Theodor Fontane (18191898). Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
IT was now June, 1878. Frau von Rienäcker and Frau von Sellenthin had spent the month of May on a visit with the young couple; and the mother and the mother-in-law had day by day convinced each other that Katherine looked paler and more bloodless and languid than she had ever been before, and needless to say they had incessantly urged that a specialist should be consulted, by whose advice, after a gynecological examination (which, by the way, proved very expensive), a four weeks stay at the Schlangenbad health resort was pronounced indispensable and was accordingly decided upon. Schwalbach might be useful later. Katherine laughed and would not hear of any such thing, especially of Schlangenbad, the name sounded so uncanny and she already seemed to feel a viper in her bosom, but finally she had yielded and had found in the preparations for the journey a far greater contentment than she expected from the cure itself. She went down town every day to make purchases, and was never tired of telling how she was only now beginning to understand shopping which was in such high favor among Englishwomen: to go from shop to shop and always to find beautiful goods and courteous people, was really a pleasure and instructive too, because one saw so much that one did not know before, perhaps not even by name. As a rule Botho took part in these little trips and excursions, and before the beginning of the last week in June, half of the Rienäckers dwelling was turned into a little exhibition of travellers conveniences: a brassbound travelling trunk, which Botho, not without some show of justice, called the coffin of his propertythis took the lead, then came two smaller ones of Russia leather, with satchels, rugs, and cushions, and the travelling wardrobe lay spread out over the sofa with a dust cloak over all and a pair of marvellous thick-soled laced boots, as if a trip to the glaciers were in question.
June 24th, midsummer day was set for the beginning of the journey, but the day before Katherine wanted the intimate circle to be gathered around her once more, and so Wedell and young Osten, and naturally Pitt and Serge too, were invited for a comparatively early hour. Also Katherines special favorite Balafré, who had as a Halberstädter taken part in the great cavalry attack at Mars-la-Tour, and who still deserved his nickname because of a great sabre cut across his brow and cheek, a souvenir of that battle.
Katherine sat between Wedell and Balafré and did not look as if she were in need of the Schlangenbad or any other water cure in the world. She had color, laughed, asked a hundred questions and when the person of whom she had asked the question started to speak, she contented herself with a minimum in the way of reply. In fact she led the conversation, and no one was offended with her, because she was a past mistress in the art of pleasing small talk. Balafré asked how she pictured her life at the water cure. Schlangenbad was renowned not only for its wonderful cures but also for its monotony, and four weeks of monotony at a health resort would be a good deal even under the most favorable circumstances.
Oh, dear Balafré, said Katherine, you ought not to frighten me, and you would not if you knew how much Botho has done for me. He has got me eight novels though, to be sure, he put them in the bottom layer of my trunk; and in order that my imagination should not be prejudiced against water cures, he put in also a book about scientific fish culture.
Yes, you laugh, my dear friend, and yet you know only the lesser half, for the larger half (Botho, you know, never does anything without weighty reason) is his motives. Of course, what I just said about the pamphlet on fish culture being meant to prevent my taking a prejudice against the water cure was only a joke. The serious side of the matter is simply this, that I must actually read the pamphlet, and that from local patriotism, for Neumark, your happy home as well as mine, has been for a long time the birth and breeding place of scientific fish culture, and if I knew nothing of this new factor of food production, so important nationally and economically, I should never dare to show myself again on the further side of the Oder in the Landsbergerkreise, much less, however, in Verneuchen, at my Cousin Bornes.
Botho started to speak, but she cut him off and went on: I know what you were going to say, that the eight novels were only put in in case of emergency. But I think there are not likely to be any emergencies. Only yesterday I had a letter from my sister Ina, who wrote me that Anna Grävenitz has already been there for a week. You know her, Wedell; she was a Miss Rohr, a charming blonde. We were together at old Frau Zülows Pension, and we were even in the same class. And I remember how we both adored our divine Felix Bachmann, and even wrote verses, until good old Zülow said that she forbade any such nonsense. And Elly Winterfield, as Ina writes me, is apparently coming too. And now I say to myself, in company with two charming young womenand I myself for the third, even if I cannot be compared with the othersin such good company, I say, one must surely be able to live. Dont you think so, dear Balafré?
The latter bowed with a grotesque air, which seemed to express his agreement with everything Katherine might say, except her assertion that any one might be her superior, but nevertheless he resumed his former list of questions: If I might hear the details, gracious lady! The separate items, so to speak; one minute, may decide our happiness and unhappiness. And there are so many minutes in a day.
Well, I think it will be like this: Every morning letters. Then a promenade concert and a walk with the two ladies, preferably in a secluded path. There we will sit down and read our letters aloud, for I hope we shall have received some, and we shall laugh if he writes tenderly and say Yes, yes. And then comes the bath, and after the bath the toilette, naturally with care and enthusiasm, which in Schlangenbad may be no less amusing than in Berlin. Rather the contrary. And then we shall go to lunch and I shall have an old general on my right and a rich manufacturer on my left. From my youth on I have had a passion for manufacturersa passion of which I am much ashamed. For either they have invented a new kind of armor plate or laid a submarine telegraphic cable or bored a tunnel or constructed an ascending railway. And beside all this, they are rich, which I do not at all despise. And after lunch, the reading-room and coffee, with the Venetian blinds let down, so that light and shade will be chasing each other across the newspaper. And then a walk, or a drive. And perhaps, if we are fortunate, a couple of cavaliers from Frankfort or Mainz may have wandered over and they may ride beside the carriage; and I must say, my friends, that compared with Hussars, whether red or blue, you are not in the fashion, and from my military standpoint it is and remains a decided blunder, that they have doubled the Dragoon Guards, but have, so to speak, simply left the Hussars alone. And it is still more incomprehensible to me that they should be left over there. Anything so special belongs in the capital.
Botho, who began to be annoyed by his wifes great talent for conversation, tried by means of little jokes and mockeries to stem the tide of her endless prattle. But his guests were far less critical than he, indeed they grew more enthusiastic than ever over the charming little woman, and Balafré, who was over head and ears in his admiration for Katherine, said: Rienäcker, if you say one word more against your wife, you are a dead man. My dear lady, what in the world does your ogre of a husband want? What does he find to criticise? I cant imagine. And in the end I am forced to believe that he feels his honor as a cavalryman insulted, and if you will pardon the pun, he rumples his feathers simply because he has feathers. Rienäcker, I take my oath! If I had such a wife as you have, her lightest whim would be my law, and if she wanted to turn me into a Hussar, I would join the Hussars and make an end of it. But so much I know for certain, and I would stake my life and honor on it, if his Majesty could hear such persuasive words, the Hussars would never have another quiet hour; to-morrow morning they would be in the quarters for moving troops at Zehlendorf, and day after to-morrow they would be marching into Berlin through the Brandenburg Gate. Oh these Sellenthins, whose health I drink, taking time by the forelock, the first, second, and third time in this one toast! Why have you not another sister, my dear lady? Why is Fräulein Ina already engaged? It is too soon and in any case it is my loss.
Katherine was delighted with these small flatteries and assured him that, in spite of the fact that Ina was now hopelessly lost to him, she would do everything for him that could possibly be done, although she knew perfectly well that he was an incorrigible bachelor and was only making pretty speeches.
Immediately afterwards, however, she dropped her badinage with Balafré and began to talk once more about her journey, and especially about how she thought her correspondence would be during her absence. She hoped, as she could not help repeating, that she should get a letter every day, for that was no more than the duty of an affectionate husband, and as for her, she would think it over, and only on the first day, she would show some sign of life at every station. This proposal was approved even by Rienäcker, and finally was but slightly altered, it being decided that at every important station she passed through, in spite of detours, as far as Cologne, she should write a card, but that she should put all the cards, whether they were few or many, in one envelope. This plan would have the advantage, that she could express herself freely about her travelling companions without any fear of post-office clerks and letter carriers.
After dinner they took their coffee on the balcony, where Katherine, after making some objections, appeared in her travelling costume: a Rembrandt hat and a dust cloak with a travelling satchel slung over her shoulder. She looked charming. Balafré was more enchanted than ever and begged her not to be too much surprised if the next morning she should find him anxiously squeezed into the corner of the coupé as an escort for the journey.
And so they chatted for a while longer. Then they bade their hospitable host and hostess good-bye and agreed to go together as far as the bridge at Lützow Square. Here, however, they divided into two groups, and while Balafré, Wedell and Osten sauntered further along the canal, Pitt and Serge, who were going to Krolls, went toward the Thiergarten.
What a charming creature that Katherine is, said Serge. Rienäcker seems rather prosaic beside her, and then he looks at her so discontentedly and so reprovingly, as if he needed to make excuses to every one for the little woman, who to a discerning eye is really cleverer than he.