle insistence to join her afternoon coffee party, and be introduced to all her lady visitors and take part in the conversations. The introduction caused Malvine a little embarrassment. Only now did she fully realize the fact that her guest was nobody in particular. She was painfully conscious of the baldness of his name and his simple title of Dr., and the absence of any sort of distinguishing mark by the addition of which she might recommend him to the special notice of her circle of friends. He was not a landed proprietor, nor a professor, not even a master. Nor could she conscientiously say, "the celebrated Dr. Eynhardt." He had no military title, and to introduce him as "the handsome Dr. Eynhardt" would hardly do. Fortunately she had no need to mention the latter adjective. The ladies observed without further assistance how remarkably handsome this gentleman was with his girlish complexion, silky, raven-black hair and beard, and lustrous dark eyes. Charming lips drew him constantly into the conversation, which, cultivated and many-sided, ranged from the weather to the recently-closed Paris Exhibition, from Sarasate to Vischer's last novel. Wilhelm had not a word to say on these important subjects, and so spoke in monosyllables, or not at all, till the ladies, who were most of them very animated, came to the conclusion that he was as stupid as he was handsome, "as is usually the case, my dear."
At supper Malvine was indefatigable in asking Wilhelm how he liked this dark girl, and what he had said to that fair one, and what impression the piquante little one with the boyish curly head had made upon him? When he frankly confessed that he had paid very little attention to any of the young ladies, and could scarcely remember one from another, she was very much discouraged. It was decidedly no easy task to help this clumsy person along. All three girls of whom she had spoken were heiresses, and beautiful and well-educated beside—what more did he want?
Alas! he did not want anything at all, but to be left in peace, and that was the aggravating part of it. Malvine had set her heart on marrying him, and marrying him well. Her sentiment for him had long since given place to other and less agitating feelings, as beseemed a model wife, mother, and landed proprietress. She was grateful to him for having recognized and set right the mistaken impression of her girlish heart. She was seized with discomfort at the thought of what might have been. Where would she be now if she had become Frau Dr. Eynhardt? A woman without fortune, of no position or importance, and at the present moment even homeless and a wanderer. As things had turned out she was wealthy and distinguished, the best people in Hamburg and the whole of Luneburg came to her house, and she ruled like a small queen over a large settlement of dependents. And all this she owed to her dear Paul, who, during the seven years of their married life, had never given her one moment's pain, never cost her eyes a single tear. Out of her grateful acknowledgment that Wilhelm had materially assisted in the founding of her agreeable destiny, and the unconscious lingering remains of her former attachment, there had sprung up a very tender friendship for him, the unusual warmth of which would have at once betrayed its hidden origin to the experienced analyst of the heart. She wanted to see him happy, she considered earnestly what was lacking to him to make him so, and was sure that it could only be a rich and pretty wife. This happiness then she determined to procure for him, an easy enough task, as her set contained a large selection of "goldfish."
If he would only meet them halfway! The young ladies, obviously very well disposed toward him, could not make the first advances. And yet on the following Thursday he sat there in the midst of the gay chatter just as quiet and wooden as on the first occasion, made no advances to any of the girls, singled out no one from the rest. After that Malvine was obliged to make a pause in her well-intentioned maneuvres, for the third Thursday was Christmas Eve, and her time was taken up in preparations for the Christmas-tree.
For this festive occasion Frau Brohl and Frau Marker came over from Berlin, as had been their custom ever since Paul had taken the house on the Uhlenhorst. Frau Marker had grown very stout, and her hair showed the first silvery threads, otherwise she was blooming and as silent as ever. Old Frau Brohl was simply astounding. She had not changed in the smallest degree, time had no power over her, she was just as doubled up and colorless, and her movements just as slow as ever, her brown eyes had the same tired droop, and her low, complaining voice the old tone of suffering. But her appetite had grown, if anything, rather larger, and, apart from one or two colds in the winter, she had not known an hour's illness during the whole time.
Needless to say, the grandmother did not come empty-handed. She brought two cases with her, one of which contained a large quantity of excellent bottled fruit, which Malvine still preferred to any her own highly-paid cook could prepare, while the other was filled with a choice collection of fancy work. On these treasures being unpacked, it was discovered that the inventive genius of the old lady of seventy was still undiminished. For the master of the house there was a game-bag made of interwoven strips of blue and red leather, somewhat in the Indian manner, very curious, and of course, impracticable Malvine received a silklace veil, the pattern in large marsh-mallows—a graceful play upon her name.
Frau Brohl had worked at this masterpiece for a year and a half. For little Willy, in consideration of the aristocratic propensities one might expect, or at any late encourage, in the heir to a large estate, there was a Flobert rifle, the strap of which was ornamented after an entirely new method by cutting out thin layers of the leather and inserting gilt arabesques and figures. For the house in general there were some ingenious arrangements in fir cones and small shells.
The Christmas-tree was set up in the great drawing-room on the ground floor and reached almost to the ceiling. It was a beautiful young fir, so fresh and fragrant of pine that the breath of the woods seemed to cling to it still. A large party had gathered for the lighting-up. Beside the relatives of the aristocratic pupils, who had come over from the estate, there were some neighbors from the Uhlenhorst, with five or six little children, and the Chamberlain von Swerte with his high-born wife. The couple were childless, and not wishing to spend their Christmas alone, had accepted Paul's invitation, and come all the way from their little castle near Ronneburg to the Ulhenhorst.
The chamberlain was the lion of the evening. Paul took an opportunity of whispering to Wilhelm, "Herr von Swerte is of the House of Hellebrand—one of the first families in the county—tremendously ancient lot!" Old Frau Brohl had observed the little gold tab on his coat tail—the chamberlain's sign of office, and manuevered skillfully in order that she might frequently obtain a back view, and so gaze upon the proud badge in silent awe and admiration. The children had no eye for such matters, but rushed shrieking with delight round the tree, whose branches shed such gorgeous presents on them. Willy got a hussar uniform, with sword, knot, boots and spurs all complete, and would not rest till he had been taken to his room and dressed in it, and then appeared before the company in this martial attire. His mother's eye grew dim with pride and joy when Herr von Swerte lifted up the little warrior to kiss him, and said heartily: "Well, my dear Herr Haber, he will make a smart cavalry officer some day!"
At dinner Wilhelm found himself beside Frau Brohl. The old lady was still fond of him, and never forgot how well he had behaved at a critical moment, and with what modest self-perception he had acknowledged that he was not the husband for her granddaughter.
Searching about for something agreeable to say to him, or for a subject that would be sure to interest him, she suddenly remembered one, and said, between the fish and the roast, "Have you heard the story about your old flame, Frau Von Pechlar?"
Wilhelm started and changed color.
Frau Brohl never noticed, and continued in her soft complaining voice: "Your guardian angel saved you there, Herr Doctor. You would have come off nicely if you had married Fraulein Ellrich. There have been all sorts of rumors for years, but now it has come to an open scandal. She has left Herr von Pechlar and gone off with a count, who has been hanging about her for some time. They say she has gone to Italy with him."
Wilhelm made no reply, but he was surprised himself to feel how deeply the information affected him, so that he could not breathe freely all the evening, and although it was late before he got to bed, he could not sleep for hours, thinking of the girl he had once loved, who was now rushing blindly down the path of dishonor. Why should the thought pain him so much? Do heart wounds heal so slowly and imperfectly that a rough touch can make the scar burn and throb after long years? Or was it regret at the besmirching of a picture which till now had shone so purely and been so sweetly framed in his memory? He did not know, but for days it depressed him to the verge of melancholy.
In return for the hospitality he had received New Year's Eve was spent at Herr von Swerte's. The whole Haber family, with Frau Brohl and Frau Marker—the white grandmamma and the brown grandmamma, as Willy called them, to distinguish them from one another—drove over in the afternoon to Ronneburg by way of Harburg, but Wilhelm could not be prevailed upon to accompany them. Paul took him severely to task; Malvine represented to him, with an eloquence unusual to her, the horrors of a lonely New-Year's Eve; Frau Brohl pointed out the advantages of celebrating the festive occasion in a company composed entirely of rich people; and even Willy entreated, "Do come, Onkelchen, you can take care of me on the road." All their persuasion proving fruitless, they finally left him to his fate, and he remained behind alone.
Night found him at the writing-table in Paul's study, his head in his hand, lost in thought. At last he shook himself out of his deep brooding and wrote the following letter to Schrotter:
"My Revered Friend, I will not now break the habit of eight years, but will spend my New Years' Eve with you, the person who stands nearest to me in all the world. I am alone in this grand villa, the servants seem to be enjoying themselves downstairs over their roast goose and punch, Paul has taken his family and gone into the country to the castle of a neighboring estate owner by whom he is evidently very much impressed, and I can chat with you undisturbed.
"I wish you could live for a time in close contact with Paul, as I am doing, you would be surprised and pleased. His development has been wonderfully logical, and he now affords the spectacle, so intensely interesting to the observant eye, of a person whose every capacity, under the influence of the most favorable combination of circumstances imaginable, has attained to the utmost limit of growth which is possible to it. Paul has become the ideal type of our North German landed proprietor. He is ultra conservative, and considers the Socialist Act too mild. He loathes parliamentarianism, but would wish that the Landrath had not the power to appoint even a police constable without the consent of the estate owners of the district, and raves about local police prerogative. His only newspaper, beside the little local one, is the Kreuzzentung, he is learned in the Army List, and the writing-table at which I am sitting is strewed with volumes of the Almanac de Gotha. He looks after his subjects—for I think he calls his workmen his subjects—in a truly fatherly or feudal manner, but I do not doubt that he would drive the best of them off the estate with dogs, if, even in the depth of winter, they did not stand hat in hand the whole time they were talking to him. The sole problem of the universe which has any sort of interest for him is the outlook of the weather for the harvest. The course of human or superhuman events arouses his wonder, his doubts, or his anxiety only in proportion as it affects the price of corn. He cannot grasp that one should have any other aim in life than to become a successful agriculturist. He finds full satisfaction in his work, and what between a charming wife and an adored child he would afford an example of what the fables and proverbs tell us does not exist—a perfectly happy man, if one thing were not lacking, the little word 'von' in front of his name. I trust he may not die without obtaining it, and then the world will have contained one mortal who has known absolutely boundless happiness.
"But in writing to you in this strain my conscience pricks me. Is it not unkind toward Paul, whose attachment to me is positively touching? Is it not churlish to exercise such cold crticism upon a friend whose faithful affection has never for one moment wavered? He surrounds me with endless proofs of his affection, and is always on the lookout for something which may give me pleasure. He is a passionate sportsman—his only passion as far as I can see—and worries me twice a week to join him on his shooting expeditions. He is a masterly 'skat player, and is most anxious to enrich my existence by the joys which, according to him, this intellectual game affords to its adepts. When I venture timidly to propose that I should leave him and live by myself, he looks so honestly hurt and grieved that I have not the courage to insist further. And Frau Haber, kind soul, who is so set upon getting me married and thereby insuring my happiness! I and marrying! What have I to offer a woman? Love? I am too poor in illusions. Amusements—society—the theater? All that is a horror to me. And moreover, I question if I have a right to bring a being into the world, over whose destiny I have no control, and whose existence would most certainly be richer in pain, and misery than in happiness; and I know unquestionably that I have no right to teach a light-hearted girl to think, and force her to exchange the artless gayety of a playful little animal for my own fruitless speculations and never-to-be-satisfied yearnings.
"In face of all this, serious doubts arise in my mind. Is it for me to speak with superciliousness and superiority of Paul, or to look down upon him? I ask you, as I have been asking myself every day these three weeks—is he not the wise man and I the fool? He the useful member of society, and I the mere hanger-on? His life the real, mine the shadow? That he is happy I have already said; that I am not, I know. His system therefore leads to peace and contentment, mine does not. He has set a child into the world, and though, of course, he does not know what its ultimate fate will be, he sees for the present, as do I and everybody else who is not blind, that it fills his home with sunshine and warmth. He provides hundreds with their daily bread. That is, I know, of no moment to the universe; it is of very little importance whether a few more obstruse human creatures walk the face of the earth or not. But meanwhile, the creatures in question enjoy more agreeable sensations, if, thanks to Paul's exertions, they have a comfortably spread table every day. I cannot boast of any such achievements. The only good I ever did my fellow-men did not proceed from me but from our friend Dorfling, who simply used my hand as an instrument for carrying out his charitable designs. My personal compassion, my love for my companions in ignorance and suffering bears no fruit, benefits no one, and it frequently seems to me that, if the truth were known, I am an egoist of the deepest dye.
"If I could at least act consistently with the philosophy which directs nay views of life! But I am not even capable of that. Systematically, I concede no importance to outward forms. Maja does not count me among her devotees. What are houses? What are the phantoms who inhabit them? A transient semblance, a delusion of the senses! And yet, I am conscious that I miss just those houses which happen to stand, in Berlin and that I feel an unspeakable longing for the phantom called Dr. Schrotter. Once again it has been proved to me that I am an unconscious plaything in the hands of unknown powers, for again, as more than once in my life, and always at decisive moments, some outside agency has interfered in my fate, and disposed of me contrary to my own intentions, by sending me out of Berlin and away from you. But, nevertheless, my appreciation of this fact does not give me the strength to accept the inevitable in silence and without repining.
"Enough—I will not pain you. Only this much I should like to add that life is really harder to bear than I had thought for.
"Farewell, dear and honored friend; remember me affectionately to Bhani, who, I trust, does not suffer too severely from this hard winter, and always believe in the faithful friendship and devotion of your
Three days later Wilhelm received the following answer from Schrotter:
"DEAREST FRIEND: Your long and welcome New Year's letter troubled me much on account of the state of mind I see revealed in it. I think, however, that it is explained by the fact of your being rooted up out of your accustomed surroundings that you are oppressed by Haber's hospitality, and that you have as yet made no plans for the future, and I trust that your spirits will improve when these three circumstances are altered.
"I have always considered Haber, with all his good qualities of heart and character, a thoroughly commonplace man, and your observations verify my opinion to the full. And yet I quite understand that the sight of his prosperity and self-satisfaction should give you food for thought, and raise the question in your mind whether his philosophy—if I may use the word—or yours, is the right one. That is a great question, and I do not presume to answer it, either in general or for your particular case; and all the more, for the very good reason that your life is only really beginning now. You are not yet thirty-four, you may yet do something great, something pre-eminent, and who knows if those very qualities which have made your life unproductive hitherto, may not enable you later on to do things beside which the achievements of a Paul Haber shrink into insignificance? On the other hand, I am persuaded—quite apart from your respective ways of life—that you have chosen the better and higher part.
"Human nature is like a tower with many stories; some people inhabit the lower, others the higher ones. The inhabitants of the cellars and ground floor may, in their way, be good, decent, praiseworthy people, but they can never enjoy the same amount of light, the same pure air and wide view as those who live on the upper stories. Now you, my dear young friend, live several floors higher up than our good Paul Haber, whom, however, I value and am very fond of. But there are people living over our heads too. I have known Indian sages who looked down upon all we strive after and with which we occupy ourselves with the same pitying wonder as you do on Haber's passion for sport and 'skat,' and his longing for a title; who have difficulty in understanding that we should earn money, be ambitious, entertain passions, conform to outward rules of custom, and, under the pretext of education, laboriously study rows of empty phrases. These Brahmins have still higher interests and a yet wider view than the noblest-minded and wisest of us, and the knowledge that such pure and all-embracing spirits do exist ought to teach us to be humble, and not despise those who may still cling to some vain show that we have overcome, and attach importance to matters which no longer possess any in our eyes.
"One thing I have in my heart to wish for you, my dear friend—that you could take life with a little of the unreflecting simplicity of those who accept—what the moment offers without troubling themselves as to the why and the wherefore. You bow to those high powers who, for instance, have caused you to be banished from Berlin; then submit yourself to those still higher ones, who let you live and feel and think. Do not fight against the natural instincts which lead you to cling to life and love. Your fears that you have nothing to offer a wife are groundless. There are women who do not seek their happiness in the vanities which you very properly detest. Do all you can to find such a woman. Bestow life as you have received it, and leave your offspring cheerfully to the care of those powers who rule over your own life and destiny. For my part, I should be very sorry to see your race die out.
"And why reproach yourself that you provide no one with daily bread? Man does not live by bread alone; and by simply being what you are, you supply many people—myself for instance—with a pleasure in life and a belief in your future career that is worth more than daily bread.
"Bhani thanks you for your kind message. She incloses two verses for you, of her own composition. Here you have them in prose translation—'My beloved master and his humble handmaid miss the dear friend with the soft eyes and gentle voice. We live as in a bungalow in the season of rains—clouds and ever clouds, and no sun. When will the sky be blue, and the sunshine come again? and when wilt thou eat rice once more at the table of my lord?' In the original it certainly sounds much prettier.
"Let me know soon what you think of doing, and be assured of the hearty affection of your old
"POSTSCRIPT: Just read the enclosed extract from my to-day's Times. That man's development was as logical as Haber's."
In the letter Wilhelm found, beside Bhani's poem, written in delicate Sanscrit characters on yellow paper, a cutting from an English newspaper, in which he read that a Nihilist of the name of Barinskoi, in St. Petersburg, had for some time excited the suspicions of his confederates by his luxurious and showy style of living. In order to discover the source from which he drew the money for it, they appointed one of their female members to be his mistress. She had shared in his extravagances, and soon obtained proofs that he was in the service of the police, and sold his fellow Nihilists. A secret court condemned him to death, and a few days ago he had been found dead in his rooms, his throat cut, and his body literally hacked to pieces.
In January Wilhelm received an unusual visitor. It was a leader of the workingmen of Altona, who told him, without further circumlocution, that the Socialists had kept their eye upon him, had found out where he was living, and now sent him, the Altona man, to see if anything could be made of him.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Wilhelm in astonishment.
"I mean," returned the visitor, who had introduced himself as Stonemason Hessel, "whether you could not be persuaded to join us openly."
As Wilhelm did not answer at once, Hessel resumed—"Our party needs men like you, who are independent and bold, have a university education, and speak well. You are all that, as we know. By banishing you from Berlin they have, in point of fact, made you one of us. So go a step further, Herr Doctor; defend yourself, take up the fight the government has forced upon you. You have a million of determined workmen at your back, who will gladly accept you as their leader."
"Excuse my frankness," said Wilhelm at last, "but I really cannot think you are serious in your proposal."
"It is a very serious matter to us," cried Hessel. "I speak in the name of the heads of the party, and have means of convincing you of the reality of my proposal if you have any doubts about it."
"But how do you come to know about me?"
"That is very simple. You are not, perhaps, aware how well organized we are, and how we follow up everything that may be of use to us afterward. We know what you did for our party in Berlin, and that you are suffering for it now. We know your circumstances, and that you have a considerable sum of money at your disposal, and, I repeat, we want educated men. Most of us have not had the means to get much schooling. The struggle for our daily bread uses up all our time, and all the brains we have. Look at me, Herr Doctor, for years I never had more than five hours' sleep, and always used half the night to learn the little I know. There are plenty of people among us who—more's the pity—are distrustful of the better educated—call them upstarts, and won't have anything to do with them. Their idea is that the proletariat should be led by proletariars. But that is nonsense. No oppressed class has ever yet been emancipated by its own members. It was always by high-minded men of wider views out of the upper classes. Catilina was an aristocrat, and put himself at the head of the populace. Mirabeau belonged to the Court, and overthrew the monarchy. Wilberforce, the defender of the negro, was not black himself."
Wilhelm now for the first time looked more attentively at this stonemason, who talked so glibly of Catalina, Mirabeau and Wilberforce, and the thought passed through his mind that, at any rate, there was one good thing about Social Democracy—it brought education into circles to which it otherwise would never have penetrated.
"And so," Hessel wound up, "we workmen too must be led to victory by educated men."
"You overlook one point, however," remarked Wilhelm. "To be your leader, one must before all things share your convictions."
"It is quite impossible that an educated and thoughtful man should not see the injustice of the present social system. The government, which oppresses us, sees it as clearly as we do ourselves. It is not fighting for a conviction, but for the supremacy of a certain class."
"'It is impossible,' is no argument. In point of fact, I do not hold with your doctrines. I know that the working-classes suffer, but I do not know why, and I do not believe your theorists when they say it is all because the workingman is ground down by the capitalist. Furthermore, you speak of leading—where am I to lead you to?"
"To victory against the plundering feudalism of the State."
"That is a mere phrase. I know of no plan which will sweep poverty and distress from the face of the earth. Even if you raise a revolution and it succeeds, even if you destroy the feudal State and build up a workingman's State upon the ruins, you will thereby only have improved the condition of a select few, not of the whole—not even of the many. I would not like to be in the shoes of your present leaders, preachers and prophets, when you have conquered, and your followers demand to see the results of your victory. How little they will then be able to fulfill of the promises they have made to-day."
"So it is your opinion that there is nothing to be done for us, and that we ought calmly to be left in want, and slavery, and ignorance?" Hessel asked angrily.
"I think," returned Wilhelm, "that it is the bounden duty of every man to love his neighbor, and help him where and when he can."
"Oh yes," said Hessel with a sneer, "that is the standpoint of the Church—the standpoint of the Middle Ages. You would give us alms. No, thank you, we accept no presents. We demand our rights, not charity."
Wilhelm thought to himself that he had not always found the Socialists so proud, but kept the thought to himself, not wishing to hurt Hessel's feelings, who seemed to be an honest fanatic.
"Do not let that be your last word," Hessel went on. "You are probably but slightly acquainted with our doctrines and writings. Come nearer to us. Come to our meetings—talk to our workmen. You will find that many of us have very clear heads, and know exactly what we want, although the majority do still cling a good deal to phrases. You will assuredly soon begin to interest yourself in the emancipation of the proletariat. And what a future to look forward to! You might be another Lassalle, famous powerful, adored by thousands, received as a savior wherever you show yourself—make a triumphal progress through all Germany, perhaps through the world. And over and above, the consciousness of having rendered such mighty service to your fellow-men."
"I seem to myself to be playing a rather ridiculous part in this scene," he said; "it is a parody of the Gospel story of the Temptation. Unfortunately, I have not the smallest particle of ambition, and have no desire to be either famous or mighty, or to make triumphal progresses. If I could really do anything for you, believe me, I would do it gladly. But I assure you I possess neither the philosopher's stone, nor a prescription for a universal panacea. I do not believe either that the remedies they recommend so highly to you are very effectual, so I am much obliged to you for your confidence in me, and beg you to leave me in my obscurity."
Hessel gave him a dark look, stood up, turned slowly away, and left him without one word, or even offering him his hand.
Wilhelm had sent to Berlin for a box of books, and tried to go on with his work, but found no real pleasure in it. A deep despondency had come upon him, and the idea that his life was wholly purposeless took more and more hold upon him. Often, after studying earnestly for a day or two, and making extracts for his book, he would ask himself, "Why take all this trouble? Who is going to be made wiser or happier by this rigmarole?" and his pleasure in the work was gone again for days. The consciousness of exile, instead of being blunted by time, weighed ever more heavily upon him. He never realized till now what an absolute necessity it was to his nature to lean upon a kindred spirit, for he had never before been without one. Since the death of his father he had first had Paul, and then Dr. Schrotter, whom he had seen daily, and thus had always had some one to share his mental life. Now he was separated from Schrotter by distance, and from Paul by the great change in their views, and found no sufficient support when left to himself. If at times the sight of Paul's perfect self-content and happiness roused in him the wish to follow his example, it was quickly overruled by the conviction that neither Paul's commonplace, practical occupations, nor his worldly success, would afford him, Wilhelm, the smallest satisfaction.
He passed his days and weeks in self-communings and spiritual loneliness, in spite of Paul's and Malvine's endeavors to interest him in men and things. He allowed himself to be drawn into Malvine's afternoon receptions, and the two or three parties they gave during the winter; but refused to accompany them to other people's balls and dinners. He was happiest of all with Willy, who was very fond of Uncle Eynhardt. He took him for walks, told him stories, was never tired of answering his endless questions, amused him with little chemical experiments, and in default of the riding lessons let him ride upon his knee. And as he passed his fingers through the child's long curls, he often thought, in spite of all his philosophic doubts, how wonderfully pleasant it must be after all, to bring forth some such sweet golden-haired mystery that would cling to its parent and break away from him—a continuation and yet a wholly new departure that had its roots in the past, and yet struck out boldly into the future, and whose bright gaze would be trying to penetrate the riddle of the universe when he himself had long since sunk into oblivion. Had Malvine been something more than good-natured and commonplace, had she possessed a little more tact and insight into the human heart, she would have seen that in Wilhelm were now combined all the conditions necessary for predisposing him for marriage—the sense of a spiritual void, the longing for love and companionship, a consciousness of being alone in the midst of a cheerful, peaceful family circle, and the desire to see his own life renewed in that of a child. What he needed was that some one should frankly make the first advances, and overcome his natural shyness and diffidence by a bold and saucy attack. With a little tact and diplomacy, a clever woman would have had no difficulty in putting up a bright girl to attempt so easy a fight and victory. But Malvine never thought of such a thing. Social etiquette withheld the various young ladies on whom the Habers' quiet guest had made no small impression from taking those first steps, which are considered unwomanly and humiliating, although in most cases they invariably bring about the desired results, and so Wilhelm continued to sit in his corner, and the group of pretty heiresses in theirs; the winter passed, and Malvine's darling wish was still unfulfilled.
Easter came round, and with it the migration of the family to Friesenmoor House. Wilhelm would have liked to seize this opportunity for withdrawing himself from a hospitality which weighed heavily on him, but Paul put down his timid revolt with a high hand.
"None of that now. You are coming with us, and can see what country life is like for a whole summer," he declared, and there the matter rested.
The estate and its surroundings possessed no picturesque charms. The land stretched in uniform flatness from the sluggish Suderelbe to the equally sleepy Seeve, and the Fuchsberg at Ronneburg, with its height of two hundred feet, was a giant of the Alps or Cordilleras, compared to the floor-like evenness of the country round about. From the platform of the tower which Paul had built on to his house, giving it quite a baronial appearance, one could see for miles across country, almost to Hamburg, the spires of which were plainly visible on a clear day. But far and near one saw nothing but cornfields and meadows, that had the regularity of a carpet pattern, intersected by clay-colored dikes, straight ditches full of stagnant brown water, here and there a busy windmill, and in the distance the smooth-flowing watercourses which bounded the landscape. The picture was laid on from a meager palette; a few browns and greens, slightly relieved and enlivened by the vigorous tones of the whitewashed walls of the laborers' cottages, some standing apart, some collected together like a little village.
And yet, though the view from the tower might not seem very attractive, a walk through the country revealed many a peculiar charm to the observant and divining eye. Here one stood upon ground where man had wrestled with Nature and subdued her. At every step one encountered the marks of that struggle and victory, reminding one of Jacob's mysterious encounter with the angel. The waters of the marsh were now forced within the prescribed limits of a system of drains and canals. Luxuriant crops triumphed over reeds and rushes, which were now only permitted to fringe the edges of the ditches. Sleek, mild-eyed cows grazed and ruminated where formerly the wildfowl built her nest. Chaos was vanquished, and had to own man for her lord and master.
Here, upon the scene of his labors, Paul's figure assumed a certain epic dignity. As a stern lord with a handful of armed followers keeps down a subjugated people, so Paul, at the head of a few hundred workmen, held sway over the unruly forces of Nature always more or less ready to revolt. There were always dikes to be repaired, ditches to be deepened, drain-pipes to be laid or improved, or artificial manure to be carted, and Paul was active from break of day till nightfall, either on foot or on horseback, hurrying from one end of the estate to the other, everywhere ordering or giving a helping hand, and always leading his troops himself to fresh onslaughts against the resisting elements. He did it all quietly, without any fuss or attempt to reflect credit on himself, and left it to others—to strangers, poetically inclined pupils or students on their travels—to say that his conquest of the Friesenmoor was a Faust-like achievement.
He had built a whole village for his laborers, to right and left of the highroad leading to Friesenmoor House. The cheerful, clean, whitewashed cottages, with their green-painted window-frames, were thatched with rushes and surrounded by gardens in which young fruit trees, not yet sufficiently strong to forego the support of poles, already gave promise of their first harvest of apples and pears. The village hall and the school-house were distinguished by superior size and green-glazed tile roofs; nor was a church, with a pointed belfry and weathercock, missing. For Paul was a model landowner, who took ample thought for the welfare of his dependents, and as soon as his means permitted it, had hastened to build a church and appoint a pastor, providing thereby, at the same time, for one of his numerous relatives. In his ardent loyalty to his king, he had expressed the wish to call his village Kaiser-Wilhelm's Dorf, and had received the desired permission.
In Kaiser-Wilhelm's Dorf, it was evident, content and comparative prosperity reigned supreme. Behind every house was a pigsty, behind nearly every one a cowshed. The men looked strong and hearty; the women, carrying dinner to their husbands in the fields, or sitting knitting on the benches in front of their doors, all presented bright and cheerful faces, and the school would hardly contain the crowd of flaxen-haired, blue-eyed children, whose rounded cheeks gave evidence of a never-failing and amply spread dinner-table.
In the beginning, all this made a vast impression on Wilhelm. As the struggle with nature is man's real and normal task, he instinctively feels an emotion almost amounting to joy wherever he comes upon evidences of victory. But, as usual with Wilhelm, this first instinctive emotion was followed by the usual fatal speculations, and he said to himself, "Paul has converted swamps into cornfields, has enriched himself thereby, and supports some hundreds of families. Good! but what further? This great achievement has as its primary result, that people are fed who otherwise perhaps would not eat so much or so well, or merely would not feed on this spot at all. But is the filling of one's own and other people's stomachs the first and highest aim of life?"
Paul tried hard to interest him in the details of farming. He took him about, showed and explained everything to him, and finally brought out his pet scheme—that he should sell the house in Berlin, and buy instead some marshland near by, which was to be had for a moderate sum; he would give him a helping hand at first, and as property of that kind could very well afford a steward, he could easily get him a first-rate one. They would be neighbors, Wilhelm would have a larger income and fewer wants, and live in peace and comfort. Wilhelm was profoundly touched by the affection which was manifest in Paul's every word and thought, but the prospects he opened up before him offered him no attractions.
In July, when the harvest was ripening for the sickle, and man had nothing to do but leave the sun to its work of brooding on the fields, Paul went one day to a committee meeting in the town. When he came home he remarked to Wilhelm at supper:
"What do you think? They have discovered that I am harboring a dangerous Social Democrat. The Landrath actually remonstrated with me on the subject in a discreet and well-meaning way. I can't tell you how the man amused me," and he laughed again as he recalled the conversation. But all his amusement vanished when Wilhelm answered:
"The Landrath was quite right. A political outlaw is very doubtful company for a man in your position, and I cannot think how I came to overlook the fact myself."
In vain did Paul endeavor to turn the matter into a joke; in vain that he showed himself inconsolable at his stupidity in having told the story. Wilhelm declared firmly that he must leave his friend, and bringing his whole force of will to bear upon it, carried his intention through.
The next day Paul's carriage took him to Harburg. The parting was trying to all of them. Paul's leave-taking was prolonged, and he made his friend promise he would return next year for some weeks at least to Friesenmoor House. Malvine had tears in her eyes as she said, "No one will care for you so much as we do." Even little Willy was downcast, and gazed with a reproachful look at the friend who could find it in his heart to desert him. As the train moved off he called out to Wilhelm, in his ringing, childish voice, "Come back soon, Onkelchen, and bring me something nice."
A SEASIDE ROMANCE.
Wilhelm's immediate destination was Ostend. He hardly knew himself how he came to fix on that particular place. Since those days, long past, when his thoughts had hovered for weeks round the Belgian watering-place, the name had remained in his mind, and now, with his desire to spend some months in company with the sea, Ostend was the first place that occurred to him.
It was the middle of July, and watering places not very full as yet, nor were there many people staying at the Ocean Hotel where he stopped. Two Americans, who had begun a summer tour on the Continent by a short stay at Ostend, made friends with him on the first day after his arrival, when they found he could speak English. They invited him to join them on their walks, and made him give them information about Germany, and especially about Berlin, which they intended visiting; in return they told him all about the north coast of France, with its watering-places, big and little, which they had "done" last year from Cherbourg to Dunkirk.
Strolling the next afternoon with his new acquaintances along the Digue, a few steps in front of them he saw a lady, plainly and darkly but most elegantly dressed leaning on the arm of a tall man. They walked slowly, and were evidently lost in contemplation of the softly rolling sea. At first he paid but little attention to the couple, and would not have noticed them at all had not the Digue been very empty of visitors just then. But, strange to say, his gaze kept wandering from the oily surface of the sea, and the steamers and fishing-smacks plowing their way through it, to the slender figure of the lady, who looked small beside her tall companion; and there gradually dawned upon him a dim idea that that slight figure reminded him of somebody—that he had seen those delicate contours, those graceful proportions, that light and gliding gait before. Without hastening his steps he soon overtook them, and recognized at the first glance that it was Loulou. She too turned her head involuntarily to look at the passing trio. As she caught sight of Wilhelm a sudden pallor overspread her face, and with an unconscious movement of terror she dropped her companion's arm. Both stood stockstill, as if suddenly deprived of the power of motion, and gazed at one another wide-eyed. The silent encounter only lasted a few seconds, but the play on both sides was so marked that it could not fail to excite the attention of the lookers-on. Loulou's attendant cavalier looked in surprise from her to him, and evidently thought the proceedings most extraordinary. But before he had time to ask for an explanation, Wilhelm had turned on his heel and was walking rapidly back to the hotel. The two Americans followed him in silence. Nothing in the scene had escaped them, but as true Anglo-Saxons they had too much native reserve to ask for a confidence which was not offered them.
Wilhelm was most painfully affected by the encounter, and not for worlds would he risk the possibility of meeting again with the unfortunate woman and the man to whom she now was bound in sinful union. That same day he took leave of his Americans, and left Ostend early the next morning; at once fearful and relieved, as though fleeing successfully from the scene of a dark deed of his own committing.
After a long and tiresome journey, not made pleasanter by having to change four or five times, he arrived late in the evening at Eu, where he spent the night. The next morning, an hour's drive in a hotel omnibus brought him to Ault, a small market-town in the department of Somme, which the Americans had recommended to him as the quietest, cheapest, most unpretending, and at the same time picturesquely situated of any of the seaside places on the north coast of France, at least as far as Dieppe.
Wilhelm found Ault to be all it had been described. The little place presented a well-to-do, self-respecting appearance. The High Street, at right angles with the shore, and rising gently toward the higher, billowy country beyond, was wide and straight as a dart, and scrupulously clean; the roadway was macadamized, and a flagged pavement ran along the two rows of houses. At its upper end, broad and defiant, was a wonderful mediaeval church in the earliest Gothic style, with high pointed windows, a severely beautiful west door, and a mighty square tower. The church blocked the way, and forced the street to make a bend in order to pass round it. This building, which would have adorned a capital, stood there haughty and arrogant like a gigantic knight in full tilting armor in the midst of the common people, and seemed to wave the simple, unpretentious provincial houses to right and left with a lordly gesture so that nothing might intercept his view of the sea. Beside the High Street there were a few little side alleys, mostly inhabited by locksmiths, who worked with untiring industry from morning till night, keeping up a cheerful but far from unpleasing din which, mingled with the roar of the breakers below, reached the ear as a soft musical ring of metal. The only prominently ugly features in the charming picture were the few villas on the neighboring heights, built by retired Paris grocers and haberdashers; liliputian, pretentious, with blatant, highly-colored facades, ludicrous imitations of baronial fortresses, Venetian palaces, or Renaissance chateaux.
The inhabitants of Ault were a peaceable, sober-minded people. No one was ever drunk, nor was the sound of quarreling ever to be heard. There were few public-houses; several places, however, dignified by the name of cafes. The natives were so far accustomed to summer visitors that they did not take much notice of them, but happily not so much as to direct their whole thought and energy to fleecing them. It seemed as if the people of Ault had merely arranged a bathing place for the purpose of deriving a little amusement out of the strangers, not in order to make a living out of them, that being quite unnecessary, as their comfortable figures, good clothes, and well-filled shops could testify.
Wilhelm took up his quarters in the Hotel de France, situated just where the High Street swept round the side of the church. As the house was separated from the sea by the whole opposite row of houses, one only caught a glimpse of it as a narrow, glittering streak across the intervening roofs from the second-floor windows. The view from the front windows was the more remarkable. They looked out upon the churchyard which lay behind the Gothic cathedral. Not that there was anything depressing in the sight; it made, on the contrary, a cheerful impression, with its carefully tended flower beds and magnificent old trees, which almost hid the modest headstones they overshadowed, and in whose branches count less singing birds had built their nests, while noisy troops of children played under them at all hours of the day.
Wilhelm directed his steps at once to this churchyard, where, beside the modern iron crosses, there were marble headstones showing dates that went back to the seventeenth century. In the oldest as well as the newest inscriptions the same name occurred over and over again, speaking well for the settled habits of the population. And, according to the inscriptions, most of those buried here had lived to be eighty or ninety years of age. Had Ault been a professedly fashionable bathing place, one might have been tempted to think that this churchyard, with its cheering records in stone and iron of the longevity of the natives, had been set down in the very center of the town to encourage the visitors.
The Hotel de France recommended itself by extreme cleanliness, but otherwise it was very simple. The rooms contained only such furniture as was absolutely necessary, the dining-room was bare of decoration, and therefore happily free of those gruesome colored prints which the commercial traveller delights to sow broadcast over the unsuspecting country towns. Only the so-called salon boasted the luxury of a cottage piano, a polished table, a few cane chairs, and a looking-glass over the chimneypiece, on which lay a box of dominoes and a backgammon board, eloquently suggestive of mine host's ideas as to the most suitable occupation for his guests.
The hotel proprietors were as simple and homely as their house. The man wore a seaman's cap and a blue coat with brass anchor buttons, and was more than delighted if you took him for a seafaring man. He had, in fact, been to sea once, as ship's cook, or steward, or something of the sort. Now he sat most of the time in the cafe of the hotel, supplied the neighbors with little drams of cognac, and told the visitors endless stories of the buying and selling of property in the little town. His wife was the soul of the establishment. She possessed the gift of omnipresence. At one and the same moment you might see her in the kitchen and in the outhouses, in the hotel and in the cafe. The servants, of whom there was a considerable number, answered to a look, a bock of her finger. You could hear her clear voice from morning till night in the courtyard or on the stairs. Everywhere she lent a helping hand, and her busy fingers accomplished as much as all the men and maids put together. With it all she was never out of temper, always had a word or a smile for every passer-by, took a personal interest in each of her guests, took instant notice of a diminished appetite or a pale cheek, and always sent up lime-flower tea to anybody who happened to come rather later than usual to breakfast.
The hotel was pretty full when Wilhelm arrived, but he made no attempt to mix with the company he met twice a day at the table d'hote. His French had grown somewhat rusty for want of practice, and he did not trust himself to join in the exceedingly lively and general conversation till he had regained something of his old fluency in long daily talks with the landlord. Beside which, he did not feel greatly drawn toward his fellowguests. Their high-sounding and pompously-expressed platitudes bored him, their absurd views on politics, their parrot-like and yet self-satisfied remarks on literature and art filled him with compassion. One guest in particular, who sat at the head of the table, and generally led the conversation in the loudest tones, succeeded in making him very impatient, in spite of the mildness with which Wilhelm usually judged his fellows. He did business in sewing machines in Paris, but here gave himself out as an "ingenieur constructeur," and belonged to that class of persons who cannot endure not to be the center of observation wherever they happen to be. It has been said of a man of that stamp, that if he were at a wedding he would wish to be the bridegroom, and if at a funeral to be in the place of the corpse. At the dinner table of the Hotel de France he reigned supreme. His strong point lay in the perpetration of the most ghastly puns, which he would discharge first to the right and then to the left, and finally, with a roar of laughter, over the whole table. In his outward appearance, too, he sought to create a sensation. He was not dressed, he was costumed. He wore long stockings, knickerbockers and a tight-fitting jacket, and when he stood up, tried to produce effects with his calves, spread his legs wide apart as if, like the Colossus of Rhodes, ships were to pass beneath, and affected sporting and athletic attitudes generally. He was accompanied by a lady who had at first roused the horrified disgust of the others by her appetite, which surpassed every known human limit, and then proceeded to make herself still more hateful by a frequent change of costume.
Wilhelm's immediate neighbor was a lady of somewhat exuberant outline, but extremely plainly dressed, and without a single ornament, of whom at first he took no more notice than of the rest of the company. She returned his silent bow at coming and going, and acknowledged the little attentions of the dinner table—the handing of salt or entrees, of bread or cider (the table beverage)—with a low "Merci, monsieur," accompanied by a pleasant smile and an inclination of the head. The acquaintance began with a look. It was after a more than usually exasperating pun from the man in the knickerbockers, and involuntarily their eyes met, after which they exchanged glances each time he came out with a particularly blatant piece of idiocy. They could not long remain in doubt that their opinion on the prevailing conversation was identical, and the unanimity of their tastes was still further demonstrated by the fact that the lady was as silent during the meals as Wilhelm.
The interchange of looks was presently followed by words. It was the lady who broke the ice by alluding to a somewhat peculiar incident. It happened to be market day, and Wilhelm had been watching with interest the cheerful bustle in the High Street, and the new type of country people: the men with their carts bringing in calves, pigs, and grain, fine-looking fellows, with tall sturdy figures, and shrewd, clean-shaven faces above the blue cotton white-embroidered blouses and severely stiff snow-white shirt collars; and the women in round dark-brown cloaks reaching to their feet; the drum-beating, yelling tooth-drawers and patent medicine venders praising their remedies against tapeworm and ague with incredible volubility, and the couple of majestic gendarmes in their imposing uniforms, with yellow leather belts and cocked hats, who found no occasion to exhibit their stern official side to the noisy, laughing, but well-behaved crowd. After strolling for awhile among the carts and people, Wilhelm had caught sight of a large and handsome donkey, had gone up to him and stroked him, and said a variety of friendly things to him.