Read CHAPTER VI of The Malady of the Century, free online book, by Max Nordau, on ReadCentral.com.

An idyll

The feverish pulse of a city is not felt in the same degree in all parts of it. There are places from which all circulation seems shut out, and where the rapid stream of life hardly shows a ripple. Quiet houses are there, only separated from the noisy street by the thickness of a wall. They seem to be many miles from the heated movement of life, and their inhabitants complacently gaze from their windows with the same unconcern as they would look at a picture on their own walls a view perhaps of violence or excitement, a storm at sea, or a battle.

The Markers’ house in the Lutzowstrasse was just such a peaceful island in the tossing sea of the city. It was only a few steps from the Magdeburger Platz the first story in a stately house with a round arch over the door. Three generations of women grandmother, mother, and daughter lived there, without a single man to take care of them, attended only by an old widowed cook and her daughter, who had grown up into the position of a waiting maid. A dreamy, monotonous life they lived here, like that of the sleepers in the palace of the Sleeping Beauty behind their hundred-year-old hedge of thorns.

The grandmother was the head of the house Frau Brohl, a lady of over sixty years, and a widow for the last twenty. She was a small thin woman, her figure very much bent, with snow-white hair, a narrow, pale face, and pretty brown eyes. She moved slowly and with great exertion, spoke softly and with shortness of breath, and seemed weary and sad. She looked as if she had some hidden sickness, and as if her feeble lamp of life might soon flicker out. As a matter of fact she had never had a day’s illness; her appearance gave the impression of weakness, and increasing age made her neither better nor worse. Even now she was the first to rise in the morning and the last to go to bed; had the best appetite at table; and, in her occasional walks, was the least tired.

Her late husband Herr F. A. Brohl, of the firm of Brohl, Son & Co. had been one of the largest ship-brokers in Stettin. They had lived together for a quarter of a century in peace and happiness, and her eyes filled with tears when she remembered that part of her life. It was a beautiful time, much too good for a sinful human being. They had a house to themselves, with large high rooms, and every day she received visits from the richest women of the town, and visited them in return. There was never a betrothal, marriage, or christening in a well-known family to which she was not invited; every child in the street knew her and smiled at her; and the suppers in her hospitable house were renowned as far as Russia and Sweden.

The marriage was blessed by one daughter, who grew up to be a rather pretty, well-mannered, and well-grown girl. Her horizon stretched from the storeroom to the linen-press, and from the flatiron to her book of songs. She felt a high esteem for her father just as everyone does for a rich man and for her mother, if hardly love, at least a boundless respect. She regarded her as almost more than human, and the care with which she listened to her mother’s instructions into the secrets of the kitchen, the market, and the linen-room, was almost unnatural. She was afraid she would never attain to the fluctuations of price in the fish market in different seasons of the year, the starching of muslins, the time it took to cook a pudding, and how much sugar went to a pot of preserved fruit; and her mother destroyed the last remnant of self-confidence when half-pityingly, half-contemptuously she told her that she was not sufficiently developed to understand such things. When Fräulein Brohl was old enough, her parents married her to Herr Marker. It was hardly a love match, but in Brohl, Son & Company’s house such folly as love was not considered. Herr Marker was the son of a wholesale coffee-merchant, and was neither handsome nor distinguished-looking; he was small, thin, bandy-legged, with an unwholesome complexion, a peevish expression, and almost bald-headed.

Herr F.A. Brohl soon found that he had made a mistake, and been in too great a hurry. The old Marker lost his fortune in an unlucky speculation during the Crimean War, and was only saved by Brohl from the shame of bankruptcy. He died soon afterward of grief, and left his son nothing but debts. The young Marker showed no special genius for the coffee business, but an uncomfortable ambition for speculation in stocks. He opened an exchange office, and entered into transactions with the Exchanges of Berlin, Frankfort, and Amsterdam, and after a short time the last penny of his wife’s dowry disappeared. His father-in-law dipped into his pockets and renewed the dowry, but stipulated that Marker in the future should ask his advice before any undertaking. This Marker felt as a deep humiliation, and rather than submit to Brohl’s tyranny, preferred to loaf all day with his hands in his pockets at the Exchange, and shortened the evenings by going to the club, and boring people with endless stories of the meanness and thick-headedness of his cad of a father-in-law, who in his old-fashioned, narrow-minded Philistinism had not the least capacity for any great undertakings.

Brohl died soon after, and Marker experienced a new and painful sensation. His wife did not inherit a penny by her father’s will, his whole property under limited conditions going to the widow. This was specially arranged for by Brohl to prevent Marker from laying his hands on more capital. He shook his fist at the opening of the will, and broke out into unseemly abuse; he went all over Stettin, and cried out that he was robbed, that the old rascal had plundered him. To his wife and mother-in-law he also talked day after day and night after night, saying how shamefully he had been treated, and that it was his mother-in-law’s duty to make good the mistake. Frau Marker could not endure this perpetual grumbling and badgering, and Frau Brohl became weak with not only her son-in-law but her daughter constantly at her ear. She consented to give him a large sum to put him into a new business, which he described as having a brilliant and unfailing future, and after a great deal of begging and worrying she at length brought herself to the far greater sacrifice of a removal to Berlin, that Marker might have a greater sphere for his energies. So the stately house in the Frauenstrasse with its lofty rooms was abandoned, and exchanged for the small flat in Berlin.

The departure from Stettin was a miserable one. It was desperate work packing the thousand things which had gathered together during the quarter of a century in careless profusion. It was heart-breaking to be obliged to leave behind the stores of wood, coal, and potatoes in the cellar, the cranberry jam in the storeroom, which the Markers, in their grandeur of ideas, did not think worth the trouble of taking with them! And the farewell visits to the rich friends, in whose family festivals she would never more take part; and the last visit to the Jacobkirche, where she would never more go on Sundays and meet her intimate friends, for whose benefit she wore the family ornaments, and the stiff silk dress. There were many tears and sobs, but the cup was drained like the others; and Marker began his new life in the Lutzowstrasse with his wife, his mother-in-law, and the little Malvine, who was the only child of their marriage.

At first things went on pretty well. Frau Brohl often had tears in her eyes when looking at the familiar furniture in her room, which had been designed for a house three times as large, and she would rather have sacrificed one of her hands than one of her old sofas or tables. But Marker was gay as he had never been before, and full of wonderful stories of the future importance of his firm, astounding both the women, and even making them respect him, which feeling had never before influenced them. He had an office in the Burgstrasse, near the Exchange, shared by other young men, and came home every day with new reports of the wonderful business he was doing.

A day came, however, when he had no news to tell them, when his complexion was as yellow as ever, his eyes avoided the questioning glances of his mother-in-law, and after playing at concealment for a whole week, he was at last forced to tell them that he had again lost all his money. He hastened to add, however, that every thing could be saved if the mother would once more set him on his feet; in every new undertaking one had to pay something for learning; he had hardly understood his position so far, but now he knew what he was about, he must be contented with modest profits. Frau Brohl made a fresh sacrifice, giving Marker his position in business again after six months. He had hardly the courage to come home with new plans, but used to steal in quietly like a shadow on the wall, sit down at table with a heart-breaking sigh, sulked with the women, and often was heard talking to himself in this fashion: “This is no sort of life. If women hold the cards, stupidity is trumps. The woman in the kitchen, the man in business,” and so on. Finally the thing happened which Frau Brohl had foreseen with anxiety Marker came with a new project, for which he wanted fifty thousand thalers. It was an entirely new idea, unheard of before; it couldn’t miscarry, it must bring in a hundred thousand; with one stroke all the former losses would be retrieved. Then he stopped talking, and showed yards of figures, read aloud letters of advice, and went on reading and talking and crackling papers for an hour to Frau Brohl, following her from the drawing-room into the kitchen, from the kitchen back to the drawing-room; and when she took refuge in her bedroom, he read to her through the door. However, it was no good, and Frau Brohl stood firm. Then Marker tried a new method. He was argumentative before, now he became tragic; he threatened to throw himself out of the window, to become dangerously ill, to go away and never be heard of again. He left half-finished letters on his writing-table, in which he announced his death to his acquaintances, laying the blame on his wife and mother-in-law; in short, poor Frau Brohl, whose existence had become a veritable hell, with a heavy heart put her hand once more into her pocket, and gave Marker what he wanted.

Everything now went on as smoothly and merrily as before. After a few weeks Marker again lost everything, and seemed so upset that he stayed away all day without coming home. At last he appeared again, and hesitatingly, with a timid expression, begged for forgiveness. “Very well,” said Frau Brohl, “only I hope you will not begin all over again.” Her hopes were not realized. The spirit of speculation had too strong a hold over Marker to be kept back. After he had remained quiet for about a year, he actually had the effrontery to ask his mother-in-law for more capital. But this time she was like a rock. “Not a penny,” said Frau Brohl, and kept her word. Marker wept, and she let him weep; he talked of suicide, and she advised him to use a rope, as he did not understand the use of firearms. He had run through half her money, and the other half she meant to defend like a lioness. The specter of poverty rose up before her, she reflected that rich people would cast her out of their society, and look upon her as a weak woman without any self-respect, conquered by Marker’s tenacity.

There were no more storms after this, and peace reigned in the tightly-crammed flat in the Lutzowstrasse, but it was peace which concealed a great deal of grumbling and sulkiness. Marker very seldom spoke, and his obstinate silence was made easy for him, for the women at last hardly ever spoke to him. Every week he had a certain sum given him for pocket-money; Frau Brohl paid his tailor’s and bootmaker’s bills, and he was treated in fact as if he had done with this world. His business was to take the little Malvine to school and fetch her home again, and on the way he grumbled incessantly to the child about her mother and grandmother. The former he called “she,” and the latter “the old lady.” He never mentioned their names. Malvine had noticed that at home they never spoke to her father; in her childish way she imitated this contemptuous silence. The only bright spot in his existence was a visit to some old business friends, where he unburdened his overflowing heart, and complained by the hour together of the tyrants in his house, who trod him under-foot, and ill-treated him now that he was unfortunate. He was the victim of two silly women, but he would show them one day of what he was capable. “She” and “the old lady” were too stupid to understand him, but he hoped he would not die until he had seen them on their knees before him. In this way he ceaselessly kept up the smouldering rage within him; his face became more and more yellow, he grew thinner, he lost his appetite, he looked as if he were suffering from some dreadful malady. He said nothing, however, about his health, but seemed to find a comforting satisfaction in the reflection that “she” and “the old lady” would one day be surprised to see him lying there, and that would be his revenge. And so it came to pass one morning he was too weak to leave his bed. At luncheon Frau Brohl and Frau Marker noticed his absence, and went to look for him; as they had taken no notice of him for so long, they were not aware how shriveled and emaciated he had grown, and were now shocked and astonished to see how miserable and frail he was. They sent for a doctor; Frau Brohl made some elder tea; Frau Marker sat up all night by the sick-bed, but nothing could be done. A few days later he died, with a look of hatred at his mother-in-law, and a movement of aversion from his wife.

Nothing was changed in the household; there was another place at table and a room at liberty, which was soon filled with the things overflowing from the drawing-room. Frau Brohl still had a passion for preserving and pickling, which had descended to her daughter and her granddaughter, and also a passion for needle-work. Year in and year out the three sat at the window of their drawing-room over embroidery, lace-making, and such like, working as if they had to earn their daily bread. They were mistresses of all kinds of fancy work, and invented many more.

Frau Brohl was unequaled in her inventions of new kinds of work. Such things as book-markers and slippers, paper-baskets, bed-quilts and tablecloths, card-baskets, and chair-cushions were all too simple the mere a b c of the art. Wonders like embroidered pictures for the walls, various kinds of fringes for the legs of pianos, fireplace hangings, gold nets for window-curtains, mottoes for the canary’s cage, silk covers for books, were the order of the day. When any one came in he was first struck with surprise, which quickly changed to bewilderment. Wherever he looked his eye fell on some piece of work, with no repose or unadorned space. Here a row of family portraits, in plush and gold frames, all looking stiff and uninteresting on inspecting them at close quarters, they were seen to be not painted but embroidered in colored silks. There hung a melon, the outside of the fruit represented by yellow, green, and brown satin, the stalk by gold thread, the little cracks and roughnesses by gray silk applique, the whole thing fearful and absurd in its exuberance. And wherever one went or stood, sat down or laid one’s hand, there wandered a huge wreath of flowers in Berlin wool, or the profile of a warrior in cross-stitch sneered at one, or a piece of hanging tapestry of pompous pattern and learned inscriptions flapped at one, and everything was rich and tedious and terrifying and shocking in taste; and when one’s tired eyes looked out of the triply be-curtained windows into the street, one fell convinced that little angels would come down out of the sky clad in what was left over of the rococo furniture draperies, bordered with gold.

This unsightly museum of useless things was the occupation of Frau Brohl and Frau Marker’s lives, and here Malvine grew up to be the pretty girl to whom we have been introduced at the Ellrichs’. Her mother was a sort of elder sister to her, and the only authority in the house was the grandmother. She ordered the servants, and her daughter paid her the same timid reverence as in the time of her short frocks. Frau Marker seldom opened her lips except to eat, or to answer her mother in a parrot-like sort of echo. Frau Brohl’s energetic spirit stirred even in these narrow boundaries. She did not feel at home in Berlin; she met no one she knew in the streets, and in fact knew no one, and this feeling of being among strangers, as if at some out-of-the-way fair, made her so uneasy that she hardly ever went out. Often since Marker’s death she had thought of returning to Stettin, but when she reflected how dreadful it would be to pack up and unpack again all the thousand pieces of work, her courage failed her. All the same she lived with her heart and soul in Stettin. A local paper from Stettin was her only reading. She kept up a regular correspondence with all her old acquaintances, who gave her news of all the engagements, marriages, births, and deaths of the rich people she had known. If Stettin people of good standing came to Berlin she called on them and invited them to dinner, when her former celebrated triumphs in cookery were repeated. If she found out that any wealthy inhabitants of Stettin had been in Berlin without informing her of the fact, she took it so much to heart that she had to go to bed for a week. A few Stettin families, who in the course of the year emigrated to the capital, constituted her circle of visiting acquaintances, enlarged later by Malvine’s school friends, and introductions at their houses. The connection with the Ellrichs was through the Stettin circle. Frau Brohl gave a large soiree twice in the course of the winter, when the invitations they had received were returned. Since Malvine was grown up there had been dancing, although the small size of the drawing-room, and the displacement of all Frau Brohl’s needlework, set everything in great confusion.

This kind of life and its surroundings naturally could not develop Malvine’s mind and character in any high degree. She missed any stimulus from her mother or from her grandmother; she only learned to respect rich people, to fathom the mysteries of the kitchen, and to cultivate a taste for peculiar and original fancy work; she was, however, a good-tempered, rather slow-witted girl, of well-balanced mind, without a trace of capriciousness or the nervous temperament so common to city life; within her limited view of things she had a good, honest intelligence, and with her plump figure and her round, rosy face, which bore witness to her grandmother’s kitchen, she was very comely in men’s eyes.

Paul Haber had already become acquainted with the flat in the Lutzowstrasse during the winter before the war, and he liked the quiet he found in the corners of the little rooms, and in the muffled voices of these three women. The friendship was continued during the war by means of frequent letters, and on his home-coming Paul renewed his visits with pleasure. By cautious inquiries he had gathered that Malvine had sixty thousand thalers in cash as her dowry, and would inherit double that sum. Her modest, quiet, amiable disposition made him drift into a strong attachment; her appearance was sufficiently womanly and charming, and her steady, practical views on things, utterly unromantic an unenthusiastic, harmonized entirely with his own. It was refreshing for him to hear her chatter about people and things with the calm good sense of a Philistine, especially in a society where the bombastic and exaggerated talk of original, poetically minded young ladies had repelled and bored him. At his first meeting with Malvine Marker he had thought that she was the wife for him, and since he had become friendly with her and her circle, he said to himself, “This one and no other.”

The three ladies liked him immensely. Frau Brohl took him at once to her heart, and that was the chief consideration. His appearance made a good impression on her. He was strongly built, not too thin, in fact, showing signs of a respectable probable stoutness in later life; his face was full, and his complexion healthy, his mustache carefully trimmed, and his hair closely cropped; he certainly dressed well. The young men of her former rich acquaintances were of the same type, so also was the late F.A. Brohl when she first met him. He was gentlemanly, without a doubt, and he must be well off to employ such a good tailor and friseur. She also noticed, with an immense satisfaction, that he had a due appreciation of fancy work. He did not, like some superficial people, regard these housewifely creations as merely pretty or useful things, but appreciated them as works of art, and wondered at the difficulty of these marvelous fabrications. Complicated lace-work, or embroidered pictures, filled him with amazement, even if applique had no effect on him. When Frau Brohl noticed these marks of distinction in him, she did not hesitate to invite him to dinner on Sunday at first occasionally, and afterward regularly, and with increasing pleasure she noticed that in other ways he also reached the ideal she had imagined in him. He had a good appetite, and it was not necessary for him to say in words how much he enjoyed the dishes set before him, every look and gesture showed it plainly. He evinced a warm sympathy for family events, even when they did not concern him in any way, and he had the same genuine esteem for rich people, which had been handed down for three generations in the Brohl-Marker families. She thought that he showed no disinclination to be her granddaughter’s husband, only at first she pondered over his calling in life. She knew perfectly well that the highest professorship could only earn in a year what an ordinary ship-broker made in a month. At the same time she reflected that even a merchant made a bad job of it sometimes, as her son-in-law’s example had shown her only too plainly; that the title “Professor” sounded very well, and if he did not make very much money at most, at least he could not lose it, and she came to the conclusion that in the circumstances a professor could make his wife very happy. Frau Marker had nothing to say about the matter, and was quite prepared to accept a son-in-law from her mother’s hand, as she had formerly accepted a husband, so the fact that Paul had not made a very favorable impression on her did not matter very much.

There remained only Malvine but just there lay the difficulty. The girl was always kind and friendly to Paul, she took his homage without any coquetry or apparent disinclination; when they went out walking she took his arm quite unaffectedly; when they were invited to meet in society, by a tacit agreement he took her in to dinner, had the privilege of the greater part of the dances, and was her partner for the cotillion. But whether they were alone or in company, whether they danced or talked, whether he came or went, she showed a perfect unconcern and freedom of manner to which he longed to put an end. She was much too cold and collected even for his unsentimental nature. He would have forgiven some agitation, some confusion, a few blushes now and then, perhaps a sigh, but these signs of the heart’s flutterings were nowhere forthcoming. As they were out one day alone together, something happened which filled Paul with doubt and trouble. Malvine had been attracted to Wilhelm when first she saw him, and since then she had incessantly thought and talked of him. He was so handsome, he spoke so charmingly! She thought it astonishing that any one should not love him, just because his admiration was mingled with so much shyness. She herself was much too insignificant a person to think of loving him, and beside, he was not free, and it would have been a sin to think of the man who was engaged to her friend. This enthusiasm for Wilhelm naturally did not escape Paul’s notice, but it did not disquiet him, because he took into account Malvine’s nature. “It is a harmless fancy,” he said to himself, “the sort of fancy girls take sometimes for princes whose photographs they see in shop-windows, or for actors whom they have admired as Don Carlos or Romeo; later on they laugh over their childish folly, and these fancies never prevent the pretty enthusiast from marrying and being happy.”

Nevertheless, things became suspiciously different after the breach between Wilhelm and Loulou. In Malvine’s somewhat narrow but well-regulated mind a brave romance had been mistakenly built up. Now Wilhelm was free: now she need have no feeling of duty on account of that superficial, pleasure-seeking Loulou, who had never been worthy of him. Was it impossible that he might notice her? would be grateful for her sympathy? and perhaps who knows later he might seek consolation from her who was so ready to give it? The concluding chapter of this girlish romance remained her own secret, but the beginning she boldly declared. She explained to her grandmother, as well as to Paul, that now Dr. Eynhardt was in need of being comforted, it was the duty of his friends to try to overcome his sorrow. She proposed that Paul should bring him as often as possible, and she obtained from Frau Brohl the unwonted permission of inviting him to the Sunday luncheon. Wilhelm had little pleasure in going into ordinary society, especially to strangers, but this invitation was so warm and pressing that he could not bring himself to refuse it.

When Wilhelm was there Paul was put completely in the background. Malvine had no words or glances for any one but Wilhelm, and if she spoke to Paul it was only to thank him for having brought Dr. Eynhardt to the Lutzowstrasse. If Paul came alone he was mortified to see a shadow pass over Malvine’s face, and he was forced to listen to a string of inquiries after his friend. He had been conscious for a long time that he must try to reconcile himself to this condition of things, and if he felt himself rebelling, he reminded himself he must have patience and wait, trying to console himself with the thought that Malvine’s enthusiasm was only on her side Wilhelm’s demeanor seemed to show that he did not guess what was going on in the girl’s mind. His manner was courteous and friendly, but there was really no difference between his demeanor toward Frau Brohl and toward the young girl. While Malvine blushed and became confused when he entered the room, Wilhelm, on his side, spoke to the grandmother, mother, and daughter with exactly the same pleasant smile, and his hand rested not a moment longer in Malvine’s than in that of her grandmother. On his side there was evidently nothing to dread. He felt he had a defender and support in Frau Brohl. The old lady kept a sharp lookout on her little world with her dim-sighted eyes. She noticed that Malvine was unable to withstand the charm which Wilhelm exercised over her, and she could not bring herself to be angry with the girl. She herself liked the young man extremely, admired his handsome face, his fine voice, his modest, unassuming manners, but she felt instinctively that he belonged to quite a different world from herself, and that in a sense they would always be strangers. When he spoke she could not follow his thoughts, although she felt that they were very profound; when she spoke he listened with the greatest politeness, but nothing more came of it. He tried to be attentive to her stories about engagements and separations, he was entirely uninterested in rich people, he did not praise the best dishes at table, and he even went so far as not to conceal his aversion for the design of the horrible knight in cross-stitch. Beside all this, his clothes were bad, and although he had a house of his own, it was only a little one. No, Wilhelm as a relation was not to be thought of. He was not of their own flesh and blood, like that good, delightful Paul Haber.

It was not in Paul’s nature to wait patiently in suspense, and he determined to put an end to his uncertainty. Malvine seemed to him as desirable as ever, and he had built up in his mind a future, of which Malvine and her sixty thousand thalers were the foundation. He must know whether she were for him or not; in the one case to transform his castle in the air into reality without loss of time, and in the other case not to waste the best years of his life in aimless disappointment; not to let other opportunities slip by. He was not quite clear, however, on one point, To whom should he make his proposal? To Frau Brohl? That would be the most practicable way, no doubt, as the bent, pale old lady, with the soft, sighing voice, ruled everything in the house, and if she promised the hand of her grand-daughter, she would certainly keep her word. But it went against the grain to put any constraint on the girl, and he felt that he would be ashamed to answer “No,” if Frau Brohl were to ask him if he had already spoken to Malvine. Then if he were to go in a straightforward way to Malvine, and say, “I can no longer hide from you that I love you, and that I want you to be my wife, will you consent?” there was a great deal of risk in that, for if she misjudged her own feelings, and said that she loved some one else, and so could not listen to him, the rupture between them would be accomplished, and it would be no use to him if later she found out that she had been mistaken in her feelings. There could be no secure step for him, on that he was quite decided.

If he could approach neither Frau Brohl nor Malvine, there was one way clearly open to him, and he took it without further delay.

One sunny afternoon in May, a few weeks after the Labor meeting at the Tivoli, Paul came to see Wilhelm, and asked him to go for a walk with him in the Thiergarten. Wilhelm was soon ready, and while they were walking Paul was astonishingly quiet, and seemed sunk in deep thought. He suddenly broke the silence, and when they were under the trees, without any beating about the bush, asked his friend:

“Wilhelm, do you love Malvine?”

Wilhelm stood still, as if rooted to the ground, and in boundless astonishment he said:

“Are you off your head, Paul?”

“I implore you, Wilhelm,” said he in an anxious way, “just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ because the happiness of my life depends on your answer.”

“But I never thought of it,” cried Wilhelm, grasping Paul’s hand. “What put such an idea into your head?”

“Then you are not in love with Malvine?” asked Paul obstinately.

“No, I am not in love with Malvine, if you will have the answer in that precise form.”

“I thought as much, but I wished to have the answer from your own lips;” and as they walked, he continued, “Do you see, Wilhelm, if you had loved Malvine, I would have got out of your way; I would have submitted to fate without any struggle or opposition.”

“Have I been injudicious? Perhaps too intimate? Forgive me, Paul, if it is so. It happened quite unintentionally. I only thought of her as my friend’s fiancee, and believed her also to be a friend of mine.”

“I don’t mean that, Wilhelm; you have always behaved awfully well with great tact, and all that. But you have not seen how it has been with Malvine; she is quite mad about you, especially since you have been free.”

“You imagine these things.”

“Be quiet, you impatient baby, and hear what I have to say. I believe it is not love Malvine has for you, but it only wants a word or a look from you to turn it into love. If she were convinced that you feel only as a friend for her, she would be contented to admire you from a distance, and begin to care a little more for an inferior specimen of mankind like myself.”

“I feel quite in despair about it. How could I be so blind, so stupid?”

“Never mind; it is not all over yet. I know Malvine. She is a simple-minded girl, without a bit of sentiment in her, mentally and morally healthy. If she knew she had nothing to expect from you, I am perfectly certain that nothing would stand in the way of my happiness.”

“I will do whatever you wish and first of all, I must put a stop to my visits there.”

“I must ask more from you than that, my poor Wilhelm. Merely staying away is too passive. You must act. I want you to talk to Malvine, and somehow explain to her that you don’t love her.”

“How can I possibly do that?” cried Wilhelm, really startled. “I should have no right! If she laughed in my face and called me a fool and a lout, I should feel I deserved it.”

“You ought to know that she would not do that. I know I am asking a very unusual thing, and a very difficult thing, but I feel I can ask such a sacrifice from your friendship.”

As Wilhelm did not immediately answer, Paul said, seizing his hand:

“Once more, Wilhelm, if you have any thought of Malvine, I will not stand in your way.”

“But, Paul ”

“And perhaps I ought to wish it for you; Malvine is a good, dear girl, and will make the man who marries her happy all his life.”

“Don’t say any more; I have already told you that she is sacred to me as your fiancee, and beside, I should have no claim on her, even if I did not know how you stand with regard to her.”

“Well, then, you must help me to reclaim her from her mistake. You alone can do it, and I am sure that later very soon, in fact, she will be grateful to you.”

Wilhelm was silent, looking at Paul in anxious suspense. At last, with a deep sigh, he said:

“Well, if I must –­”

“You are a brick,” cried Paul, and embraced him before the passers-by, who turned round to look at them with astonishment.

On the next day, at twelve o’clock, Wilhelm rang at the Markers’ flat in the Lutzowstrasse. Through the little peephole he caught a glimpse of some one, then the door flew open, a maid ushered him into the drawing-room, and without waiting for him to speak, said:

“Frau Brohl is in the kitchen; I will fetch her.”

“Thank you,” said Wilhelm, rather feebly; “there is no hurry. Is is the Fräulein at home?”

The girl was already at the door, and turning round, stared at Wilhelm with astonished eyes.

“Yes; shall I say that you would like to speak to her?”

Wilhelm nodded, and the girl went out. After a short pause Malvine stood before him, offering him her white hand, with its short fingers, while her face flushed to the roots of her hair.

“Might I speak to you, Fräulein?” he said, in a low, constrained voice.

Malvine went very white, all the blood seemed to leave her heart, and she almost gasped for breath. After a short silence she whispered, “Certainly, Herr Doctor,” and took him into the little room next the drawing-room, which contained a modest bookcase, a writing table, and chairs in red damask. She sat down, and Wilhelm took a chair near; they were silent for a minute or two, while she, with eyes downcast, went alternately red and white, and could scarcely breathe. There was no pretense this time about her agitation. It seemed as if suddenly a flash of lightning had illuminated his mind, showing him a picture of this trembling, pretty girl clashed to his heart, and he with his arms round her. It only lasted for a second, but it struck him like an electric shock, and left in his mind a mingled feeling of trouble, shame, remorse and vexation. He had a consciousness of danger, and he felt that he must make a great effort to become master of the situation and of himself.

“Gnadiges Fräulein,” he began, “what I want to say to you will seem odd, and perhaps audacious, but I beg you in spite of that to hear me to the end.”

Malvine sat motionless, breathing quickly.

“I do not know,” he went on, “in what position you and my friend Haber are with regard to each other, but you must have noticed, without any explanation, that he loves you.”

At the mention of Paul’s name, Malvine for the first time raised her eyes, and looked at Wilhelm with such a troubled expression that he felt still further alarmed. He had broken the ice, however, and he made a courageous effort to regain his asssurance.

“Dear Fräulein,” he said impressively, “I am afraid there has been some misunderstanding between us, which it is my duty toward you, toward my friend, and toward myself, to explain. My behavior has perhaps aroused an impression which it should not have done. There is no doubt that I ought not to have shown you how warm my friendship is for you for you, a good and beautiful girl, who have inspired my best friend with such a love; but really I considered that so long as the engagement between you and Paul was not clearly arranged, that you would understand my position. If I seemed happy to be near you, it was because I told myself how happy my friend would be when he could call you his own; if you seemed to read warmth and tenderness when I looked at you, it was because I was and am so grateful to you for so happily influencing Paul.”

While he was speaking Malvine had sunk back in her corner, and had closed her eyes with a deep sigh. A few large tears began to roll down her cheeks. Wilhelm touched her hand, which was cold as ice. She made a feeble effort to draw it away, but he held it fast and went on:

“Dearest, best Malvine, do not bear me any grudge for this abominable half-hour, and believe me that it is only out of consideration for your life’s happiness. I quite understand how it has all happened. Your kind heart was filled with pity for me, and in your innocence you gave the pity another name. It was quite natural that you should be uncertain of yourself, while you thought you were loved by two men, and that the confusion prevented you seeing clearly with your own heart. Now you know that Paul loves you, and that the day on which he dares call you his will be the first happy one I have had for a year. You will be able to come to a determination more easily, as it concerns your own happiness equally with Paul’s. Paul is a good fellow, and worthy of the woman who will bear his name.”

He bent over her hand and pressed his lips to it. Malvine sobbed aloud, and putting her arms on his shoulders kissed his hair, then sprang away and flew to her room. Wilhelm hurried away in great confusion, thankful that he had been spared meeting either Frau Brohl or Frau Marker. He only breathed freely when he found himself in the street.

Paul was informed the same afternoon of the conversation which had taken place, Wilhelm delicately passing over Malvine’s outburst of feeling, and he hurried at once to the Lutzowstrasse to take by storm the fortress in which his friend had already made a breach. He was received by Frau Brohl, who nodded in mysterious manner, and took him into her bedroom, at the back of the flat, through the dining-room. In her soft, feeble voice she mildly reproached him for not having more confidence and coming to speak to her sooner. She then related to him what had happened. She had heard with great surprise that Dr. Eynhardt had come and gone away again, without saying good-day to her. As she was going to ask what the visit meant, Malvine came and embraced her grandmother, crying bitterly, to the old lady’s great distress. With many tears she had given a confused and broken account of the interview with Wilhelm, begging Frau Brohl to comfort her and foretell that it should end well. Frau Brohl explained that Malvine was now in her room, meaning that Paul must not try to see her just at present. Such a silly, inexperienced creature must have time given her to learn to be reasonable, beside, she (Frau Brohl) would take care of everything, and Herr Haber could call her grandmamma now if he liked. He kissed her hand, deeply moved and grateful, and her eyes filled with tears. She then explained the situation to Frau Marker, who, after looking very much surprised, also embraced her son-in-law. It was a dignified scene, tender, and, as befitted an honorable family, without any over display of feeling; if all the wealthy people of Stettin had been assembled there, they could have expressed nothing but admiration.

On the next day Frau Brohl spoke to her grand-daughter. She made her understand that there were no real objections to be made, that she was silly and was acting against her own happiness. Paul was much the better match of the two, was more chic and practical than Wilhelm, had better prospects in life, and was really better-looking than his friend. Above all she liked Paul, and did not like Wilhelm, and that ought to be taken into account. Malvine was not inaccessible to such arguments, as Paul was really sympathetic to her. Soon her tears ceased to flow, and her sighs became fainter and fainter. In two days’ time she regained her appetite, signs which Frau Brohl noticed, and quickly imparted to Paul. At their first meeting he showed a little anxiety, and she, a good deal of constraint, but that soon passed off, and as they were constantly together, she found a great deal of pleasure in his manly good looks and honorable qualities. Beside, it was spring! the sun shone, the sky was blue, her room was full of the fragrance of flowers, which Paul brought every day with the regularity of a postman, and fourteen days later they were engaged, and his first kiss was given in the presence of her grandmother, mother, and Paul’s parents. Her heart felt very warmly toward him, and she would have felt dreadfully confused had not Wilhelm, with characteristic good feeling, declined the invitation to be present.

Frau Brohl arranged for the wedding to take place after Whitsuntide. At the Zwölf-Apostelkirche she wore her heavy silk dress and all the family ornaments, as on the Sundays at church at Stettin. Her bent figure was straighter than usual, and a smile of proud satisfaction lighted up her pale, melancholy face. Several rich friends from Stettin had come over to Berlin for the wedding. She leaned on the arm of the bridegroom’s father, Herr Haber, a dignified old gentleman with a long beard. Paul wore his uniform and a Japanese order, which had been conferred on him by a Japanese pupil at his lectures on agricultural chemistry. Several officers in uniform were in the church, and a large number of professors, councilors, etc. Paul’s round face beamed with happiness, his blond mustache looked triumphant, his hair was mathematically cut, and a field-marshal might have sworn that he was a regular officer. The bride was rosy, and looked happy. Her veil and wreath were made by the family, and her satin dress covered with their embroidery. Wilhelm was one of Paul’s witnesses. When he went to congratulate the happy pair after the ceremony, Malvine looked at him; a gentle glance, with perhaps a mild reproach in it. Paul, however, grasped his hand, and whispered into his ear:

“Your friend for life, Wilhelm, for life.”