Theodor Fontane (18191898). Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
THE COUNTRY excursion, which had been promised or at least discussed after the walk to Wilmersdorf, was now the favorite topic for several weeks, and whenever Botho came the question was, where to go? All possible places were mentioned: Erkner and Kranichberg, Schwilow and Baumgartenbrück, but all were too much frequented, and so it happened that at last Botho spoke of Hankels Ablage, the beauty and solitude of which he had heard enthusiastically described. Lena agreed, for all she wanted was to get out into Gods green world, as far as possible from the city and its doings, and to be with her lover. It really did not matter where.
The next Friday was decided upon for the excursion. Agreed. And so they started by the Görlitz afternoon train for Hankels Ablage, where they had engaged quarters for the night and meant to pass the next day very quietly.
There were very few coaches on the train, but even these were not very full, and so it happened that Botho and Lena found themselves alone. In the next coupé there was a good deal of talk, from which it was plainly to be heard that these were through passengers and not people meaning to stop over at Hankels Ablage.
Why, that is rather bad and yet we could not do any differently. Look here! It was well enough out in the fields the other day, because we were quite alone. But if we do find ourselves practically alone at Hankels Ablage, yet we shall have a host and a hostess and perhaps a waiter from Berlin. And a waiter laughing quietly to himself or at least laughing inwardly, I cannot endure: he would spoil all my pleasure. Frau Dörr, when she is sitting by your mother or teaching the proprieties to old Dörr, is great fun, but not in public. Amongst people she is simply a comical figure and an embarrassment to us.
Towards five the train stopped at the edge of a wood. Actually no one but Botho Lena got out, and the two walked leisurely and with frequent pauses to a tavern, which stood close to the Spree and about ten minutes walk from the little station. This Establishment, as it was described on a slanting signboard, had been originally a mere fishermans cottage, which had very gradually, and more by addition than by rebuilding, been changed into a tavern. The view across the stream made up for all other deficiencies, so that the brilliant reputation which the place enjoyed among the initiated never for a moment seemed exaggerated. Lena, too, felt quite at home immediately, and went and sat in a sort of veranda-like room that had been built on, and that was half covered over by the branches of an old elm that stood between the house and the bank.
Let us stay here, said she. Just see the boats, two, three and further out a whole fleet is coming. Yes, it was indeed a lucky thought that brought us here. Only see how they run back and forth on the boats and put their weight on the rudder. And yet it is all so silent. Oh, my own dear Botho, how beautiful it is and how I love you!
Botho rejoiced to see Lena so happy. Something determined and almost severe that had always formed a part of her character seemed to have disappeared and to have been replaced by a new gentleness, and this change seemed to make her perfectly happy. Presently mine host who had inherited the Establishment from his father and grandfather, came to take the orders of the gentle folk, and especially to ascertain whether they intended to stay overnight, and when this question was answered in the affirmative, he begged them to decide upon their room. There were several at their disposal, but the gable room would probably suit them the best. It was, indeed, low studded, but was large and roomy and had the view across the Spree as far as the Müggelborg.
When his proposal had been accepted, the host went to attend to the necessary preparations, and Botho and Lena were left once more to enjoy to the full the happiness of being quietly alone together. A finch whose nest was in a low bush near by was swinging on a drooping twig of the elm, the swallows were darting here and there, and finally came a black hen followed by a whole brood of ducklings, passed the veranda, and strutted pompously out on a little wooden pier that was built far out over the water. But half way along this pier the hen stopped, while the ducklings plunged into the water an swam away.
Lena watched all this eagerly. Just look, Botho, how the stream rushes through among the posts. But actually it was neither the pier nor the water flowing through, that attracted her attention, but the two boats that were moored there. She coquetted with the idea and indulged in various trifling questions and references, and only when Botho remained deaf to all this did she express herself more plainly and declare that she wanted to go boating.
And I should have been drowned. Certainly. But that is only one side of the matter. There followed the aquaintance with a handsome man, you may be able to guess whom a mean. His name is Botho. I am sure you will not think of Easter Monday as an unlucky day? I am more amiable and more gallant than you.
Botho understood well enough that Lena said that on purpose to tease him, for in spite of her delicacy of feeling, still as a true child of Berlin she took pleasure in witty little speeches. He excused this little fling, however, and helped her into the boat. Then he sprang in too. Just as he was about to cast off the host came down the pier bringing a jacket and a plaid, because it would grow cold as the sun went down. They thanked him and soon were in the middle of the stream, which was here scarcely three hundred paces wide, as it flowed among the islands and tongues of land. Lena used her oars only now and then, but even these few strokes sufficed to bring them very soon to a field overgrown with tall grass which served as a boatbuilders yard, where at some little distance from them a new boat was being built and various old leaky ones were being caulked and repaired.
We must go and see the boats, said Lena gaily, taking Bothos hand and urging him along, but before they could reach the boat builders yard the sound of hammer and axe ceased and the bells began to ring, announcing the close of the days work. So they turned aside, perhaps a hundred paces from the dockyard into a path which led diagonally across a field, to a pine wood. The reddish trunks of the trees glowed wonderfully in the light of the sinking sun, while their tops seemed floating in a blush mist.
And stooping down, she searched right and left saying: Only look, here and there and here again. There are more here than in Dörrs garden; only you must have an eye for them. And she plucked the flowers diligently, stooping for them and picking weeds and grass with them, until in a very short time she had a quantity both of attractive blossoms and of useless weeds in her hands.
This is just right for us, said Botho: we will sit down here. You must be tired. And now let me see what you have gathered. I dont believe you know yourself, and I shall have to play the botanist. Give them here. This is ranunculus, or buttercup, and this is mouses ear. Some call it false forget-me-not. False, do you hear? And this one with the notched leaf is taraxacum, our good old dandelion, which the French use for salad. Well, I dont mind. But there is a distinction between a salad and a bouquet.
Just give them back, laughed Lena. You have no eye for such things, because you do not love them, and the eyes and love always belong together. First you said there were no flowers in the field, and now, when we find them, you will not admit that they are really flowers. But they are flowers, and pretty ones too. What will you bet that I can make you something pretty out of them.
And this is speedwell, the prize of honor, a dainty little blossom. That is surely good enough for you. I do not even need to ask. And this big reddish brown one is the devils paintbrush, and must have grown on purpose for you. Oh yes, laugh at it. And these, and she stooped to pick a couple of yellow blossoms, that were growing in the sand at her feet, these are immortelles.
No, I will not wait so long. And a grass blade is not good enough for me, it is too thick and coarse. I want something fine. I know what, Lena, you have such beautiful long hair; pull out one and tie the bouquet with that.
Only now, as they were returning, and coming nearer and nearer, did they see how picturesquely the tavern was situated. The thatched roof sat like a grotesque high cap above the timbered building, whose four little front windows were just being lit for the evening. And at the same time a couple of lanterns were carried out to the veranda, and their weird-looking bands of light shone out across the water through the branches of the old elm, which in the darkness resembled some fantastically wrought grating.