Theodor Fontane (18191898). Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
IT was the next week after the events narrated, and the chestnut trees were already in bloom. They were blossoming also in Bellevue Street. Baron Botho lived here in a ground floor apartment that extended through from a front balcony to one that opened on a garden: there was a living-room, a dining-room, and a bedroom, which were distinguished by a tasteful furnishing decidedly beyond the means of their owner. In the dining-room there were two pictures of still life by Hertel and between these a bear hunt, an admirable copy from Rubens, while in the living-room the show piece was a storm at sea by Andreas Achenbach, surrounded by several smaller pictures by the same artist. The storm picture had come into Baron Bothos possession by chance at a lottery, and by means of this beautiful and valuable work he had gained the reputation of a connoisseur and especially of an admirer of Achenbach. He joked freely about this and used to declare that his luck at the lottery cost him quite dear, because it continually led him to make new purchases, adding that it was perhaps the same with all good fortune.
Before the sofa, the plush of which was covered with a Persian rug, the coffee apparatus stood on a malachite table, while on the sofa itself all kinds of political journals were lying about, and amongst these some whose presence in this place seemed rather peculiar, and could only be explained by Baron Bothos favorite phrase fiddlesticks before politics. Stories which bore the stamp of imagination, so-called pearls, amused him the most. A canary bird, whose cage always stood open at breakfast time, was flying as usual to light on the hand or shoulder of his too-indulgent master, who, instead of being impatient, put his paper aside every time to stroke his little favorite. But if he omitted the caress, the little creature would cling to the readers neck and beard and chirp long and persistently until he had his way. All favorites are alike, said Baron Rienäcker, they expect humility and obedience.
Just now the door bell rang and the servant came in to bring the letters. One, a gray, square envelope, was open and bore a three pfennig stamp. Hamburg lottery tickets or new cigars, said Rienäcker, and threw envelope and contents aside without further consideration. But this one Ah, from Lena. I will save this for the last, unless this third sealed one contends for the honor. The Osten crest. Then it is from Uncle Kurt Anton: the Berlin postmark means that he is already here. What can he want now? Ten to one, he wants me to breakfast with him or to buy a saddle or to escort him to Renz, or perhaps to Kroll also; most likely I am to do the one and not omit the other.
And he took a knife from the window-sill and cut open the envelope, on which he had recognized also Uncle Ostens handwriting, and took out the letter. The letter read:
HOTEL BRANDENBURG, NUMBER 15
MY DEAR BOTHO:
An hour ago I arrived safely at the eastern depot, warned by your old Berlin notice Beware of Pickpockets, and have engaged rooms in the Hotel Brandenburg, which is to say, in the same old place; a real conservative is conservative even in small things. I shall only stay two days, for your air is too heavy for me. This is a smothering hole. But I will tell you everything by word of mouth. I shall expect you at one oclock at Hillers. After that we will go and buy a saddle. And then in the evening we will go to Renz. Be punctual.
Rienäcker laughed. I thought as much! And yet there is an innovation. Formerly it was Borchardt, and now it is Hiller. Oh, oh, Uncle dear, a true conservative is conservative even in small things. And now for my dear Lena. What would Uncle Kurt Anton say if he knew in what company his letter and his commands arrived.
And while he was speaking, he opened Lenas note and read:
It is now five whole days since I last saw you. Is it going to be a whole week? And I was so happy that evening that I thought you simply must come again the next day. And you were so dear and good. Mother is already teasing me, and she says: He will not come again. Oh, what a pain in my heart that gives me, because I know that it must happen some time and because I feel that it might happen any day. I was reminded of that again yesterday. For when I just wrote you that I had not seen you for five whole days, I did not tell the truth; I did see you yesterday, but secretly, by stealth, on the Corso. Just fancy, I too was there, naturally far back in a side path and I watched you riding back and forth for an hour. Oh I was extremely happy, for you were the most imposing rider (almost as imposing as Frau Dörr, who sends her regards to you), and I was so proud just to see you that I didnt even grow jealous. I mean I was jealous only once. Who was the pretty blonde, with the two white horses? They were simply garlanded with flowers, and the flowers were so thick that there were no leaves nor stems. I never saw anything so beautiful in my life. When I was a child I would have thought that she was a Princess, but now I know that Princesses are not always the most beautiful. Yes, she was pretty and you liked her, I could see that, and she liked you too. But her mother, who set beside the pretty blonde, you liked still better. And that angered me. I grant you a really young woman, if it must be so. But an old woman! and even a mamma? No, no, she has had her share. In any case, my own Botho, you see that you will have to quiet me and make me happy again. I shall expect you to-morrow or the next day. And if you cannot come in the evening, come in the daytime, even if only for a minute. I am so troubled about you, that is to say, about myself. But you understand me already.
Your Lena, said he, repeating the signature, once more to himself and a sort of restlessness took possession of him, because all kinds of conflicting emotions passed through his heart: love, anxiety, fear. Then he read the letter through again. At two or three passages he could not forbear to make a little mark with his silver pencil, not through pedantry, but through pure delight. How well she writes! The handwriting certainly, and the spelling almost Stiehl instead of Stiel. Well, why not? Stiehl was a much dreaded school inspector, but the Lord be praised, I am not. And emphelen. Shall I be put out with her over f and h? Good Lord, how many people can spell empfehlen properly? The young Countesses cannot always, and the old ones never. So where is the harm! Really, the letter is like Lena herself, good, true and trustworthy, and the mistakes make it only the more charming.
He leaned back in his chair and covered his eyes and brow with his hand: Poor Lena, what is to come of all this? It would have been better for us both, if there had been no Easter Monday this time. Why indeed should there be two holidays? Why Treptow and Stralau and boating excursions? And now my Uncle! Either he is coming as a messenger from my mother, or else he has plans for me himself, of his own initiative. Well, we shall see. He has never been through any training in diplomatic disguises, and even if he has sworn ten oaths to keep silence, he comes out with everything. I shall soon find out, for all that I am even less experienced than he in the art of intrigue.
Thereupon he pulled out a drawer of his writing table, in which there were already other letters of Lenas, tied up with a red ribbon. And now he rang for the servant to help him to dress. So, John, that is all I need. And now dont forget to draw the blinds down. And if anyone should come and ask for me, I shall be at the barracks till twelve, at Hillers after one and at Renzs in the evening. And be sure to raise the blinds again at the right time, so that I shall not find a bake-oven again. And leave the lamp lighted in the front room, but not in my bedroom; it seems as if the flies are possessed this year. Do you understand?
And during this dialogue, which was half carried on in the corridor, Rienäcker passed through the vestibule, and out in the garden he playfully pulled the braids of the porters little girl, who was stooping over her little brothers wagon, and got in return a furious glance, which changed to one of delight as soon as she recognized him.
And now at last he stepped through the gate to the street. Here he saw beneath the green bower of the chestnut trees the men and vehicles passing silently to and fro between the great gate and the Zoological Garden, as if through the glass of a camera. How beautiful! This is surely one of the best of worlds.