The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries Volume Xii Part 53

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“You see, mama, the fact that he is older than I does no harm. Perhaps that is a very good thing. After all he is not old and is well and strong and is so soldierly and so keen. And I might almost say I am altogether in favor of him, if he only–oh, if he were only a little bit different.”

“How, pray, Effi.”

“Yes, how? Well, you must not laugh at me. It is something that I only very recently overheard, over at the parsonage. We were talking about Innstetten and all of a sudden old Mr. Niemeyer wrinkled his forehead, in wrinkles of respect and admiration, of course, and said: ‘Oh yes, the Baron. He is a man of character, a man of principles.”

“And that he is, Effi.”

“Certainly. And later, I believe, Niemeyer said he is even a man of convictions. Now that, it seems to me, is something more. Alas, and I–I have none. You see, mama, there is something about this that worries me and makes me uneasy. He is so dear and good to me and so considerate, but I am afraid of him.”

CHAPTER V

The days of festivity at Hohen-Cremmen were past; all the guests had departed, likewise the newly married couple, who left the evening of the wedding day.

The nuptial-eve performance had pleased everybody, especially the players, and Hulda had been the delight of all the young officers, not only the Rathenow Hussars, but also their more critically inclined comrades of the Alexander regiment. Indeed everything had gone well and smoothly, almost better than expected. The only thing to be regretted was that Bertha and Hertha had sobbed so violently that Jahnke’s Low German verses had been virtually lost. But even that had made but little difference. A few fine connoisseurs had even expressed the opinion that, “to tell the truth, forgetting what to say, sobbing, and unintelligibility, together form the standard under which the most decided victories are won, particularly in the case of pretty, curly red heads.” Cousin von Briest had won a signal triumph in his self-composed role. He had appeared as one of Demuth’s clerks, who had found out that the young bride was planning to go to Italy immediately after the wedding, for which reason he wished to deliver to her a traveling trunk. This trunk proved, of course, to be a giant box of bonbons from Hovel’s. The dancing had continued till three o’clock, with the effect that Briest, who had been gradually talking himself into the highest pitch of champagne excitement, had made various remarks about the torch dance, still in vogue at many courts, and the remarkable custom of the garter dance. Since these remarks showed no signs of coming to an end, and kept getting worse and worse, they finally reached the point where they simply had to be choked off.

“Pull yourself together, Briest,” his wife had whispered to him in a rather earnest tone; “you are not here for the purpose of making indecent remarks, but of doing the honors of the house. We are having at present a wedding and not a hunting party.” Whereupon von Briest answered: “I see no difference between the two; besides, I am happy.”

The wedding itself had also gone well, Niemeyer had conducted the service in an exquisite fashion, and on the way home from the church one of the old men from Berlin, who half-way belonged to the court circle, made a remark to the effect that it was truly wonderful how thickly talents are distributed in a state like ours. “I see therein a triumph of our schools, and perhaps even more of our philosophy. When I consider how this Niemeyer, an old village preacher, who at first looked like a hospitaler–why, friend, what do you say? Didn’t he speak like a court preacher? Such tact, and such skill in ant.i.thesis, quite the equal of Kogel, and in feeling even better. Kogel is too cold. To be sure, a man in his position has to be cold. Generally speaking, what is it that makes wrecks of the lives of men? Always warmth, and nothing else.” It goes without saying that these remarks were a.s.sented to by the dignitary to whom they were addressed, a gentleman as yet unmarried, who doubtless for this very reason was, at the time being, involved in his fourth “relation.” “Only too true, dear friend,” said he. “Too much warmth–most excellent–Besides, I must tell you a story, later.”

The day after the wedding was a clear October day. The morning sun shone bright, yet there was a feeling of autumn chilliness in the air, and von Briest, who had just taken breakfast in company with his wife, arose from his seat and stood, with his hands behind his back, before the slowly dying open fire. Mrs. von Briest, with her fancy work in her hands, moved likewise closer to the fireplace and said to Wilke, who entered just at this point to clear away the breakfast table: “And now, Wilke, when you have everything in order in the dining hall–but that comes first–then see to it that the cakes are taken over to the neighbors, the nutcake to the pastor’s and the dish of small cakes to the Jahnkes’. And be careful with the goblets. I mean the thin cut gla.s.ses.”

Briest had already lighted his third cigarette, and, looking in the best of health, declared that “nothing agrees with one so well as a wedding, excepting one’s own, of course.”

“I don’t know why you should make that remark, Briest. It is absolutely news to me that you suffered at your wedding. I can’t imagine why you should have, either.”

“Luise, you are a wet blanket, so to speak. But I take nothing amiss, not even a thing like that. Moreover, why should we be talking about ourselves, we who have never even taken a wedding tour? Your father was opposed to it. But Effi is taking a wedding tour now. To be envied. Started on the ten o’clock train. By this time they must be near Ratisbon, and I presume he is enumerating to her the chief art treasures of the Walhalla, without getting off the train–that goes without saying. Innstetten is a splendid fellow, but he is pretty much of an art crank, and Effi, heaven knows, our poor Effi is a child of nature. I am afraid he will annoy her somewhat with his enthusiasm for art.”

“Every man annoys his wife, and enthusiasm for art is not the worst thing by a good deal.”

“No, certainly not. At all events we will not quarrel about that; it is a wide field. Then, too, people are so different. Now you, you know, would have been the right person for that. Generally speaking, you would have been better suited to Innstetten than Effi. What a pity! But it is too late now.”

“Extremely gallant remark, except for the fact that it is not apropos.

However, in any case, what has been has been. Now he is my son-in-law, and it can accomplish nothing to be referring back all the while to the affairs of youth.”

“I wished merely to rouse you to an animated humor.”

“Very kind of you, but it was not necessary. I am in an animated humor.”

“Likewise a good one?”

“I might almost say so. But you must not spoil it.–Well, what else is troubling you? I see there is something on your mind.”

“Were you pleased with Effi? Were you satisfied with the whole affair?

She was so peculiar, half nave, and then again very self-conscious and by no means as demure as she ought to be toward such a husband.

That surely must be due solely to the fact that she does not yet fully know what she has in him. Or is it simply that she does not love him very much? That would be bad. For with all his virtues he is not the man to win her love with an easy grace.”

Mrs. von Briest kept silent and counted the st.i.tches of her fancy work. Finally she said: “What you just said, Briest, is the most sensible thing I have heard from you for the last three days, including your speech at dinner. I, too, have had my misgivings. But I believe we have reason to feel satisfied.”

“Has she poured out her heart to you?”

“I should hardly call it that. True, she cannot help talking, but she is not disposed to tell everything she has in her heart, and she settles a good many things for herself. She is at once communicative and reticent, almost secretive; in general, a very peculiar mixture.”

“I am entirely of your opinion. But how do you know about this if she didn’t tell you?”

“I only said she did not pour out her heart to me. Such a general confession, such a complete unburdening of the soul, it is not in her to make. It all came out of her by sudden jerks, so to speak, and then it was all over. But just because it came from her soul so unintentionally and accidentally, as it were, it seemed to me for that very reason so significant.”

“When was this, pray, and what was the occasion?”

“Unless I am mistaken, it was just three weeks ago, and we were sitting in the garden, busied with all sorts of things belonging to her trousseau, when Wilke brought a letter from Innstetten. She put it in her pocket and a quarter of an hour later had wholly forgotten about it, till I reminded her that she had a letter. Then she read it, but the expression of her face hardly changed. I confess to you that an anxious feeling came over me, so intense that I felt a strong desire to have all the light on the matter that it is possible to have under the circ.u.mstances.”

“Very true, very true.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, I mean only–But that is wholly immaterial. Go on with your story; I am all ears.”

“So I asked her straight out how matters stood, and as I wished to avoid anything bordering on solemnity, in view of her peculiar character, and sought to take the whole matter as lightly as possible, almost as a joke, in fact, I threw out the question, whether she would perhaps prefer to marry Cousin von Briest, who had showered his attentions upon her in Berlin.”

“And?”

“You ought to have seen her then. Her first answer was a saucy laugh.

Why, she said, her cousin was really only a big cadet in lieutenant’s uniform. And she could not even love a cadet, to saying nothing of marrying one. Then she spoke of Innstetten, who suddenly became for her a paragon of manly virtues.”

“How do you explain that?”

“It’s quite simple. Lively, emotional, I might almost say, pa.s.sionate as she is, or perhaps just because she is so const.i.tuted, she is not one of those who are so particularly dependent upon love, at least not upon what truly deserves the name. To be sure, she speaks of love, even with emphasis and a certain tone of conviction, but only because she has somewhere read that love is indisputably the most exalted, most beautiful, most glorious thing in the world. And it may be, perhaps, that she has merely heard it from that sentimental person, Hulda, and repeats it after her. But she does not feel it very deeply.

It is barely possible that it will come later. G.o.d forbid. But it is not yet at hand.”

“Then what is at hand? What ails her?”

“In my judgment, and according to her own testimony, she has two things: mania for amus.e.m.e.nt and ambition.”

“Well, those things can pa.s.s away. They do not disturb me.”

“They do me. Innstetten is the kind of a man who makes his own career.

I will not call him pushing, for he is not, he has too much of the real gentleman in him for that. Let us say, then, he is a man who will make his own career. That will satisfy Effi’s ambition.”

“Very well. I call that good.”

“Yes, it is good. But that is only the half. Her ambition will be satisfied, but how about her inclination for amus.e.m.e.nt and adventure?

I have my doubts. For the little entertainment and awakening of interest, demanded every hour, for the thousand things that overcome ennui, the mortal enemy of a spiritual little person, for these Innstetten will make poor provision. He will not leave her in the midst of an intellectual desert; he is too wise and has had too much experience in the world for that, but he will not specially amuse her either. And, most of all, he will not even bother to ask himself seriously how to go about it. Things can go on thus for a while without doing much harm, but she will finally become aware of the situation and be offended. And then I don’t know what will happen. For gentle and yielding as she is, she has, along with these qualities, a certain inclination to fly into a fury, and at such times she hazards everything.”

At this point Wilke came in from the dining hall and reported that he had counted everything and found everything there, except that one of the fine wine gla.s.ses was broken, but that had occurred yesterday when the toast was drunk. Miss Hulda had clinked her gla.s.s too hard against Lieutenant Nienkerk’s.

“Of course, half asleep and always has been, and lying under the elder tree has obviously not improved matters. A silly person, and I don’t understand Nienkerk.”