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Galgenberg, Sept. 16th.
Dear Mr. Anstruther,—It is kind of you to want to contradict what I said in my last letter about the outward appearance of my life, but really you know I am past my first youth. At twenty-six I cannot pretend to be what is known as a young girl, and I don't want to. Not for anything would I be seventeen or eighteen again. I like to be a woman grown, to have entered into the full possession of whatever faculties I am to have, to know what I want, to look at things in their true proportions. I don't know that eighteen has anything that compensates for that. It is such a rudderless sort of age. It may be more charming to the beholder, but it is not half so nice to the person herself. What is the good of loving chocolate to distraction when it only ends by making you sick? And the joy of a new frock or hat is dashed at once when you meet the superior gorgeousness of some other girl's frock or hat. And parties are often disappointing things. And students, though they are deeply interesting, easily lead to tiresome complications if they admire you, and if they don't that isn't very nice either. Why, even the young man in the cake-shop who used so gallantly to serve us with lemonade and had such wonderful curly eyelashes was not much good really, for he couldn't be invited to tea, and whenever we wanted to look at his eyelashes we had to buy a cake, and cakes are dreadfully expensive for persons who have no money. Yes, it is a silly, tittering, calf-like age, and I am glad it can't come back again. Please do not think that I need comforting because it is gone, or because of any of the other items in the list I gave you. The future looks quite pleasant to me,—quite bright and sunny. It is only empty of what people call prospects, by which I take them to mean husbands, but I shall fill it with pigs instead. I have great plans. I see what can be done with even one pig from my neighbor's example, who has dug out a sort of terrace and put a sty on it: simply wonders. And how much more could be done with two. I mean to be a very happy old maid. I shall fix my attention in the mornings on remunerative objects like pigs, and spend beautiful afternoons, quite idle physically but with my soul busy up among the poets. Later on in distant years, when Papa doesn't want me any more, I shall try to find a little house somewhere where it is flat, so that I can have other creatures about me besides bees, which are the only live stock I can keep here. And you mustn't think I shall not be happy, because I shall. So happy. I am happy now, and I mean to be happy then; and when I am very old and have to die I shall be happy about that too. I shall 'lay me down with a will,' as the bravest of your countrymen sang.
Do my plans seem to you selfish? I expect they do. People so easily call those selfish who stand a little aside and look on at life. We have a poet of whom we are proud, but whose fame has not, I think, reached across to England, a rugged, robust poet, not very far below Goethe, a painter on large canvasses, best at mighty scenes, perhaps least good in small things, in lyrics, in the things in which Heine was so exquisite; and he for my encouragement has said,
Bei sich selber fangt man an,
Da man nicht Allen helfen kann.
Isn't it a nice jingle? The man's name is Hebbel, and he lived round about the forties, and perhaps you know more of him than I do, and I have been arrogant again; but it is a jingle that has often cheered me when I was afraid I ought to be teaching somebody something, or making clothes for somebody, or paying somebody domiciliary visits and talking fluently of the lieber Gott. I shrink from these things; and a shrinking visitor, shy and uncertain, cannot be so nice as no visitor at all. Is it very wrong of me? When my conscience says it is—it does not say so often—I try to make up by going into the kitchen and asking Johanna kind questions about her mother. I must say she is rather odd when I do. She not only doesn't meet me half-way, she doesn't come even part of the way. She clatters her saucepans with an energy very like fury, and grows wholly monosyllabic. Yet it is not her step-mother; it is her very own mother, and it ought to be the best way of touching responsive chords in her heart and making her feel I am not merely a mistress but a friend. Once, struck by the way the lids of the saucepans were falling about, I tried her with her father, but the din instantly became so terrific that I was kept silent quite a long time, and when it left off felt instinctively that I had better say something about the weather. I don't think I told you that after that trumpeting Sunday, moved to real compassion by the sufferings of him you call the fiddler man, I took my courage in both hands and told Johanna with the pleasantest of smiles—I daresay it was really a rather ghastly one—that her trumpeter must not again bring his instrument with him when he called. 'It can so very well stay at home,' I explained suavely.
She immediately said she would leave on the first of October.
'But, Johanna!' I cried.
She repeated the formula.
'But, Johanna! How can a clever girl like you be so unreasonable? He is to visit you as often as before. All we beg is that it shall be done without music.'
She repeated the formula.
'But, Johanna!' I expostulated again,—eloquent exclamation, expressing the most varied sentiments.
She once again repeated the formula; and next day I was forced to descend into Jena, shaking an extremely rueful fist at the neighbor's house on the way, and set about searching in the obscurity of a registry office for the pearl we are trying all our lives to find.
This office consists of two rooms, the first filled with servants looking for mistresses, and the second with mistresses looking for servants. A Fräulein of vague age but determined bearing sits at a desk in the second room, and notes in a ledger the requirements of both parties. They are always the same: the would-be mistress, full of a hopefulness that crops up again and again to the end of her days, causing attributes like fleissig, treu, ehrlich, anständig, arbeitslieb, kinderlieb, to be written down together with her demands in cooking, starching, and ironing, and often adding the information that though the wages may appear small they are not really so, owing to the unusually superior quality of the treatment; and the would-be maid, briefer because without illusions, dictates her firm resolve to go nowhere where there is cooking, washing, or a baby.
'Gott, diese Mädchen,' exclaimed a waiting lady to me as I arrived, hot and ruffled after my long tramp in the sun. I dropped into a chair beside her; and hot and ruffled as I was, she, who had been sitting there hours, was still more so. In her agitation she had cried out to the first human being at hand, the Fräulein at the desk having something too distinctly inhuman about her—strange as a result of her long and intimate intercourse with human beings—to be lightly applied to for sympathy. Then looking at me again she cried, 'Why, it is the good Rose-Marie!' And I saw she was an old friend of my step-mother's, Frau Meyer, the wife of one of the doctors at the Lunatic Asylum, who used to come in often while you were with us, and whenever she came in you went out.
'Not married yet?' she asked as we shook hands, smiling as though the joke were good.
I smiled with an equal conviction of its goodness, and said I was not.
'Not even engaged?'
'Not even engaged,' said I, smiling more broadly, as if infinitely tickled.
'You must be quick,' said she.
I admitted the necessity by a nod.
'You are twenty-six—I know your age because poor Emilie'—Emilie was my step-mother—'was married ten years, and when she married you were sixteen. Twenty-six is a great age for a girl. When I was your age I had already had four children. What do you think of that?'
I didn't know what to think of it, so smiled vaguely, and turning to the waiting machine at the desk began my list. 'Hard-working, clean, honest—'
'Yes, yes, if we could but find such treasures,' interrupted Frau Meyer with a reverberating sigh. 'Here am I engaged to give the first coffee-party of the season—'
'What, in summer?'
'It is not summer in September. If the weather chooses to pretend it is I cannot help it. It is autumn, and I will no longer endure the want of social gatherings. Invariably I find the time between the last Coffee of spring and the first of autumn almost unendurable. What do you do, Rose-Marie, up there on that horrible mountain of yours, to pass the time?'
Pass the time? I who am so much afraid of Time's passing me that I try to catch at him as he goes, pull him back, make him creep slowly while I squeeze the full preciousness out of every minute? I gazed at her abstractedly, haunted by the recollection of flying days, days gone so quickly, vanished before I well knew how happy I was being. 'I really couldn't tell you,' I said.
'Hard-working, clean, honest,—' read out the Fräulein, reminding me that I was busy.
'Moral,' I dictated, 'able to wash—'
'You will never find one,' interrupted Frau Meyer again. 'At least, never one who is both moral and able to wash. Two good things don't go together with these girls, I find. The trouble I am in for want of one! They are as scarce and as expensive as roses in December. Since April I have had three, and all had to leave by the merest accident—nothing at all to do with the place or me; but the ones in there seem to know there have been three in the time, and make the most extravagant demands. I have been here the whole morning, and am in despair.'
She stopped to fan herself with her handkerchief.
'Able to wash,' I resumed, 'iron, cook, mend—have you any one suitable, Fräulein?'
'Many,' was the laconic answer.
'I'm afraid we cannot give more than a hundred and sixty marks,' said I.
'Pooh,' said Frau Meyer; and there was a pause in the scratching of the pen.
'But there are no children,' I continued.
The pen went on more glibly. Frau Meyer fanned herself harder.
'And only two Herrschaften.'
The pen skimmed over the paper.
'We live up—we live up on the Galgenberg.'
The pen stopped dead.
'You will never find one who will go up there,' cried Frau Meyer triumphantly. 'I need not fear your taking a good one away from me. They will not leave the town.'
The Fräulein rang a bell and called out a name. 'It is another one for you, Frau Doctor,' she said; and a large young lady came in from the other room. 'The general servant Fräulein Ottilie Krummacher—Frau Doctor Meyer,' introduced the Fräulein. 'I think you may suit each other.'
'It is time you showed me some one who will,' groaned Frau Meyer. 'Six have I already interviewed, and the demands of all are enough to make my mother, who was Frau Gutsbesitzer Grosskopf of the Grosskopfs of Grosskopfsecke, born Knoblauch, and a lady of the most exact knowledge in household matters, turn in her grave.'
'Town?' asked the large girl quickly, hardly allowing Frau Meyer to get to a full stop, and obviously callous as to the Grosskopfs of Grosskopfsecke.
'Yes, yes—here, overlooking the market-place and the interesting statue of the electoral founder of the University. No way to go, therefore, to market. Enlivening scenes constantly visible from the windows—'
'Second. Shallow steps, and a nice balustrade. Really hardly higher than the first floor, or even than an ordinary ground floor, the rooms being very low.'
'Done out of the house. Except the smallest, fewest trifles such as—such as—ahem. The ironing, dear Fräulein, I will do mostly myself. There are the shirts, you know—husbands are particular—'
'How many?' echoed Frau Meyer. 'How many what?'
'Aber, Fräulein,' expostulated the secretary.
'She said husbands,' said the large girl. 'Shirts, then—how many? It's all the same.'
'All the same?' cried Frau Meyer, who adored her husband.
'In the work it makes.'
'But, dear Fräulein, the shirts are not washed at home.'
'I iron them.'
'And I heat the irons and keep up the fire to heat them with.'
'Yes, yes,' cried Frau Meyer, affecting the extreme pleasure of one who has just received an eager assurance, 'so you do.'
The large girl stared. 'Cooking?' she inquired, after a slightly stony pause.
'Most of that I will do myself, also. The Herr is very particular. I shall only need a little—quite a little assistance. And think of all the new and excellent dishes you will learn to make.'
The girl waved this last inducement aside as unworthy of consideration. 'Number of persons in the household?'
Frau Meyer coughed before she could answer. 'Oh,' said she, 'oh, well—there is my husband, and naturally myself, and then there are—there are—are you fond of children?' she ended hastily.
The girl fixed her with a suspicious eye. 'It depends how many there are,' she said cautiously.
Frau Meyer got up and leaned over the Fräulein at the desk, and whispered into her impassive ear.
The Fräulein shook her head. 'I am afraid it is no use,' she said.
Frau Meyer whispered again. The Fräulein looked up, and fastening her eyes on a point somewhere below the large girl's chin said, 'The wages are good.'
'What are they?' asked the girl.
'Considering the treatment you will receive—' the girl's eyes again became suspicious—'they are excellent.'
'What are they?'
'Everything found, and a hundred and eighty marks a year.'
The girl turned and walked toward the door.
'Stop! Stop!' cried Frau Meyer desperately. 'I cannot see you throw away a good place with so little preliminary reflection. Have you considered that there would be no trudging to market, and consequently you will only require half the boots and stockings and skirts those poor girls have to buy who live up in the villas that look so grand and pretend to give such high wages?'
The girl paused.
'And no steep stairs to climb, laden with heavy baskets? And hardly any washing—hardly any washing, I tell you!' she almost shrieked in her anxiety. 'And no cooking to speak of? And every Sunday—mind, every Sunday evening free? And I never scold, and my husband never scolds, and with a hundred and eighty marks a year there is nothing a clever girl cannot buy. Why, it is an ideal, a delightful place—one at which I would jump if I were a girl, and this lady'—indicating me—'would jump, too, would you not, Rose-Marie?'
The girl wavered. 'How many children are there?' she asked.
'Children? Children? Angels, you mean. They are perfect angels, so good and well-behaved—are they not, Rose-Marie? Fit to go at once to heaven—unberufen—without a day's more training, so little would they differ in manner when they got there from angels who have been used to it for years. You are fond of children, Fräulein, I am sure. Naturally you are. I see it in your nice face. No nice Fräulein is not. And these, I tell you, are such unusual—'
'How many are there?'
'Ach Gott, there are only six, and so small still that they can hardly be counted as six—six of the dearest—'
The girl turned on her heel. 'I cannot be fond of six,' she said; and went out with the heavy tread of finality.
Frau Meyer looked at me. 'There now,' she said, in tones of real despair.
'It is very tiresome,' said I, sympathizing the more acutely that I knew my turn was coming next.
'Tiresome? It is terrible. In two days I have my Coffee, and no—and no—and no—' She burst into tears, hiding her face from the dispassionate stare of the Fräulein at the desk in her handkerchief, and trying to conceal her sobs by a ceaseless blowing of her nose.
'I am so sorry,' I murmured, touched by this utter melting.
An impulse seized me on which I instantly acted. 'Take Johanna,' I cried. 'Take her for that day. She will at least get you over that. She is excellent at a party, and knows all about Coffees. I'll send her down early, and you keep her as late as you like. She would enjoy the outing, and we can manage quite well for one day without her.'
'Is that—is that the Johanna you had in the Rauchgasse?'
'Yes—trained by my step-mother—really good in an emergency.'
Frau Meyer flung her arms round my neck. 'Ach danke, danke, Du liebes, gutes Kind!' she cried, embracing me with a warmth that showed me what heaps of people she must have asked to her party.
And I, after the first flush of doing a good deed was over and cool reflection had resumed its sway, which it did by the time I was toiling up the hill on the way home after having been unanimously rejected as mistress by the assembled maidens, I repented; for was not Johanna now my only hope? 'Frau Meyer,' whispered Reflection in my despondent ear, 'will engage her to go to her permanently on the 1st, and she will go because of the twenty marks more salary. You have been silly. Of course she would have stayed with you with a little persuasion rather than have to look for another place and spend her money at a registry-office. It is not likely, however, that she will refuse a situation costing her nothing.'
But see how true it sometimes is that virtue is rewarded. Johanna went down as I had promised, and worked all day for Frau Meyer. She was given a thaler as a present, as much cake and coffee as she could consume, and received the offer of a permanent engagement when she should leave us. This she told me standing by my bedside late that night, the candle in her hand lighting up her heated, shining face, and hair dishevelled by exertion. 'But,' said she, 'Fräulein Rose-Marie, not for the world would I take the place. Such a restless lady, such a nervous gentleman, such numbers of spoilt and sprawling children. If I had not been there today and beheld it from the inside I would have engaged myself to go. But after this—' she waved the candle—'never.'
'What are you going to do, then, Johanna?' I asked, thinking wistfully of the four years we had passed together.
'Stay here,' she announced defiantly.
I put my arms round her neck and kissed her.
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