Theodor Fontane (18191898). Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
AT the junction of the Kurfürstendamm and the Kurfürstenstrasse, diagonally across from the Zoological Garden, there still remained, about the middle of the seventies, a large market-garden, extending towards the open country. The little house belonging to this property had but three windows, and was set about a hundred paces back in a front garden; yet in spite of its small size and its secluded position, it could be plainly seen from the road that ran past. But all else that belonged to the place, and indeed formed the principal part of it, was hidden behind this little dwelling as if by the side-scenes of a theatre, and only little red and green painted tower with a half broken dial beneath its peak (nothing remained of the clock itself) gave one a hint, that behind this coulisse something more must be hidden, a hint which was confirmed from time to time by the rising and circling of a flock of pigeons around the tower, and still more by the occasional barking of a dog. Where this dog was actually kept it was indeed impossible to find out, in spite of the fact that the door of the house, which was close to the left corner, stood open early and late and afforded a glimpse of a small part of the yard. However, nothing seemed to have been purposely hidden, and yet everyone who came along the road at the time when our story begins, had to be satisfied with a glimpse of the little house with its three windows and of a few fruit trees that stood in the front garden.
It was the week after Whitsunday, when the days are so long that it seems as if the dazzling light would never come to an end. But to-day the sun was already hidden behind the church-tower of Wilmersdorf and instead of the light, with which it had filled the front garden all day, the shades of evening had already fallen, and the half mysterious silence was only surpassed by that of the little house which was occupied by old Frau Nimptsch and her adopted daughter Lena as tenants. But Frau Nimptsch was sitting as usual by the large low hearth in her front room, which took in the whole width of the house, and, bending forward, she was gazing at a blackened old tea kettle, whose lid kept up a continual rattling, although the steam was pouring out of the spout. The old woman was holding her hands out towards the glowing embers and was so lost in her thoughts and dreams that she did not hear the hall door open and a stout woman enter somewhat noisily. Only when the latter cleared her throat and greeted her friend and neighbor, our Frau Nimptsch, quite affectionately by name, did the latter turn around and speak to her guest in friendly fashion and with a touch of playfulness: Well, this is good in you, dear Frau Dörr, to come over again. And from the castle too. For it is a castle and always will be. It has a tower. And now do sit down. I just saw your dear husband go out. Of course he would have to. For this is his evening at the bowling alley.
She who received this friendly greeting as Frau Dörr was not only stout, but was an especially imposing-looking woman, who produced the impression of narrow-mindedness as well as that of kindliness and trustworthiness. Mean-while Frau Nimptsch apparently took no offence and only repeated: Yes, his evening at the bowling alley. But what I was going to say was, that Dörrs hat really will not do any longer. It is all threadbare and really disgraceful. You ought to take it away from him and put another in its place. Perhaps he would never know the difference. And now draw up your chair, dear Frau Dörr, or perhaps over there where the footstool is. Lena, you know, has slipped out and left me in the lurch again.
Oh, my goodness, said Frau Dörr, as she drew up a somewhat higher stool instead of the footstool that had been offered her. Oh, my goodness, then its bad. Whenever one begins to imagine things, trouble begins. It is just like the Amen in church. See here, dear Frau Nimptsch, it was just the very same with me, only there was no imagining. And that is just why everything was really quite different.
Apparently Frau Nimptsch did not really understand what Frau Dörr meant, and so the latter went on: And because I never took any notions into my head, things always went perfectly well and smoothly and now I have Dörr. Oh well, that isnt much, but still it is something respectable and I can show my face everywhere. And that is why I went to church with him too, and not merely to the registrars office. If you only go to the registrars office, there will always be talk.
But Frau Dörr repeated: Yes, in church, in the Matthäikirche. But this is what I was really going to say, dont you see, my dear Frau Nimptsch, I was really taller and more pleasing than Lena, and if I was not prettier (for that is something one can never rightly know and tastes differ so), yet my figure was stouter and a great many like that. Yes, so much is certain. But even if I was, as you might say, more solid and weighed more, and there was a something about mewell yes, there was something about meyet I was always very innocent, almost simple; and as to him, my Count, with his fifty years on his shoulders, well, he was very simple too and always very gay and would never behave properly. And before very long, I told him: No, no, Count, this will never do; I cant allow anything like this. And old people are always like that. I will only say, dear Frau Nimptsch, you cant imagine anything of the sort. It was dreadful. And now when I see Lenas Baron, it makes me ashamed to think what mine was like. And now as to Lena herself. My Lord, of course she isnt exactly an angel, but she is neat and industrious and knows how to do everything, and loves order and practical things. And dont you see, Frau Nimptsch, that is just the sad part of it. These fly-abouts, that are here to-day and there to-morrow, well, they never come to grief, they always fall on their feet like a cat, but such a good child, who takes everything seriously, and does everything for the sake of love, that is bad. Or perhaps it may not be so bad; you only adopted her and she is not your own flesh and blood and perhaps she is a princess or something like that.
At this conjecture Frau Nimptsch shook her head and looked as if she were about to answer. But Frau Dörr had already risen and said, as she looked along the garden path: Heavens, there they come. And he is just in civilians clothes, with coat and trousers to match. But you would notice him all the same! And now he is whispering something in her ear and she is smiling to herself. But she is blushing so. And now he is going away. And now Really, I believe, he is turning back. No, no, he is only saying good-bye again and she is throwing him a kiss. Yes, I think something like that would have suited me. No, mine was not like that.