The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries Volume Xix Part 10

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Now, he thought, she would begin to tell him something of her life, of her parents, of her childhood–that she was tired of the country, or that she loved it. “They all do that; they talk of themselves and their memories as soon as they begin to get a little tamer. They’re shut up within themselves, in a narrow circle. Nothing has grown but their selves. A man doesn’t speak of his growing-process; he speaks of what he has become, what the world is to get from him. No, these womenfolks are a bore!”

To his astonishment, his dissatisfied astonishment, she was rather silent and did not talk about herself. “I have been trying to understand,” she said after awhile, “how it happens that you are full of thoughts, and all the other people I know and I myself have none.”

“Oh,” he said, “dear Mamsell, it is simply because you have not loved life warmly enough.”

“Not warmly enough–?” she said thoughtfully.

“Yes,” he said, “that’s the explanation. You people take everything in such a cool, such a proper way. You never come to the boiling-point, and so there are no thoughts. When you are young, you are just young–without the bliss, the glow, the blessed consuming consciousness. Young people ought to be positively drunk with happy thoughts! If I were a girl and had such a wonderful head of red hair, and limbs of perfect, rounded beauty–by the Lord above! I should run about joyously, in full consciousness of my powers, letting not a single hour of the day be lost. I should taste my youth with all its feelings and thoughts, its sins and its glories. And when old age came on, I should throw myself on the ground and rage and moan and tear my clothes and strew ashes upon my head, and die of grief. But you others, because you don’t think and don’t know, you are able to live through a dull, proper youth and a comfortable old age. If people knew what a thing youth is, there’d be no holding the world. All that was young would be brewing and fermenting to such a point that no ruler in the world would be able to keep it down.”

“Then the world doesn’t seem to be made for thinking?” asked the girl seriously.

“No,” he answered pa.s.sionately. “If everybody thought, instead of only one in hundreds of thousands, it would be an impossible place. Just imagine, fair lady, what would happen if women began to think! It’s inconceivable. The greatest revolution in history would break out; a volcanic eruption would convulse society. It’s quite right–only the few are supposed to think. There must be dead bodies without will, to live mechanically, to do mechanically what they are told. A thinking world–no, thank you! No, Mamsell, we’ll stick to the old system.”

So they walked along through the splendor of spring, until music sounded in their ears. “Where does it come from?” asked the engraver.

“From Rodchen,” said she, absent-mindedly.

“Let us go there. Dance-music … I shouldn’t mind … among the peasant-folk … How would it be?”

“These are not peasants,” she said. “They’re Weimar people who come out to amuse themselves in the woods. I wonder what’s going on …”

“We’ll go and see,” he answered. So they went down a narrow path through the thick woods. The music sounded more clearly amidst the May green. And now they stood near the forester’s low house, and saw the long gray benches set all about, and people dancing under the trees in the last rays of the sun. Beate greeted the forester’s family, and introduced her guest to them.

“Who are all these people?” asked Herr Kosch.

“Oh, nothing but a bowling party.”

“Would they allow us to join their dance?”

Herr Kosch led his fair hostess to the board-floored dancing-place under the trees, threw his arm about her, and drew her in among the other couples. He danced in a way that was like his whole nature, pa.s.sionately, irregularly, and yet with power and skill, and found that his partner fitted him wonderfully. She danced with a perfect comprehension of his way of dancing. This pleased him not a little.

Before this, when he had had occasion to dance, he had been much annoyed by finding in the dance the same conflict as in life, resistance instead of adaptation. But this time he found a singular pleasure in it, as it were an a.s.sertion of himself. Like a good strong wine the delight ran through his body. He felt himself free and unfettered as he seldom did–himself, without a struggle.

Now his partner was out of breath, though he was far from exhausted.

She tottered, and there was something unrhythmic in her movements that disturbed him. Exhausted, she drew him out of the crowd of dancers, and sank faintly almost into the arms of a short, stout gentleman.

He laughed good-naturedly. “Yes, my pretty child, I’ve been looking on for some time–but why must girls dance at such a tremendous rate?”

The engraver saw his partner grow more and more confused–more than he would have thought a chance contact should have accounted for. “Oh, pardon!” he heard her say. “Pardon, your Royal Highness, for my awkwardness!”

“Oh, then it’s Karl August that she almost b.u.mped into!” thought Herr Kosch. To be sure, there by the house stood the hunting-coach which he had seen in pictures. His eyes eagerly sought further. Quite near him he caught sight of a dignified old gentleman in a dark-gray coat, a snowy white neckerchief about his throat in which a reddish-yellow stone glowed, his hat in his hand, his hair like a well-arranged gray mist above his lofty forehead, which rose in lines pure as the dome of a temple–and those eyes! He had danced himself up to the very goal of his pilgrimage.

But he did not go up to this man and say, “Brother!” He just stood and stared. “G.o.d in heaven, what a man!” he murmured to himself. “He has built up his manhood like a throne. He stands alone among them all–they are simply wiped out by his presence.”

The engraver saw his friend, for whom he had so longed in his lonely hours, standing now at an immense distance from him. “Yes–a man must build such a wall about him if he means to create and express himself as _he_ has. No–he has nothing to do or to seek among the wretched.

What a plebeian I am that I couldn’t understand this!”

Then he saw the prince take Beate Rauchfuss, whose beauty dazzled Kosch at this moment, so great and strong was it, and lead her with a smile to the distinguished old man, saying, “This is the red-haired beauty from the Rauchfuss farm, who crossed our path so often as a wild youngster when we used to make excursions up to the Ettersberg. Our hills produce such wonders.”

The girl bowed before the dignified old man and kissed his hand respectfully. He patted her auburn hair softly. “Happy man for whom this sunny head shall shine! Joy and love beam in her eyes.” He turned to his princely friend. “What an ocean of beneficent happiness lies in the young creatures of the earth!”

“If it only didn’t dribble away in such cursed little drops!” growled the prince, raising his blunt nose and beckoning to the coach to draw near.

“Ah, but from another point of view that means watering the earth! Have no care, pretty child–whichever way it comes!”

The grave, distinguished man followed his prince into the coach, and both waved a farewell to the pretty girl, who made the deep curtesy she had learned so thoroughly from Frau k.u.mmerfelden. Every girl in Weimar who had ever been to the old actress’s understood how to make a proper court reverence; “for,” said the good woman, “in a little town like this, where there are so many princes both of the blood and of the intellect, a certain _savoir vivre_ should prevail, even in the streets.” In things of this kind she was a past mistress.

The engraver had stood as if under a spell; his meeting with his “brother,” the old master, had come and gone. But he had played no part in it. He looked at his rough, sinewy hands. “Those are hands for you!”

he cried in his heart. “To gain nothing but a halfway-decent suit of clothes, four shirts, two pairs of shoes, and a miserable hole to live in, they have become as rough and lined as if they had conquered a world. _He_ has conquered a world–and his hands, at his age, have remained soft, moved by the soul. Ah, plebeian, you won’t go and knock at his window! But the girl whom he caressed with his eyes and pa.s.sed his hand over her hair–this little goose–!” He grasped angrily at Beate’s hand. “Let us go, Mamsell,” he cried–“let us go!”

And amidst all the still May greenness, under the shelter of the tender shrubs, he caught the startled girl to him, kissed her and buried his face in the glory of her hair, which his “brother” had stroked and the perfume of whose young life intoxicated him. “Into thy hands, O Lord …!” he almost sobbed.

She had fallen suddenly into such a storm of hot caresses that her breath failed her as if a hailstorm were beating down on her. She pushed him away, and at the same time nestled closer to him.

“Do you love me, then? Do you love me?” she asked him, trembling and shaken.

“Do I love you? For heaven’s sake, would not any one love anything so young and wonderful when he sees it and feels it? What do you think?

Skin and hair with the scent of May in them!”

She freed herself from his arms and walked silently by his side for a little way. “Do you love me?” she asked again, as shaken and distraught as he was. “Do you know me? Do you know what I want in life?”

“You want me!” he said pa.s.sionately.

She wanted to speak, she tried–tried–tried, but her excitement was too great. “Do you wish to be my friend?” she said at last, anxiously.

“Yes–of course I do!” he answered.

“Will you teach me how to think? I want to be as much alive as you are.”

“Silly child!” He would have taken her in his arms again; but she kept him off with pa.s.sionate refusal.

“I love you because you are different from the others, and so that you may speak to me as to a friend, as to a human being.”

“And don’t I, then?”

“I don’t want to live my life asleep all the time, do you hear?”

“What a strange little woman-thing you are! There’s a time for kissing, and a time for everything, you babe!”

“Life is what I long for!” she cried, trembling with the uncertainty of what it was she wanted.

“Life? Love _is_ life!”

“No, no! To understand–that is life. If I join my life to yours, I want to be alive, and not dead and dumb as my mother was.”

“You have queer notions. Do you suppose, then, that people can learn how to think as they learn any other trade f I tell you, what you’ve got to do is to love life–I’ll make it my business to see that you love it!”

“I shouldn’t like to be cast off,” she said with a kind of bitterness, “when you thought I was no longer beautiful. I should run away from you if you deceived me and were no longer my friend.”

“All right,” he said, laughing. So they walked along close together, and he kept his arm tightly about her waist. “Bound,” he said, “you will walk more freely and happily than unbound. Everything is not what it seems to be. You catch sight of a thought or a feeling, and you imagine it is as simple and as limited as a point. You come closer to it, and you find it grows, it turns into a garden with all sorts of walks and labyrinths. You walk about in it and are astonished. Then under your very feet it changes to a wilderness full of precipices and impenetrable thickets. The wilderness grows to a world, which you can never see the whole of and never come to the end of. All things are included in this world, all things and everything.