Theodor Fontane (18191898). Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
THE WEDDING had taken place about the middle of September on the Sellenthins estate, Rothenmoor. Uncle Osten, who was usually no speaker, had offered his good wishes to the bridal pair in what was undoubtedly the longest toast of his life. And on the next day the following notice appeared among other family items in the Kreuzzeitung: Botho Freiherr von Rienäcker, First Lieutenant in the Imperial Regiment of Cuirassiers, and Katherine Freifrau von Rienäcker, née Sellenthin have the honor to announce their marriage which took place yesterday. Naturally the Kreuzzeitung was not the paper which usually found its way to the Dörrs dwelling nor to the other house in their garden, but the very next morning there came a letter addressed to Fräulein Magdalena Nimptsch, containing nothing but a newspaper clipping containing the marriage notice. Lena was startled, but regained her self-control more quickly than the sender, apparently some envious acquaintance, might have anticipated. That the clipping came from such a source was easily seen from the addition of Hochwohlgeboren (well born). But this gratuitous freak of sarcasm, which was intended to double her pain, stood Lena in good stead and diminished the bitter feeling that the news would otherwise have caused her.
Botho and Katherine von Rienäcker started for Dresden the very day of the wedding, after both had happily withstood the enticement of a tour of visits among the Neumark relatives. And actually they had no reason to repent their choice, certainly Botho had not, for every day he congratulated himself not only upon his stay in Dresden, but still more upon the possession of a young wife who seemed to know nothing of caprice or ill humor. She actually laughed all day long, and her nature was as bright and clear as her complexion. She was delighted with everything and saw the cheerful side of everything. At their hotel there was a waiter with a forelock that looked like the crest of a breaking wave, and this waiter with his coiffure was a source of constant amusement to her, so much so, that although she was not usually very witty, she simply outdid herself in images and comparisons. Botho also was amused and laughed heartily, until suddenly a shade of doubt and even of discomfort began to mingle with his laughter. That is, he began to notice that whatever happened or came in sight, she took notice only of the trivial and the comical side of it. And at the close of a pleasant fortnight spent in Dresden, as the couple were beginning their homeward journey to Berlin, a short conversation fully enlightened him as to this side of his wifes character. They had a coupé to themselves and as they looked back from the bridge over the Elbe to take farewell of old Dresden and the tower of the Frauenkirche, Botho said, as he took her hand: And now tell me, Katherine, what was really the most beautiful thing here in Dresden?
No. You are right there. And since my lord and master is so serious I will not keep him waiting and tormenting himself any longer. There were three things that I was delighted with: first, the confectioners shop at the Old Market and the Scheffelgassen corner, with those wonderful pasties and liqueurs. Just to sit there.
I see, she laughed, that you really agree with me and as a reward I will tell you the second and third too. The second thing was the summer theater in the suburbs, where we saw Monsieur Hercules and Knaak drummed the Tannhäuser March on a rickety old whist table. I never saw anything so comical in all my life, and I dont believe you ever did either. It was really too funny. And the third was Bacchus Riding on the He-goat in the Art Museum and the Dog Scratching Himself by Peter Vischer.
I thought it was something like that; and when Uncle Osten hears about it he will think you are quite right and he will be fonder of you than ever and will say still oftener than before, I tell you, Botho, Katherine
And with these words their conversation ceased for some minutes, leaving in Bothos mind, however tenderly he gazed upon his young bride, a somewhat painful impression. The young woman herself had meanwhile no suspicion of what was taking place in her husbands mind, and only said: I am tired, Botho. So many pictures. It comes over me afterwards. But [the train was just stopping] what is the noise and excitement outside?
On the Landgrafenstrasse, which still had houses on one side only, Katherines mother had in the meantime arranged the home for the young couple, who were much pleased with the comfort that they found awaiting them when they arrived in Berlin at the beginning of October. Fire was burning in the fireplaces of the two front rooms, but the doors and windows stood open, for the autumn air was mild and the fire was only for the sake of cheerfulness and for ventilation. But the most attractive thing was the large balcony with its low-hanging awning, under which one could look straight out over the open country, first over the birch woods and the Zoological Garden and beyond that as far as the northern point of the Grünewald.
Katherine clapped her hands for joy over this beautiful wide view, embraced her mother, kissed Botho and then suddenly pointed to the left, where between scattered poplars and willows a shingled tower could be seen. See, Botho, how comical. It looks as if it had been notched three times. And the village near by. What is it called?
Very well, Wilmersdorf. But what do you mean by I believe? You surely must know the names of the villages hereabouts. Only look, mamma, doesnt he look as if he had been betraying a state secret? Nothing is more comical than these men.
Rienäckers house was scarcely a thousand steps from that of Frau Nimptsch. But Lena did not know that and often passed through the Landgrafenstrasse, which she would have avoided if she had had the slightest suspicion that Botho lived so near.
I must go into town to-day, mother, said Lena. I have a letter from Goldstein. He wants to speak to me about a pattern that is to be embroidered on the Princess Waldecks linen. And while I am in town, I shall also go to see Frau Demuth in old Jakobstrasse. Otherwise one would never see a soul. But I shall be back at about noon. I shall tell Frau Dörr, so that she will keep an eye on you.
Never mind, Lena, never mind. I like best to be alone. And Frau Dörr talks so much and always about her husband. And I have my fire. And when the goldfinch chirps, that is company enough for me. But if you could bring me a bag of candy, I have so much trouble with my throat tickling and malt candy is so loosening
And then Lena left the quiet little house and walked first along the Kurfürsten Strasse and then the Potsdamer Strasse, to the Spittelmarkt, where the Goldstein Brothers place of business was. All went well and it was nearly noon. Lena was homeward bound, and this time had chosen to pass through the Lützowstrasse instead of the Kurfürsten Strasse as before. The sun did her good and the bustle and stir on the Magdeburg Square, where the weekly market was being held and everything was being made ready for departure, pleased her so much that she paused to watch the cheerful activity. She was quite absorbed in this and was only aroused when the fire apparatus rushed by her with a great noise.
Lena listened until the rumbling and ringing had vanished in the distance, but then she glanced to the left at the clock tower of the Church of the Twelve Apostles. Just twelve, said she. Now I shall have to hurry; she always grows uneasy if I come home later than she expects me. And so she went on down the Lützowstrasse to the square of the same name. But suddenly she paused and did not know which way to turn, for at a little distance she recognised Botho, who was coming directly towards her, with a pretty young lady leaning on his arm. The young lady was speaking with animation and apparently about droll or cheerful things, for Botho was laughing all the time, as he looked down at her. It was to this circumstance that she owed the fact that she had not been observed long before, and quickly deciding to avoid a meeting with him at any price, she turned to the right of the sidewalk and stepped up to the nearest large show window, before which there was a square iron plate, probably used as a cover for the opening to a cellar. The window itself belonged to an ordinary grocery store, with the usual assortment of stearine candles and bottles of mixed pickles, in no way uncommon, but Lena stared at them as if she had never seen the like before. And truly it was time, for at this very moment the young couple passed close to her and not a word of the conversation between them escaped her.
Lena felt the thin iron plate on which she stood tremble. A horizontal brass rod ran across in front of the show window to protect the large pane of glass and for a moment it seemed to Lena as if she must catch at this rod for help and support, but she managed to stand straight, and only when she could make sure that the pair were far enough away did she turn to walk homeward. She felt her way cautiously along close to the houses and got on well enough at first. But soon she felt as if she were going to faint, and when she reached the next side street that led toward the canal, she turned into it and stepped through an open gate into a garden. It was with difficulty that she dragged herself as far as a little flight of steps that led to a veranda and terrace, and sat down, nearly fainting, on one of the steps.
As she came to herself, she saw that a half-grown girl, with a little spade in her hand with which she had been digging small beds, was standing near her and looking at her sympathetically, while from the veranda railing an old nurse regarded her with scarcely less curiosity. Apparently no one but the child and the old servant was at home, and Lena rose and thanked them both and walked back to the gate. But the half-grown girl looked after her with sad and wondering eyes, and it almost seemed as if some premonition of the sorrows of life had dawned upon her childish heart.
Meanwhile Lena, having crossed the embankment, had reached the canal, and now walked along at the foot of the slope where she could be sure of meeting nobody. From the boats a Spitz dog barked now and then, and as it was noontime a thin smoke rose from the little stovepipes of the galleys. But she saw and heard nothing of what was going on, or at least had no clear consciousness of it, and only where beyond the Zoological Garden the houses by the canal came to an end and the great lock gate with the water rushing and foaming over it came in sight, did she stand still and struggle for breath. Ah, if I could only cry. And she pressed her hand to her heart.
At home she found her mother in her accustomed place and sat down opposite her, without a word or a glance being exchanged between them. But suddenly the old woman, who had been looking all the time in the same direction, glanced up from the fire and was startled at the change in Lenas face.
Lena, child, what is wrong with you? How you do look, Lena? And although she was usually slow in her movements, she jumped up in a moment from her bench and got the jug, to sprinkle water on Lena, who still sat as if she were half dead. But the jug was empty and so she hobbled into the passageway and from there into the yard and the garden, to call good Frau Dörr, who was cutting wallflowers and honeysuckle for bouquets for the market. Her old husband stood near her and was just saying: Dont use up too much string again.
When Frau Dörr, heard from some little distance the distressed cry of the old woman, she turned pale and called back I am coming, Mother Nimptsch, I am coming, and throwing down whatever she had in her hands, she ran at once to the little house, saying to herself that something must be wrong there.
We must put her to bed, said Frau Dörr, and Frau Nimptsch started to take hold with her. But that was not what the stronger woman meant by we. I can manage alone, Mother Nimptsch, and taking Lena in her arms, she carried her into the next room and covered her over.
There, Mother Nimptsch. Now a hot cover. I know what is the trouble, it comes from the blood. First a cover and then a hot brick to the soles of her feet; but put it right under the instep, that is where the life is. But what brought it on? It must have been some shock.
That is so. Thats it. I know about that. But now shut the window and draw down the blinds. Some people believer in camphor and Hoffmanns drops, but camphor is so weakening and is really only fit for moths. No, dear Frau Nimptsch, nature must help itself, and especially when one is so young, and so I believe in sweating. But thoroughly. And what makes all the trouble? The men. And yet we need them and must have them. There, her color is coming back.