Theodor Fontane (18191898). Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
THE WHOLE incident had also been observed by Frau Dörr, who was cutting asparagus, but she paid very little attention, because such things happened nearly every other day. So she kept on with her work, and only gave up the search, when even the sharpest scrutiny of the beds failed to reveal any more white heads. Only then did she hang the basket on her arm, putting the knife in it, and driving a couple of strayed chickens before her, while she walked slowly along the middle path of the garden and then into the yard and up to the flower stand, where Dörr had resumed his work for the market.
Well, Susy, he greeted his better half, here you are. Did you see? Bollmanns dog was here again. Listen, he had better say his prayers and then I will try him out over the fire; there must be a little fat on him and Sultan can have the scraps. And listen, Susy, dogs fat. And he appeared to become absorbed in a favorite method of treating gout which he had been considering for some time. But at this moment he caught sight of the asparagus basket on his wifes arm, and interrupted himself. Come, show it to me, he said. Did you have good luck?
So so, said Frau Dörr, holding out the scarcely half-filled basket, whose contents he passed through his fingers, shaking his head. For most of the stalks were thin and there were many broken ones among them.
Why, not at all. They are all under ground, and whether they come up to-day or to-morrow, it is all the same. One good shower, such as we had before Whitsunday, and then you will see. And there is going to be rain. The water barrel is already smelling again and the big spider has crept into the corner. But you want to have everything every day; and you cant expect that.
Now, dont talk like that, interrupted his wife, who always got angry over his avarice, but still she pulled his ear, which he always regarded as a sign of affection, and then she went over to the castle, where she meant to make herself comfortable in the stone paved passageway and tie up her asparagus in bunches. But she had scarcely drawn up to the threshold the stool which always stood ready, than she heard, over in the little house with three windows where Frau Nimptsch lived, a back window pushed up vigorously and a moment later hooked in place. And then she saw Lena with a lilac and white jacket over her woolen skirt and a cap on her ash-blond hair, waving a friendly greeting to her.
And within five minutes, good Frau Dörr had moved her stool over by the window and sat there as comfortable and self-satisfied as if she were at the regular market. Inside the room Lena had put the ironing board across two chairs close to the window and stood so near it that it would have been easy to reach her with ones hand. Meanwhile the flatiron moved busily back and forth. And Frau Dörr also was diligently choosing and binding up her asparagus and if she paused from her work now and then and glanced into the room, she could see the glow of the little ironing stove from which the fresh coals were taken for the flatiron.
You might just bring me a plate, Lena, a plate or a dish. And when Lena brought what Frau Dörr had asked, the good woman dropped into the dish the broken pieces of asparagus which she had kept in her apron while she was sorting out the stalks. There, Lena, that will make a little taste of asparagus. And it is just as good as the rest. For it is all nonsense that you must always have the heads. And it is just the same with cauliflower; always the flower pure imagination. The stump is really the best, for the strength of the plant is there. And the strength is always the most important thing.
He? What he says doesnt matter. He will be talking. He always wants me to put in the spindling ones with the rest as if they were real stalks; but I dont like such cheating tricks, even if the broken pieces do taste just as good as the whole stalks. What anyone pays for, he ought to get, only it makes me angry that a man who gets on so well should be such an old skinflint. But all gardeners are like that, skimp and grasp and then they can never get enough.
Yes, Lena, he is well enough so far, and even his stinginess would not be so bad, for at least it is better than wastefulness, if only he were not too fond. You would not believe it, but he is always right there. And just look at him. I have nothing but bother with him for all that he is fifty-six years old, and maybe a year more. For he tells lies if it suits him to. I keep telling him about strokes of apoplexy and point out people who limp or have their mouths drawn to one side, but he always laughs and will not believe me. But it will happen. Yes, Lena, I have no doubt that it will happen. And perhaps soon. Well, he has willed me everything he has and so I will not say anything more. When one has made ones bed, one must lie in it. But why are we talking about Dörr and strokes, and his bow legs. Good Lord, Lena, there are plenty of other folks who are as straight as a fir tree. Arent there, Lena?
At this Lena grew still more rosy than before, and said: The charcoal is cold. And stepping back from the board, she went to the stove and shook the coal back among the embers, so as to take out a new one. All this was the work of a moment. And now with a quick turn of the hand she slipped the new hot coal from the tongs into the iron, shut the little door, and only then noticed that Frau Dörr was still waiting for an answer. But to make sure, the good woman asked the question over again and added: Is he coming to-day?
Now tell me, Lena, went on Frau Dörr, how did it really begin? Mother Nimptsch never says much, and if she does say anything, it doesnt amount to much, and I never get the ins and outs of it. For she only tells part and that all confused. Now do tell me. Is it true that you met in Stralau?
Yes, Frau Dörr, it was in Stralau, on Easter Monday, but it was already as warm as if it were Whitsunday, and because Lina Gansauge likes boating, we took a skiff; and Linas brother Rudolph, whom I think you know, took the rudder.
That is so. But he thought he knew all about it, and he kept saying: You must sit still, girls; you rock the boat so, for he speaks with such a frightful Berlin accent. But we didnt think of doing such a thing, because we soon saw that his steering wasnt good for much. But by and by we forgot all about it, and let ourselves go, and joked with those we met, and splashed each other with water. And in the only boat that was going in the same direction that we were, sat a pair of very fine gentlemen, who saluted us, and we were so reckless that we returned their greetings and Lina even waved her handkerchief, and behaved as if she knew the gentlemen, which however was not the case, and she only wanted to show off, because she is so young. And while we were laughing and joking like that, and only playing with the oars, we saw all at once that the steamer from Treptow was coming towards us, and as you can imagine, dear Frau Dörr, we were frightened to death and called out to Rudolph that he must steer us out of the way. But the boy had lost his head and just steered us round and round in a circle. And then we began to scream and we should surely have been run down if the two gentlemen in the other boat had not at that very moment taken pity on us in our trouble. With a couple of strokes they reached us and while one of them took firm hold of us with a boat hook and made us fast to their boat, the other rowed their boat and ours out of the wake of the steamboat, and only once more did it seem as if the big waves would capsize us. The captain shook his fist at us (I saw that for all my fright), but that was soon over and in another minute we had reached Stralau and the two gentlemen, to whom we owed our rescue, jumped out and gave us their hands and helped us out like regular escorts. And so there we stood on the slip at Tübbeckes, feeling very bashful and Lina was crying softly and only Rudolph, who is always obstinate and boastful, and doestnt like soldiers, looked sullenly before him, as if to say: Nonsense, I could have steered you out all right myself.
Well, they did what they could for us and then took their places at another table and kept looking over at us. And when we were ready to go home, towards seven oclock, and it was growing a little dark, one of them came to us and asked whether he and his friend might offer to escort us? And I laughed rather recklessly and said, they had rescued us and one must not refuse anything to ones rescuer, But they had really better think about it a little, for we lived almost at the other end of the earth. And it would be really quite a journey. Thereupon he answered politely, All the better. And meanwhile the other man had come up. Ah, dear Frau Dörr, perhaps it was not right, to talk so freely at first sight, but one of them took my fancy, and I never knew how to put on any prim airs. And so we walked all the long way home together, first by the Spree and then by the canal.
Yes, afterwards. But you know already how it was afterwards. He came the following day to inquire. And ever since he has come often, and I am always glad when he comes. Heavens, it does make one happy to see a little of life. It is often so lonely, away out here. And you know, Frau Dörr, mother has nothing against it and always says: Child, that does no harm. Before you know it, you will be old.
Yes indeed, said Frau Dörr, I have often heard Frau Nimptsch speak like that. And she is quite right too. That is to say, just as one takes it, and to live according to the catechism is really better and, so to speak, actually the best way. You may take my word for it. But I know very well, things do not always go that way, and a great many are not willing to follow those rules. And if one will not, one will not, and things must take their own course as they usually do, so long as one is honest and decent and keeps his word. And naturally, whatever happens, one must put up with it and must not be surprised. And if one knows all this and keeps it in mind, well, then it is not so bad. And really, fanciful notions are the only thing that does any harm.
Oh, dear Frau Dörr, laughed Lena, what can you be thinking of? Fanciful notions! I have no fancy notions. If I love anyone, I love him. And that is enough for me. And I want nothing more from him, nothing at all. And it makes me happy that my heart beats so and that I count the hours till he comes, and that I cannot wait until I see him again, that is my joy, and it is enough for me.
But it is, Frau Dörr, and Lena seemed as if she wanted to prove the fact that there were such names. But before she could succeed, Sultan barked and one could plainly hear the sound of some one entering from the corridor. The letter carrier came in and brought two orders for Dörr and a letter for Lena.
My Lord, Hahnke, exclaimed Frau Dörr to the man on whose brow the great drops stood, you are dripping with sweat. Is it so frightfully hot? And only half-past nine. I see very well that there isnt much fun in being a letter carrier.
He isnt coming to-day, but to-morrow. Oh, what a long time it is till to-morrow. It is good thing that I have work; the more work the better. And this afternoon Ill come over to your garden and help you dig. But I dont want Dörr to be there.