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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Poet’s Little Home
By Alphonse Esquiros (1812–1876)
 
From ‘The Enchanted Castle’

THERE is a narrow two-story house in one of the suburbs of Berlin, where about fifty years ago Theodore Wilhelm and his wife Vertua were living. They were a young couple, very poor but happy, for Wilhelm and Vertua loved each other.  1
  One evening the young wife was sewing at her window, when the needle paused between her fingers, the work fell on her apron, and a tear rolled down her cheek. At the same moment the bell rang over her head. Vertua rose, wiped her red eyes, and opened the door with a smile on her lips. It was Wilhelm returning.  2
  “I was sewing and forgot all about the time,” she said, throwing her arm around her husband and receiving his kiss. “We won’t have much of a supper to-day; but then we don’t care.” While saying this, she placed on the table a dish of boiled potatoes and some dry nuts.  3
  “You must be out of money,” remarked Wilhelm gloomily.  4
  “No, I have some,” she said, shaking some copper coins in her apron pocket.  5
  “I think I have found a place,” went on Wilhelm, in a tone not very hopeful. “If I accept it, I will begin work to-morrow.”  6
  “What place?” asked Vertua.  7
  “I am promised the position of head of the orchestra in a small theatre. The salary is not very much, but as I know a little about painting I can act as decorator at the same time. Then, as I still have great faith in my literary talent, I will induce them to play some of my compositions there.”  8
  Vertua smiled indulgently at her husband’s golden dreams. Their meal was tranquil and gay. Love, great worker of miracles, found a way to change the water in their pitcher to a wine better than that of the wedding at Cana.  9
  After supper Theodore Wilhelm spoke of writing. Vertua dared not tell him that there was no oil for the lamp.  10
  “Bah!” said she. “It’s too fine an evening to light that horrid wick. Let us stay at the window and watch the stars, the lights of the good God.”  11
  Theodore Wilhelm understood that he was reduced to the state of the Italian poet Torquato Tasso, who went without working at night, non avendo candele per scriver i versi suoi.  12
  “Perhaps I would have been wiser,” he said, “to have stuck to my first studies. By this time I would have been a counselor.”  13
  “Why these regrets, dear?”  14
  “At least you would have a servant and new clothes,” continued Wilhelm, who was cut to the heart by his wife’s deprivations.  15
  “I don’t need anything,” interrupted Vertua, with a smile which she tried to make natural. “If I don’t wear my fine clothes, it is because I don’t think I need them in order to please you.”  16
  The next morning Vertua awoke before dawn, and crept softly out of bed to get things ready for her husband. Her eyes reviewed sadly the shabby black coat, white on the seams and on the back of the cuffs; the shapeless shoes, and the worn cravat. In vain she brushed them, caught up broken threads with her needle, touched the garment here and there with ink,—she could never restore the irreparable injury of years. Just before Wilhelm started out, he looked at himself in the mirror.  17
  “You are all right,” said Vertua in a confident voice. “That coat looks quite new, and the hat seems fresh enough to have been bought yesterday.”  18
  The two lovers exercised a kind of divine trickery to deceive each other as to their wretched state.  19
  Theodore Wilhelm obtained a position in the orchestra of a little theatre where he was the only musician, but he lost it again in a few days. Then he tried various callings, which cost much to his self-love and which barely satisfied the first needs of life.  20
  Ten years later, the same man was the most popular author of all Germany.  21
  In the early days of his success, Wilhelm plunged his lips eagerly in this cup of gold; but it soon transformed him, and he fell into a bored and dreary frenzy. Satiety brought disgust. His celebrity dazed him. Long before this, he had moved from the little house in the suburb to a rich and commodious mansion in the city. One evening Vertua took his hand in hers and said to him:—  22
  “We are not happy any more. Happiness was to love each other, and now that we are rich we no longer do so. This miserable gold has destroyed all the charm of our home. When we were poor I used to see you all day. Now other people have you. You are called here and there, you are invited by the whole town, you are sought after by women, and I am unhappy. Are you yourself content? No, Wilhelm, acknowledge the truth. This life wearies you; you regret the time when we suffered the bitter privations of life together.”  23
  “You are right, Vertua. For a long time I have thought all that you have just said, but I have never dared to tell you. When we were living in our little house the necessity of fighting outside evils calmed the agitation of my spirit. The struggle was good for me, and helpful. Now I am afraid of going mad. No, I have never suffered so much as since I have been delivered from the hard necessities of life and delivered to myself. My cruel imagination is an enemy ten times more insupportable than poverty. Fame is killing me. I am no longer free, now that I am celebrated. I am stifling under this cape of gold, which Divine justice has thrown on my shoulders to punish my foolish ambitions.”  24
  “I too hate this glory, as a rival who has made you desert me. Since you have given yourself up to it, you hardly care for me. But I do not ask you to relinquish it; I know what such ties mean. However much one curses, he has never the strength to relinquish them. But let us do one thing. That little house in the suburb, of which you were just speaking, I have been renting for the last ten years without telling you so; our old furniture, which I pretended to sell, is all there just as we left it. Let us go back and spend the day to-morrow in this old nest of our early love.”  25
  Wilhelm threw his arms around Vertua, in gratitude for this happy thought.  26
  The next morning they rose before the sun and fled to the little house in the suburb. A gentle emotion touched them even to tears, as they entered the two rooms where they had passed the bitter, beautiful days of delightful youth. The straw chairs were neatly ranged as when Vertua’s hand took care to keep them so. Vertua opened the oaken wardrobe, which was nearly all the furniture in the place, and drew out Wilhelm’s old coat, so often inked over on the seams, and handed it to her husband to put on.  27
  “I never saw you look so handsome,” she said, gazing at him with delight.  28
  She herself laid on the bed her veil, her velvet bonnet, her cashmere shawl, her dress trimmed with lace, and put on again the simple cap, the fichu, and the linen blouse, in which Wilhelm had loved her.  29
  After this, Vertua prepared the breakfast with her own hands, as in the days when she had no other servant than her activity of twenty years. She set the table with two pewter spoons, two flowered delft cups, and two coarse linen napkins. The milk was boiling on the chafing-dish, with its white foam gathering on top.  30
  For the first time in ten years, Theodore Wilhelm felt hungry. A rustic perfume of youth and sentiment entered his heart. The little birds came in at the window as in the old days, and picked the dry bread which Vertua crumbled for them under the table.  31
  Wilhelm and Vertua sat opposite each other as in their happy time; their knees touched under the little pine table. Their breakfast was delicious. They felt themselves back in the old love, when their hearts were young and black care evaporated in a ray of sunshine.  32
  Breakfast was short, and after it Wilhelm drew his violin from its case and practiced his lesson for the evening, as he had done when employed in the orchestra of the theatre. Vertua, who had not sung for ten years, accompanied him with her voice. It was a simple and touching piece which suited their mood. The little room was all stirred with it, and the birds responded from the roof.  33
  But Wilhelm had scarcely finished the selection when the sound of applause was heard under the windows. Some friends or some inquisitive people (how know which?) had followed Vertua and her husband.  34
  “We are discovered,” the poet murmured sadly.  35
  “Alas!” said Vertua; “I was afraid of it.”  36
  “Not to be able to go where one wants or to do what one chooses without being spied upon; to suffer everybody’s follies because one is said to have talent; to be forced to abjure calm of spirit; charm in one’s home; love in one’s heart: what is it all?”  37
  “This,” answered Vertua timidly, “is what men seek after. It is glory.”  38
  This man, so long pursued by misfortune, and later pursued by glory, this Theodore Wilhelm, was Hoffmann.  39
 
 
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