Theodor Fontane (18191898). Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
THE NEXT forenoon the sun, which was already rather high, shone into the yard of the Dörrs little establishment and lighted up a considerable number of buildings, among which was the castle of which Frau Nimptsch had spoken on the previous evening with roguish playfulness. Such a castle! In the twilight its general outlines might have passed for something of the sort, but to-day, as it stood in the remorselessly bright light, one could see only too plainly, that the building with its Gothic windows painted on the walls clear to the top, was nothing more than a wretched old wooden house, in the two gable ends of which had been set some timber framing, the spaces of which were filled with plaster, a comparatively solid structure which indicated two gable rooms. All the rest of the house was merely a stone-paved space from which a confused looking set of ladders led to a loft or garret and from that to the tower which served as a pigeon house. Formerly, before Dörrs time, the whole great wooden shack had served merely as a store-house for bean poles and watering pots, perhaps even as a potato cellar, but since, some years ago, the garden had been bought by its present owner, the real dwelling house had been rented to Frau Nimptsch, and the old building painted in the Gothic style, with the addition of the two gable rooms already mentioned, had been arranged as a dwelling for Dörr, who was then a widower; a very primitive arrangement it was, which was in no wise altered by his speedy second marriage. In the summer this cool store house with its stone pavements and almost no windows was not a bad dwelling place, but in the winter Dörr and his wife as well as a rather feeble-minded twenty-year-old son of the former marriage, would have actually frozen, had it not been for the two big hothouses which stood on the other side of the yard. In these the three Dörrs spent their time exclusively from November until March, but even in the warmer and more comfortable part of the year, the family life, when it was not actually necessary to seek refuge from the sun, was mostly carried on in front of these hot houses or in them, because everything there was more convenient. Here were the steps and shelves on which the flowers that were brought out of the hothouses every morning had their airing, here was the stall for the cow and the goat, and here the kennel for the dog that was used to pull the little wagon, and from here extended outward the double row of hotbeds, perhaps fifty paces long, and with a little path between, until they reached the vegetable garden which lay further back. This garden did not look very neat, partly because Dörr had no sense of order, and also because he had such a passion for poultry, that he would allow his favorites to scratch and pick everywhere, without regard to the damage that they did. To be sure, the damage was not great, for there was nothing very fine in the garden except the asparagus beds. Dörr thought that the commonest things were also the most profitable, and therefore raised marjoram and other herbs for seasoning sausages, especially borré, concerning which he held the opinion that a genuine Berliner really needs only three things: his pale ale, his gilka and borré. With borré, he always concluded, one is never at a loss. He was decidedly an eccentric, wholly self-sufficient in his views and was decidedly indifferent as to what might be said about him. His second marriage was in keeping with this tendency, a marriage of inclination, upon which the idea of his wifes unusual beauty had had its effect as well as her former relation to the Count, which instead of injuring her chances, had tipped the balance for the better and had simply served as a complete proof that her charms were irresistible. If there was any hint of overvaluing personal charmsand there was good ground for this opinionit could not be on the side of Dörr himself, for whom nature, so far as outward appearances were concerned, had done uncommonly little. Thin, of medium height and with five strands of grey hair drawn over his head and brow, his looks would have been completely ordinary had not a brown mole between his eye and his left temple given him a certain mark of distinction. For this reason his wife, with some reason and in her own free and easy fashion used to say: He is withered looking, but from the left he reminds me of a Borsdorfer.
This description was well hit off and would have served to identify him anywhere if he had not continually worn a linen cap with a big visor, which being drawn well down over his face, hid its every-day as well as its unusual aspect.
And so, with his cap and visor drawn down over his face, he stood once more, on the day after the conversation between Frau Dörr and Frau Nimptsch, before a flower stand that stood against the front greenhouse, setting to one side various wallflower and geranium pots, which were to go to the weekly market on the morrow. They were all plants that had not been raised in pots, but simply set into them, and with especial joy and satisfaction he passed them in review, laughing beforehand at the madams, who would come the next day to spend their usual five pfennigs, but in the end would be fooled. He considered this one of his greatest pleasures and indeed it was the principal part of his mental life. If I could only hear them scold about it If I only could.
He was talking to himself in this vein, when he heard from the garden the barking of a little cur together with the distressed crowing of a cock, and unless he was very much deceived, of his cock, his favorite with the silvery feathers. And looking toward the garden, he actually saw his flock of hens rushing this way and that, while the cock had flown up in a pear tree, from which he constantly called for help while the dog barked beneath.
Thunder and lightning, cried Dörr in a rage. There is Bollmanns dog again. He has got through the fence again. But we shall see. And quickly setting down the geranium pot that he was examining, he ran to the dog kennel, caught up the hook of the chain and turned the big dog loose, who rushed furiously through the garden. But before he could reach the pear tree, Bollmanns beast had already given leg bail and was disappearing under the fence into the open, the big yellow dog pursuing him with great leaps. But the gap that had sufficed for the pug would not let him through, and he was forced to give up the chase.
Dörr himself had no better luck, when he came up with a rake and exchanged glances with the dog. Well, Sultan, we didnt catch him this time. And so Sultan trotted back to his kennel in a slow, puzzled way, as if he had been blamed for something. But Dörr himself gazed after the pug who was running over the ploughed ground and said to himself presently: The Devil take me, if I dont get me an air gun at Mehles or somewhere. And then Ill get the beast out of the way so silently that neither cock nor hen will make a sound. Not even mine.
The cock, however, seemed to have for the present no use for the quiet attributed to him by Dörr, but continued to use his voice just as strenuously as before. And meanwhile he puffed out his silver white throat as proudly as if he wanted to show the hens that his flying up into the pear tree was a well-considered coup or else a mere whim.