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Title: Frau Bertha Garlan. English - Bertha Garlan
Author: Schnitzler, Arthur, 1862-1931
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Frau Bertha Garlan. English - Bertha Garlan" ***

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BERTHA GARLAN

BY ARTHUR SCHNITZLER



I


She was walking slowly down the hill; not by the broad high road which
wound its way towards the town, but by the narrow footpath between the
trellises of the vines. Her little boy was with her, hanging on to her
hand and walking all the time a pace in front of her, because there was
not room on the footpath for them to walk side by side.

The afternoon was well advanced, but the sun still poured down upon her
with sufficient power to cause her to pull her dark straw hat a little
further down over her forehead and to keep her eyes lowered. The slopes,
at the foot of which the little town lay nestling, glimmered as though
seen through a golden mist; the roofs of the houses below glistened, and
the river, emerging yonder amongst the meadows outside the town,
stretched, shimmering, into the distance. Not a quiver stirred the air,
and it seemed as if the cool of the evening was yet far remote.

Bertha stooped for a moment and glanced about her. Save for her boy, she
was all alone on the hillside, and around her brooded a curious
stillness. At the cemetery, too, on the hilltop, she had not met anybody
that day, not even the old woman who usually watered the flowers and kept
the graves tidy, and with whom Bertha used often to have a chat. Bertha
felt that somehow a considerable time had elapsed since she had started
on her walk, and that it was long since she had spoken to anyone.

The church clock struck--six. So, then, scarcely an hour had passed since
she had left the house, and an even shorter time since she had stopped in
the street to chat with the beautiful Frau Rupius. Yet even the few
minutes which had slipped away since she had stood by her husband's grave
now seemed to be long past.

"Mamma!"

Suddenly she heard her boy call. He had slipped his hand out of hers and
had run on ahead.

"I can walk quicker than you, mamma!"

"Wait, though! Wait, Fritz!" exclaimed Bertha. "You're not going to leave
your mother alone, are you?"

She followed him and again took him by the hand.

"Are we going home already?" asked Fritz.

"Yes; we will sit by the open window until it grows quite dark."

Before long they had reached the foot of the hill and they began to walk
towards the town in the shade of the chestnut trees which bordered the
high-road, now white with dust. Here again they met but few people. Along
the road a couple of wagons came towards them, the drivers, whip in
hand, trudging along beside the horses. Then two cyclists rode by from
the town towards the country, leaving clouds of dust behind them. Bertha
stopped mechanically and gazed after them until they had almost
disappeared from view.

In the meantime Fritz had clambered up onto the bench beside the road.

"Look, mamma! See what I can do!"

He made ready to jump, but his mother took hold of him by the arms and
lifted him carefully to the ground. Then she sat down on the bench.

"Are you tired?" asked Fritz.

"Yes," she answered, surprised to find that she was indeed feeling
fatigued.

It was only then that she realized that the sultry air had wearied her to
the point of sleepiness. She could not, moreover, remember having
experienced such warm weather in the middle of May.

From the bench on which she was sitting she could trace back the course
of the path down which she had come. In the sunlight it ran between the
vine-trellises, up and up, until it reached the brightly gleaming wall of
the cemetery. She was in the habit of taking a walk along that path two
or three times a week. She had long since ceased to regard such visits to
the cemetery as anything other than a mere walk. When she wandered about
the well-kept gravel paths amongst the crosses and the tombstones, or
stood offering up a silent prayer beside her husband's grave, or, maybe,
laying upon it a few wild flowers which she had plucked on her way up,
her heart was scarcely any longer stirred by the slightest throb of pain.
Three years had, indeed, passed since her husband had died, which was
just as long as their married life had lasted.

Her eyes closed and her mind went back to the time when she had first
come to the town, only a few days after their marriage--which had taken
place in Vienna. They had only indulged in a modest honeymoon trip, such
as a man in humble circumstances, who had married a woman without any
dowry, could treat himself to. They had taken the boat from Vienna, up
the river, to a little village in Wachau, not far from their future home,
and had spent a few days there. Bertha could still remember clearly the
little inn at which they had stayed, the riverside garden in which they
used to sit after sunset, and those quiet, rather tedious, evenings which
were so completely different from those her girlish imagination had
previously pictured to her as the evenings which a newly-married couple
would spend. Of course, she had had to be content.

She was twenty-six years old and quite alone in the world when Victor
Mathias Garlan had proposed to her. Her parents had recently died. A long
time before, one of her brothers had gone to America to seek his fortune
as a merchant. Her younger brother was on the stage; he had married an
actress, and was playing comedy parts in third-rate German theatres. She
was almost out of touch with her relations and the only one whom she
visited occasionally was a cousin who had married a lawyer. But even that
friendship had grown cool as years had passed, because the cousin had
become wrapped up in her husband and children exclusively, and had almost
ceased to take any interest in the doings of her unmarried friend.

Herr Garlan was a distant relation of Bertha's mother. When Bertha was
quite a young girl he had often visited the house and made love to her in
a rather awkward way. In those days she had no reasons to encourage him,
because it was in another guise that her fancy pictured life and
happiness to her. She was young and pretty; her parents, though not
actually wealthy people, were comfortably off, and her hope was rather to
wander about the world as a great pianiste, perhaps, as the wife of an
artist, than to lead a modest existence in the placid routine of the home
circle. But that hope soon faded. One day her father, in a transport of
domestic fervour, forbade her further attendance at the conservatoire of
music, which put an end to her prospects of an artistic career and at the
same time to her friendship with the young violinist who had since made
such a name for himself.

The next few years were singularly dull. At first, it is true, she felt
some slight disappointment, or even pain, but these emotions were
certainly of short duration. Later on she had received offers of
marriage from a young doctor and a merchant. She refused both of them;
the doctor because he was too ugly, and the merchant because he lived in
a country town. Her parents, too, were by no means enthusiastic about
either suitor.

When, however, Bertha's twenty-sixth birthday passed and her father lost
his modest competency through a bankruptcy, it had been her lot to put up
with belated reproaches on the score of all sorts of things which she
herself had begun to forget--her youthful artistic ambitions, her love
affair of long ago with the violinist, which had seemed likely to lead to
nothing, and the lack of encouragement which the ugly doctor and the
merchant from the country received at her hands.

At that time Victor Mathias Garlan was no longer resident in Vienna. Two
years before, the insurance company, in which he had been employed since
he had reached the age of twenty, had, at his own request, transferred
him, in the capacity of manager, to the recently-established branch in
the little town on the Danube where his married brother carried on
business as a wine merchant. In the course of a somewhat lengthy
conversation which took place on the occasion of his farewell visit to
Bertha's parents, and which created a certain impression upon her, he had
mentioned that the principal reasons for his asking to be transferred to
the little town were that he felt himself to be getting on in years, that
he had no longer any idea of seeking a wife, and that he desired to have
some sort of a home amongst people who were closely connected with him.
At that time Bertha's parents had made fun of his notion, which seemed to
them somewhat hypochondriacal, for Garlan was then scarcely forty years
old. Bertha herself, however, had found a good deal of common sense in
Garlan's reason, inasmuch as he had never appeared to her as, properly
speaking, a young man.

In the course of the following years Garlan used often to come to Vienna
on business, and never omitted to visit Bertha's family on such
occasions. After supper it was Bertha's custom to play the piano for
Garlan's entertainment, and he used to listen to her with an almost
reverent attention, and would, perhaps, go on to talk of his little
nephew and niece--who were both very musical--and to whom he would often
speak of Fraulein Bertha as the finest pianiste he had ever heard.

It seemed strange, and Bertha's mother could not refrain from commenting
now and again upon it, that, since his diffident wooing in the old days,
Herr Garlan had not once ventured so much as to make the slightest
further allusion to the past, or even to a possible future. And thus
Bertha, in addition to the other reproaches to which she had to listen,
incurred the blame for treating Herr Garlan with too great indifference,
if not, indeed, with actual coldness. Bertha, however, only shook her
head, for at that time she had not so much as contemplated the
possibility of marrying this somewhat awkward man, who had grown old
before his time.

After the sudden death of her mother, which happened at a time when her
father had been lying ill for many months, Garlan reappeared upon the
scene with the announcement that he had obtained a month's holiday--the
only one for which he had ever applied. It was clearly evident to Bertha
that his sole purpose in coming to Vienna was to be of help to her in
that time of trouble and distress. And when Bertha's father died a week
after the funeral of her mother, Garlan proved himself to be a true
friend, and one, moreover, blessed with an amount of energy for which she
had never given him credit. He prevailed on his sister-in-law to come to
Vienna, so that she could help Bertha to tide over the first few weeks of
her bereavement, besides, in some slight degree, distracting her
thoughts. He settled the business affairs capably and quickly. His
kindness of heart did much to cheer Bertha during those sad days, and
when, on the expiration of his leave, he asked her whether she would be
his wife she acquiesced with a feeling of the most profound gratitude.
She was, of course, aware of the fact that if she did not marry him she
would in a few months' time have to earn her own living, probably as a
teacher, and, besides, she had come to appreciate Garlan and had become
so used to his company that she was able, in all sincerity, to answer
"Yes," both when he led her to the altar and subsequently when, as they
set off for their honeymoon, he asked her, for the first time, if she
loved him.

It was true that at the very outset of their married life she
discovered that she felt no love for him. She just let him love her and
put up with the fact, at first with a certain surprise at her own
disillusionment and afterwards with indifference. It was not until she
found that she was about to become a mother that she could bring
herself to reciprocate his affection. She very soon grew accustomed to
the quiet life of the little town, all the more easily because even in
Vienna she had led a somewhat secluded existence. With her husband's
family she felt quite happy and comfortable; her brother-in-law
appeared to be a most genial and amiable person, if not altogether
innocent of an occasional display of coarseness; his wife was
good-natured, and inclined at times to be melancholy. Garlan's nephew,
who was thirteen years old at the time of Bertha's arrival at the
little town, was a pert, good-looking boy; and his niece, a very sedate
child of nine, with large, astonished eyes, conceived a strong
attachment for Bertha from the very first moment that they met.

When Bertha's child was born, he was hailed by the children as a welcome
plaything, and, for the next two years, Bertha felt completely happy. She
even believed at times that it was impossible that her fate could have
taken a more favourable shape. The noise and bustle of the great city
came back to her memory as something unpleasant, almost hazardous; and
on one occasion when she had accompanied her husband to Vienna, in order
to make a few purchases and it so chanced, to her annoyance, that the
streets were wet and muddy with the rain, she vowed never again to
undertake that tedious and wholly unnecessary journey of three hours'
duration. Her husband died suddenly one spring morning three years after
their marriage. Bertha's consternation was extreme. She felt that she had
never taken into consideration the mere possibility of such an event. She
was left in very straitened circumstances. Soon, however, her
sister-in-law, with thoughtful kindness, devised a means by which the
widow could support herself without appearing to accept anything in the
nature of charity. She asked Bertha to take over the musical education of
her children, and also procured for her an engagement as music teacher to
other families in the town. It was tacitly understood amongst the ladies
who engaged her that they should always make it appear as if Bertha had
undertaken these lessons only for the sake of a little distraction, and
that they paid her for them only because they could not possibly allow
her to devote so much time and trouble in that way without some return.
What she earned from this source was quite sufficient to supplement her
income to an amount adequate to meet the demands of her mode of living,
and so, when time had deadened the first keen pangs and the subsequent
sorrow occasioned by her husband's death, she was again quite contented
and cheerful. Her life up to then had not been spent in such a way as to
cause her now to feel the lack of anything. Such thoughts as she gave to
the future were occupied by scarcely any other theme than her son in the
successive stages of his growth, and it was only on rare occasions that
the likelihood of marrying a second time crossed her mind, and then the
idea was always a mere fleeting fancy, for as yet she had met no one whom
she was able seriously to regard in the light of a possible second
husband. The stirrings of youthful desires, which she sometimes felt
within her in her waking morning hours, always vanished as the day
pursued its even course. It was only since the advent of the spring that
she had felt a certain disturbance of her previous sensation of
well-being; no longer were her nights passed in the tranquil and
dreamless sleep of heretofore, and at times she was oppressed by a
sensation of tedium, such as she had never experienced before. Strangest
of all, however, was the sudden access of lassitude which would often
come over her even in the daytime, under the influence of which she
fancied that she could trace the course of her blood as it circled
through her body. She remembered that she had experienced a similar
sensation in the days when she was emerging from childhood. At first this
feeling, in spite of its familiarity, was yet so strange to her that it
seemed as though one of her friends must have told her about it. It was
only when it recurred with ever-increasing frequency that she realized
that she herself had experienced it before.

She shuddered, with a feeling as though she were waking from sleep. She
opened her eyes.

It seemed to her that the air was all a-whirl; the shadows had crept
halfway across the road; away up on the hilltop the cemetery wall no
longer gleamed in the sunlight. Bertha rapidly shook her head to and fro
a few times as though to waken herself thoroughly. It seemed to her as if
a whole day and a whole night had elapsed since she had sat down on the
bench. How was it, then, that in her consciousness time passed in so
disjointed a fashion? She looked around her. Where could Fritz have gone
to? Oh, there he was behind her, playing with Doctor Friedrich's
children. The nursemaid was on her knees beside them, helping them to
build a castle with the sand.

The avenue was now less deserted than it had been earlier in the evening.
Bertha knew almost all the people who passed; she saw them every day. As,
however, most of them were not people to whom she was in the habit of
talking, they flitted by like shadows. Yonder came the saddler, Peter
Nowak, and his wife; Doctor Rellinger drove by in his little country trap
and bowed to her as he passed; he was followed by the two daughters of
Herr Wendelein, the landowner; presently Lieutenant Baier and his
_fiancée_ cycled slowly down the road on their way to the country. Then,
again, there seemed to be a short lull in the movement before her and
Bertha heard nothing but the laughter of the children as they played.

Then, again, she saw that some one was slowly approaching from the town,
and she recognized who it was while he was still a long way off. It was
Herr Klingemann, to whom of late she had been in the habit of talking
more frequently than had previously been her custom. Some twelve years
ago or more he had moved from Vienna to the little town. Gossip had it
that he had at one time been a doctor, and had been obliged to give up
his practice on account of some professional error, or even of some more
serious lapse. Some, however, asserted that he had never qualified as a
doctor at all, but, failing to pass his examinations, had finally given
up the study of medicine. Herr Klingemann, for his own part, gave
himself out to be a philosopher, who had grown weary of life in the
great city after having enjoyed it to satiety, and for that reason had
moved to the little town, where he could live comfortably on what
remained of his fortune.

He was now but little more than five-and-forty. There were still times
when he was of a genial enough aspect, but, for the most part, he had an
extremely dilapidated and disagreeable appearance.

While yet some distance away he smiled at the young widow, but did not
hasten his steps. Finally he stopped before her and gave her an ironical
nod, which was his habitual manner of greeting people.

"Good evening, my pretty lady!" he said.

Bertha returned his salutation. It was one of those days on which Herr
Klingemann appeared to make some claim to elegance and youthfulness. He
was attired in a dark grey frock coat, so tightly fitting that he might
almost have been wearing stays. On his head was a narrow brimmed brown
straw hat with a black band. About his throat, moreover, there was a very
tiny red cravat, set rather askew.

For a time he remained silent, tugging his slightly grizzled fair
moustache upwards and downwards.

"I presume you have come from up there, my dear lady?" he said.

Without turning his head or even his eyes, he pointed his finger over his
shoulder, in a somewhat contemptuous manner, in the direction of the
cemetery behind him.

Throughout the town Herr Klingemann was known as a man to whom nothing
was sacred, and as he stood before her, Bertha could not help thinking of
the various bits of gossip that she had heard about him. It was well
known that his relations with his cook, whom he always referred to as his
housekeeper, were of a somewhat more intimate nature than that merely of
master and servant, and his name was also mentioned in connexion with the
wife of a tobacconist, who, as he had himself told Bertha with proud
regret, deceived him with a captain of the regiment stationed in the
town. Moreover, there were several eligible girls in the neighbourhood
who cherished a certain tender interest in him.

Whenever these things were hinted at Herr Klingemann always made some
sneering remark on the subject of marriage in general, which shocked the
susceptibilities of many, but, on the whole, actually increased the
amount of respect in which he was held.

"I have been out for a short walk," said Bertha.

"Alone?"

"Oh, no; with my boy."

"Yes--yes--of course, there he is! Good evening, my little mortal!"--he
gazed away over Fritz's head as he said this--"may I sit down for a
moment beside you, Frau Bertha?"

He pronounced her name with an ironic inflection and, without waiting for
her to reply, he sat down on the bench.

"I heard you playing the piano this morning," he continued. "Do you know
what kind of an impression it made upon me? This: that with you music
must take the place of everything."

He repeated the word "everything" and, at the same time, looked at Bertha
in a manner which caused her to blush.

"What a pity I so seldom have the opportunity of hearing you play!" he
went on. "If I don't happen to be passing your open window when you are
at the piano--"

Bertha noticed that he kept on edging nearer to her, and that his arm was
touching hers. Involuntarily she moved away. Suddenly she felt herself
seized from behind, her head pulled back over the bench and a hand
clasped over her eyes.

For a moment she thought that it was Klingemann's hand, which she felt
upon her lids.

"Why, you must be mad, sir," she cried.

"How funny it is to hear you call me 'Sir,' Aunt Bertha!" replied the
laughing voice of a boy at her back.

"Well, do let me at least open my eyes, Richard," said Bertha, trying to
remove the boy's hands from her face. "Have you come from home!" she
added, turning round towards him.

"Yes, Aunt, and here's the newspaper which I have brought you."

Bertha took the paper which he handed to her and began to read it.

Klingemann, meanwhile, rose to his feet and turned to Richard.

"Have you done your exercises already?" he asked.

"We have no exercises at all now, Herr Klingemann, because our final
examination is to take place in July."

"So you will actually be a student by this time next year?"

"This time next year! It'll be in the autumn!"

As he said this Richard drummed his fingers along the newspaper.

"What do you want, then, you ill-mannered fellow?" asked Bertha.

"I say, Aunt, will you come and visit me when I am in Vienna?"

"Yes, I should like to catch myself! I shall be glad to be rid of you!"

"Here comes Herr Rupius!" said Richard.

Bertha lowered the paper and looked in the direction indicated by her
nephew's glance. Along the avenue leading from the town a maidservant
came, pushing an invalid's chair, in which a man was sitting. His head
was uncovered and his soft felt hat was lying upon his knees, from which
a plaid rug reached down to his feet. His forehead was lofty; his hair
smooth and fair and slightly grizzled at the temples; his feet were
peculiarly large. As he passed the bench on which Bertha was seated he
only inclined his head slightly, without smiling. Bertha knew that, had
she been alone, he would certainly have stopped; moreover, he looked only
at her as he passed by, and his greeting seemed to apply to her alone. It
seemed to Bertha that she had never before seen such a grave look in his
eyes as on this occasion, and she was exceedingly sorry, for she felt a
profound compassion for the paralysed man.

When Herr Rupius had passed by, Klingemann said:

"Poor devil! And wifie is away as usual on one of her visits to
Vienna, eh?"

"No," answered Bertha, almost angrily. "I was speaking to her only an
hour ago."

Klingemann was silent, for he felt that further remarks on the subject of
the mysterious visits of Frau Rupius to Vienna might not have been in
keeping with his own reputation as a freethinker.

"Won't he really ever be able to walk again?" asked Richard.

"No," said Bertha.

She knew this for a fact because Herr Rupius had told her so himself on
one occasion when she had called on him and his wife was in Vienna.

At that moment Herr Rupius seemed to her to be a particularly pitiful
figure, for, as he was being wheeled past her in his invalid's chair, she
had, in reading the paper, lighted upon the name of one whom she regarded
as a happy man.

Mechanically she read the paragraph again.

"Our celebrated compatriot Emil Lindbach returned to Vienna a few days
ago after his professional tour through France and Spain, in the course
of which he met with many a triumphant reception. In Madrid this
distinguished artist had the honour of playing before the Queen of Spain.
On the 24th of this month Herr Lindbach will take part in the charity
concert which has been organized for the relief of the inhabitants of
Vorarlberg, who have suffered such severe losses as a result of the
recent floods. A keen interest in the concert is being shown by the
public in spite of the fact that the season is so far advanced."

Emil Lindbach! It required a certain effort on Bertha's part to realize
that this was the same man whom she had loved--how many?--twelve years
ago. Twelve years! She could feel the hot blood mount up into her brow.
It seemed to her as though she ought to be ashamed of having gradually
grown older.

The sun had set. Bertha took Fritz by the hand, bade the others good
evening, and walked slowly homewards.

She lived on the first floor of a house in a new street. From her windows
she had a view of the hill, and opposite were only vacant sites.

Bertha handed Fritz over to the care of the maid, sat down by the window,
took up the paper and began to read again. She had kept the custom of
glancing through the art news first of all. This habit had been formed in
the days of her early childhood, when she and her brother, who was now an
actor, used to go to the top gallery of the Burg-Theater together. Her
interest in art naturally grew when she attended the conservatoire of
music; in those days she had been acquainted with the names of even the
minor actors, singers and pianists. Later on, when her frequent visits to
the theatres, the studies at the conservatoire and her own artistic
aspirations came to an end, there still lingered within her a kind of
sympathy, which was not free from the touch of homesickness, towards that
joyous world of art. But during the latter portion of her life in Vienna
all these things had retained scarcely any of their former significance
for her; just as little, indeed, as they had possessed since she had come
to reside in the little town, where occasional amateur concerts were the
best that was offered in the way of artistic enjoyment. One evening
during the first year of her married life, she had taken part in one of
these concerts at the "Red Apple" Hotel. She had played two marches by
Schubert as a duet with another young lady in the town. On that occasion
her agitation had been so great that she had vowed to herself never again
to appear in public, and was more than glad that she had given up her
hopes of an artistic career.

For such a career a very different temperament from hers was
necessary--for example, one like Emil Lindbach's. Yes, he was born to it!
She had recognized that by his demeanour the very moment when she had
first seen him step on to the daïs at a school concert. He had smoothed
back his hair in an unaffected manner, gazed at the people below with
sardonic superiority, and had acknowledged the first applause which he
had ever received in the calm, indifferent manner of one long accustomed
to such things.

It was strange, but whenever she thought of Emil Lindbach she still saw
him in her mind's eye as youthful, even boyish, just as he had been in
the days when they had known and loved each other. Yet not so long
before, when she had spent the evening with her brother-in-law and his
wife in a restaurant, she had seen a photograph of him in an illustrated
paper, and he appeared to have changed greatly. He no longer wore his
hair long; his black moustache was curled downwards; his collar was
conspicuously tall, and his cravat twisted in accordance with the fashion
of the day. Her sister-in-law had given her opinion that he looked like a
Polish count.

Bertha took up the newspaper again and was about to read on, but by that
time it was too dark. She rose to her feet and called the maid. The lamp
was brought in and the table laid for supper. Bertha ate her meal with
Fritz, the window remaining open. That evening she felt an even greater
tenderness for her child than usual; she recalled once more to memory the
times when her husband was still alive, and all manner of reminiscences
passed rapidly through her mind. While she was putting Fritz to bed, her
glance lingered for quite a long time on her husband's portrait, which
hung over the bed in an oval frame of dark brown wood. It was a
full-length portrait; he was wearing a morning coat and a white cravat,
and was holding his tall hat in his hand. It was all in memory of their
wedding day.

Bertha knew for a certainty, at that moment, that Herr Klingemann would
have smiled sarcastically had he seen that portrait.

Later in the evening she sat down at the piano, as was a not infrequent
custom of hers before going to bed, not so much because of her enthusiasm
for music, but because she did not want to retire to rest too early. On
such occasions she played, for the most part, the few pieces which she
still knew by heart--mazurkas by Chopin, some passages from one of
Beethoven's sonatas, or the Kreisleriana. Sometimes she improvised as
well, but never pursued the theme beyond a succession of chords, which,
indeed, were always the same.

On that evening she began at once by striking those chords, somewhat more
softly than usual; then she essayed various modulations and, as she made
the last triad resound for a long time by means of the pedal--her hands
were now lying in her lap--she felt a gentle joy in the melodies which
were hovering, as it were, about her. Then Klingemann's observation
recurred to her.

"With you music must take the place of everything!"

Indeed he had not been far from the truth. Music certainly had to take
the place of much.

But everything--? Oh, no!

What was that? Footsteps over the way....

Well, there was nothing remarkable in that. But they were slow, regular
footsteps, as though somebody was passing up and down. She stood up and
went to the window. It was quite dark, and at first she could not
recognize the man who was walking outside. But she knew that it was
Klingemann. How absurd! Was he going to haunt the vicinity like a
love-sick swain?

"Good evening, Frau Bertha," he said from across the road, and she could
see in the darkness that he raised his hat.

"Good evening," she answered, almost confusedly.

"You were playing most beautifully."

Her only answer was to murmur "really?" and that perhaps did not
reach his ears.

He remained standing for a moment, then said:

"Good night, sleep soundly, Frau Bertha."

He pronounced the word "sleep" with an emphasis which was almost
insolent.

"Now he is going home to his cook!" thought Bertha to herself.

Then suddenly she called to mind something which she had known for quite
a long time, but to which she had not given a thought since it had come
to her knowledge. It was rumoured that in his room there hung a picture
which was always covered with a little curtain because its subject was of
a somewhat questionable nature.

Who was it had told her about that picture? Oh, yes, Frau Rupius had told
her when they were taking a walk along the bank of the Danube one day
last autumn, and she in her turn had heard of it from some one
else--Bertha could not remember from whom.

What an odious man! Bertha felt that somehow she was guilty of a slight
depravity in thinking of him and all these things. She continued to stand
by the window. It seemed to her as though it had been an unpleasant day.
She went over the actual events in her mind, and was astonished to find
that, after all, the day had just been like many hundreds before it and
many, many more that were yet to come.



II


They stood up from the table. It had been one of those little Sunday
dinner parties which the wine merchant Garlan was in the habit of
occasionally giving his acquaintances. The host came up to his
sister-in-law and caught her round the waist, which was one of his
customs on an afternoon.

She knew beforehand what he wanted. Whenever he had company Bertha had to
play the piano after dinner, and often duets with Richard. The music
served as a pleasant introduction to a game of cards, or, indeed, chimed
in pleasantly with the game.

She sat down at the piano. In the meantime the door of the smoking-room
was opened; Garlan, Doctor Friedrich and Herr Martin took their seats at
a small baize-covered table and began to play. The wives of the three
gentlemen remained in the drawing-room, and Frau Martin lit a cigarette,
sat down on the sofa and crossed her legs--on Sundays she always wore
dress shoes and black silk stockings. Doctor Friedrich's wife looked at
Frau Martin's feet as though fixed to the spot by enchantment. Richard
had followed the gentlemen--he already took an interest in a game of
taroc. Elly stood with her elbows leaning on the piano waiting for Bertha
to begin to play. The hostess went in and out of the room; she was
perpetually giving orders in the kitchen, and rattling the bunch of keys
which she carried in her hand. Once as she came into the room Doctor
Friedrich's wife threw her a glance which seemed to say: "Just look how
Frau Martin is sitting there!"

Bertha noticed all those things that day more clearly, as it were, than
usual, somewhat after the manner in which things are seen by a person
suffering from fever. She had not as yet struck a note. Then her
brother-in-law turned towards her and threw her a glance, which was
intended to remind her of her duty. She began to play a march by
Schubert, with a very heavy touch.

"Softer," said her brother-in-law, turning round again.

"Taroc with a musical accompaniment is a speciality of this house," said
Doctor Friedrich.

"Songs without words, so to speak," added Herr Martin.

The others laughed. Garlan turned round towards Bertha again, for she had
suddenly left off playing.

"I have a slight headache," she said, as if it were necessary to
make some excuse; immediately, however, she felt as though it were
beneath her dignity to say that, and she added: "I don't feel any
inclination to play."

Everybody looked at her, feeling that something rather out of the common
was happening.

"Won't you come and sit by us, Bertha?" said Frau Garlan.

Elly had a vague idea that she ought to show her affection for her aunt,
and hung on her arm; and the two of them stood side by side, leaning
against the piano.

"Are you going with us to the 'Red Apple' this evening?" Frau Martin
asked of her hostess.

"No, I don't think so."

"Ah," broke in Herr Garlan, "if we must forgo our concert this afternoon
we will have one in the evening instead--your lead, Doctor."

"The military concert?" asked Doctor Friedrich's wife.

Frau Garlan rose to her feet.

"Do you really mean to go to the 'Red Apple' this evening?" she asked
her husband.

"Certainly."

"Very well," she answered, somewhat flustered, and at once went off to
the kitchen again to make fresh arrangements.

"Richard," said Garlan to his son; "you might make haste and run over and
tell the manager to have a table reserved for us in the garden."

Richard hurried off, colliding in the doorway with his mother, who was
just coming into the room. She sank down on the sofa as though exhausted.

"You can't believe," she said to Doctor Friedrich's wife; "how difficult
it is to make Brigitta understand the simplest thing."

Frau Martin had gone and sat down beside her husband, at the same time
throwing a glance towards Bertha, who was still standing silently with
Elly beside the piano. Frau Martin stroked her husband's hair, laid her
hand on his knee and seemed to feel that she was under the necessity of
showing the company how happy she was.

"I'll tell you what. Aunt," said Elly suddenly to Bertha; "let's go into
the garden for a while. The fresh air will drive your headache away."

They went down the steps into the courtyard, in the centre of which a
small lawn had been laid out. At the back, it was shut off by a wall,
against which stood a few shrubs and a couple of young trees, which still
had to be propped up by stakes. Away over the wall only the blue sky was
to be seen; in boisterous weather the rush of the river which flowed
close by could be heard. Two wicker garden chairs stood with their backs
against the wall, and in front of them was a small table. Bertha and Elly
sat down, Elly still keeping her arm linked in her aunt's.

"Tell you what, Elly?"

"See, I am quite a big girl now; do tell me about him."

Bertha was somewhat alarmed, for it struck her at once that her niece's
question did not refer to her dead husband, but to some one else. And
suddenly she saw before her mind's eye the picture of Emil Lindbach,
just as she had seen it in the illustrated paper; but immediately both
the vision and her slight alarm vanished, and she felt a kind of emotion
at the shy question of the young girl who believed that she still grieved
for her dead husband, and that it would comfort her to have an
opportunity for talking about him.

"May I come down and join you, or are you telling each other secrets?"

Richard's voice came at that moment from a window overlooking the
courtyard. For the first time Bertha was struck by the resemblance he
bore to Emil Lindbach. She realized, however, that it might perhaps only
be the youthfulness of his manner and his rather long hair that put her
in mind of Emil. Richard was now nearly as old as Emil had been in the
days of her studies at the conservatoire.

"I've reserved a table," he said as he came into the courtyard. "Are you
coming with us, Aunt Bertha?"

He sat down on the back of her chair, stroked her cheeks, and said in his
fresh, yet rather affected, way:

"You will come, won't you, pretty Aunt, for my sake?"

Mechanically Bertha closed her eyes. A feeling of comfort stole over her,
as if some childish hand, as if the little fingers of her own Fritz, were
caressing her cheeks. Soon, however, she felt that some other memory as
well rose up in her mind. She could not help thinking of a walk in the
town park which she had taken one evening with Emil after her lesson at
the conservatoire. On that occasion he had sat down to rest beside her on
a seat, and had touched her cheeks with tender fingers. Was it only once
that that had happened? No--much oftener! Indeed, they had sat on that
seat ten or twenty times, and he had stroked her cheeks. How strange it
was that all these things should come back to her thoughts now!

She would certainly never have thought of those walks again had not
Richard by chance--but how long was she going to put up with his stroking
her cheek?

"Richard!" she exclaimed, opening her eyes.

She saw that he was smiling in such a way that she thought that he must
have divined what was passing through her mind. Of course, it was quite
impossible, because, as a matter of fact, scarcely anybody in the town
was aware that she was acquainted with Emil Lindbach, the great
violinist. If it came to that, was she really acquainted with him still?
It was indeed a very different person from Emil as he must now be that
she had in mind--a handsome youth whom she had loved in the days of her
early girlhood.

Thus her thoughts strayed further and further back into the past, and it
seemed altogether impossible for her to return to the present and
chatter with the two children.

She bade them good-bye and went away.

The afternoon sun lay brooding heavily upon the streets of the little
town. The shops were shut, the pavements almost deserted. A few officers
were sitting at a little table in front of the restaurant in the market
square. Bertha glanced up at the windows of the first story of the house
in which Herr and Frau Rupius lived. It was quite a long time since she
had been to see them. She clearly remembered the last occasion--it was
the day after Christmas. It was then that she had found Herr Rupius alone
and that he had told her that his affliction was incurable. She also
remembered distinctly why she had not called upon him since that day:
although she did not admit it to herself, she had a kind of fear of
entering that house which she had then left with her mind in a state of
violent agitation.

On the present occasion, however, she felt that she must go up; it seemed
as though in the course of the last few days a kind of bond had been
established between her and the paralysed man, and as though even the
glance with which he had silently greeted her on the previous day, when
she was out walking, had had some significance.

When she entered the room her eyes had, first of all, to become
accustomed to the dimness of the light; the blinds were drawn and a
sunbeam poured in only through the chink at the top, and fell in front
of the white stove. Herr Rupius was sitting in an armchair at the table
in the centre of the room. Before him lay stacks of prints, and he was
just in the act of picking up one in order to look at the one beneath it.
Bertha could see that they were engravings.

"Thank you for coming to see me once again," he said, stretching out his
hand to her. "You see what it is I am busy on just now? Well, it is a
collection of engravings after the old Dutch masters. Believe me, my dear
lady, it is a great pleasure to examine old engravings."

"Oh, it is, indeed."

"See, there are six volumes, or rather six portfolios, each containing
twenty prints. It will probably take me the whole summer to become
thoroughly acquainted with them."

Bertha stood by his side and looked at the engraving immediately before
him. It was a market scene by Teniers.

"The whole summer," she said absent-mindedly.

Rupius turned towards her.

"Yes, indeed," he said, his jaw slightly set, as though it was a matter
of vindicating his point of view; "what I call being thoroughly
acquainted with a picture. By that I mean: being able, so to speak, to
reproduce it in my mind, line for line. This one here is a Teniers--the
original is in one of the galleries at The Hague. Why don't you go to
The Hague, where so many splendid examples of the art of Teniers and so
many other styles of painting are to be seen, my dear lady?"

Bertha smiled.

"How can I think of making such a journey as that?"

"Yes, yes, of course, that's so," said Herr Rupius; "The Hague is a very
beautiful town. I was there fourteen years ago. At that time I was
twenty-eight, I am now forty-two--or, I might say, eighty-four"--he
picked up the print and laid it aside--"here we have an Ostade--'The Pipe
Smoker.' Quite so, you can see easily enough that he is smoking a pipe.
'Original in Vienna.'"

"I think I remember that picture."

"Won't you come and sit opposite to me, Frau Bertha, or here beside me,
if you would care to look at the pictures with me? Now we come to a
Falkenborg--wonderful, isn't it? In the extreme foreground, though, it
seems so void, so cramped. Yes, nothing but a peasant lad dancing with a
girl, and there's an old woman who is cross about it, and here is a house
out of the door of which someone is coming with a pail of water. Yes,
that is all--a mere nothing of course, but there in the background you
see, is the whole world, blue mountains, green towns, the clouded sky
above, and near it a tourney--ha! ha!--in a certain sense perhaps it is
out of place, but, on the other hand, in a certain sense it may be said
to be appropriate. Since everything has a background and it is therefore
perfectly right that here, directly behind the peasant's house, the world
should begin with its tourneys, and its mountains, its rivers, its
fortresses, its vineyards and its forests."

He pointed out the various parts of the picture to which he was referring
with a little ivory paper-knife.

"Do you like it?" he continued. "The original also hangs in the Gallery
in Vienna. You must have seen it."

"Oh, but it is now six years since I lived in Vienna, and for many years
before that I had not paid a visit to the museum."

"Indeed? I have often walked round the galleries there, and stood before
this picture, too. Yes, in those earlier days I _walked_."

He was almost laughing as he looked at her, and; her embarrassment was
such that she could not make any reply.

"I fear I am boring you with the pictures," Herr Rupius went on abruptly.
"Wait a little; my wife will be home soon. You know, I suppose, that she
always goes for a two hours walk after dinner now. She is afraid of
becoming too stout."

"Your wife looks as young and slender as ... well, I don't think she has
altered in the very least since I have come to live here."

Bertha felt as though Rupius' countenance had grown quite rigid. Then
suddenly he said, in a gentle tone of voice which was not by any means
in keeping with the expression of his face:

"A quiet life in a little town such as this keeps me young, of course. It
was a clever idea of mine and hers, for it occurred simultaneously to
both of us, to move here. Who can say whether, had we stayed in Vienna,
it might not have been all over already?"

Bertha could not guess what he meant by the expression "all over";
whether he was referring to his own life, to his wife's
youthfulness, or to something else. In any case, she was sorry that
she had called that day; a feeling of shame at being so strong and
well herself came over her.

"Did I tell you," continued Rupius, "that it was Anna who got these
portfolios for me? It was a chance bargain, for the work is usually very
expensive. A bookseller had advertised it and Anna telegraphed at once
to her brother to procure it for us. You know, of course, that we have
many relations in Vienna, both Anna and myself. Sometimes, too, she goes
there to visit them. Soon after they pay us a return visit. I should be
very glad indeed to see them again, especially Anna's brother and his
wife, I owe them a great deal of gratitude. When Anna is in Vienna, she
dines and sleeps at their house--but, of course, you already know all
that, Frau Bertha."

He spoke rapidly and, at the same time, in a cool, businesslike tone. It
sounded as though he had made up his mind to tell the same things to
every one who should enter the room that day. It was the first time that
he had as much as spoken to Bertha of the journeys of his wife to Vienna.

"She is going again to-morrow," he continued; "I believe the matter in
hand this time is her summer costume."

"I think that is a very clever notion of your wife," said Bertha, glad to
have found an opening for conversation.

"It is cheaper, at the same time," added Herr Rupius. "Yes, I assure you
it is cheaper even if you throw in the cost of the journey. Why don't you
follow my wife's example?"

"In that way, Herr Rupius?"

"Why, in regard to your frocks and hats! You are young and pretty, too!"

"Heavens above! On whose account should I dress smartly?"

"On whose account! On whose account is it that my wife dresses so
smartly?"

The door opened and Frau Rupius entered in a bright spring costume, a red
sunshade in her hand and a white straw hat, trimmed with red ribbon, on
her dark hair, which was dressed high. A pleasant smile was hovering
around her lips, as usual, and she greeted Bertha with a quiet
cheerfulness.

"Are you making an appearance in our house once more?" she said, handing
her sunshade and hat to the maid, who had followed her into the room.

"Are you also interested in pictures, Frau Garlan?"

She went up close behind her husband and softly passed her hand over his
forehead and hair.

"I was just telling Frau Garlan," said Rupius, "how surprised I am that
she never goes to Vienna."

"Indeed," Frau Rupius put in; "why don't you do so? Moreover, you must
certainly have some acquaintances there, too. Come with me one
day--to-morrow, for example. Yes, to-morrow."

Rupius gazed straight before him while his wife said this, as though he
did not dare to look at her.

"You are really very kind, Frau Rupius," said Bertha, feeling as though a
perfect stream of joy was coursing through her being.

She wondered, too, how it was that all this time the possibility of
making such a journey had not once entered her mind, the more so as it
could be accomplished with so little trouble. It appeared to her at
that moment that such a journey might be a remedy for the strange
sense of dissatisfaction under which she had been suffering during the
past few days.

"Well, do you agree, Frau Garlan?"

"I don't really know--I daresay I could spare the time, for I have only
one lesson to give tomorrow at my sister-in-law's, and she, of course,
won't be too exacting; but wouldn't I be putting you to some
inconvenience?"

A slight shadow flitted across Frau Rupius' brow.

"Putting me to inconvenience! Whatever are you dreaming of! I shall be
very glad to have pleasant company during the few hours of the journey
there and back. And in Vienna--oh, we shall be sure to have much to do
together in Vienna."

"Your husband," said Bertha, blushing like a girl who is speaking of her
first ball, "has told me ... has advised me ..."

"Surely, he has been raving to you about my dressmaker," said Frau
Rupius, laughing.

Rupius still sat motionless in his chair and looked at neither of them.

"Yes, I should really like to ask you about her, Frau Rupius. When
I see you I feel as if I should like to be well dressed again, just
as you are."

"That is easily arranged," said Frau Rupius. "I will take you to my
dressmaker, and by so doing I hope also to have the pleasure of your
company on my subsequent visits. I am glad for your sake as well," she
said to her husband, touching his hand which was lying on the table. Then
she turned to Bertha and added: "and for yours. You will see how much
good it will do you. Wandering about the streets without being known to a
soul has a wonderful effect on one's spirits. I do it from time to time,
and I always come back quite refreshed and--" in saying this she threw a
sidelong glance, full of anxiety and tenderness, in the direction of her
husband--"and then I am as happy here as ever it is possible to be;
happier, I believe, than any other woman in the world."

She drew near her husband and kissed him on the temple. Bertha heard her
say in a soft voice, as she did so:

"Dearest!"

Rupius, however, continued to stare before him as though he shrank from
meeting his wife's glance.

Both were silent and seemed to be absorbed in themselves, as though
Bertha was not in the room. Bertha comprehended vaguely that there was
some mysterious factor in the relations of these two people, but what
that factor was she was not clever, or not experienced, or not good
enough to understand. For a whole minute the silence continued, and
Bertha was so embarrassed that she would gladly have gone away had it
not been necessary to arrange with Frau Rupius the details of the
morrow's journey.

Anna was the first to speak.

"So then it is agreed that we are to meet at the railway station in time
for the morning train--isn't it? And I will arrange matters so that we
return home by the seven o'clock train in the evening. In eight hours,
you see, it is possible to get through a good deal."

"Certainly," said Bertha; "provided, of course, that you are not
inconveniencing yourself on my account in the slightest degree."

Anna interrupted her, almost angrily.

"I have already told you how glad I am that you will be travelling
with me, the more so as there is not a woman in the town so congenial
to me as you."

"Yes," said Herr Rupius, "I can corroborate that. You know, of course,
that my wife is on visiting terms with hardly anybody here--and as it has
been such a long time since you came to see us I was beginning to fear
that she was going to lose you as well."

"However could you have thought such a thing? My dear Herr Rupius! And
you, Frau Rupius, surely you haven't believed--"

At that moment Bertha felt an overwhelming love for both of them. Her
emotion was such that she detected her voice to be assuming an almost
tearful tone.

Frau Rupius smiled, a strange, deliberate smile.

"I haven't believed anything. As a matter of fact there are some things
over which I do not generally ponder for long. I have no great need of
friends, but you, Frau Bertha, I really and truly love."

She stretched out her hand to her. Bertha cast a glance at Rupius. It
seemed to her that an expression of contentment should now be observable
on his features. To her amazement, however, she saw that he was gazing
into the corner of the room with an almost terrified look in his eyes.

The parlourmaid came in with some coffee. Further particulars as to their
plans for the morrow were discussed, and finally they drew up a tolerably
exact time-table which, to Frau Rupius' slight amusement, Bertha entered
in a little notebook.

When Bertha reached the street again, the sky had become overcast, and
the increasing sultriness foretold the approach of a thunderstorm. The
first large drops were falling before she reached home, and she was
somewhat alarmed when, on going upstairs, she failed to find the servant
and little Fritz. As she went up to the window, however, in order to shut
it, she saw the two come running along. The first thunderclap crashed
out, and she started back in terror. Then immediately came a brilliant
flash of lightning.

The storm was brief, but unusually violent. Bertha went and sat on her
bed, held Fritz on her lap, and told him a story, so that he should not
be frightened. But, at the same time, she felt as though there was a
certain connexion between her experiences of the past two days and the
thunderstorm.

In half an hour all was over. Bertha opened the window; the air was now
fresh, the darkening sky was clear and distant. Bertha drew a deep
breath, and a feeling of peace and hope seemed to permeate her being.

It was time to get ready for the concert in the gardens. On her
arrival she found her friends already gathered at a large table
beneath a tree. It was Bertha's intention to tell her sister-in-law at
once about her proposed visit to Vienna on the morrow, but a sense of
shyness, as though there was something underhand in the journey,
caused her to refrain.

Herr Klingemann went by with his housekeeper towards their table. The
housekeeper was getting on towards middle-age; she was a very voluptuous
looking woman, taller than Klingemann, and, when she walked, always
appeared to be asleep. Klingemann bowed towards them with exaggerated
politeness. The gentlemen scarcely acknowledged the salutation, and the
ladies pretended not to have noticed it. Only Bertha nodded slightly and
gazed after the couple.

"That is his sweetheart--yes, I know it for a positive fact," whispered
Richard, who was sitting near his aunt.

Herr Garlan's party ate, drank and applauded. At times various
acquaintances came over from other tables, sat down with them for awhile,
and then went away again to their places. The music murmured around
Bertha without making any impression on her. Her mind was continuously
occupied with the question as to how to inform them of her project.

Suddenly, while the music was playing very loudly, she said to Richard:

"I say, I won't be able to give you a music lesson to-morrow. I am going
to Vienna."

"To Vienna!" exclaimed Richard; then he called across to his mother; "I
say, Aunt Bertha is going to Vienna to-morrow!"

"Who's going to Vienna?" asked Garlan, who was sitting furthest away.

"I am," answered Bertha.

"What's this! What's this!" said Garlan, playfully threatening her with
his finger.

So, then, it was accomplished. Bertha was glad. Richard made jokes
about the people who were sitting in the garden, also about the fat
bandmaster who was always skipping about while he was conducting, and
then about the trumpet-player whose cheeks bulged out and who seemed to
be shedding tears when he blew into his instrument. Bertha could not
help laughing very heartily. Jests were bandied about her high spirits
and Doctor Friedrich remarked that she must surely be going to some
rendezvous at Vienna.

"I should like to put a stop to that, though!" exclaimed Richard, so
angrily that the hilarity became general.

Only Elly remained serious, and gazed at her aunt in downright
astonishment.



III


Bertha looked out through the open carriage window upon the landscape:
Frau Rupius read a book, which she had taken out of her little
traveling-bag very soon after the train had started. It almost appeared
as though she wished to avoid any lengthy conversation with Bertha, and
the latter felt somewhat hurt. For a long time past she had been
cherishing a wish to be a friend of Frau Rupius, but since the previous
day this desire of hers had become almost a yearning, which recalled to
her mind the whole-hearted devotion of the friendships of the days of her
childhood.

At first, therefore, she had felt quite unhappy, and had a sensation of
having been abandoned, but soon the changing panorama to be seen through
the window began to distract her thoughts in an agreeable manner. As she
looked at the rails which seemed to run to meet her, at the hedges and
telegraph poles which glided and leaped past her, she recalled to mind
the few short journeys to the Salzkammergut, where she had been taken,
when a child, by her parents, and the indescribable pleasure of having
been allowed to occupy a corner seat on those occasions. Then she looked
into the distance and exulted in the gleaming of the river, in the
pleasant windings of the hills and meadows, in the azure of the sky and
in the white clouds.

After a time Anna laid down the book, and began to chat to Bertha and
smiled at her, as though at a child.

"Who would have foretold this of us?" said Frau Rupius.

"That we should be going to Vienna together?"

"No, no, I mean that we shall both--how shall I express it?--pass or end
our lives yonder"--she gave a slight nod in the direction of the place
from which they came.

"Very true, indeed!" answered Bertha, who had not yet considered whether
there was anything really strange in the fact or not.

"Well, you, of course, knew it the moment you were married, but I--"

Frau Rupius gazed straight before her.

"So then your move to the little town," said Bertha, "did not take place
until--until--"

She broke off in confusion.

"Yes, you know that, of course."

In saying this Frau Rupius looked Bertha full in the face as if
reproaching her for her question. But when she continued to speak
she smiled gently, as though her thoughts were not occupied by
anything so sad.

"Yes, I never imagined that I should leave Vienna; my husband had his
position as a government official, and indeed he would certainly have
been able to remain longer there, in spite of his infirmity, had he not
wanted to go away at once."

"He thought, perhaps, that the fresh air, the quiet--" began Bertha, and
she at once perceived that she was not saying anything very sensible.

Nevertheless Anna answered her quite affably.

"Oh, no, neither rest nor climate could do him any good, but he thought
that it would be better for both of us in every way. He was right,
too--what should we have been able to do if we had remained in the city?"

Bertha felt that Anna was not telling her the whole story and she would
have liked to beg her not to hesitate, but to open her whole heart to
her. She knew, however, that she was not clever enough to express such a
request in the right words. Then, as though Frau Rupius had guessed that
Bertha was anxious to learn more, she quickly changed the subject of
their conversation. She asked Bertha about her brother-in-law, the
musical talent of her pupils, and her method of teaching; then she took
up the novel again and left Bertha to herself.

Once she looked up from the book and said:

"You haven't brought anything with you to read, then?"

"Oh, yes," answered Bertha.

She suddenly remembered that she had bought a newspaper; she took it up
and turned over the pages assiduously. The train drew near to Vienna.
Frau Rupius closed her book and put it in the travelling-bag. She looked
at Bertha with a certain tenderness, as at a child who must soon be sent
away alone to meet an uncertain destiny.

"Another quarter of an hour," she remarked; "and we shall be--well, I
very nearly said, home."

Before them lay the town. On the far side of the river chimneys towered
up aloft, rows of tall yellow painted houses stretched away into the
distance, and steeples ascended skywards. Everything lay basking in the
gentle sunlight of May.

Bertha's heart throbbed. She experienced a sensation such as might come
over a traveller returning after a long absence to a longed-for home,
which had probably altered greatly in the meantime, and where surprises
and mysteries of all kinds awaited him. At the moment when the train
rolled into the station she seemed almost courageous in her own eyes.

Frau Rupius took a carriage, and they drove into the town. As they passed
the Ring, Bertha suddenly leaned out of the window and gazed after a
young man whose figure and walk reminded her of Emil Lindbach. She wished
that the young man would turn round, but she lost sight of him without
his having done so.

The carriage stopped before a house in the Kohlmarkt. The two ladies got
out and made their way to the third floor, where the dressmaker's
workroom was situated. While Frau Rupius tried on her new costume,
Bertha had various materials displayed to her from which she made a
choice. The assistant took her measure, and it was arranged that Bertha
should call in a week's time to be fitted. Frau Rupius came out from the
adjoining room and recommended that particular care should be given to
her friend's order.

It seemed to Bertha that everybody was looking at her in a rather
disparaging, almost compassionate manner, and, on looking at herself in
the large pier glass she suddenly perceived that she was very tastelessly
dressed. What on earth had put it into her head to attire herself on this
occasion in the provincial Sunday-best, instead of in one of the simple
plain dresses she usually wore? She grew crimson with shame. She had on a
black and white striped foulard costume, which was three years out of
date, so far as its cut was concerned, and a bright-coloured hat, trimmed
with roses and turned up at an extravagant angle in front, which seemed
to weigh heavily upon her dainty figure and made her appear almost
ridiculous.

Then, as if her own conviction needed further confirmation by some word
of consolation, Frau Rupius said, as they went down the stairs:

"You are looking lovely!"

They stood in the doorway.

"What shall be done now?" asked Frau Rupius. "What do you propose?"

"Will you then ... I ... I mean ..."

Bertha was quite frightened; she felt as though she was being
turned adrift.

Frau Rupius looked at her with kindly commiseration.

"I think," she said, "that you are going to pay a visit to your cousin
now, are you not? I suppose that you will be asked to stay to dinner."

"Agatha will be sure to invite me to dine with her."

"I will accompany you as far as your cousin's, if you would like me to;
then I will go to my brother and, if possible, I will call for you at
three in the afternoon."

Together they walked through the most crowded streets of the central part
of the town and looked at the shop windows. At first Bertha found the din
somewhat confusing; afterwards, however, she found it more pleasant than
otherwise. She gazed at the passers-by and took great pleasure in
watching the well-groomed men and smartly-attired ladies. Almost all the
people seemed to be wearing new clothes, and it seemed to her they all
looked much happier than the people at home.

Presently she stopped before the window of a picture-dealer's shop and
immediately her eyes fell on a familiar portrait; it was the same one of
Emil Lindbach as had appeared in the illustrated paper, Bertha was as
delighted as if she had met an acquaintance.

"I know that man," she said to Frau Rupius.

"Whom?"

"That man there"--she pointed with her finger at the photograph--"what do
you think? I used to attend the conservatoire at the same time he did!"

"Really?" said Frau Rupius.

Bertha looked at her and observed that she had not paid the slightest
attention to the portrait, but was thinking of something else. Bertha,
however, was glad of that, for it seemed to her that there had been too
much warmth lurking in her voice.

All at once a gentle thrill of pride stirred within her at the thought
that the man whose portrait hung there in the shop window had been in
love with her in the days of his youth, and had kissed her. She walked on
with a sensation of inward contentment. After a short time they reached
her cousin's house on the Riemerstrasse.

"So it's settled then," she said; "you will call for me at three o'clock,
won't you?"

"Yes," replied Frau Rupius; "that is to say--but if I should be a little
late, do not on any account wait for me at your cousin's any longer than
you want to. In any case, this much is settled: we will both be at the
railway station at seven o'clock this evening. Good-bye for the present."

She shook hands with Bertha and hurried away.

Bertha gazed after her in surprise. Once more she felt forlorn, just as
she had done in the train when Frau Rupius had read the novel.

Then she went up the two flights of stairs. She had not sent her cousin
word as to her visit, and she was a little afraid that her arrival might
be somewhat inopportune. She had not seen Agatha for many years, and they
had exchanged letters only at very rare intervals.

Agatha received her without either surprise or cordiality, as though it
was only the day before that they had seen each other for the last time.
A smile had been playing around Bertha's lips--the smile of those who
think that they are about to give some one else a surprise--she repressed
it immediately.

"Well, you are not a very frequent visitor, I must say!" said Agatha,
"and you never let us have a word from you."

"But, Agatha, you know it was your turn to write; you have been owing me
a letter these last three months."

"Really!" replied Agatha. "Well, you'll have to excuse me; you can
imagine what a lot of work three children mean. Did I write and tell you
that Georg goes to school now?"

Agatha took her cousin into the nursery, where Georg and his two little
sisters were just having their dinner given them by the
nursery-governess. Bertha asked them a few questions, but the children
were very shy, and the younger girl actually began to cry.

"Do beg Aunt Bertha to bring Fritz with her next time she comes," said
Agatha to Georg at length.

It struck Bertha how greatly her cousin had aged during the last few
years. Indeed, when she bent down to the children Agatha appeared almost
like an old woman; and yet she was only a year older than Bertha, as the
latter knew.

By the time they had returned to the dining-room they had already told
each other all that they had to say, and when Agatha invited Bertha to
stay to dinner, it seemed that she spoke only for the mere sake of making
some remark. Bertha accepted the invitation, nevertheless, and her cousin
went into the kitchen to give some orders.

Bertha gazed around the room, which was furnished economically and in bad
taste. It was very dark, for the street was extremely narrow. She took up
an album which was lying on the table. She found hardly any but familiar
faces in it. At the very beginning were the portraits of Agatha's
parents, who had died long ago; then came those of her own parents and of
her brothers, of whom she scarcely ever heard; portraits of friends whom
they both had known in earlier days, and of whom she now knew hardly
anything; and, finally, there was a photograph, the existence of which
she had long forgotten. It was one of herself and Agatha together, and
had been taken when they were quite young girls. In those days they had
been very much alike in appearance, and had been great friends. Bertha
could remember many of the confidential chats which they had had
together in the days of their girlhood.

And that lovely creature there with the looped plaits was now almost an
old woman! And what of herself? What reason had she, then, for still
looking upon herself as a young woman? Did she not, perhaps, appear to
others as old as Agatha had seemed to her? She resolved that, in the
afternoon, she would take notice of the glances which passers-by bestowed
upon her. It would be terrible if she really did look as old as her
cousin! No, the idea was utterly ridiculous! She called to mind how her
nephew, Richard always called her his "pretty aunt," how Klingemann had
walked to and fro outside her window the other evening--and even the
recollection of her brother-in-law's attentions reassured her. And, when
she looked in the mirror which was hanging opposite to her, she saw two
bright eyes gazing at her from a smooth, fresh face--they were her face
and her eyes.

When Agatha came into the room again Bertha began to talk of the far-away
years of their childhood, but it seemed that Agatha had forgotten all
about those early days, as though marriage, motherhood and week-day cares
had obliterated both youth and its memories. When Bertha went on to speak
of a students' dance they had both attended, of the young men who had
courted Agatha, and of a bouquet which some unknown lover had once sent
her, Agatha at first smiled rather absent-mindedly, then she looked at
Bertha and said:

"Just fancy you still remembering all those foolish things!"

Agatha's husband came home from his Government office. He had grown very
grey since Bertha had last seen him. At first sight he did not appear to
recognize Bertha, then he mistook her for another lady, and excused
himself by remarking that he had a very bad memory for faces. At dinner
he affected to be smart, he inquired in a certain superior way about the
affairs of the little town, and wondered, jestingly, whether Bertha was
not thinking of marrying again. Agatha also took part in this bantering,
although, at the same time, she occasionally glanced reprovingly at her
husband, who was trying to give the conversation a frivolous turn.

Bertha felt ill at ease. Later on she gathered from some words of
Agatha's husband that they were expecting another addition to their
family. Usually Bertha felt sympathy for women in such circumstances, but
in this case the news created an almost unpleasant impression upon her.
Moreover there was not a trace of love to be discerned in the tone of the
husband's voice when he referred to it, but rather a kind of foolish
pride on the score of an accomplished duty. He spoke of the matter as
though it was a special act of kindness on his part that, in spite of the
fact that he was a busy man, and Agatha was no longer beautiful, he
condescended to spend his time at home. Bertha had an impression that
she was being mixed up in some sordid affair which did not concern her in
the least. She was glad when, as soon as he had finished his dinner, the
husband went off--it was his custom, "his only vice," as he said with a
smile, to play billiards at the restaurant for an hour after dinner.

Bertha and Agatha were left together.

"Yes," said Agatha, "I've got that to look forward to again."

Thereupon she began, in a cold, businesslike way, to talk about her
previous confinements, with a candour and lack of modesty which seemed
all the more remarkable because they had become such strangers. While
Agatha was continuing the relation of her experiences, however, the
thought suddenly passed through Bertha's mind that it must be glorious to
have a child by a husband whom one loved.

She ceased to pay attention to her cousin's unpleasant talk; and her
thoughts were only occupied by the infinite yearning for motherhood
which had often come over her when she was quite a young girl, and she
called to mind an occasion when that yearning had been more keen than it
had ever been, either before or after. This had happened one evening
when Emil Lindbach had accompanied her home from the conservatoire, her
hand clasped in his. She still remembered how her head had begun to
swim, and that at one moment she had understood what the phrase meant
which she had sometimes read in novels: "He could have done with her
just as he liked."

Then she noticed that it had grown quite silent in the room, and that
Agatha was leaning back in the corner of the sofa, apparently asleep. It
was three by the clock. How tiresome it was that Frau Rupius had not yet
arrived! Bertha went to the window and looked out into the street. Then
she turned towards Agatha, who had again opened her eyes. Bertha quickly
tried to begin a fresh conversation, and told her about the new costume
which she had ordered in the forenoon, but Agatha was too sleepy even to
answer. Bertha had no wish to put her cousin out, and took her departure.
She decided to wait for Frau Rupius in the street. Agatha seemed very
pleased when Bertha got ready to go. She became more cordial than she had
been at any time during her cousin's visit, and said at the door, as if
struck by some brilliant idea:

"How the time does pass! I do hope you'll come and see us again soon."

Bertha, as she stood before the door of the house, realized that she was
waiting for Frau Rupius in vain. There was no doubt that it had been the
latter's intention from the beginning to spend the afternoon without her.
Of course, it did not necessarily follow that there was anything wicked
in it; as a matter of fact there was nothing wicked in it, but it hurt
Bertha to think that Anna had so little trust in her.

She walked along with no fixed purpose. She had still more than three
hours to while away before she was to be at the station. At first, she
took a walk in the inner town, which she had passed through in the
morning. It was really a pleasant thing to wander about unobserved like
this, as a stranger in the crowd. It was long since she had experienced
that pleasure. Some of the men who passed her glanced at her with
interest, and more than one, indeed, stopped to gaze after her. She
regretted that she was dressed to so little advantage, and rejoiced at
the prospect of obtaining soon the beautiful costume she had ordered
from the Viennese dressmaker. She would have liked to find some one
following her.

Suddenly the thought passed through her mind: would Emil Lindbach
recognize her if she were to meet him? What a question! Such things never
happened, of course. No, she was quite sure that she could wander about
Vienna the whole day long without ever meeting him. How long was it since
she had seen him? Seven--eight years.... Yes, the last time she had met
him was two years before her marriage. She had been with her parents one
warm summer evening in the Schweitzerhaus on the Prater; he had gone by
with a friend and had stopped a few minutes at their table. Ah, and now
she remembered also that amongst the company at their table there had
been the young doctor who was courting her. She had forgotten what Emil
had said on that occasion, but she remembered that he had held his hat
in his hand during the whole time he was standing before her, which had
afforded her inexpressible delight. Would he do the same now, she thought
to herself, if she were to meet him?

Where was he living now, she wondered. In the old days he had a room on
the Weiden, near St. Paul's Church.... Yes, he had pointed out the window
as they passed one day, and had ventured, as they did so, to make a
certain remark--she had forgotten the exact words, but there was no doubt
that they had been to the effect that he and she ought to be in that room
together. She had rebuked him very severely for saying such a thing; she
had even gone the length of telling him that if that was the sort of girl
he thought she was, all was over between them. And, in fact, he had never
spoken another word on the subject.

Would she recognize the window again? Would she find it? It was all the
same to her, of course, whether she went for a walk in this direction or
that. She hurried towards the Weiden as though she had suddenly found an
object for her walk. She was amazed at the complete change which had come
over the neighbourhood. When she looked down from the Elizabeth Bridge
she saw walls that rose from the bed of the Wien, half finished tracks,
little trucks moving to and fro, and busy workmen. Soon she reached St.
Paul's Church by the same road as she had so often followed in the old
days. But then she came to a standstill; she was absolutely at a loss to
remember where Emil had lived--whether she had to turn to the right or to
the left. It was strange how completely it had escaped her memory. She
walked slowly back as far as the Conservatoire, then she stood still.
Above her were the windows from which she had so often gazed upon the
dome of St. Charles' Church, and longingly awaited the end of the lesson
so that she might meet Emil. How great had been her love for him, indeed;
and how strange it was that it should have died so completely!

And now, when she had returned to these scenes, she was a widow, had
been so for years, and had a child at home who was growing up. If she
had died, Emil would never have heard of it, or perhaps not until years
afterwards. Her eyes fell on a large placard fixed on the entrance,
gates of the Conservatoire. It was an announcement of the concert at
which he was going to play, and there was his name appearing among a
number of other great ones, many of which she had long since admired
with gentle awe.

"BRAHMS VIOLIN CONCERTO--EMIL LINDBACH, VIOLINIST TO THE COURT OF
BAVARIA."

"Violinist to the Court of Bavaria!"--she had never heard anything about
that before.

Gazing up at his name, which stood out in glittering letters, it seemed
to her as though the next moment Emil himself might come out through the
gate, his violin case in his hand, a cigarette between his lips. Of a
sudden it all seemed so near, and nearer still when all at once from the
windows above came floating down the long-drawn notes of a violin, just
as she had so often heard in the old days.

She thought she would like to come to Vienna for that concert--yes, even
if she should be obliged to spend the night at an hotel! And she would
take a seat right in front and see him quite close at hand. She wondered
whether he, in his turn, would see her, and, if so, whether he would
recognize her. She remained standing before the yellow placard, wholly
absorbed in thought, until she felt that some young people coming out of
the Conservatoire were staring at her and then she realized that she had
been smiling to herself the whole time, as if lost in a pleasant dream.

She proceeded to walk on. The district around the town-park had also
changed, and, when she sought the places where she and Emil had often
been for walks together, she found that they had quite' disappeared.
Trees had been felled, boardings barred the way, the ground had been dug
up, and in vain she tried to find the seat where she and Emil had
exchanged words of love, the tone of which she remembered so well without
being able to recall the actual phrases.

Presently she reached the trim well-kept part of the park, which was
full of people. But she had a sensation that many were looking at her,
and that some ladies were laughing at her. And once more she felt that
she was looking very countrified. She was vexed at being embarrassed, and
thought of the time when, as a pretty young girl, she had walked, proud
and unconcerned, along these very avenues. It seemed to her that she had
fallen off so much since then, and become so pitiable. Her idea of
sitting in the front row of the concert hall appeared presumptuous,
almost unfeasible. It seemed also highly improbable now that Emil
Lindbach would recognize her; indeed, it struck her as almost impossible
that he should remember her existence. What a number of experiences he
must have had! How many women and girls might well have loved him--and in
a manner quite different from her own!

And whilst she continued her way, walking, now along the less frequented
avenues and at length out of the park upon the Ringstrasse again, she
drew a mental picture of the beloved of her youth figuring in all manner
of adventures, in which confused recollections of events depicted in the
novels she had read and indistinctly formed ideas of his professional
tours were strangely intermingled. She imagined him in Venice with a
Russian princess in a gondola; then in her mind's eye she saw him at the
court of the King of Bavaria, where duchesses listened to his playing,
and fell in love with him; then in the boudoir of an opera singer; then
at a fancy-dress ball in Spain, with crowds of alluring masqueraders
about him. The further he seemed to soar away, unapproachable and
enviable, the more miserable she felt herself to be, and all at once it
seemed utterly inconceivable that she had so lightly surrendered her own
hopes of an artistic career and given up her lover, in order to lead a
sunless existence, and to be lost in the crowd. A shudder seemed to seize
her as she recalled that she was nothing but the widow of an
insignificant man, that she lived in a provincial town, that she earned
her living by means of music lessons, and that she saw old age slowly
approaching. Never had there fallen upon her way so much as a single ray
of the brilliance which shone upon the road his footsteps would tread so
long as he lived. And again the same shudder ran through her at the
thought that she had always been content with her lot, and that, without
hope and indeed, without yearning, she had passed her whole existence in
a gloom, which, at that moment, seemed inexplicable.

She reached the Aspernbrüke without in the least giving heed to where her
footsteps were taking her. She wished to cross the street at this point,
but had to wait while a great number of carriages drove by. Most of them
were occupied by gentlemen, many of whom carried field-glasses. She knew
that they were returning from the races at the Prater.

There came an elegant equipage in which were seated a young man and a
girl, the latter dressed in a white spring costume. Immediately behind
was a carriage containing two strikingly dressed ladies. Bertha gazed
long after them, and noticed that one of the ladies turned round, and
that the object of her attention was the carriage which followed
immediately behind, and in which sat a young and very handsome man in a
long grey overcoat. Bertha was conscious of something very
painful--uneasiness and annoyance at one and the same time. She would
have liked to be the lady whom the young man followed; she would have
liked to be beautiful, young, independent, and, Heaven knows, she would
have liked to be any woman who could do as she wanted, and could turn
round after men who pleased her.

And at that moment she realized, quite distinctly, that Frau Rupius was
now in the company of somebody whom she loved. Indeed why shouldn't she?
Of course, so long as she stayed in Vienna, she was free and mistress of
her own time--besides, she was a very pretty woman, and was wearing a
fragrant violet costume. On her lips there hovered a smile such as only
comes to those who are happy--and Frau Rupius was unhappy at home. All at
once, Bertha had a vision of Herr Rupius sitting in his room, looking at
the engravings. But on that day, surely, he was not doing so; no, he was
trembling for his wife, consumed with an immense fear that some one
yonder in the great city would take her away from him, that she would
never return, and that he would be left all alone with his sorrow. And
Bertha suddenly felt a thrill of compassion for him, such as she had
never experienced before. Indeed, she would have liked to be with him, to
comfort and to reassure him.

She felt a touch on her arm. She started and looked up. A young man
was standing beside her and gazing at her with an impudent leer. She
stared at him, full in the face, still quite absentmindedly; then he
said with a laugh:

"Well?"

She was frightened, and almost ran across the street, quickly passing in
front of a carriage. She was ashamed of her previous desire to be the
lady in the carriage she had seen coming from the Prater. It seemed as
though the man's insolence had been her punishment. No, no, she was a
respectable woman; in the depth of her soul she had an aversion to
everything that savoured of the insolent.... No, she could no longer
stay in Vienna, where women were exposed to such things! A longing for
the peace of her home came over her, and she rejoiced in the prospect of
meeting her little boy again, as in something extraordinarily beautiful.

What time was it, though? Heavens, a quarter of seven! She would have to
take a carriage; there was no question about that now, indeed! Frau
Rupius had, of course, paid for the carriage in the morning, and so the
one which she was now going to take would only cost her half, so to
speak. She took her seat in an open cab, leaned back in the corner, in
almost the same aristocratic manner as that of the lady she had seen in
the white frock. People gazed after her. She knew that she was now
looking young and pretty. Moreover, she was feeling quite safe, nothing
could happen to her. She took an indescribable pleasure in the swift
motion of the cab with its rubber-tyred wheels. She thought how splendid
it would be if on the occasion of her next visit she were to drive
through the town, wearing her new costume and the small straw hat which
made her look so young.

She was glad that Frau Rupius was standing in the entrance to the
station and saw her arrive. But she betrayed no sign of pride, and acted
as though it was quite the usual thing for her to drive up to the
station in a cab.

"We have still ten minutes to spare," said Frau Rupius. "Are you very
angry with me for having kept you waiting? Just fancy, my brother was
giving a grand children's party to-day, and the little ones simply
wouldn't let me go. It occurred to me too late that I might really have
called for you; the children would have amused you so much. I have told
my brother that, next time, I will bring you and your boy with me."

Bertha felt heartily ashamed of herself. How she had wronged this woman
again! She could only press her hand and say:

"Thank you, you are very kind!"

They went on to the platform and entered an empty compartment. Frau
Rupius had a small bag of cherries in her hand, and she ate them slowly,
one after another, throwing the stones out of the window. When the train
began to move out of the station she leaned back and closed her eyes.
Bertha looked out of the window; she felt very tired after so much
walking, and a slight uneasiness arose within her; she might have spent
the day differently, more quietly and enjoyably. Her chilly reception and
the tedious dinner at her cousin's came to her mind. After all, it was a
great pity that she no longer had any acquaintances in Vienna. She had
wandered like a stranger about the town in which she had lived twenty-six
years. Why? And why had she not made the carriage pull up in the morning,
when she saw the figure that seemed to have a resemblance to Emil
Lindbach? True, she would not have been able to run or call after
him--but if it had been really he, if he had recognized her and been
pleased to see her again? They might have walked about together, might
have told each other all that had happened during the long time that had
passed since they had last known anything about one another; they might
have gone to a fashionable restaurant and had dinner; some would
naturally have recognized him, and she would have heard quite distinctly
people discussing the question as to who "she" might really be. She was
looking beautiful, too; the new costume was already finished; and the
waiters served her with great politeness, especially a small youth who
brought the wine--but he was really her nephew, who had, of course,
become a waiter in that restaurant instead of a student. Suddenly Herr
and Frau Martin entered the dining-hall; they were holding one another in
such a tender embrace as if they were the only people there. Then Emil
rose to his feet, took up the violin bow which was lying beside him, and
raised it with a commanding gesture, whereupon the waiter turned Herr and
Frau Martin out of the room. Bertha could not help laughing at the
incident, laughing much too loudly indeed, for by this time she had quite
forgotten how to behave in a fashionable restaurant. But then it was not
a fashionable restaurant at all; it was only the coffee room at the "Red
Apple," and the military band was playing somewhere out of sight. That,
be it known, was a clever invention on the part of Herr Rupius, that
military bands could play without being seen. Now, however, it was her
turn that was immediately to follow. Yonder was the piano--but, of
course, she had long since completely forgotten how to play; she would
run away rather than be forced to play. And all at once she was at the
railway station, where Frau Rupius was already waiting for her. "It is
high time you came," she said. She placed in Bertha's hand a large book,
which, by the way, was her ticket. Frau Rupius, however, was not going
to take the train; she sat down, ate cherries and spat out the stones at
the stationmaster, who took a huge delight in the proceedings. Bertha
entered the compartment. Thank God, Herr Klingemann was already there! He
made a sign to her with his screwed-up eyes, and asked her if she knew
whose funeral it was. She saw that a hearse was standing on the other
line. Then she remembered that the captain with whom the tobacconist's
wife had deceived Herr Klingemann was dead--of course, it was the day of
the concert at the "Red Apple." Suddenly Herr Klingemann blew on her
eyes, and laughed in a rumbling way.

Bertha opened her eyes--at that moment a train was rushing past the
window. She shook herself. What a confused dream! And hadn't it begun
quite nicely? She tried to remember. Yes, Emil played a part in it ...
but she could not recollect what part.

The dusk of evening slowly fell. The train sped on its way along by the
Danube. Frau Rupius slept and smiled. Perhaps she was only pretending to
be asleep. Bertha was again seized with a slight suspicion, and she felt
rising within her a sensation of envy at the unknown and mysterious
experiences which Frau Rupius had had. She, too, would gladly have
experienced something. She wished that someone was sitting beside her
now, his arm pressed against hers--she would fain have felt once more
that sensation that had thrilled her on that occasion when she had stood
with Emil on the bank of the Wien, and when she had almost been on the
point of losing her senses and had yearned for a child.... Ah, why was
she so poor, so lonely, so much in obscurity? Gladly would she have
implored the lover of her youth:

"Kiss me but once again just as you used to do, I want to be happy!"

It was dark; Bertha looked out into the night.

She determined that very night before she went to bed to fetch from the
attic the little case in which she kept the letters of her parents and of
Emil. She longed to be home again. She felt as though a question had been
wakened within her soul, and that the answer awaited her at home.



IV


When, late in the evening, Bertha entered her room, the idea which she
had taken into her head of going up to the attic at once and fetching
down the case with the letters seemed to her to be almost venturesome.
She was afraid that some one in the house might observe her on her
nocturnal pilgrimage, and might take her for mad. She could, of course,
go up the next morning quite conveniently and without causing any stir;
and so she fell asleep, feeling like a child who has been promised an
outing into the country on the following day.

She had much to do the next forenoon; her domestic duties and piano
lessons occupied the whole of the time. She had to give her sister-in-law
an account of her visit to Vienna. Her story was that in the afternoon
she had gone for a walk with her cousin, and the impression was conveyed
that she had made an excuse to Frau Rupius at the request of Agatha.

It was not until the afternoon that she went up to the attic and brought
down the dusty travelling-case, which was lying beside a trunk and a
couple of boxes--the whole collection covered with an old and torn piece
of red-flowered coffee-cloth. She remembered that her object on the last
occasion on which she had opened the case had been to put away the
papers which her parents had left behind. On her return to her room she
opened the case and perceived lying on top of the other contents a number
of letters from her brothers and other letters, with the handwriting of
which she was not familiar; then she found a neat little bundle
containing the few letters which her parents had addressed to her: these
were followed by two books of her mother's household accounts, a little
copybook dating back to her own schooldays and containing entries of
timetables and exercises, a few programmes of the dances which she had
attended when a young girl, and, finally, Emil Lindbach's letters, which
were wrapped up in blue tissue paper, torn here and there. And now she
was able to fix the very day on which she had last held those letters in
her hand, although she had not read them on that occasion. It was when
her father had been lying ill for some time and, for whole days, she had
not once gone outside the door.

She laid the bundle aside. She wanted, first of all, to see all the other
things which had been stored in the case, and concerning which she was
consumed with curiosity. A number of letters lay in a loose heap at the
bottom of the case, some with their envelopes and others without. She
cast her eye over them at random. There were letters from old friends, a
few from her cousin, and here was one from the doctor who had courted her
in the old days. In it he asked her to reserve for him the first waltz
at the medical students' dance. Here--what was it? Why, it was that
anonymous letter which some one had addressed to her at the
Conservatoire. She picked it up and read:

"My Dear Fraulein,

"Yesterday I again had the good fortune to have an opportunity of
admiring you on your daily walk; I do not know whether I had also the
good fortune to be observed by you."

No, he had not had that good fortune. Then followed three pages of
enthusiastic admiration, and not a single wish, not a single bold word.
She had, moreover, never heard anything more of the writer.

Here was a letter signed by two initials, "M.G." That was the impudent
fellow who had once spoken to her in the street, and who in this
letter made proposals--wait a minute, what were they? Ah, here was the
passage which had sent the hot blood mounting to her brow when she had
first read it:

"Since I have seen you, and since you have looked on me with a glance so
stern and yet seemingly so full of promise, I have had but one dream, but
one yearning--that I might kiss those eyes!"

Of course, she had not answered the letter; she was in love with Emil at
the time. Indeed, she had even thought of showing him the letter, but was
restrained by the fear of rousing his jealousy. Emil had never learned
anything of "M. G."

And that piece of soft ribbon that now fell into her hands?... A
cravat ... but she had quite forgotten whose it was, and why she had kept
it.

Here again was a little dance album in which she had written the names of
her partners. She tried to call the young men to mind, but in vain.
Though, by the way, it was at that very dance that she had met that man
who had said such passionate words to her as she had never heard from any
other. It seemed as though he suddenly emerged a victor from among the
many shadows that hovered around her. It must have happened during the
time when she and Emil had been meeting each other less frequently. How
strange it was ... or had it only been a dream? This passionate admirer
had clasped her closely in his arms during the dance--and she had not
offered the slightest resistance. She had felt his lips in her hair, and
it had been incredibly pleasant ... Well, and then?--she had never seen
him again.

It suddenly seemed to her that, after all, in those days she had had
many and strange experiences, and she was lost in amazement at the way
in which all these memories had slumbered so long in the travelling case
and in her soul.... But no, they had not slumbered; she had thought of
all these things many a time: of the men who had courted her, of the
anonymous letter, of her passionate partner at the dance, of the walks
with Emil--but only as if they had been merely such things as go to
constitute the past, the youth which is allotted to every young girl,
and from which she emerges to lead the placid life of a woman. On the
present occasion, however, it seemed to Bertha as if these recollections
were, so to speak, unredeemed promises, as if in those experiences of
distant days there lay destinies which had not been fulfilled; nay,
more, as if a kind of deception had long been practised upon her, from
the very day on which she had been married until the present moment; as
if she had discovered it all too late; and here she was, unable to lift
a finger to alter her destiny.

Yet why should it seem so?... She thought of all these futile things, and
there beside her, wrapped up in tissue paper, still lay the treasure, for
the sake of which alone she had rummaged in the case--the letters of the
only man she had loved, the letters written in the days when she had been
happy. How many women might there be now who envied her because that very
man had once loved her--loved her with a different, better, chaster love
than that which he had given any of the women who had followed her in his
affections. She felt herself most bitterly deceived that she, who could
have been his wife if ... if ... her thoughts broke off.

Hurriedly, as though seeking to rid her mind of doubt, or rather,
indeed, of fear, she tore off the tissue paper and seized the letters.
And she read--read them one after another. Long letters, short letters;
brief, hasty notes, like: "To-morrow evening, darling, at seven o'clock!"
or "Dearest, just one kiss ere I go to sleep!" letters that covered many
pages, written during the walking tours which he and his fellow students
had taken in the summer; letters written in the evening, in which he had
felt constrained to impart to her his impressions of a concert
immediately on returning home; endless pages in which he unfolded his
plans for the future; how they would travel together through Spain and
America, famous and happy ... she read them all, one after another, as
though tortured by a quenchless thirst. She read from the very first,
which had accompanied a few pieces of music, to the last, which was dated
two and a half years later, and contained nothing more than a greeting
from Salzburg.

When she came to an end she let her hands fall into her lap and gazed
fixedly at the sheets lying about. Why had that been the last letter? How
had their friendship come to an end? How could it have come to an end?
How had it been possible that that great love had died away? There had
never been any actual rupture between Emil and herself; they had never
come to any definite understanding that all was over between them, and
yet their acquaintanceship had ended at some time or other--when?... She
could not tell, because at the time when he had written that card to her
from Salzburg she had still been in love with him. She had, as a matter
of fact, met him in the autumn--indeed, during the winter of the same
year everything had seemed once more to blossom forth. She remembered
certain walks they had taken over the crunching snow, arm in arm, beside
St. Charles' Church--but when was it that they had taken the last of
these walks? They had, to be sure, never taken farewell of each
other.... She could not understand it.

How was it that she had been able so easily to renounce a happiness which
it might yet have been within her power to retain? How had it come about
that she had ceased to love him? Had the dullness of the daily routine of
her home life, which weighed so heavily upon her spirits ever since she
had left the Conservatoire, lulled her feelings to sleep just as it had
blunted the edge of her ambitions? Had the querulous remarks of her
parents on the subject of her friendship with the youthful
violinist--which had seemed likely to lead to nothing--acted on her with
such sobering effect?

Then she recalled to mind that even at a later date, when some months had
elapsed since she had last seen him, he had called at her parents' house,
and had kissed her in the back room. Yes, that had been the last time of
all. And then she remembered further that on that occasion she had
noticed that his relation towards women had changed; that he must have
had experiences of which she could know nothing--but the discovery had
not caused her any pain.

She asked herself how it all would have turned out if in those days she
had not been so virtuous, if she had taken life as easily as some of the
other girls? She called to mind a girl at the Conservatoire with whom she
had ceased to associate on finding that her friend had an intrigue with a
dramatic student. She remembered again the suggestive words which Emil
had spoken as they were walking together past his window, and the
yearning that had come over her as they stood by the bank of the Wien. It
seemed inconceivable that those words had not affected her more keenly at
the moment, that that yearning had been awakened within her only once,
and then only for so short a time. With a kind of perplexed amazement she
thought of that period of placid purity and then, with a sudden agonized
feeling of shame which drove the blood to her temples, of the cold
readiness with which she had given herself afterwards to a man whom she
had never loved. The consciousness that whatever happiness she had tasted
in the course of her married life had been gained in the arms of the
husband she had not loved made her shudder with horror, for the first
time, in its utter wretchedness. Had that, then, been life such as her
thoughts had depicted to her, had that been the mystic happiness such as
she had yearned for?... And a dull feeling of resentment against
everything and everybody, against the living and the dead, began to
smoulder within her bosom. She was angry with her dead husband and with
her dead father and mother; she was indignant with the people amongst
whom she was now living, whose eyes were always upon her so that she
dared not allow herself any freedom; she was hurt with Frau Rupius, who
had not turned out to be such a friend that Bertha could rely on her for
support; she hated Klingemann because, ugly and repulsive as he was, he
desired to make her his wife; and finally she was violently enraged with
the man she had loved in the days of her girlhood, because he had not
been bolder, because he had withheld from her the ultimate happiness, and
because he had bequeathed her nothing but memories full of fragrance, yet
full of torment. And there she was, sitting in her lonely room amongst
the faded mementoes of a youth that had passed unprofitably and
friendlessly; there she was, on the verge of the time when there would be
no more hopes and no more desires--life had slipped through her fingers,
and she was thirty and poor.

She wrapped up the letters and the other things, and threw them, all
crumpled as they were, into the case. Then she closed it and went over to
the window.

Evening was at hand. A gentle breeze was blowing over from the direction
of the vine-trellises. Her eyes swam with unwept tears, not of grief, but
of exasperation. What was she to do? She, who had, without fear and
without hope, seen the days, nights, months, years extending into the
future, shuddered at the prospect of the emptiness of the evening which
lay before her.

It was the hour at which she usually returned home from her walk. On that
day she had sent the nursemaid out with Fritz--not so much as once did
she yearn for her boy. Indeed, for one moment there even fell on her
child a ray of the anger which she felt against all mankind and against
her fate. And, in her vast discontent, she was seized with a feeling of
envy against many people who, at ordinary times, seemed to her anything
but enviable. She envied Frau Martin because of the tender affection of
her husband; the tobacconist's wife because she was loved by Herr
Klingemann and the captain; her sister-in-law, because she was already
old; Elly, because she was still young; she envied the servant, who was
sitting on a plank over there with a soldier, and whom she heard
laughing. She could not endure being at home any longer; She took up her
straw hat and sunshade and hurried into the street. There she felt
somewhat better. In her room she had been unhappy; in the street she was
no more than out of humour.

In the main thoroughfare she met Herr and Frau Mahlmann, to whose
children she gave music lessons. Frau Mahlmann was already aware that
Bertha had ordered a costume from a dressmaker in Vienna on the
previous day, and she began to discuss the matter with great
weightiness. Later on, Bertha met her brother-in-law, who came towards
her from the chestnut avenue.

"Well," he said, "so you were in Vienna yesterday! Tell me, what did you
do with yourself there? Did you have any adventures?"

"What do you mean?" asked Bertha, looking at him in great alarm, as
though she had done something she ought not, and had been found out.

"What? You had no adventures? But you were with Frau Rupius; all the men
must surely have run after you?"

"What on earth has come into your head? Frau Rupius' conduct is
irreproachable! She is one of the most well-bred ladies I know."

"Quite so, quite so! I am not saying a word against Frau Rupius or you."

She looked him in the face. His eyes were gleaming, as they often did
when he had had a little too much to drink. She could not help recalling
that somebody had once foretold that Herr Garlan would die of an
apoplectic stroke.

"I must pay another visit to Vienna myself one of these days," he said.
"Why, I haven't been there since Ash Wednesday. I should like to see some
of my acquaintances once again. The next time you and Frau Rupius go, you
might just take me with you."

"With pleasure," answered Bertha. "I shall have to go again, of course,
before long, to have my costume tried on."

Garlan laughed.

"Yes, and you can take me with you, too, when you try it on."

He sidled up closer to her than was necessary. It was a way he had always
to squeeze up against her, and, moreover, she was accustomed to his
jokes, but on the present occasion she thought him particularly
objectionable. She was very much annoyed that he, of all men, always
spoke of Frau Rupius in such a suspicious way.

"Let us sit down," said Herr Garlan; "if you don't mind."

They both sat down on a seat. Garlan took the newspaper from his pocket.

"Ah!" said Bertha involuntarily.

"Will you have it?" asked Garlan.

"Has your wife read it yet?"

"Tut, tut!" said Garlan disdainfully. "Will you have it?"

"If you can spare it."

"For you--with pleasure. But we might just as well read it together."

He edged closer to Bertha and opened the paper.

Herr and Frau Martin came along, arm in arm, and stopped before them.

"Well, so you are back again from the momentous journey," said
Herr Martin.

"Ah, yes, you were in Vienna," said Frau Martin, nestling against her
husband. "And with Frau Rupius, too," she added, as though that implied
an aggravation of the offence.

Once more Bertha had to give an account of her new costume. She told them
all about it in a somewhat mechanical manner, indeed; but she felt, none
the less, that it was long since she had been such an interesting
personage as she was now.

Klingemann went by, bowed with ironical politeness, and turned round to
Bertha with a look which seemed to express his sympathy for her in having
to be friendly with such people.

It seemed to Bertha as though she were gifted that day with the ability
to read men's glances.

It began to grow dark. They set off together towards the town. Bertha
suddenly grew uneasy at not having met her boy. She walked on in
front with Frau Martin, who turned the conversation on to the subject
of Frau Rupius. She badly wanted to find out whether Bertha had
observed anything.

"But what do you mean, Frau Martin? I accompanied Frau Rupius to her
brother's house, and called for her there on my way back."

"And are you convinced that she was with her brother the whole time?"

"I really don't know what you expect Frau Rupius to do! Where would she
have been then?"

"Well," said Frau Martin; "really, you are an artless creature. I must
say--or are you only putting on? Do you quite forget then ..."

Then she whispered something into Bertha's ear, at which the latter grew
very red. She had never heard such an expression from a woman. She was
indignant.

"Frau Martin," she said, "I am not so old myself either and, as you see,
it is quite possible to live a decent life in such circumstances."

Frau Martin was a little taken aback.

"Yes, of course!" she said. "Yes, of course! You must, I dare say, think
that I am a little over-nice in such matters."

Bertha was afraid that Frau Martin might be about to give her some
further and more intimate disclosures, and she was very glad to find
that, at that moment, they had reached the street corner where she could
say good-bye.

"Bertha, here's your paper!" her brother-in-law called after her.

She turned round quickly and took the paper. Then she hastened home.
Fritz had returned and was waiting for her at the window. She hurried up
to him. She embraced and kissed him as though she had not seen him for
weeks. She felt that she was completely engrossed with love for her boy,
a fact which, at the time, filled her with pride. She listened to his
account of how he had spent the afternoon, where he had been, and with
whom he had played. She cut up his supper for him, undressed him, put him
to bed, and was satisfied with herself. Her state of mind of the
afternoon, when she had rummaged among the old letters, had cursed her
fate and had even envied the tobacconist's wife, seemed to her, at the
thought of it, as an attack of fever. She ate a hearty supper and went to
bed early. Before falling to sleep, however, it occurred to her that she
would like to read the paper. She stretched her limbs, shook up the soft
bolster so that her head should be higher, and held the paper as near the
candle as possible.

As her custom was, she first of all skimmed through the theatrical and
art news. Even the short announcements, as well as the local reports, had
acquired a new interest for her, since her trip to Vienna. Her eyelids
were beginning to grow heavy when all at once she observed the name of
Emil Lindbach amongst the personal news. She opened her eyes wide, sat up
in bed and read the paragraph.

"Emil Lindbach, violinist to the Court of Bavaria, whose great success at
the Spanish Court we were recently in a position to announce, has been
honoured by the Queen of Spain, who has invested him with the Order of
the Redeemer."

A smile flitted across her lips. She was glad, Emil Lindbach had obtained
the Order of the Redeemer.... Yes ... the man whose letters she had been
reading that very day ... the man who had kissed her--the man who had
once written to her that he would never adore any other woman.... Yes,
Emil--the only man in all the world in whom she really had still any
interest--except her boy, of course. She felt as though this notice in
the paper was intended only for her, as though, indeed, Emil himself had
selected that expedient, so as to establish some means of communication
with her. Had it not been he, after all, whose back she had seen in the
distance on the previous day? All at once she seemed to be quite near to
him; still smiling, she whispered to herself: "Herr Emil Lindbach,
violinist to the Court of Bavaria, ... I congratulate you...."

Her lips remained half open. An idea had suddenly come to her. She got up
quickly, donned her dressing-gown, took up the light and went into the
adjoining room. She sat down at the table and wrote the following letter
as fluently as though some one were standing beside her and dictating it,
word for word:

"DEAR EMIL,

"I have just read in the newspaper that the Queen of Spain has honoured
you by investing you with the Order of the Redeemer. I do not know
whether you still remember me"--she smiled as she wrote these
words--"but, all the same, I will not let this opportunity slip without
congratulating you upon your many successes, of which I so often have the
pleasure of reading. I am living most contentedly in the little town
where fate has cast me; I am getting on very well!

"A few lines in reply would make me very happy.

"Your old friend,

"BERTHA.

"P.S.--Kind regards also from my little Fritz (five years old)."

She had finished the letter. For a moment she asked herself whether she
should mention that she was a widow; but even if he had not known it
before, it was quite obvious from her letter. She read it over and nodded
contentedly. She wrote the address.

"Herr Emil Lindbach, violinist to the Court of Bavaria, Holder of the
Order of the Redeemer ..." Should she write all that? He was certain to
have many other Orders also ... "Vienna ..."

But where was he living at present? That, however, was of no consequence
with such a celebrated name. Moreover the inaccuracy in the address would
also show that she did not attach so very much importance to it all; if
the letter reached him--well, so much the better. It was also a way of
putting fate to the test.... Ah, but how was she to know for a certainty
that the letter had arrived or not? The answer might, of course, quite
easily fail to reach her if.... No, no, certainly not! He would be sure
to
thank her. And so, to bed.

She held the letter in her hand. No, she could not go to bed now, she
was wide awake again. And, moreover, if she did not post the letter until
next morning it would not go before the midday train, and would not reach
Emil before the day after. That was an interminably long time. She had
just spoken to him, and were thirty-six hours to be allowed to elapse
before her words reached his ears?... Supposing she did not wait, but
went to the post now?... no, to the station? Then he would have the
letter at ten o'clock the next morning. He was certain to be late in
rising--the letter would be brought into his room with his breakfast....
Yes, she must post the letter at once!

Quickly she dressed again. She hurried down the stairs--it was not yet
late--she hastened along the main street to the station, put the letter
in the yellow box, and was home again.

As she stood in her room, beside the tumbled bed, and she saw the paper
lying on the floor and the candle flickering, it seemed as though she had
returned from a strange adventure. For a long time she remained sitting
on the edge of the bed, gazing through the window into the bright,
starlit night, and her soul was filled with vague and pleasurable
expectations.



V


"My Dear Bertha!

"I am wholly unable to tell you how glad I was to receive your letter. Do
you really still think of me, then? How curious it is that it should have
been an Order, of all things, that was the cause of my hearing from you
again! Well, at all events, an Order has at least had some significance
for once in a way! Therefore, I heartily thank you for your
congratulations. But, apart from all that, don't you come to Vienna
sometimes? It is not so very far, after all. I should be immensely
pleased to see you again. So come soon!

"With all my heart,

"Your old

"Emil."

Bertha was sitting at breakfast, Fritz beside her. He was chatting, but
she was not listening to him. The letter lay before her on the table.

It seemed miraculous. Two nights and a day ago she had posted her letter,
and here was his reply already. Emil had not allowed a day to pass, not
even an hour! He had written to her as cordially as if they had only
parted the previous day.

She looked out of the window. What a splendid morning it was! Outside
the birds were singing, and from the hills came floating down the
fragrance of the early summer-tide.

Bertha read the letter again and again. Then she took Fritz, lifted him
up and kissed him to her heart's content. It was long since she had
been so happy.

While she was dressing she turned things over in her mind. It was
Thursday; on Monday she had to go to Vienna again to try on the costume.
That was four long days, just the same space of time as had elapsed since
she had dined at her brother-in-law's--what a long time it seemed to have
to wait. No, she must see Emil sooner than that. She could, of course, go
the very next morning and remain in Vienna a few days. But what excuse
could she make to the people at home?... Oh, she would be sure to find
some pretext. It was more important to decide in what way she should
answer his letter and tell him where she would meet him.... She could not
write and say: "I am coming, please let me know where I can see you...."
Perhaps he would answer: "Come to my rooms...." No, no, no! It would be
best to let him have a definite statement of fact. She would write to the
effect that she was going to Vienna on such and such a day and was to be
found at such and such a place....

Oh, if she only had someone with whom she could talk the whole thing
over!... She thought of Frau Rupius--she had a genuine yearning to tell
her everything. At the same time she had an idea that, by so doing, she
might become more intimate with her and might win her esteem. She felt
that she had become much more important since the receipt of Emil's
letter. Now she remarked, too, that she had been very much afraid that
Emil might quite possibly have changed and become conceited, affected and
spoiled--just as was the case with so many celebrated men. But there was
not the slightest trace of such things in the letter; there was the same
quick, heavy writing, the same warmth of tone, as in those earlier
letters. What a number of experiences he might well have had since she
had last seen him--well, had not she also had many experiences, and were
they not all seemingly obliterated?

Before going out she read Emil's letter again. It grew more like a living
voice; she heard the cadence of the words, and that final "Come soon"
seemed to call her with tender yearning. She stuck the letter into her
bodice and remembered how, as a girl, she had often done the same with
his notes, and how the gentle touch had sent a pleasant thrill coursing
through her.

First of all, she went to the Mahlmanns', where she gave the twins their
music lesson. Very often the finger exercises, to which she had to
listen there, were positively painful to her, and she would rap the
children on the knuckles when they struck a false note. On the present
occasion, however, she was not in the least strict. When Frau Mahlmann,
fat and friendly as ever, came into the room and inquired whether Bertha
was satisfied, the latter praised the children and added, as though
suddenly inspired:

"Now, I shall be able to give them a few days' holiday."

"Holiday! How will that be, then, dear Frau Garlan?"

"You see, Frau Mahlmann, I have no choice in the matter. What do you
think, when I was in Vienna lately my cousin begged me so pressingly to
be sure to come and spend a few days with her--"

"Quite so, quite so," said Frau Mahlmann.

Bertha's courage kept rising, and she continued to add falsehood to
falsehood, taking a kind of pleasure in her own boldness:

"I really wanted to put it off till June. But this very morning I had a
letter from her, saying that her husband is going away for a time, and
she is so lonely, and just now"--she felt the letter crackle, and had an
indescribable desire to take it out; but yet restrained herself--"and I,
think I shall perhaps take advantage of the opportunity...."

"Well, to tell the truth," said Frau Mahlmann, taking Bertha by both
hands, "if I had a cousin in Vienna, I would like to stay with her a week
every fortnight!"

Bertha beamed. She felt as though an invisible hand was clearing away
the obstacles which lay in her path; everything was going so well. And,
indeed, to whom, after all, was she accountable for her actions?
Suddenly, however, the fear flashed through her mind that her
brother-in-law really intended to go with her to Vienna. Everything
became entangled again; dangers cropped up and suspicion lurked even
under the good-natured smile of Frau Mahlmann....

Ah, she must on no account fail to take Frau Rupius into her confidence.
Directly the lesson was over she went to call upon her.

It was not until she had found Frau Rupius in a white morning gown,
sitting on the sofa, and had observed the surprised glance with which the
latter received her, that it struck Bertha that there was anything
strange in her early visit, and she said with affected cheerfulness:

"Good morning! I'm early to-day, am I not?"

Frau Rupius remained serious. She had not the usual smile on her lips.

"I am very glad to see you. The hour makes no difference to me."

Then she threw her a questioning glance, and Bertha did not know what to
say. She was annoyed, too, at the childish embarrassment, of which she
could not rid herself in the presence of Frau Rupius.

"I wanted," she said, at length, "to ask you how you felt after
our trip."

"Quite well," answered Frau Rupius, rather stiffly. But all at once
her features changed, and she added with excessive friendliness:
"Really, it was my place to have asked you. I am accustomed to those
trips, you know."

As she said this she looked through the window and Bertha mechanically
followed her gaze, which wandered over to the other side of the market
square to an open window with flowers on the sill. It was quite calm, and
the repose of a summer day shrouded the slumbering town. Bertha would
have dearly liked to sit beside Frau Rupius and be kissed upon the brow
by her, and blessed; but at the same time she had a feeling of compassion
towards her. All this puzzled her. For what reason, indeed, had she
really come? And what should she say to her?... "I'm going to-morrow to
Vienna to see the man who used to be in love with me when I was a
girl?"... In what way did all that concern Frau Rupius? Would it really
interest her in the very slightest degree? There she sat as if surrounded
by something impenetrable; it was impossible to approach her. _She_ could
not approach her, that was the trouble. Of course, there was a word by
means of which it was possible to find the way to her heart, only Bertha
did not know it.

"Well, how is your little boy?" asked Frau Rupius, without taking her
eyes off the flowers in the opposite window.

"He is going on as well as ever. He is very well-behaved, and is a
marvellously good child!"

The last word she uttered with an intentional tenderness as though Frau
Rupius was to be won over by that means.

"Yes, yes," answered the latter, her tone implying that she knew he was
good, and had not asked about that. "Have you a reliable nursemaid?"
she added.

Bertha was somewhat astonished at the question.

"My maid has, of course, many other things to attend to besides her
nurse's duties," she replied; "but I cannot complain of her. She is also
a very good cook."

"It must be a great happiness to have such a boy," said Frau Rupius very
drily, after a short interval of silence.

"It is, indeed, my only happiness," said Bertha, more loudly than was
necessary.

It was an answer which she had often made before, but she knew that, on
that day, she was not speaking with entire sincerity. She felt the
sheet of paper touch her skin, and, almost with alarm, she realized
that she had also deemed it a happiness to have received that letter.
At the same time it occurred to her that the woman sitting opposite her
had neither a child nor even the prospect of having one, and Bertha
would have been glad to take back what she had said. Indeed, she was on
the point of seeking some qualifying word. But, as if Frau Rupius was
able to see into her soul, and as if in her presence a lie was
impossible, she said at once:

"Your only happiness? Say, rather, 'a great happiness,' and that is no
small thing! I often envy you on that score, although I really think
that, apart from such considerations, life in itself is a joy to you."

"Indeed, my life is so lonely, so...."

Anna smiled.

"Quite so, but I did not mean that. What I meant was that the fact that
the sun is shining and the weather is now so fine also makes you glad."

"Oh yes, very glad!" replied Bertha assiduously. "My frame of mind is
generally dependent on the weather. During that thunderstorm a few days
ago I was utterly depressed, and then, when the storm was over--"

Frau Rupius interrupted her.

"That is the case with every one, you know."

Bertha grew low-spirited. She felt that she was not clever enough for
Frau Rupius; she could never do any more than follow the ordinary lines
of conversation, like the other women of her acquaintance. It seemed as
though Frau Rupius had arranged an examination for her, which she had not
passed, and, all at once, she was seized with a great apprehension at the
prospect of meeting Emil again. What sort of a figure would she cut in
his presence? How shy and helpless she had become during the six years
of her narrow existence in the little town!

Frau Rupius rose to her feet. The white morning gown streamed around her;
she looked taller and more beautiful than usual, and Bertha was
involuntarily reminded of an actress she had seen on the stage a very
long time ago, and to whom at that moment Frau Rupius bore a remarkable
resemblance. Bertha said to herself: If I were only like Frau Rupius I am
sure I would not be so timid. At the same time it struck her that this
exquisitely lovely woman was married to an invalid--might not the gossips
be right then, after all? But here, again, she was unable to pursue
further her train of thought; she could not imagine in what way the
gossips could be right. And at that moment it dawned upon her mind how
bitter was the fate to which Frau Rupius was condemned, no matter whether
she now bore it or resisted it.

But, as if Anna had again read Bertha's thoughts, and could not tolerate
that the latter should thus insinuate herself into her confidence, the
uncanny gravity of her face relaxed suddenly, and she said in an
innocent tone:

"Just fancy, my husband is still asleep. He has acquired the habit of
remaining awake until late at night, reading and looking at engravings,
and then he sleeps on until midday. As for that, it is quite a matter
of habit; when I used to live in Vienna I was incredibly lazy about
getting up."

And thereupon she began to chat about her girlhood, cheerfully, and with
a confiding manner such as Bertha had never before noticed in her. She
told about her father, who had been an officer on the Staff, about her
mother, who had died when she was quite a young woman; and about the
little house in the garden of which she had played as a child. It was
only now that Bertha learned that Frau Rupius had first become acquainted
with her husband when he was just a boy; he had lived with his parents in
the adjoining house, and had fallen in love with Anna and she with him,
while they were both children. To Bertha the whole period of Frau Rupius'
youth appeared as if radiant with bright sunbeams, a youth replete with
happiness, replete with hope; and it seemed to her, moreover, that Frau
Rupius' voice assumed a fresher tone when she went on to relate about the
travels which she and her husband had undertaken in the early days of
their married life.

Bertha let her talk and hesitated to interrupt her with a word, as though
she were a somnambulist wandering on the ridge of a roof. But while Frau
Rupius was speaking of her past, a period through which the blessedness
of being loved ever beamed brightly as its chiefest glory, Bertha's soul
began to thrill with the hope of a happiness for herself such as she had
not yet experienced. And while Frau Rupius was telling of the walking
tours through Switzerland and the Tyrol, which she had once undertaken
with her husband, Bertha pictured herself wandering by Emil's side on
similar paths, and she was filled with such an immense yearning that she
would dearly have liked at once to get up, go to Vienna, seek him out,
fall into his arms, and at last, at last to taste those delights which
had hitherto been denied her.

Her thoughts wandered so far that she did not notice that Frau Rupius had
long since fallen silent, and was sitting on the sofa, staring at the
flowers in the window of the house over the way. The utter stillness
brought Bertha back to reality; the whole room seemed to her to be filled
with some mysterious atmosphere, in which the past and the future were
strangely intermingled. She felt that there existed an incomprehensible
connexion between herself and Frau Rupius. She rose to her feet,
stretched out her hand, and, as if it were quite a matter of course, the
two ladies kissed each other good-bye like a couple of old friends.

On reaching the door Bertha remarked:

"I am going to Vienna again to-morrow for a few days."

She smiled as she spoke, like a girl about to be married.

After leaving Frau Rupius, Bertha went to her sister-in-law. Her nephew
was already sitting at the piano, improvising in a very wild manner. He
pretended not to have noticed her enter, and proceeded to practise his
finger exercises, which he played in an attitude of stiffness, assumed
for the occasion.

"We will play a duet to-day," said Bertha, endeavouring to find the
volume of Schubert's marches.

She paid not the least attention to her own playing, and hardly noticed
how, in using the pedals, her nephew touched her feet.

In the meantime Elly came into the room and kissed her aunt.

"Ah, just so, I had quite forgotten that!" said Richard, and, whilst
continuing to play, he placed his lips close to Bertha's cheek.

Her sister-in-law came in with her bunch of keys rattling and a deep
dejection on her pale and indistinct features.

"I have given Brigitta notice," she said in a feeble tone. "I couldn't
endure it any longer."

"Shall I get you a maid in Vienna?" asked Bertha with a facility which
even surprised her.

And now for the second time she told the fiction which she had invented
about her cousin's invitation, with even greater assurance than before,
and, moreover, with a little amplification this time. Along with the
secret joy which she found in the telling, she felt her courage
increasing at the same time. Even the possibility of being joined by her
brother-in-law no longer alarmed her. She felt, too, that she had an
advantage over him, because of the way in which he was in the habit of
sidling up to her.

"How long are you thinking of staying in the town, then?" asked her
sister-in-law.

"Two or three days; certainly no longer. And in any case, of course, I
should have had to go on Monday--to the dressmaker."

Richard strummed on the keys, but Elly stood with both arms resting on
the piano, gazing at her aunt with a look almost of terror.

"Whatever is the matter with you?" asked Bertha involuntarily.

"Why do you ask that?" said Elly.

"You are looking at me," said Bertha, "as queerly as though--well, as
though you did not like the idea of missing your music lessons for a
couple of days."

"No, it is not that," replied Elly, smiling. "But ... no, I can't
tell you."

"What is it, though?" asked Bertha.

"No, please, I really can't tell you."

She hugged her aunt, almost imploringly.

"Elly," said her mother, "I cannot permit you to have any secrets."

She sat down as though most deeply grieved and very tired.

"Well, Elly," said Bertha, filled with a vague fear, "if I were to
beg you--"

"But you mustn't laugh at me, Aunt."

"Certainly not."

"Well, you see, Aunt, I was so frightened when you were away in Vienna
that last time--I know very well it is silly--but it is because ...
because of the number of carriages in the streets."

Bertha drew a deep breath as of relief, and stroked Elly's cheeks.

"I will be sure to take great care. You can be quite easy in your mind."

Her sister-in-law shook her head.

"I am afraid that Elly will turn out a most eccentric girl."

Before Bertha left the house she arranged with her sister-in-law that she
would come back to supper, and that she would hand over Fritz to the care
of her relations while she as away in Vienna.

After dinner, Bertha sat down at the writing table, read over Emil's
letter a few more times, and made a rough draft of her reply.

"My Dear Emil,

"It was very good of you to answer me so soon. I was very happy"--she
crossed out "very happy" and substituted "very glad"--"when I received
your dear note. How much has changed since we last saw each other! You
have become a famous virtuoso since then, which I, for my part, was
always quite sure that you would be"--she stopped and struck out the
whole sentence--"I also share your desire to see me soon again"--no, that
was mere nonsense! This was better: "I should be immensely delighted to
have an opportunity of talking to you once more."--Then an excellent
idea occurred to her, and she wrote with great zest: "It is really
strange that we have not met for so long, for I come to Vienna quite
often; for instance, I shall be there this week-end...." Then she allowed
her pen to drop and fell into thought. She was determined to go to Vienna
the next afternoon, to put up at an hotel, and to sleep there, so as to
be quite fresh the following day, and to breathe the air of Vienna for a
few hours before meeting him. The next question was to fix a meeting
place. That was easily done. "In accordance with your kind wish I am
writing to let you know that on Saturday morning at eleven o'clock...."
No, that was not the right thing! It was so businesslike, and yet again
too eager--"if," she wrote, "you would really care to take the
opportunity of seeing your old friend again, then perhaps you will not
consider it too much trouble to go to the Art and History Museum on
Saturday morning at eleven o'clock. I will be in the gallery of the Dutch
School"--as she wrote that she seemed to herself rather impressive and,
at the same time, everything of a suspicious nature seemed to be removed.

       *       *       *       *       *

She read over the draft. It appeared to her rather dry, but, after all,
it contained all that was necessary, and did not compromise her in any
way. Whatever else was to happen would take place in the Museum, in the
Dutch gallery.

She neatly copied out the draft, signed it, placed it in an envelope,
and hurried down the sunny street to post the letter in the nearest box.
On arriving home again she slipped off her dress, donned a dressing-gown,
sat down on the sofa, and turned over the leaves of a novel by
Gerstacker, which she had read half a score of times already. But she was
unable to take in a word. At first, she attempted to dismiss from her
mind the thoughts which beset her, but her efforts met with no success.

She felt ashamed of herself, but all the time she kept dreaming that she
was in Emil's arms. Why ever did such dreams come to her? She had never,
even for a moment, thought of such a thing! No, ... she would not think
of
it, either ... she was not that sort of woman.... No, she could not be
anyone's mistress--and even on this occasion.... Yes, perhaps if she were
to go to Vienna once more and again ... and again ... yes, much
later--perhaps. And besides, he would not even so much as dare to speak
of such a thing, or even to hint at it.... It was, however, useless to
reason like this; she could no longer think of anything else. Ever more
importunate came her dreams and, in the end, she gave up the struggle.
She lolled indolently in the corner of the sofa, allowed the book to slip
from her fingers and lie on the floor, and closed her eyes.

When she rose to her feet an hour later a whole night seemed to have
passed, and the visit to Frau Rupius seemed, in particular, to be far
distant. Again she wondered at this confusion of time--in truth, the
hours appeared to be longer or shorter just as they chose.

She dressed in order to take Fritz for a walk. She was in the tired,
indifferent mood which usually came over her after an unaccustomed
afternoon nap. It was that mood in which it is scarcely possible to
collect one's thoughts with any degree of completeness, and in which the
usual appears strange, but as though it refers to some one else. For the
first time, it seemed strange to Bertha that the boy, whom she was now
helping into his coat, was her own child, whose father had long been
buried, and for whom she had endured the pangs of motherhood.

Something within her urged her to go to the cemetery again that day. She
had not, however, the feeling that she had a wrong to make reparation
for, but that she must again politely visit some one to whom she had
become a stranger for no valid reason. She chose the way through the
chestnut avenue. There the heat was particularly oppressive that day.
When she passed out into the sun again a gentle breeze was blowing and
the foliage of the trees in the cemetery seemed to greet her with a
slight bow. As she passed through the cemetery gates with Fritz the
breeze came towards her, cool, even refreshing. With a feeling of gentle,
almost sweet, weariness, she walked through the broad centre avenue,
allowed Fritz to run on in front, and did not mind when he disappeared
from her sight for a few seconds behind a tombstone, though at other
times she would not have allowed such behaviour. She remained standing
before her husband's grave. She did not, however, look down at the
flower-bed, as was her general custom, but gazed past the tombstone and
away over the wall into the blue sky. She felt no tears in her eyes; she
felt no emotion, no dread; she did not even realize that she had walked
over the dead, and that there beneath her feet he, who had once held her
in his arms, had crumbled into dust.

Suddenly she heard behind her hurried footsteps on the gravel, such as
she was not generally accustomed to hear in the cemetery. Almost shocked,
she turned round. Klingemann was standing before her, in an attitude of
greeting, holding in his hand his straw hat, which was fixed by a ribbon
to his coat button. He bowed deeply to Bertha.

"What a strange thing to see you here!" she said.

"Not at all, my dear lady, not at all! I saw you from the street; I
recognized you by your walk."

He spoke in a very loud tone, and Bertha almost involuntarily murmured:

"Hush!"

A mocking smile at once made its appearance on Klingemann's face.

"He won't wake up," he muttered, between his clenched teeth.

Bertha was so indignant at this remark that she did not attempt to find
an answer, but called Fritz, and was about to depart.

Klingemann, however, seized her by the hand.

"Stop," he whispered, gazing at the ground.

Bertha opened her eyes wide; she could not understand.

Suddenly Klingemann looked up from the ground and fixed his eyes
on Bertha's.

"I love you, you see," he said.

Bertha uttered a low cry.

Klingemann let go her hand, and added in quite an easy
conversational tone:

"Perhaps that strikes you as rather odd."

"It is unheard of!--unheard of!"

Once more she sought to go, and she called Fritz.

"Stop! If you leave me alone now, Bertha...." said Klingemann, now in a
suppliant tone.

Bertha had recovered her senses again.

"Don't call me Bertha!" she said, vehemently. "Who gave you the right to
do so? I have no wish to say anything further to you ... and here, of all
places!" she added, with a downward glance, which, as it were, besought
the pardon of the dead.

Meanwhile Fritz had come back. Klingemann seemed very disappointed.

"My dear lady," he said, following Bertha, who, holding Fritz by the
hand, was slowly walking away: "I recognize my mistake. I should have
begun differently and not said that which seems now to have frightened
you, until I had come to the end of a well-turned speech."

Bertha did not look at him, but said, as though she were speaking
to herself:

"I would not have considered it possible; I thought you were a
gentleman...."

They were at the cemetery gate. Klingemann looked back again, and in his
glance there was something of regret at not having been able to play out
his scene at the graveside to a finish. Hat in hand, and twisting the
ribbon, by which it was fastened, round his finger, and still keeping by
Bertha's side, he went on to say:

"All I can do now is to repeat that I love you, that you pursue me in my
dreams--in a word, you must be mine!"

Bertha came to a standstill again, as if she were terrified.

"You will, perhaps, consider my remarks insolent, but let us take
things as they are. You"--he made a long pause--"are alone in the
world. So am I--"

Bertha stared him full in the face.

"I know what you are thinking of," said Klingemann. "That is all of no
consequence; that is all done with the moment you give the word. I have a
dim presentiment that we two suit each other very well. Yes, unless I am
very much deceived, the blood should be flowing in your veins, my dear
lady, as warm...."

The glance which Bertha now gave him was so full of anger and loathing
that Klingemann was unable to complete the sentence. He therefore
began another.

"Ah, when you come to think of it, what sort of a life is it that I am
now leading? It is even a long, long time since I was loved by a noble
woman such as you are. I understand, of course, your hesitation, or
rather, your refusal. Deuce take it, of course it needs a bit of
courage--with such a disreputable fellow as I am, too ... although,
perhaps, things are not quite so bad. Ah, if I could only find a human
soul, a kind, womanly soul!"--He emphasized the "womanly soul"--"Yes, my
dear lady, it was as little meant to be my fate as it was yours to pine
away and grow crabbed in such a hole of a town as this. You must not be
offended if I ... if I--"

The words began to fail him when he approached the truth. Bertha looked
at him. He seemed to her at that moment to be rather ridiculous, almost
pitiable, and very old, and she wondered how it was that he still had
the courage, not so much as to propose to her, as even simply to court
her favour.

And yet, to her own amazement and shame, there overflowed from these
unseemly words of a man who appeared absurd to her, the surge, so to
speak, of desire. And when his words had died away she heard them again
in her mind--but as though from the lips of another who was waiting for
her in Vienna--and she felt that she would not be able to withstand this
other speaker. Klingemann continued to talk; he spoke of his life as
being a failure, but yet a life worth saving. He said that women were to
be blamed for bringing him so low, and that a woman could raise him up
again. Away back in his student days he had run away with a woman, and
that had been the beginning of his misfortunes. He talked of his
unbridled passions, and Bertha could not restrain a smile. At the same
time she was ashamed of the knowledge which seemed to her to be implied
by the smile....

"I will walk up and down in front of your window this evening," said
Klingemann, when they reached the gate. "Will you play the piano?"

"I don't know."

"I will take it as a sign."

With that he went away.

In the evening she supped, as she had so often done, at her
brother-in-law's house. At the table she sat between Elly and Richard.
Mention was made of her approaching journey to Vienna as though it was
really nothing more than a matter of paying a visit to her cousin,
trying on the new costume at the dressmaker's, and executing a few
commissions in the way of household necessities, which she had promised
to undertake for her sister-in-law. Towards the end of supper, her
brother-in-law smoked his pipe, Richard read the paper to him, her
sister-in-law knitted, and Elly, who had nestled up close beside Bertha,
leaned her childish head upon her aunt's breast. And Bertha, as her
glance took in the whole scene, felt herself to be a crafty liar. She,
the widow of a good husband, was sitting there in a family circle which
interested itself in her welfare so loyally; by her side was a young
girl who looked up at her as on an older friend. Hitherto she had been a
good woman, honest and industrious, living only for her son. And now,
was she not about to cast aside all these things, to deceive and lie to
these excellent people, and to plunge into an adventure, the end of
which she could foresee? What was it, then, that had come over her these
last few days, by what dreams was she pursued, how was it that her whole
existence seemed only to aspire towards the one moment when she would
again feel the arms of a man about her? She had but to think of it and
she was seized with an indescribable sensation of horror, during which
she seemed devoid of will, as if she had fallen under the influence of
some strange power.

And while the words that Richard was reading beat monotonously upon her
ear, and her fingers played with the locks of Elly's hair--she resisted
for the last time; she resolved that she would be steadfast--that she
would do no more than see Emil once again, and that, like her own mother
who had died long ago, and like all the other good women she knew--her
cousin in Vienna, Frau Mahlmann, Frau Martin, her sister-in-law,
and ... yes, certainly Frau Rupius as well--she would belong only to him
who made her his wife. As soon, however, as she thought of that, the
idea flashed through her mind, like lightning: if he himself...if
Emil.... But she was afraid of the thought, and banished it from her. Not
with such bold dreams as these would she go to meet Emil. He, the great
artist, and she, a poor widow with a child...no, no!--she would see him
once again ... in the Museum of course, at the Dutch gallery ... once
only, and that for the last time, and she would tell him that she did not
wish for anything else than to see him that once. With a smile of
satisfaction she pictured to herself his somewhat disappointed face;
and, as if practising beforehand for the scene, she knitted her brow and
assumed a stern cast of countenance, and had the words ready on her lips
to say to him: "Oh, no, Emil, if you think that...." But she must take
care not to say it in quite too harsh a tone, in order that Emil might
not, as on that previous occasion ... twelve years before! ... cease to
plead after only the one attempt. She intended that he should beg a
second time, a third time--ah, Heaven knew, she intended that he should
continue to plead until she gave way.... For she felt, there in the midst
of all those good, respectable, virtuous people, with whom, indeed, she
would soon no longer be numbered, that she would give way the moment he
first asked her. She was only going to Vienna to be _his_, and after
that, if needs must be, to die.

On the afternoon of the following day Bertha set off. It was very hot,
and the sun beat down upon the leather-covered seats of the railway
carriage. Bertha had opened the window and drawn forward the yellow
curtain, which, however, kept flapping in the breeze. She was alone. But
she scarcely thought of the place towards which she was travelling; she
scarcely thought of the man whom she was about to see again, or of what
might be in store for her--she thought only of the strange words she had
heard, an hour before her departure. She would gladly have forgotten
them, at least for the next few days. Why was it that she had been unable
to remain at home during those few short hours between dinner and her
departure? What unrest had driven her on this glowing hot afternoon out
from her room, on to the street, into the market, and bade her pass Herr
Rupius' house? He was sitting there upon the balcony, his eyes fixed on
the gleaming white pavement, and over his knees, as usual, was spread the
great plaid rug, the ends of which were hanging down between the bars of
the balcony railings; in front of him was the little table with a bottle
of water and a glass. When he perceived Bertha his eyes became fixed upon
her, as though he were making some request to her, and she observed that
he beckoned her with a slight movement of the head.

Why had she obeyed him? Why had she not taken his nod simply as a
greeting and thanked him and gone upon her way? When, however, in answer
to his nod, she turned towards the door of the house, she saw a smile of
thanks glide over his lips and she found it still on his countenance when
she went out to him on the balcony, through the cool, darkened room, and,
taking his outstretched hand, sat down opposite to him on the other side
of the little table.

"How are you getting on?" she asked.

At first he made no answer; then she observed from the working of his
face that he wanted to say something, but seemed as if he was unable to
utter a word.

"She is going to ..." he broke out at length. These first words he
uttered in an unnecessarily loud voice; then, as though alarmed at the
almost shrieking tone, he added very softly: "My wife is going to
leave me."

Bertha involuntarily looked around her.

Rupius raised his hands, as if to reassure her.

"She cannot hear us She is in her room; she is asleep."

Bertha was embarrassed.

"How do you know?..." she stammered. "It is impossible--quite
impossible!"

"She is going away--away, for a time, as she says ... for a time ... do
you understand?" "Why, yes, to her brother, I suppose."

"She is going away for ever ... for ever! Naturally she does not like to
say to me: Good-bye, you will never see me again! So she says: I should
like to travel a little; I need a change; I will go to the lake for a few
weeks; I should like to bathe; I need a change of air! Naturally she does
not say to me: I can endure it no longer; I am young and in my prime and
healthy; you are paralysed and will soon die; I have a horror of your
affliction and of the loathsome state that must supervene before it is at
an end. So she says: I will go away only for a few weeks, then I will
come back again and stay with you."

Bertha's painful agitation became merged in her embarrassment.

"You are certainly mistaken," was all that she could answer.

Rupius hastily drew up the rug, which was on the point of slipping down
off his knees. He seemed to find it chilly. As he continued to speak, he
drew the rug higher and higher, until finally he held it with both hands
pressed against her breast.

"I have seen it coming; for years I have seen this moment coming.
Imagine what sort of an existence it has been; waiting for such a
moment, defenceless and forced to be silent!--Why are you looking at me
like that?"

"Oh, no," said Bertha, looking down at the market square.

"Well, I beg your pardon for referring to all this. I had no intention of
doing so, but when I saw you walking past--well, thank you very much for
having listened to me."

"Please don't mention it," said Bertha, mechanically stretching out
her hand to him. He did not notice it, however, and she let it lie
upon the table.

"Now it is all over," said Herr Rupius; "now comes the time of
loneliness, the time of dread."

"But has your wife ... she loves you, I'm sure of it!... I am quite
certain that you are giving yourself needless anxiety. Wouldn't the
simplest course be, Herr Rupius, for you to request your wife to forego
this journey?"

"Request?..." said Herr Rupius, almost majestically. "Can I pretend to
have the right to do so? AH these last six or seven years have only been
a favour which she has granted me. I beg you, consider it. During all
these seven years not a word of complaint at the waste of her youth has
passed her lips."

"She loves you," said Bertha, decisively; "and that is the chief point."

Herr Rupius looked at her for a long time.

"I know what is in your mind, although you do not venture to say it. But
your husband, my dear Frau Bertha, lies deep in the grave, and does not
sleep by your side night after night."

He looked up with a glance that seemed to ascend to Heaven as a curse.

Time was getting on; Bertha thought of her train.

"When is your wife going to start?"

"Nothing has been said about that yet--but I am keeping you, perhaps?"

"No, not at all, Herr Rupius, only.... Hasn't Anna told you? I'm going to
Vienna to-day, you know."

She grew burning red. Once more he gazed at her for a long time. It
seemed to her as though he knew everything.

"When are you coming back?" he asked drily.

"In two or three days."

She would have liked to say that he was mistaken, that she was not going
to see a man whom she loved, that all these things about which he was
worrying were sordid and mean, and really of not the slightest importance
to women--but she was not clever enough to find the right words to
express herself.

"If you come back in two or three days' time you may, perhaps, find my
wife still here. So, good-bye! I hope you will enjoy yourself."

She felt that his glance had followed her as she went through the dark,
curtained room and across the market square. And now, too, as she sat in
the railway carriage, she felt the same glance and still in her ears kept
ringing those words, in which there seemed to lie the consciousness of
an immense unhappiness, which she had not hitherto understood. The
torment of this recollection seemed stronger than the expectation of any
joys that might be awaiting her, and the nearer she approached to the
great city the heavier she became at heart. As she thought of the lonely
evening that lay before her she felt as though she were travelling,
without hope, towards some strange, uncertain destination. The letter,
which she still carried in her bodice, had lost its enchantment; it was
nothing but a piece of crackling paper, filled with writing, the corners
of which were beginning to get torn. She tried to imagine what Emil now
looked like. Faces bearing a slight resemblance to his arose before her
mind's eye; many times she thought that she had surely hit upon the right
one, but it vanished immediately. Doubts began to assail her as to
whether she had done the right thing in travelling so soon. Why had she
not waited, at least, until Monday?

Then she was obliged, however, to confess to herself that she was going
to Vienna to keep an appointment with a young man, with whom she had not
exchanged a word for ten years, and who, perhaps, was expecting a quite
different woman from the one who was travelling to see him on the morrow.
Yes, that was the cause of all her uneasiness; she realized it now. The
letter which was already beginning to chafe her delicate skin was
addressed to Bertha, the girl of twenty; for Emil, of course, could not
know what she looked like now. And, although for her own part, she could
assure herself that her face still preserved its girlish features and
that her figure, though grown fuller, still preserved the contours of
youth, might he not see, in spite of all, how many changes a period of
ten years had wrought in her, and, perhaps, even destroyed without her
having noticed it herself?

The train drew up at Klosterneuburg. Bertha's ears were assailed by the
sound of many clear voices and the clatter of hurrying footsteps. She
looked out of the window. A number of schoolboys crowded up to the train
and, laughing and shouting, got into the carriages. The sight of them
caused Bertha to call to mind the days of her childhood, when her
brothers used to come back from picnics in the country, and suddenly
there came before her eyes a vision of the blue room in which the boys
had slept. She seemed to feel a tremor run through her as she realized
how all the past was scattered to the wind; how those to whom she owed
her existence had died, how those with whom she had lived for years under
one roof were forgotten; how friendships which had seemed to have been
formed to last for ever had become dissolved. How uncertain, how mortal,
everything was!

And he ... he had written to her as if in the course of those ten years
nothing had changed, as if in the meantime there had not been funerals,
births, sorrows, illnesses, cares and--for him, at least--so much good
fortune and fame. Involuntarily she shook her head. A kind of perplexity
in the face of so much that was incomprehensible came over her. Even the
roaring of the train, which was carrying her along to unknown adventures,
seemed to her as a chant of remarkable sadness. Her thoughts went back to
the time, by no means remote, in fact no more than a few days earlier,
when she had been tranquil and contented, and had borne her existence
without desire, without regret and without wonder. However had it
happened that this change had come over her? She could not understand.

The train seemed to rush forward with ever-increasing speed towards its
destination. Already she could see the smoke of the great city rising
skywards as out of the depths. Her heart began to throb. She felt as if
she was awaited by something vague, something for which she could not
find a name, a thing with a hundred arms, ready to embrace her. Each
house she passed knew that she was coming; the evening sun, gleaming on
the roofs, shone to meet her; and then, as the train rolled into the
station, she suddenly felt sheltered. Now for the first time, she
realized that she was in Vienna, in _her_ Vienna, the town of her youth
and of her dreams, that she was home. Had she not given the slightest
thought to that before? She did not come from home--no, now she had
arrived home. The din at the station filled her with a feeling of
comfort, the bustle of people and carriages gladdened her, everything
that was sorrowful had been shed from her.

There she stood at the Franz Josef Station in Vienna, on a warm May
evening, Bertha Garlan, young and pretty, free and accountable to no one,
and on the morrow she was to see the only man whom she had ever
loved--the lover who had called her.

She put up at a little hotel near the station. She had determined to
choose one of the less fashionable, partly for the sake of economy, and
partly, too, because she stood in awe, to a certain extent, of smart
waiters and porters. She was shown to a room on the third floor with a
window looking out on the street. The chambermaid closed the window when
the visitor entered, and brought some fresh water, the boots placed her
box beside the stove, and the waiter placed before her the registration
paper, which Bertha filled up immediately and unhesitatingly, with the
pride that comes of a clear conscience.

A feeling of freedom as regards external circumstances, such as she had
not known for a long time, encompassed her; there were none of the petty
domestic cares of the daily round, there was no obligation to talk to
relations or acquaintances; she was at liberty that evening to do just as
she liked.

When she had changed her dress she opened the window. She had already
been obliged to light the candles, but out of doors it was not yet quite
dark. She leaned her elbows on the window-sill and looked down. Again she
remembered her childhood, when she had often looked down out of the
windows in the evenings, sometimes with one of her brothers, who had
thrown his arm around her shoulders. She also thought of her parents with
so keen an emotion that she was on the verge of tears.

Down below the street lamps were already alight. Well, at all events, she
must find something to do. She thought of what might be happening the
next day at that hour.... She could not picture it to herself. At that
moment, it just happened that a lady and gentleman drove by the hotel in
a cab. If things turned out in accordance with her wishes, Emil and she
should be going for a drive together into the country the next
morning--yes, that would be nicest. Some quiet spot away from the town in
a restaurant garden, a candle lamp on the table, and he beside her, hand
in hand like a pair of young lovers. And then back again--and then....
No, she would rather not imagine anything further! Where was he now, she
wondered. Was he alone? Or was he at that very instant engaged in talking
with some one? And with whom--a man?--a woman?--a girl? But, after all,
was it any concern of hers? For the present it was certainly not any
concern of hers. And to Emil it mattered just as little that Herr
Klingemann had proposed to her the previous day, that Richard, her
precocious nephew, kissed her sometimes, and that she had a great
admiration for Herr Rupius. She would be sure to ask him on the
morrow--yes, she must be certain as regards all these points before
she ... well, before she went with him in the evening into the country.

So then she decided to go out--but where? She stopped, irresolute, at
the door. All she could do was to go for a short walk and then have
supper ... but again, where? A lady alone.... No, she would have supper
here in her room at the hotel, and go to bed early so that she might have
a good night's rest and look fresh, young and pretty in the morning.

She locked the door and went out into the street. She turned towards the
inner town, and proceeded at a very sharp pace, for she did not like
walking alone in the evening. Soon she reached the Ring and went past the
University, and on to the Town Hall. But she took no pleasure at all in
this aimless rambling. She felt bored and hungry, and went back to her
hotel in a tramcar. She had no great desire to seek her room. From the
street she had already noticed that the dining-room of the hotel was
barely lighted and evidently empty. She had supper there, after which she
grew tired and sleepy and, with an effort, went up the three flights of
stairs to her room. As she sat on the bed and undid her shoe laces, she
heard ten o'clock chime in a neighbouring church steeple.

When she awoke in the morning she hurried, first of all, to the window
and drew up the blinds with a great longing to see the daylight and the
town. It was a sunny morning, and the air was as fresh as if it had come
flowing down from a thousand springs in the forests and hills into the
streets of the town. The beauty of the morning acted on Bertha as a good
omen; she wondered at the strange, foolish manner in which she had spent
the previous evening--as if she had not quite correctly understood why
she had come to Vienna. The certainty that the repose of a whole night no
longer separated her from the longed-for hour filled her with a sense of
great gladness. All at once, she could no longer understand how it was
that she could have come to Vienna, as she had done just recently,
without daring to make even an attempt to see Emil. Finally, too, she
wondered how it was that she had, for weeks, months, perhaps years,
needlessly deferred availing herself of the opportunity of seeing him.
The fact that she had scarcely thought of him during the whole time, did
not occur to her at first, but, when at length she did realize it, she
was amazed at that, most of all.

At last only four more hours were to be endured, and then she would see
him. She lay down on the bed again; she reclined, at first, with her eyes
wide open, and she whispered to herself, as though she wanted to
intoxicate herself with the words: "Come soon!" She heard Emil himself
speak the words, no longer far away, no, but as though he were close by
her side. His lips breathed them on hers: "Come soon!" he said, but the
words meant: "Be mine! be mine!" She opened her arms as though making
ready to press her beloved to her heart. "I love you," she said, and
breathed a kiss into the air.

At length she got up and dressed. This time she had brought with her a
simple grey costume, cut in the English fashion, which, according to the
general opinion of her friends, suited her very well, and she was quite
content with herself when she had completed her toilet. She probably did
not look like a fashionable lady of Vienna, but, on the other hand, she
had not the appearance of a fashionable lady from the country either; it
seemed to her that she looked more like a governess in the household of
some Count or Prince, than anything else. Indeed, as a matter of fact,
there was something of the young, unmarried lady in her aspect; no one
would have taken her for a married woman and the mother of a
five-year-old boy. She thought, with a slight sigh, that truly she would
have done better to have remained unmarried. But, as to that, she was
feeling that day very much like a bride.

Nine o'clock! Still two long hours to wait! What could she do in the
meantime? She sat down at the table, ordered coffee and sipped it slowly.
There was no sense in remaining indoors any longer; it was better to go
out into the open air at once.

For a time she walked about the streets of the suburb, and she took a
particularly keen pleasure in the wind blowing on her cheeks. She asked
herself: What was Fritz doing at that moment? Probably Elly was playing
with him. Bertha took the road which led towards the public gardens; she
was glad to go for a walk through the avenues, in which, many years ago,
she had played as a child. She entered the garden by the gate opposite
the Burg-theatre. At that early hour of the day there were but few people
in the gardens. Children were playing on the gravel; governesses and
nursemaids were sitting on the seats; little girls were running about
along the steps of the Temple of Theseus and under its colonnade. Elderly
people were walking in the shade of the avenues; young men, who were
apparently studying from large writing books, and ladies, who were
reading books, had taken their seats in the cool shade of the trees.

Bertha sat on a seat and watched two little girls who were jumping over a
piece of string, as she had so often done herself, when a child--it
seemed to her, in just the same spot. A gentle breeze blew through the
foliage; from afar she heard the calls and laughter of some children
playing "catch." The cries came nearer and nearer; and then the children
ran trooping past her. She felt a thrill of pleasure when a young man in
a long overcoat walked slowly by and turned round to look at her for a
second time, when he reached the end of the avenue. Then there passed by
a young couple; the girl, who had a roll of music in her hand, was
neatly but somewhat strikingly dressed; the man was clean-shaven and was
wearing a light summer suit and a tall hat. Bertha thought herself most
experienced when she fancied that she was able with certainty to
recognize in the girl a student of music, and in her companion a young
man who had just gone on the stage. It was very pleasant to be sitting
there, to have nothing to do, to be alone, and to have people walking,
running and playing like this before her. Yes, it would be nice to live
in Vienna and be able to do just as she liked. Well, who could say how
everything would turn out, what the next few hours would bring forth,
what prospects for her future life that evening would open out before
her? What was it then, that really forced her to live in that dreadful
little town? After all, in Vienna she would be able to supplement her
income by giving music lessons just as easily as at home. Why not,
indeed? Moreover, in Vienna, better terms were to be obtained for music
lessons.... Ah, what an idea!... if he came to her aid; if he, the famous
musician, recommended her? Why, certainly it would only need one word
from him. What if she were to speak to him on the subject? And would it
not also be a most advantageous arrangement in view of her child? In a
few years' time he would have to go to school, and then, of course, the
schools were so much better in Vienna than at home. No, it was quite
impossible for her to pass all her life in the little town--she would
have to move to Vienna, and that, too, at no distant date. Moreover, even
if she had to economise here, and--and.... In vain she attempted to
restrain the bold thoughts which now came rushing along.... If she should
take Emil's fancy, if he should again ... if he should still be in love
with her ... if he should ask her to be his wife? If she could be a bit
clever, if she avoided compromising herself in any way, and understood
how to fascinate him--she felt rather ashamed of her craftiness. But,
after all, was it so bad that she should think of such things,
considering that she was really in love with him, and had never loved any
other man but him? And did not the whole tone of his letter give her the
right to indulge in such thoughts?

And then, when she realised that in a few minutes she was to meet him who
was the object of her hopes, everything began to dance before her eyes.
She rose to her feet, and nearly reeled. She saw the young couple, who
had previously walked past her, leave the gardens by the road leading to
the Burgplatz. She went off in the same direction. Yonder, she saw the
dome of the Museum, towering and gleaming. She decided to walk slowly, so
as not to appear too excited or even breathless when she met him. Once
more she was seized with a thrill of fear--suppose he should not come?
But whatever happened, she would not leave Vienna this time without
seeing him.

Would it not, perhaps, even be better if he did not come, she wondered.
She was so bewildered at that moment ... and supposing she was to say
anything silly or awkward.... So much depended on the next few
minutes--perhaps her whole future....

There was the Museum before her. Up the steps, through the entrance, and
she was standing in the large, cool vestibule. Before her eyes was the
grand staircase and, yonder, where it divided to right and left, was the
colossal marble statue of Theseus slaying the Minotaur. Slowly she
ascended the stairs and, as she looked round about her, she grew calmer.
The magnificence of her surroundings captivated her. She looked up at the
galleries which, with their golden railings, ran round the interior of
the dome. She came to a stop. Before her was a door, above which appeared
in gilt letters: "Dutch School."

Her heart gave a sudden convulsive throb. Before her eyes lay the row of
picture galleries. Here and there she saw people standing before the
pictures. She entered the first hall, and gazed attentively at the first
picture hanging at the very entrance. She thought of Herr Rupius'
portfolio. And then she heard a voice say:

"Good morning, Bertha."



VI


It was his voice. She turned round. He was standing before her, young,
slim, elegant and rather pale. In his smile there was a suggestion of
mockery. He nodded to Bertha, took her hand at the same time, and held it
for a while in his own. It was Emil himself, and it was exactly as if the
last occasion on which they had spoken to one another had been only the
previous day.

"Good morning, Emil," she said.

They gazed at each other. His glance was expressive of much: pleasure,
amiability, and something in the nature of a scrutiny. She realised all
this with perfect clearness, whilst she gazed at him with eyes in which
nothing but pure happiness was shining.

"Well, then, how are you getting on, Bertha?" he asked.

"Quite well."

"It is really funny that I should ask you such a question after eight or
nine years. Things have probably gone very differently with you."

"Yes, indeed, that's true. You know, of course, that my husband died
three years ago."

She felt obliged to assume an expression of sorrow.

"Yes, I know that, and I know, too, that you have a boy. Let me see, who
could it have been that told me?"

"I wonder who?"

"Well, it'll come back to me presently. It is new to me, though, that you
are interested in pictures."

Bertha smiled.

"Well, it wasn't really on account of the pictures alone. But you mustn't
think that I am quite so silly as all that. I do take an interest in
pictures."

"And so do I. If the truth must be told, I think I would rather be a
painter than anything else."

"Yet you ought to be quite satisfied with what you have attained."

"Well, that's a question that can't be disposed of in one word. Of
course, I find it a very pleasant thing to be able to play the violin so
well, but what does it all lead to? Only to this, I think: that when I am
dead my name will endure for a short time. That--" his eyes indicated the
picture before which they were standing--"that, on the other hand, is
something different."

"You are awfully ambitious, Emil!"

He looked at her, but without evincing the slightest interest in her.

"Ambitious? Well, it is not such a simple matter as all that. But let's
talk about something else. What a strange idea to indulge in a
theoretical conversation on the subject of art, when we haven't seen
each other for a hundred years! So come, then, Bertha, tell me something
about yourself! What do you do with yourself at home? How do you live?
And what really put it into your head to congratulate me on getting that
silly Order?"

She smiled a second time.

"I wanted to write to you again," she answered; "and, chiefly, I wanted
to hear something of you once more; It was really very good of you to
answer my letter at once."

"Good? Not at all, my child! I was so pleased when, all of a sudden, your
letter came--I recognised your writing at once. You know, you still have
the same schoolgirl writing as.... Well, let us say, as in the old days,
although I can't bear such expressions."

"But why?" she asked, somewhat astonished.

He looked at her, and then said in a rapid voice:

"Well, tell me, how do you live? You must generally get very bored,
I'm sure."

"I haven't much time for that," she replied gravely. "I give lessons, you
must know."

"Oh!"

His tone was one of such disproportionate pity that she felt constrained
to add quickly:

"Oh, not because there is really any pressing need for me to do
so--although, of course, I find it very useful, because ..." she felt
that it would be best to be quite frank with him ... "I could scarcely
live on the slender means that I possess."

"What is it, then, that you are actually a teacher of?"

"What! Didn't I tell you that I give piano lessons?"

"Piano lessons? Really? Yes, of course ... you used to be very talented.
If you hadn't left the Conservatoire when you did ... well, of course,
you would not have become one of the great pianistes, you know, but for
certain things you had quite a pronounced aptitude. For instance, you
used to play Chopin and the little things of Schumann very prettily."

"You still remember that?"

"After all, I dare say that you have chosen the better course."

"In what way?"

"Well, if it is impossible to master everything, it is better, no doubt,
to get married and have children."

"I have only one child."

He laughed.

"Tell me something about him, and all about your own life in general."

They sat down on the divan in the little saloon on front of the
Rembrandts.

"What have I to tell you about myself? There is nothing in it of the
slightest interest. Rather, you tell me about yourself"--she looked at
him with admiration--"things have gone so splendidly with you, you are
such a celebrated man, you see!"

Emil twitched his underlip very slightly, as if discontented.

"Why, yes," she continued, undaunted; "quite recently I saw your portrait
in an illustrated paper."

"Yes, yes," he said impatiently.

"But I always knew that you would make a name for yourself," she
added. "Do you still remember how you played the Mendelssohn Concerto
at that final examination at the Conservatoire? Everybody said the
same thing then."

"I beg you, my dear girl, don't, please, let us have any more of these
mutual compliments! Tell me, what sort of a man was your late husband?"

"He was a good; indeed, I might say noble, man."

"Do you know, though, that I met your father about eight days
before he died?"

"Did you really?"

"Didn't you know?"

"I am certain he didn't tell me anything about it."

"We stood chatting with one another in the street for a quarter of an
hour, perhaps. I had just returned then from my first concert tour."

"Not a word did he tell me--not a single word!"

She spoke almost angrily, as though her father had, at that time,
neglected something that might have shaped her future life differently.

"But why didn't you come to see us in those days?" she continued. "How
did it happen at all that you had already suddenly ceased to visit us
some considerable time before my father's death?"

"Suddenly?--Gradually!"

He looked at her a long time; and now his eyes glided down over her whole
body, so that she mechanically drew in her feet under her dress, and
pressed her arms against her body, as though to defend herself.

"Well, how did it happen that you came to get married?"

She related the whole story. Emil listened to her, apparently with
attention, but as she spoke on and remained seated, he rose to his feet
and gazed out through the window.... When she had finished with a remark
about the good-nature of her relations, he said:

"Don't you think that we ought to look at a few pictures now that we are
here in the Museum?"

They walked slowly through the galleries, stopping here and there before
a picture.

"Lovely! Exquisite!" commented Bertha many a time, but Emil only nodded.

It seemed to Bertha that he had quite forgotten that he was with her. She
felt slightly jealous at the interest which the paintings roused in him.
Suddenly they found themselves before one of the pictures which she knew
from Herr Rupius' portfolio. Emil wanted to pass on, but she stopped and
greeted it, as she might an old acquaintance.

"Exquisite!" she exclaimed. "Emil, isn't it beautiful? On the whole, I
greatly admire Falckenborg's pictures."

He looked at her, somewhat surprised.

She became embarrassed, and tried to go on talking.

"Because such an immense quantity--because the whole world--"

She felt that this was dishonest, even that she was robbing some one
who could not defend himself; and accordingly she added, repentantly,
as it were:

"You must know, there's a man living in our little town who has an album,
or rather a portfolio, of engravings, and that's how I know the picture.
His name is Rupius, he is very infirm; just fancy, he is quite
paralysed."

She felt obliged to tell Emil all this, for it seemed to her as though
his eyes were unceasingly questioning her.

"That might be a chapter, too," he said, with a smile, when she had come
to an end; then he added more softly, as though ashamed of his indelicate
joke: "There must certainly also be gentlemen in that little town who are
not paralysed."

She felt that she had to take poor Herr Rupius under her protection.

"He is a very unhappy man," she said, and, remembering how she had sat
with him on the balcony the previous day, a feeling of great compassion
seized her.

But Emil was following his own train of thought.

"Yes," he said; "that is what I should really like to know--what
experiences you have had."

"You know them, already."

"I mean, since the death of your husband."

She understood now what he meant, and was a little offended.

"I live only for my boy," she said, with decision. "I do not allow men to
make love to me. I am quite respectable."

He had to laugh it the comically serious way in which she made this
confession of virtue. For her part, she felt at once that she ought to
have expressed herself differently, and so she laughed, too.

"How long are you going to stay, then, in Vienna?" asked Emil.

"Till to-morrow, or the day after to-morrow."

"So short a time as that? And where are you staying? I should like to
know."

"With my cousin," she replied.

Something restrained her from mentioning that she had put up at an
hotel. But immediately she was angry with herself for having told such a
stupid lie, and she was about to correct herself. Emil, however, broke
in quickly:

"Perhaps you will have a little time to spare for me, too? I hope so,
at least."

"Oh, yes!"

"So, then, we can arrange something now if you like"--he glanced at the
clock--"Ah!"

"Must you go?" she asked.

"Yes, by twelve o'clock I ought really to...."

She was seized with an intense uneasiness at the prospect of having to be
alone again so soon, and she said:

"I have plenty of time--as much as you like. But, of course, it must not
be too late."

"Is your cousin so strict then?"

"But--" she said, "this time, as a matter of fact, I'm not staying with
her, you see."

He looked at her in astonishment.

She grew red.

"Usually I do stay with her.... I mean, sometimes.... She has such a
large family, you know."

"So you are staying at an hotel," he said, rather impatiently. "Well,
there, of course, you are accountable to no one, and we can spend the
evening together quite comfortably."

"I shall be delighted. But I should like not to be too late ... even in
an hotel I should like not to be too late...."

"Of course not. We will just have supper, and you can be in bed long
before ten o'clock."

They paced slowly down the grand staircase.

"So, if you are agreeable," said Emil, "we will meet at seven o'clock."

She was on the point of replying: "So late as that?"--but,
remembering her resolution not to compromise herself, she refrained
and answered instead:

"Very well, at seven."

"Seven o'clock at ... where?... Out of doors, shall we say? In that
case we could go wherever we fancied, life would lie before us, so to
speak ... yes."

He seemed to her just then remarkably absent-minded. They went through
the entrance hall, and at the exit they stopped for a moment.

"At seven o'clock, then--by the Elizabeth Bridge."

"Very well; seven o'clock at the Elizabeth Bridge."

Before them lay the square, with the Maria Théresa memorial, in the
brilliant glare of the noonday sun. It was a warm day, but a very high
wind had arisen. It seemed to Bertha that Emil was looking at her with a
scrutinising glance. At the same time, he appeared to her cold and
strange, a very different man from what he had been when standing before
the pictures in the Museum.

"Now we will say good-bye for the present," he said, after a time.

It made her feel somewhat unhappy to think that he was going to
leave her.

"Won't you ... or can't I come with you a little way?" she said.

"Well, no," he answered. "Besides, it is blowing such a gale. There's not
much enjoyment to be had in walking side by side and having to hold your
hat all the time, for fear it should blow away. Generally, it is
difficult to converse if you are walking with a person in the street,
and then, too, I have to be in such a hurry.... But perhaps I can see you
to a carriage?"

"No, no, I shall walk."

"Yes, you can do that. Well, good-bye till we meet again this evening."

He stretched out his hand to her, and walked quickly away across the
square. She gazed after him for a long time. He had taken off his hat and
held it in his hand, and the wind was ruffling his hair. He went across
the Ring, then through the Town Gate, and disappeared from Bertha's view.

Mechanically, and very slowly, she had followed him. Why had he suddenly
grown so cold? Why had he taken his departure so quickly? Why didn't he
want her to accompany him? Was he ashamed of her? She looked down at
herself, wondering whether she was not dressed, after all, in a
countrified and ridiculous manner. Oh, no, it could not be that!
Moreover, she had been able to remark from the way in which people gazed
at her that she was not looking ludicrous, but, on the contrary,
decidedly pretty. Why, then, this sudden departure? She called to mind
the period of their previous acquaintance, and it seemed to her that she
could remember his having this strange manner even then. He would break
off a conversation quite unexpectedly, whilst he suddenly became as
though his thoughts had been carried away, and his whole being expressed
an impatience which he could not master.

Yes, she was certain that he had been like that in those days also,
though, perhaps, less strikingly so than now. She remembered, as well,
that she had sometimes make jokes on the subject of his capriciousness,
and had laid the responsibility at the door of his artistic temperament.
Since then he had become a greater artist, and certainly more absent and
irresponsible than ever.

The chimes of noon rang out from many a spire, the wind grew higher and
higher, dust flew into her eyes. She had a whole eternity before her,
with which she did not know what to do. Why wouldn't he see her, then,
until seven o'clock? Unconsciously, she had reckoned on his spending the
whole day with her. What was it that he had to do? Had he, perhaps, to
make his preparations for the concert? And she pictured him to herself,
violin in hand, by a cabinet, or leaning on a piano, just as, many years
ago, he had played before the company at her home. Yes, that would be
nice if she could only be with him now, sitting in his room, on a sofa,
while he played, or even accompanying him on the piano. Would she, then,
have gone with him if he had asked her? Why hadn't he asked her? No, of
course, he could not have done so within an hour of seeing her again....
But in the evening--wouldn't he ask her that evening? And would she go
with him? And, if she went, would she be able to deny him anything else
that he might ask her? Indeed, he had a way of expressing everything so
innocently. How easily he had managed to make those ten years seem as
nothing! Had he not spoken to her as if they had seen each other daily
all that time? "Good morning, Bertha. How are you, then?"--just as he
might have asked if, on the previous evening, he had wished her "Good
night!" and said "Good-bye till we meet again!" What a number of
experiences he must have had since then! And who could tell who might be
sitting on the sofa in his room that afternoon, while he leaned against
the piano and played the violin? Ah, no, she would not think of it. If
she followed up such thoughts to the end, would she not simply have to go
home again?

She walked past the railings of the public gardens, and could see the
avenue where, an hour ago, she had sat, and through which clouds of dust
were now sweeping. So, then, that for which she had so deeply yearned was
over--she had seen Emil again. Had it been so lovely as she expected? Had
she felt any particular emotion when walking by his side, his arm
touching hers? No! Had his departure put her out of humour? Perhaps.
Would she be able to go home again without seeing him once more? Good
heavens, no! And a sensation almost of terror thrilled through her at the
thought. Had not, then, her life during the past few days been, as it
were, obsessed by him? And all the years that lay behind her, had they
been meant for anything else, at all, than to lead her back to him at the
right moment? Ah, if she only had a little more experience, if she were
a little more worldly-wise! She would have liked to possess the
capability of marking out for herself a definite course.

She asked herself which would be the wiser--to be reserved or yielding?
She would gladly have known what she was to do that evening, what she
ought to do in order to win his heart with greater certainty. She felt
that any move on her part, one way or the other, might have the effect
of gaining him, or, just as well, of losing him. But she also realised
that all her meditation was of no avail, and that she would do just as
he wished.

She was in front of the Votive Church, a spot where many streets
intersected. The wind there was so violent as to be altogether
intolerable. It was time to dine. But she decided that she would not go
back to the little hotel that day. She turned towards the inner town. It
suddenly occurred to her that she might meet her cousin, but that was a
matter of supreme indifference to her. Or, supposing that her
brother-in-law had followed her to Vienna? But that thought did not worry
her either in the least. She had a feeling, such as she had never
experienced before, that she had the right to dispose of her person and
her time just as she pleased. She strolled leisurely along the streets,
and amused herself by looking at the shop windows. On the Stephansplatz
the idea came to her to go into the church for a while. In the dim, cool,
and immense building a profound sensation of comfort came over her. She
had never been of a religious disposition, but she could never enter a
place of worship without experiencing a devotional feeling and, without
clothing her prayers in definite form, she had yet always thought to find
a way to send up her wishes to Heaven. At first she wandered round the
church in the manner of a stranger visiting a beautiful edifice, then she
sat down in a pew before a small altar in a side chapel.

She called to mind the day on which she had been married, and she had a
vision of her late husband and herself standing side by side before the
priest--but the event seemed to be so infinitely far away in the past,
and it affected her spirit as little as if her thoughts were occupied by
strangers. But suddenly, as a picture changed in a magic lantern, she
seemed to see Emil, instead of her husband, standing by her side, and the
picture appeared to stand out so completely, without any co-operation on
the part of her will, that she almost had to regard as a premonition,
even as a prediction from Heaven itself. Mechanically, she folded her
hands and said softly: "So be it." And, as though her will acquired
thereby a further access of strength, she remained sitting in a pew a
while longer and sought to hold the picture fast.

After a few minutes she went out again into the street, where the broad
daylight and the din of the traffic affected her as something new,
something which she had not experienced for a long time, as though she
had spent whole hours in the church. She felt tranquil, and hopes seemed
to hover about her.

She dined in the restaurant of a fashionable hotel in the
Kärnthernstrasse.... She was not in the least embarrassed, and thought it
very childish that she had not preferred to put up at a first-class
hotel. On reaching her room again, she undressed and, such was the state
of languor into which she had fallen as the result of the unusually rich
meal and the wine she had taken, that she had to stretch herself out on
the sofa and fall asleep. It was five o'clock before she awoke. She had
no great desire to get up. Usually at that time ... what would she
probably have been doing at that moment if she had not come to Vienna? If
he had not answered her letter--if she had not written to him? If he had
not received that Order? If she had never seen his portrait in the
illustrated paper? If nothing had called his existence back into her
memory? If he had become an insignificant, unknown fiddler in some
suburban orchestra? What strange thoughts were these! Did she, then, love
him merely because he was celebrated? What did it all mean? Did she,
indeed, take any interest in his violin playing? ... Wouldn't he be
dearer to her if he was not famous and admired? Certainly in that case
she would have felt herself much nearer to him, much more allied to him;
in that case, she would not have had this feeling of uncertainty about
him, and also he would have been different in his manner towards her. As
it was, of course, he was, indeed, very charming, and yet ... she
realized it now ... something had come between them that day and had
sundered them. Yes, and that was nothing else than the fact that he was a
man whom the whole world knew, and she was nothing but a stupid little
woman from the country. Suddenly she pictured him to herself as he had
stood in the Rembrandt gallery at the Museum, and had looked out of the
window while she had been telling him the story of her life in the little
town; she remembered how he had scarcely bidden her good-bye, and how he
had gone away from her, indeed, absolutely fled away from her. But, then,
had she herself felt any emotion such as a woman would feel in the
presence of the man she loved? Had she been happy when he had been
speaking to her? Had she longed to kiss him when he was standing beside
her?... Not at all. And now--was she pleased at the prospect of the
evening she was going to spend with him? Was she pleased at the idea of
seeing him again in a couple of hours? If she had the power, simply by
expressing the wish, to transport herself just where she pleased, would
she not, perhaps, at that, moment, rather be at home, with her boy,
walking between the vine-trellises, without fear, without agitation, and
with a clear conscience; as a good mother and a respectable woman,
instead of lying in that uncomfortable room in the hotel, on a miserable
sofa, restlessly, yet without longing, awaiting the next hours? She
thought of the time, still so near, when all her concern was for nothing
save her boy, the household, and her lessons--had she not been contented,
almost happy?...

She looked round her. The bare room with the ugly blue and white painted
walls, the specks of dust and dirt on the ceiling, the cabinet with its
half-open door, all seemed most repulsive to her. No, that was no place
for her. Then she thought with displeasure, too, of the dinner in the
fashionable hotel, and also of her strolling about in the town, her
weariness, the wind and the dust. It seemed to her that she had been
wandering about like a tramp. Then another thought came to her: what if
something had happened at home!--Fritz might have caught the fever; they
would telegraph to her cousin at Vienna, or they might even come to look
for her, and they would not be able to find her, and all would know that
she had lied like any disreputable person whose purpose it suits to do
so.... It was terrible! How could she face them at home, her
sister-in-law, her brother-in-law, Elly, her grown-up nephew Richard ...
the whole town, which, of course, would hear the news at once.... Herr
Rupius! No, in good truth, she was not intended for such things! How
childishly and clumsily, after all, she had set about it, so that only
the slightest accident was needed to betray her. Had she, then, failed to
give the least thought to all these things? Had she only been obsessed
with the idea of seeing Emil once more, and for that had hazarded
everything ... her good name, even her whole future! For who could say
whether the family would not renounce her, and she would lose her music
lessons, if the truth came out?... The truth.... But what could come out?
What had happened, then? What had she to reproach herself with? And with
the comforting feeling of a clear conscience she was able boldly to
answer: "Nothing." And, of course, there was still time.... She could
leave Vienna directly by the seven o'clock train, be back by ten in her
own home, in her own cosy room, with her beloved boy.... Yes, she could;
to be sure, Fritz was not at home ... but she could have him brought
back.... No, she would not do it, she would not return at once ... there
was no occasion to do so--to-morrow morning would be quite time enough.
She would say good-bye to Emil that very evening.... Yes, she would
inform him at once that she was returning home early next morning, and
that her only reason in coming had been to press his hand once more. Yes,
that would be best.

Oh, he could, of course, accompany her to the hotel; and, goodness
knows, he could even have supper with her in the garden restaurant ...
and she would go away as she had come.... Besides, she would see from
his behaviour what he really felt towards her; she would be very
reserved, even cold; it would be quite easy for her to act in that way,
because she felt completely at her ease. It seemed to her as if all her
desires had fallen into slumber again, and she had a feeling akin to a
determination to remain respectable. As a young girl she had withstood
temptation, she had been faithful to her husband; her whole widowhood
had hitherto passed without attack.... Well, the long and the short of
it was: if he wished to make her his wife she would be very glad, but
she would reject any bolder proposal with the same austerity as ... as
... twelve years before, when he had showed her his window behind St.
Paul's Church.

She stood up, stretched herself, held up her hands, and went to the
window. The sky had become overcast, clouds were moving down from the
mountains, but the storm had subsided.

She got ready to go out.



VII


Bertha had hardly proceeded a few steps from the hotel when it began to
rain. Under her open umbrella she seemed to herself to be protected
against unwelcome attentions from people she might meet. A pleasant
fragrance was diffused throughout the air, as if the rain brought with it
the aroma of the neighbouring woods, shedding it over the town. Bertha
gave herself up wholly to the pleasure of the walk; even the object of
her outing appeared before her mind's eye only vaguely, as if seen
through a mist. She had at last grown so weary as the result of the
profusion of her changing feelings that she no longer felt anything at
all. She was without fear, without hope, without purpose. She walked on
past the gardens, across the Ring, and rejoiced in the humid fragrance of
the elder-trees. In the forenoon it had completely escaped her notice
that everything was beautiful in an array of violet blossoms. An idea
brought a smile to her lips: she went into a flower shop and bought a
little bunch of violets. As she raised the flowers to her lips, a great
tenderness came over her; she thought of the train going homewards at
seven o'clock, and she rejoiced, as if she had outwitted some one.

She walked slowly across the bridge, diagonally, and remembered how she
had crossed it a few days ago in order to reach the neighbourhood of her
former home, and to see Emil's window again. The throng of traffic at the
bridge was immense; two streams, one coming from the suburb into the
town, the other going in the opposite direction, poured by in confusion;
carriages of all kinds rolled past; the air resounded with the jingling
of bells, with whistling and with the shouts of drivers. Bertha tried to
stand still, but was pushed forward.

Suddenly she heard a whistle quite close by. A carriage pulled up, a head
leaned out of the window ... it was Emil. He made a sign to her to come
over to him. A few people immediately became attentive, and seemed very
anxious to hear what the young man had to say to the lady who had gone up
to his carriage.

"Will you get in?" Emil asked in a low voice.

"Get in...?"

"Why, yes, it is raining, you see!"

"Really, I would rather walk, if you don't mind."

"Just as you like," said Emil.

He got out quickly and paid the driver. Bertha observed, with some alarm,
that about half a dozen people, who were crowding round her, were very
anxious to see how this remarkable affair would turn out.

"Come," said Emil.

They quickly crossed the road, and thereby got away from the whole
throng. They then walked slowly along a less frequented street by the
bank of the Wien.

"Why, Emil, you haven't brought your umbrella with you!"

"Won't you take me under yours? Wait a moment, it won't do like this."

He took the umbrella out of her hand, held it over both of them, and
thrust his arm under hers. Now she felt that it was _his_ arm, and
rejoiced greatly.

"The country, unfortunately, is out of the question," he said.

"What a pity."

"Well, what have you been doing with yourself all day long?"

She told him about the fashionable restaurant, in which she had had
her dinner.

"Now, why on earth didn't I know about that? I thought you were dining
with your cousin. We might, of course, have had such a pleasant lunch
together!"

"You have had so much to do, I dare say," she said, a little proud at
being able to infuse a slight tone of sarcasm into her voice.

"Yes, that's true, in the afternoon, of course. I had to listen to half
an opera."

"Oh? How was that, then?"

"There was a young composer with me--a very talented fellow, in
his own way."

She was very glad to hear that. So that, then, was the way in which he
spent his afternoons.

He stood still and, without letting go her arm, looked into her face.

"Do you know that you have really grown much prettier? Yes, I am quite
serious about it! But, tell me, first of all, tell me candidly, how the
idea came to you to write to me."

"Why, I have already told you."

"Have you thought of me, then, all this time?"

"A great deal."

"When you were married, too?"

"Certainly, I have always thought of you. And you?"

"Often, very often."

"But ..."

"Well, what?"

"You are a man, you see!"

"Yes--but what do you mean by that?"

"I mean that certainly you must have loved many women."

"Loved ... loved ... yes, I suppose I have."

"But I," she broke out with animation, as though the truth was too strong
to be restrained within her; "I have loved no one but you."

He took her hand and raised it to his lips.

"I think we might rather leave that undecided, though," he said.

"Look, I have brought some violets with me for you."

He smiled.

"Are they to prove that you have told me the truth? Anybody would think,
from the way in which you said that, that you have done nothing else
since we last met but pluck, or, at least, buy, violets for me. However,
many thanks! But tell me, why didn't you want to get into the carriage?"

"Oh, but you know, a walk is so nice."

"But we can't walk forever.... We are having supper together, though?"

"Yes, I shall be delighted--for instance, here in an hotel," she
added hastily.

At that time they were walking through quieter streets, and it was
growing dusk.

Emil laughed.

"Oh, no, we will arrange things a little more cosily than that."

Bertha cast her eyes down.

"However, we mustn't sit at the same table as strangers," she said.

"Certainly not. We will even go somewhere where there is nobody
else at all."

"What are you thinking of?" she asked. "I don't do that sort of thing!"

"Just as you please," he answered, shrugging his shoulders. "Have you an
appetite yet?"

"No, not at all."

They were both silent for a time.

"Shall I not make the acquaintance of your boy some day?" he asked.

"Certainly," she replied, greatly pleased; "whenever you wish."

She began to tell him about Fritz, and then went on to speak about her
family. Emil threw in a question at times, and soon he knew all that
happened in the little town, even down to the efforts of Klingemann, of
which Bertha gave him an account, laughingly, but with a certain
satisfaction.

The street lamps were alight; the rays glittered on the damp pavements.

"My dear girl, we can't stroll about the streets all night, you know,"
said Emil suddenly.

"No ... but I cannot come with you ... into a restaurant.... Just think,
if I should happen to meet my cousin or anyone else!"

"Make your mind easy, no one will see us."

Quickly he passed through a gateway and closed the umbrella.

"What are you going to do, then?"

She saw a large garden before her. Near the walls, from which canvas
shelters were stretched, people were sitting at tables, laid for supper.

"There, do you mean?"

"No. Just come with me."

Immediately on the right of the gate was a small door, which had been
left ajar.

"Come in here."

They found themselves in a narrow, lighted passage, on both sides of
which were rows of doors. A waiter bowed and went in front of them, past
all the doors. The last one he opened, allowed the guests to enter, and
closed it again after them.

In the centre of the little room stood a small table laid for three; by
the wall was a blue velvet sofa, and opposite that hung a gilt framed
oval mirror, before which Bertha took her hat off and, as she did so,
she noticed that the names "Irma" and "Rudi" had been scratched on the
glass. At the same time, she saw in the mirror Emil coming up behind
her. He placed his hands on her cheeks, bent her head back towards
himself, and kissed her on the lips. Then he turned away without
speaking, and rang the bell.

A very young waiter came in at once, as if he had been standing outside
the door. When he had taken his order he left them, and Emil sat down.
"Well, Bertha!"

She turned towards him. He took her gently by the hand and still
continued to hold it in his, when Bertha had taken a seat beside him on
the sofa. Mechanically she touched her hair with her other hand.

An older waiter came in, and Emil made his choice from the menu. Bertha
agreed to everything. When the waiter had departed, Emil said:

"Mustn't the question be asked: How is it that all this hasn't happened
before to-day?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Why didn't you write to me long ago?"

"Well, I would ... if you had got your Order sooner!"

He held her hand and kissed it.

"But you come to Vienna fairly often!"

"Oh, no."

He looked up.

"But you said something like that in your letter!"

She remembered then, and grew red.

"Well, yes ... often ... Monday was the last time I was here."

The waiter brought sardines and caviar, and left the room.

"Well," said Emil; "it is probably just the right time."

"In what way?"

"That we should have met again."

"Oh, I have often longed for you."

He seemed to be deep in thought.

"And perhaps it is also just as well that things _then_ turned out as
they did," he said. "It is on that very account that the recollection is
so charming."

"Yes, charming."

They were both silent for a time.

"Do you remember ..." she said, and then she began to talk of the old
days, of their walks in the town-park, and of her first day at the
Conservatoire.

He nodded in answer to everything she said, held his arm on the back of
the sofa, and lightly touched the lock of hair, which curled over the
nape of her neck. At times he threw in a word. Then Emil himself
recalled something which she had forgotten; he had remembered a further
outing: a trip to the Prater one Sunday morning.

"And do you still recollect," said Bertha, "how we ..." she hesitated to
utter it--"once were almost in love with each other?"

"Yes," he said. "And who knows ..."

He was perhaps about to say: "It would have been better for me if I had
married you"--but he did not finish the sentence.

He ordered champagne.

"It is not so long ago," said Bertha, "since I tasted champagne. The last
time was about six months ago, at the party which my brother-in-law gave
on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday."

She thought of the company at her brother-in-law's, and it was amazing
how remote from the present time it all seemed--the entire little town
and all who lived there.

The young waiter brought an ice-tub with the wine. At that moment it
occurred to Bertha that Emil had certainly been there before, many a
time, with other women. That, however, was a matter of tolerable
indifference to her.

They clinked glasses and drank. Emil embraced Bertha and kissed her. That
kiss reminded her of something ... what could it have been, though?... Of
the kisses she had received when a young girl?... Of the kiss of her
husband?... No.... Then it suddenly occurred to her that it was exactly
like the kisses which her young nephew Richard had lately given to her.

The waiter came in with fruit and pastry. Emil put some dates and a bunch
of grapes on a plate for Bertha.

"Why don't you say something?" she asked. "Why do you leave me to do all
the talking? And you know you could tell me so much!"

"I?..."

He slowly sipped the wine.

"Why, yes, about your tours."

"Good Heavens, one town is just like all the others. You must not, of
course, lose sight of the fact that I only rarely travel for my own
pleasure."

"Quite so, of course."

During the whole time she had not given a thought to the fact that it was
Emil Lindbach, the celebrated violin virtuoso, with whom she was sitting
there; and she felt bound to say:

"By the way, you are playing in Vienna soon. I should be very glad to
hear you."

"Not a soul will hinder you from doing so," he replied drily.

It passed through her mind that it would really be very much nicer for
her to hear him play, not at the concert, but for herself alone. She had
almost said so, but then it occurred to her that that would have meant
nothing else than: "I will come with you"--and, who could say, perhaps
very soon she would go with him. It would be as easy for her as ever, if
she had had some wine.... Yet, not so, the wine was affecting her
differently from usual--it was not the soft inebriation which made her
feel a little more cheerful; it was better, lovelier. It was not the few
drops of wine that made it so; it was the touch of his dear hand, as he
stroked her brow and hair. He had sat down beside her and he drew her
head onto his shoulder. How gladly would she have fallen asleep like
that.... Yes, indeed, nothing else did she desire.... Then she heard him
whisper: "Darling."... She trembled softly.

Why was this the first time? Could she not have had all this before? Was
there a grain of sense in living as she did?... After all, there was
nothing wicked in what she was doing now.... And how sweet it was to feel
the breath of a young man upon her eyelids!... No, not--not the breath of
a young man... of a lover....

She had shut her eyes. She made not the slightest effort to open them
again, she had not the least desire to know where she was, or with whom
she was.... Who was it, after all?... Richard?... No.... Was she falling
asleep, then?... She was there with Emil.... With whom?... But who was
this Emil?... How hard it was to be clear as to who it was!... The breath
upon her eyelids was the breath of the man she had loved when a girl ...
and, at the same time, that of the celebrated artist who was soon to
give a concert ... and, at the same time, of a man whom she had not seen
for thousands and thousands of days ... and, at the same time, of a
gentleman with whom she was sitting alone in a restaurant, and who, at
that moment, could do with her just as he pleased.... She felt his kiss
upon her eyes.... How tender he was ... and how handsome.... But what did
he really look like, then?... She had only to open her eyes to be able to
see him quite plainly.... But she preferred to imagine what he was like,
without actually seeing him.... No, how funny--why, that was not in the
least like his face!... Of course, it was the face of the young waiter,
who had left the room a minute or two before.... But what did Emil look
like, after all?... Like this?... No, no, of course, that was Richard's
face.... But away ... away.... Was she then so low as to think of nothing
but other men while she ... was with him?... If she could only open her
eyes!... Ah!

She shook herself violently, so that she almost pushed Emil away--and
then she tore her eyes wide open.

Emil gazed at her, smiling.

"Do you love me?" he asked.

She drew him towards her and kissed him of her own accord.... It was the
first time that day that she had given him a kiss of her own accord, and
in doing so she felt that she was not acting in accordance with her
resolve of the morning.... She tried to think what that resolve had
been.... To compromise herself in no way; to deny herself.... Yes, there
had certainly been a time when that had been her wish, but why? She was
in love with him, really and truly; and the moment had arrived which she
had been awaiting for days.... No, for years!

Still their lips remained pressed together.... Ah, she longed to feel his
arms about her ... to be his, body and soul. She would not let him talk
any more ... he would have to take her unto himself.... He would have to
realize that no other woman could love him so well as she did....

Emil rose to his feet and paced up and down the little room a few times.
Bertha raised her glass of champagne to her lips again.

"No more, Bertha," said Emil, in a low tone.

Yes, he was right, she thought. What was she really doing? Was she going
to make herself drunk, then? Was there any need for that? After all, she
was accountable to no one, she was free, she was young; she was
determined to taste of happiness at last.

"Ought we not to be thinking of going?" said Emil.

Bertha nodded. He helped her to put on her jacket. She stood before the
mirror and stuck the pin through her hat. They went. The young waiter was
standing before the door; he bowed. A carriage was standing before the
gate; Bertha got in; she did not hear what instructions Emil gave the
driver. Emil took his seat by her side. Both were silent; they sat
pressing closely against each other. The carriage rolled on, a long, long
way. Wherever could it be, then, that Emil lived? But, perhaps, he had
purposely told the driver to take a circuitous route, knowing, no doubt,
how pleasant it was to drive together through the night like this.

The carriage pulled up. Emil got out.

"Give me your umbrella," he said.

She handed it out to him and he opened it. Then she got out and they both
stood under the shelter of the umbrella, on which the rain was rattling
down. Was this the street in which he lived? The door opened; they
entered the hall; Emil took a candle which the porter handed to him.
Before them was a fine broad staircase. When they reached the first floor
Emil opened a door. They passed through an ante-chamber into a
drawing-room. With the candle which he held in his hand Emil lighted two
others upon the table; then he went up to Bertha, who was still standing
in the doorway, as though waiting, and led her further into the room. He
took the pin out of her hat, and placed the hat upon the table. In the
uncertain light of the two feebly-burning candles, Bertha could only see
that a few coloured pictures were hanging on the wall--portraits of the
Emperor and Empress, so it appeared to her--that, on one side, was a
broad divan covered with a Persian rug and that, near the window, there
was an upright piano with a number of framed photographs on the lid.
Over the piano a picture was hanging, but Bertha was unable to make it
out. Yonder, she saw a pair of red curtains hanging down beside a door,
which was standing half open and through the broad folds something white
and gleaming could be seen within.

She could no longer restrain the question:

"Do you live here?"

"As you see."

She looked straight before her. On the table stood a couple of little
glasses, a decanter containing liqueur and a small epergne, loaded with
fruit and pastry.

"Is this your study?" asked Bertha.

Mechanically her eyes sought for a desk such as violin players use. Emil
put his arm round her waist and led her to the piano. He sat down on the
piano stool and drew her on to his knees.

"I may as well confess to you at once," he said to her, simply and almost
drily, "that really I do not live here. It was only for our own sake ...
that I have ... for a short while ... I deemed it prudent ... Vienna, you
know, is a small town, and I didn't want to take you into my house at
night-time."

She understood, but was not altogether satisfied. She looked up. She was
now able to see the outlines of the picture which was hanging above the
piano.... It was a naked female figure. Bertha had a curious desire to
examine the picture, close at hand.

"What is that?" she asked.

"It is not a work of art," said Emil.

He struck a match and held it up, so as to throw the light on the
picture. Bertha saw that it was merely a wretched daub, but at the same
time she felt that the painted woman, with the bold laughing eyes, was
looking down at her, and she was glad when the match went out.

"You might just play something to me upon the piano," said Emil.

She wondered at the coldness of his demeanour. Didn't he realize that
she was with him?... But, on the other hand, did she herself feel any
special emotion?... No.... A strange sadness seemed to come welling
forth from every corner of the room.... Why hadn't he rather taken her
to his own house?... What sort of a house was this, she wondered.... She
regretted now that she had not drunk more wine.... She wished that she
was not so sober....

"Well, won't you play something to me?" said Emil. "Just think how long
it is since I have heard you."

She sat down and struck a chord.

"Indeed, I have forgotten everything."

"Oh, do try!"

She played very softly Schumann's Albumblatt, and she remembered how, a
few days before, late in the evening, she had improvised as she was
sitting at home, and Klingemann had walked up and down in front of the
window. She could not help thinking also of the report that he had a
scandalous picture in his room. And involuntarily, she glanced up again
at the picture of the naked woman over the piano, but now the figure
seemed to be gazing into space.

Emil had brought a chair beside Bertha's. He drew her towards him and
kissed her while her fingers first continued to play, and at length
rested quietly upon the keys. Bertha heard the rain beating against the
window-panes and a sensation as of being at home came over her.

Then she felt as though Emil was lifting her up and carrying her. Without
letting her out of his arms he had stood up and was slowly bearing her
out of the room. She felt her right arm graze against the curtain.... She
kept her eyes closed; she could feel Emil's cool breath upon her hair....



VIII


When they went out into the street the rain had left off, but the air was
permeated with a wondrous mildness and humidity. Most of the street lamps
had already been extinguished; the one at the street corner was the
nearest that was alight; and, as the sky was still overcast with clouds,
deep darkness hung over the city. Emil had offered Bertha his arm; they
walked in silence. From a church tower a clock struck--one. Bertha was
surprised. She had believed that it must be nearly morning, but now she
was glad at heart to wander mutely through the night in the still, soft
air, leaning on his arm--because she loved him very much.

They entered an open square; before them lay the Church of St. Charles.

Emil hailed a driver who had fallen asleep, sitting on the footboard of
his open carriage.

"It is such a fine night," said Emil; "we can still indulge in a short
drive before I take you to your hotel--shall we?"

The carriage started off. Emil had taken off his hat; she laid it in her
lap, an action which also afforded her pleasure. She took a sidelong
glance at Emil; his eyes seemed to be looking into the distance.

"What are you thinking of?"

"I ... To tell the truth, Bertha, I was thinking of a melody out of the
opera, which that man I was telling you about played to me this
afternoon. But I can't get it quite right."

"You are thinking of melodies now ..." said Bertha, smiling, but with a
slight-tone of reproach in her voice.

Again there was silence. The carriage drove slowly along the deserted
Ringstrasse, past the Opera House, the Museum and the public gardens.

"Emil?"

"What do you want, my darling?"

"When shall I at last have an opportunity of hearing you play again?"

"I am playing at a concert to-day, as a matter of fact," he said, as if
it were a joke.

"No, Emil, that was not what I meant--I want you to play to me alone. You
will do that just once ... won't you? Please!"

"Yes, yes."

"It would mean so much to me. I should like you to know that there was no
one in the room except myself listening to you."

"Quite so. But never mind that now, though."

He spoke in such a decided tone of voice that it seemed as if he was
defending something from her. She could not understand for what reason
her request could have been distasteful to him, and she continued:

"So then it is settled: to-morrow at five o'clock in the evening at
your house?"

"Yes, I am curious to see whether you will like it there."

"Oh, of course I shall. Surely it will be much nicer being at your house
than at that place where we have been this evening. And shall we spend
the evening together? Do you know, I am just thinking whether I ought not
to see my cousin...."

"But, my dearest one, please, don't let us map out a definite programme."

In saying this he put his arm round her neck, as if he wanted to make her
feel the tenderness which was absent from the tone of his voice.

"Emil!"

"Well?"

"To-morrow we will play the Kreatzer Sonata together--the Andante
at least."

"But, my dear child, we've talked enough about music; do let us drop the
subject. I am quite prepared to believe that you are immensely
interested in it."

Again he spoke in that vague way, from which she could not tell whether
he really meant what he said or had spoken ironically. She did not,
however, venture to ask. At the same time her yearning at that moment to
hear him play the violin was so keen that it was almost painful.

"Ah, here we are near your hotel, I see!" exclaimed Emil; and, as if
he had completely forgotten his wish to go for a drive with her
before leaving her at her door, he called out the name of the hotel to
the driver.

"Emil--"

"Well, dearest?"

"Do you still love me?"

Instead of answering he pressed her close to him and kissed her on the
lips.

"Tell me, Emil--"

"Tell you what?"

"But I know you don't like anybody to ask much of you."

"Never mind, my child, ask anything you like."

"What will you.... Tell me, what are you accustomed to do with your
forenoons?"

"Oh, I spend them in all sorts of ways. To-morrow, for instance, I am
playing the violin solo in Haydn's Mass in the Lerchenfeld Church."

"Really? Then, of course, I won't have to wait any longer than to-morrow
morning before I can hear you."

"If you want to. But it is really not worth the trouble.... That is to
say, the Mass itself, of course, is very beautiful."

"However does it happen that you are going to play in the
Lerchenfeld Church?"

"It is ... an act of kindness on my part."

"For whom?"

"For whom ... well, for Haydn, of course."

A thrill of pain seemed to seize Bertha. At that moment she felt that
there must be some special connexion between it and his taking part in
the Mass at the Lerchenfeld Church. Perhaps some woman was singing in the
Mass, who.... Ah, what did she know, after all?... But she would go to
the church, yes, she must go ... she could let no other woman have Emil!
He belonged to her, to her alone ... he had told her so, indeed.... And
she would find a way to hold him fast... She had, she told herself, such
infinite tenderness for him ... she had reserved all her love for him
alone.... She would completely envelop him in it ... no more would he
yearn for any other woman.... She would move to Vienna, be with him each
day, be with him for ever.

"Emil--"

"Well, what is the matter with you, darling?"

He turned towards her and looked at her rather uneasily.

"Do you love me? Good Heavens, here we are already!"

"Really?" said Emil, with surprise.

"Yes--there, do you see?--that's where I am staying. So tell me, please,
Emil, tell me once more--"

"Yes, to-morrow at five o'clock, my darling. I am very glad."

"No, not that.... Tell me, do you--" The carriage stopped. Emil waited by
Bertha's side until the porter came out and opened the door, then he
kissed her hand with the most ceremonious politeness, and said:

"Good-bye till we meet again, dear lady."

He drove away.

Bertha's sleep that night was sound and heavy.

When she awoke, the light of the morning sun was streaming around her.
She remembered the previous evening, and she was very glad that something
which she had imagined to be so hard, and almost grievous, had been done
and had proved to be quite easy and joyous. And then she felt a thrill of
pride on recollecting her kisses, which had had nothing in them of the
timidity of a first adventure. She could not observe the slightest trace
of repentance in her heart, although it occurred to her that it was
conventional to be penitent after such things as she had experienced.
Words, too, like "sin" and "love affair" passed through her mind, without
being able to linger in her thoughts, because they seemed to be devoid of
all meaning. She believed herself certain that she replied to Emil's
tenderness just like a woman accomplished in the art of love, and was
very happy in the thought that all those things which came to other women
as the result of the experiences of nights of drunkenness had come to her
from the depth of her feelings. It seemed to her as though in the
previous evening she had discovered in herself a gift, of the existence
of which she had hitherto had no premonition, and she felt a slight
emotion of regret stir within her at not having turned that gift to the
best advantage earlier. She remembered one of Emil's questions as to her
past, on account of which she had not been so shocked as she ought to
have been, and now, as she recalled it to mind, the same smile appeared
on her lips, as when she had sworn that she had told him the truth, which
he had not wanted to believe. Then she thought of their next meeting; she
pictured to herself how he would receive her and escort her through his
rooms. The idea came to her that she would behave just as if nothing at
all had yet happened between them. Not once would he be able to read in
her glance the recollection of the previous evening; he would have to win
her all over again, he would have to woo her--not with words alone, but
also with his music.... Yes.... Wasn't she going to hear him play that
very forenoon?... Of course--in the Church.... Then she remembered the
sudden jealousy which had seized her the previous evening.... Yes, but
why?... It seemed to her now to be so absurd--jealousy of a singer who
perhaps was taking part in singing the Mass, or of some other unknown
woman. She would, however, go to the Church in any case. Ah, how fine it
would be to stand in the dim light of the Church, unseen by him and
unable to see him, and to hear only his playing, which would float down
to her from the choir. And she felt as though she rejoiced in the
prospect of a new tenderness which should come to her from him without
his apprehending it.

Slowly she got up and dressed herself. A gentle thought of her home rose
up within her, but it was altogether without strength. She even found it
a trouble to think of it. Moreover, she felt no penitence on that
account; rather, she was proud of what she had done. She felt herself
wholly as Emil's creature; all that had had part in her life previous to
his advent seemed to be extinguished. If he were to demand of her that
she should live a year, live the coming summer with him, but that then
she should die--she would obey him.

Her dishevelled hair fell over her shoulders. Memories came to her which
almost made her reel. ... Ah, Heaven; why had all this come so late, so
late? But there was still a long time before her--there were still five,
still ten years during which she might remain beautiful.... Oh, there was
even longer so far as he was concerned, if they remained together, since,
indeed, he would change together with her. And again the hope flitted
through her mind: if he should make her his wife, if they should live
together, travel together, sleep together, night after night--but now she
began to feel slightly ashamed of herself--why was it that these thoughts
were for ever present in her mind? Yet, to live together, did it not mean
something further--to have cares in common, to be able to talk with one
another on all subjects? Yes, she would, before all things, be his
friend. And that was what she would tell him in the evening before
everything else. That day he would have at last to tell her everything,
tell her about himself; he would have to unfold his whole life before
her, from the moment when they had parted twelve years ago until--and she
could not help being amazed as she pursued her thoughts--until the
previous morning.... She had seen him again for the first time the
morning before, and in the space of that one day she had become so
completely his that she could no longer think of anything except him; she
was scarcely any longer a mother ... no, nothing but his beloved.

She went out into the brightness of the summer day. It occurred to her
that she was meeting more people than usual, that most of the shops were
shut--of course, it was Sunday! She had not thought of that at all. And
now that, too, made her glad. Soon she met a very slender gentleman who
was wearing his overcoat open and by whose side was walking a young girl
with very dark, laughing eyes. Bertha could not help thinking that she
and Emil looked just such another couple ... and she pictured to herself
how beautiful it must be to stroll about, not merely in the darkness of
the night, but, just as these two were doing, openly in the broad light
of day, arm in arm, and with happiness and laughter shining in their
eyes. Many a time, when a gentleman going past her looked into her face,
she felt as though she understood the language of glances, like
something new to her. One man looked at her with a sort of grave
expression, and he seemed to say: Well, you are also just like the
others! Presently came two young people who left off talking to each
other when they saw her. She felt as though they knew perfectly well what
had happened the previous night. Then another man passed, who appeared to
be in a great hurry, and he cast her a rapid sidelong glance which seemed
to say: Why are you walking about here as imposingly, as if you were a
good woman? Yesterday evening you were in the arms of one of us. Quite
distinctly she heard within her that expression "one of us," and, for the
first time in her life, she could not help pondering over the fact that
all the men who passed by were indeed men, and that all the women were
indeed women; that they desired one another, and, if they so wished,
found one another. And she had the feeling as though only on the previous
day at that time she had been a woman apart, from whom all other women
had secrets, whilst now she also was included amongst them and could talk
to them. She tried to remember the period which followed her wedding, and
she recalled to mind that she had felt nothing beyond a slight
disappointment and shame. Very vague there rose in her mind a certain
sentence--she could not tell whether she had once read it or heard
it--namely: "It is always the same, indeed, after all." And she seemed to
herself much cleverer than the person, whoever it might have been, man
or woman, who had spoken or written that sentence.

Presently she noticed that she was following the same route as she had
taken on the previous morning. Her eye fell on an advertising column on
which was an announcement of the concert in which Emil was one of those
taking part. Delightedly she stopped before it. A gentleman stood beside
her. She smiled and thought: if he knew that my eyes are resting upon the
very name of the man who, last night, was my lover.... Suddenly, she
felt very proud. What she had done she considered as something unique.
She could scarcely imagine that other women possessed the same courage.
She walked on through the public gardens in which there were more people
than on the previous day. Once again she saw children playing,
governesses and nursemaids gossiping, reading, knitting. She noticed
particularly a very old gentleman who had sat down on a seat in the sun;
he looked at her, shook his head and followed her with a hard and
inexorable glance. The incident created a most unpleasant impression upon
her, and she had a feeling of injury in regard to the did gentleman.
When, however, she mechanically glanced back, she observed that he was
gazing at the sunlit sand and was still shaking his head. She realized
then that this was due to his old age, and she asked herself whether
Emil, too, would not one day be just such an aged gentleman, who would
sit in the sun and shake his head. And all at once she saw herself
walking along by his side in the chestnut avenue at home, but she was
just as young as she was now, and he was being wheeled in an invalid's
chair. She shivered slightly. If Herr Rupius were to know.... No--never,
never would he believe that of her! If he had supposed her capable of
such things he would not have called her to join him on the balcony and
told her that his wife was intending to leave him....

At that moment she was amazed at what seemed to her to be the great
exuberance of her life. She had the impression that she was existing in
the midst of such complex relations as no other woman did. And this
feeling also contributed to her pride.

As she walked past a group of children, of whom four were dressed exactly
alike, she thought how strange it was that she had not for a moment
considered the fact that her adventure of the previous day might possibly
have consequences. But a connexion between that which had happened the
day before between those wild embraces in a strange room--and a being
which one day would call her "Mother" seemed to lie without the pale of
all possibility.

She left the garden and took the road to the Lerchenfelderstrasse. She
wondered whether Emil was now thinking that she was on her way to him.
Whether his first thought that morning had been of her. And it seemed
to her now that previously her imagination had pictured quite
differently the morning after a night such as she had spent.... Yes,
she had fancied it as a mutual awakening, breast on breast, and lips
pressed to lips.

A detachment of soldiers came towards her. Officers paced along by the
side of the pavement; one of them jostled her slightly, as he passed, and
said politely:

"I beg your pardon."

He was a very handsome man, and he gave himself no further concern on her
account, which vexed her a little. And the thought came to her
involuntarily: had he also a beloved? And suddenly she knew for a
certainty that he had been with the girl he loved the previous night;
also that he loved her only, and concerned himself with other women as
little as Emil did.

She was now in front of the church. The notes of the organ came surging
forth into the street. A carriage was standing there, and a footman was
on the box. How came that carriage there? All at once, it was quite clear
to Bertha that some definite connexion must have subsisted between it and
Emil, and she resolved to leave the church before the conclusion of the
Mass so as to see who might enter the carriage. She went into the crowded
church. She passed forward between the rows of seats until she reached
the High Altar, by which the priest was standing. The notes of the organ
died away, the string orchestra began to take up the melody. Bertha
turned her head in the direction of the choir. Somehow, it seemed strange
to her that Emil should, incognito, so to speak, be playing the solo in a
Haydn Mass here in the Lerchenfelder Church.... She looked at the female
figures in the front seats. She noticed two--three--four young women and
several old ladies. Two were sitting in the foremost row; one of them was
very fashionably dressed in black silk, the other appeared to be her
maid. Bertha thought that in any case the carriage must belong to that
aristocratic old lady, and the idea greatly tranquillized her mind. She
walked back again, half unconsciously keeping everywhere on the lookout
for pretty women. There were still some who were passably good-looking;
they all seemed to be absorbed in their devotions, and she felt ashamed
that she alone was wandering about the church without any holy thoughts.

Then she noticed that the violin solo had already begun. He was now
playing--he! he!... And at that moment she was hearing him play for the
first time for more than ten years. And it seemed to her that it was the
same sweet tone as of old, just as one recognized the voices of people
whom one has not met for years. The soprano joined in. If she could only
see the singer! It was a clear, fresh voice, though not very highly
trained, and Bertha felt something like a personal connexion between the
notes of the violin and the song. It was natural that Emil should know
the girl who was now singing.... But was there not something more in
the fact of their performing together in the Mass than appeared on the
surface? The singing ceased, the notes of the violin continued to
resound, and now they spoke to her alone, as though they wished to
reassure her. The orchestra joined in, the violin solo hovered over the
other instruments, and seemed only to have that one desire to come to an
understanding with her. "I know that you are there," it seemed to say,
"and I am playing only for you...."

The organ chimed in, but still the violin solo remained dominant over the
rest. Bertha was so moved that tears rose to her eyes. At length the solo
came to an end, as though engulfed in the swelling flood of sound from
the other instruments, and it arose no more. Bertha scarcely listened,
but she found a wonderful solace in the music sounding around her. Many a
time she fancied that she could hear Emil's violin playing with the
orchestra, and then it seemed quite strange, almost incredible, that she
was standing there by a column, down in the body of the church and he was
sitting at a desk up in the choir above, and the previous night they had
been clasped in each other's arms, and all the hundreds of people there
in the church knew nothing at all about it....

She must see him at once--she must! She wanted to wait for him at the
bottom of the staircase.... She did not want to speak a word to him--no,
but she wished to see him and also the others who came out--including the
singer of whom she had been jealous. But she had got completely over that
now; she knew that Emil could not deceive her....

The music had ceased; Bertha felt herself thrust forward towards the
exit; she wanted to find the staircase, but it was at a considerable
distance from her. Indeed, it was just as well that it was so ... no, she
would not have dared to do it, to put herself forward, to wait for
him--what would he have thought of her? He certainly would not have liked
it! No, she would disappear with the crowd, and would tell him in the
evening that she had heard him play. She was now positively afraid of
being observed by him. She stood at the entrance, walked down the steps,
and went past the carriage, just as the old lady and her maid were
getting into it. Bertha could not help smiling when she called to mind in
what a state of apprehension the sight of that carriage had thrown her,
and it seemed to her that her suspicion in regard to the carriage having
been removed, all the others must necessarily flicker out! She felt as
though she had passed through an extraordinary adventure and was standing
now on the brink of an absolutely new existence. For the first time it
seemed to her to have a meaning; everything else had been but a fiction
of the imagination and became as nothing in comparison with the
happiness which was streaming through her pulses, while she slowly
sauntered from the church through the streets of the suburbs towards her
hotel. It was not until she had nearly reached her destination that she
noticed that she had gone the whole way as though lost in a dream and
could scarcely remember which way she had taken and whether she had met
any people or not.

As she was taking the key of her room the porter handed her a note and a
bouquet of violets and lilac blossoms.... Oh, why had not she had a
similar idea and sent Emil some flowers? But what could he have to write
to her about? With a slight thrill of fear at her heart, she opened the
letter and read:

"DEAREST,

"I must thank you once again for that delightful evening. To-day,
unfortunately, it is impossible for me to see you. Don't be angry with
me, my dear Bertha, and don't forget to let me know in good time on the
next occasion when you come to Vienna."

Ever your own,

"EMIL."

She went, she ran up the stairs, into her own room.... Why was he
unable to see her that day? Why did he not at least tell her the reason?
But then, after all, what did she know of his various obligations of an
artistic and social nature?... It would certainly have been going too
much into detail, and it would have appeared like an evasion if he had,
at full length, given his reasons for putting her off. But in spite of
that.... And then, why did he say: the next occasion when you came to
Vienna?... Had she not told him that she would be remaining there a
few days longer? He had forgotten that--he must have forgotten it! And
immediately she sat down and wrote:

"MY DEAREST EMIL,

"I am very sorry indeed that you have had to put me off to-day, but
luckily I am not leaving Vienna yet. Do please write to me at once,
dearest, and tell me whether you can spare a little time for me to-morrow
or the next day.

"A thousand kisses from your

"BERTHA."

"P.S.--It is most uncertain when I shall be coming to Vienna again,
and I should be very sorry in any case to go away without seeing you
once more."

She read the letter over. Then she added a further postscript:

"I must see you again!"

She hurried out into the street, handed the letter to a commissionaire,
and impressed upon him strongly that he was on no account to come back
without an answer. Then she went up to her room again and posted herself
at the window. She wanted to keep herself from thinking, she wished only
to look down into the street. She forced herself to fix her attention on
the passers-by, and she recalled to mind a game, which she used to play
as a child, and in which she and her brothers looked out of the window
and amused themselves by commenting on how this or that passer-by
resembled some one or other of their acquaintances. In the present
circumstances, it was a matter of some difficulty for her to discover any
such resemblances, for her room was situated on the third story; but, on
the other hand, owing to the distance, it was easier for her to discover
the arbitrary resemblances which she was looking for. First of all, came
a woman who looked like her cousin Agatha; then some one who reminded her
of her music teacher at the Conservatoire; he was arm in arm with a woman
who looked like her sister-in-law's cook. Yonder was a young man who bore
a resemblance to her brother, the actor. Directly behind him, and in the
uniform of a captain, a person who was the image of her dead father came
along the road; he stood still awhile before the hotel, glanced up,
exactly as if he were seeking her, and then disappeared through the
doorway. For a moment Bertha was as greatly alarmed as if it really had
been her father, who had come as a ghost from the grave. Then she forced
herself to laugh--loudly--and sought to continue the game, but she was
not able to play it any longer with success.

Her sole purpose now was to see whether the commissionaire was coming.
At length she decided to have dinner, just to while away the time.
After she had ordered it, she again went to the window. But now she no
longer looked in the direction from which the commissionaire had to
come, but her glances followed the crowded omnibuses and trams on their
way to the suburbs. Then the captain, whom she had seen a short time
before, struck her attention again, as he was just jumping on to a
tram, a cigarette in his mouth. He no longer bore the slightest
resemblance to her dead father.

She heard a clatter behind her; the waiter had come into the room. Bertha
ate but little, and drank her wine very quickly. She grew sleepy, and
leaned back in the corner of the divan. Her thoughts gradually grew
indistinct; there was a ringing in her ears like the echoes of the organ
which she had heard in the church. She shut her eyes and, all at once, as
though evoked by magic, she saw the room in which she had been with Emil
the previous evening, and behind the red curtains she perceived the
gleaming whiteness of the coverlet. It appeared that she herself was
sitting again before the piano, but another man was holding her in a
close embrace--it was her nephew Richard. With an effort she tore her
eyes open, she seemed to herself depraved beyond all measure, and she
felt panic-stricken as though some atonement would have to be exacted
from her, for these visionary fancies.

Once more she went to the window. She felt as if an eternity had passed
since she had sent the commissionaire on his errand. She read through
Emil's letter once again. Her glance lingered on the last words: "Ever
your own"; and she repeated them to herself aloud and in a tender tone,
and called to mind similar words which he had spoken the previous
evening. She concocted a letter which was surely on the point of arriving
and would certainly be couched in these terms: "My dearest Bertha! Heaven
be thanked that you are going to remain in Vienna until to-morrow! I
shall expect you for certain at my house at three o'clock," or:
"to-morrow we will spend the whole day together," or even; "I have put
off the appointment I had, so we can still see each other to-day. Come to
me at once; longingly I am waiting for you!"

Well, whatever his answer might be, she would see him again before
leaving Vienna, although not that day perhaps. Indeed, anything else was
quite unthinkable. Why, then, was she a prey to this dreadful agitation,
as though all were over between them? But why was his answer so long in
coming?... He had, in any case, gone out to dinner--of course, he
had no one to keep house for him! So the earliest that he could be home
again was three o'clock.... But if he were not to return home till the
evening?... She had, indeed, told the commissionaire to wait in any
case--even till the night, if necessary.... But what was she to do? Of
course, she could not stand there looking out of the window all the time!
The hours, indeed, seemed endless! She was ready to weep with impatience,
with despair!

She paced up and down the room; then she again stood at the window for a
while, then she sat down and took up for a short time the novel which she
had brought with her in her travelling bag; she attempted, too, to go to
sleep--but did not succeed in doing so. At length four o'clock
struck--nearly three hours had passed since she had begun her vigil.

There was a knock at the door. The commissionaire came into the room and
handed her a letter. She tore open the envelope and with an involuntary
movement, so as to conceal the expression on her features from the
stranger, she turned towards the window.

She read the letter.

"MY DEAREST BERTHA,

"It is very good of you still to give me a choice between the next few
days but, as indeed I have already hinted to you in my former letter,
it is, unfortunately, absolutely impossible for me to do just as I like
during that time. Believe me, I regret that it is so, at least as much
as you do.

"Once more a thousand thanks and a thousand greetings and I trust that we
will be able to arrange a delightful time when next we meet.

"Don't forget me completely,

"Your

"EMIL."

When she had finished reading the letter she was quite calm; she paid the
commissionaire the fee he demanded and found that, for a person in her
circumstances, it was by no means insignificant. Then she sat down at the
table and tried to collect her thoughts. She realized immediately that
she could no longer remain in Vienna, and her only regret was that there
was no train which could take her home at once. On the table stood the
half empty bottle of wine, bread crumbs were scattered beside the plate,
on the bed lay her spring jacket, beside it were the flowers which he had
sent her that very morning.

What could it all mean? Was it at an end?

Indistinctly, but so that it seemed that it must bear some relation to
her recent experiences, there occurred to her a sentence which she had
once read. It was about men who desire nothing more than "to attain their
object..." But she had always considered that to be a phrase of the
novelists. But, after all, it was surely not a letter of farewell that
she was holding in her hand, was it?... Was it really not a letter of
farewell? Might not these kind words be also lies?... Also lies--that
was it!... For the first time the positive word forced itself into her
thoughts.... Lies!... Then it was certain that, when he brought her home
the previous night, he had already made up his mind not to see her again.
And the appointment for the present day and his desire to see her again
that day were lies....

She went over the events of the previous evening in her mind, and she
asked herself what could she have said or done to put him out of humour
or disappoint him.... Really, it had all been so beautiful, and Emil had
seemed so happy, just as happy as she had been ... was all that going to
prove to have been a lie too?... How could she tell?... Perhaps, after
all, she had put him out of humour without being aware that she was doing
so.... She had, indeed, been nothing more or less than a good woman all
her life.... Who could say whether she had not been guilty of something
clumsy or stupid?... whether she had not been ludicrous and repellent in
some moment when she had believed herself to be sacrificing, tender,
enchanted and enchanting?... But what did she know of all these
things?... And, all at once, she felt something almost in the nature of
repentance that she had set out upon her adventure so utterly
unprepared, that, until the previous day, she had been so chaste and
good, that she had not had other lovers before Emil.... Then she
remembered, too, that he had evaded her shy questions and requests on the
subject of his violin playing, as if he had not wanted to admit her into
that sphere of his life. He had thus remained strange to her,
intentionally strange, so far as concerned the very things which were of
the deepest and most vital importance to him. All at once she realized
that she had no more in common with him than the pleasures of a night,
and that the present morning had found them both as far apart from one
another as they had been during all the years in which they had each led
a separate existence.

And then jealousy again flared up within her.... But she felt as though
she was always thus, as though every conceivable emotion had always been
present within her ... love and distrust, and hope and penitence, and
yearning and jealousy ... and, for the first time in her life, she was so
stirred, even to the very depths of her soul, that she understood those
who in their despair have hurled themselves out of a window to meet their
death.... And she perceived that the present state of affairs was
impossible, that only certainty could be of any avail to her.... She must
go to him and ask him ... but she must ask in the manner of one who is
holding a knife to another's breast....

She hurried away through the streets, which were almost deserted, as
though all Vienna had gone off into the country.... But would she find
him at home?... Would he not, perhaps, have had a presentiment that
the idea might come to her to seek him, to take him to task, and would he
not have taken steps to evade the chance of such an occurrence?... She
was ashamed of having had to think of that, too.... And if he was at
home would she find him alone?... And if he was not alone, would she
be admitted into his house?

And if she found him in the arms of some other woman, what should she
say?... Had he promised her anything? Had he sworn to be true to
her? Had she even so much as demanded loyalty of him? How could she
have imagined that he was waiting for her here in Vienna until she
congratulated him on his Spanish Order?... Yes, could he not say to
her: "You have thrown yourself on my neck and have desired nothing more
than that I should take you as you are...." And if she asked
herself--was he not right?... Had she not come to Vienna to be his
beloved?--and for no other reason ... without any regard to the past,
without any guarantee as to the future?... Yes, that was all she had
come for! All other hopes and wishes had only transiently hovered
around her passion, and she did not deserve anything better than that
which had happened to her.... And if she was candid to herself, she
must also admit that of all that she had experienced this had still
been the best....

She stopped at a street corner. All was quiet around her; the summer air
about her was heavy and sultry. She retraced her steps back to her hotel.
She was very tired, and a new thought rose up convulsively within her:
was it not possible that he had written to put her off only because he
also was tired?... She seemed to herself very experienced when that
idea occurred to her.... And yet another thought flashed through her
mind: that he could also love no other woman in the way in which he had
loved her.... And suddenly she asked whether, after all, the previous
night would remain her only experience--whether she herself would belong
to no other man save him? And she rejoiced in the doubt, as if, by
cherishing it, she was taking a kind of revenge on his compassionate
glance and mocking lips.

And now she was back again in the cheerless room away up in the third
storey of the hotel. The remains of her dinner had not yet been cleared
away. Her jacket and the flowers were still lying on the bed. She took
the flowers in her hand and raised them to her lips, as though about to
kiss them. Suddenly, however, as though her whole anger burst forth
again, she flung them violently to the ground. Then she threw herself on
the bed, her face buried in her hands.

After lying for some time in this position she felt her calmness
gradually returning. It was perhaps just as well that she could return
home that very day. She thought of her boy, how he was accustomed to lie
in his little cot with his whole face beaming with laughter, if his
mother leaned over the railings. She yearned for him. Also she yearned in
some slight degree for Elly and for Frau Rupius. Yes, it was true--Frau
Rupius, of course, was going to leave her husband.... What could there
be at the bottom of it all?... A love affair?... But, strangely
enough, she was now still less able than before to picture to herself the
answer to that question.

It was growing late, it was time for her to get ready for her
departure.... So, then, she would be home again by Sunday evening.

She sat in the carriage; on her lap lay the flowers, which she had picked
up from the floor.... Yes, she was now travelling home, leaving the
town where she ... had experienced something--that was the right
expression, wasn't it?... Words which she had read or heard in
connexion with similar circumstances kept recurring continually to her
mind ... such words as: "bliss" ... "transports of love" ... "ecstasy"
... and a gentle thrill of pride stirred within her at having
experienced what those words denoted. And yet another thought came to her
which caused her to grow singularly calm: if he also--maybe--had an
affair with another woman at that very time ... she had taken him from
_her_ ... not for long indeed, but yet as completely as it was possible
to take a man from a woman. She grew calmer and calmer, almost cheerful.

It was, indeed, clear to her that she, Bertha, the inexperienced woman,
could not, with one assault, completely obtain possession of her
beloved.... But might she not be successful on a second occasion, she
wondered? She was very glad that she had not carried out her
determination to hasten to him at once. Indeed, she even formed the
intention of writing him such a cold letter that he would fall into a
mild fit of anger; she would be coquettish, subtle.... But she must
have him again ... of that she was certain ... soon, and, if possible,
forever!... And so her dreams went on and on as the train carried her
homewards.... Ever bolder they grew as the humming of the wheels grew
deeper and deeper, lulling her into a semi-slumberous state.

On her arrival she found the little town buried in a deep sleep--she
reached home and told the maidservant to fetch Fritz from her
sister-in-law's the first thing in the morning. Then she slowly undressed
herself. Her glance fell on the portrait of her dead husband, which hung
over the bed. She asked herself whether it should remain in that
position. Then the thought occurred to her that there are some women who
come from their lovers and then are able to sleep by the side of their
husbands, and she shuddered.... She could never have done such a thing
while her husband had been alive!... And, if she _had_ done it, she would
never have returned home again....



IX


The next morning Bertha was wakened by Fritz. He had jumped on to her bed
and had breathed softly on her eyelids. Bertha sat up, embraced and
kissed him, and he immediately began to tell her how well he had fared
with his uncle and aunt, how Elly had played with him, and how Richard
had once had a fight with him without being able to beat him. On the
previous day, too, he had learned to play the piano, and would soon be as
clever at it as mamma.

Bertha was content just to listen to him.

"If only Emil could hear his sweet prattle now!" she thought.

She considered whether, on the next occasion, she should not take Fritz
with her to Vienna to see Emil, by doing which she would at once remove
anything of a suspicious nature in such a visit.

She thought only of the pleasant side of her experiences in Vienna, and
of the letters which Emil had written to put her off scarcely anything
remained in her memory, other than those words which had reference to a
future meeting.

She got up in an almost cheerful frame of mind and, whilst she was
dressing herself, she felt a quite new tenderness for her own body, which
still seemed to her to be fragrant with the kisses of her beloved.

While the morning was yet young, she went to call on her relations. As
she walked by the house of Herr Rupius she deliberated for a moment
whether she should not go up and see him there and then. But she had a
vague fear of being immediately involved again in the agitated atmosphere
of the household, and she deferred the visit until the afternoon.

At her brother-in-law's house Elly was the first to meet her, and she
welcomed her as boisterously as if Bertha had returned from a long
journey. Her brother-in-law, who was on the point of going out, jestingly
shook a threatening finger at Bertha and said:

"Well, have you had a good time?"

Bertha felt herself blushing crimson.

"Yes," he continued; "these are pretty stories that we hear about you!"

He did not, however, notice her embarrassment and, as he went out of the
door, greeted her with a glance which plainly meant: "You can't keep your
secrets from me."

"Father is always making jokes like that," said Elly. "I don't like him
doing that at all!"

Bertha knew that her brother-in-law had only been talking at random, as
his usual manner was, and that, if she had told him the truth, he would
not have believed her for a moment.

Her sister-in-law came into the room, and Bertha had to relate all about
her stay in Vienna.

To her own surprise she succeeded very well in cleverly blending truth
with fiction. She told how she had been with her cousin to the public
gardens and the picture gallery; on Sunday she had heard Mass at St.
Stephen's Church; she had met in the street a teacher from the
Conservatoire; and finally she even invented a funny married couple, whom
she represented as having had supper one evening at her cousin's. The
further she proceeded with her lies, the greater was her desire to tell
all about Emil as well, and to inform them how she had met in the street
the celebrated violinist Lindbach, who had formerly been with her at the
Conservatoire, and how she had had a conversation with him. But a vague
fear of not being able to stop at the right time caused her to refrain
from making any reference to him.

Frau Albertine Garlan sat on the sofa in an attitude of profound
lassitude, and nodded her head. Elly stood, as usual, by the piano, her
head resting on her hands, and she gazed open-eyed at her aunt.

From her sister-in-law's Bertha went on to the Mahlmanns' and gave the
twins their music lesson. The finger exercises and scales which she had
to hear were at first intolerable to her, but finally she ceased to
listen to them at all, and let her thoughts wander at will. The cheerful
mood of the morning had vanished, Vienna seemed to her to be infinitely
distant, a strange feeling of disquietude came over her and suddenly the
fear seized her that Emil might go away immediately after his concert.
That would indeed be terrible! He might go away all of a sudden without
her having seen him once more--and who could say when he would return?

She wondered whether it would not be well to arrange to be in Vienna in
any case on the day of the concert. She had to admit to herself that she
had not: the slightest longing to hear him play. Indeed, it seemed to her
that she would not in the least mind if he was not a violin virtuoso at
all, if he was not even an artist, but just an ordinary kind of man--a
bookseller, or something like that! If she could only have him for
herself, for herself alone!...

Meanwhile the twins played through their scales. It was surely a terrible
doom to have to sit there and give these untalented brats music lessons.
How was it that she had been in good spirits only just a little earlier
that day?...

Ah, those beautiful days in Vienna! Quite irrespective of Emil--the
entire freedom, the sauntering about the streets, the walks in the public
gardens.... To be sure, she had spent more money during her stay than
she could afford; two dozen lessons to the Mahlmann twins would not
recoup her the outlay.... And now, here she had to come back again to
her relations, to give music lessons, and really it might even be
necessary to look about for fresh pupils, for her accounts would not
balance at all that year!... Ah, what a life!...

In the street Bertha met Frau Martin, who asked her how she had enjoyed
herself in Vienna. At the same time she threw Bertha a glance which
clearly said:

"I'm quite sure you don't enjoy life so much as I do with my husband!"

Bertha had an overwhelming desire to shriek in that person's face:

"I have had a much better time than you think! I have been with an
enchanting young man who is a thousand times more charming than your
husband! And I understand how to enjoy life quite as well as you do! You
have only a husband, but I have a lover!--a lover!--a lover!"...

Yet, of course, she said nothing of the kind, but related how she had
gone with her cousin and the children for a walk in the public gardens.

Bertha also met with some other ladies with whom she was superficially
acquainted. She felt that her mental attitude towards those ladies had
undergone a complete change since her visit to Vienna--that she was
freer, superior. It seemed to her that she was the only woman in the
town with any experience, and she was almost sorry that nobody knew
anything about it, for although, publicly, they would have despised her,
in their hearts all those women would have been filled with unutterable
envy of her.

And if, after all, they _had_ known who.... Although in that hole of a
town there were certainly many who had not so much as heard Emil's name!
If only there was some one in the world to whom she could open her heart!
Frau Rupius--yes, there was Frau Rupius!... But, of course, she was in
the habit of going away, of taking trips!... And, to tell the truth,
thought Bertha, that was also a matter of indifference to her. She would
only like to know how things would eventually turn out so far as she and
Emil were concerned, she would like to know how matters actually stood.
It was the uncertainty that was causing her that terrible uneasiness....
Had she only had a love affair with him, after all?... Ah, but why had
she not gone to him once again?... But, of course, that was quite
impossible!... That letter.... He didn't want to see her, that was it!...
But then, on the other hand, he had sent her flowers....

And now she was back again with her relations. Richard was going to meet
her and embrace her in his playful manner. She pushed him away.

"Impudent boy!" she thought to herself. "I know very well what he means
by doing that, although he himself does not know. I understand these
things--I have a lover in Vienna!..."

The music lesson took its course and, at the end of it, Elly and Richard
played as a duet Beethoven's [Footnote: Query--Brahms (translator's
note).] "Festival Overture" which was intended by them to be a birthday
surprise for their father.

Bertha thought only of Emil. She was nearly being driven out of her mind
by this wretched strumming ... no, it was not possible to live on like
that, whichever way she looked at it!... She was still a young woman,
too.... Yes, that was the secret of it all, the real secret.... She would
not be able to live on like that any more.... And yet it would not do for
her ... any other man.... How could she ever think of such a thing!...
What a very wicked person she must be, after all! Who could tell whether
it had not been that trait in her character which Emil, with his great
experience of life, had perceived in her, and which had been the cause of
his being unwilling to see her any more?... Ah, those women surely had
the best of it who took everything easily, and, when abandoned by one
man, immediately turned to another.... But stay, whatever could it be
that was putting such thoughts as these into her head? Had Emil, then,
abandoned her?... In three or four days she would be in Vienna again;
with him; in his arms!... And had she been able to live for three years
as she had done?... Three?--Six years--her whole life!... If he only knew
that, if he only believed that!

Her sister-in-law came into the room and invited Bertha to have supper
with them that evening.... Yes, that was her only distraction: to go out
to dinner or supper occasionally at some other house than her own!

If only there was a man in the town to whom she could talk!... And Frau
Rupius was going off on her travels and leaving her husband.... Hadn't a
love affair, maybe, something to do with that, Bertha wondered.

The music lesson came to an end and Bertha took her leave. In the
presence of her sister-in-law, too, she noticed that she had that feeling
of superiority, almost of compassion, which had come over her when she
had seen the other ladies. Yes, she was certain that she would not give
up that one hour with Emil for a whole life such as her sister-in-law
led. Moreover, as she thought to herself as she was walking homewards,
she had not been able to arrive at a complete perception of her
happiness, which, indeed, had all slipped by so quickly. And then that
room, that whole house, that frightful picture.... No, no, it was all
really hideous rather than anything else. After all, the only really
beautiful moments had been those which had followed, when Emil had
accompanied her to her hotel in the carriage, and her head had rested on
his breast....

Ah, he loved her indeed; of course, not so deeply as she loved him; but
how could that be possible? What a number of experiences he had had in
his life! She thought of that now without any feeling of jealousy;
rather, she felt a slight pity for him in having to carry so much in his
memory. It was quite evident from his appearance that he was not a man
who took life easily.... He was not of a cheerful disposition.... All the
hours which she had spent with him seemed in her recollection as if
encompassed by an incomprehensible melancholy. If she only knew all about
him! He had told her so little about himself ... nothing, indeed,
absolutely nothing!... But how would that have been possible on the very
first day that they had met again? Ah! if only he really knew her! If she
were only not so shy, so incapable of expressing herself!

She would have to write to him again before seeing him.... Yes, she would
write to him that very day. What a stupid concoction it was, that letter
which she had sent him on the previous day! In truth, he could not have
sent her any other answer than that which she had received. She would not
write to him either defiantly or humbly.... No, after all, she was his
beloved! She who, as she walked along the streets here in the little
town, was regarded by every one who met her as one of themselves ... she
was the beloved of that magnificent man whom she had worshipped since her
girlhood. How unreservedly and unaffectedly she had given herself to
him--not one of all the women she knew would have done that!... Ah, and
she would do still more! Oh, yes! She would even live with him without
being married to him, and she would be supremely indifferent to what
people might say ... she would even be proud of her action! And later on
he would marry her, after all ... of course he would. She was such a
capable housekeeper, too.... And how much good it would be sure to do
him, after the unsettled existence which he had been leading during the
years of his wanderings, to live in a well-ordered house, with a good
wife by his side, who had never loved any man but him.

And now she was home again. Before dinner was served she had made all her
preparations for writing the letter. She ate her dinner with feverish
impatience; she scarcely allowed herself time to cut up Fritz's dinner
and give it to him. Then, instead of undressing him herself and putting
him to bed for his afternoon sleep, as she was always accustomed to do,
she told the maid to attend to him.

She sat down at the desk and the words flowed without effort from her
pen, as though she had long ago composed in her head the whole letter.

"My EMIL, MY BELOVED, MY ALL!

"Since I have returned home again I have been possessed by an
overwhelming desire to write to you, and I should like to say to you over
and over again how happy, how infinitely happy, you have made me. I was
angry with you at first when you wrote and said you could not see me on
Sunday. I must confess that to you as well, for I feel that I am under
the necessity of telling you everything that passes in my mind.
Unfortunately, I could not do so while we were together; I had not the
power of expressing myself, but now I can find the words and you must, I
fear, put up with my boring you with this scribble. My dearest, my only
one--yes, that you are, although it seems to me that you were not quite
so certain of it as you ought to have been. I beseech you to believe that
it is true. You see, I have no means, of course, wherewith to tell you
this, other than these words, Emil, I have never, never loved any man,
but you--and I will never love any other. Do with me as you will. I have
no ties in the little town where I am living now--on the contrary,
indeed, I often find it a terrible thing to be obliged to live my life
here. I will move to Vienna, so as to be near you. Oh, do not fear that I
will disturb you! I am not alone, you see, I have my boy, whom I
_idolize_. I will cut down my expenses, and, in the long run, why
shouldn't I succeed in finding pupils even in a large town like Vienna
just as I do here, perhaps, indeed, even more easily than here, and in
that way improve my position? Yet that is a secondary consideration, for
I may tell you that it has long been my intention to move to Vienna if
only for the sake of my dearly loved boy, when he grows older.

"You cannot imagine how stupid the men are here! And I can no longer bear
to look at any one of them at all, since I have again had the happiness
of being in your company.

"Write to me, my dearest! Yet you need not trouble to send me a whole
long letter. In any case I shall be coming to Vienna again this week. I
would have had to do so in any event, because of some pressing
commissions, and you will then be able to tell me everything--just what
you think of my proposal, and what you consider best for me to do. But
you must promise me this, that, when I live in Vienna, you will often
visit me. Of course, no one need know anything about it, if you do not
care that they should. But you may believe me--every day on which I may
be allowed to see you will be a red-letter day for me and that, in all
the world, there is nobody who loves you in such a true and life-long
manner as I do.

"Farewell, my beloved!

"Your

"BERTHA."

She did not venture to read over what she had written, but left the house
at once so as to take the letter herself to the railway station. There
she saw Frau Rupius, a few paces in front of her, accompanied by a maid
who was carrying a small valise.

What could that mean?

She caught up Frau Rupius, just as the latter was going into the waiting
room. The maid laid the valise on the large table in the centre of the
room, kissed her mistress's hand, and departed.

"Frau Rupius!" exclaimed Bertha, a note of inquiry in her voice.

"I heard that you had returned already. Well, how did you get on?" said
Frau Rupius, extending her hand in a friendly way.

"Very well--very well indeed, but--"

"Why, you are gazing at me as though you were quite frightened! No, Frau
Bertha, I am coming back again--no later than to-morrow. The long
journey that I had in view came to nothing, so I have had to--settle on
something else."

"Something else?"

"Why, of course, staying at home. I shall be back again to-morrow. Well,
how did you get on?"

"I told you just now--very well."

"Yes, of course, you did tell me before. But I see you are going to post
that letter, are you not?"

And then for the first time Bertha noticed that she was still holding the
letter to Emil in her hand. She gazed at it with such enraptured eyes
that Frau Rupius smiled.

"Perhaps you would like me to take it with me? It is to go to Vienna,
I presume?"

"Yes," answered Bertha, and then she added resolutely, as though she was
glad to be able to say it out at last: "to him."

Frau Ropius nodded her head, as if satisfied. But she neither looked at
Bertha nor made any reply.

"I am so glad that I have met you again!" said Bertha. "You are the only
woman here, you know, whom I trust; indeed, you are the only woman who
could understand anything like this."

"Ah, no," said Frau Rupius to herself, as though she were dreaming.

"I do envy you so, because to-day in a few short hours you will see
Vienna again. How fortunate you are!"

Frau Rupius had sat down in one of the leather armchairs by the table.
She rested her chin on her hand, looked at Bertha, and said:

"It seems to me, on the other hand, that it is you who are fortunate."

"No, I must, you see, remain here."

"Why?" asked Frau Rupius. "You are free, you know. But go and put that
letter into the box at once, or I shall see the address, and so learn
more than you wish to tell me."

"I will, though not because of that--but I should be glad if the letter
went by this train and not later."

Bertha hurried into the vestibule, posted the letter and at once returned
to Anna, who was still sitting in the same quiet attitude.

"I might have told you everything, you know," Bertha went on to say;
"indeed I might say that I wished to tell you before I actually went
to Vienna ... but--just fancy, isn't it strange? I did not venture
to do so."

"Moreover at that time, too, there probably had not been anything to
tell," said Frau Rupius, without looking at Bertha.

Bertha was amazed. How clever that woman was! She could see into
everybody's thoughts!

"No, at that time there had not been anything to tell," she repeated,
gazing at Frau Rupius with a kind of reverence. "Just think--you will
probably find it hard to believe what I am going to tell you now, but I
should feel a liar if I kept it secret."

"Well?"

Bertha had sat down on a seat beside Frau Rupius, and she spoke in a
lower tone, for the vestibule door was standing open.

"I wanted to tell you this, Anna: that I do not in the least feel that I
have done anything wicked, not even anything immoral."

"It wouldn't be a very clever thing, either, if you had."

"Yes, you are quite right.... What I really meant to say was rather that
it seems to me as though I had done something quite good, as if I had
done something outstanding. Yes, Frau Rupius, the fact of the matter is,
I have been proud of myself ever since."

"Well, there is probably no reason for that either," said Frau Rupius, as
if lost in thought, stroking Bertha's hand, which lay upon the table.

"I am aware of that, of course, and yet I am so proud and seem quite
different from all the women whom I know. You see if you knew ... if you
were acquainted with him--it is such a strange affair! You mustn't think,
let me tell you, that it is an acquaintanceship which I have made
recently--quite the contrary; I have been in love with him, you must
know, ever since I was quite a young girl, no less than twelve years ago.
For a long time we had completely lost sight of one another, and
now--isn't it wonderful?--now he is my ... my ... my ... lover!"

She had said it at last. Her whole face was radiant.

Frau Rupius threw her a glance in which could be detected a little scorn
and a great deal of kindliness.

"I am glad that you are happy," she said.

"How very kind you are indeed! But then, you see, on the other hand
again, it is a dreadful thing that we are so far apart from one another;
he, in Vienna; I, here--I don't think I shall ever be able to endure
that. Moreover, I have ceased to feel that I belong to this place, least
of all to my relations. If they knew ... no, if they knew! However, they
would never be able to bring themselves to believe it. A woman like my
sister-in-law, for instance--well, I am perfectly certain that she could
never imagine such a thing to be in any way possible."

"But you are really very ingenuous!" said Frau Rupius suddenly, almost
with exasperation. Then she listened for a moment. "I thought I could
hear the train whistling already."

She rose to her feet, walked over to the large glass door leading on to
the platform, and looked out. A porter came and asked for the tickets in
order to punch them.

"The train for Vienna is twenty minutes late," he remarked, at the
same time.

Bertha had stood up and gone over to Frau Rupius.

"Why do you consider that I am ingenuous?" she asked shyly.

"But, indeed, you know absolutely nothing about men," replied Frau
Rupius, as if she were annoyed. "You haven't, you know, the slightest
idea among what kind of people you are living. I can assure you, you have
no reason at all to be proud."

"I know, of course, that it is very stupid of me."

"Your sister-in-law--that is delightful!--your sister-in-law!"

"What do you mean, then?"

"I mean that she has had a lover too!"

"Whatever put such an idea as that into your head!"

"Well, she is not the only woman in this town."

"Yes, there are certainly women who ... but, Albertine--"

"And do you know who it was? That is very amusing! It was Herr
Klingemann!"

"No, that is impossible!"

"Of course, it is now a long time ago, about ten or eleven years."

"But at that time, by the way, you yourself had not come to live here,
Frau Rupius!"

"Oh, I have heard it from the best source. It was Herr Klingemann himself
who told me about it."

"Herr Klingemann himself! But is it possible for a man to be so base as
all that!"

"I don't think there's the least doubt about that," answered Frau Rupius,
sitting down on a seat near the door, whilst Bertha remained standing
beside her, listening in amazement to her friend's words. "Yes, Herr
Klingemann himself.... As soon as I came to the town, you must know, he
did me the honour of making violent love to me, neck or nothing, so to
speak. You know yourself, of course, what a loathsome wretch he is. I
laughed him to scorn, which probably exasperated him a great deal, and
evidently he thought that he would be able conclusively to prove to me
how irresistible he was by recounting all his conquests."

"But perhaps he told you some things which were not true."

"A great deal, probably; but this story, as it happens, is true.... Ah,
what a rabble these men are!"

There was a note of the deepest hatred in Frau Rupius' voice. Bertha was
quite frightened. She had never thought it possible that Frau Rupius
could have said such things.

"Yes, why shouldn't you know what kind of men they are amongst whom you
are living?" continued Frau Rupius.

"No, I would never have thought it possible! If my brother-in-law knew
about it!--"

"If he knew about it? He knows about it as well as you or I do!"

"What do you say! No, no!"

"Indeed, he caught them together--you understand me! Herr Klingemann and
Albertine! So that, however much inclined he might have been to make the
best of things, there was no doubt possible!"

"But, for Heaven's sake--what did he do, then?"

"Well, as you can see for yourself, he has not turned her out!"

"Well, yes, the children ... of course!"

"The children--pooh-pooh! He forgave her for the sake of convenience--and
chiefly because he could do as he liked after that. You can see for
yourself how he treats her. When all is said and done, she is but little
better than his servant; you know as well as I do in what a miserable,
brow-beaten way she slinks about. He has brought it to this, that, ever
since that moment, she has always had to look upon herself as a woman who
has been treated with mercy. And I believe she has even a perpetual fear
that he is reserving the punishment for some future day. But it is stupid
of her to be afraid of that, for he wouldn't look out for another
housekeeper for anything.... Ah, my dear Frau Bertha, we are not by any
means angels, as you know now from your own experiences, but men are
infamous so long"--she seemed to hesitate to complete the phrase--"so
long as they are men."

Bertha was as though crushed; not so much on account of the things which
Frau Rupius had told her as on account of the manner in which she had
done so. She seemed to have become a quite different woman, and Bertha
was pained at heart.

The door leading to the platform was opened and the low, incessant
tinkling of the telegraph was heard. Frau Rupius stood up slowly, her
features assumed a mild expression, and, stretching out her hand to
Bertha, she said:

"Forgive me, I was only a little bit vexed. Things can be also very nice;
of course, there are certainly decent men in the world as well as others.
Oh, yes, things can be very nice, no doubt."

She looked out on to the railway lines and seemed to be following the
iron track into the distance. Then she went on to say with that same
soft, harmonious voice which appealed so strongly to Bertha:

"I shalt be home again to-morrow evening.... Oh, yes, of course, my
travelling case!"

She hurried to the table and took her valise.

"It would have been a terrible catastrophe if I had forgotten that! I
cannot travel without my ten bottles! Well, good-bye! And don't forget,
though, that all I have been telling you happened ten years ago."

The train came into the station. Frau Rupius hurried to a compartment,
got in, and, looking out of the window, nodded affably to Bertha. The
latter endeavoured to respond as cheerfully, but she felt that her wave
of the hand to the departing Frau Rupius was stiff and forced.

Slowly she walked homewards again. In vain she sought to persuade herself
that all that she had heard was not the least concern of hers; the long
past affair of her sister-in-law, the mean conduct of her brother-in-law,
the baseness of Klingemann, the strange whims of that incomprehensible
Frau Rupius; all had nothing to do with her. She could not explain it to
herself, but somehow, it seemed to her as though all these things were
mysteriously related to her own adventure.

Suddenly the gnawing doubts appeared again.... Why hadn't Emil wanted
to see her again? Not on the following day, or on the second or on
the third day? How was it? He had attained his object, that was
sufficient for him.... However had she been able to write him that
mad, shameless letter?

And a thrill of fear arose within her.... If he were to show her letter
to another woman, maybe ... make merry over it with her.... No, how on
earth could such an idea come into her head? It was ridiculous even to
think of such a thing!... It was possible, of course, that he would not
answer the letter and would throw it into the wastepaper basket--but
nothing worse than that.... No.... However, she must just have patience,
and in two or three days all would be decided. She could not say
anything with certainty, but she felt that this unendurable confusion
within her mind could not last much longer. The question would have to
be settled, somehow.

Late in the afternoon she again went for a walk amongst the
vine-trellises with Fritz, but she did not go into the cemetery. Then she
walked slowly down the hill and sauntered along under the chestnut trees.
She chatted with Fritz, asked him about all sorts of things, listened to
his stories and, as her frequent custom was, instilled some knowledge
into his head on several subjects. She tried to explain to him how far
the sun is distant from the earth, how the rain comes from the clouds,
and how the bunches of grapes grow, from which wine is made. She was not
annoyed, as often happened, if the boy did not pay proper attention to
her, because she realized well enough that she was only talking for the
sake of distracting her own thoughts.

Then she walked down the hill, under the chestnut trees, and so back to
the town. Presently she saw Herr Klingemann approaching, but the fact
made not the slightest impression upon her. He spoke to her with forced
politeness; all the time he held his straw hat in his hand and affected a
great and almost gloomy gravity. He seemed very changed, and she
observed, too, that his clothes in reality were not at all elegant, but
positively shabby. Suddenly she could not help picturing him tenderly
embracing her sister-in-law, and she felt extremely disgusted.

Later on she sat down on a bench and watched Fritz playing with some
other children, all the time making an effort to keep her attention fixed
on him so that she would not have to think of anything else.

In the evening she went to her relatives. She had a sensation as though
she had had a presentiment of everything long before, for otherwise how
could she have failed to have been struck before this by the kind of
relations which existed between her brother-in-law and his wife? The
former again made jocular remarks about Bertha's visit to Vienna. He
asked when she was going there again, and whether they would not soon be
hearing of her engagement. Bertha entered into the joke, and told how at
least a dozen men had proposed to her, amongst others, a Government
official; but she felt that her lips alone were speaking and smiling,
while her soul remained serious and silent.

Richard sat beside her, and his knee touched hers, by chance. And as he
was pouring out a glass of wine for her and she seized his hand to stop
him, she felt a comforting glow steal up her arm as far as her shoulder.
It made her feel happy. It seemed to her that she was being unfaithful to
Emil. And that was quite as she wished; she wanted Emil to know that her
senses were on the alert, that she was just the same as other women, and
that she could accept the embraces of her nephew in just the same way as
she did his.... Ah, yes, if he only knew it! That was what she ought to
have written in her letter, not that humble, longing letter!...

But even while these thoughts were surging through her mind, she remained
serious in the depths of her soul, and a feeling of solitude actually
came over her, for she knew that no one could imagine what was taking
place within her.

Afterwards, when she was walking homewards through the deserted streets,
she met an officer whom she knew by sight. With him he had a pretty woman
whom she had never seen before.

"Evidently a woman from Vienna!" she thought, for she knew that the
officers often had such visitors.

She had a feeling of envy towards the woman; she wished that she was also
being accompanied by a handsome young officer at that moment.... And why
not?... After all, everybody was like that.... And now she herself had
ceased to be a respectable woman. Emil, of course, did not believe that,
any more than anybody else, and, anyhow, it was all just the same!

She reached home, undressed and went to bed. But the air was too sultry.
She got up again, went to the window and opened it. Outside, all was
dark. Perhaps somebody could see her standing there at the window, could
see her skin gleaming through the darkness.... Indeed, she would not mind
at all if anybody did see her like that!... Then she lay down on the bed
again.... Ah, yes, she was no better than any of the others! And there
was no good reason either why she should be....

Her thoughts grew indistinct.... Yes, he was the cause of it all, he had
brought her to this, he had just taken her like a woman of the
street--and then cast her off!... Ah, it was shameful, shameful!---how
base men were! And yet ... it was delightful....

She fell asleep.



X


A warm rain was gently falling the next morning. Thus Bertha was able
to endure her immense impatience more easily than if the sun had been
blazing down. She felt as though during her sleep much had been
smoothed out within her. In the soft grey of the morning everything
seemed so simple and so utterly commonplace. On the morrow she would
receive the letter she was expecting, and the present day was just like
a hundred others.

She gave her pupils their music lessons. She was very strict with her
nephew that day and rapped him on the knuckles when he played unbearably
badly. He was a lazy pupil--that was all.

In the afternoon she was struck by an idea, which seemed to herself to be
extremely praiseworthy. She had for a long time past intended to teach
Fritz how to read, and she would make a start that very day. For a whole
hour she slaved away, instilling a few letters into his head.

The rain still kept falling; it was a pity that she could not go for a
walk. The afternoon would be long, very long. Surely she ought to go and
see Herr Rupius without further delay. It was too bad of her that she had
not called on him since her return from Vienna. It was quite possible
that he would feel somewhat ashamed of himself in her presence, because
just lately he had been using such big words, and now Anna was still with
him, after all....

Bertha left the house. In spite of the rain, she walked, first of all,
out into the open country. It was long since she had been so tranquil as
she was that day; she rejoiced in the day without agitation, without
fear, and without expectation. Oh, if it could be always like that! She
was astonished at the indifference with which she could think of Emil.
She would be more than content if she should not hear another word from
him, and could continue in her present state of tranquillity forever....
Yes, it was good and pleasant to be like that--to live in the little
town, to give the few music lessons, which, after all, required no great
effort, to educate her boy, to teach him to read, to write, and to count!
Were her experiences of the last few days, she asked herself, worth so
much anxiety--nay, so much humiliation? No, she was not intended for such
things. It seemed as though the din of the great city, which had not
disturbed her on her last visit, was now for the first time ringing in
her ears, and she rejoiced in the beautiful calm which encompassed her in
her present surroundings.

Thus the state of profound lassitude into which her soul had fallen after
the unaccustomed agitations of the last few days appeared to Bertha as a
state of tranquillity that would be final.... And yet, only a short time
later, when she was wending her way back to the town, the internal
quietude gradually disappeared, and vague forebodings of fresh agitations
and sorrows awoke within her.

The sight of a young couple who passed her, pressed close to one another
under an open umbrella, aroused in her a yearning for Emil. She did not
resist it, for she already realized that everything within her was in
such a state of upheaval that every breath brought some fresh and
generally unexpected thing on to the surface of her soul.

It was growing dusk when Bertha entered Herr Rupius' room. He was sitting
at the table, with a portfolio of pictures before him. The hanging lamp
was lighted.

He looked up and returned her greeting.

"Let me see; you, of course, came back from Vienna on the evening of the
day before yesterday," he said.

It sounded like a reproach, and Bertha had a sensation of guilt.

"Well, sit down," he continued; "and tell me what happened to you
in Vienna."

"Nothing at all," answered Bertha. "I went to the Museum, and I have seen
the originals of several of your pictures."

Herr Rupius made no reply.

"Your wife is coming back this very evening?"

"I believe not"--he was silent for a time, and then said, with
intentional dryness: "I must ask your pardon for having told you
recently things which I am sure could not possibly have been of any
interest to you. For the rest, I do not think that my wife will
return to-day."

"But.... She told me so herself, you know."

"Yes, she told me also. She simply wanted to spare me the farewell, or
rather the comedy of farewell. By that I don't mean anything at all
untruthful, but just the things which usually accompany farewells:
touching words, tears.... However, enough of that. Will you be good
enough to come and see me at times? I shall be rather lonely, you know,
when my wife is no longer with me."

All this he said in a tone the sharpness of which was so little in
keeping with the meaning of his words that Bertha sought in vain
for a reply.

Rupius, however, continued at once:

"Well, and what else did you see besides the Museum?"

With great animation, Bertha began to tell all sorts of things about her
visit to Vienna. She also mentioned that she had met an old friend of her
schooldays, whom she had not seen for a long time. Strangely, too, the
meeting had taken place exactly in front of the Falckenborg picture.

While she was speaking of Emil in this way without mentioning his name,
her yearning for him increased until it seemed boundless, and she thought
of writing to him again that day.

Then she noticed that Herr Rupius was keeping his gaze fixed intently on
the door. His wife had come into the room. She went up to him, smiling.

"Here I am, back again!" she said, kissing him on the forehead; and then
she held out her hand to Bertha.

"Good evening, Frau Rupius," said Bertha, highly delighted.

Herr Rupius spoke not a word, but signs of violent agitation could be
seen on his face. His wife, who had not yet taken off her hat, turned
away for a moment, and then Bertha noticed how Herr Rupius had rested his
face on both his hands, and had begun to sob inwardly.

Bertha left them. She was glad that Frau Rupius had returned; it seemed
to be something in the nature of a good omen. By an early hour on the
morrow she might receive the letter which would, perhaps, decide her
fate. Her sense of restfulness had again completely vanished, but her
being was filled with a different yearning from that which she had
experienced before. She wished only to have Emil there, near her; she
would have liked only to see him, to walk by his side.

In the evening, after she had put her little boy to bed, she stopped on
for a long time alone in the dining-room; she went to the piano and
played a few chords, then she walked over to the window and gazed out
into the darkness. The rain had ceased, the earth was imbibing the
moisture, the clouds were still hanging heavily over the landscape.

Bertha's whole being became imbued with yearning; everything within her
called to him; her eyes sought to see him before her in the darkness; her
lips breathed a kiss into the air, as though it could reach his lips;
and, unconsciously, as if her wishes had to soar aloft, away from all
else that surrounded her, she looked up to Heaven and whispered:

"Give him back to me!..."

Never had she been as at that moment. She had an impression that for the
first time she now really loved him. Her love was free from all the
elements which had previously disturbed it; there was no fear, no care,
no doubt. Everything within her was the purest tenderness, and now, when
a faint breeze came blowing and stirring the hair on her forehead, she
felt as though it was a breath from the lips of Emil.

The next morning came, but no letter. Bertha was a little disappointed,
but not disquieted. Soon Elly, who had suddenly acquired a great liking
for playing with Fritz, made her appearance. The servant, on returning
from the market, brought the news that the doctor had been summoned in
the greatest haste to Herr Rupius' house, though she did not know whether
it was Herr Rupius or his wife who was ill. Bertha decided to go and
inquire herself without waiting until after dinner.

She gave the Mahlmaan twins their music lesson, feeling very
absent-minded and nervous all the time, and then went to Herr Rupius'
house. The servant told her that her mistress was ill in bed, but that it
was nothing dangerous, although Doctor Friedrich had strictly forbidden
that any visitors should be admitted. Bertha was frightened. She would
have liked to speak to Herr Rupius, but did not wish to appear
importunate.

In the afternoon she made an attempt at continuing Fritz's education,
but, do what she could, she met with no success. Again, she had the
impression that her own hopes were influenced by Anna having been taken
ill; if Anna had been well, it would have surely happened also that the
letter would have arrived by that time. She knew that such an idea was
utter nonsense, but she could not resist it.

Soon after five o'clock she again set out to call on Herr Rupius. The
maid admitted her. Herr Rupius himself wanted to speak to her. He was
sitting in his easy-chair by the table.

"Well?" asked Bertha.

"The doctor is with her just at this moment--if you will wait a few
minutes ..."

Bertha did not venture to ask any questions, and both remained silent.
After a few seconds, Doctor Friedrich came out from the bedroom.

"Well, I cannot say anything definite yet," he said slowly; then, with a
sudden resolution, he added: "Excuse me, Frau Garlan, but it is
absolutely necessary for me to have a few words with Herr Rupius alone."

Herr Rupius winced.

"Then I won't disturb you," said Bertha mechanically, and she left them.

But she was so agitated that it was impossible for her to go home, and
she walked along the pathway leading between the vine-trellises to the
cemetery. She felt that something mysterious was happening in that house.
The thought occurred to her that Anna might, perhaps, have made an
attempt to commit suicide. If only she did not die, Bertha said to
herself. And immediately the thought followed: if only a nice letter were
to come from Emil!

She seemed to herself to be encompassed by nothing but dangers. She went
into the cemetery. It was a beautiful, warm summer's day, and the flowers
and blossoms were fragrant and fresh after the rain of the previous day.
Bertha followed her accustomed path towards her husband's grave, but she
felt that she had absolutely no object in going there. It was almost
painful to her to read the words on the tombstone; they had no longer the
least significance for her:

"Victor Mathias Garlan, died the 6th June, 1895."

It seemed to her, then, that any of her walks with Emil, which had
happened ten years before, were nearer than the years she had spent by
the side of her husband. Those years were as though they had not even
existed ... she would not have been able to believe in them if Fritz had
not been alive.... Suddenly the idea passed through her mind that Fritz
was not Garlan's son at all ... perhaps he was really Emil's son.... Were
not such things possible, after all?... And she felt at that moment that
she could understand the doctrine of the Holy Ghost.... Then she was
alarmed at the madness of her own thoughts.

She looked at the broad roadway, stretching straight from the cemetery
gate to the opposite wall, and all at once she knew, for a positive fact,
that in a few days a coffin, with the corpse of Frau Rupius within it,
would be borne along that road. She wanted to banish the idea, but the
picture was there in full detail; the hearse was standing before the
gate; the grave, which two men were digging yonder just at that moment,
was destined for Frau Rupius; Herr Rupius was waiting by the open grave.
He was sitting in his invalid chair, his plaid rug across his knees, and
was staring at the coffin, which the black-garbed undertakers were slowly
carrying along.... The vision was more than a mere presentiment; it was a
precognition.... But whence had this idea come to her?

Then she heard people talking behind her. Two women walked past her--one
was the widow of a lieutenant-colonel who had recently died, the other
was her daughter. Both greeted Bertha and walked slowly on. Bertha
thought that these two women would consider her a faithful widow who
still grieved for her husband, and she seemed to herself to be an
impostor, and she retired hastily.

Possibly there would be some news awaiting her at home, a telegram from
Emil, perhaps--though that, indeed, would be nothing extraordinary ...
after all, the two things were closely connected.... She wondered whether
Frau Rupius still thought of what Bertha had told her at the railway
station, and whether, perhaps, she would speak of it in her delirium ...
however, that was a matter of indifference, indeed. The only matters of
importance were that Emil should write and that Frau Rupius should get
better.... She would have to call again and see Herr Rupius; he would be
sure to tell her what the doctor had had to say.... And Bertha hastened
homewards between the vine-trellises down the hill....

Nothing had arrived, no letter, no telegram.... Fritz had gone out with
the maid. Ah, how lonely she was. She hurried to Herr Rupius' house once
more, and the maid opened the door to her. Things were progressing very
badly, Herr Rupius was unable to see anyone....

"But what is the matter with her? Don't you know what the doctor said?"

"An inflammation, so the doctor said."

"What kind of an inflammation?"

"Or it might even be blood poisoning, he said. A nurse from the hospital
will be here immediately."

Bertha went away. On the square in front of the restaurant a few people
were sitting, and one table, right in front, was occupied by some
officers, as was usual at that time of the day.

They didn't know what was going on up yonder, thought Bertha, otherwise
they wouldn't be sitting there and laughing.... Blood poisoning--well,
what could that mean?... Obviously Frau Rupius had attempted to commit
suicide!... But why?... Because she was unable to go away--or did not
wish to?--but she wouldn't die--no, she must not die!

Bertha called on her relatives, so as to pass the time. Only her
sister-in-law was at home; she already knew that Frau Rupius had been
taken ill, but that did not affect her very much, and she soon began to
talk of other things. Bertha could not endure it, and took her departure.

In the evening she tried to tell Fritz stories, then she read the paper,
in which, amongst other things, she found another announcement of the
concert at which Emil was to play. It struck her as very strange that the
concert was still an event which was announced to take place, and not one
long since over.

She was unable to go to bed without making one more inquiry at Herr
Rupius' house. She met the nurse in the anteroom. It was the one Doctor
Friedrich always sent to his private patients. She had a cheerful-looking
face, and a comforting expression in her eyes.

"The doctor will be sure to pull Frau Rupius through," she said.

And, although Bertha knew that the nurse was always making such
observations, she felt more reassured.

She walked home, went to bed, and fell quietly asleep.



XI


The next morning Bertha was late in waking up. She was fresh after her
good night's rest. A letter was lying beside the bed. And then, for the
first time that morning, everything came back to her mind; Frau Rupius
was very ill, and here was a letter from Emil. She seized it so hurriedly
that she set the little candlestick shaking violently; she opened the
envelope and read the letter.

"My DEAR BERTHA,

"Many thanks for your nice letter. I was very pleased to get it. But I
must tell you that your idea of coming to live permanently in Vienna
requires again to be carefully considered by you. Circumstances here are
quite different from what you seem to imagine. Even the native, fully
accredited musicians have the greatest difficulty in obtaining pupils at
anything like decent fees, and for you it would be--at the beginning, at
least--almost a matter of impossibility. Where you are now you have your
assured income, your circle of relations and friends, your home; and,
finally, it is the place where you lived with your husband, where your
child was born, and so it is the place where you ought to be.

"And, apart from all these considerations, it would be a very foolish
procedure on your part to plunge into the exhausting struggle for a
livelihood in the city. I purposely refrain from saying anything about
the part which your affection for me (you know I return it with all my
heart) seems to play in your proposals; to bring that in would carry
the whole question over to another domain, and we must not let that
happen. I will accept no sacrifice from you, under any condition. I
need not assure you that I would like to see you again, and soon, too,
for there is nothing I desire so much as to spend another such an hour
with you as that which you recently gave me (and for which I am very
grateful to you).

"So, then, arrange matters, my child, in such a way that, say, every four
or six weeks you can come to Vienna for a day and a night. We will often
be very happy again, I trust. I regret I cannot see you during the next
few days, and, moreover, I start off on a tour immediately after the
concert. I have to play in London during the season there, and after that
I am going on to Scotland. So I look forward to the joyful prospect of
meeting you again in the autumn.

"I greet you and kiss that sweet spot behind your ear, which I love
best of all.

"Your

"EMIL."

When Bertha had read the letter to the end, for some little time she sat
bolt upright in the bed. A shudder seemed to pass through her whole body.
She was not surprised; she knew that she had expected no other kind of
letter. She shook herself....

Every four or six weeks ... excellent! Yes, for a day and a night.... It
was shameful, shameful!... And how afraid he was that she might go to
Vienna.... And then that observation right at the end, as if his object
had been, while he was still at a safe distance, so to speak, to
stimulate her senses, because that, forsooth, was the only kind of
relations he desired to keep up with her.... It was shameful,
shameful!... What sort of a woman had she been! She felt a
loathing--loathing!...

She sprang out of bed and dressed herself.... Well, what was going to
happen after that?... It was over, over, over! He had not time to spare
for her--no time at all!... One night every, six weeks, after the
autumn.... Yes, my dear sir, I at once accept your honourable proposals
with pleasure. Indeed, for myself, I desire nothing better! I will go on
turning sour; I will go on giving music lessons and growing imbecile in
this hole of a town.... You will fiddle away, turn women's heads, travel,
be rich, famous and happy--and every four or six weeks I may hope to be
taken for one night to some shabby room where you entertain your women of
the street.... It was shameful, shameful, shameful!...

Quick! She would get ready to go to Frau Rupius--Anna was ill, seriously
ill--what mattered anything else?

Before she went out, Bertha pressed Fritz to her heart, and she recalled
the passage in Emil's letter: it is the place where your child was
born.... Indeed, that was quite right, too; but Emil had not said that
because it was true, but only to avoid the danger of having to see her
more than once in six weeks.

She hurried off.... How was it, then, that she did not feel any
nervousness on Frau Rupius' account?... Ah, of course, she had known
that Frau Rupius had been better the previous evening. But where was
the letter, though?... She had again thrust it quite mechanically into
her bodice.

Some officers were sitting in front of the restaurant having breakfast.
They were all covered with dust, having just returned from the
manoeuvres. One of them gazed after Bertha. He was a very young man, and
could only have obtained his commission quite recently....

Pray, don't be afraid, thought Bertha. I am altogether at your disposal.
I have an engagement which takes me into Vienna only once every four or
six weeks ... please, tell me when you would like ...

The balcony door was open, the red velvet piano cover was hanging over
the balustrade. Well, evidently order had been restored again--otherwise,
would the cover have been hanging over the balustrade?... Of course not,
so forward then, and upstairs without fear....

The maid opened the door. There was no need for Bertha to ask her any
questions; in her wide-open eyes there was an expression of terrified
amazement, such as is only called forth by the proximity of an
appalling death.

Bertha went in. She entered the drawing-room first; the door leading to
the bedroom was open to its full extent. The bed was standing in the
middle of the room, away from the wall, and free on all sides. At the
foot was sitting the nurse, looking very tired, with her head sunk upon
her breast, Herr Rupius was sitting in his invalid's chair by the head of
the bed. The room was so dark that it was not until Bertha had come quite
close that she could see Anna's face clearly. Frau Rupius seemed to be
asleep. Bertha came nearer. She could hear the patient's breathing; it
was regular, but inconceivably rapid--she had never heard a human being
breathe like that before. Then Bertha felt that the eyes of the two
others were fixed upon her. Her surprise at having been admitted in this
unceremonious manner lasted only for a moment, since she understood that
all precautionary measures had now become superfluous; the matter had
been decided.

Suddenly another pair of eyes turned towards Bertha. Frau Rupius opened
her eyes, and was watching her friend attentively. The nurse made room
for Bertha, and went into the adjoining room. Bertha sat down, moving her
chair closer to the bed. She noticed that Anna was slowly stretching out
her hand towards her. She grasped it.

"Dear Frau Rupius," she said, "you are already getting on much better
now, are you not?"

She felt that she was again saying something awkward, but she knew she
could not help doing so. It was just her fate to say such things in the
presence of Frau Rupius, even in her last hour.

Anna smiled; she looked as pale and young as a girl.

"Thank you, dear Bertha," she said.

"But whatever for, my dear, dear Anna?"

She had the greatest difficulty in restraining her tears. At the same
time, however, she was very curious to hear what had actually happened.

A long interval of silence ensued. Anna closed her eyes again and
appeared to sleep. Herr Rupius sat motionless in his chair. Bertha looked
sometimes at Anna and sometimes at him.

In any case, she must wait, she thought. She wondered what Emil would
say if _she_ were suddenly to die. Ah, surely it would cause him some
slight grief if he had to think that she whom he had held in his arms a
few days before now lay mouldering in the grave. He might even weep.
Yes, he would weep if she were to die ... wretched egoist though he was
at other times....

Ah, but where were her thoughts flying to again? Wasn't she still
holding her friend's hand in her own? Oh, if she could only save her!...
Who was now in the worse plight--this woman who was doomed to die, or
Bertha herself--who had been so ignominiously deceived? Was it necessary,
though, to put it so strongly as that, because of one night?... Ah, but
that had much too fine a sound!... for the sake of one hour--to humiliate
her so--to ruin her so--was not that unscrupulous and shameless?... How
she hated him! How she hated him!... If only he were to break down at the
next concert, so that all the people would laugh him to scorn, and he
would be put to shame, and all the papers would have the news--"The
career of Herr Emil Lindbach is absolutely ended." And all his women
would say: "Ah, I don't like that a bit, a fiddler who breaks down!"...

Yes, then he would probably remember her, the only woman who had loved
him since the days of her girlhood, who loved him truly ... and whom he
was now treating so basely!... Then he would be sure to come back to her
and beg her to forgive him--and she would say to him: "Do you see, Emil;
do you see, Emil?"... for, naturally, anything more intelligent than that
would not occur to her....

And there she was thinking again of him, always of him--and here somebody
was dying, and she was sitting by the bed, and that silent person there
was the husband.... It was all so quiet; only from the street, as though
wafted up over the balcony and through the open door, came a confused
murmur--men's voices, the rumble of the traffic, the jingle of a
cyclist's bell, the clattering of a sabre on the pavement, and, now and
then, the twitter of the birds--but it all seemed so far away, so utterly
unconnected with actuality.

Anna became restless and tossed her head to and fro--several times,
quickly, quicker and quicker....

"Now it's beginning!" said a soft voice behind Bertha.

She turned round. It was the nurse with the cheerful features; but Bertha
now perceived that that expression did not denote cheerfulness at all,
but was only the result of a strained effort never to allow sorrow to be
noticeable, and she considered the face to be indescribably fearful....
What was it the nurse had said?... "Now it's beginning."... Yes, like a
concert or a play ... and Bertha remembered that once the same words had
been spoken beside her own bed, at the time when she began to feel the
pangs of childbirth....

Suddenly Anna opened her eyes, opened them very wide, so that they
appeared immense; she fixed them on her husband, and, vainly striving,
meanwhile, to raise herself up, said in a quite clear voice:

"It was only you, only you ... believe me, it was only you whom I
have..."

The last word was unintelligible, but Bertha guessed it.

Then Herr Rupius bent down, and kissed the dying woman on the forehead.
Anna threw her arms around him; his lips lingered long on her eyes.

The nurse had gone out of the room again. Suddenly Anna pushed her
husband away from her; she no longer recognized him; delirium had set in.

Bertha rose to her feet in great alarm, but she remained standing
by the bed.

"Go now!" said Herr Rupius to her.

She lingered.

"Go!" he repeated, this time in a stern voice.

Bertha realized that she must go. She left the room quietly on tip-toes,
as though Anna might still be disturbed by the sound of footsteps. Just
as she entered the adjoining room she saw Doctor Friedrich, who was
taking off his overcoat and, at the same time, was talking to a young
doctor, the assistant at the hospital.

He did not notice Bertha, and she heard him say:

"In any other case I would have notified the authorities, but, as this
affair falls out as it does.... Besides, there would be a terrible
scandal, and poor Rupius would be the worst sufferer--" then he saw
Bertha--"Good day, Frau Garlan."

"Oh, doctor, what is really the matter, then?"

Doctor Friedrich threw his colleague a rapid glance.

"Blood poisoning," he replied. "You are, of course, aware, my dear
Frau Garlan, that people often cut their fingers and die as a
result; the wound cannot always he located. It is a great
misfortune.... Yes, indeed!"

He went into the room, followed by the assistant.

Bertha went into the street like one stupified. What could be the meaning
of the words which she had overheard--"information?"--"scandal?" Yes, had
Herr Rupius, perhaps, murdered his own wife?... No, what nonsense! But
some injury had been done to her, it was quite obvious ... and it must
have been, in some way, connected with the visit to Vienna; for she had
been taken ill during the night subsequent to her journey.... And the
words of the dying woman recurred to Bertha: "It was only you, only you
whom I have loved!..." Had they not sounded like a prayer for
forgiveness? "Loved only you"--but ... another ... of course, she had a
lover in Vienna.... Well, yes, but what followed?... Yes, she had wished
to go away, and had not done so after all.... What could it have been
that she said on that occasion at the railway station?... "I have made up
my mind to do something else."... Yes, of course, she had taken leave of
her lover in Vienna, and, on her return--had poisoned herself?... But why
should she do that, though, if she loved only her husband?... And that
was not a lie, certainly not!

Bertha could not understand....

Why ever had she gone away, then?... What should she do now, too?... She
could not rest. She could neither go home nor to her relatives, she must
go back again.... She wondered, too, whether Anna would have to die if
another letter from Emil came that day?... In truth, she was losing her
reason.... Of course, these two things had not the least connection
between them ... and yet ... why was she unable to dissociate them one
from the other?...

Once more she hurried up the steps. Not a quarter of an hour had elapsed
since she had left the house. The hall door was open, the nurse was in
the anteroom.

"It is all over," she said.

Bertha went on. Herr Rupius was sitting by the table, all alone; the door
leading to the death-chamber was closed. He made Bertha come quite close
to him, then he seized the hand which she stretched out to him.

"Why, why did she do it?" he said. "Why did she do _that_?"

Bertha was silent.

"It wasn't necessary," continued Herr Rupius, "Heaven knows, it wasn't
necessary. What difference could the other men make to me--tell me that?"

Bertha nodded.

"The main point is to live--yes, that is it! Why did she do that?"

It sounded like a suppressed wail, although he seemed to be speaking
very quietly. Bertha burst into tears.

"No, it wasn't necessary! I would have brought it up--brought it up as my
own child!"

Bertha looked up sharply. All at once she understood everything, and a
terrible fear ran through her whole being. She thought of herself. If in
that night she also ... in that one hour?... So great was her terror that
she believed that she must be losing her reason. What had hitherto been
scarcely more than a vague possibility floating through her mind now
loomed suddenly before her, an indisputable certainty. It could not
possibly be otherwise, the death of Anna was an omen, the pointing of the
finger of God.

At the same time there arose within her mind the recollection of the day,
twelve years ago, when she had been walking with Emil on the bank of the
Wien, and he had kissed her and for the first time she had felt an ardent
yearning for a child. How was it that she had not experienced the same
yearning when, recently, she felt his arms about her?... Yes, she knew
now; she had desired nothing more than the pleasures of the moment; she
had been no better than a woman of the streets. It would be only the just
punishment of Heaven if she also perished in her shame, like the poor
woman lying in the next room.

"I would like to see her once more," she said.

Rupius pointed towards the door. Bertha opened it, went up slowly to the
bed on which lay the body of the dead woman, gazed upon her friend for a
long time, and kissed her on both eyes. Then a sense of unequalled
restfulness stole over her. She would have liked to have remained beside
the corpse for hours together, for, in proximity to it, her own sorrow
and disappointment became as nothing to her. She knelt down by the bed
and clasped her hands, but she did not pray.

All at once everything danced before her eyes. Suddenly a well-known
attack of weakness came over her, a dizziness which passed off
immediately. At first she trembled slightly, but then she drew a deep
breath, as one who has been rescued, because, indeed, with the approach
of that lassitude, she felt at the same time that, at that moment, not
only her previous apprehensions, but all the illusion of that confused
day, the last tremors of the desires of womanhood, everything which she
had considered to be love, had begun to merge and to fade away into
nothingness. And kneeling by the death-bed, she realized that she was not
one of those women who are gifted with a cheerful temperament and can
quaff the joys of life without trepidation. She thought with disgust of
that hour of pleasure that had been granted her, and, in comparison with
the purity of that yearning kiss, the recollection of which had
beautified her whole existence, the shameless joys which she then had
tasted seemed to her like an immense falsehood.

The relations which had existed between the paralysed man in the room
beyond and this woman, who had had to die for her deceit, seemed now to
be spread out before her with wonderful clearness. And, while she gazed
upon the pallid brow of the dead woman she could not help thinking of the
unknown man, on account of whom Anna had had to die, and who, exempt from
punishment, and, perhaps, remorseless, too, dared to go about in a great
town and to live on, like any other--no, like thousands and thousands of
others who had stared at her with covetous, indecent glances. Bertha
divined what an enormous wrong had been wrought against the world in that
the longing for pleasure is placed in woman just as in man: and that with
women that longing is a sin, demanding expiation, if the yearning for
pleasure is not at the same time a yearning for motherhood.

She rose, threw a last farewell glance at her dearly loved friend, and
left the death-chamber.

Herr Rupius was sitting in the adjoining room, exactly as she had left
him. She was seized with a profound desire to speak some words of
consolation to him. For a moment it seemed to her as though her own
destiny had only had this one purpose: to enable her fully to understand
the misery of that man. She would have liked to have been able to tell
him so, but she felt that he was one of those who desire to be alone with
their sorrow. And so, without speaking, she sat down opposite to him.





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