The clock struck seven. Theodor was impatiently awaiting the arrival of his friends. At length Ottmar entered the room. “I was just,” he said, “talking to Leander; he detained me and that is why I am late. I assured him that it grieved me enormously that a very pressing piece of business prevented me from spending a moment longer in his company. He wanted very much to accompany me to the place of my appointment; even in the gloom of night I had great difficulty slipping away from him. He was very pleased to learn that I was going to your house; he was quite intent on coming here with me.” “And yet,” broke in Theodor, “and yet you didn’t bring him along with you? He would have been most welcome here.” “No,” replied Ottmar, “no, my dear Theodor: that would have been totally unacceptable. In the first place, I would hardly be so presumptuous as to introduce a stranger, or, at any rate (because Leander is not exactly a stranger) a fifth party, into our assembly without the unanimous consent of the remaining Serapionian Brethren. Secondly, Leander has undergone a rather disagreeable change thanks to Lothar. Lothar has spoken to him about our magnificent Serapionion Club in his usual enthusiastic vein. He has extolled that admirable propensity, the Serpapion Principle, in the most hyperbolic terms, and has maintained nothing less than that we four, in keeping our eyes unwaveringly fixed on that principle, exert a mutually formative influence on one another, and that we have thereby brought ourselves to the verge of enkindling one another to perform all sorts of sublime deeds. Such that when I ran into him just now Leander immediately began talking about how being part of such a society of literary friends had been his most ardent desire for the longest time, and about he hoped against hope that we would not deny him admittance to our union and the opportunity to prove himself the worthiest of all Serapionian brethren. He said he had a great, great many things in store for us. And as he said this he involuntarily reached for one of his coat pockets. It bulged almost to the bursting point with its contents, and to my by no means negligible shock I noticed that the other pocket was just as full. Both of them were brimful of manuscripts, and indeed, even from within his breast pocket the ends of paper-sheaves menacingly protruded.”
Ottmar was interrupted by the noisy arrival of Lothar followed immediately by that of Cyprian. “Just now,” said Theodor, “a small thundercloud was drawing towards the patch of sky above our Serapionian Club, but Ottmar has capably deflected it. We were just on the point of being infested by Leander; he would not stop clinging to poor Ottmar, who had to steal away into the night like a fugitive in order to shake him off.”
“Why,” cried Lothar, “did Ottmar not bring my dear Leander here with him? He is sensible, intelligent, witty; who could be a more suitable companion for us Serapionian Brethren?” “Now you’re just being Lothar,” snapped back Ottmar: “you never change in that you’re constantly changing your opinion, forever forming an opposition party of one. If I had brought Leander with me, nobody would have reproached me more bitterly for having done so than you! You have called Leander sensible, intelligent, witty; he is all of these—nay, more! Everything he produces has a certain rounded, finished quality that bespeaks a sound critical faculty and great sagacity of judgment! Nevertheless!--in the first place, there is nobody to whom our Serapionian Principle is more alien than our friend Leander. Everything he commits to paper is something he has mulled over very thoroughly, given mature consideration to, beforehand, but it is never anything he has actually beheld. His faculty of the understanding does not govern his imagination; rather, it completely displaces it. And so he revels in perpetually presenting the longest and broadest possible view of his subject; an approach which, though a reader may take it in his stride, a listener quickly finds positively unbearable. The intellectual and spiritual merit of his works is absolutely indisputable, but they engender the most lethal boredom when he reads them aloud.”
“The truth is,” Cyprian interrupted his friend, “the truth is that there is something quite peculiar about the very act of reading aloud. I mean specifically with regard to the sorts of texts that are well suited to it. It seems as though apart from a certain hypervivid vivaciousness the only desideratum of a text that is to be read aloud is brevity.”
“This is owing to the fact,” said Theodor, “that the reader is strictly prohibited from declaiming in emphatic periods like an orator, for centuries of listeners’ experience have shown this to be unendurable; instead, he must merely hint in a normal conversational tone at the various passions that arise in the course of his narrative or disquisition, and such a tone over long stretches exerts an irresistibly narcotic effect.”
“It seems to me,” said Ottmar, “that the texts that are most effective when read aloud make a very near approach to the dramatic mode, or rather that they actually are dramatic in essence. But such being the case, why is it that the great majority of comedies or tragedies cannot be read aloud without revolting the listener and boring him to tears?”
“Precisely,” replied Lothar, “because they are not dramatic in essence at all, or because the actor’s style of delivery has been formed with a view to a full theatrical staging and the text is so feeble and anemic that on its own it cannot put the listener in mind of a scene painted in the true colors of life and populated by living characters, a deficiency that is amply compensated for by a good actor during an actual staged performance. But we’re getting away from our subject, from our friend Leander, who, as I brashly continue to maintain in the teeth of Ottmar’s opposition, really does deserve to be admitted into our circle.”
“Very well,” said Ottmar, “but please let me remind you, dearest Lothar, of all the misery you yourself have had to endure at the hands of Leander! Remember when he kept hounding you with that big, fat verse play of his, and you kept avoiding him, until finally he invited both you and me over to his house and regaled us with the most exquisite dishes and delicious wine so that we would allow him inflict that horrible play on us? Do you remember how I, having calmly and faithfully endured two acts, was bracing myself for the third, when you impatiently flew into a passion, swore that the thing was making you ill and causing you physical pain, and stormed out of the room, leaving Leander sitting at the table amid all his fine food and wine? Do you remember when he dropped in on you one time when some other of your friends were present? Remember how on that occasion he would every now and then noisily rustle some papers in his pocket and slyly peer around the table in the hope that somebody would say, ‘Hey, Leander, old chum, what’s that you’ve brought along with you for us to take a look at? I’m sure it’s something really wonderful’? Remember how you once compared the worthy Leander, who constantly went around with a tragedy secreted in his breast pocket, to Melos slinking towards the tyrant with a dagger secreted in his bosom? How on one occasion, when you had been unable to avoid inviting him to dinner, he walked into the room with one of his fat manuscripts in hand, and our good moods and high spirits instantly plummeted? How he thereupon smiled ever so cloyingly and assured us that he could tarry in our company for only the briefest of moments, as he had earlier promised Madame to take tea with her and read her his latest heroic poem in twelve cantos? How the moment he left we all drew a deep breath of enormous relief and unanimously exclaimed, ‘Ah, poor Madame! Poor unfortunate Madame!’?”
“That’s enough,” cried Lothar, “that’s enough, Ottmar my friend; everything you just recounted has indeed taken place, but there is no reason to fear that anything like it will happen in the presence of us Serapionian brethren. Do we not form a stout and impenetrable opposition to everything that goes against the grain of our fundamental principle? I bet that Leander would defer unquestioningly to this principle from the outset.”
“Don’t you dare count on it,” said Ottmar, “for Leander, you see, has this trait in common with many a poetaster and petty scribbler: he has no interest in listening to anybody else, and in virtue of this lack of interest he wants to have the floor entirely to himself; he wants to be the only person who gets to read or speak a word. And towards achieving that end he would endeavor with main force to inundate our evenings with his interminable productions; any demurral he would take sorely amiss and thereby destroy every trace of the good-natured give-and-take that is the finest and fairest of the ties that bind us together. Today he had the confounded check to talk about ‘the collaborative literary task we were jointly about to embark on’--as if this were anything but shorthand for his plans to plague us to utter, abject distraction with his own screeds!”
“In point of fact,” chimed in Cyprian, “the very notion of a ‘collaborative task’ is extremely problematic. Whenever several people unite in the attempt to produce a single, unified literary work they are bound to fail. A uniform cast of soul, a profoundly penetrative insight into the subject-matter, a comprehension of the ideas as they successively beget one another, seems to be indispensable to such a production; from collaboration nothing will ever emerge but a confused baroque hodgepodge, even under the auspices of the best thought-out plan. Why at this very moment I can call to mind an amusing example of such a misbegotten attempt. Four years ago another group of friends of which I was a member decided to write a novel whose individual chapters were to be composed piecemeal by each of them in succession. The initial contributor’s opening sally, the seed from which the remainder of the text was to shoot forth and blossom, went as follows: ‘A roofer falls from the top of a tower and breaks his neck. The moment her husband hits the ground, the roofer’s wife in her fright gives birth to three boys.’ The rest of the novel was to treat of the fate of these three triplets who were exactly identical in height, demeanor, physical appearance, etc. Beyond this nothing in the way of a plot had been agreed to by the time the first contributor left off. Then the second contributor took up the thread of the narrative, and in the first chapter he had a troupe of traveling actors perform a play for one of the heroes, and in this play the author had very cleverly and with admirable resourcefulness outlined a complete prospective plot for the novel. At this point they all should have reined themselves in; if they had, this first chapter could have been retained as an ingenious prologue to the novel proper. Instead in the second chapter the first contributor (the deviser of the roofer) killed off the most important character--who had thus been introduced into the narrative to no effect by the second contributor--the third contributor sent the troupe of actors off to Poland, and the fourth brought in a crazy old witch with a soothsaying raven and thus aroused horror that was both unnecessary and inexplicable. And that was as far as the whole thing got!”
“I am familiar,” said Theodor, “I am familiar with a book that likewise was undertaken by a group of friends and likewise remained unfinished. It quite undeservedly failed to attract much notice in the world, perhaps because its title promised nothing spectacular or because it lacked the necessary recommendations from celebrated pens. I am referring to Carl’s Attempts and Obstacles. The first part, which is the only part that has yet to see the light of day at all, is one of the wittiest, liveliest, and most ingenious books that I have ever stumbled upon. A remarkable thing about it is that not only several famous authors, for example Jean Paul, but also several fictional characters, for example Wilhelm Meister and his little son, appear in it in all their idiosyncratic idiosyncrasy!”
“I am familiar,” said Cyprian, “I am familiar with the book you are talking about, and I can still recall a passage of it wherein a John Paul half blinded by sweat says to a fat man whom he comes upon plucking strawberries in a field, ‘Those strawberries must be very sweet indeed since they are making you so sour-faced!’ But as I said, the production of a literary work by committee is always a touch-and-go business. In contrast, what a truly splendid thing is genuine reciprocal stimulation, which certainly may be found within a circle of mutually sympathetic friends of a poetic cast of mind, and which is indeed capable of yielding an inspired, unified work of art!”
“I owe just this sort of stimulation,” said Ottmar, “to our friend Severin, who, should he ever show up here, as I expect he may yet do, will prove a much better Serapionian brother than Leander. With Severin I sat in the Berlin zoological garden and witnessed a certain scene, a scene that provided the subject-matter of a tale that I wrote down and entitled ‘A Fragment from the Life of Three Friends’ and that I have brought along to read to you tonight. The scene in question was that of a beautiful young woman with eyes brimming over with tears as she read something written on a small piece of paper that she was attempting to conceal from the sight of passersby, and as we were taking it in, Severin flashed me a look blazing with enthusiasm and whispered, ‘Here is something for you, Ottmar! Your imagination cannot but take wing at the sight of it! All you need do is explain in writing what the girl, the piece of paper, and the tears all have to do with one another!’ And I did just that!”
The friends sat down around the circular table; Ottmar produced a manuscript and began reading thus:
A Fragment from the Life of Three Friends
On the second day of Pentecost, a public spot at the Berlin zoological garden known as Weber's Tent was so chock-full of human beings of every genus and species that it was only by dint of the most dogged hectoring and hounding that Alexander managed to detain the waiter, who was relentlessly bobbing and weaving his urgent way through the crowd, long enough to wrest from him a table, which he caused to be placed underneath the lovely trees in the square at the waterside behind and outside the tent, and at which he and his two friends, Severin and Marcellus, seated themselves as merrily as could be on chairs that they had meanwhile employed no small amount of strategy in poaching. Each of the men had turned up in Berlin only a few days earlier--Alexander from a distant province in order to take possession of a legacy bequeathed to him by a recently deceased maiden aunt; Marcellus and Severin to resume their civilian existences, which they had given over long ago in order to participate in a military campaign that had just now concluded. Today they intended to celebrate their reencounter and reunion with one another properly, and as is often the case on such occasions, the old friends’ first thoughts turned not to the past with its abundance of memories, but to the moment immediately at hand, to the activities and events underway in the living present. “In truth,” said Alexander, as he filled his friends’ cups from the steaming coffeepot, “in truth, if you were to see me at my aunt’s isolated dwelling, if you were to see me in the morning wandering with great pathos and in gloomy silence through the high-ceilinged rooms wallpapered in somber earth tones; and were then to behold old Miss Anne, the deceased’s housekeeper, a spectral little creature, wheezing and gently coughing as she carries in my breakfast on a pewter serving-tray in her trembling arms, then placing the tray on to the table with a peculiar backwards curtseying motion, then sighing and wordlessly shuffling away in slippers that are too wide, like the beggar-woman of Locarno, cutting me mistrustful sidelong glances all the while, like a cat eyeing a pug dog, and finally leaving me on my own to be—get this—purred at by a melancholy old parrot, and smiled at by a lot of leaning pagodas, as I slurp up cup after cup of tea and hardly dare to desecrate with vile tobacco smoke this virginal apartment in which apart from virginity nothing but the sacrificial victims of amber and mastic gum seems to be valued—if, I say, you were to behold me thus, you would inevitably conclude that I had fallen under some witch’s spell, that I was some sort of Merlinesque figure. I can assure you that nothing but the wearisome indolence for which you used to upbraid me so often is to blame for the fact that I never even considered looking for alternative lodgings and moved straight-away into my aunt’s empty house, which the pedantic conscientiousness of her executor has rendered a quite spookily unabidable abode. You see, this strange person whom I barely knew decreed that until my arrival everything was to remain exactly as it had been at the moment of her death. Beside the bed, resplendent in its covering of snow-white linen and sea-green silk, stands the tabouret, on which, as formerly, the honorable nightdress with its stately four-stringed nightcap is laid out; beneath the bed repose the grandiose embroidered slippers, and a resplendently polished silver siren—the handle of a certain indispensable article of crockery—gleams forth from under the counterpane festooned with alternately white and parti-colored flowers. In the sitting room is to be found the needlework that the deceased was engaged in shortly before her passing, along with an open copy of Arndt’s True Christianity; but for me what really rounds out the spookiness and ghastliness of the house is the fact that in this same sitting room hangs a life-sized 35 to 40 year-old portrait of my aunt in all the finery of a bride dressed for her wedding and that, as Miss Anne told me amid much tearful sobbing, the old woman was buried in that same bridal ensemble. “What a peculiar idea,” said Marcellus; “—which is nevertheless quite an obvious one,” broke in Severin, “because dead virgins are the brides of Christ, and I hope that nobody will be so profane as to sneer at the decorous, pious faith of this admittedly elderly virgin; albeit that I cannot work out why Alexander’s aunt had a portrait of herself as a bride painted when she was younger.” “I was told,” said Alexander, “that at one point my aunt actually had been engaged; indeed, that the wedding day had arrived and she was awaiting the bridegroom in her full bridal ensemble, but he never showed up, because on that very day he had thought it proper to leave town in the company of a girl whom he had been in love with earlier. My aunt took this very much to heart, and although she was not in the least bit mentally disturbed, from that moment onwards she commemorated the day of her abortive nuptials in a most peculiar fashion. To wit: each day she would rise before dawn, attire herself in her full bridal array, have the immaculately tidy dressing room supplied with the same collation she had served on the day itself—namely, chocolate, wine, and pastries for two on a small walnut table with gilded carvings—and pace up and down the room sighing and plaintively murmuring at the tardiness of the bridegroom until ten o’clock in the evening. Then she would fervently say her prayers, have herself undressed, and silently, broodingly climb back into bed. “I cannot but,” said Marcellus, “feel very deeply moved by this. Woe betide the faithless scoundrel who brought such unassuageable heartache upon this poor woman.” “But still,” demurred Alexander, “there is another side to the story. Although the man whom you have dubbed a faithless scoundrel and who remains one to this day may have had other reasons for acting as he did, in the end it was his guardian angel, or, if you prefer, common sense, that got the better of him. You see, vile Mammon alone had made him covet my aunt as a prospective bride in the first place, for from the beginning he knew that she was domineering, quarrelsome, tight-fisted--in short, a cursed shrew.”
“That is as may be,” said Severin, laying his pipe on the table, crossing his arms over his chest, and gazing straight ahead very seriously and contemplatively, “that is as may be, but could that silent, stirring funeral ceremony, that heartrending protest against her mistreatment by her faithless fiancé, have issued from any but the deepest and tenderest of souls, to whom nothing could have been more alien than those petty earthly shortcomings with which you tax your poor aunt? Ah! How ever often that misshapen creature, that bitterness that none of us is really a match for, may have barged into the old woman’s life and discomposed everything around her, if I had been her, the final recurrence of that sacred day would have made up for a yearlong plague at the very least.” “I think you are right, Severin,” said Marcellus: “any old woman to whom the Lord vouchsafes such a blissful return to our prelapsarian state can hardly be as wicked as Alexander maintains his aunt was—and this according only to hearsay. At the same time, on the whole I would really rather have as little as possible to do with people who have been embittered by and in the course of their lives; and it is far better for our friend Alexander to edify himself with the story of the jilted old lady’s wedding-cum-funeral and ransack her chests and coffers and ogle the extensive inventory of her estate now that she is dead, than for him to have beheld her decked out in her fiancé-furnished bridal ensemble and circling round her chocolate-table in lugubrious expectation while she was alive.” At this moment Alexander, having brought his coffee cup to his lips, slammed it down on to the table without taking a sip from it beforehand, and, clapping his hands together, exclaimed: “Good Lord above! I must be getting carried away by all these strange notions and images, for here in the broad light of this sunny day I genuinely feel as though my old aunt in her bridal ensemble is going to peep forth from that group of young girls any second now, just like a ghost.” “This ghastly foreboding,”said Severin with a smile as he puffed out little blue clouds of smoke from the pipe that was now back in his mouth, “this ghastly foreboding is the just penalty of the sacrilege you have committed in speaking ill of the deceased woman who is rendering you a kindness from beyond the grave.” “Would you believe,” resumed Alexander, “would you believe that it seems to me as though the air in my abode is so heavily impregnated with the spirit and character of the old maid that one may oneself acquire something of that spirit and that character merely by spending a couple of complete twenty-four hour days in the house?” At that moment Marcellus and Severin pushed their empty cups across the table to Alexander, who with great dexterity and circumspection divvied up the sugar into appropriate portions, then did the same with the coffee and milk, and finally resumed speaking thus: “You must find it peculiar and puzzling enough that I have suddenly acquired this talent that is utterly foreign to my style and manner, namely, the talent for pouring coffee; you must find it strange that I wield the pot as if in pursuit of my true calling, that I am a mighty adept of the arcane ratios of sweetness and bitterness, that I never spill so much as the tiniest droplet; but you will be even more flabbergasted when I tell you that I have developed a peculiar passion for spotlessly scoured tin and copper, for linen, for silverware, for porcelain cups and crystal glasses, in short for the accoutrements of a well-appointed household such as the one already in place at my aunt’s estate. I gaze upon all these objects with a certain sense of contentment, and I have suddenly started feeling that it is really quite nice to have more to my name than a bed, a table, a footstool, a candlestick, and an inkstand! My esteemed friend the executor smiles and opines that barring the selection of the bride and the priest I am now all set to get married. At bottom he really means much more than that, namely that the bride is none too far to seek. For you see he himself has a little daughter, an adorable little thing with huge eyes who is still childlike and childish in everything she does; she is forever bandying about the most naïve turns of speech like a would-be Gurli, and scampering about like a veritable wagtail. This comportment may have been quite fetching sixteen years ago in a girl of her elfin physique, but now that she is thirty-two it gives a man the creeps and the jitters.” “Ah!” cried Severin: “and yet this pernicious and peculiar mystification is entirely natural! At what precise point is a certain kind of girl—a girl who owing to some quirk of fate has never been compelled to give over her girlish way of life—to be expected suddenly to say to herself, ‘I am no longer what I once was; the colors with which I used to adorn myself have remained fresh and youthful, but my countenance is sadly faded!’? Such a girl, a girl in thrall to a delusion that is fundamentally harmless, instills in me nothing but feelings of the deepest, tenderest melancholy, and for this reason alone I could consolingly cling to her.” “You will have observed, Alexander,” said Marcellus, “that our friend Severin is in his forbearing mood today. First he took your old aunt under his wing, and now the daughter of your friend the executor—a man who is by the way none other than Falter the military councilor–now, I say, Falter’s little thirty-two-year-old she-mandrake, whom I am well acquainted with, has instilled in him feelings of tender melancholy, and he is just on the point of advising you to take her as your wife, and thereby to snatch her away from her creepy native environment, as you will certainly do, if only for your own sake, the very moment she says yes. But don’t you dare marry her, for experience has shown that little ingénues like her are occasionally or even quite often of a rather catty disposition, and that though they will lovingly caress you with their velvety smooth paws before the priest gives his blessing, after the wedding they pounce on every strategically useful opportunity to flourish their all-too-sharp claws.” “Good Lord above!” Alexander interrupted his friend, “Good Lord above! What a load of twaddle! Neither Falter’s ingenuous thirty-two-year-old daughter nor any other sort of trinket, be it ten times as young and pretty and charming as her, can tempt me wantonly to squander my golden years of youthful freedom, which I intend to exploit to the fullest now that I have come into a little money and property. In point of fact, my old bridal aunt has had such a spooky effect on me that I involuntarily associate the very word bride with a creepy, detestable killjoy.” “I feel sorry for you,” said Marcellus: “for my part, whenever I think of a girl adorned in her bridal finery, I am shaken from head to toe by sweet and mysterious shivers, and I feel as though my spirit cannot but enfold her with a higher love that has nothing whatsoever in common with its terrestrial namesake.” “Oh I know full well,” rejoined Alexander, “that as a rule you will fall in love with any bride you set eyes on, and that more often than not the woman standing at the imaginary altar you have constructed in your own mind is another man’s sweetheart.” “He loves with the loving,” said Severin, “and that is why I love him so sincerely.” “I,” cried Alexander with a laugh, “am quite on the point of sicking my old aunt on him, and thereby ridding myself of a phantom that I have come to find a very tiresome burden. Do I detect an inquiring expression on your faces? Very well, I might as well fess up; the old spinster’s timorous disposition seems to have taken me over, for I am now suffering from a downright unbearable fear of ghosts, and when I am at home I behave just like a little boy whose nurse has frightened him half to death with stories about the bogeyman. You see, I have several times experienced nothing less than a sighting of the old woman, my aunt, in broad daylight, most often specifically at noon: as I am inspecting the contents of the chests and coffers, I will suddenly glimpse her skinny nose out of the corner of my eye as she rummages through the laundry, through her old clothes, with her long, skinny fingers. Or say I am complacently taking a kettle or frying pan out of the cupboard: all the other pieces of kitchenware in the cupboard will start shaking, and I will think to myself, ‘Now that spectral hand is about to present me with quite a different sort of kettle or frying pan.’ Then I throw everything aside, and keeping my eyes pointed straight ahead all the while, I race back to my chamber and sing or whistle out at the street through the open window, which visibly annoys Miss Anne. Nevertheless, it is a firm and demonstrable fact that my aunt wanders about the house on each and every night at twelve midnight on the dot.” Marcellus burst out laughing; Severin retained his serious expression and exclaimed, “Do tell on; the whole tale is bound to end in some excruciatingly tasteless punchline, for I don’t see how you of all people, with your awful enlightened views, could ever have become a genuine communicant with the great beyond.” “Now both you, Severin,” resumed Alexander, “and you, Marcellus, know very well that nobody has opposed the belief in ghosts more strongly than I. Never in my life until now have I come into contact with anything ever so slightly out of the ordinary, and even that mentally and corporeally debilitating form of nervous anxiety that is said to be occasioned by the immanent propinquity of the otherworldly principle, has always been a complete stranger to me. Nevertheless, you must believe me when I tell you of what happened to me that first night, the very night on which I arrived to take possession of the house.” “Tell us softly,” said Marcellus, “because I get the impression that our neighbors here are fairly straining their ears trying to hear and comprehend what you are saying.” “They are bound,” rejoined Alexander, “to hear and comprehend it all the less in that I really would prefer to keep my ghost story a secret even from you two. But never mind that: now that I have said I am going to tell it, I will tell it! So, then: Miss Anne was utterly awash with tears and sorrow as she greeted me in the front doorway. With the silver candelabrum in her trembling hand, she moaned and panted her way ahead of me through the empty rooms, all the way to the bedchamber. Here the porter from the post coach was obliged to deposit my luggage. As the fellow was saying ‘Much obliged’ and splaying the broad skirts of his overcoat asunder and shoving my generous tip into one of his trouser pockets at a leisurely pace, he took a smilingly complacent look around the chamber; and eventually his gaze alighted upon the aforementioned towering bed with its sea-green curtains. ‘My word, my word,” he now exclaimed: ‘the gentleman will sleep a thousand times more soundly here than in the post coach; and what’s more he’s got a lovely dressing-gown and a nice little cap all laid out for him!’ Thus did the impertinent scamp refer to my aunt’s eminently respectable nightwear. Miss Anne, who seemed to be on the verge of fainting, almost dropped the silver candlestick; I caught hold of it just in time and used it to show the porter the out of the house; the fellow cut a roguish look at the old woman as we moved away from her. On my returning to Miss Anne’s side, I found her trembling and quaking from head to toe; she believed that something truly horrifying was about to happen; namely that I was going to send her packing and unceremoniously take possession of the virginal bed. She recovered her composure when I politely and unassumingly explained to her that I was not accustomed to sleeping in such plush four-poster affairs and that it would suit me perfectly fine if she were to set up a modest camp-bed for me in the sitting room. Then something truly horrifying did take place, something unheard of, namely: Miss Anne’s sorrow-wizened face brightened into a charmingly gracious smile, as it has never done again since; she then plunged to the floor with her long, skeletal arms extended, nimbly hiked the downtrodden rear-uppers of her slippers up around her pointy heels, and tripped out of the room while emitting a soft, half-timorous, half-gladsome, ‘As you wish, young Sir.’ ‘As I am planning to enjoy a long slumber, please don’t bring me my morning coffee until nine.’ With this near-exact quotation of Wallenstein , I dismissed her for the night. Dead-tired as I was, I thought I would be overcome by sleep straight-away, but no sooner did I lie down than sleep was resisted by numerous and various thoughts and ideas that were beginning to circle in my mind. For the first time, I was vividly struck by the significance of this sudden change in my situation. For the first time, now that I had taken possession of this possession, this house, and was residing in it, it became clear to me that I had been decisively snatched from the importunate clutches of dire necessity, and that life was beginning to vouchsafe me some salutary degree of comfort and security. I heard the repellent crowing of the night watchman’s whistle—eleven—twelve—I was in such a merry mood that I fancied the soft pips of my pocket-watch were the chirps of a cricket that had to be nesting somewhere nearby. But with the muffled sounding of the twelfth stroke from a distant church-tower clock, I began to hear soft, measured steps pacing up and down the chamber, and with every step there was an apprehensive combination of a sigh and a moan, which grew louder and louder until it began to assume the heartrending proportions of a death-agony. At the same time I heard something sniffing and scratching at the door of the neighboring room, along with the whimpering and whining of a dog in uncannily human-sounding tones. I had noted the presence of my aunt’s darling old pug dog earlier that night, and now its plaint was unmistakable. I leapt from my bed; I peered with wide-open eyes into the semi-darkness of the room faintly lit by the nocturnal luster; I could make out every object quite distinctly; among these I emphatically did not espy anything like some spectral figure fluttering this way and that, and yet I could still plainly hear the sighing and the moaning and the footfalls passing within inches of my bed. At this point I was suddenly seized for the first time ever by that nervous anxiety, that dread, that I spoke of earlier, the dread caused by the proximity of otherworldly spirits; I felt cold drops of sweat forming on my forehead and the individual frozen strands of my hair standing on end like impaling icicles. Powerless to actuate the movement of a single muscle, to give vent to my pent-up cry of horror by parting my lips, the blood raced ever-faster through my veins and kept awake my consciousness, my inner self, which despite its intense alertness was utterly incapable of commanding my external organs, now frozen completely stiff as in rigor mortis. Suddenly the footsteps fell silent, as did the moaning, which was replaced by muffled coughing; the door of a cupboard creaked open; there was a metallic clattering sound like that of silver spoons, then it sounded as though somebody was opening a bottle and placing it in the cupboard, as if just before and after drinking from it—then, finally, came a queer and disagreeable succession of ‘ahem!’s, and a long, drawn-out sigh. The very next moment a tall white figure emerged from the wall and tottered towards me; by now I was fairly drowning in a veritable freezing river of unsurpassable horror; at last, my senses failed me.
I awoke with a start, like somebody who has just fallen from a great height; all of you will be quite familiar with this common phenomenon associated with the conclusions of dreams, but I can scarcely describe to you the peculiar feeling that seized me after I woke up. I first had to take stock of where I was; then I started feeling as though something truly appalling had happened to me, but that all memory of this event had been wiped away by a long, deathlike slumber. At length, albeit very gradually, everything came back to me, whereupon in my memory’s eye it looked as though I had merely been twitted by some harmless if very spooky dream. As I then rose from my bed, my eye alighted for the first time on that life-sized knee-piece, the portrait of my aunt in her bridal finery, and chills ran up and down my spine, for I was now sure that I had seen this very figure with all its vividly recognizable features striding up and down the room in the night—and yet my near-simultaneous realization that the room contained not a single cupboard seemed to confirm me in my impression that I had merely dreamt the whole thing. Miss Anna brought in the coffee; she stared at my face for a long, long time, and then said, “Ah, good Lord, why ever do you look so pale and peaky—did something not happen to you?” Far from betraying to her the slightest hint of discomposure by my recent ghostly visitation, I pretended to her that I had been kept awake by a violent constriction of my chest. “Ah,” murmured the old woman, “ah, that’s heartburn; we know just the thing for it!” And with that the old woman slippered over to the wall and opened a secret door that I had failed to notice, and I now found myself looking into a cupboard containing some glasses, some small bottles, and a pair of silver spoons. Now amid much clinking and clanging the old woman picked up a spoon; then she opened a bottle, poured a few drops of its liquid contents into the spoon, placed the bottle back inside the cupboard, and finally came tottering back to me. This near-letter-perfect flesh-and-blood reenactment of the phantasmal events of the preceding night was enough to make me cry out in horror. “Now, now,” rasped the old woman while smirking at me in the most peculiar manner; “now, now, my dear young sir! Here is some good strong medicine for you; the late mistress, bless her soul, used to suffer from the heartburn too, and she often took this stuff for it!” I pulled myself together and gulped down the searing stomach tonic. At that moment my gaze was fixed on the bridal portrait, which hung directly above the cupboard. “Of whom is that a picture?” I asked the old woman. “Ah, good Lord above! Of course it’s a picture of the mistress, your aunt, bless her soul!,” replied the old woman as tears gushed from her eyes. The pug dog began whimpering as it had done during the night, and I, after effortfully mastering my inner shudders, after effortfully gaining hold of my composure, said, “Miss Anna, I really do believe that my aunt, bless her soul, was here in this room, at the stroke of midnight last night, and that she opened that cupboard, and took some drops of medicine from that bottle.” The old woman seemed not in the least bit surprised, but said very softly, as a strange corpse-like pallor erased the last traces of life from her wizened countenance, “Is it really the Feast of the Invention of the True Cross again? After all, the third of May came and went a long time ago!” I found it impossible to ask a single further question; leaving my breakfast untouched, I hastily got dressed and dashed outside into the open air for the mere sake of freeing myself from the horrible dreamlike state that was threatening to overpower me all over again. When I went to turn in that evening I found that quite of her own initiative the old woman had moved my bed into a cozy little room overlooking the street. I have not since spoken another word about the specter to the old woman, let alone told the war councilor about it; she for her part does me the favor of keeping mum about it as well, for plainly nothing could come of talking about it but a lot of annoying gossip, an endless and pointless round of questions and queries, and, worst of all, investigations by amateur ghost-hunters. Even in my new bedchamber, the little room, I still fancy that I can hear the footfalls and the moaning at twelve midnight sharp every night, but I think I will weather the horror for a few more days and then try to figure out how I can quit the house for other lodgings without stirring up too many rumors.”
With these words, Alexander fell silent, and the conversation was resumed only several seconds later, by Marcellus, thus: “This business with the ghost of your old aunt is marvelous and horrifying enough, but as I am already quite firmly convinced that a spiritual principle can manifest itself to us in any number of fashions, your story strikes me as being quite humdrum and run-of-the-mill; the footfalls, the sighing and moaning--I accept all that—but that the deceased should, as in life, imbibe drops of stomach tonic, why that reminds me of that ridiculous story of the woman who after death went rattling about at shut windows like a kitten.” “This,” said Severin, “is quite a peculiarly mystifying occurrence: to think that we of this world, having received a possible herald of this alien spiritual principle thanks to its at- minimum-apparent influence on our external senses, should now presume to give it an education in good manners and lecture it on what it ought and ought not to do in our sphere! According to your theory—my dear Marcellus!—a ghost is permitted to shuffle about in slippers and sigh and groan, but not to open bottles, or even to take the tiniest swallow of any liquid. In connection with this one may observe that in dreams our mind has a propensity to deck out that higher existence whose shape we can but dimly surmise in the banal bric-a-brac of our terrestrial lives, but that this existence is expert at making bitterly ironic sport of our de facto picture of it. May not this irony, which lies deep within nature--a nature ever conscious of its own degeneration--be a sort of quirk of the postmortem psyche--a psyche now released from its corporeal cocoon and withdrawn from the world of dreams--a quirk this psyche exhibits whenever it is vouchsafed a retrospective view of the body it has forsaken? If so, then the animate will and hypnotic power of that alien spiritual principle that leads the waking man into the world of dreams must be the ultimate determinant of every one of those apparitions that the dreamer believes to be real on the evidence of his sense organs, and indeed it would be quite comically presumptuous in us to dictate any moral standard of terrestrial origin to these apparitions. It is remarkable how often sleepwalkers, somnambulists, are stuck re-performing the most mundane activities of their waking lives: one has only to think of that man who in the light of a nocturnal full moon led his horse out of its stall, saddled it, unsaddled it, led it back into the stall, and finally headed back to bed. All these speculations of mine are of course nothing but membra disjecta; all the same I am very much of the opinion that–” “--So do you really believe I have actually seen the ghost of my aunt?” broke in the by now passably pallid-complexioned Alexander. “I don’t see why he shouldn’t believe it,” cried Marcellus, “for am I not myself just as much of a believer, albeit not quite as much of a firm and full-blown visionary, as our friend Severin? Now I too can no longer refrain from confessing that I have been visited at my lodgings by a phantom, a phantom that was almost even more ill-tempered than the one seen by our friend Alexander, and that frightened me more than half to death!” “Have I really had better luck than you?” murmured Severin. “Immediately after my arrival,” continued Marcellus, “I rented a neatly furnished room in Friedrichsstrasse; like Alexander, I was dead tired and threw myself on to the bed straight-away, but I had scarcely slept an hour if that long when I felt as though somebody were shining a bright light on to my closed eyelids. I opened my eyes and—just imagine my horror!--right at the foot of my bed stood a tall, haggard figure with a face that was deathly pale and twisted into a hideous grimace, a face from which a pair of dull spectral eyes gazed down at me. A white shirt was draped over the figure’s shoulders, leaving bare its breast, which seemed to me to be covered in blood; in its left hand it held a candelabrum with two lighted tapers, in its right a large glass filled to the brim with water. In speechless astonishment I looked on as this spectral travesty of a human being began swinging about the candelabrum and the glass in expansive circling motions while emtting the most horrifying whimpering sounds. I felt exactly as Alexander says he felt at the sight of his apparition—positively petrified with fear in the presence of the great unknown. By and by, the swinging of the glass and the candelabrum became slower and slower and finally stopped. Then the room seemed to be pervaded by the sound of somebody singing ever so softly, almost in a whisper; whereupon the figure’s grimace was transformed into a curious sort of grin, and with slow, loping steps it retreated to the door and withdrew through it. It was a long time before I plucked up the courage to leap out of bed and bolt the door, which I then noticed I had forgotten to lock before going to bed. As a soldier I had often awoken to find some unexpected person I had never seen before standing at the foot of my bed; on not one of these occasions had I been in the least bit frightened, such that I was firmly convinced that something out of the ordinary and indeed out of this world must have been at the bottom of this particular apparition. In the morning I decided to go downstairs and tell my landlady about what a horrible apparition had disturbed my sleep. As I was stepping out of my room into the passageway, the door of the apartment opposite mine flew open and I was accosted by a tall, haggard figure swathed in a capacious dressing gown. From the very first instant I recognized in his eyes and face the deathly pale face and dull, turbid eyes of the unfriendly being of the night before, and I tried to slip past him and down the stairs. But the man blocked my way, gently seized me by the hand, and while a good-natured smile was spreading across his face, said to me in a soft and friendly voice, ‘O my dear sir, my worthy neighbor, how ever did you find your first night in your new dwelling?’ I did not beat about the bush with him, but recounted my adventure in great detail, and added that I believed he himself was the figure I had seen, and that in hindsight I was glad that the freshness of my experience in the campaign had not all-too-conceivably caused me to mistake him for my adversary in some hallucinatory surprise attack in an enemy city, and thereby to put him to flight in a manner that would have been decidedly problematic. In the future, I said, I would not be accountable for my response to such a visitation. All the while I was talking to him the man was shaking his head and smiling, and when I had finished speaking, he very gently said, “O dear sir, my most worthy neighbor, please whatever you do don’t take it amiss! Ah, ah! Straight away I thought it would have to come to this, and I already knew it had come to it first thing this morning, because I woke up feeling incomparably well, incomparably pacified to the very depths of my soul! I am a rather skittish individual, but how could it be otherwise? What is more they say that the day after tomorrow--” with these words he segued into the ordinary news of the town, to which were appended other items of local interest that could not but be of value to travelers and new residents, and that he managed to relate with a liveliness not unleavened with a dash of subtle irony. Although I was now beginning to find the man genuinely interesting, I was determined not to let the incident of the night before remain unexplained, and so I implored him to tell me without further ado what had possessed him to disturb my sleep in such a strange and spooky fashion. ‘O dear sir my most worthy neighbor, please whatever you do don’t take it amiss…’ he began again, and then continued thus: ‘…that I, without for once suspecting that I was within my rights, presumed to barge in on you like that. I did it only in order to apprise myself of your disposition towards me; I am a terribly skittish individual; the presence of a new neighbor can vex me sorely indeed until I know with what sort of neighbor I may expect to deal.’ I assured the strange man that I had not understood a word of what he had just said, whereupon he took me by the hand and led me into his room. ‘Why should I try to hide it, my dear sir and neighbor?” he said, as the two of us stepped into the room’s bay window, ‘why should I disown the ever-so-curious gift that inheres within me? God is mighty in the weak, and so I, a poor wretch exposed to every shaft of adversity in the archfiend’s quiver, have been vouchsafed the miraculous power to behold, in certain conditions, the most intimate recesses of the minds of other human beings, and to divine their most secret thoughts. I do this by taking hold of this glass made of pure, pellucid crystal and filled to the brim with distilled water (with these words he picked up a wine glass sitting on the windowsill, the same glass that he had had in his hand the night before), concentrating my thoughts and inner senses on the person whose inner state I am striving to divine, and moving the glass to and fro in a series of precisely determined oscillations known only by me. Then, in no time at all, bubbles begin ascending and descending within the glass and forming themselves into tiny mirrors, and soon it is as if in gazing into the glass I can see not only the heart of my own mind reflected back at me, but also the image and reflection of that unfamiliar being on whom my senses are focused, as disclosed to me by some higher consciousness. Oftentimes, when the approach of a strange and hitherto uninvestigated being makes me especially skittish, I find it easier to operate at night, and that decidedly was the case last night, for I must frankly confess to you that you occasioned me no small amount of unease yesterday evening.’ At this point the outlandish man suddenly threw his arms around me and cried, ‘But what a joy it was to discern your friendly disposition towards me so quickly! O my dearest, worthiest sir and neighbor, is it even possible that I am mistaken? Did we not spend many happy days together in Ceylon? It can hardly have been as long as two hundred years ago. Wasn’t that you?’ The man then became entangled in the most preposterous confabulations; I now knew well enough what sort of person I was dealing with, and was only too happy when I finally—and not uneffortfully—broke free of his embrace. Upon questioning the landlady I subsequently learned that my neighbor, who had for many years been much esteemed as a liberally educated scholar and a shrewd businessman, had not long ago sunk into a deep melancholy in which he believed that every unfriendly person he met harbored malevolent intentions towards him and was trying in one way or other to bring him to ruin; but in one fell swoop he alighted on what he believed to be a means of detecting his enemies and facing up to them, whereupon he passed into his present state of placidly cheerful mania. He spends nearly the entire day sitting at his window and performing experiments with the glass; the survival of his original harmless good nature is witnessed by the fact that almost every experiment leads him to believe that the other person is favorably disposed to him, and that on the rare occasions when a character strikes him as dubious or shady, he reacts not with anger but with a kind of gentle sadness. And so his madness is really quite innocuous, and his older brother, who as his legal guardian looks in on him every now and then, prefers to let him live contentedly and without closer supervision wherever he likes.” “So, then,” said Severin, “your story of this apparition would make a perfect addition to Wagner’s Book of Ghosts, inasmuch as once your imagination has done its best, the anticlimactic explanation that the whole thing had an entirely natural cause comes creeping in as slowly and tediously as molasses, exactly as it does in every hackneyed story in that most prosaic of all books.” “If you are interested only in ghosts,” replied Marcellus, “then you are well within your rights to be disappointed, but for all that I maintain that my madman, with whom I am now on the best footing in the world, is an extremely interesting apparition, and the only thing I don’t quite like about him is that he is beginning to entertain certain other idées fixes--for example, that he was crowned the king of Amboina and then taken captive, and that for the past fifty years he has been kept on show for money as a bird of paradise. This is the sort of thing being insane rather than merely mad can lead to. I remember a certain person who in the calm placidity of madness rose every night thinking he was the moon, but no sooner did insanity take hold of him than he wanted to rise every day like the sun as well.” “You people astonish me!” cried Alexander: “What kind of talk is this to be engaging in here in the midst of all these thousands of elegantly attired men and women enjoying the holiday by the light of a bright, unclouded sun? All the same, I cannot help feeling short-changed by the fact that you and I, Marcellus, have yet to be regaled by any ghastly tale from Severin, who looks so pensive and ashen-faced that I will wager that in these past few days he has lived through something much more horrifying than we have.” “As a matter of fact,” said Severin, “I have not seen any ghosts, but I have been approached so nearly by the mysterious, uncanny power of the great beyond as to feel the painful hold of the shackles by which you and I and all of us are bound to it.” “Was I not just thinking,” said Alexander to Marcellus, “that Severin’s unique cast of mind is bound to descry its foundation in anything even slightly peculiar?” “I assure you,” replied Marcellus, “that we are about to hear something truly fabulous,” whereupon Severin remarked, “Alexander’s deceased aunt took stomach tonic; the mysterious Secretary Nettelmann, for that is the name of the madman–whom I have known personally for years—descried Marcellus’s friendly disposition to him in a glass of water; and now I am being permitted to make mention of a curious intimation that came into my life in the form of a fragrance of flowers. You know that I live on the outskirts of the zoological garden, near the gamekeeper royal. On the very day of my arrival--”—at this moment Severin was interrupted by an exceedingly well-dressed elderly gentleman who politely asked him to move his chair forward just far enough to allow passage through. Severin stood up and with a friendly salutation the old man conducted an elderly lady, who seemed to be his wife, past the table; they were followed by a boy of about twelve years of age. Severin was just on the point of sitting back down, when Alexander softly cried out, “Wait a minute: that young woman there also seems to be a member of the family!” The friends now took in the sight of a wondrously beauteous feminine figure moving towards them with a halting, tentative gait, and keeping her head turned away from them all the while. She seemed to be looking for somebody, somebody she had just seen passing by. Immediately thereafter, a young man sidled up to her from out of the crowd and pressed into her hand a slip of paper, which she immediately secreted in her bosom. Meanwhile, the old man had taken possession of a nearby table that had just been vacated, and having detained the fugitive waiter by catching hold of the skirt of his jacket, he was in the midst of expounding to the young man an extensive list of things he should bring back to them from the kitchen; the old woman was painstakingly knocking the dust off the chairs—in short, they were making no allowances for the tardiness of their daughter, who, without taking the slightest notice of Severin’s exemplary civility in continuing to stand beside his shoved-back chair all the while, now hastened to join the rest of the family. She seated herself in such a fashion that, in spite of the exceedingly deep brim of her straw bonnet, the friends could gaze directly into her wondrously lovely face and darkly yearning eyes. Her entire being, her every movement, was imbued with infinite grace and charm; she was dressed very tastefully in the latest fashion--almost too elegantly for a promenade, in fact; and yet it was impossible to ascribe to her any trace of the preciousness so typical of well-attired young women. Her mother saluted a lady who was sitting some distance away; the two of them rose and approached each other in order to converse; meanwhile the old man stepped up to the lantern and lit his pipe. The girl took advantage of this moment to withdraw the slip of paper from her bosom and read it. Then the friends saw the blood rise into her face, saw great big pearl-shaped tears well up in her lovely eyes, saw her bosom rhythmically heaving in trepidation. She tore the tiny paper into a hundred tiny pieces and then slowly, one at a time--as though attaching to each of them some hope she found difficult to relinquish--she abandoned the scraps to the wind. The two oldsters returned. The father gave the girl a cutting look aimed directly at her tear-reddened eyes and then appeared to ask her, “What ever is the matter with you?” The girl uttered a few gently plaintive words that the friends could not make out at all; then she pulled out a handkerchief and held it up to her cheek, which suggested that she wished it to be believed that she was genuinely suffering from an actual toothache. In the light of this it struck the friends as especially strange that the old man, who on the whole had a rather exaggeratedly ironic physiognomy, now began pulling all manner of ridiculous faces and laughing uproariously. Not one of the friends, Alexander, Marcellus, or Severin, had so far spoken a word; rather, they had all kept their eyes silently fixed on the winsome child, who seemed to be undergoing some kind of extremely painful experience. Then the boy also took a seat, and the girl shifted her position at the table so that her back was turned to the friends. Now the spell was broken, and Alexander stood up, tapped Severin gently on the shoulder, and said to him, “Ah, Severin, my friend, where is your story about the intimation in the form of a scent of flowers? Where is the mysterious Secretary Nettelmann, or my blessed late aunt; what has become of all our profound conversations? Ah, more to the point, what is the nature of this apparition that has just now manifested itself to all of us, and that still keeps our tongues in bondage and our eyes transfixed?” “I will say this much,” said Marcellus through a muffled sigh: “that that girl is the most winsome, the most wondrously, nobly beautiful angel’s child that I have seen in all my life.” “Ah,” chimed in Severin, while heaving an even deeper and more dolorous sigh, “ah, and to think that such a divine being is trapped within the petty confines of earthly affliction and patiently enduring her confinement!” “Perhaps,” said Marcellus, at this very moment she is inwardly being manhandled by the rough fist of adversity!” “I, too, am of that opinion,” seconded Alexander, “and nothing would cheer me up or satisfy me more than to give that big, lily-livered lummox who slipped her that fatal note a good, solid cudgeling. Without question the man was her long pined-for sweetheart, who being too much of a coward to barge unceremoniously into a family gathering, elected to convey his petty jealousy, or whatever other moronic form of amorous spite it was, in writing.” “But Alexander,” Marcellus impatiently interrupted him, “how can you possibly be such a tyro in the study of human nature as to draw such wretchedly erroneous conclusions from what you have just observed? Your cudgel blows would only encounter the admittedly invitingly ample backside of an utterly innocent and harmless messenger. Could you really not infer from his vacuously smiling face—could you really not perceive on the evidence of his entire bearing, indeed his very gait—that the young man was merely the bearer and not the writer of the letter? A person can act as he wishes, he can pour forth his own verbiage in his own name as long as he likes, but ultimately the contents of his thoughts will be legible on his face! At all events the face is invariably the abstract or table of contents by which the official report is prefixed, and in which the business of that report must be announced. And in this case it must have been a report shot through with the most hopeless and palpably unmistakable irony, for why else would anyone deliver a note to an inamorata in the abjectly stooping posture just now adopted by that young man? It seems certain that the girl is unable or forbidden to see her mysterious lover, and that she was hoping to run into him here at the garden. But he was unavoidably prevented from showing up, or perhaps, as Alexander conjectured, some spiteful amorous motive kept him away. He had a friend of his deliver the letter. But no matter what occasioned it, the scene has broken my heart.” “Ah, Marcellus, my friend,” broke in Severin, “do you really attribute to such a banal, humdrum cause the profoundly heartrending agony the poor girl felt as she read that letter? No! She harbors a secret love—perhaps a love that goes against the grain of her father’s plans for her; all her hope was staked on a single event that was supposed to occur today, and that would have decisively tipped the balance in favor of this love today. It’s all over now; the star of hope has set; all possibility of happiness in life has been laid to rest! You all clearly saw with what a heart-penetrating look of absolutely inconsolable melancholy the girl picked the fateful letter into a hundred pieces and scattered them to the four winds, as Ophelia did to the various species of dried flowers, and Emilia Galotti the rose? Ah! I would have been fain to weep veritable tears of blood as the wind in seeming scoffing derision curled and twisted the lethal words away in its airy undulations! Is there really no consolation on earth for this sweet and winsome child of heaven?” “Now Severin,” cried Alexander, “once again you are really getting carried away. The tragedy is over! Enough! Enough! Let us concede that this winsome girl’s share of hope and good prospects in life has survived undepleted, and indeed I believe she has already stopped pining, for she looks quite calm and composed. Just look at how solicitously she is laying out her new white gloves on the white tablecloth, and at how complacently she is dunking a piece of cake in her teacup—just look at how genially she is nodding at the old man as he pours her a few drops from his rum-flask into that cup–the young fellow is biting with rascally enthusiasm into that large piece of buttered bread—Plop!—the bread lands in the girl’s tea, which splashes the boy in the face; the old people are laughing—look, look at how the girl is positively shuddering with laughter.” “Ah,” exclaimed Severin, interrupting Alexander’s observations, “that is precisely what is so appalling about the whole scene—that the poor girl must hide her profound and destructive inner pain under life’s tawdry veil of good humor.” “Please, Severin,” said Marcellus, “do be quiet, for if we allow ourselves to get emotionally worked up about this, we will never be able to part from the sight of the girl, which will only be the ruin of all of us.” Alexander warmly seconded Marcellus’s expostulation, and the friends now tried as hard as they could to initiate a cheerful, carefree conversation heedlessly jumping from topic to topic. And they actually succeeded in doing this to the point where amid much hullabaloo the most trivial subjects were broached and found infinitely interesting. And yet everything that each of them said had such a thoroughly peculiar color, such a thoroughly peculiar tone that was never appropriate to the matter at hand, that it was as if they were all speaking in some sort of code in which every word had a completely different meaning from its conventional one. They decided to celebrate this glorious day of reunion with a bowl of cold punch, and by the third glass they were already weeping and falling into one another’s arms. The girl stood up, walked to the fence separating the grass from the water, and leaning over the fence, gazed up at the clouds drifting by. “Poor clouds, sailors of the skies!” began Marcellus in a sweetly plaintive tone, but Severin threw down his glass, knocked it brusquely over on to the table, and told of a battlefield that he had once wandered through by the clear light of the full moon and of how the pale corpses had stared up at him with eyes sparkling exactly like those of living people. “God forbid and forfend whatever has gotten hold of you, brother!” cried Alexander.– The girl sat back down at the table; with a start the three friends jumped up and engaged in a kind of footrace to the fence; but by means of a daring leap over two chairs Alexander managed to beat Sevein and Marcellus to the goal and began leaning against the fence at precisely the same spot at which the girl had been stationed; and he tenaciously held his place there, despite the united efforts of the other two—Marcellus’s at one shoulder and Severin’s at the other--to tear him away from it under the pretext of offering him a brotherly hug. Now Severin said a few solemn and mystical words on the clouds and the drifting thereof, and then more loudly than was really necessary, he descanted on the various likenesses to terrestrial objects that they were assuming; Marcellus, without paying any attention to him, compared Bellevue Palace to a Roman villa and said that despite having come home by way of France and Switzerland, he still found that there was something luxuriantly rich and romantic about this barren tract of land with its numerous powder magazines bristling with gallows-like lightning rods, which he termed ships’ masts festooned with sparkling stars. Alexander followed his bliss by praising the loveliness of the evening and the charm of their temporary residence in Weber’s tent. The family seemed to be on the point of leaving, because the old man was emptying his pipe, the wife was packing up her knitting paraphernalia, and the boy was looking for and crying after his cap, which was promptly and dutifully retrieved for him by their good-natured pet poodle, which had been toying with it for some time previous. The friends became more subdued, almost bashful; the family saluted them amiably, whereupon they started back more violently than was really necessary, bowing their heads as they did so and thereby producing a clearly audible cracking sound. By the time the friends began to register their surprise at its impending departure, the family had already left. Now they slunk back in surly silence to their punch, which they found wretchedly insipid. The richly imagistic clouds dissolved into a shapeless haze; Bellevue Palace was transformed back into plain Bellevue Palace; every powder magazine back into a powder magazine, and Weber’s tent back into an ordinary al fresco tavern. Moreover, because by now there were hardly any other people left, an unpleasantly chill breeze had the liberty of the tent’s vicinity, and it became impossible even to keep a pipe properly lit; the friends slunk along in their conversation, a conversation that like a dying candle only every now and then blazed back into light. By and by, Severin took his leave of the other two and headed for his house elsewhere within the garden; and then, turning off into the Friedrichstrasse, Marcellus left Alexander to make his solitary way to the remote suburban house of his late aunt. It was precisely on account of this mutual remoteness of their abodes that the friends had selected a public spot in the city for a reunion which they planned to repeat indefinitely at stated hours of certain days. And so they did, but after the first Whitsun meeting they came more for the sake of keeping their words than of gratifying some profound inner urge. In vain were all their efforts to rediscover the intimate, easygoing tone that had formerly prevailed whenever they were together. It was as though each of them carried in his heart something which put a damper on all merriment, all liberty of sentiment and action, and which he was obliged to hold in safekeeping like some grim and baneful mystery. Not many weeks into their calendar of meetings, Severin was suddenly nowhere to be found in Berlin. Shortly thereafter Alexander quasi-despairingly complained to Marcellus that he had been denied his request to have his leave of absence extended and that very soon, even before the estate had been formally signed over to him, he would have to hit the road and leave behind his magnificent and comfortable domicile. “But Alexander,” asked Marcellus, “I seem to remember that you found your abode quite spookily unabidable; aren’t you glad to be getting back out into the open air?--and what about that old ghost of your late aunt?” “Ohhh,” Alexander petulantly growled, “it’s been ages since she haunted the place. I can assure you that I have a proper hankering for domestic tranquility, and probably very soon I shall be tendering my resignation in order to pursue my meditations on art and literature undisturbed.” In any event, a few days later Alexander was indeed obliged to leave town. Soon thereafter war broke out again, and Marcellus, instead of being allowed to realize the plans he had already made, was drafted back into the army, and compelled to set off for his regiment. And so once again the friends were parted from one another--this before they had even once reunited in the proper sense of the word.
Two years later, on the second day of Pentecost as it happened, Marcellus, who had left the army again and come back to Berlin, was leaning over the fence at Weber's tent and indulging in an assortment of thoughts as he gazed down into the Spree. Somebody tapped him gently on the shoulder, and when he looked up he beheld Alexander and Severin standing before him. “So this is how one must go about tracking down one’s old friends,” cried Alexander as he embraced Marcellus with truly heartfelt joy; then he resumed speaking thus: “The thought that I might meet up with the two of you again today was the furthest thing from my mind; for the sake of a piece of business, I took a meandering shortcut through the linden trees here in the park; as I am walking, a familiar figure crosses my path; I can’t believe my eyes—but yes, it is indeed Severin! I call out his name; he turns around; his jubilation is the same as mine; I invite him to accompany me to my domicile; he peremptorily turns down my invitation, because, he says, an irresistible urge is goading him onwards to Weber's tent. What else can I do but cast aside all attention to business and join him in his march to the tent forthwith? His intuition did not deceive him; he knew in his heart that you would be here.” “In point of fact,” chimed in Severin, “in my soul’s eye I could quite distinctly perceive that I would inevitably encounter both you and Alexander here, and I could not bear to wait for this joyous reunion.” The friends embraced one another anew. “Doesn’t it seem to you, Alexander,” said Marcellus, “that Severin’s sickly pallor has quite vanished, and that his unfurrowed brow no longer bears a trace of those gloomy, baleful cloud-shadows that darkened it of old?” “And I,” rejoined Severin, “should like to make the very same observation about your brow, my dear Marcellus. For the last time I saw you, you did not look as ill as me-- and I really was ill in body and spirit--and yet your peculiar splenetic temperament reigned within you so absolutely and peremptorily that your youthful, good-natured face had fairly been transmogrified into that of a peevish old man. I believe the two of us have passed through purgatory, and that ultimately even Alexander has as well. Had he not also basically lost all trace of good cheer, and wasn’t his face perpetually contracted into that cursed expression one gets while swallowing a dose of medicine, a face in which one could virtually read the phrase ‘Take one tablespoonful every hour’? Perhaps his late aunt was really properly terrorizing him, or, perhaps, as I am inclined to believe, he was plagued by an entirely different worry, but in any event, he is now resurrected like the rest of us.” “You are quite right,” chimed in Marcellus, “but the longer I behold this fellow, the more apparent it becomes to me that there is little that money and property cannot accomplish on this earth. Has the man ever had such ruddy cheeks, such a chubby, orotund chin? Does he not fairly glow with contentedness? Don’t these adorably pursed lips of his fairly proclaim, ‘The roast beef was exquisite, and the burgundy of the choicest vintage’? Severin laughed. “Observe,” Marcellus continued, while grabbing Alexander by both arms and gently spinning him round, “observe if you please the super-fine fabric of this tailcoat in the modern style, the dazzlingly white, neatly pleated linen of this shirt, this sumptuous watch-chain with its seven hundred gold signets! Now tell me, my lad, how ever did you attain this extremity of elegance that is utterly foreign to the Alexander of old? Lord knows; I quite believe that this exuberant individual-- of whom we used to say, as Falstaff did of Justice Shallow, that you might have thrust him into an eel-skin--is starting to become downright rotund all around. Tell me, what ever has happened to you?” “Well,” rejoined Alexander, as his face flushed a gentle shade of red, “well, what has happened is something even more astonishing than the change in my physique. A year ago I quit his majesty’s civil service, and I have been living with great gaiety and good cheer ever since.” “Truth be told,” began Severin, who had not been paying much attention to Marcellus, but rather standing with a pensive expression on his face, “truth be told, we have all most ungraciously let one other slip from view, in a manner quite unbecoming among old friends.” “And you were the most ungracious of us all,” said Alexander, “because you ran off without telling a single person you were leaving.” “Ah,” replied Severin, “back then I had fallen prey to a particularly serious attack of folly, just like you and Marcellus, because,” he suddenly faltered, and the friends instantly beheld one another with the coruscating eyes of people who have just been simultaneously struck by the same thought, as if by a jolt of electricity. And before Severin had even completely finished speaking, the thought was transformed into an act, namely that of the friends’ striding forward arm in arm until they were standing before the very table at which two Whitsuntides earlier had sat that beautiful and winsome child of heaven who had driven them all out of their minds. Here, here was where she sat their gazes all seemed to proclaim; it was as if she was about to sit down at the exact same place; Alexander scooted all the chairs back, but she passed silently by, and Alexander had a setting placed at the exact spot where she had sat. Even after their coffee had arrived, not one of them spoke a word; of the three of them Alexander seemed the most apprehensive. Their waiter was standing tableside in silent expectation of payment; he rubbed his hands together, he cleared his throat; at length he inquiringly muttered: “Perhaps, sirs, you would like to order some rum?” Whereupon the friends all exchanged looks with one another and suddenly burst into an inordinately raucous round of laughter. “Good Lord, what ever is the matter with these people?” cried the waiter in consternation while leaping backwards two paces. Alexander pacified the terrified man with cash, and after he had resumed his seat, Severin began speaking thus: “In mime-like silence, all three of us have enacted what I was about to expatiate upon in words earlier, and the heartfelt laughter that just poured out of us afforded not merely much necessarily physical relief but also a highly satisfying conclusion to the performance! Two years ago today we were subject to the onset of a spectacular case of folly; now we are ashamed and totally cured of it.” “In point of fact,” said Marcellus, “that admittedly wonderfully pretty young woman had driven us all quite serviceably crazy.” “Wonderfully pretty, indeed, wonderfully pretty,” smiled Alexander cozily. “And yet,” he continued, “in a somewhat anxiety-choked voice, “you maintain that all of us fell prey to this folly--in other words that all of us were formerly head-over-heels in love with this girl we had never seen before, but suppose this young woman, looking no less lovely, no less charming than she did last time, were to reappear here at this very moment, and take her seat at that place we have set aside for her—would we all not fall just as madly in love with her all over again?” Severin was the first to reply. “I can,” he said, “at least vouch for myself, for I have been cured only in the most relapse-prone, touch-and-go sense.” “I,” said Marcellus, “have fared no better, for nobody in the world can ever have been more madly mystified than I became upon closer acquaintance with that incomparable lady.” “Incomparable lady; closer acquaintance!” Alexander interruptively echoed with great vehemence. “Why, yes,” resumed Marcellus, “for I cannot deny that my adventure here—and I am scarcely exaggerating when I term it an adventure—proved to be the preface to a brief, single-volume novel or single-act farce.” “Then I fared better than you,” said Severin, “for if, my dear Marcellus, your novel swelled an entire volume, your farce an entire act, my adventure was only long enough to fill out a duodecimo pocket-book, or a single-scene script.” Alexander’s face had turned beet-red; his brow was covered in beads of sweat; his breathing was rapid and labored; he was running his fingers through the generously proportioned curls of his wig; in short, despite all his obvious efforts to do so, he was failing so miserably to conceal the symptoms of the most violent inner turmoil, that Marcellus asked him, “Do tell me brother, what ever is the matter? What has come over you?” “What else could it be,” said Severin with a laugh, “but that he is still head over heels in love with the lady whom we have renounced, and does not trust us, or worse yet, thinks our novels had a happy ending and has suddenly become jealous without having the faintest cause for feeling so, for I for one at least have received nothing but the most beastly mistreatment at her hands.” “And so have I, in a certain sense,” said Marcellus, “and I swear to you, Alexander, that the spark that fell into my soul back then is now completely extinguished past any possibility of flaring up ever again, so you may safely love the lady to your heart’s content.” “You have my permission too,” added Severin. Alexander, whose good cheer was by now fully restored, gave a hearty laugh as he said, “In a certain sense your inference about me is correct, but in another sense you couldn’t be more wrong. So just listen up: I cannot deny that as I was reminiscing about that fateful afternoon, that winsome young woman in all her wondrous allure appeared before me in such a lifelike form that I believed that I could hear her charming voice, that I could take hold of her tender, alabaster-white hand, which she was stretching out to me. At that moment I felt as though I could never love anybody but her with the full force of the highest, the most ardently intimate degree of passion, as though I could never be happy but in her possession–all the while knowing that this could spell nothing but unhappiness and grave misfortune.” “How so? Why?” exclaimed Marcellus and Severin with great eagerness. “Because,” replied Alexander nonchalantly, “because I had and have been married for a whole year!” “You? married? for a year?” cried his two friends, clapping their hands and bursting into resonant peals of laughter. “Who is your better half?--is she beautiful? rich? poor? young? old? how? where? when? what?” “Please, I beg you both,” Alexander sheepishly continued as he rested his left hand on the table, picked up his spoon with his right—on whose little finger, beside a Chrysopras stone, gleamed his wedding ring—and, peering deep into the cup all the while, stirred his coffee. “I beg you both, spare me all questions, and please be ever so kind as to relate to me the particulars of each of your adventures with the lady.” “Hey, hey, brother,” said Marcellus: “my guess is that you’ve landed yourself a proper shrew. Perhaps the Devil even saw fit to saddle you with Falter’s goldenrod mandrake--” “--If you have any love for me at all,” broke in Alexander, “stop torturing me with questions and recite your novel to me instead.” “So what does your late aunt with her stomach tonic drops have to say about that?” “She is perfectly satisfied with me,” said Alexander in a completely serious tone, “but,” he continued, “if you don’t wish to embitter the hour of our reunion for ever, if you don’t wish to force me to forsake your company, please stop asking these questions and tell me your story.”
Alexander’s friends were thoroughly mystified by his behavior, but they also fully perceived that they had deeply wounded him and that he would not put up with a jot more of their teasing, and so without further ado Marcellus launched into the requested novel-recitation, as follows.
‘It has already been established that two years ago today a gorgeous young woman drove all three of us out of our minds, and that we behaved like young love-smitten cowards and were unable to break free of the madness by which had been ensnared. Night and day, whether I was walking or standing still, the figure of the young girl haunted me; she gazed up at me from the surface of the president’s writing desk and threw my well-studied speeches into confusion, so that people began asking me with sympathetic concern if I was quite sure I had recovered from my head injury. To see her again was my sole aim and the sole impetus of my indefatigable striving. I ran through the streets like a postman, peeked into the front window of every fashionable family in town—but in vain, in vain. Every afternoon I would come here to the zoological garden, to Weber’s tent--” “—Me too! Me too!” cried Severin and Alexander. “And I saw you both, but I but took great care to avoid you.” “We did exactly the same thing,” cried his friends; then all three of them, in a tutti, “O what asses we are!” “All, all was for naught,” resumed Marcellus, “but I enjoyed no rest, no repose. It was precisely my conviction that she was already in love--that I was going to expire in hopeless agony if I drew any nearer to her, that I would then behold with my own eyes my own misfortune, namely her inconsolable woe over the loss of her lover, her longing, her constancy—it was this very conviction, I say, that first truly ignited the fire within me. I recalled Severin’s interpretation, here in the garden, of her situation as a tragedy, and as I lavishly shouldered the girl with every possible kind of amorous ill fortune and unhappiness, I necessarily remained even unhappier than the girl herself. Throughout my sleepless nights, indeed, even in the course of my diurnal promenades, I elaborated a novel with the strangest and most intricately involved plot, a novel whose principal characters naturally were the unknown girl, her lover, and me. I found myself surprisingly convincing and engaging as a resignedly lovelorn hero! As I said, I cross-hatched the entire city of Berlin with my feet in the hope of once again seeing this girl who had taken possession of my mind, of my entire psyche. So anyway, one fine morning--I suppose it actually could have been past noon-- I happened to turn into Neue Grünstraße, and as I’m wandering distractedly along it, my path is suddenly crossed by a sprucely attired young man who politely tips his hat to me and asks me if I know where Privy Councillor Asling lives. I tell him that I don’t, and yet the name Asling rings a bell. Asling—Asling! All of a sudden I am struck by the heart-sinking realization that in my total absorption in my novelistic affair of the heart, I have forgotten about a letter that Privy Councillor Asling’s nephew, while lying covered in bedsores in a hospital in Deutz, gave me and implored me most pressingly to deliver in person to his uncle. I resolve to tender an apology for the inexcusable postponement of the fulfillment of my commission, and upon seeing that the young man, having been set on the right path by a manservant from the nearest shop, is now entering the respectable-looking house directly in front of me, I follow him into it. The butler leads me into the antechamber and asks me to wait a moment as the privy councillor is just then speaking with a gentleman from out of town. He leaves me to my own company; I contemplate the large copperplate engravings on the walls; then the door opens behind me; I turn round and behold—her!—the girl herself, the child of heaven from the zoological garden. I can hardly describe to you now how I felt at that moment, but it is at least certain that all power of breathing deserted me—that I could not utter a single word, that I believed I was about to fall down lifeless at the lovely creature’s feet.” “Ah, ah!” cried Alexander somewhat sheepishly: “why then you must have been very sorely in love indeed, brother!” “At any rate,” Marcellus continued, “the emotion of superlatively delirious love could not have exerted a more violent effect than it was exerting on me at that moment.” My torpidity must have been plainly evident in the expression on my face, in my entire posture, for Pauline gazed at me in visible astonishment, and as I was failing to utter a single syllable, she could not but have inferred from my behavior that I was either a natural imbecile or a completely unpolished yokel; at length a gently ironic smile flitted across her face, and she asked: “You are waiting for my father, I trust?” In a sudden rush of self-embarrassment, I snapped back into full consciousness. I summoned up all my strength to pull myself together; making a polite bow, I announced my name and described my commission, the delivery of the letter to the privy councillor. Whereupon Pauline cried loudly and joyously, “O good Lord, good Lord, news of my cousin! You were with him; you spoke to him? I don’t trust his letters; he is always writing of a complete recovery—please do tell me the worst and most aggrieving news you have of him at once. Is it not true that the poor man will be crippled for life?” I assured her, as I was within my rights to do, that her cousin was by no means in danger of being crippled for life, for although the bullet wound had almost shattered his kneecap, and his condition had indeed been quite critical for a time, such that there had even been talk of amputating his leg, by now not only was all danger long since past, but the young man was as strong and active as he had been before the battle, and although for the next few months he would be obliged to get around on crutches, it would probably not be long before he could cast them aside for good. Once I had grown accustomed to the sight of Pauline, to her enchanting proximity, emboldened as I was by the relation of all these particulars, I managed to append to my report on her cousin’s wound a narrative of the battle in which he and I had been involved while serving in the same battalion, and in which he had received the wound. You are of course well aware that in a state of such exaltation a man is capable of the most lifelike and richly colorful description of scenes and events; that indeed he often ends up rather overindulging in that emphatic style that never fails to exert an irresistible effect on young girls. Hence you may be sure that I spoke much less about the placement of troops, about the highly strategic planning of maneuvers, about masked attacks—i.e., covert ambushes of batteries—about the debouching and progressing of masses of cavalry, etc., than about the tiny, heart-and-soul-gripping details that figure so numerously and prominently on the battlefield. I must confess that in the telling many events that I hardly ever paid any mind to now assumed a powerful aura of the fantastic and the pathetic, causing Pauline to turn pale with shock and terror one moment, and the next to smile mildly and tenderly through the tears that stood in her eyes. “Ah,” she said at length, during a momentary pause in my narration, “you were standing there so motionless, so deeply immersed in thought, when I came in; without a doubt this battle-scene was then awakening in your mind some exceedingly dolorous reminiscence. These words of Pauline’s passed through my soul of souls like an incandescent arrow; I could not but have flushed a violent crimson at the sound of them. “When you came in,” I said, through a sigh that was probably downright piteous, “I was actually thinking of a moment that was the most blissful one of my life, even though I had just received what I believed to be a mortal wound.” “And yet has it not completely healed?” queried Pauline in a tone of the deepest commiseration; “why, you must have been struck by a malicious bullet immediately upon learning our side had won its most glorious victory of the war.” I was feeling like a bit of fool, but I repressed this feeling, and without looking up, and indeed while gazing straight at the floor like a guilty schoolboy, I said very gently and softly, “At that moment I had already enjoyed the good the fortune of beholding you, mademoiselle!” Now the conversation took an edifying turn, as Pauline began, “I confess that in point of fact I had not the faintest notion that—” “—It was only a few days ago—a spring breeze of incomparable majesty was wafting through Berlin; I was celebrating the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit with my most intimate friends after a long period of mutual separation.” “That must have been quite nice!” “I saw you, mademoiselle!” “Did you really? Ah, that was surely in the zoological garden!” “On the second day of Pentecost, in Weber’s tent!” “Yes, yes, exactly; I was there with father and mother! There were lots of people, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but I didn’t see you there at all!” My earlier awkwardness returned with a vengeance, and I was on the point of committing a verbal gaffe worthy of its egregiousness when in walked the privy councillor, to whom Pauline joyfully announced that I had brought some letters from her cousin. The old man jubilantly exclaimed, “What? Letters from Leopold! Is he alive? How is his wound doing? How soon will he be able to travel?” And with that he grabbed me by one of my lapels and dragged me into his study. Pauline followed; he called for breakfast; he continued uninterruptedly bombarding me with questions. To be brief!: I had to stay there for two whole hours, and when, in a state of ever-mounting trepidation (for Pauline had been sitting right next to me and gazing into my eyes with childlike ingenuousness all the while) I finally managed to tear myself free, the old man gave me a hearty embrace and invited me to drop in as often as I wished—especially at teatime. So I now found myself in a situation quite familiar to me from combat on the battlefield, namely that of being suddenly and unexpectedly under fire. If I were now to attempt to describe to you the torments I then suffered, as some ineluctable enchantment impelled me repeatedly to rush into that house that seemed so baleful to me even at the time; how time and again I would irresistibly turn the front-door handle and dash inside, how I incessantly circled and plunged into the house like that proverbial summer bird round and through the illuminating flame that he knows is destined to consume him—you would assuredly laugh, for you are indeed expecting me to tell you that I fell into some of sort severely mystical trance during this period. Virtually every evening, when I called on the privy councillor I found a rather sizable company in attendance, and I must confess that I never felt more at home anywhere than at those gatherings; this despite the fact that all the while my tutelary demon was digging me in the ribs, so to speak, and shrieking into my ears: “Make no doubt about it: your love is cursed, and your case is hopeless!” – On each occasion I came to the house more deeply in love and more sorely cursed. From Pauline’s ingenuous demeanor I soon gathered that hers could not be a case of ill-starred love, and many a hint dropped by many a guest made it manifestly clear that she was betrothed and would soon be married. In general the privy councillor’s circle of guests was pervaded by a thoroughly delightful mood of genial merriment, a mood that the councillor himself, a man of great joviality and ebullience, was expert at igniting with the most unceremonious ease. There often seemed to be matter of great mirth in the air, but perhaps because the jokes were inspired by people whom as a newcomer I had never heard of, I was incapable of understanding them or joining in the laughter. For example, I recall how very late one evening, after a long struggle with myself, I entered the house and beheld the old man and Pauline standing in a corner within a circle of young women. The old man was reading something to the others, and as soon as he had finished they all erupted into uproarious laughter. To my bafflement he had in his hand a large, white nightcap adorned with a colossal bouquet of carnations, and every so often after saying a few words he would don this nightcap and nod in a curious fashion this way and that, whereupon everybody would once again burst into immoderate laughter. “The Devil take it! The Devil take it!” Severin now suddenly cried out, while smiting himself violently on the forehead. “What’s the matter, dear sir? What’s the matter, dear brother?” asked his friends in genuine concern. “Nothing, nothing of the slightest importance; just keep talking, dear brother. We’ll discuss it later, later! For now, go on with your story.” After Severin had uttered this reply, which he had not failed to season with a bitter chuckle, Marcellus resumed his tale thus: “Whether it was owing to my camaradeship with his nephew, or to the peculiar aura imparted to my bearing and conversation by my perpetual exaltation, the old man very soon embosomed me as a friend and confidant; but I would have had to be as blind as a bat not to notice that Pauline had set me quite apart from the other young men in her orbit.” “Really? Really?” queried Alexander in a sorrowful tone. “In point of fact this was the case,” continued Marcellus, “and I was thereby obviously compelled to make overtures to her, for like any other perceptive young woman, she could not have lacked the finesse to discern in my every word and deed the strains of a full-score hymn to her wondrous charms, the rites of a cult utterly devoted to the adoration of her being, a being enfolded in a love of unsurpassed ardency. Without my even noticing it she would often leave her hand held in mine for minutes on end and reciprocate its gentle pressure; nay, once when the girls were beginning to whirl around to the strains of an old concert grand piano in an access of gaiety and high spirits, she flew into my arms, and I felt her sultry bosom heaving against my breast and her sweet, love-infused breath wafting across my cheeks—I was quite beside myself with passion!—my lips caught fire—I had kissed her!” “By thunder!,” Alexander now cried out as he leapt to his feet like a maniac and pounded either side of his forehead with his fists. “Shame on you, shame on you! You’re a married man,” said Severin, as he shoved Alexander back into his chair: “and yet I’ll be damned if you’re not still in love with Pauline. Shame on you, and get back under your yoke, you wretched husband.” “Go on, go on,” said Alexander resignedly: “there are plenty of lovely things still to come; I’m quite sure of that.” “You can all well imagine,” Marcellus continued, “my state of mind in the wake of everything I just recounted. I was, or so I fancied, riven by a thousand torments; I keyed myself up for the most audacious act of heroism; I wanted to drain the entire brimful goblet of baleful poison in one go and then retire thousands of miles away from my beloved to breathe out my last breath. In other words, I wanted to confess my love to her and then shun her—at least until the day of her marriage, when I would be able to do what I had read of in so many books, namely watch the wedding ceremony while standing half-hidden behind a pillar until the uttering of the fatal “I do,” and then noisily faint dead away on to the floor of the church, have myself carried outside by a couple of compassionate citizens, etc. Being utterly smitten with this idea as I was, one fine day I deliriously ran to the privy councillor’s house much earlier than usual. I find Pauline alone in his office; before she even manages to be startled at my distracted bearing, I throw myself at her feet, seize her hand, clasp it to my breast—I confess to her that I am genuinely furiously in love with her, and that I now regard myself as the most unfortunate of men, a man doomed to die the bitterest of deaths, inasmuch as she could never be mine, inasmuch as she had already bequeathed her heart and hand to my fortunate predecessor and rival. Pauline let me have my little outburst, then she lifted me to my feet, sat me down beside her on the sofa, and asked me in a movingly gentle voice, “What ever is the matter, my dear, dear Marcellus? Please do calm yourself, you are really frightening me now with this state you’re in!” I repeated everything I had already said, but this time in a much more equable, sane-sounding tone, whereupon Pauline said: “But how ever could you have gotten the idea that I am already in love, indeed, that I am already engaged to marry somebody? Nothing could be further from the truth than either one, I assure you!” Whereupon I maintained in defiance of her assertion that I had been firmly convinced she was in love from the very first instant I saw her, and she ever more insistently pressed me to explain what I could possibly mean by this, and so I ended up quite guilelessly telling her the entire story of that famous Whitsun afternoon of ours in Weber’s tent. No sooner did I finish, than Pauline leapt to her feet and gamboled about the room while exclaiming through peals of uproarious laughter, “No, this is too much!—no, a crazy dream like that, a crazy idea like that—it’s really too much!” I remained seated in a state of utter perplexity; Pauline sat back down beside me on the couch, seized both my hands, and shook them violently as one does when trying to awaken a stubbornly sound sleeper. “Now listen very carefully to what I am about to say,” she began, while barely succeeding in suppressing her laughter: “the young man whom you took to be my lover’s emissary was in fact a servant from the shop of Mr. Bramigk, the milliner; the slip of paper he handed me bore a message written by Mr. Bramigk himself. Mr. Bramigk, the kindest and most complaisant man in the world, had promised to order me an exquisitely lovely Parisian hat whose pattern I had seen, and to notify me promptly of its arrival. I wanted to have it by the day right after you saw me at Weber’s, for a singing tea—you know what that is, don’t you?: it’s one of those soirees where everybody drinks tea for the privilege of singing and sings for the privilege of drinking tea—so, anyway, at this singing tea I was planning to don the hat. The hat had in fact arrived, but owing to negligent packaging by the sender, it was so badly damaged that it would have to be completely resewn before I could wear it. That was the baleful piece of news that wrung from my eyes those tears you saw. I tried very hard to conceal them from my father, but he quickly rooted out the cause of my sorrow and teased me mercilessly. Of course, you yourself noticed some time ago that on such occasions I am in the habit of pressing my handkerchief to my cheek.” Pauline burst into a new round of laughter, while I felt an ice-cold chill coursing through the very marrow of my limbs; the chill was succeeded by an equally intense and penetrating deluge of heat; I felt as though from the very core of my soul I was crying out, “You fatuous, vacuous, revolting little hat-fetishist!”
“Hey now: you are being incredibly rude, and untruthful to boot,” broke in Alexander, who was visibly incensed; “but go on!” he added quite equanimously. And Marcellus continued thus: “I cannot describe to you how I felt at that moment. I had just awoken from a dream in which I had been made perpetual sport of by a malevolent spirit; I knew that I had never loved Pauline, and that the specter that had run me madly ragged in every which direction was nothing but an empty-headed will o’ the wisp. I was scarcely capable of uttering a single word; I was trembling from head to toe thanks to my intense vexation, and when Pauline asked me what was ailing me, I excused myself under the pretext that I was suffering a sudden attack of nausea that was so violent that I feared I would be unable to contain its aftereffects, and I ran out of the house like a rabbit being pursued by a pack of hounds.
As I was crossing the Gensd’armesplatz, I saw that a company of volunteer soldiers was assembling in preparation for decampment from the city, and it was immediately clear to me what I should do if I wished to assuage my fury and forget the whole exasperating story I had just lived through. A mere two hours later all the arrangements for my enlistment had been seen to; I then rushed home, donned my uniform, packed my knapsack, took up my bayonet and my rifled, and went to my landlady to commit the chest containing my remaining possessions into her safekeeping. As I was speaking to her, I heard a noise coming from the staircase. “Ah, they’re just bringing him down now,” said the mistress of the house as she opened the door giving on to the ground floor passageway. Whereupon I beheld three people descending the staircase—mad old Mr. Nettleman flanked by two other men. He was wearing a tall crown made of gold paper and holding a scepter consisting of a long ruler with a gilded apple impaled on it. “He has turned back into the King of Amboina,” whispered my landlady, “and in recent days he has been indulging in such mad high jinks that his brother has no choice but to commit him to the Charité Hospital.” As they were passing by us, Nettelman recognized me, smiled a proud and condescending smile at me, and said, “Now that the Bulgarians have been beaten by the commander of my armed forces, the former Captain Tellheim, I am returning to my newly pacified dominions.” Although I gave no sign of being on the point of speaking, he lifted an admonitory finger and added, “All right, all right: I know what you are about to say, my dear friend! Don’t you say a word more; I was on a friendly footing with you, and I was glad to be so! Please take this trifle as a token of my grace and affection!” With these words he produced a few cloves from his waistcoat pocket and pressed them into my hand. Now the men lifted him into the carriage that had driven up by then. As it started to roll away, my eyes welled up with tears. “May you return to our city in good health, in high spirits, and as a soldier in a victorious army,” cried my landlady as she gave me an ingenuously warm handshake. With a heart seething with manifold painful emotions, I ran off into the night and in a matter of minutes found myself safely embosomed in the midst of the decamping company and joining my comrades in a rousing round of merry battle songs.” “So, brother, are you sure that your love for Pauline was a case of pure self-deception?” asked Alexander. “As sure as I am that I am alive,” replied Marcellus, “and you need hardly be a master-scholar of human nature to realize that had I not been so deluded, I could not have undergone the change of heart that I did upon learning that I had no rival. In any event, I am now quite genuinely in love, and although I have indeed been laughing inordinately at your entrance into the matrimonial state, because as far as I am concerned—and please don’t take this the wrong way—you cut far too pipsqueakish a figure for a paterfamilias; although, I say, I have been making much sport of you as a husband, I myself hope to bring home a lovely young bride in the near future, and in a much lovelier locale than this one.” “Is that so,” cried Alexander, in unalloyed delight, “is that so? Oh my, dear, sweet, charming brother!” He embraced Marcellus with great vigor. “Behold how the fool rejoices,” said Severin, “to see another man aping his mad high jinks! For my part the very thought of marriage fills me with horror of the spookiest sort. But anyway, it’s high time for me to dish up to you the story of my own adventure with Mademoiselle Pauline for your delectation.” “Whatever sorts of designs did you have on Pauline?” Alexander peevishly inquired. “Hardly any to speak of,” replied Severin; “compared with Marcellus’s extensive narrative with its wealth of psychological aspects and perspectives, mine is just a lame, unenlightening joke. You will recall that two years ago I was in quite a peculiar state of mind. My physical sickliness at the time may very well have been responsible for it; but whatever the cause, I was completely transformed into a soulful communicant with the great beyond. I was swimming in a bottomless ocean of dreams and forebodings. I fancied that like a Persian magician I could understand the songs of the birds; in the rustling of the trees I heard voices that alternately consoled and forewarned me; I beheld my own image wandering amongst the clouds. And so it happened that one day, as I was sitting on a clump of moss in a secluded, undomesticated part of the Zoological Garden, I worked myself into a state that can only be likened to that marvelous delirium that sometimes overtakes us as we are falling asleep. I felt as though I were suddenly being pummeled in great waves from all sides by the sweet fragrance of roses, and yet I soon realized that the fragrance was actually a certain winsome creature whom I had long ago embraced with a love that was fervent and ardent yet entirely unconscious. Just as I thought I was about to behold her with my corporeal eyes, something like a large dark red carnation settled over my brow, and its scent burned that of the rose into nothing as if with searing aromatic beams, and a feeling of powerfully embittered sorrow permeated my psyche and audibly expressed itself in sonorously deep-toned musical accents. As when the evening wind grazes the strings of Aeolus’s harp with its downy pinions and thereby breaks the spell under whose auspices the harp’s notes slumber a charmed sleep deep within the soul, so this sorrow echoed through the woods, but it was not my plaint this sorrow voiced—rather, it was the sorrow of that winsome creature who, like me, had been brought to the verge of death by the baneful carnation. I defy you to tell me that the countenance in my dream was a mere copy or derivative of some deity from east Indian mythology; the rose and the carnation became a matter of life and death for me, and all the madness that I gave vent to two years ago was owing chiefly to the fact that I believed that the child of heaven whom I beheld sitting at that table over there and who had taken on the loveable form of Mademoiselle Pauline Asling was none other than the creature from my dream, that creature that had been engendered by the ethereal fragrance of roses, and whose incandescent ardor of love had laid itself bare to me unreservedly. Let me remind you that I quite flagrantly deserted the two of you on the grounds that I had to hurry home, but what really impelled me to leave was a quite distinct and definite premonition that if I left the Garden as fast as I could through the Leipzig Gate and from there headed along the Linden, I would succeed in catching up with the family, who would be either slowly strolling along the boulevard near its terminus or somewhere not far from the palace. So I dashed off and indeed beheld the family—not, to be sure, where I had been expecting to see them, but in the Breite Strasse, into which I had turned without thinking; I beheld, I say, the miraculous manifestation of my rose strolling along the pavement just ahead of me. I trailed them from a distance and thereby came to become acquainted with the abode of my beloved that very evening. You will probably laugh quite immoderately at the notion that I was expecting to smell a mysterious mingled fragrance of carnation and rose in the Grünstrasse—in the Grünstrasse of all places. But I was! Such now was the magnitude of my delusion! Moreover, I now started behaving like a love-smitten little boy who in defiance of the forestry regulations defaces the loveliest trees with intertwined names in calligraphy, who carries in his breast pocket a seven-layer parcel containing a withered petal his beloved chanced to drop, etc. And of course after the manner of all such little boys, I now began to walk by her house twelve, fifteen, twenty times a day, and, whenever she happened to be standing at the window, to gaze at her without so much as waving at her in salutation, a mode of comportment that must have struck her as rather odd. Eventually she acknowledged me, and Heaven knows how that led me to imagine that she understood me, nay, that she was conscious of the psychic effect she had exerted on me in my floral hallucination and now recognized in me the man on to whose brow the malevolent carnation had cast its dark veil when he tried to embrace her—a star of love newly arisen o’er the horizon of his soul—in the overflowing ardency of his yearning. That very same day I sat down and wrote to her. I recounted to her my hallucination and then told her about how I had seen her at Weber’s tent and recognized her as the figure from my dream-vision, and about how I not only knew that she supposed herself to be in love but also knew that a certain menacing entity had entered into her life in connection with this passion. It could, I added, be no delusion on my part that she had all along shared my intimations of our mutual psychic affinity, our love; but perhaps it had been my dream-vision that first made distinctly apparent to her what had theretofore lain dormant in her own soul of souls. But for the sake of insuring that our amour started out on a gay and joyous footing, for the sake of enabling myself to approach her with an untroubled breast, I entreated her to reappear at noon the next day wearing a bouquet of freshly cut roses on her breast as an unmistakable emblem of our love. But, I said, if she had been irresistibly seduced by the malevolent deceptions of some other being, if all my yearning was in vain, if she wished to cast me utterly and irretrievably aside--in that case she should appear at the window at the same hour wearing a corsage, not of roses, but of carnations. My letter may well have amounted to nothing but a ramblingly incoherent essay in madness; it certainly seems that it did now. I entrusted the transmission of the letter to a messenger who I was convinced could be counted on to deliver it into the right hands. The next day I repair to the Grünstraße in a state of the most profound anxiousness and consternation—I approach the house of the privy councilor—I see a white shape at the window—my heart is throbbing as if it is about to burst out of my chest –I am standing at the front doorstep of the house—the old man opens the door—the white shape at the window was him—he is wearing a tall white nightcap with a colossal bouquet of carnations attached to it—from the doorway he nods most amiably at me, causing the flowers to sway and shudder in quite a curious fashion—he starts blowing me kisses while smiling at me with ineffable sweetness. At that moment I become aware that Pauline is not far away either, that she is peeking out at me from behind the curtain in the window. She is laughing! She is laughing! Until then I had stood transfixed as if by my some magic spell, but now I ran away, I ran away like mad! Now, you can well imagine what had happened! Could such gleeful scorn ever have failed to cure me of my obsession? But afterwards, I could hardly sleep for the shame I felt at having ever been so ill. And so I straight-away did exactly what Marcellus would later do after his own adventure with Pauline: I joined the army, and we have only the spitefulness of fate to thank for the fact that we never ran into each other when we were both in the ranks.”
Alexander laughed immoderately at the jape the humorous old man had pulled on Severin. “So yours,” said Marcellus, “was the story he was acting out on that occasion I mentioned, and I presume the text he was reading from then was your eccentric letter.” “Of that there can be no doubt whatsoever,” said Severin; “and although I now clearly perceive the ridiculousness of my earlier behavior; although I concede to the old man the justness of his mockery and cannot but be grateful to him for administering to me some bitterly potent medicine, I am filled with the deepest chagrin at the very thought of my adventure, and to this day I cannot abide so much as the sight of a carnation.”
“Now,” said Marcellus, “the two of us have sufficiently atoned for our silliness. Alexander, who, it would seem, fell in love with Pauline only after we had laid our love for her to rest, was the most rational of us all; hence he has remained untouched by any further foolishness and has no tales of his folly to regale us with.” “And so instead,” cried Severin, “he can tell us the tale of how he came to be hitched to a wife.” ‘Ah, my dear brother,” began Alexander, “as far as the history of my marriage goes, I cannot say much more than that I saw her, I fell in love, and she became my bride, my wife. But it may interest you somewhat to learn how my late aunt comported herself during this period. “What’s this? What’s this?” asked the friends in rapt curiosity. “Let me remind you,” Alexander resumed, “that not long after we last saw one another I left Berlin, having contracted a violent antipathy to the city, and more particularly to my house, which had been rendered all too spooky for my liking by the just-mentioned woman’s ghastly ghost. But shortly before my departure, one sunny morning, after having spent another night being kept awake and scared out of my wits by the phantom’s infernal padding to and fro, which this time had seemed to be on the very verge of penetrating the walls of my little room, I was lolling wearily and morosely in the window seat; I glanced absently down at the street, and I saw an amazingly pretty young woman in a dainty morning dress opening and peering out of a window of the large house cattycornered to mine. Much as I had fancied Pauline very strongly indeed, I found this girl’s face infinitely more attractive. From Miss Anne I immediately found out who lived in the house, and I firmly resolved somehow to be introduced to the family so that I might draw nearer to that sweet and lovely creature who had completely captivated my entire sensorium. And by a most peculiar coincidence, no sooner did I begin to orient all my thoughts towards the young woman, no sooner did I begin to lose myself in sweet dreams of superlative amorous happiness, than my aunt’s spooky ghost stopped turning up at nights. Miss Anne, whom I treated as kindly as my strength of will permitted, and who by now had shed every last vestige of her initial diffidence, often told me long anecdotes about her late mistress; she, Anne, was utterly inconsolable at the thought that this woman who had lived such a pious, God-fearing life, had found no peace in the grave, and she blamed the whole thing on the nefarious fiancé, and on the unassuageable pain of that unfortunate wedding day on which the bridegroom had failed to turn up. So it was with great joy that I announced to her that I no longer heard any strange noises at nights. “Oh, good Lord above,” she tearfully exclaimed, “if only the Feast of the Invention of the True Cross were already behind us!” “Why do you keep bringing up the Feast of the Invention of the True Cross?” I brusquely asked. “Oh, good Lord above,” resumed Miss Anne, “because that is the anniversary of her unfortunate wedding day, of course. You know, my dear sir, that my late mistress departed this life on the third of April. All the chambers apart from the large drawing room the adjoining study were sealed up. So I was then obliged to dwell in those two rooms, and for some reason that I can’t figure out myself, just being in them filled me with dread and horror. Scarcely had the morning of the Feast of the Invention of the True Cross begun when I felt an ice-cold hand pass over my face and quite distinctly heard the voice of my late mistress say, “Arise, arise, Anna! It is time for you to attire me in all my finery, for my bridegroom is on his way!” In stark terror I leapt from the bed and threw on my clothes. All was silent except for the sound of a bitingly chilly draught blowing through the flue of the fireplace. Then Mimi began whimpering and howling uninterruptedly, and even Hans, who is generally no scaredy-cat, could be heard moaning as he shyly huddled in a corner. And now it seemed that somebody was opening chests of drawers and cabinets and rustling garments of silk—all to the accompaniment of a merry morning ditty. Oh, my dear sir!—I heard all this distinctly and yet I could see nobody doing any of it; my fear was almost enough to overwhelm me, but I knelt in a corner of the room and fervently said my prayers. Now it seemed that somebody was shifting a small table, and setting it with glasses and cups—and that somebody was pacing up and down the room! I couldn’t move a muscle, and then—ah, how ever am I supposed to say another word about this?–just as on every subsequent anniversary of that unfortunate day, I heard my late mistress pacing about and moaning and sighing, until the clock struck ten, when again I quite distinctly heard her speak; this time she said, “Just go to bed, Anne! It’s all over!” But instead of going to bed, I fainted dead away to the floor, which was where I was discovered the next morning by certain visitors to the house, who, when I failed to respond to their ringing, had believed that something had happened to me, and who, on finding the front and inner doors locked, had had them forced open. You, my dear sir, are the only living soul to whom I have since spoken about what happened to me on that day.”
After what I had been through I didn’t dare doubt that everything Miss Anne had told me about had actually occurred, and I was glad I had turned up as late as I had and thereby been spared the worst of that ghastly, ghoulish ghost’s antics. At the precise moment when I thought I had exorcised the ghost for good, and when I had just discovered a sweet occasion for hope in my immediate neighborhood, I was obliged to leave town, and that was the cause of my being in that peevish mood that you all noted at the time. Before even six full months had elapsed, I was issued my walking papers, and I returned to Berlin. I lost no time in securing an introduction to the family in the cattycornered house, and the girl who had seemed so charming, so alluring at first sight grew even and ever more attractive in her every gesture and action upon closer acquaintance, such that my amorous fortunes showed no prospect of ever truly blossoming until I enjoyed the most intimate union with her. For some reason I firmly believed that she was already in love with somebody else, and this supposition was soon confirmed when, upon conversational mention of a certain young man, she immediately rose and left the room, her eyes luminous with tears. Undeterred by this episode, although I never spoke of love in so many words, I made no effort whatsoever to conceal from her the nature and full measure of the passion that bound me to her. She seemed to be growing fonder of me with each passing day, and it was with a genuinely endearing complacency that she accepted my obeisance, which expressed itself in a thousand little gallantries that she could not but find ingratiating.” “Never,” cried Marcellus, interrupting Alexander’s tale, “in my wildest dreams would I have thought our highly inept friend capable of all this; by his own account he is both a communicant with the great beyond and an elegantly turned-out suitor, but from what he is telling us now, I am picturing him as some kind of manic shopper, racing through all the shops hoping to bag some highly sought-after plaster-cast gewgaw, and breathlessly turning up at Bouché’s before opening time so as to have the pick of the choicest carnation and rose-stems—” “—Let’s have no more talk about those accursed flowers!” cried Severin, and so Alexander continued: “You mustn’t imagine that I was trying to ingratiate myself with her by ham-fistedly showering her with expensive presents, as my unfailingly reliable intuition quickly told me that such behavior would never fly in that house; instead, I made some very subtle changes to my personal appearance and made sure that every time I showed up I had some much sought-after embroidery pattern, some popular new song, some book she had never read, in my coat pocket. If I ever failed to come over to visit for a half an hour or so in the morning, I was missed. To be brief, for there is no need for me to bore you with all this circumstantial detail, my relations with the girl were swiftly acquiring that comfortable kind of intimacy that precipitates an open avowal of love and then marriage. I wished to expel every last cloud of gloomy apprehension from my mind, and so one day I took advantage of a particularly cozy moment to speak to her of my earlier-mentioned conjecture that she was already in love or at any rate had been in love, and I enumerated all the circumstances that had fed this conjecture, but in particular I dwelt on the young man whose mere recollection had wrested tears from her eyes. “I will confess to you,” said the girl, “that as a consequence of spending quite a number of hours in the company of that man, who had entered our house out of the blue as a complete stranger, my peace of mind was in jeopardy, nay, that I was already beginning to descry in my heart the first stirrings of a violent passion for him, and that for this reason I cannot to this day think of the unfortunate event that separated me from him for ever without feeling a profound sense of pity for him that never fails to make me weep.” “You say that there was an unfortunate event that banished him from your presence?” I asked with eager inquisitiveness. “Yes,” the girl told on, “I had never known a man who could captivate me the way he did, by means of his entire being—through the eloquence of his conversation, the penetration of his thoughts, the soulfulness of his feelings; but as my father was constantly asserting to me, and as I could not deny, this man always seemed to be in a state of perfervid excitement verging on delirium. I imputed this condition of his to some mysterious cause as yet unimaginable by us—perhaps something having to do with the war, in which he had lately participated; my father, on the other hand, more prosaically conjectured that he had been imbibing certain intoxicating intellectual potations too freely. At some point or other he had mentioned the address of the house where he lodged, and I had not forgotten it. After several weeks had passed without his turning up at our house, my father sent a note to this address; the landlady, or rather, the houseboy, the lad who waited on the residents of the furnished rooms there, upon receiving the note from our servant, informed him that our friend had long since gone mad and been carted away to the Charité Hospital. The lad said he must have been driven mad by playing the lottery too often, because he had believed himself to be the king of Ambe.” “Good Lord above,” cried Marcellus in horror: “that was Nettelmann—Ambe—Amboina.” “It is also possible,” said Severin softly and hollowly, “that we are dealing here with a peculiar case of mistaken identity—the scales are just now falling from my eyes! But do tell on!” Alexander took in the sight of Severin wistfully smiling into space before resuming his story, thus: ‘I was placated by her explanation, and soon thereafter I became engaged to the winsome young woman, and the date of our wedding was appointed. I was planning to sell my house, because I by no means felt sure that its resident ghost would not make her presence felt every now and then; my father earnestly advised me against the sale, and so I was obliged to tell him the whole story of my old aunt’s ghastly hauntings. When I had finished, the old gentleman, who was otherwise quite lively and jovial, suddenly grew quite pensive, and said something I never would have expected him to say, namely: “In the old days we had a simple, pious religious faith; we acknowledged the reality of the hereafter, but we also acknowledged the obtuseness of our five senses; then came the enlightenment, that made everything so clear, so that for sheer clarity we could no longer see anything and were continually bumping our noses against the nearest tree in the woods; now the hereafter must be grasped corporeally, with arms and hands of flesh and blood reaching out across the divide. Hold on to the house and let me worry about your ghost problem!” To my immense astonishment, the old man decreed that our wedding would take place in the main drawing room of my abode on the day of the Feast of the Invention of the True Cross, and to my even greater astonishment, in preparation for the ceremony he arranged everything in the room exactly as my aunt had done. Miss Anna, her face contorted with anxiety, roved about the room while softly praying. The bride adorned in all her finery, and then the priest, arrived; no unusual sights or sounds ensued. But as we were being pronounced man and wife, a kind of gentle breeze seemed to be wafting through the room, and I, my bride, the priest—everybody then present testifies that at that moment an indescribable feeling of well-being suffused his body with electric warmth. Since then I have not crossed paths with the faintest trace of a ghost, at least not until today, thanks to its revival of my exceedingly vivid memory of the winsome Pauline of two years ago, a memory that has introduced a new ghost into my marriage.’ As Alexander uttered this last sentence, a curious smile was playing about his lips, and he was distractedly pivoting his gaze all over the park. “Oh you great big fool!” cried Marcellus: “I would give anything for her not to turn up here today; who knows what may happen to me if she does.” All the while that they had been talking the tent had been filling with promenaders, each of whom had taken a seat at one of the tables; and by now the only table that remained completely unoccupied was the one at which the Asling family had taken their seats two years earlier. “As I gaze at that table now,” said Severin, “I am experiencing the strangest and deepest premonition; I feel as though at any moment—” –and at that very moment they were approached by Privy Councilor Asling, walking arm-in-arm with his wife and trailed, just as he had been two years earlier, by his daughter Pauline, who was looking as charming and resplendently beautiful as she had done then. Likewise in perfect replication of the moment of her previous appearance, she was looking over her own shoulder as if trying to spot somebody in the crowd. Finally her gaze alighted on Alexander, who had just risen to his feet. “Why there you are, of course!” she cried rapturously as she fairly pounced on him. He took her by the hand and addressed his friends thus: “Dear brothers of my heart, allow me to present my darling little wife Pauline.’
The friends found Ottmar’s tale satisfactory.
“You were definitely right,” said Theodor, “to set your story in Berlin and to mention certain of the city’s streets and public places. But to my way of thinking, in general no harm can come from also throwing in some precise descriptions of the setting. Not only do such descriptions impart to the entire tale a certain historical verisimilitude that cannot but be of assistance to the reader or listener with a sluggish imagination, but they also make the tale seem uncommonly vital and fresh in the mind of anybody who is familiar with the locales mentioned.”
“And yet even in this tale,” said Lothar, “there were passages, notably certain ones centering on the young woman, in which our friend proved unable to refrain from indulging in his usual spitefully ironic high jinks. But I gladly forgive him for that.”
“Those high jinks were merely dashes of salt,” replied Ottmar, “merely dashes of salt, added to some decidedly Lenten fare. You see, in point of fact, as I was reading my tale, I felt that it wasn’t fantasy-ridden enough by half, that it was dwelling too much on the most prosaic strata of everyday life.”
“As Theodor,” said Cyprian, taking up a manuscript of his own, “as Theodor thinks it a good practice to specify a setting; as, moreover, Ottmar censures the subject matter of his story for not being sufficiently fantasy-ridden; and as, finally, Lothar will be equally inclined to forgive me for indulging in a few spitefully ironic high jinks of my own, I think I am entitled to read to you a story that I was inspired to compose by memories of my time spent in the noble commercial city of Danzig.”
 “Gut Nacht, Gordon! / Ich denke einen langen Schlaf zu tun, / Denn dieser letzten Tage Qual war groß. Sorgt, daß sie nicht zu zeitig mich erwecken.” “Good night, Gordon! / I plan to enjoy a lengthy slumber, / for great has been these last days’ agony / See to it that they don't awaken me too early” (Friedrich Schiller, Wallenstein, Act V, Scene V).
END OF PART IV
Translation Copyright ©2015 by Douglas Robertson