Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘Quisisana’
By Friedrich Spielhagen (1829–1911)
Translation of H. E. Goldschmidt
  [Uncle Bertram, in the grief of his hopeless and unconfessed love, has sought relief in the excitement of political life; and a brilliant career is opening before him, when his health, undermined by his secret sorrow and feverish activity, gives way. On the morrow he is to make an important speech; his physician has warned him that it would be “undesirable.” In death he “recovers his health,” and this lends to the title of the novel a subtle moral significance: “Where one grows well again.”]

“THEN you insist upon joining in to-morrow’s debate?” the doctor was saying.  1
  “I flatter myself that it is necessary!” replied Bertram.  2
  “As a political partisan I admit it; as your medical adviser I repeat, it is impossible.”  3
  “Come, my good friend, you said just now it is undesirable; now from that to impossible is rather a bold step. We had better stick to the first statement.”  4
  The doctor, who had taken up his hat and stick a few minutes before, laid both down again; pushed Bertram into the chair before his writing-table; sat down again facing him; and said:—  5
  “Judging from your momentary condition, it is merely desirable that you should have at present absolute repose for at least a few days. But I very much fear that to-morrow’s inevitable excitement will make you worse; and then the downright necessity for rest will arise, and that not only for a few days. Let me speak quite frankly, Bertram. I know that I shall not frighten you, although I should rather like to do so. You are causing me real anxiety. I greatly regret that I kept you last autumn from your projected Italian trip, and that I pushed and urged you into the fatigues of an election campaign, and into the harassing anxieties of parliamentary life. I assumed that this energetic activity would contribute to your complete restoration to health; and I find that I made a grievous mistake. And yet I am not aware exactly where the mistake was made. You mastered your parliamentary duties with such perfect ease, you entered the arena so well prepared and armed from top to toe, you used your weapons with all the skill of a past master, and you were borne along by such an ample measure of success—and that of course has its great value. Well, according to all human understanding and experience, the splendid and relatively easy discharge of duties for which you are so eminently fitted should contribute to your well-being; and yet the very opposite is occurring. In spite of all my cogitations I can find but one theory to account for it. In spite of the admirable equanimity which you always preserve, in spite of the undimmed serenity of your disposition and appearance, by which you charm your friends whilst you frequently disarm your foes, there must be a hidden something in your soul that gnaws away at your vitals,—a deep, dark undercurrent of grief and pain. Am I right? You know that I am not asking the question from idle curiosity.”  6
  “I know it,” replied Bertram; “and therefore I answer: you are right and yet not right, or right only if you hold me responsible for the effect of a cause I was guiltless of.”  7
  “You answer in enigmas, my friend.”  8
  “Let me try a metaphor. Say, somebody is compelled to live in a house in which the architect made some grave mistake at the laying of the foundations, or at some important period or other of its erection. The tenant is a quiet, steady man, who keeps the house in good order; then comes a storm, and the ill-constructed building is terribly shaken and strained. The steady-going tenant repairs the damage as best he can, and things go on fairly enough for a time, a long time; until there comes another and a worse storm, which makes the whole house topple together over his head.”  9
  The doctor’s dark eyes had been dwelling searchingly and sympathizingly upon the speaker. Now he said:—  10
  u I think I understand your metaphor. Of course it only meets a portion of the case. I happen to know the house in question extremely well. True, there was one weak point in it from the beginning, in spite of its general excellent construction, but—”  11
  “But me no buts,” interrupted Bertram eagerly. “Given the one weak point, and all the rest naturally follows. I surely need not point out to such a faithful disciple of Spinoza’s, that thought and expansion are but attributes of one and the same substance; that there is no physiological case that does not, rightly viewed, turn to a psychological one; that so excitable a heart as mine must needs be impressed by things more than other hearts whose bands do not snap, happen what may and notwithstanding all the storms of Fate. Or are you sure that if you had had to examine the heart of Werther, or of Eduard in the ‘Elective Affinities,’ you would not have found things undreamed-of by æsthetic philosophers? I belong to the same race. I neither glory in this nor do I blush for it; I simply state a fact,—a fact which embodies my fate, before whose power I bow, or rather whose power bows me down in spite of my resistance. For however much I may by disposition belong to the last century, yet I am also a citizen of our own time; nor can I be deaf to its bidding. I know full well that modern man can no longer live and die exclusively for his private joys and sorrows; I know full well that I have a fatherland whose fame, honor, and greatness I am bound to hold sacred, and to which I am indebted as long as a breath stirs within me. I know it; and I believe that I have proved it according to my strength, both formerly, and again now when—”  12
  He covered forehead and eyes with his hands, and so sat for a while in deep emotion, which his medical friend respected by keeping perfectly silent. Then looking up again, Bertram went on in a hushed voice:—  13
  “My friend, that last storm was very, very strong. It shook the feeble building to its very foundation. What is now causing your anxiety is indeed but a consequence of that awful tempest. The terribly entrancing details no one as yet knows except one woman, whom an almost identical fate made my confidante; and who will keep my secret absolutely. So would you, I know. You have been before this my counselor and my father-confessor. And so you will be another time, perhaps, if you desire it and deem it necessary. To-day only this one remark more, for your own satisfaction: I read in your grave countenance the same momentous question which my confidante put to me, Whether I am willing to recover? I answered to the best of my knowledge and belief, Yes! I consider it my duty to be willing. It is a duty simply towards my electors, who have not honored me with their votes that I may lay me down and die of an unhappy and unrequited attachment. If the latter does happen,—I mean my dying,—you will bear witness that it was done against my will, solely in consequence of that mistake in the original construction which the architect was guilty of. But in order that it may not happen, or may at least not happen so soon, you, my friend, must allow me to do the very thing which you have forbidden. The dream I dreamed was infinitely beautiful; and to speak quite frankly, real life seems barren and dreary in comparison with it. The contrast is too great; and I can only efface it somewhat by mixing with the insipid food a strong spice of excitement, such as our parliamentary kitchen is just now supplying in the best quality, and of which our head cook is sure to give us an extra dose to-morrow. And therefore I must be in my place at the table to-morrow and make my dinner speech. Quod erat demonstrandum.”  14
  He held out his hand with a smile. His friend smiled too. It was a very melancholy smile, and vanished again forthwith.  15
  “What a pity,” he said, “that the cleverest patients are the most intractable. But I have vowed I will never have a clever one again, after you.”  16
  “In truth,” replied Bertram, “I am giving you far too much trouble. In your great kindness and friendship you come to me almost in the middle of the night, when you ought to be resting from your day’s heavy toil; you come of your own accord, simply impelled by a faithful care for my well-being; and finally, you have to return with ingratitude and disobedience for your reward. Well, well, let us hope for better things; and let me have the pleasure of seeing you again to-morrow.”  17
  Konski came in with a candle to show the doctor the way down; for the lights in the house had long since been extinguished. The gentlemen were once more shaking hands, and the physician slipped his on to Bertram’s wrist. Then he shook his head.  18
  “Konski,” he said, turning to the servant, “if your master has a fancy one of these days to drink a glass of champagne, you may give him one, as an exception; but only one.”  19
  “Now remember that, Konski!” said Bertram.  20
  “It is not likely that it will happen,” grumbled Konski.  21
  “Konski will leave me to-morrow,” explained Bertram.  22
  “Will, is it? No, I won’t, but—”  23
  “All right!” said his master: “we must not bother the doctor with our private affairs. Good-by, my friend! With your leave I will dine with you to-morrow.”  24
  The physician left; Bertram immediately again sat down at the writing-table, and resumed the work which this late visit had interrupted. It was a disputed election case, and he would have to report upon it to the House. There had been some irregularities, and it was in the interest of his own party that the election should be declared null and void; he had been examining the somewhat complicated data with all the greater conscientiousness and care. But now he lost the thread, and was turning over the voluminous pages of the evidence, when lo! a daintily folded sheet of paper—a letter—fell out.  25
  “Good heavens! how came this here?”  26
  He seized upon it with eagerness, as a wandering beggar might seize upon a gold coin which he saw glittering among the dust on the road. The hot blood surged to the temples from the sick and sore heart; the hand that held the slight paper trembled violently.  27
  “Now he would not be grumbling at my slow pulse!”  28
  Yesterday morning he had received this letter, but had not succeeded in composing himself sufficiently to read more than a few lines. He had thought that perhaps on his return from the Reichstag he might be in a more settled frame of mind. Then he had not been able to find again the letter which had been laid aside, although he had searched for hours,—first alone, then with Konski.  29
  And now—after all those documents were pushed aside—he was again, as yesterday, staring hard at the page; and again, as yesterday, the different lines ran into each other: but he shook his head angrily, drew his hand over his eyes, and then read:—

CAPRI, April 24th.    
Dearest Uncle Bertram:
  If to-day for the first time in our travels I write to you, take this as a gentle punishment for not having come to our wedding. Take it—no, I must not tell you a falsehood, not even in jest. We—I mean Kurt and myself—regretted your absence greatly; but were angry only with those wretched politics, which would not release you just at a time when, as Kurt explained to me, such important matters were at stake. Take then, I pray you, my prolonged silence as a proof of the confusion under which I labor amidst the thousand new impressions of travel, and through the hurry with which we have traveled. Kurt has just four weeks’ leave, so we had indeed to make haste: and therefore we steamed direct from Genoa to Naples, calling at Leghorn only; and yesterday evening we arrived there, only to leave this morning and to sail to Capri, favored by a lively tramontane.
  I am writing this my first letter upon the balcony of a house in Capri.
  Dearest Uncle Bertram, do you know such a house, which “stands amidst orange groves, with sublimest view of the blue infinity of the ocean,—a fair white hostelry embowered in roses”?
  The words are your own; and do you know when you spoke them to me? On that first night when I met you in the forest on the Hirschstein hill. You have probably forgotten it, but I remember it well; and all through the journey your words were ever before me: and of all the glories of Italy, I wanted first to see the house which had since then remained in your fond remembrance, where you “ever since longed to be back again,” and the very name of which was always to you “a sound of comfort, of promise: Qui si sana!”
  And now we are here—we who need no comfort, we to whom all promise of earthly bliss has been fulfilled; and so drink in the blue air of heaven, and inhale the sweet fragrance of roses and oranges.
  And you, dearest Uncle Bertram, you dwell—your heart full of longing for fair Quisisana—yonder in the dull gray North, buried beneath parliamentary papers, wearied and worn: and, uncle, that thought is the one gray cloud, the only one in the wide blue vault of heaven; like the one floating yonder above the rugged rocky front of Monte Solaro, of which our young landlord, Federigo, foretells that it will bring us a burrasca. I gave him a good scolding, and told him I wanted sunshine, plenty of sunshine, and nothing but sunshine; but I thought of you only, and not of us. And surely for you too, who are so noble and good, the sun does shine, and you walk in its light, in the sunny light of great fame! Yes, Uncle Bertram, however modest you are, you must yet be glad and proud to learn how your greatness is recognized and admired. I am not speaking of your friends, for that is a matter of course; but of your political opponents. In Genoa, at the table d’hôte, we made the acquaintance of some count from Pomerania,—I have forgotten his name,—with whom Kurt talked politics a good deal. In the evening the count brought us a Berlin paper, which contained your last great speech. “Look here,” he said: “there is a man from whom all can learn,—one of whom each party should be proud.” He had no idea why Kurt looked so pleased and proud, nor why I burst into tears when I read your splendid speech.
  Only fancy, Uncle Bertram! Signor Federigo has just brought me, at my request, an old visitors’ book—the one for the year 1859, the year in which I knew you had been here. Many leaves had been torn out, but the one upon which you had written your name was preserved; and the date turns out to be that of the very day on which I was born! Is not this passing strange? Signor Federigo has of course had to present the precious leaf to me; which he did with a most graceful bow,—the paper in one hand and the other laid upon his heart,—and we have resolved to celebrate here the day of your arrival in Capri and of my arrival in the world. Why indeed should we travel so swiftly? There can be no fairer scene than this anywhere. Sunshine, the fragrance of roses, the bright blue sky, the everlasting sea, my Kurt,—and the recollection of you, whose dear image every rock, every palm-tree, everything I see, brings as if by magic before my inner eye! No, no: we surely will stay here until my birthday.
  Signor Federigo is calling from the veranda that “Madama” has only five minutes more for writing if the letter is to leave to-day. Of course it is to leave to-day; but I have the terrible conviction of having written nothing so far. It cannot now be helped. So next time I will tell you everything that I could not do to-day: about my parents, who are writing letters full of happiness—papa in particular, who seems delighted that he has given up his factories, which surprised me greatly; about Agatha’s engagement to Herr von Busche,—which did not surprise me, for I saw it coming during the merry-makings previous to my wedding; about—
  Signor Federigo, you are intolerable!
  Dear Kurt, I cannot let you have the remaining space of two lines, for I absolutely require it myself to send my beloved Uncle Bertram a most hearty greeting and kiss from Quisisana.
  Bertram laid the paper very gently down upon the table; he was stooping to imprint a kiss upon it, but before his lips touched the letter he drew himself up abruptly.  31
  “No: she knows not what she does, but you know it, and she is your neighbor’s wife! Shame upon you! Pluck it out,—the eye that offends you, and the base criminal heart as well!”  32
  He seized the parliamentary papers, then paused.  33
  “Until her birthday! Well, she will assuredly expect a few kind words, and has a right to expect them; nay, more, she would interpret my silence wrongly. I wonder whether there is yet time? When is her birthday? She has not mentioned the date: I think somewhere in the beginning of May. Now, on what day did I arrive there?”  34
  He had not long to seek in the old diaries, which he kept methodically and preserved with care. There was the entry:—“May 1st. Arrived in Capri, and put up at a house which I found it hard to climb up to; the name had an irresistible attraction for me: Quisisana—Sit omen in nomine!”  35
  “The first of May! Why, to-morrow is the first. It is too late for a letter, of course; but a telegram will do, if dispatched at once. Konski!”  36
  The faithful servant entered.  37
  “My good Konski, I am very sorry, but you must be off to the telegraph office at once. To-morrow is the birthday of Miss Erna;—well, well, you know! Of course she must hear from me.”  38
  He had written a few lines in German; then it occurred to him that it might be safer to write them in Italian. So he re-wrote them.  39
  Konski, who had meanwhile got himself ready, entered the room.  40
  “You will scarcely be back before midnight. And Konski, we must begin the morrow cheerfully. So put the key of the cellar into your pocket, and bring a bottle of champagne with you when you return. No remonstrance, otherwise I shall put into your ‘character’ to-morrow, ‘Dismissed for disobedience’!”…  41
  It was nearly three o’clock when the doctor came hurrying in. Konski would not leave the master, and had dispatched the porter. Konski took the doctor’s hat and stick, and pointed in silence—he could not speak—to the big couch at the bottom of the room. The doctor took the lamp to the writing-table, and held it to the pale face. Konski followed and relieved him of the lamp, whilst the doctor made his investigation.  42
  “He must have been dead an hour or more,” he said, looking up. “Why did you not send sooner? Put the lamp back on the writing-table, and tell me all you know.”  43
  He had sat down in Bertram’s chair. “Take a chair,” he went on, “and tell me all.”  44
  Then Konski told.  45
  He had come back at a quarter past twelve from the telegraph office; and had found his master writing away busily when he brought in the bottle of champagne which he had been ordered to fetch from the cellar. His master had scolded him for bringing only one glass, and made him fetch another; for they must both drink and clink glasses to the health of the young lady.  46
  “Then,” the servant went on, “I sat opposite to him, for the first time in my life, in that corner, at the small round table; he in the one chair and I in the other. And he chatted with me, not like a master with his servant, no: exactly—well, I cannot describe it, sir; but you know how good and kind he always was. I never heard an unkind word from him all these ten years I have been with him; and if ever he was a bit angry, he always made up for it afterwards. And to-morrow I was to leave for Rinstedt to get married; and he had given us our furniture and all, and fitted up a new shop for us into the bargain. Then we talked a good deal of Rinstedt, and of the manœuvres last year, and of Miss Erna that was, and of Italy,—where, as you know, sir, I was with the master two years ago. Well, I mean, it was not I who was talking so much, but master; and I could have gone on listening, listening forever, when he was telling of Capri, where we did not get that time, and where Mrs. Ringberg is staying now—Miss Erna as was. And then his eyes shone and sparkled splendidly; but he hardly drank any wine,—just enough to pledge the young lady’s health with, and the rest is in his glass still. But he made me fill up mine again and again, for I could stand it, said he, and he could not, he said, and he would presently finish his work; and there are the papers on the table in front of you, sir, that he had been looking at. And then, of a sudden like, he says, ‘Konski, I am getting tired: I shall lie down for half an hour. You just finish the bottle meanwhile, and call me at half past one sharp.’ It was just striking one o’clock then.  47
  “So he lay down, and I put the rug over him, sir; and oh—I’ll never forgive myself for it; but all day long I had been running backward and forward about these things of mine, and then at last the long walk at night to the telegraph office, and perhaps the champagne had gone to my head a bit, since I am sure that I had not sat for five minutes before I was asleep. And when I woke it was not half past one but half past two; so that I was regular frightened like. But as the master was a-sleeping calm and steady, I thought, even as I was standing quite close to him, that it was a pity to wake him, even though he was lying on his left side again; which formerly he could not bear at all, and which you, sir, had forbidden so particularly. I mind of our first meeting in Rinstedt, sir, but then he did wake up again;—and now he is dead.”  48
  Konski was crying bitterly. The doctor held out his hand to him.  49
  “It is no fault of yours. Neither you nor I could have kept him alive. Now leave me here alone; you may wait in the next room.”  50
  After Konski had left, the doctor went to the little round table on which the empty bottle and two glasses were standing,—one empty, one half full. Above the sofa, to the right and left, were gas brackets, with one lighted jet on either side. He held the half-full glass to the light and shook it. Bright beads were rising from the clear liquid.  51
  He put the glass down again, and murmured:—  52
  “He never spoke an untruth! It was in any case solely a question of time. He drank his death draught six months ago. The only wonder is that he bore it so long.”  53
  Erna’s letter was lying on the table. The doctor read it almost mechanically.  54
  “Pretty much as I thought!” he muttered. “Such a clever, and as it would seem, large-hearted girl; and yet—but they are all alike!”  55
  A scrap of paper, with something in Bertram’s handwriting, caught his eye. It was the German telegram.  56
  “All hail—happiness and blessing—to-day and forever for my darling child in Quisisana.”  57
  The doctor rose, and was now pacing up and down the chamber with folded arms. From the adjoining room, the door of which was left ajar, he heard suppressed sobs. The faithful servant’s unconcealed grief had well-nigh unchained the bitter sorrow in his own heart. He brushed the tears from his eyes, stepped to the couch, and drew the covering back.  58
  He stood there long, lost in marveling contemplation.  59
  The beautiful lofty brow, overshadowed by the soft and abundant hair, the dark color of which was not broken by one silvery thread; the daintily curved lips, that seemed about to open for some witty saying,—lips the pallor of which was put to shame by the whiteness of the teeth, which were just visible; the broad-arched chest,—what wonder that the man of fifty had felt in life like a youth!—like the youth for whom Death had taken him.  60
  From those pure and pallid features Death had wiped away even the faintest remembrance of the woe which had broken the noble heart.  61
  Now it was still—still for evermore!  62
  He laid his hand upon that silent heart.  63
  “Qui si sana!” he said, very gently.  64

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