Fiction > Harvard Classics > Theodor Fontane > Trials and Tribulations > Chapter XVII
Theodor Fontane (1819–1898).  Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Chapter XVII
TWO and a half years had passed since this meeting, during which time many things had changed in our circle of friends and acquaintances, but not among those of the Landgrafenstrasse.   1
  The same good humor continued there, the gayety of the honeymoon still remained, and Katherine continued to laugh as of old. What might perhaps have troubled other young women, that they had no children, did not disturb Katherine for a moment. She enjoyed life so much and found such complete satisfaction in dressing and small-talk, in riding and driving, that she shrank from any change in her way of life rather than desired it. The feeling for family life, to say nothing of any real longing for it, had not yet awakened in her and when her mother made some remark in a letter about such matters, Katherine answered somewhat heretically: “Don’t trouble yourself, mamma. Botho’s brother has just become engaged, and in six months he will be married and I shall gladly leave to my future sister-in-law the care of providing for the continuance of the house of Rienäcker.”   2
  Botho did not take exactly this view, but even his happiness was not seriously disturbed by the lack of children, and if from time to time he had a discontented mood, it was chiefly because, as he had already found out on his wedding journey to Dresden, he could perhaps talk somewhat reasonably with Katherine, but any really serious speech with her was wholly out of the question. She was talkative and sometimes even had bright ideas, but the best things she ever said were but superficial and trivial, as if she were unable to distinguish between important and unimportant things. And what was the worst of all, she considered all this as a merit, and plumed herself on it, and never thought of correcting the habit. “But, Katherine, Katherine,” Botho would exclaim sometimes, and the tone of his voice would show some displeasure, but her happy nature could always disarm him again, so completely, indeed, that his own expectation seemed almost pedantic to him.   3
  Lena with her simplicity, genuineness, and directness of speech often recurred to his mind, but vanished again as quickly; and only when chance recalled some special incident very vividly did her image come to him with greater distinctness, and perhaps a stronger feeling with which some embarrassment was mingled.   4
  Such an incident happened during the first summer, when the young couple, who had returned from dining with Count Alten, were sitting on the balcony taking tea. Katherine was leaning back in her chair listening to a newspaper article which was profusely interspersed with figures, and dealt with the subject of minister’s salaries and surplice fees. She actually understood very little of the subject, and all the less because the many figures troubled her, but she listened rather attentively, because all the young girls of her province spend half their youth “with the minister” and so they retain a certain sympathy with the affairs of the parsonage. This was the case to-day. Finally evening came on and just as it was growing dark the concert at the Zoological Garden began and the tones of a ravishing Strauss Waltz reached them.   5
  “Only listen, Botho,” said Katherine, rising, while she added eagerly: “Come, let us dance.” And without waiting for his consent, she pulled him up out of his chair and waltzed with him into the large room from which the balcony opened and then two or three times around the room. Then she kissed him, and while she clung to him caressingly she said: “Do you know, Botho, I never danced so wonderfully before, not even at my first ball, that I went to while I was still at Frau Zülow’s and had not yet been confirmed, if I must confess it. Uncle Osten took me on his own responsibility and mamma knows nothing about it to this very day. But even then it was not so lovely as to-day. And yet forbidden fruit is the sweetest. Isn’t it? But you are not saying anything, Botho, you seem embarrassed. See, now I have caught you again.”   6
  He attempted to say something or other, but she did not give him a chance to speak. “I really believe, Botho, my sister Ina has taken your fancy and it is of no use your trying to comfort me by saying that she is only a little half-grown girl or not much more. Those are always the most dangerous. Don’t you think so? Now I am not going to take any notice and I do not grudge it to you or to her. But I am very jealous about old affairs of long ago, far, far more jealous than of things that may happen now.”   7
  “How curious,” said Botho, and tried to laugh.   8
  “And yet after all it is not so curious as it may look,’ Katherine went on. “Don’t you see, affairs that are going on now one has almost under one’s eyes; and it must be a hard case and an arch deceiver, if one should notice nothing and so be completely betrayed. But there is no control possible over old stories; there might be a thousand and three, and one might hardly know it.”   9
  “And what one does not know …”  10
  “May make one’s anger grow. But let us drop all this and read me something more from the paper. I was reminded constantly of our Kluckhuhns. And the good wife can’t understand it, and the oldest boy is just going to the University.  11
  Such incidents happened more and more frequently and led Botho to recall old times as well as Lena’s image; but he never saw her, which surprised him, because he knew that they were almost neighbors.  12
  This surprised him and yet it would have been easily explained had he promptly ascertained that Frau Nimptsch and Lena were no longer living at the old place. And yet this was the case. From the day when she had met the young couple on the Lützowstrasse, Lena had told her old mother that she could no longer stay in the Dörr’s house. And when Mother Nimptsch, who used never to contradict her, shook her head and whimpered and continually pointed to the fireplace, Lena said: “Mother, you know me. I will never rob you of your open fire; you shall have everything again that you have had; I have saved up money enough for it, and even if I had not, I would work until I had got it together. But we must get away from here. Every day I should have to pass that way, and I could never stand it, mother. I do not grudge him his happiness, and what is more, I am glad that he has it. God is my witness, for he was a dear, good man and lived only for my sake; no pride, no stinginess. And I will say it right out, for all that I cannot bear fine gentlemen, he is a real nobleman, and his heart is in the right place. Yes, my dear Botho, you must be happy, as happy as you deserve to be. But I cannot bear to see it, mother, I must get away from here, for I cannot take ten steps without imagining that he is right there before me. And that keeps me all in a tremble. No, no, it will never do. But you shall have your fireplace. I am your Lena, and I promise you that.”  13
  After this talk there was no more opposition on the part of old Frau Nimptsch and even Frau Dörr said: “Of course, you will have to go. And it serves that old miser, Dörr, right. He is always grumbling at me that you are getting the place too cheap and that what you pay would never cover rent and repairs. Now let him see how he likes it when he had the whole place standing empty. For that is how it will be. For who is going to move into such a doll’s house, where every cat can peek in at the window and there is no gas nor running water. Well, it is plain; you can give a quarter’s notice and at Easter you can leave, and it will do him no good to make a fuss. And I am really glad of it; yes, Lena, I am so glad. But then I have to pay for my bit of malice too, For when you are gone, child, and good Frau Nimptsch with her fire and her teakettle that is always boiling, what shall I have left, Lena? Only him and Sultan and the poor foolish boy, who keeps growing more foolish. And nobody else in the world. And when it grows cold and the snow falls, it is enough to drive one crazy, simply sitting still and all alone.”  14
  Such were the early discussions, since Lena held fast to her plan of moving, and at Easter time, a furniture wagon drew up before th door to carry away her household possessions. Old Dörr had behaved surprisingly well at the last and after a formal farewell Frau Nimptsch was bundled into a Droschke with her squirrel and her goldfinch and carried to the Luise Bank, where Lena had hired a charming little flat, three fights up, and had not only gotten a little new furniture, but had remembered her promise, and had arranged to have a pleasant open fireplace built on to the big stove in the front room. The landlord had at first made all sorts of difficulties, “because such an addition would ruin the stove.” But Lena had persevered and had given her reasons, which made such an impression on the landlord, an old master-carpenter who was pleased with such ideas, that at last he was disposed to yield.  15
  The two now lived in much the same was that they had formerly done in the house in the Dörr’s garden, only with this difference, that they were now three flights up and that they looked out upon the beautiful tower of Michael’s church instead of the fantastic tower of the elephants’ house. Indeed, the view that they enjoyed was delightful, and so free and fine that it even influenced the habits of old Frau Nimptsch and induced her not to sit all the time on the bench by the fire, but when the sun was shining, to sit by the open window, where Lena had managed to have a little platform placed. All this did old Frau Nimptsch a great deal of good and even improved her health, so that since her change f abode, she suffered much less pain than in the Dörr’s little house, which, however poetically it was situated, was not much better than a cellar.  16
  For the rest, never a week passed without Frau Dörr’s coming all the long distance form the Zoological Garden to the Luise Bank, simply “to see how everything was going on.” During these visits she talked, after the manner of Berlin wives, exclusively about her husband, and always in a tone which implied that her marriage to him had been one of the most dreadful mésalliances and really half inexplicable. In fact, however, she was extremely comfortable and contented, and was actually glad that Dörr had his peculiarities. For she reaped only advantages from them, first, to grow richer all the time, and second (an advantage which she valued quite as highly) without any danger of change or loss of property she could continually hold herself superior to the old miser and reproach him for his niggardly ways. So Dörr was the principal theme of these conversations and Lena, unless she was at Goldstein’s or somewhere else in town, always laughed heartily with the others, all the more so because she, as well as Frau Nimptsch, had visibly improved in health since they had moved. The moving in, buying and placing of house furnishings had, as one may imagine, led her away from her own thoughts from the beginning and what was still more helpful and important for her health and the recovery of her spirits was that she no longer needed to fear a meeting with Botho. Who came away out to the Luise Bank? Certainly not Botho. All this combined to make her seem comparatively fresh and cheerful again, and only one outward sign remained of the struggles she had been through: in the midst of her long hair there was one white strand. Mother Nimptsch either did not notice this or did not think much about it, but Frau Dörr, who in her own way followed the fashions and was uncommonly proud of her own braid of hair, noticed the white lock at once and said: “Good Lord, Lena. And right on the left side. But naturally … that is where the trouble is … it would have to be on the left.”  17
  It was soon after the moving that this conversation took place. Otherwise there was usually no mention either of Botho or of the old days, which was simply because whenever the gossip turned in this special direction, Lena always broke off the conversation quickly or even left the room. As this happened again and again, Frau Dörr remarked it and learned to keep silence about topics which proved unwelcome. So things went on for a year and then there appeared another reason that made it seem inadvisable to recall past incidents. A new neighbour had hired a room just on the other side of the wall from Frau Nimptsch, and while he seemed to wish to be on neighbourly terms from the beginning, he soon promised to become even more than a good neighbour. He would come in every evening and talk, so that it seemed like the old times when Dörr used to sit on his stool smoking his pipe, only that the new neighbour was very different in may ways. He was a correct and well educated man, with very proper although not exactly fine manners, and was also a good talker. When Lena was present, he would talk about all sorts of town affairs, such as schools, gas works, or canals, and sometimes also about his travels. If it happened that he found the old lady alone, he was not at all annoyed, but would play “everlasting” or checkers or would help her with a game of patience, in spite of the fact that he hated cards. For he was a Conventicler, and after he had taken some part with the Mennonites and later with the followers of Irving, he had still more recently founded a separate sect.  18
  As may be readily imagined, all this aroused Frau Dörr’s curiosity to the highest pitch, and she was never weary of asking questions, and making allusions, but only when Lena was busy at some household task or had matters to attend to in town. “Tell me, dear Frau Nimptsch, just what is he, really? I have tried to hunt him up, but he is not in the book; Dörr never has any later one than year before last. His name is Franke?”  19
  “Yes, Franke.”  20
  “Franke. There used to be one on the Ohmgasse, a master cooper, and he had only one eye; that is, the other eye was still there, but it was all white and looked just like a fish’s bladder. And what do you suppose had happened to it? When he went to put on a hoop, it had sprung loose and the end had hit him in the eye. That is how it was. Could he have come from there?”  21
  “No, Frau Dörr, he is not from anywhere near here. He is from Bremen.”  22
  “Well, well. Then of course it is quite natural.”  23
  Frau Nimptsch nodded in assent, without seeking to be further enlightened as to this “naturalness,” and went on talking herself: “And it only takes a fortnight to go from Bremen to America. And he has been there. And he was a tinman or a locksmith or a workman in a machine shop or something like that, but when he saw that he could not make it go, he became a doctor and went around with a lot of little bottles and he began to preach too. And because he reached so well, he got a position with the … There now, I have forgotten it again. But they must have been very pious people and good proper people too.”  24
  “Glory be to God!” said Frau Dörr. “Surely he was not.… Heavens, what is the name of those people that have so many wives, always six or seven and sometimes even more.… I don’t know what they do with so many.”  25
  This theme seemed made on purpose for Frau Dörr. But Frau Nimptsch reassured her friend: “No, dear Frau Dörr, it is quite different. At first I thought it was something like that, but he laughed and said: ‘The Lord forbid, Frau Nimptsch. I am a bachelor. And if I ever marry, I think one will be quite enough.’”  26
  “Oh, that takes a load off my heart,” said Frau Dörr. “And what happened afterwards? I mean over in America.”  27
  “Well, after that everything went well and it was not long till he ad help enough. For religious people are always helping each other. And he found customers again and got back to his old trade. And that is what he works at now, and he is in a big factory here on the Köpnickerstrasse, where they make little tubes and burners and stopcocks and everything that is needed for gas. And he is the chief man, something like a foreman carpenter or foreman mason, and has perhaps a hundred under him. And he is a very respectable man and he wears a tall hat and black gloves. And he has a good salary too.”  28
  “And Lena?”  29
  “Oh, Lena, she would take him all right. And why not? But she cannot hold her tongue, and if he comes and says anything to her, she is going to tell him everything, all the old stories, first the one with Kuhlwein (and that is so long ago that it is just as if it never had happened), and then all about the Baron. And Franke, you must know, is a refined and well-behaved man, and really a gentleman.”  30
  “We must persuade her out of that. He does not need to know everything; why should he? We never know everything; why should he? We never know everything.”  31
  “Yes, yes. But Lena …”  32



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