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Men are not always what they seem.--LESSING.
Our tale is no creation of fancy; it is the reality in which we live; bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. Our own time and the men of our own age we shall see. But not alone will we occupy ourselves with every-day life, with the moss on the surface; the whole tree, from the roots to the fragrant leaves, will we observe. The heavy earth shall press the roots, the moss and bark of every-day life adhere to the stern, the strong boughs with flowers and leaves spread themselves out, whilst the sun of poetry shall shine among them, and show the colors, odor, and singing-birds. But the tree of reality cannot shoot up so soon as that of fancy, like the enchantment in Tieck's "Elves." We must seek our type in nature. Often may there be an appearance of cessation; but that is not the case. It is even so with our story; whilst our characters, by mutual discourse, make themselves worthy of contemplation, there arises, as with the individual branches of the tree, an unseen connection. The branch which shoots high up in the air, as though it would separate itself from the mother-stem, only presses forward to form the crown, to lend uniformity to the whole tree. The lines which diverge from the general centre are precisely those which produce the harmony.
We shall, therefore, soon see, though these scenes out of every-day life are no digression from the principal events, nothing episodical which one may pass over. In order still sooner to arrive at a clear perception of this assertion, we will yet tarry a few moments in the house of Mr. Berger, the merchant; but in the mean time we have advanced three weeks. Wilhelm and Otto had happily passed their examen philosophicum. The latter had paid several visits, and was already regarded as an old friend of the family. The lover already addressed him with his droll "Good day, Mr. Petersen;" and Grethe was witty about his melancholy glance, which he was not always able to conquer. She called it "making faces," and besought him to appear so on the day of her funeral.
The object of the five sisters' first Platonic love had been their brother. They had overwhelmed him with caresses and tenderness, had admired and worshipped him. "The dear little man!" they called him; they had no other. But Hans Peter was so impolite and teasing toward the dear sisters, that they were found to resign him so soon as one of them had a lover. Upon this lover they all clung. Each one seemed to have a piece of him. He was Grethe's bridegroom, would be their brother-in-law. They might address him with the confidential thou, and even give him a little kiss.
Otto's appearance in the family caused these rays to change their direction. Otto was handsome, and possessed of fortune; either of which often suffices to bow a female heart. Beauty bribes the thoughtless; riches, the prudent.
Maren, or as she was here called, Maja, had arrived. The young ladies had already pulled off some of her bows, arranged her hair differently, and made one of her silk handkerchiefs into an apron; but, spite of all this finesse, she still remained the lady from Lemvig. They could remove no bows from her pronunciation. She had been the first at home; here she could not take that rank. This evening she was to see in the theatre, for the first time, the ballet of the "Somnambule."
"It is French!" said Hans Peter; "and frivolous, like everything that we have from them."
"Yes, the scene in the second act, where she steps out of the window," said the merchant; "that is very instructive for youth!"
"But the last act is sweet!" cried the lady. "The second act is certainly, as Hans Peter very justly observed, somewhat French. Good heavens! he gets quite red, the sweet lad!" She extended her hand to him, and nodded, smiling, whereupon Hans Peter spoke very prettily about the immorality on the stage. The father also made some striking observation.
"Yes," said the lady, "were all husbands like thee, and all young men like Hans Peter, they would speak in another tone on the stage, and dress in another manner. In dancing it is abominable; the dresses are so short and indecent, just as though they had nothing on! Yet, after all, we must say that the 'Somnambule' is beautiful. And, really, it is quite innocent!"
They now entered still deeper into the moral: the conversation lasted till coffee came.
Maren's heart beat even quicker, partly in expectation of the play, through hearing of the corruptions of this Copenhagen Sodom. She heard Otto defend this French piece; heard him speak of affectation. Was he then corrupted? How gladly would she have heard him discourse upon propriety, as Hans Peter had done. "Poor Otto!" thought she; "this is having no relations, but being forced to struggle on in the world alone."
The merchant now rose. He could not go to the theatre. First, he had business to attend to; and then he must go to his club, where he had yesterday changed his hat.
"Nay, then, it has happened to thee as to Hans Peter!" said the lady. "Yesterday, in the lecture-room, he also got a strange hat. But, there, thou hast his hat!" she suddenly exclaimed, as her eye fell upon the hat which her husband held in his hand. "That is Hans Peter's hat! Now, we shall certainly find that he has thine! You have exchanged them here at home. You do not know each other's hats, and therefore you fancy this occurred from home."
One of the sisters now brought the hat which Hans Peter had got in mistake. Yes, it was certainly the father's. Thus an exchange in the house, a little intermezzo, which naturally, from its insignificance, was momentarily forgotten by all except the parties concerned, for to them it was an important moment in their lives; and to us also, as we shall see, an event of importance, which has occasioned us to linger thus long in this circle. In an adjoining room will we, unseen spirits, watch the father and son. They are alone; the family is already in the theatre. We may, indeed, watch them--they are true moralists. It is only a moral drawn from a hat.
But the father's eyes rolled, his cheeks glowed, his words were sword-strokes, and must make an impression on any disposition as gentle as his son's; but the son stood quiet, with a firm look and with a smile on his lips, such as the moral bestows. "You were in the adjoining room!" said he. "Where it is proper for you to be there may I also come."
"Boy!" cried the father, and named the place, but we know it not; neither know we its inhabitants. Victor Hugo includes them in his "Children's Prayer," in his beautiful poem, "La Prière pour Tous." The child prays for all, even "for those who sell the sweet name of love."
[Note: "Prie! ... Pour les femmes échevelées Qui vendent le doux nom d'amour!"]
"Let us be silent with each other!" said the son. "I am acquainted with many histories. I know another of the pretty Eva!"--
"Eva!" repeated the father.
We will hear no more! It is not proper to listen. We see the father and son extend their hands. It appeared a scene of reconciliation. They parted: the father goes to his business, and Hans Peter to the theatre, to anger himself over the immorality in the second act of the "Somnambule."
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