The Serapionian Brethren
Doubtlessly, my propitious reader, you have heard of the remarkable ancient commercial city of Danzig. Perhaps you are familiar enough with all the notable sights there thanks to the abundant travel literature on the town; but I should be especially delighted to hear that you had been there a century ago, and that during your visit you had beheld with your own two eyes the marvelous hall into which I am about to lead you. I am referring to Arthur’s Court. In those days, at noontide, when the hall was filled with people from every country on earth, the sea of commerce used to surge and billow through every square foot of the hall, and the babble of the negotiating tradesmen was positively deafening. But the best time to visit the Arthur’s Court of that age, my dear reader, would have been after exchange hours, when the businessmen would be sitting at their tables. At that time of day a magic pellucid darkness would slink through the murky windows, and all the figures in the paintings and wood-carvings with which the walls were sumptuously adorned would begin to stir and come to life. Deer with enormous antlers and other outlandish beasts would gaze down at you; you might scarcely manage to make them out, and as the twilight of dusk deepened you would find the marble statue of the king in the center of the hall taking on an even more horrifying aspect. The large painting on which all the virtues and vices were assembled and named by inscription was conspicuously defective from a moral point of view, for whereas the virtues were mere vague, indistinguishable figures swimming in gray clouds near the top of the picture, the vices, represented by quite exquisitely beautiful women in colorful shimmering dresses, were enticingly placed in the immediate central foreground and seemed to be trying to seduce you with lisped sweet nothings. For relief you would redirect your gaze to the narrow decorative stripe that virtually encircles the entire hall and on which are depicted a series of quite charmingly lengthy trains of colorfully uniformed militia from the distant age of the imperial cities. Noble-esque mayors with knowing, significant experessions on their faces ride at the head of these trains on such beautifully caparisoned horses and with such saucy aplomb and such lifelike verisimitude that you soon fancy that you are hearing the merry strains of a military wind band, and that the entire platoon is about to march right through that large window they are pointed towards and thence out into the long market lane outside. Because they would be on the point of leaving the room and given that you, my propitious reader, are quite an accomplished draughtsman, you would be sorely tempted to try your hand at a sketch of a sumptuously attired mayor escorted by his fabulously handsome page. And you would indeed be hard-pressed to resist such a temptation, for pens, inkwells, and sheets of paper—all supplied at the citizens’ expense—were ready to hand at tables disposed throughout the hall. Such an opportunity may have been vouchsafed to you, propitious reader, but it most certainly was not to the young tradesman Traugott, who having set out from a similar starting point was now enmired in a thousand hardships and vexations. “Please immediately inform our friend in Hamburg of the transaction that has just taken place, my dear Mr. Traugott!” Thus spoke the tradesman and captain of commerce Elias Roos, alongside whom Traugott was walking and whose only daughter he was engaged to marry. With difficulty Traugott found a place at one of the crowded tables; he then took up a sheet of paper, dipped the nub of his pen in ink, and attempted an initial calligraphic flourish as he once again quickly thought over the transaction he was obliged to report on, and in so doing, he cast his gaze upward. Now as chance would have it, he was sitting before a group of pictorial figures—painted figures that seemed to have been executed in one stroke apiece—the sight of which never failed to put him in the grip of a peculiar, ineffable wistfulness. A serious, almost somber man with a curly black beard was riding in rich attire astride a black horse that was being led by the reins by a wondrous youth who in his abundance of luscious locks and daintily colorful garb had an almost feminine appearance; the body and face of the man made Traugott inwardly shudder, but the face of the winsome youth irradiated him with an entire world of ingratiating intimations. However long he sat there he could not manage to tear himself free of this pair of images, so that instead of writing his letter of advice to Hamburg for Mr. Elias Roos, he simply gazed at the wondrous picture and mindlessly scratched away at the paper with his pen. He had been doing this for what might have been quite a good stretch of time when somebody clapped him on the shoulder from behind and in a hollow voice cried, “Good—quite good! I like the way it’s going; something may come of it!” Hastily awaking from his reverie, Traugott turned round, only to be struck by a discovery that hit him like a bolt of lightning: astonishment and terror rendered him speechless as he realized he was staring directly into the face of the somber man whose picture he had just been beholding. It was he who had just said, “Good, quite good, etc,” and beside him stood the wondrously handsome youth, who was smiling at Traugott with ineffable lovingness. They are indeed the genuine article! Traugott instantly thought: They are indeed the genuine article! They are just about to cast off those hideous modern coats to reveal the dazzling splendor of their medieval garb underneath! Throngs of people were surging chaotically all about; the strange figures soon vainished into the crowd, but Traugott remained standing in the same place with his letter of advice in hand, as though he had been turned into a statue, until long after the exhange had closed and there were only a few scattered individuals walking through the hall. At length Traugott became aware of the proximity of Mr. Elias Roos, who was approaching him in the company of two gentlemen whom Traugott did not recognize. “What can you possibly be brooding over here this long after midday, my dear Mr. Traugott?” cried Elias Roos: “have you faithfully dispatched the letter? Traugott mindlessly handed him the sheet of paper, but in reaction Mr. Elias Roos pounded his fists together above his head, stamped his right foot at first rather gently but then quite forcefully, and finally exclaimed in a voice loud enough to echo throughout the hall, “Good Lord! Good Lord! What childish foolery! What stupid childish foolery! You venal son-in-law! You imprudent associate! Is your worship really entirely of the Devil’s party? The letter—the letter—oh, God—the post!” Mr. Elias Roos was on the verge of suffocating with anger as the two unknown gentlemen smiled with amusement at the bizarre-looking letter of information, which certainly was not quite fit to be sent off as it was. You see, immediately after the words “Regarding the sum you committed to our care on the 20th instant,” Traugott had sketched in bold yet delicate outline those two wondrous figures from the wall, the old man and the fair youth. The two unknown men tried to pacify Mr. Elias Roos by addressing to him the most affectionate formulas of consolation, but Mr. Roos simply clutched at his bulbous wig and tugged it to and fro, pounded the base of his cane against the floor, and cried, “That child of Satan! He is supposed to write a letter of advice; he draws pictures—there go ten thousand marks!—pfft!” Here he blew a brief trumpet blast through his fingers, then wept, and then exclaimed again, “Ten thousand marks!” “Calm yourself, my dear Mr. Roos,” the older of the two unknown gentlemen eventually said: “to be sure, the post coach has already departed, but I myself am sending to Hamburg a courier who will be leaving in an hour. I shall give him your letter of advice, so that it will arrive at the very doorstep of its recipient long before it would have done through the post.” “You are the most incomparable of all men!” cried Mr. Elias while positively beaming at the gentleman. Traugott had recovered from his confusion and was clearly on the point of rushing back to the table to write the letter of advice, but Mr. Elias shoved him aside and fairly sneered at him as he muttered through his teeth, “Your services will not be required, sonny boy!” While Mr. Elias was inditing the letter with outright zeal, the older of the two gentlemen drew close to Traugott, who was standing perfectly still in mute abashment, and said to him, “You seem to be mismatched with your situation, my dear sir! A born merchant never would have dreamed of drawing pictures instead of composing a letter of advice as he had been instructed to do.” Traugott could not but regard these words as an all too well-founded accusation. Feeling quite embarrassed, he replied, “Good Lord, I can’t tell you how many excellent letters of advice this hand has written, but from time to time and only from time to time, the most perverse freaks of fancy take possession of my mind.” “Ah, my dear friend,” resumed the stranger with a smile, “you most certainly shouldn’t think of these things that have been taking possession of your mind as mere perverse freaks of fancy. In point of fact, I believe that not one of your letters of advice is as excellent as these figures sketched with a firm hand in bold, clean outline. Indeed, I believe these figures are evidence of your possession of a peculiar kind of genius.” By the time he finished uttering this sentence the stranger had taken the pictorially superabundant abortive letter of advice from Traugott’s hand, solicitously folded it up, and pocketed it. At that moment, Traugott’s soul was seized by the certainty that he had done something much nobler than write a letter of advice; a foreign spirit flared up within him, and when Mr. Elias Roos, having finished the new letter, bellowed at him with undiminished bitterness and anger, “Your childish pranks could have defrauded me out of ten thousand marks!” Traugott, addressing him more loudly and firmly than he had ever done before, rejoined, “If your worship does not stop carrying on in this preposterous manner, I shall never write you another letter of advice as long as I live, and we shall go our separate ways at once!” Mr. Elias brusquely righted his wig with both hands and unblinkingly spluttered, “My amiable associate! My obliging son! What manner of bumptious backtalk is this?” But the old gentleman once again stepped in as a mediator; a few words sufficed to make peace between Mr. Elias and Traugott, and then all four of them went to Mr. Elias’s house, to which he had invited the two strangers for dinner. Miss Christine welcomed the guests in a solicitously pressed and titivated formal gown and was soon wielding her unwieldily heavy soup ladle with a practiced hand. While I can certainly limn the features of those five people sitting at that table, my auspicious reader, I shall only be able to present them to you in vague, hastily sketched outlines, and my draughtsmanship will of necessity be far inferior to the downright audacious penstrokes of Traugott in his portentous letter of advice, for the meal was of very short duration, and the wondrous narrative of brave young Traugott, which I have undertaken to commit to paper for you, my auspicious reader, is sweeping me along with ineluctable force. Of the fact that Elias Roos wears a bulbous wig you, my auspicious reader, have already been apprised, and I dare not add another word of description to that, for in the light of the things he has said, you have doubtless already formed a sufficiently vivid picture of the chubby little man in his liver-colored coat, waistcoat, and breeches with gilded buttons. Of Traugott I have a great deal to say, because it is specifically his story that I am recounting, and so he figures with especial prominence in it. But since it is certain that in their emergence from his soul of souls, a person’s disposition, actions, and activities collectively shape and mould his external features in such a way as to engender that marvelous, inexplicable, and merely palpable integral harmony that we term character, it is no less certain that you, my auspicious reader, will spontaneously form a truly faithful image of Traugott’s person out of the assemblage of words I shall have occasion to write about him. If I am mistaken in this, then all my chatter is hardly worth a fig, and you will be well within your rights to say that in reading my tale you have squandered your attention on nothing. The two strangers are uncle and nephew, former tradesmen and present financiers drawing on previously accumulated capital, and they are also Mr. Elias Roos’s friends—i.e., intimate partners of his in certain financial transactions. They live in Königsberg, wear clothes of an authentically English cut, carry a mahogany boot-jack from London with them wherever they go, have a great deal of good sense in judging art, and are sensitive, highly cultivated people all around. The uncle owns an art-cabinet and collects sketches (videatur the purloined letter of advice). Now I see that I have left for last the portrait that I actually should have attended to first, namely that of Christina, for, as I am belatedly realizing, her evanescent image will soon have vanished from my mind completely, and so I really must immediately commit to paper some penstrokes in depiction of her. Let her flee whither she will after that! Picture to yourself, dear reader, a well-fed wench of medium height, about twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, with a round face, a nose that may be most succinctly described as slightly puggish, and amiable light-blue eyes that smilingly blare out to all and sundry the message I am going to be married soon! She has dazzlingly white skin; her hair is just shy of being too ginger in hue; her lips are eminently kissable, her mouth admittedly a bit too wide, and she mars it further by habitually grimacing in a peculiar fashion, but thankfully in so doing she discloses two rows of beautiful pearl-white teeth. If perchance the flames from a burning house next door should be lapping at the window of her own bedchamber, her first response would be to feed her canary and lock up her newest articles of clothing, but immediately after that she would most certainly hasten to Mr. Elias Roos’s office to inform him that his own house was now also on fire. She has never made an inedible almond torte, and her butter sauce always congeals to the proper consistency because she never stirs it counterclockwise! As Mr. Elias Roos has already poured out the last rummer of old brandy, I shall now only hastily make one further remark, namely that the mere fact that Traugott is engaged to marry Christine is enough to make her uncommonly fond of him, for how could she ever possibly make any kind of start in the world as a spinster? After the meal, Mr. Elias Roos proposed a walk on the city walls to his friends. Traugott, whose mind had never before been visited by anything as wondrous as what he had experienced earlier that day, was hoping very keenly to steal away from the group and savor his solitude, but his hope was foiled; for as he was just on the point of stepping out the door without having so much as given his fiancée a parting kiss on the hand, Mr. Elias seized his coattails and cried, “My worthy son-in-law, my amiable associate, surely you don’t intend to abandon us now?”; and so he was obliged to accompany them after all. A certain professor of physics is of the following opinion: the world-spirit, after the manner of a rather doughty experimental natural philosopher, has somewhere or other constructed an electrifying machine, a machine to which are connected certain mysterious wires that permeate the living world; most of the time we manage to sidestep and slink around them, but at some point we are bound to tread on one of them, and then our minds are jolted by a mighty electric shock that suddenly causes everything within them to take on an entirely different shape. Traugott had perhaps stepped on one of these wires at the moment when he began unconsciously sketching the living beings standing behind him at Arthur’s Court, for the peculiar sudden appearance of the two out-of-towners had struck him with all the force of a bolt of lightning, and he felt as though he now clearly understood everything that until then he had only dimly surmised or beheld in the murky contours of a dream. No sooner did the conversation turn to matters affined with that mystery that had lain hidden deep in his breast for so long than the diffidence that had always left him tongue-tied vanished; for when the uncle disparaged the half-carved and half-painted images in Arthur’s Court as tasteless, and in particular accused the small military pictures of being too fanciful, Traugott brazenly maintained that while it might very well be the case that none of those pictures could be reconciled with the rules of good taste, this made no difference to him as it had made no difference to many others before him; that a marvelous, fantastical world had been disclosed to him in Arthur’s Court, and that certain specific figures from the pictures had heralded that disclosure with their remarkably lifelike gazes, nay, in distinctly intelligible words; that he, Traugott, was a mighty master-artist capable of creating artworks and depicting images in the same manner as that of the master-artist in whose mysterious studio these figures had come into being. Mr. Elias simply looked even more stupid than usual upon hearing the youth utter such high words, but the uncle fairly sneered at him and said, “Once again I maintain that I cannot comprehend why you wish to be a merchant, and why you did not devote yourself to art instead from the outset.” By now Traugott had taken a keen dislike to him, and so during the walk he took care to be abreast of the nephew, whose manner was quite friendly and trusting. “Lord,” said the young man, “how I envy you your fine and noble talent! Ah, if only I could draw the way you do! I am certainly not lacking in genius; I have already sketched some really fine eyes and noses and ears—indeed, three or four whole heads, but good Lord!, business, business is always obtruding. “I should think,” said Traugott, “that if a person descries in himself a true genius, a true propensity, for art, he is duty-bound not to attend to any other sort of business.” “You mean he is duty-bound to become an artist,” retorted the nephew. “Oh, how readily you say that! You see, my most worthy sir, I have perhaps reflected on these things more intently than have many other people, indeed even more intently than such a devoted worshiper of art as yourself; I have penetrated more deeply into the essence of the matter than I can ever possibly say, and for this reason I am capable of only hinting at the nature of that essence.” The nephew spoke these words with an air of such erudition and profundity of insight that Traugott felt a genuine if mild sense of awe in his presence. “You will agree with me that art braids flowers into our life—that exhilaration, relief from the cares of serious business, is the beauteous purpose of all artistic ambition, which purpose is served in direct proportion to the degree of formal excellence of artistic productions. In life itself this purpose is palpably evident, for only a person who acts in conformity with such a view of art enjoys the feeling of contentment that always and eternally flies to him who is orientated towards the true nature of the matter, who regards art as the matter of central interest, as the terminus of life’s loftiest trajectory. Accordingly—my dear friend!—you must on no account take my uncle’s suggestion to heart in the wrong way, namely by divorcing yourself from the serious business of life for the sake of giving yourself over to a mode of being and behaving that without the necessary support merely staggers to and fro like a child who has not yet fully learned how to walk.” The nephew now paused, as though he were awaiting a reply from Traugott; but Traugott was at a complete loss for words. Everything that the nephew had said struck him as utterly ineffable. He made do with asking, “But what exactly do you mean by the serious business of life. The nephew looked at Traugott as though somewhat taken aback by his question. “Why, good Lord, man,” he finally blurted out, “you must surely concede to me that life can be lived only within life, and that the harried full-time professional artist hardly ever contrives to live there for long.” At this point he began pressing the most elegant words and well-turned phrases into the service of a veritable orgy of a rant. From this rant it emerged that by living within life he effectively meant nothing but being debt-free, having a great deal of money, plenty of fine food and drink, a pretty wife, and well-behaved children who never got a drop of tallow on their little Sunday coats. Such talk was quite enough to keep Traugott from even breathing easily, and he was heartily glad when the judicious nephew relieved him of his company and he found himself alone in his own room. “What a wretched, shabby excuse for a life I am leading!” he said to himself. First thing in the fair morning, amid the golden splendor of spring, when the sultry west wind blows through even the darkest of the city’s streets, and in its subdued rustling and murmuring seems to be telling tales of every wonder coming into bloom out yonder in the flowery fields and forests, I lazily and cheerlessly slink into Mr. Elias Roos’s smoky office. There I behold a collection of pale faces sitting at a collection of uniform desks, and only the sound of pages being turned in the huge account ledgers, the clink of coins being counted, and occasional unintelligible grunts, break the gloomy silence in which everybody sits immersed as he works. And what sort of work are they all doing? Why are they all thinking and writing? To facilitate the accumulation of coins in their master’s coffer, to ensure that Fafner’s baneful horde sparkles and glitters ever more resplendently! But how cheerfully a born artist and painter such as I would withdraw from such a place; and how readily, once outside, would he hold his head up high and inhale the refreshing beams of springtime, which would then set fire to his inner world brimming over with magnificent images, thereby rousing them into a living existence full of buoyancy and merriment. Then from out of the tenebrous shrubbery will emerge marvelous shapes begotten by his own mind, shapes that subsequently remain within his possession, for within him dwells the mysterious magic of light, color, and form, such that whatever he beholds with his inner eye he is capable of entrancing, of compelling to sit still for him while he is feelingly committing its essential lineaments to paper or canvas. What can possibly be detaining me from tearing myself free of my present loathsome mode of existence? The strange old man maintained to me that my true calling was that of an artist, and that handsome, winsome youth was even more adamant in the same conviction. To be sure, he never said a word to me, but his very gaze on its own seemed to give unmistakable utterance to something that had been stirring within me for so long as a mere faint intuition, an intuition that for all its faintness had proved impervious to the efforts of a thousand doubts to quash it. Such being the case, may I not reasonably devote my energies to becoming a proficient painter rather than to the deplorable drudgery to which I have been consigned? Traugott hauled out every sketch he had ever made and looked through the entire sheaf with a dispassionately scrutinizing gaze. Today many of the pictures struck him in an entirely different light, and a much more favorable one at that, than they had during previous viewings. But one of the childish attempts of his early boyhood stood out from all the others; on one of those sheets he came across two images whose outlines, though admittedly quite distorted, were immediately recognizable as those of the old mayor and his handsome page, and he suddenly remembered very clearly that even back then those figures had exerted a strange fascination on him, and that in the twilight of one late afternoon he had been irresistibly lured away from his boyish games and into Arthur’s Court, where he had then sedulously endeavored to produce a faithful copy of the picture. As he gazed at this sketch, Traugott was seized by a most profound and melancholy sense of longing! His daily schedule required him to work a few more hours at the office, but as he found this impossible he instead ran up to the top of the Karlsberg. From there he gazed out at the billowing sea, at the waves, at the bank of gray clouds that had formed over Hel; he gazed at all these things as if looking into an enchanted mirror, and he strained to descry his own destiny in them.
Do you not, dear reader! believe, as I do, that whatever descends from the kingdom of love within our breast must initially manifest itself to us as a feeling of grief without hope? These are the doubts that rage in the soul of an artist. He beholds the ideal and feels that he is powerless to apprehend it; it eludes his grasp—irretrievably, as he supposes. But then a divine courage once again takes hold of him; he struggles and wrestles, and his despair dissolves into a sweet yearning that strengthens him and impels him to strive after his beloved, whom he glimpses at an ever-diminishing remove without ever quite catching up with her.
When, next morning, he again reviewed his sketches, which were still lying on the table where he had left them, they all struck him as uncommonly trifling and silly, and he remembered something a certain artistically talented friend of his was in the habit of saying: the reason the world is so full of mediocre noodling that pretends to be art is that it is so full of people who mistake some lively but superficial stimulus for a genuine and heartfelt call to pursue the making of art as a métier. Traugott was much of a mind to regard Arthur’s Court along with the two wondrous figures of the old man and the youth as just such a superficial stimulus, and he condemned himself to returning to the office, where he resumed working for Mr. Elias Roos without managing to anticipate the attacks of nausea that subsequently overcame him so often and with such swiftness that he was frequently compelled leave off whatever he was doing and immediately dash out into the street for some fresh air. Mr. Elias Roos, who witnessed these episodes with attentive commiseration, attributed them to some lingering illness to which he supposed the deathly pale youth had fallen prey. A good deal of time had passed; St. Dominic’s Fair was coming up, and immediately after its close Traugott was to be married to Christina and officially presented to the commercial world as an associate of Mr. Elias Roos. He viewed this day as one of mournful farewell to all his fairest hopes and dreams, and it was with a heavy heart indeed that he beheld little Christina in the full flurry of her prenuptial industriousness; that he beheld her looking on as every object on the first floor was scoured and polished, folding curtains with her own hands, giving the finishing shine to the brass tableware, etc. One day in Arthur’s Court at its busiest and most crowded with out-of-towners, Traugott heard from just behind him a voice whose familiar sound pierced him through the heart. “Can the price of these shares really have sunk so low?” Traugott immediately turned round and beheld, as he was expecting to do, the strange old man, who was negotiating with a broker about a share whose value was at a particularly low ebb at that moment. The handsome youth was standing behind the old man and cocking a wistfully friendly eye at Traugott. The latter briskly stepped up to the old man and said, “I beg your pardon, sir, but the price of the share you are trying to sell has in fact sunk every bit as low as you have been told; but it is infallibly predicted to rise quite significantly in the next few days. Therefore, if you want my advice, you should wait a bit longer before turning over the share.” “Now, sir,” retorted the old man in a rather dry and gruff tone, “in what way does my business concern you? How can you be so sure that I am not so badly in need of ready cash at this moment that even a share of such piddling value is not entirely useless to me right now?” Traugott, being not a little discomfited by the fact that the old man had taken his worthy proposal so much amiss, was already on the point of moving off when the youth, his eyes brimming over with tears, began gazing at him almost beseechingly. “I said what I did in all kindness, sir,” Traugott briskly retorted to the old man, “and I am still quite loath to see you suffer needless significant loss. Sell me the share on condition that I pay you the higher price that it will have in a few days.” “You are a strange man,” said the old man: “Let it be as you wish, although I can hardly fathom what is driving you to want to make me richer.” With these words, he cocked a mischievously twinkling eye at the youth, who quickly lowered his own fair blue eyes in abashment. The two of them followed Traugott to the office, where the money was remitted to the old man, who pocketed it with a gloomy mien. Meanwhile, the youth softly asked Traugott, “Are you not the same man who had sketched those lovely images several weeks ago in Arthur’s Court?” “Indeed I am,” replied Traugott as he felt the blood rushing to his face at the command of his recollection of the ridiculous scene with the letter of advice. “Why, then,” resumed the youth, “I am not at all surprised that—” here the old man peremptorily silenced him with a savage scowl. Traugott could not overcome a certain feeling of trepidation in the presence of the strangers, and so they went on their way before he could summon up the courage to ask them anything about the circumstances of their lives. In point of fact, the appearance of these two figures had such an air of peculiarity about it that the other office personnel were also struck by it. The surly bookkeeper stuck his pen behind his ear, leaned back with his hands clasped over his head, and glared fixedly at the old man. “God preserve me,” he said, once the strangers were gone; “with that curly beard and black cloak of his, that man was the spitting image of a picture de Anno 1400 in St. John’s parish church!” Mr. Elias, on the other hand, in apparent heedlessness of the man’s noble bearing and deeply earnest old-German countenance, simply took him for Polish Jew, and exclaimed with a chuckle, “The stupid beast: he is selling that paper now, when eight days hence he could fetch ten percent more for it.” To be sure, he knew nothing about the markup of the price to which Traugott had agreed and still intended to supply out of his own pocket, as he actually did a few days later upon encountering the old man and the youth again in Arthur’s Court. “My son,” said the old man, “mentioned to me that you are also an artist, and so I am accepting this handout, which I otherwise would have refused.” They were standing at one of the four granite pillars that supported the hall’s great vaulted ceiling, and also directly in front of the two painted figures that Traugott had copied into the letter of advice a few weeks before. Casting aside all reserve, he boldly spoke of the close resemblance of those figures to the old man and the youth. The old man smiled a most peculiar smile, laid his hand on Traugott’s shoulder, and gently and measuredly said to him: “So you don’t know that I am the German painter Godofredus Berklinger, and that the figures that you seem to have taken such a shine to were painted by none other than me many years ago when I was still but a humble student of the art? I gave that mayor my own features so that in later life I would remember what I had used to look like, and that that page leading the horse is my son you will probably have no trouble acknowledging after comparing their faces and their heights!” In his astonishment Traugott was at a complete loss for words, but he soon concluded that this old man who believed himself to be the producer of a more than-two hundred year old painting was in the grip of a singularly odd delusion. “Were were indeed living through a grand age,” the man continued, as he reared his head high and proudly trained his gaze around the court, “a splendid, flourishing, burgeoning age of artists, when I honored the wise King Arthur and his royal retinue by adorning this hall with all these beautiful parti-colored images. I really do fancy that it was King Arthur himself who, having assumed a truly noble and exalted form, stepped up to me as I was working here and exhorted me to attain full mastery of my art, a mastery that I most certainly had not yet attained then. –“My father,” chimed in the youth, “is an artist with very few rivals, sir!, and if you were ever granted an opportunity to see his works you most certainly would not regret it.” Meanwhile the old man had beaten the best part of a path to the exit of the already empty hall, but no sooner did he call out to the youth that it was time to be going than Traugott asked him to show him his pictures. The old man eyed him steadily with a sharp, penetrating gaze and at length said very earnestly, “It is most audacious in you indeed to seek to enter the inner sanctum of the inner sanctum ere ye have even begun your novitiate. But so be it! If your gaze is still too obtuse to see properly, you will at least have an inkling of what it should be seeing! Come to see me tomorrow morning.” He gave directions to his abode, and the next morning Traugott spent very little time at the office before slipping out and hurrying to the strange old man’s remote address. He was greeted at the front door by the youth, who was attired in a suit of a quite old-fashioned German cut, and who led him into a spacious chamber in the middle of which he encountered the old man sitting on a small footstool before a large stretched canvas primed in gray. “Your arrival comes at a fortunate moment, my dear sir,” cried the old man by way of greeting him, “for I have just put the finishing touches on this large painting here, which has kept me busy for over a year now and cost me no small amount of effort. It is the companion piece of an equally large painting, a depiction of Paradise Lost that I completed last year and that you may also take a look at here. The painting you are now looking at is entitled Paradise Regained, and it would pain me no end if you were to try to impose any kind of complicated allegorical interpretation on it. Only weaklings and daubers paint allegorical pictures; my paintings are intended not to mean but to be. You will observe that all these copious groups of human beings, animals, fruits, flowers, and stones coalesce into a harmonic whole whose ample and majestically sonorous music is the celestial pure consonance of eternal transfiguration. Now the old man began to single out individual groups; he drew Traugott’s attention to the mysterious apportionment of light and shadow, to the glints on the flowers and metallic surfaces, to the marvelous forms that ascended from calyxes of lilies and then twined themselves into the melodious round-dance of celestially beautiful youths and maidens, to the bearded men whose every look and gesture seemed to bespeak their abundance of youthful vitality to all manner of outlandish beasts. The terms of the old man’s expressions became more and more vehement, but also more and more intricate and harder and harder to understand. “May thy diamond crown iridesce eternally, exalted eld,” he eventually cried, his incandescent gaze affixed to the canvas all the while; “cast aside the veil of Isis that thou cast’st o’er thy skin when unholy beings dare approach thy person! Why dost thou so solicitously hug thy tenebrous vestment against thy breast? I would see thine heart! That is the philosopher’s stone before which the mystery is made manifest! Art thou not myself after all? How comes it that thou affrontest me so boldly, so violently? Wilt thou take up arms against thy master?
Believest thou that that ruby, thine heart, which blazes forth from within thee, can pulverize my breast? Arise then! Step forth! Step forth and approach me! I created thee, for I am—” At this point the old man suddenly slumped to the floor as though he had just been struck by a bolt of lightning. Traugott lifted him up; the youth quickly pulled up a small armchair; they placed the old man in the chair; he seemed to have sunk into a gentle slumber.
“Now, my dear sir,” the youth softly and gently said, “you know the state of my father’s health. A harsh fate has wilted all the flowers in his life, and for several years now the art for whose sake he used to live has been killing him. He sits all day long in front of a stretched, primed canvas, with his gaze affixed to it; he calls this working on a painting, and by now you have seen how terribly overwrought he becomes when he describes one of these phantom pictures. He is prey to the most balefully obsessive thoughts about them; his obsession is filling my life with gloom and tumult, but I weather it as I must do, for it is a calamity that in virtue of its inexorable hold on him cannot but carry me away as well. If you care to recuperate from the outlandish scene you have just witnessed, follow me into the next room, where you will find several paintings from my father’s earlier and more fruitful years. Traugott was quite astonished when the room turned out to contain a series of pictures that looked as though they had been painted by the most illustrious of the Dutch masters. For the most part they depicted scenes from everyday life—a group of people returning from a hunt and regaling themselves with song and games, and the like; and yet they fairly exhaled profundity of meaning, and in particular the expressions on the faces of the figures were of a peculiarly arresting vitality. Traugott was just about to return to the antechamber when he noticed a certain painting right next to the door, a painting before which he now stood as if transfixed by a spell. The painting was a portrait of a marvelously beautiful maiden in an old-fashioned German dress, but the girl had a face almost exactly like that of the youth, although it was rounder and of a rosier complexion, and she also appeared to be taller than the young man. Shivers of nameless delight coursed through Traugott’s body as his gaze alighted on this lovely woman. In point of vigor and sheer fullness of life, the painting was very much the equal of anything by Van Dyke. The girl’s dark-brown eyes gazed down at Traugott with an expression brimful of longing; her winsome half-parted lips seemed to be whispering dulcet words of love. “Good Lord!—Good Lord!” cried Traugott through the deepest of deep sighs: “Where, oh where can I find her?” “Let’s go,” said the youth; whereupon Traugott, as if in the grip of some pitch of delight verging on madness, exclaimed: “Ah, she is indeed the one—my soul’s intended beloved, whom I have carried in my heart for untold years, and the precise lineaments of whose countenance I have heretofore but dimly surmised—where, oh where is she?” Young Berklinger’s eyes instantly streamed with tears; it was only with considerable effort, as though he had suddenly been attacked by some searingly powerful spasm of pain, that he recovered his composure. “Come,” he said at length in a firm tone: “the woman in that portrait is my unfortunate sister, Felizitas. She is gone for ever! You will never behold her!” Now on the verge of unconsciousness, Traugott allowed himself to be led back into the other room. They found the old man still fast asleep, but within seconds he suddenly awoke with a start, directed at Traugott a gaze coruscating with rage, and cried, “What do you want? What do you want, sir?” Whereupon the young man stepped forward and reminded him that he had in fact been showing Traugott his new painting only moments earlier. Now Berklinger’s recollection of everything seemed to be coming back to him; he was visibly mollified and said in a low voice: “My dear sir, please pardon the forgetfulness of an old man!” “Your new picture, Master Berklinger,” said Traugott with a newfound assertiveness, “is quite marvelously splendid, and I have never before seen anything comparable to it, but it must take many years of study and a great deal of work to learn to paint in such a manner. I am certain that I feel an irresistibly powerful urge to produce art, and I must ask, nay implore you, my dear old master!, to accept me as your diligent pupil. The old man grew downright amiable and cheerful; he embraced Traugott and pledged to be his loyal preceptor. And so Traugott received daily instruction from the old painter at his studio and made truly great strides in his artistic technique. He now found his work as a man of business downright abhorrent; he became so neglectful of it as to elicit downright vociferous complaints from Mr. Elias Roos, who in the end concluded that Traugott was merely shamming creeping sickliness with the aim of eventually never coming to the office at all, and therefore, to Christine’s no small annoyance, the date of her wedding was postponed indefinitely. “Your Mr. Traugott,” one of Mr. Elias Roos’s business acquaintances said to him, “seems to be profoundly vexed by something, perhaps a longstanding amorous debt balance that he is quite keen on discharging before starting his new marriage. He looks quite pale and distracted.” “Oh, why not even…” replied Mr. Elias. “Is it possible,” he resumed a bit later, “that Christina, being her mischievous self, has done something that is scaring him off? My bookkeeper is a lovesick old ass, and he is constantly kissing and clasping her hands. Traugott is head over heels in love with my little girl—of that I am sure. Could it be that he is just a tiny bit jealous? I will sound the young gentleman out!”
But for all the painstakingness of his sound-out, he never found out anything from it, and he said to his business acquaintance: “That Traugott is one strange Homo, but I have no choice but to give him free rein. But if he didn’t have fifty thousand taler tied up in my firm, I know just what I’d do to him, because he doesn’t do a single blasted thing for me anymore.”
Traugott would now have been leading a genuinely cloudless and sunny life as an artist had not his breast been incessantly harrowed by his ardent love of the fair Felizitas, whom he often beheld in marvelously vivid dreams. The portrait of her had vanished. The old man had put it away, and Traugott never could so much as hint at wishing to see it without making him furiously angry. In every other respect Berklinger had become more and more accommodating, and in lieu of exacting tuition payments from him he allowed Traugott to make all sorts of improvements to his Spartan household. From young Berklinger Traugott learned that his father had been badly swindled in selling a small cabinet and that the single share of stock that Traugott had exchanged had comprised both all the remaining proceeds of the sale and their sole means of subsistence. Moreover, Traugott only rarely found the opportunity to confide in the youth, for the old man kept a constant and quite peculiarly vigilant eye on him and would scold him with terrible ferocity whenever he tried to have a frank and genial chat with his friend. This pained Traugott all the more in that he loved the youth with all his heart on account of his striking resemblance to Felizitas.
Indeed, in proximity to the youth he often felt as though her luminously radiant portrait were standing beside him, as though he could sense its sweet breath of love, and at such moments he could scarcely restrain himself from pressing the youth to his ardently yearning heart as though he were his beloved Felizitas herself.
Winter was over, and spring was already in resplendent bloom in the woods and meadows. Mr. Elias Roos advised Traugott to take a whey or water cure at a spa. Little Christine for her part kept looking forward to her marriage; this despite the fact that Traugott seldom showed his face to her, and even more rarely gave any thought to his nominally prospective union with her.
One day a direly exigent account settlement kept Traugott chained to his desk at the office all day long; he didn’t even have leisure to stop for meals, and it was only as dusk was turning to night that he set off on the long, slow walk to Berklinger’s house. When he arrived there he found the front room empty, but he could hear somebody playing a lute in the adjoining chamber. He had never heard a lute being played in the house before. He pricked up his ears—and he heard a faltering vocal melody insinuating itself like a series of gentle sighs into the gaps between the chords! He pushed open the door—Good Heavens! He beheld a person, quite evidently a female, in German clothes of the old style, including a laced collar, sitting with her back turned to him—the spitting image of the figure in the portrait! The faint din that Traugott inadvertently made on entering the room was loud enough to prompt the woman to raise her head, set down the lute, and turn round. It was her, nobody but her! “Felizitas!” Traugott cried in enraptured delight; he was just on the point of falling to his knees before the beloved heavenly image when he felt some seeming giant seizing him from behind by the collar and dragging him back into the front room with main force. “You scoundrel! You peerless villain!” cried old Berklinger, releasing him with a shove; “was this at the bottom of your love of art? You must be trying to murder me!” And with that he yanked Traugott up to the front door. The blade of a knife flashed in his hand; Traugott fled down the stairs; dazed, nay, half maddened by joy and terror, he raced back to his lodgings.
Unable to sleep, he tossed and turned in his bed. “Felizitas! Felizitas!” he cried out over and over again, riven as he was by sorrow and the torments of love. “You are there—you are there, there in that house, and am I to be prevented from seeing you, from clasping you in my arms? You love me, ah, I know you do! In the midst of the sorrow that is mortally lancinating my breast, I can feel that you love me!” When at last, late next morning, the bright springtime sun was pouring into Traugott’s room, he pulled himself together, got out of bed, and resolved that come what may, he would get to the heart of the mystery immured in Berklinger’s dwelling. He hurried to the old man’s house, but to his unimaginable disappointment, as soon as he got there he could see that all the windows were open and that maidservants were busy cleaning the rooms. He could guess what had happened. By late the preceding evening Berklinger and his son had left the house and moved to some other place; nobody knew where. First, a two-horse cart had carried away Berklinger’s entire meager estate, consisting of his chest of paintings and two little traveling trunks; he himself and his son had left a half an hour later. All his inquiries as to their whereabouts proved futile; none of the hackney coachmen had hired out a horse and cart to people answering to Traugott’s description; even at the city gates he failed to learn anything definite; in short, Berklinger had vanished as tracelessly as if he had flown away in Mephistopheles’ cloak. In utter despair, Traugott raced back to his house. “She is gone; she is gone; the beloved of my soul is gone; all is lost; all is lost!” These were the words he exclaimed within easy earshot of Mr. Elias Roos, who happened to be standing in the ground-floor passageway as Traugott lunged his way along it en route to his room. “Good Lord of heaven and earth!” Mr. Elias cried while nudging and tugging his wig, before thundering “Christina! Christina!” loudly enough to be heard from the top of the attic to the bottom of the cellar. “Christina—you abhorrent excuse for a human being, you abominable excuse for a daughter!” His employees lunged out of the office and into the passageway with uniformly appalled expressions on their faces; the bookkeeper, utterly aghast, remonstrated, “But Mr. Roos!” as Mr. Roos kept thundering out “Christina! Christina!” with undiminished fury. Miss Christina had just then stepped in through the front door, and after half-doffing her broad straw hat, she politely and smilingly asked her father why on earth he was bellowing so loudly. “I refuse to tolerate such profitless absconding,” Mr. Elias snarled at her: “my prospective son-in-law is medically melancholy and jealous as a Turk. If you don’t stay put in this house, we’ll be in for a real calamity. My associate is now sitting in his room and bewailing and bemoaning the vagabondage of his fiancée.” Christina gazed in astonishment at the bookkeeper, but he simply glanced and pointed allusively back into the office, specifically at a glass cupboard in which Mr. Roos kept his cinnamon water. “Why don’t you go to your fiancé’s chamber and console him?” her father said and walked away. Christina repaired to her room to freshen up a bit, to put out the laundry, to sort out the particulars of the preparation of the Sunday roast with the cook and at the same time take in some tidbits of local gossip; then she tried to figure out in a trice what on earth was actually vexing her fiancé.
You doubtless know, dear reader!, that all of us who find ourselves in Traugott’s situation are compelled to pass through certain well-defined stages; we have no choice. Despair is followed by a stage of dull, torpid, obsessive brooding, during which the crisis makes its entrance, a stage which is gradually succeeded in turn by one of quiescent sorrow during which nature contrives to apply its highly efficacious remedies.
During this stage of dolorous, beneficent sorrow Traugott again sat for a few days on the Karlsberg and gazed out at the billowing sea and into the gray banks of clouds that lay above Hela. But this time he did not even try to discern some hint about his destiny in those waves and clouds; everything he had hoped for, everything he had surmised, had now vanished. “Ah, how terribly, terribly bitterly was I cheated by my sense of an artistic calling. Felizitas was the phantom that seduced me into believing in something that never existed anywhere but in the delirious imaginings of a fevered brain! It’s over! I surrender! –back into the dungeon!” Traugott went back to work in the office, and a new date for his marriage to Christina was fixed. The day before the ceremony Traugott was standing in Arthur’s Court and gazing, not without a profoundly heart-rending wistfulness, at the images of the old mayor and his page, when he caught sight of the broker to whom Berklinger had tried unsuccessfully to sell a share so seemingly long ago. Without quite realizing what he was doing, and almost involuntarily, he walked up to him and asked, “Are you by any chance acquainted with the strange old man with the curly beard black beard who not long ago frequented this place in the company of a handsome youth?” “How could I not be?” replied the broker: “you’re talking about Berklinger, the crazy old painter.” “Well then,” Traugott proceeded to ask, “do you happen to know where he is staying, where he presently resides?” “How could I not know?” replied the broker: “for some time he has been peacefully residing in Sorrento with his daughter.” “With his daughter Felizitas?” Traugott cried so loudly and forcefully that everybody within earshot turned round to look at him. “Why, of course,” the broker replied just as equably as he had done to the preceding questions, “because of course that charming youth who followed the old man around everywhere was none other than her. Half of Danzig knew he was really a girl, even though the crazy old gentleman himself fancied that nobody would ever be able to guess it. Somebody once prophesied to him that if his daughter ever entered into an amorous union with anybody he would inevitably die an ignominious death, and so he made up his mind that nobody would ever know about her and always presented her in public as his son.” At first Traugott was petrified with astonishment; then he ran through the streets, then straight through the city gates and into the countryside, then into the woods, all the while loudly wailing, “I am the most unfortunate man on earth! It was her, it was no one other than her; I have sat beside her a thousand times—inhaled her breath, clasped her delicate hands, gazed into her charming eyes, heard her sweet words! And now I have lost her! No! I have not lost her. I can find her in the land of art! I recognize a hint from fate when I see one. Off, off to Sorrento!” He ran back home. On his way there, Mr. Elias Roos happened to cross his path, and he seized him and dragged him into his room. “I shall never marry Christine,” he cried: “she looks just like Voluptas and Luxuries and her hair is like that of Ira in the picture at Arthur’s Court. O Felizitas, Felizitas!—my adorable beloved—how yearningly you are stretching your arms out towards me! I am coming! I am coming! And I will have you know, Elias,” he said, turning back to the poor livid businessman and seizing him afresh, “that you will never again see me in your damnable office. What do I care about your confounded ledgers and memorandum books; I am a painter, and a highly capable one at that; Berklinger is my master, my father, my everything, and you are nothing, nothing at all!” And with these words he began violently shaking Elias, who thereupon screamed at the top of his lungs, “Help, help!—everybody come out here, quickly! My prospective son-in-law has gone mad! My associate has turned into a raving lunatic—Help! Help!” Everybody rushed out of the office; by now, Traugott had let go of Elias and was sitting slumped and exhausted in the nearest chair. Everybody was huddling around him when he suddenly and quite surprisingly sprang to his feet and with a savage look in his eye cried “What’s the matter with you people?,” whereupon they all formed a line divided exactly in half by Mr. Elias and filed out of the room. Not long afterwards, there was a sound of silk garments rustling outside in the passageway, and a voice asked, “Have you really gone crazy, dear Mr. Traugott, or are you just fooling?” It was Christina. “I have by no means gone crazy, my dear angel,” replied Traugott, “but I am by no means fooling either. You may rest assured, my dear, that there isn’t going to be any wedding tomorrow, that I’m not going to marry you now or at any time in the future!” “Well, in any case it won’t be necessary,” said Christina quite equably: “I haven’t been particularly keen on you for some time, and certain people will take a very different attitude to the prospect of carrying a pretty rich young lady like Miss Christina Roos over their threshold! Adieu!” With that she swept out of the room. “By ‘certain people’ she obviously meant the bookkeeper,” Traugott reflected. Now that his fury had largely subsided, he repaired to Mr. Elias and succinctly explained to him that it was now simply out of the question for him to have anything to do with him either as a son-in-law or as a business associate. Mr. Elias Roos acquiesced on both counts, and within a few days his employees heard him repeatedly thanking the good Lord with heartfelt glee that he was completely rid of that loon Traugott, for by then Traugott was already a long, long way from Danzig.
Life took on a new, majestic luster in Traugott’s eyes when he finally found himself in the country he had so ardently yearned to see. In Rome he was welcomed as a student by the circle of German painters there, so that he ended up abiding in the city much longer than his longing for Felizitas would have seemed to permit; for until then this longing had impelled him ineluctably ever southward. But by then this longing had grown milder; it was taking on the contours of a blissful dream whose fragrant aura circumscribed his entire life, such that he was coming to fancy that all his efforts and endeavors, all the things he did in connection with his métier as a painter, were oriented towards the exalted superterrestrial kingdom of beatific intimations. Every female figure that he contrived to depict on canvas with his formidable artistic skill had the adorable Felizitas’s features. His fellow young painters found this miraculously lovely face quite striking and searched in vain for its original within the precincts of Rome; they bombarded Traugott with thousands of iterations of the question, “Where in the world did you see this beauty?” But Traugott was extremely loath to tell anybody the frankly odd story of his earlier life in Danzig, and so he refused to answer them, and they were none the wiser as to the identity of the woman for several months, at the end of which a certain old friend of his from Königsberg, a man by the name of Matuszewski, who had likewise come to Rome to devote himself to the art of painting, was delighted to announce to him that he had most assuredly espied the woman whose image Traugott had copied in his pictures, and that he had espied her in Rome no less. The reader will readily imagine how delighted Traugott was; he could no longer conceal what had impelled him so irresistibly to Italy, and the painters all found Traugott’s adventure in Danzig so curious and appealing that they promised to search for his missing beloved with alacrity. Matuszewski’s efforts were the most fruitful: he tracked down the young woman’s abode very quickly and further learned that she was indeed the daughter of a poor elderly painter, who just then was engaged in painting the inside walls of the Trinità del Monte church. All these facts tallied with Felizitas’s life history. Accompanied by Matuszewski, Traugott straight-away hurried to the church, where he beheld a painter whom he really would have sworn was old Berklinger working high above on a scaffold. Before the old man had a chance to notice them, the two friends hurried from the church to his abode. “That is her,” exclaimed Traugott when he saw the painter’s daughter applying herself to some feminine chore on the balcony. “Felizitas! My Felizitas!” Traugott cried with uproarious jubilation as he rushed into the room. The girl gaped at him in terrified bemusement. She had Felizitas’s features, but she was not Felizitas. Like a thousand daggers, bitter disappointment lancinated Traugott’s tender breast. Matuszewski succinctly explained everything to the girl. In her adorable bashfulness—with her fiery red cheeks and her downcast eyes—she was miraculously lovely to behold, and although Traugott’s first impulse had been to run straight back outside, no sooner did he take a single, good, lingering dolorous look at the comely child than he stood fixed to the spot, as though he were being held in place by gentle fetters. His friend contrived to say all manner of ingratiating things to pretty Dorina and thereby dispel the skittish state that she had been thrown into by their bizarre entrance. Dorina “advanced the dark fringed curtains of her eyes” and gazed at the friends with a sweetly friendly smile as she told them that her father would soon be home from work and would undoubtedly be delighted to find himself being paid a visit by two German painters, for whom he had a very high regard. Traugott had to admit that apart from Felizitas herself, he had never found any young woman as keenly enticing as Dorina. In point of fact she was the virtual spitting image of Felizitas, only her features were bolder, more sharply defined, and her hair was darker. But she was very much the same kind of combination of a Raphael and a Rubens. It was not long before the old man arrived, and at that moment it became apparent to Traugott that owing to the great height of the scaffold in the church he had formed a highly erroneous notion of the painter’s appearance and bearing. Unlike the burly, forthright Berklinger, this old painter was thin, timid, pedantic, and visibly demoralized by poverty. A duplicitous shadow in the church had bestowed Berklinger’s curly black beard upon his clean-shaven chin. In conversing about art he evinced a profound practical knowledge of the subject, and though on first seeing the old man Traugott felt nothing but chagrin, he very quickly resolved to maintain an acquaintanceship with him, an acquaintanceship that proved more and more beneficent with the passage of time. Dorina, the epitome of grace and childlike ingenuousness, did nothing to conceal her fondness for the young German painter, which Traugott warmly reciprocated. He grew so accustomed to the company of the adorable fifteen-year-old girl that he was soon spending entire days with the little family; soon after that, he set up his studio in the spacious empty room next door to them, and finally he became their housemate. And so in various subtle but tender ways he employed his affluence in improving their material lot, and the old man could not but come to expect Traugott to marry Dorina, as he eventually told him in so many words. Traugott was not a little startled at this revelation, for it caused him for the first time to give clear and serious thought to what had become of the original purpose of his journey to Italy. Once again he beheld Felizitas as vividly as a living presence, and yet he did not feel himself capable of renouncing Dorina. In a certain miraculously inscrutable way, he could not bring himself to think of his long-vanished beloved as his spouse. In his eyes Felizitas constituted a purely spiritual image that he could neither obtain nor renounce. The eternal spiritual immanence of his beloved was paramount to him, and he could never envisage himself physically possessing her. But he often found himself imagining Dorina as his lovely wife; at such moments his frame was racked by sweetly amorous shivers, and a gentle glow suffused his veins, and yet it seemed to him that he would be betraying his first love if he allowed himself to be bound by indissoluble ties to another woman. The struggle of mutually contradictory feelings in Traugott’s heart was no less indecisive than violent; he could not make up his mind, and he forbore giving the old man a direct answer to his question. But the old man, for his part, believed that Traugott was planning to defraud him of his darling, innocent child. This was why he had spoken of Traugott’s marriage to her as something already settled upon, and it was only on this assumption that he had allowed Dorina’s intimate relationship with Traugott to continue, for he believed that it was otherwise bound to bring her into ill repute. The young man’s evasiveness brought his Italian blood to a boil, and one fine day he firmly declared to Traugott that he must either marry Dorina or leave his house, because he could not tolerate such intimate social commerce under his roof an hour longer. On receiving this ultimatum, Traugott fairly seethed with anger and vexation. The old man struck him as no better than a common pimp; he found his own conduct contemptible, and the notion of ever separating himself from Felizitas sinful and abominable. It rent his heart to take leave of Dorina, but by a violent effort he contrived to wriggle free of the sweet fetters of his attachment to her. He hastened southwards to Naples, to Sorrento.
He spent a year searching relentlessly for Berklinger and Felizitas, but once again it was all in vain; nobody knew anything about either of them. The faintest of conjectures, founded on nothing more substantial than a rumor, that an old German painter had occasionally been seen around Sorrento over the previous few years, was all he managed to snatch hold of. Like a man who has long been driven hither and thither on the billowing waves of the high seas, Traugott finally settled in Naples, where he once again began to apply himself sedulously to his art, and as he did so his heart’s yearning for Felizitas grew milder and softer. But he could never catch sight of any girl who looked, walked, or comported herself even remotely like Dorina without feeling acutely pained by the sweet child’s absence. When he was painting, he never thought about Dorina, but quite often thought about Felizitas, who remained his unwavering ideal. Eventually he received a letter from his native city. The letter’s author, an attorney, informed him that Mr. Elias Roos had departed this life and that Traugott’s presence was necessary to the working out of a settlement with the bookkeeper, who had married Miss Christina and taken over the business. Traugott returned posthaste to Danzig. There he found himself once again standing face to face with the mayor and the page on the granite column in Arthur’s Court; he reflected on the marvelous adventure that had so painfully supervened in his life, and he gazed at the youth, who seemed to be greeting him and sweetly, winsomely whispering to him: “You just couldn’t get away from me, could you?”
“Do my eyes deceive me? Is your Excellency really here again and fresh and healthy and completely cured of that nasty case of melancholy?” Thus squawked a voice at Traugott’s elbow; it was that of his old acquaintance the broker. “I didn’t find them,” Traugott reflexively said. “Who do you mean? Who is it your Excellency didn’t find?” asked the broker. “Godfredus Berklinger the painter and his daughter Felizitas,” replied Traugott; “I searched all over Italy for them; nobody in Sorrento knew anything about them.” Whereupon the broker started gaping at him and stammering: “Where did your Excellency search for the painter and Felizitas? In Italy? In Naples? In Sorrento?” “Yes, there, of course, where else?” cried Traugott in unalloyed exasperation. Instead of answering, the broker clapped his hands together over and over and in between each clap cried “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! But Mr. Traugott, Mr. Traugott!” “Now what in heaven’s name is so astonishing about that?” said the latter; “Stop behaving like such a confounded fool at once. Yes, yes! For the sake of finding my beloved I actually traveled to Sorrento. Yes, yes! I loved Felizitas and followed her southward.” But the broker started hopping around on one leg and repeatedly crying, “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! But Mr. Traugott, Mr. Traugott!” until Traugott grabbed hold of him and said with a very serious expression on his face, “For heaven’s sake tell me this instant exactly what it is that you find so outrageously strange.” “But Mr. Traugott,” the broker finally began, “do you really not know that Sorrento is the name that Mr. Aloysius Brandstetter, our honorable town councilman and an esteemed member of our guild, has given to his little country-house right at the foot of the Karlsberg, in the grove of fir trees, not far from Conrad’s Hammer? The gentleman bought all Berklinger’s paintings from him and took him and his daughter into his house, and hence into Sorrento. They moved into the place years ago, and if only at some point, Mr. Traugott, sir, you had stood with your own two feet at the very center of the top of the Karlsberg and peeked into their garden you could have beheld Miss Felizitas ambling about in those wonderful old-fashioned German dresses she wears in her father’s paintings; there was no need at all for you to travel all the way to Italy. Anyway, since then the old man—but this is a really sad story!” “Tell it to me,” said Traugott glumly. “Sure!” the broker resumed: “Young Mr. Brandstetter came back from England, saw Miss Felizitas, and fell in love with her. He ambushed the young lady in the garden, fell on to both knees before her like a hero in a novel, and swore that he would marry her and liberate her from the tyrannical slavery imposed on her by her father. Unbeknownst to the two young people, the old man was standing right behind them, and the moment Felizitas said ‘I will be yours’; he fell to the ground with a muffled cry, and he was as dead as a doornail. They say he was truly hideous to behold, all blue-faced and covered in blood, because something or other had caused him to burst a major artery. After that, Miss Felizitas couldn’t stand the sight of young Mr. Brandstetter, and she ended up marrying Mathesisus, the privy and criminal councilor in Marienwerder. Your Excellency can visit Mrs. Mathesius for old affection’s sake. Marienwerder is certainly not nearly as far away as the actual Sorrento in Italy. They say that the dear woman is faring quite well and has put sundry children into circulation.” Mutely and impassively, Traugott raced out of the hall. He was appalled and horrified by the way his adventure had concluded. “No, it’s not her,” he cried, “it’s not her, not Felizitas, the heavenly image that kindled an infinite yearning in my breast, that I followed to distant lands, that I perpetually, unflaggingly beheld before me, like my lucky star, blazing and sparkling with sweet hopefulness! Felizitas! Mrs. Mathesius, the criminal councilor’s wife! Ha, ha, ha—Mrs. Mathesius, the criminal councilor’s wife!” Traugott, utterly possessed by a truly savage sorrow, laughed at the top of his lungs and ran as in the old days through the Oliva Gate, through the borough of Langfur and up the Karlsberg. He took a look into the garden at Sorrento; tears welled up in his eyes. “Ah,” he cried, “you eternally conquering power, how incurably deeply your bitter scorn has wounded the tender heart of a wretched individual! But no, no! What right has a child to bewail his unassuageable pain after sticking his hand into a flame instead of savoring its light and warmth at a safe distance? I was manifestly graced with talent, but my purblind gaze failed to recognize the higher essence for what it truly was, and I presumptuously fancied that this being that the old master had miraculously brought to life once and for all in his paintings had been vouchsafed as a private possession to the humble likes of me, that I was capable of dragging it down into the lamentable muck of this fleeting terrestrial existence. No, no, Felizitas, I never lost you; you will remain mine for ever, for you yourself are the fecundating art that lives within me. Now, only now, for the first time, am I recognizing you for what you are. What ever has Mrs. Mathesius, the criminal councilor’s wife, got to do with you? What ever has she got to do with me? Nothing whatsoever, I should think!” “I, too, should have thought she had nothing whatsoever to do with you, Mr. Traugott,” a voice now chimed in. Traugott awoke from a dream. Without having the faintest idea of how he had gotten there, he was standing back in Arthur’s Court and leaning against the granite pillar. The voice that had spoken the above words was that of Christine’s husband. He handed Traugott a letter that had just arrived from Rome. In it Matuszewski wrote:
“Dorina is prettier and more charming than ever, but she is pale with longing for you, my dear friend! She expects you at every hour, for it is her soul’s firm conviction that you could never forsake her. She loves you ardently beyond belief. When will we see you again?”
“I am very happy,” said Traugott to Christine’s husband after he had read the letter, “that we arrived at a settlement today, because tomorrow I am leaving for Rome, where I am eagerly awaited by a fiancée whom I love very much.”
After Cyprian finished reading, his friends praised the cheerful, good-natured tone that prevailed throughout his tale. Theodor merely felt obliged to point out that girls and women might find much to object to in it. That not only Christine the blonde with her dazzlingly clean pots and pans, but also the hero’s mystification, Mrs. Mathesius, the criminal councilor’s wife, and the entire conclusion with its strong vein of irony, would be bound to displease them intensely. “If ,” cried Lothar, “you insist on making inoffensiveness to women a universal desideratum, you will be compelled to issue a ban on irony, the source of all the profundity and pleasure afforded by humor; for at least as a rule, women have no ability to appreciate it.” “Which,” replied Theodor, “is perfectly fine by me. You will admit to me that humor, which is generated by the play of curious contrasts in the most outlandish regions of our psyche, is utterly repugnant to the feminine psyche. We feel this all too palpably, even if we should be ever so hard-pressed to account for it clearly. For tell me, however much you may enjoy the conversation of a female humorist for brief and occasional spells, would you ever want one as your mistress or wife?” “Certainly not,” said Lothar, “although there is doubtless much more to be said on this multifaceted topic of the extent to which a sense of humor is a seemly attribute in a woman, and I herewith expressly reserve the right at a propitious moment to hold forth on this topic to my worthy Serapionian brethren with as much wisdom and profundity as has ever been lavished on it by the most redoubtable of psychologists. Incidentally, let me ask you, O Theodor, whether it is absolutely essential for a man to regard every excellent lady with whom he has engaged in a rational conversation as his mistress or wife?”
“I am of the opinion,” replied Theodor, “that the company of a feminine being can never be interesting at all unless one is able at minimum to contemplate the idea of her as one’s mistress or wife without horror, and that the more fully this idea makes itself at home in one’s mind, the more interesting her company is bound to become.”
“This,” cried Ottmar with a laugh, “this is one of Theodor’s most audacious contentions, and one with which I have been familiar for the longest time. He has steadily acted in accordance with it, and has consequently turned his back in the most boorish manner on many a splendid woman simply because he was unable to fall in love with her within the first few hours of his acquaintance with her. As a dancing student he took serious pride in serving up his heart to every young woman with whom he took a turn on the floor, at least for the duration of the Angloise or quadrille, in using delicate footwork to express what his mouth was not then permitted to say, and sighing as ardently as he could without getting winded.”
“You must excuse me,” cried Theodor, “for interrupting this highly Un-Serapionian conversation. It is getting late, and it would pain me deeply if I didn’t get a chance this evening to read you a story that I finished yesterday. I was inspired to elaborate and give broader import to a very well-known and often retold story about a miner in Falun, and it is up to you to decide whether I did well in heeding my inspiration. The gloomy tone with which my painting is bound to be imbued will perchance clash rather unpleasantly with Cyprian’s light-hearted tableau. Please pardon this and bend me a gracious ear!”
The Mines at Falun
One merry sunny July day all the citizens of Gothenburg were gathered at the city’s roadstead. A lavishly laden East Indiaman that had just made a successful homecoming from distant climes was now anchored in Klippan harbor and was jollily flying its long pennants and Swedish standards in the azure air as hundreds of barks, boats, and dinghies jam-packed with jubilant sailors swam to and fro on the mirroring waves of the Gothia River, and the cannons of the Masthuggstorg thundered their reverberant regards all the way out into the open sea. The gentlemen of the East India Company ambled up and down the harbor and smilingly tallied the lavish lucre that had accrued to them and reveled in the realization that their adventurous undertaking was thriving more and more resplendently year after year and that good old Gothenburg was bursting into an ever fresher and ever greater commercial efflorescence. Everybody gazed at the valiant gentlemen with joy and good cheer and reveled along with them, for their prosperity was naturally imbuing the whole bustling city with extra vim and vigor.
The crew of the East Indiaman, which was nearly a hundred-and-fifty men strong, disembarked from numerous boats fitted out for that purpose and hurried off to begin celebrating their hönsning. That is what Swedish sailors call any party thrown by a ship’s crew on such an occasion, and it is a party that often lasts several days. This hönsning centered on a procession headed up by minstrels in marvelous particolored attire who vigorously played away on fiddles, flutes, oboes, and drums while others sang all sorts of merry songs to their accompaniment. They were followed by sailors marching in pairs. A few of these in colorfully beribboned jackets and hats swung fluttering flags, others danced and leapt about, and all of them rejoiced and jubilated uproariously, such that the din was carried downwind a remarkable distance.
And so the merry procession marched across the wharf—through the inner suburbs, and all the way to the outer suburb of Haga, where at a tavern they were to feast and carouse like lords.
Here the finest oil flowed in streams, and bumper after bumper was drained. And like all crowds of sailors newly come home from a long voyage, they were promptly joined by all manner of pretty young women of easy virtue, and everybody started dancing, and the merriment grew wilder and wilder and the jubilation grew louder and madder.
But a single, isolated seaman—a thin, handsome individual, who could have scarcely been twenty years of age—had sneaked away from the hurly-burly of the feast and taken a solitary seat on the bench outside next to the front door of the tavern.
A pair of sailors walked up to him, and one of them cried out with a laugh, “Elis Fröbom, Elis Fröbom! Have you really turned back into your old foolish mopey self, and are you really frittering away this fine stretch of leave by brooding like a moron? Listen up, Elis: if you’re going to stay away from our hönsning, you really might as well stay away from the ship! You’ll never make a proper, hardworking seaman this way. You are certainly courageous enough, and you are always brave in the midst of danger, but you don’t know a thing about getting drunk, and you keep your ducats in your wallet instead of flinging them into the coffers of the yokels here like a good guest. Here, drink, lad, or Näcken the sea-demon will pounce on you; that old troll will body-slam you!”
Elis Fröbom immediately leapt up from the bench, gazed at the sailors with incandescent fury, snatched away the proffered tumbler, which was filled to the brim with spirits, and drained it in a single gulp. Then he said, “As you can see, Joens, I can hold my own as a drinker with either one of you, and it’s up to the captain to decide whether I am a proper, hardworking seaman. So shut your slandering trap and beat it! What I’m doing out here is no business of yours!” “All right, all right,” rejoined Joens, “I see what the problem is: you were born in Närke, and all you native Närkers are incorrigibly moody and mopey, and not one of you has got the tiniest spark of gusto for the doughty life of a seaman! But just you wait a minute, Elis, and I’ll send out somebody who will drag you away from that accursed bench that Näcken has nailed you to.”
Not long afterwards, a quite elegantly and sprucely attired young woman emerged from the tavern and sat down next to the heavy-hearted Elis, who had slumped back onto the bench and was once again silently preoccupied with his own thoughts. In her painted-on finery, in her entire demeanor, one readily perceived that the girl had long since sacrificed herself to sinful pleasures, and yet the abandoned life associated with them had not yet wrought its ineluctable devastation on the adorably tender features of her winsome countenance. Her gaze bore not a trace of that repellent sauciness typical of prostitutes—to the contrary, her dark eyes bespoke a silent, yearning sense of bereavement.
“Elis! Do you really intend to forgo all participation in the joy of your comrades? Don’t you feel the faintest stirrings of delight at the thought that you are back home again and that, having eluded the treacherous sea-billows’ mortal menace, you are now standing back on the terra firma of your native country?”
Thus spoke the lass in a soft, gentle voice as she wrapped an arm around the youth. Whereupon Elis Fröbom, as if awaking from a deep dream, gazed into the girl’s eyes; he seized her hand and pressed it to his breast; one readily perceived that the lass’s sweetly whispered words had truly touched a chord in his heart.
“Ah,” he finally began, as if recollecting himself, “ah, none of that gives me any joy or delight whatsoever. At any rate, I am absolutely incapable of joining in my comrades’ high jinks. Go back inside, my dear child; revel and jubilate with the others, if you can, but let poor moody, mopey Elis sit out here alone; he would only spoil all your fun. But wait! I like you very much, and I ought to give you a reason to remember me kindly when I am back at sea.”
With these words he took two shiny ducats out of his wallet, pulled a beautiful East Indian kerchief out of his breast pocket, and gave both of them to the lass. Her eyes, not his, welled up with radiant tears; she rose; she placed the ducats on the bench; she said, “Ah, hold onto your ducats; they only make me sad, but I will take your lovely kerchief, and I will wear it to remind me of your dear self, and when you have your next hönsning in a year from now, you most likely won’t find me here in Haga.”
With these words the lass, who was never to return to the tavern, buried her face in her hands and slipped across the street.
Now Elis Fröbom sank back into his gloomy reveries, and at length, when the jubilation inside the tavern reached a climax of volume and riotousness, he cried “Ah, if only I were now interred beneath the bottom of the deepest sea!—for in the world of the living there is no longer a single person whose company could ever delight me!”
Then a deep, raspy voice coming from just behind him said, “You must have experienced a great misfortune indeed, young man, if you already desire your death now, when your life should only just be beginning.”
He looked around and caught sight of an old miner who was leaning against the tavern’s outer wall of plank boards with his arms folded across his chest, and looking down at him with a serious, penetrating mien.
No sooner did he take a good look at the miner than he felt as though in the midst of a wilderness of solitude in which he had thought himself lost forever he was encountering an old friend who wanted only to console him. He composed himself and told the old man that his father had been a highly capable helmsman who had unfortunately perished in a tempest, a tempest in which, he, Elis, had also been caught up and from which he had been miraculously rescued. That his two brothers had been soldiers and had found their final resting place in the battlefield so that he had been left alone with his poor forsaken mother and the guarantee of an ample pay-packet from every East India voyage. For having been virtually ordained as a sailor in his earliest childhood, he had been obliged to remain one, and he had always regarded it as an enormous boon to have been allowed to enter into the service of the East India Company. The lucre from this latest voyage, he said, had been more lavish than ever before, and every seaman had received a hefty bonus in addition to his regular wages, so that Elis’s wallet had been full of ducats and his face beaming with joy as he raced straight from the harbor to the little house where his mother lived.
But the faces of strangers had peered out at him from the house’s windows, and the young woman who had finally answered the door, and to whom he had then identified himself, had coldly and harshly reported to him that his mother had died three months earlier, and that he should go to the town hall if he wished to claim the handful of rags that remained of her estate after the deduction of burial costs. He said that the death of his mother had broken his heart, that he now felt forsaken by the entire world; as solitary as a ship driven off course and run aground on a barren reef; helpless, wretched. His entire life at sea now struck him as a harebrained, pointless endeavor; indeed, he said, on reflecting that his mother had perhaps been poorly looked after by unloving strangers in her final days, he regarded himself as a monster and a scoundrel in having gone to sea at all instead of staying at home and tending and nursing his poor mother. He said that his comrades had dragged him to the hönsning with main force, and that he himself had fancied that the ambient jubilation, and indeed the abundance of strong liquor, would numb his pain, but that instead he had soon begun to feel that every artery in his breast was on the point of bursting, and that he would unavoidably bleed to death.
“Ah,” said the old miner, “ah, you will soon put out to sea again, Elis, and then your grief will swiftly pass away. Old people die, that is simply the way of the world; and after all, as you yourself have acknowledged, the life your mother left behind was but a troublesome one.”
“Ah,” replied Elis, “it is this very sort of upbraiding, this downright fatuous and inane upbraiding of the supposed transience or factitiousness of my grief, that is impelling me to forsake the world in toto. I simply cannot, under any circumstances, go out to sea again; the very prospect of reassuming the life of a sailor nauseates me. It used to be that my heart would soar when the ship spread its sails like stately pinions and set out across the sea, and the waves rippled and burbled with genuinely musical merriment, and the wind rushing between them whistled through the rigging. Back then, I gaily partook of my comrades’ high spirits on the deck, and then—in the still darkness of night, when I was on watch duty, I would think about the voyage back, and about how delighted my good old mother would be to have her boy Elis home again! Ah, back then I could enjoy every hönsning to the full, when I had poured buckets of ducats into my dear mother’s lap, when I had showered her with lovely kerchiefs and all sorts of other curiously wrought goods from the distant east. When her eyes would turn bright with pure joy, when she would clap her hands together, quite overcome with delight and mirth, when she would bustle to and fro and fetch forth an exquisitely flavorful aehl that she had set aside especially for her Elis. And then in the evenings I would sit with the old woman and tell her about the outlandish people I had kept company with and about their mores and customs, about all the marvels I had encountered during my long voyage. Listening to these tales was her chief delight, and for her part she would speak to me about my father’s marvelous journeys into the northernmost reaches of the earth, and regale me with many a scary maritime ghost story that I had heard a hundred times before but could never tire of hearing! Ah! Who can ever restore such joy to me? No, I shall never spend another minute at sea. How could I associate with comrades who would only jeer me; how could I derive any enjoyment from work that I would regard as nothing but meaningless drudgery?”
“I have been listening to you,” said the old man, once Elis had said his piece, “I have been listening to you with great pleasure, young man, and for the preceding few hours, unbeknownst to you, I took no less delight in observing your entire manner of carrying yourself. Everything you have been doing and saying proves that you are of a profoundly introspective, pious, kindly disposition, and the exalted heavens could not have bestowed a worthier gift on you. But at no point in your life have you had the makings of a true sailor. How can a silent, dejection-prone Närker like you (for I can tell that that is exactly what you are from every feature of your face, and from your entire comportment), how can you of all people ever be content with the wild, unsettled life of a sailor? You did well to renounce this life for good. But do you really want just to sit around with your hands in your lap? Take my advice, Elis Fröbom!: go to Falun; become a miner. You are young, physically robust; you would certainly soon be a first-rate pitman, then a face-worker, a foreman, and so on and so on upwards in the hierarchy. You’ve got a hefty fund of ducats in your wallet, which is weighing you down; those ducats deserve to be and would be well spent on a miner’s homestead, and you should buy some shares in the mine too. Take my advice, Elis Fröbom: become a miner!”
Elis Fröbom was horrified by the old man’s counsel. “What?” he cried: “do you realize what you are advising me to do? Do you really expect me to leave behind the lovely, open surface of the earth, the serene, sun-drenched sky that refreshingly, invigoratingly enfolds me, and descend into the blood-curdling infernal depths and root around ad nauseam like some ore and metal-seeking mole for mere filthy lucre’s sake?”
“This,” cried the old man irately, “this is the peasant in you talking; peasants look down their noses at everything they don’t understand. Filthy lucre indeed! As if all the misery induced by commerce on the earth’s surface were ultimately nobler than the work of the miner, whose scientific know-how, whose sedulous industriousness, is afforded access to the most secret recesses of nature’s treasury. You talk of filthy lucre, Fröbom!—well, it might just amount to something rather more exalted than that. For although the blind mole most certainly burrows through the earth out of mere blind instinct, it may well be the case that in the deepest subterranean depths the human eye, aided by the faint illumination of the miner’s headlamp, it acquires a kind of ever-strengthening clairvoyance, such that the subterranean stones may eventually reveal to it the reflected image of the mystery concealed above the superterrestrial clouds. You don’t know a thing about the métier of mining, Elis Fröbom; allow me to tell you something about it.”
With these words, the old man sat down next to Elis on the bench and launched into a highly detailed account of the mining métier, and he took pains to make everything look as vividly distinct and colorful as possible in the mind of his skeptical listener. At length he came to talk about the mine at Falun, in which, he said, he had been working since his early youth; he described the spacious entrance with its blackish-brown walls; he spoke of the immeasurable abundance of ore embedded in the indescribably beautiful rocks. His speech grew ever more animated, and his gaze ever more ardent. He ambled through the mine shafts as though they were the pathways of an enchanted garden. The rocks came to life; the fossils stirred; the marvelous pyrosmalite, the almandine, coruscated in the light imparted by the headlamps—the rock crystal glimmered and flickered in every which direction.
Elis was listening extremely attentively; his entire conscious self was falling captive to the old man’s peculiar manner of describing these subterranean wonders, which made him feel as though he were standing in their very midst. His chest felt constricted; it seemed to him as though he had already departed with the old man into the depths, and as though some powerful spell were firmly detaining him underground, such that he would never behold the welcoming light of day again. And yet at the same time he felt as though the old man had disclosed to him a world previously unknown to him, a world into which he had just been vouchsafed a glimpse through his ears, a world of whose enchantments he had been afforded the most tantalizing and mysterious intimations from his earliest boyhood onwards.
“I have,” the old man eventually perorated, “I have endeavored to give you, Elis Fröbom, a sense of the full majesty of a way of life for which nature has genuinely ordained you. Now you must have recourse to your own counsel, and subsequently do whatever your heart has deemed wisest!”
With these words the old man suddenly leapt off the bench and walked away without bidding Elis farewell or even granting him so much as a parting glance over the shoulder. A few seconds later he had vanished completely into the night.
Meanwhile silence had descended in the tavern. The power of the strong aehl (i.e., beer) and spirits had triumphed. Many of the sailors had slunk away with their doxies; others were lying in corners and snoring. Elis, now debarred from ever again returning to his old abode, requested and obtained a tiny cupboard of a room to sleep in.
He was so tired and sleepy that no sooner did he stretch himself out on his bed than the dream-world spread its wings over him. He felt as though he were riding under full sail in a magnificent ship on a sea as shiny as a mirror, and that a sky filled with pitch black clouds arched above his head. But upon peering into the waves, he quickly realized that what he had taken for the sea was in fact a virtually transparent mass into whose luster the entire ship was miraculously deliquescing, leaving him standing on a plateau of pure crystal, and overhead he descried a vault of darkly shimmering rock. So then: what he had initially taken for an overcast sky was actually a mass of rock. Next, he began walking forwards, as if impelled by some mysterious force, but at that same moment everything around him started stirring and shifting, and like rippling waves wondrous flowers and plants of gleaming metal emerged from out of the plateau; their leaves and blossoms snaked up on tendrils from the deepest depths and intertwined in a highly ingratiating manner. The plateau was so pellucid that Ellis could distinctly descry the roots of the plants, but soon he penetrated so deeply with his gaze that he could see to the very bottom of the depths, where innumerable adorable maidens embraced one another with their dazzlingly white arms, and it was from these young women’s hearts that the roots and plants and flowers were sprouting, and when the maidens smiled, a sweet melody spread across the broad vault above, and the wondrous metal flowers shot up higher and more joyfully. An indescribable feeling of heartache and sensual lust took hold of the youth; a world of love, of yearning, of animally fierce desire surged into being in his soul of souls. “I must go down, down, to all of you!” he cried, and, spreading his arms, he threw himself on to the crystalline plateau below. But this plateau itself vanished beneath him, and he found himself soaring in a kind of shimmering ether. “Now, Elis Fröbom, how do you like it here in the midst of this splendor?” a vigorous voice queried vociferously. Elis now noticed that the old miner was standing beside him, but as the youth kept his gaze trained on him the old man gradually changed into a kind of colossal statue that seemed to have been cast out of pure glowing ore. Elis was just on the point of being utterly overwhelmed with horror when a sudden flash of light blazed up from the depths and the stern countenance of a woman of evidently great power came into view. He felt the rapture in his breast swelling and swelling until it was transformed into a crushing sense of dread. The old man had thrown his arms around him, and he now cried, “Take heed, Elis Fröbom; that is the queen; in any case, you may wish to take a look up above now.” Reflexively, he craned his neck upward and immediately perceived that the stars of the night sky were shining through a chink in the vault. A gentle voice called out his name in a tone of inconsolable sorrow. It was the voice of his mother. He fancied he could see her up by the chink. But then he saw that the figure up there was actually an adorable young woman who was stretching her hand out deep into the vault and calling his name. “Carry me up,” he shouted to the old man, “for I belong to the world above the surface, and to its welcoming firmament.” “Take heed,” said the old man softly, “take heed, Fröbom!—be true to the queen to whom you have surrendered all self-sovereignty.” But no sooner did the youth look up again into the formidable woman’s impassible countenance than he felt his conscious self beginning to dissolve into the refulgent rock crystal. He shrieked in nameless terror and awoke from the marvelous dream whose mingled horror and bliss reverberated deep within his soul of souls.
“It was,” said Elis, as he composed himself with great effort, “it was bound to happen; I could not but have ended up dreaming about such wonderfully impossible things. The old miner told me so much about the splendor of the subterranean world that my brain is brimming over with thoughts about it; never before in my life have I felt as I do right now. Perhaps I am actually still dreaming—no, no—I am simply a touch under the weather; I must get out into the open air; the fresh maritime breezes will cure me!”
He pulled himself together and dashed off to Klippan harbor, where the jubilation of the hönsning was just beginning to catch its second wind. But he soon perceived that all power of joining in the merriment eluded him, that his mind was incapable of taking hold of a single thought, and that his soul of souls was being traversed in every which direction by desires and intimations that he was quite unable even to name. With profound dejection he thought back on his deceased mother; then he yearned for nothing more than once again to encounter the girl who had approached him in such a kindly manner the day before. And then he feared that if the girl did walk up to him from out of this or that street, she would eventually be followed by the old miner, whose presence would for some inscrutable reason be bound to horrify him. And yet at the same time he would have been only too glad to hear the old man tell him more about the wonders of the life of a miner.
As he was being tossed hither and thither by these vagrant thoughts, he gazed into the water. It seemed to him as though the silver waves were congealing into coruscating mica into which the grand and stately ships in the harbor were dissolving; as if the dark clouds that had only just gathered in the formerly cheerfully clear sky were drawing closer to the earth and condensing and indurating into a solid stone vault. By then he was back in the world of his dream; he again beheld the countenance of the formidable woman, and he was overwhelmed anew by the deranging terror of infinitely desperate desire.
His comrades brusquely roused him from his reverie; he was compelled to join their procession. But now he fancied that he could hear an unfamiliar voice uninterruptedly whispering in his hear, “What are you doing here still? Be off! Be off—your true home is in the mines of Falun. There you will encounter as a reality all the splendor of which you have been dreaming—be off, be off—to Falun!”
For three days Elis Fröbom roved about the streets of Gothenburg, incessantly haunted by the wondrous images of his dream, incessantly hectored by the unfamiliar voice.
On the fourth day Elis found himself standing at the city gate through which the road leading to Gävle passed. At that moment a tall man who had reached the gate just before him was passing through it. Elis fancied that in this man he had just glimpsed the old miner, and he found himself hurrying irresistibly after him, but for all his haste he somehow did not manage to catch up with him.
Nevertheless he kept moving restlessly forward, farther and farther away from the city.
He was fully conscious of the fact that he was headed towards Falun, and he found this fact oddly soothing, for he was certain that the voice of fate had been speaking to him through the old miner, such that in following the miner’s advice he was merely following the path that fate had ordained for him.
And in point of fact, from time to time, particularly when he seemed to be just on the verge of losing his way, he would catch a glimpse of the old man; each time he would suddenly step into view, as if upon emerging from some gorge or dense thicket or dark cluster of rocks, and march past Elis without paying him any mind, only to vanish just as quickly as he had appeared.
At length, after many arduous days of peregrination, Elis descried in the distance two large lakes between which a mass of thick fumes was ascending. And as he was moving farther and farther westward and upward along the rising ground, he descried amid the smoke a pair of towers and black roofs. At that moment the old man suddenly appeared before him, pointed at the smoke with his arm outstretched, and then vanished back into the rocks.
“That is Falun!” cried Elis, “that is Falun, the goal of my journey!” And he was not mistaken, for the considerable number of people who were walking behind him in the same direction proved that between those two bodies of water, Lake Runn and Lake Warpann, lay the town of Falun, and that he was just then ascending the Guffrisberg, at whose summit the great pit or entrance of the mine-works was sited.
Elis Fröbom pressed onwards with buoyant good cheer, but no sooner did he find himself standing at the threshold of the entrance, that colossal maw of hell, than the blood ran cold in his veins and he was utterly paralyzed by the horrifying spectacle of destruction that it presented.
The great entrance to the mineworks of Falun is famously twelve-hundred feet long, six-hundred feet wide, and a hundred-and-eighty feet deep. Its blackish-brown side-walls descend into the earth pretty much perpendicularly and reach their base only towards the middle depths amid colossal heaps of slag and debris. In these heaps and along the sidewalls the timbering of old shafts shows through every now and then; these framing structures were erected by piling tree trunks on top of each other interpenetratively, exactly as in the construction of an ordinary log cabin. Not a single tree, not a single blade of grass, grew out of the forbidding landscape of eroded rocks and crags, and on all sides there towered the most fantastic jagged stone colossuses, some vaguely human in form, others more akin to petrified beasts. The abyss was strewn all about with a savage chaos of destruction—rocks, bits of slag, the burnt out remnants of various ores—and from the depths there unremittingly ascended a stupefyingly pungent sulfurous haze, like the steam emitted by some perpetually simmering hellish brew that was preemptively poisoning all of nature’s merry aspirations to verdure. One might easily have supposed that it was here that Dante had made his descent into the underworld and beheld the Inferno in all its inconsolable agony, in all its unsurpassable horror.
As Elis Fröbom gazed down into the colossal gorge, he was reminded of a story that the old pilot of his ship had told him many years earlier. The pilot said that once when suffering from a fever he had suddenly imagined that the waves of the sea had all drained away, and that beneath his feet an immeasurably deep abyss had opened up, allowing him to behold all the abominable monsters of the deep as they gyrated to and fro in all sorts of hideous convolutions amid thousands of outlandish-looking mussels, corals, amid fantastically shaped rock formations, until they were left lying dead with their mouths frozen agape. To behold one of these faces, the old sailor averred, was a sure sign that one would very soon meet one’s end in the waves, and indeed not long thereafter he all of a sudden leapt overboard into the sea and vanished irretrievably. Elis thought of the old pilot’s dream because to him the black rock looked just like the bottom of the water-forsaken sea, and the bluish-red bits of slag like abominable monsters stretching their hideous tentacles out towards him. Even the small number of miners who were ascending from the depths in their dark pit-uniforms and with their heat-blackened faces resembled hideous ogres laboriously crawling up towards the surface.
He felt his frame being racked by violent shudders, and he was also attacked by vertigo, something he had never suffered from in all his years as a sailor; he felt as though invisible hands were shoving their way down his throat.
With his eyes shut, he ran back a few steps, and by the time he was far from the pit and descending the Guffrisberg, and he was gazing up at the sunny sky, all his anxiety at the sight of the entrance to the mine had evaporated. He was breathing freely again, and he cried out from the very bottom of his soul, “O Lord of my life, what are all the terrors of the sea compared to the horrors that dwell there in that barren, rocky landscape! Though the tempest may rage, though the black clouds may immerse themselves in the roaring waves, the majestic beauteous sun is bound soon to gain the victory, and in the presence of its amiable countenance the savage bluster falls silent; but the sun’s gaze never penetrates that black hole, and down there one’s breast is never vivified by a single breath of fresh spring air. No, I have no desire to consort with you miners, you black earthworms; I could never manage to acclimatize myself to your dismal, dreary life!
Elis now resolved to spend the night in Falun and to set off back towards Gothenburg at the crack of dawn the next day.
When he reached the town’s market square, known as the Helsingtorget, he saw that a fairly large crowd was assembled in it.
A long line of miners in all their finery, with headlamps in their hands, and headed up by a group of musicians, was standing directly in front of some kind of governmental building. A tall, thin, middle-aged man emerged from the house and surveyed the crowd with a mild smile. Thanks to his easygoing bearing, unfurrowed brow, and radiant, dark-blue eyes, one could not fail to perceive that he was a true-blue Dalecarlian. The miners formed a circle around him, and to each of them he ingenuously offered his hand and spoke a few friendly words.
On asking one of his neighbors who the man was, Elis Fröbom learned that he was Pehrson Dahlsjö, a senior alderman and proprietor of a handsome bergsfrälse in the Stora-Kopparberg Corporation. Bergsfrälse are what the Swedes call estates consigned to the mining of copper and silver. The proprietors of these frälse have shares in the pits, to whose operations they are expected to contribute.
Elis was also informed that the bergsthing (assizes) had just ended, and that the miners were just about to carouse in the company of the mayor, their landlords, and the aldermen, but as guests rather than mere drinking-companions.
As Elis contemplated these handsome, elegantly dressed men with their candid, friendly faces, he found it impossible to think any longer about those earthworms back at the great pit. The flame of unabashed jollity that seemed to be ignited the instant Pehrson Dahlsjö emerged from the house, and that thereupon blazed through the entire crowd, was of an entirely different character from the savage, uproarious jubilation of the sailors during a hönsning.
Being of a taciturn and earnest disposition, Elis was deeply touched by these miners’ manner of celebrating. Although he could not properly describe the way he felt, he could scarcely hold back his tears when a few of the younger pitmen launched into an old song praising the blissfulness of a life of a miner to the strains of a simple heart and soul-rending tune.
At the conclusion of the song, Pehrson Dahlsjö opened the doors of his house, and all the miners filed inside. Elis reflexively tagged along and paused at the threshold, so that he was afforded a comprehensive view of the spacious front hallway in which the miners were taking their seats on benches. A sumptuous banquet had been laid out on a table.
Now the doors at the back of the hall and directly opposite Elis opened, and a lovely, festively attired maiden entered. Tall and slender, with her dark hair braided against the crown of her head in numerous plaits, and her spruce, trim bodice fastened together with ample clasps, she emerged into the room the very perfection of youthful grace and charm in their first flower. All the miners rose, and a soft, joyous murmur propagated through their ranks: “Ulla Dahlsjö, Ulla Dahlsjö! What a beautiful, pious child of heaven God has seen fit to bestow upon our brave alderman!” Even the eyes of the oldest miners sparkled as Ulla held out her hand to them, as to all the others, in friendly welcome. Next she produced a collection of lovely silver tankards into which she poured great lashings of excellent aehl brewed right there in Falun, and then she handed them round to all the merry guests while the celestial luster of superlatively ingenuous impartiality irradiated her adorable countenance.
The moment Elis Fröbom beheld this maiden, he felt as though a lightning bolt had just struck his soul of souls and ignited all the celestial desire, all the heartache, all the unquenchable ardor that had been pent up inside him for so long. It was Ulla Dahlsjö who had offered her saving hand to him in that ominous dream; he now believed that he had divined the profound significance of the dream, and quite forgetting the old miner, he praised the fates for having drawn him to Falun.
But as he remained standing there on the front doorstep of the house, he suddenly realized that he was a complete nullity and a stranger here, that nobody was paying the slightest attention to him; he felt wretchedly inconsolable and forsaken and found himself wishing that he had never seen Ulla Dahlsjö, for now that he had it seemed to him that he was undoubtedly destined to perish of unrequited love and unsatisfied yearning. He found it impossible to take his eyes off the adorable girl, and when she passed quite close to him as she was walking by, he called out her name in a soft and tremulous voice. Ulla turned round and beheld poor Elis, who was standing there, his entire face flushed a glowing red, his eyes downcast—petrified—incapable of uttering a single word.
Ulla stepped up to him and smilingly sweetly said, “Ah, you are obviously a stranger here, my dear friend! I can tell that you are from your sailor’s uniform! Well, why are you standing there on the doorstep like that? Come on in and celebrate with us!” Whereupon she took him by the hand, pulled him into the hallway, and handed him a full tankard of aehl. “Drink,” she said, “drink, my dear friend, and welcome to our house!”
It seemed to Elis as though he were recumbent in the paradisiacal realm of a magnificent dream from which at any moment he might awaken and thereupon feel indescribably wretched. He mechanically drained the tankard. At that moment Pehrson Dahlsjö came up to him and after shaking his hand in warm salutation asked him where he hailed from and what had brought him to Falun.
Elis felt the warmth of the noble potation permeating every artery and vein in his body. This warmth imparted to him the courage and good cheer requisite to looking the redoubtable Pehrson Dahlsjö in the eye and addressing him. He told him that being the son of a sailor he had been going to sea since his earliest childhood, that he had just come back from a voyage to the East Indies, that his mother, whom he had fostered and supported with his wages, was no longer among the living, that he now felt utterly forsaken in the world, that he now found the idea of life at sea utterly and totally repellent, that his deepest and most passionate inclination was now to work as a miner, and that there in Falun he was going to try to be hired as a pitman. It was quite involuntarily that he blurted out this last assertion, which ran contrary to everything he had been resolved to do only moments earlier; he felt as though he had had absolutely no choice but to inform the alderman of this wish to enter the mines; indeed, as though he had just expressed his most ardent desire, a desire that he himself had not quite been able to believe in up until then.
Pehrson Dahlsjö gazed very earnestly at the youth, as if he were trying to see through to his innermost thoughts; then he said, “I am not inclined to suppose, Elis Fröbom, that some mere thoughtless whim has driven you away from your established métier, or that you did not carefully reflect on all the arduousness, all the hardship, of mining before deciding to surrender yourself to it. It is an old belief among us that the mighty elements amid which the miner boldly presides will annihilate him if he does not exert his entire being in maintaining has sovereignty over them, that any thoughts he yields to other matters will sap the energy that he must undividedly devote to his subterranean labors. But if after due and seasoned deliberation you have indeed discovered your true calling, this is very much your lucky moment. My share of the mine could use some more workers. If you like, you can lodge right here in my house starting tonight, and tomorrow morning you can ride to the mine with the pit-foreman who will set you up with some work straight-away.”
Elis’s heart soared at Pehrson Dahlsjö’s words. He thought no more about the horror of the appalling infernal gorge he had peered into earlier that day. The reflection that he would now be seeing the adorable Ulla each and every day, that he would be living under the same roof as her, filled him with ecstasy and delight; he gave free rein to the sweetest hopes.
Pehrson Dahlsjö informed the miners that a young pitman had applied to him for a job at the mine, and he presented Elis Fröbom to them.
All of them beheld the robust youth with evident satisfaction and opined that his slender yet muscular physique was that of a born miner, and that he most certainly would not be lacking in diligence and piety either.
One of the miners, a man well advanced in years, came up to him and trustingly shook his hand as he said that he was the senior foreman in Pehrson Dahlsjö’s share and that he would take it upon himself to instruct him on everything that was necessary for him to know. Elis was obliged to sit down next to him at the table, and over his tankard of aehl the old man began to expatiate on the rudiments of work as a pitman.
At this point Elis remembered the old miner from Gothenburg, and with an uncanny fluency he managed to repeat virtually everything he had told him. “Hey,” cried the foreman in gaping astonishment, “Elis Fröbom, where did you get such a handsome stock of knowledge from? Well then, as you certainly aren’t lacking in know-how, you are bound to become a first-rate pitman in no time!”
As she continued ambling to and fro among the guests and playing the hostess, lovely Ulla would often give a friendly nod to Elis and verbally encourage him to be of proper good cheer. Now, she said, he was no longer a stranger to their household, but a member of it; and his homeland was no longer the deceitful sea, no!, but rather Falun with its wealth-bearing mountains! These words of Ulla’s caused an entire heaven full of ecstasy and bliss to open up before the youth. It was easy to see that Ulla greatly enjoyed his company, and even Pehrson Dahlsjö took considerable pleasure in contemplating his silent, serious bearing.
Elis’s heart was violently pounding as he once again stood at the edge of the smoking infernal gorge and then, swathed in his miner’s uniform and shod in heavy iron-buckled Dalecarlian shoes, descended with the foreman into the abysmally deep shaft. Soon he was on the verge of asphyxiating from the warm fumes that were attacking his lungs; then the flames of the headlamps began to flicker thanks to the piercingly cold air-currents that blew through the chasms. They kept going deeper and deeper, until finally they were climbing down an iron ladder that was scarcely a foot wide, and Elis Fröbom became keenly aware that none of the climbing techniques he had learned as a sailor would do him any good here.
Eventually they found themselves standing at the deepest level of the mine, and the foreman stated to him the particulars of the task that he was to carry out in this spot.
He thought of lovely Ulla; he beheld her hovering above him like an illuminating angel and forgot all the terrors of the abyss, all the afflictions occasioned by his toilsome work. By now in his soul of souls he firmly believed that if he was ever to be afforded so much as a chance of having his sweetest hopes gratified, he would have to devote himself to the enrichment of Pehrson Dahlsjö’s share of the mine with unflagging courage and industry and to the utmost limits of his body’s tolerance of the required exertion; and so it came to pass that in an incredibly short time he became the equal of the most experienced miner in Falun in point of productivity.
With each passing day the doughty Pehrson Dahlsjö became ever fonder of the industrious, dedicated youth and often unreservedly confided to him that he had come to think of him less as a first-rate pitman than as a beloved son. And at the same time Ullla’s deep attachment to him became ever more evident. Often, when Elis was leaving for work and anything remotely dangerous was in prospect at the mine, she would beg—nay, adjure—him to be on his guard against every possible mishap. And when he returned, she would joyously rush to greet him, and she always had a tankard of first-rate aehl or a hearty freshly prepared meal ready to hand for his refreshment.
Elis’s heart palpitated for joy when Pehrson Dahlsjö one day told him that he had already amassed a tidy sum of money, and that with his combination of thrift and diligence he could not fail of eventually acquiring a miner’s homestead or even a manor, and that by then not a mine owner in Falun would be willing to refuse him the hand of his daughter. At this moment he would have liked nothing more than to reveal to Ulla’s father that he loved her with inexpressible intensity and that he was staking all his life’s hope on making her his own. But he was compelled to hold his tongue by unsurmountable shyness, and even more so by the baleful apprehension that Ulla might not love him in turn as he had often surmised.
On one occasion Elis Fröbom was working at the deepest level of the mine and was so thickly enveloped in sulfur fumes that his headlamp only weakly glimmered through them and he could scarcely distinguish the veins of ore in the rock-faces. He then happened to hear a sound coming up from below, as if from an even deeper shaft, a sound that suggested that somebody was chipping away down there with a pickaxe. Such work was impossible at those depths, and Elis knew full well that nobody but himself had come down to the bottom level that day, that even the foreman was supervising the workers up in the conveyor shaft, and so he quickly began to find the hammering-and-chipping sound quite spooky. He left off working with his own hammer and iron chisel and hearkened attentively to the hollowly percussive sounds, which seemed to be drawing closer and closer to him. All of a sudden he noticed a black shadow quite close to him, and then, thanks to a piercing stream of air that briefly parted the sulfur fumes, he realized that the old miner from Gothenburg was standing right next to him. “Good luck,” cried the old man, “Good luck, Elis Fröbom, down here amongst the rocks! Well, how do you like the mining life, comrade?” Elis started to ask him by what miraculous agency he had arrived in the shaft; but the old man struck his hammer against the rock-face with such force that flaming sparks went flying in all directions and the sound of the impact reverberated in the shaft like distant thunder, and then he exclaimed in a voice of appalling stridency, “You are standing in the middle of a majestic staircase, but you, being the vile, insignificant varlet that you are, can see nothing here but a mass of rubble that is hardly worth a piece of straw. Down here you are a blind mole whom the prince of metals will always despise, and up on the surface you will likewise be incapable of accomplishing anything, and your importunate pestering of the king of copper-smelting is doomed to failure. Hah! You wish to obtain Pehrson Dahlsjö’s daughter Ulla’s hand in marriage, and so you are lovelessly and mindlessly toiling away down here. Take heed, you perfidious varlet, lest the prince of metals, whom you have the audacity to deride, take hold of you and fling you into the depths, leaving your limbs shattered on the jagged rocks. And Ulla will never be your wife—that I promise you!
Rage welled up within Elis when he heard the old man’s vile words. “What are you doing,” he cried, “what are you doing here in the mine-shaft of my master, Pehrson Dahlsjö, in which I am working with as much energy as a man can muster and in pursuit of my true vocation? You had better hoist yourself out of here as fast as you arrived, or we will see which of us bashes the other’s brains out first!” With these words, Elis Fröbom defiantly stationed himself face-to-face with the old man and swung his work-hammer high above his head. The old man burst into scornful laughter, and then, as Elis looked on in horror, he scampered up the slender rungs of the ladder as nimbly as a squirrel and vanished into the craggy blackness.
Elis felt a kind of paralysis in all his limbs; he found it impossible to continue working and climbed back up to the surface. When the old foreman, who himself had just emerged from the conveyor shaft, caught sight of him, he cried out to him, “Why, for Christ’s sake, what has happened to you, Elis? You look as pale and harried as death warmed over! My word! Is this by any chance the effect of the sulfur fumes, which you’re admittedly not yet acclimatized to? Well, now: drink this, my dear boy; it will do you good.” Elis took a hefty swig of spirits from the flask proffered to him by the foreman, and then, under the fortifying influence of the liquor, he recounted to him everything that had just happened down in the shaft, as well as the manner in which he had made the acquaintance of the spooky old miner in Gothenburg.
The foreman calmly heard him out, then thoughtfully shook his head and said, “Elis Fröbom, the man you met was old Torbern, and I now clearly perceive that the things that we have heard said about him here are not mere fairy stories. More than a hundred years ago there was a miner named Torbern here at Falun. They say that he was one of the main people responsible for the mine’s first real boom, and in his day the yield of ore was far richer than it is now. Nobody back then had a more extensive understanding of mining, or more scientific experience, than Torbern, who presided over the entire operation here. As he was endowed with peculiar and superior energy and stamina, he managed to discover exceptionally rich veins of ore, and because he also happened to be a man of profoundly gloomy intelligence who had neither a wife nor any children nor even any proper fixed abode in Falun, a man who hardly ever showed himself above the surface and instead rooted around incessantly in the depths, it inevitably began to be rumored that he was in league with that mysterious power that reigns supreme in the bowels of the earth and cooks up the metals down there. In audacious heedlessness of the stern remonstrations of Torbern, who prophesied that nothing but misfortune would befall anyone who worked in the mines out of any motive but genuine love for the marvelous stones and ores beneath the earth, his avaricious fellow-miners greedily chipped away at the walls of the shafts, rendering them ever broader and ever more brittle, until finally, on Midsummer’s Eve of the year 1687, the horrendous rock avalanche that produced our great pit occurred and laid waste the entire edifice of the mine, so that it was only with considerable effort and the application of considerable technical skill that many of the shafts were eventually reconstructed. Of Torbern nothing more was heard or seen, and it certainly appeared that while working in the depths he had been buried alive by the collapse of the mine. Not long afterwards, when the mine was back in operation and indeed running better and better every day, some of the face-workers maintained that they had seen old Torbern in the shaft, and that he had given them all sorts of good advice and pointed out some excellent veins to them. Others had caught sight of him roving about at the edge of the great pit, sometimes lugubriously wailing, at other times screaming in rage. Other young men would come here and claim as you did that an old miner had urged them to take up his métier and had directed them specifically to the mine at Falun. That would happen whenever we were on the point of being short of workers, and perhaps this was all just old Torbern’s way of taking care of the mine. If that really was old Torbern who quarreled with you in the shaft, and if he really did talk about a majestic staircase, then it is certain that there is a rich vein of iron down there, and tomorrow we will go searching for it. For surely you have not forgotten that here at the mine we call a continuous iron-rich vein a staircase, and that rubble is our word for a vein that quickly splinters into discontinuous segments and essentially disintegrates completely.”
When Elis Fröbom arrived back at Pehrson Dahlsjö’s house—his mind tossing and turning with all sorts of reflections as he stepped into the front hallway—Ulla did not as usual come rushing up to offer him a friendly welcome. This was because she was in the drawing room and sitting beside a handsome young man who was holding her hand firmly in his; her eyes were downcast, and they also seemed to have recently been shedding tears. The young man was assiduously cajoling her with all sorts of blandishments and pleasantries, but Ulla did not seem to be paying very close attention to these. While Elis, utterly possessed by a gloomy premonition, was staring fixedly at the young couple, Pehrson Dahlsjö pulled him into the next room and began saying to him, “Elis Fröbom, you are about to have an opportunity to prove your love for me, your loyalty to me, for although I have always regarded you as a kind of son, you are now going to be my son in the truest and fullest sense of the word. That man you saw back there is Eric Olawsen, a wealthy merchant from Gothenburg. I have accepted his request for my daughter’s hand in marriage; he is taking her back to Gothenburg with him, and with her gone you alone, Elis, will be left to serve as the sole prop of my old age. What’s this, Elis, haven’t you got anything to say? You’re turning pale; I hope that my decision does not displease you and that now that my daughter must leave me you are not planning to leave me as well! But I hear Mr. Olawsen calling my name—I must be getting back to them!”
With that, Pehrson went back into the drawing room.
Elis felt as though his soul of souls were being lacerated by a thousand red-hot knives. He uttered not a single word, shed not a single tear. In rabid despair he raced out of the house and farther and farther away from it, all the way to the great pit. The colossal chasm was a terrible enough sight even in broad daylight; now that night had set in and the disc of the moon was beginning to rise, it was utterly horrifying to gaze down into the barren rocks on whose smoking surfaces an incalculably populous horde of unspeakably hideous monsters, the abominable progeny of hell, seemed to be writhing and rolling about and flashing flame-ridden glances at the beholder and hungrily stretching their enormous claws out towards the wretched race of humanity up above.
“Torbern! Torbern!,” cried Elis in a terrifyingly menacing voice that echoed back from the barren gorge: “Torbern, I am here! You were right: I was an insignificant varlet, because I had made the great hope of my life the attainment of trivial goals on the earth’s surface! In its depths is where the true object of my love lies, where my life and everything that means anything to me are to be found! Torbern! Descend into those depths with me; point me to the amplest staircase; I will root in it and bore into it and work incessantly and never behold the light of day again! Torbern, Torbern! Descend with me!”
He took steel and stone out of his bag, lit his headlamp, and descended into the shaft that he had passed through the day before, but the old man failed to appear. When he gazed down to the very bottom of the shaft, he could clearly and distinctly descry the staircase, to the extent of being able to distinguish the striations and indentations of its salbands.
But as he was staring with ever-increasing intensity at the marvelously rich vein in the rocks, a blinding light seemed to suffuse the entire shaft, and its walls became as transparent as pure crystal. He found himself back in the midst of that ominous dream he had dreamt at Gothenburg. He gazed into that paradisiacal realm of wondrously splendid metal trees and plants from which fire-irradiating gems hung like fruits and flowers. He beheld the virgins; he beheld the lofty countenance of the mighty queen. She seized him, lifted him up, and pressed him to her bosom; whereupon a fiery shaft of light flashed through his soul of souls and his consciousness was suddenly reduced to a sensation of swimming in the undulations of a transparently coruscating blue haze.
“Elis Fröbom, Elis Fröbom!” a powerful voice cried from up above, and flickers of reflected torchlight shone into the shaft. The voice was that of none other than Pehrson Dahlsjö, who had come down with the foreman in search of the young man, whom they had seen dashing off to the pit in a state of full-fledged delirium.
They came upon him standing perfectly still, with his face pressed against the cold rock face.
“What,” shouted Pehrson into his ear, “what are you doing down here in the middle of the night, you harebrained young man? Pull yourself together, and climb back up to the surface with us; who knows what good news you might hear up there?”
In brooding silence, Elis climbed back up; in brooding silence he marched behind Pehrson Dahlsjö, who unrelentingly and vigorously berated the young man for having so recklessly courted disaster.
The sun had long since risen by the time they stepped into the house. With a loud cry Ulla threw herself into Elis’s arms and called him all sorts of highly endearing pet names. But Pehrson Dahlsjö said to Elis, “You fool! Is it not obvious that I have known for ages that you are in love with Ulla, and that it was only on her account that you worked in the mine with such zeal and diligence? Is it not equally obvious that I have known that Ulla also loves you from the very bottom of her heart? Could I ask for a better son-in-law than a capable, diligent, dependable miner such as you, my dear Elis? And yet the fact that the two of you have kept your love to yourselves has vexed and offended me.” “But have we ourselves,” Ulla interrupted her father, “have we ourselves even known that we love each other so inexpressibly?” “Perhaps not, but be that as it may,” Pehrson Dahlsjö continued, “I was sorely vexed by Elis’s failure to speak to me openly and honestly about his love, and because of this, and also because I wished to put your own heart to the test, with Mr. Eric Olawsen’s help I foisted on you yesterday’s ludicrous fairy tale, which would soon have been the death of you. You crazy fool! Mr. Eric Olawsen has of course been married for ages, and you, my dear Elis Fröbom, now have my permission to wed my daughter, for as I have already said, I could not ask for a better son-in-law than you.”
Elis’s eyes were brimming over with tears of pure ecstasy and joy. All this happiness and good fortune had descended on him quite unexpectedly, and he could not help feeling that he was once again standing in the midst of an ineffably sweet dream!
On Pehrson Dahlsjö’s orders all the miners assembled at midday for a celebratory dinner.
Ulla had bedizened herself in all her finery and looked lovelier than ever before, so that everyone repeatedly exclaimed, “Ah, what a magnificent bride our valiant Elis Fröbom has won! Now, may heaven bless both of them for their piety and virtue!”
Elis Fröbom’s pale visage still bore traces of the horror of the night before, and from time to time he would stare off into space as though abstracted from all of his surroundings.
“What ever is the matter, my dear Elis?” queried Ulla. Elis clasped her to his breast and said, “Yes, yes! You are indeed truly mine, and all is now well indeed!”
From time to time, in the midst of all his ecstasy Elis felt as though an ice-cold hand were reaching into his soul of souls and that a somber voice were saying, “Do you really believe you have attained the summit of your bliss having won the promise of Ulla’s hand in marriage? You wretched fool! Have you not beheld the queen’s countenance?”
He felt almost overwhelmed by an indescribable terror; he was tormented by the thought that one of the miners might now suddenly grow to a colossal height, and that to his horror he would recognize the giant as the dreaded Torbern who had so chillingly exhorted him to remember the subterranean realm of gemstones and metals to which he had abandoned himself!
At the same time, he had absolutely no notion of why the spectral old man was so hostile towards him, no notion of what connection there could possibly be between his activity as a miner and his love for Ulla.
From his bearing Pehrson readily inferred that Elis was quite perturbed, but he attributed his discomfiture to lingering distress from his descent into the shaft the night before. Ulla, by contrast, darkly surmised that something worse was to blame, and she implored her beloved to explain to her the nature of the horror that seemed to be taking hold of him and tearing him away from her ineluctably. Elis’s heart was on the point of bursting. In vain he struggled to describe to his beloved the preternatural visage that had disclosed itself to him in the depths. He felt as though an unknown power were clamping his mouth shut with main force, as though the dread countenance of the queen were looking outwards from inside him, and that his mere utterance of her name would be akin to the gaze of the appalling head of Medusa and turn all his surroundings into a gloomy, blackened landscape of crags and cliffs! All the splendor that had swelled him with the highest pitch of ecstasy down in the depths now seemed to him like an inferno brimful of grim agony perfidiously decked out in all the meretricious finery of unregenerately corruptive seduction!
Pehrson Dahlsjö ordered Elis Fröbom to stay at home for a few days in order to recover completely from the illness that seemed to have taken hold of him. During this brief period, all recollection of his calamitous adventure in the shaft was driven away by Ulla’s love, which radiated in abundance from her pious, childlike heart. He came completely back to life in an access of ecstasy and joy and thereupon believed that his happiness was destined to last, that no evil power could ever again disturb it.
When he again descended into the shaft, everything in the depths of the mine looked completely different to him than before. The most sumptuous veins were baldly visible to his naked eye; he worked with redoubled zeal; he forgot all about everyone and everything he was duty-bound to revisit back up on the surface—about Pehrson Dahlsjö, and, indeed, about his dear Ulla herself; he felt as though he were divided in half, as though his better, authentic self were descending towards the center of the earth and were destined to repose in the arms of the great subterranean queen, and as though at the same time he were searching for his dreary, familiar bed and pillow in Falun. Whenever Ulla spoke to him of their love and of how happily they would spend their lives together, he would start talking about the splendor of the depths, about the immeasurably rich treasures that lay hidden there, and he would become so deeply involved in this strange and unintelligible monologue that the poor girl would nearly swoon from anxiety and trepidation, utterly nonplussed as she was by this sudden and total change in Elis’s demeanor. Meanwhile, Elis kept ebulliently and incessantly announcing to the foreman, and indeed to Pehrson Dahlsjö himself, that he was discovering amazingly sumptuous veins of ore, amazingly splendid staircases; and when his fellow-miners subsequently found nothing in the depths but barren rock, he would laugh scornfully and aver that admittedly he alone understood those mysterious signs, the meaningful characters that the queen herself had carved into the living rock face, and that merely being able to interpret these characters was really quite enough, that communicating to others the message they spelled out was quite superfluous.
It was with a heavy heart that the old foreman stared at the youth whose gaze coruscated wildly as he spoke of the glittering paradise that supposedly shone forth in the deepest bowels of the earth.
“Ah, sir,” the old man whispered into Pehrson Dahlsjö’s ear, “ah, sir! The young man has fallen under the spell of that devil Torbern!”
“Pay no heed,” retorted Pehrson Dahlsjö, “pay no heed to miners’ fairy tales, old man! Love has turned the moody Närker’s head topsy-turvy; that’s all it is. Just you wait until the marriage has taken place; then we’ll see the end of all these staircases and treasures and of the whole subterranean paradise!”
At length the day Pehrson Dahlsjö had appointed by for the wedding was closing in. In the last few days before it Elis Fröbom was more silent, serious, and withdrawn than ever before, but at the same time he had never before surrendered himself so completely to his love for the adorable Ulla as during this brief period. He did not wish to be parted from her even for an instant, and so he stayed away from the pit; he seemed not to be thinking at all about his restless labors in the mine, because not a single word about the subterranean kingdom escaped his lips. Ulla was completely ecstatic; gone now was every last trace of her fear that her Elis might be seduced to his ruin by the dread crag-dwelling subterranean powers that she had heard old miners speak of so often. And Pehrson Dahlsjö said with a smile to the old foreman, “As you can see, the only thing that’s been making Elis Fröbom giddy is his love for my Ulla!”
Early on the morning of his wedding day—it was Midsummer’s Day—Elis knocked on the door of his bride-to-be’s bedchamber. She opened the door and immediately took a horrified step back upon seeing Elis already dressed in his wedding suit, his face pale as death, his eyes darkly blazing and sending off jet-black sparks. “I only wish,” he said in a slightly faltering voice, “I only wish to tell you, Ulla, dearest love of my heart, that we are standing just below the highest pinnacle of good fortune that has ever been vouchsafed to any human being on this earth. Everything was revealed to me last night. Down in the depths, embedded in chlorite and mica, lies the coruscating cerise almandine on which our life-table is engraved and which I must present to you as your wedding gift. It is more beautiful than the most magnificent blood-red carbuncle, and if we stand united in true love and gaze into its refulgent light, we shall distinctly behold the intertwinement of our soul of souls with the marvelous net-work of branches that grows out of the heart of the queen at the center of the earth. All that I need to do is to bring this precious stone up to the world above, and I will do this forthwith. Fare thee well and ever so long, dearest Ulla, beloved of my heart!—I shall return soon.”
With scalding tears in her eyes, Ulla implored her beloved to give over this fantastic, dream-engendered undertaking about which she had grave misgivings, but Elis Fröbom assured her that until he obtained the stone he would never enjoy an hour’s peace and that there was no absolutely no reason to fear for his safety. He clasped his bride passionately to his breast and then departed.
The wedding guests had already gathered to escort the young couple to the Kopparberg church, where the wedding ceremony was to take place after the regular service. An entire bevy of prettily attired maidens, who in conformity with the custom of the country were to precede the bride in the procession as bridesmaids, were laughing and jesting in a circle around Ulla. The musicians tuned their instruments and rehearsed a merry wedding march. It was nearly midday, and Elis Fröbom was still nowhere to be seen. Then suddenly a group of miners, their faces pale with fear and horror, burst into the church and announced that even as they spoke Dahlsjö’s entire sector of the mine was collapsing in a tremendous rockslide.
“Elis—my dear Elis, you are gone—gone!” Ulla loudly exclaimed and then fainted dead away. It was only now that Pehrson Dahlsjö learned from the foreman that early that morning Elis had gone out and down into the great pit, and that nobody else had been working in the shaft, because the foreman and all the pitmen had been invited to the wedding. Pehrson Dahlsjö and all the miners rushed out to the mine, but although they searched as thoroughly as possible, to the extent of putting their own lives in great danger, their efforts proved futile. Elis Fröbom was not found. The unfortunate man had undoubtedly been buried by the rockslide, and so misery and sorrow descended on the house of the redoubtable Pehrson Dahlsjö at the very moment when he thought he was securing himself an old age of peace and repose.
The redoubtable Pehrson Dahlsjö had long since died, his daughter Ulla had long since disappeared, and nobody in Falun any longer knew a thing about either of them—for fifty full years had elapsed since Fröbom’s ill-fated wedding day—when, while trying to force their way through a three hundred yard-deep barrier between two shafts, the miners discovered the corpse of a young miner in a pool of vitriol water; they brought the body up to the surface, and in the light of day, it appeared to be petrified.
The young man’s facial features were so fresh, so well-preserved, his dapper miner’s uniform, and indeed, even the flowers pinned to the breast of his tunic, were so free of any trace of putrefaction, that he looked as though he were merely lying in a deep slumber. Everybody in the vicinity of the great pit gathered around the young man who had been hauled up from the depths, but nobody recognized the corpse’s face, and none of the miners could recall that any of his comrades had ever been trapped in a rockslide. They were just about to carry the body on to Falun, when from some distance off an ancient, white-haired little woman on crutches wheezed her way up the hill leading to the pit. “Here comes the little old lady of Midsummer’s Day!” cried a few of the miners. They had given the old woman this nickname when some years earlier they had noticed that on every Midsummer’s Day she would appear at the pit, crawl around its edge while gazing into its depths, wringing her hands, and wailing and moaning in the most lugubrious tones, and then vanish.
No sooner did the old woman lay eyes on the ossified youth than she dropped both her crutches, stretched her arms up towards the sky, and in heart-rending tones of unfathomable woe cried out, “O Elis Fröbom—O my Elis—my sweet bridegroom!” Whereupon she huddled down beside the corpse and grabbed its ossified hands and pressed them to her age-chilled breast, within which, like a holy naphtha flame beneath a sheet of ice, a heart brimming over with the ardor of love still beat. “Ah,” she then said, training her gaze along the crowd assembled around her, “ah, none of you, none of you, any longer recognizes poor Ulla Dahlsjö, this young man’s happy bride-to-be fifty years ago! At Ornäs, to which my grief and sorrow had impelled me to move, old Torbern consoled me for the death of my Elis, buried deep within this mine on his wedding day, and told me that I would someday see him again here on earth, and ever since then I have come here year in, year out and gazed longingly and faithfully into the depths. And today I have actually been vouchsafed such a blissful reunion! O my Elis—my beloved bridegroom!”
With these words she once again flung her arms around the youth, as if she intended never to let go of him, and every member of the circle of silent onlookers was deeply moved.
The old woman’s sighs and sobs grew softer and softer, until they ceased completely in a muffled whimper.
The miners walked up to her; they were intending to raise poor Ulla to her feet, but she had already exhaled her last breath on the corpse of her ossified bridegroom. And just then they noticed that the unfortunate man’s body, which they had mistakenly believed to be petrified, was beginning to crumble into dust.
In the Copper Mine church, where the couple were to have been joined in marriage fifty years earlier, the youth’s ashes were laid to rest alongside the body of his bride-to-be, who had remained true to him all the way to bitter death.
“I can tell,” said Theodor, as he observed his friends silently staring into space after the conclusion of his tale, “I can certainly tell that my story did not sit quite well with any of you; or perhaps you are simply not in the mood for something in such a gloomy, melancholy vein?”
“It is quite true,” replied Ottmar, “that your story leaves one feeling very melancholy, but to be perfectly frank, I didn’t much care for all that elaborate frippery about Swedish mine frälse-owners, popular festivals, phantom miners, and fantastic visions. Schubert’s simple descriptive account, in his Views of the Dark Side of Natural Science, of how a youth was found in the ore mine at Falun, and of how a little old lady recognized her fiancée who had been buried alive fifty years earlier, affectedly me much more deeply.”
“In that case,” cried Theodor through a smile, “I hereby implore our patron the anchorite Serapion for his protection, for in all truth, the miner’s story came to me in the most brilliant, life-like colors, exactly as I have just recounted it.”
“Let every man,” said Lothar, “follow his own bliss. But it was a good thing, my dear Theodor, that you read your story to us, for I believe we have all heard a thing or two about mining, as well as about the mine at Falun and Swedish customs and mores. Other listeners would justly reproach you for frequently making yourself unintelligible through your excessive use of miners’ jargon; and because you are so often going on about that lovely potation öl with which the people are forever regaling themselves, some of these listeners would even get the idea that the worthy citizens of Falun and Gothenburg are in the habit of guzzling olive oil, even though öl is nothing but a fine, strong beer.”
“On the whole,” chimed in Cyprian, “I did not dislike Theodor’s story nearly as much as you did, Ottmar. How often writers depict the existences of people who perish in horrific circumstances of some kind, as if in consequence of being at odds with life itself, and of being captive to mysterious, dark forces! Theodor has done the same, and at least I always find this compelling, because I am of the opinion that it is deeply founded in nature. I have personally known people whose very inmost natures have suddenly undergone complete transformations, who either ossified to their very cores or who began behaving as though they were being pursued by malevolent powers, who were constantly being pushed along in every which direction and were gradually swept out of life completely by one horrific contretemps after another.” “Enough,” cried Lothar, “Enough! If we give even the tiniest bit of rope to our liaison with the great beyond, to our friend Cyprian, before we know it we shall find ourselves wandering in a veritable labyrinth of dreams and intimations! Please allow me to annihilate our gloomy collective mood in one fell swoop and close out today’s meeting of our club by sharing with you a children’s fairy tale that I committed to paper some little while ago, a tale that I fancy was dictated straight into my ear by that madcap spirit known as Drollery.”
“A fairy tale!” the rest of them cried out in unison: “a fairy tale by you, Lothar, of all people?”
“Yes,” said Lothar, “and however preposterous you may find the idea that I took it upon myself to write a fairy tale, please hear me read the story to you before you pass judgment on it.”
Lothar produced a neatly written manuscript and read the following:
END OF PART V
Translation Copyright © 2017 by Douglas Robertson