Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower.
We will grieve not—rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been, must ever be.
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering!
In the faith that looks through death—
In years, that bring the philosophic mind.
From that October afternoon I was a man saved from myself. Courvoisier had said, in answer to my earnest entreaties about joining housekeeping: “We will try—you may not like it, and if so, remember you are at liberty to withdraw when you will.” The answer contented me, because I knew that I should not try to withdraw.
Our friendship progressed by such quiet, imperceptible degrees, each one knotting the past more closely and inextricably with the present, that I could by no means relate them if I wished it. But I do not wish it. I only know, and am content with it, that it has fallen to my lot to be blessed with that most precious of all earthly possessions, the “friend” that “sticketh closer than a brother.” Our union has grown and remained not merely “fest und treu,” but immovable, unshakable.
There was first the child. He was two years old; a strange, weird, silent child, very beautiful—as the son of his father could scarcely fail to be—but with a different kind of beauty. How still he was, and how patient! Not a fretful child, not given to crying or complaint; fond of resting in one place, with solemn, thoughtful eyes fixed, when his father was there, upon him; when his father was not there, upon the strip of sky which was to be seen, through the window above the house-tops.
The child’s name was Sigmund; he displayed a friendly disposition toward me, indeed, he was passively friendly and—if one may say such a thing of a baby—courteous to all he came in contact with. He had inherited his father’s polished manner; one saw that when he grew up he would be a “gentleman,” in the finest outer sense of the word. His inner life he kept concealed from us. I believe he had some method of communicating his ideas to Eugen, even if he never spoke. Eugen never could conceal his own mood from the child; it knew—let him feign otherwise never so cunningly—exactly what he felt, glad or sad, or between the two, and no acting could deceive him. It was a strange, intensely interesting study to me; one to which I daily returned with fresh avidity. He would let me take him in my arms and talk to him; would sometimes, after looking at me long and earnestly, break into a smile—a strange, grave, sweet smile. Then I could do no otherwise than set him hastily down and look away, for so unearthly a smile I had never seen. He was, though fragile, not an unhealthy child; though so delicately formed, and intensely sensitive to nervous shocks, had nothing of the coward in him, as was proved to us in a thousand ways; shivered through and through his little frame at the sight of a certain picture to which he had taken a great antipathy, a picture which hung in the public gallery at the Tonhalle; he hated it, because of a certain evil-looking man portrayed in it; but when his father, taking his hand, said to him, “Go, Sigmund, and look at that man; I wish thee to look at him,” went without turn or waver, and gazed long and earnestly at the low type, bestial visage portrayed to him. Eugen had trodden noiselessly behind him; I watched, and he watched, how his two little fists clinched themselves at his sides, while his gaze never wavered, never wandered, till at last Eugen, with a strange expression, caught him in his arms and half killed him with kisses.
“Mein liebling!” he murmured, as if utterly satisfied with him.
Courvoisier himself? There were a great many strong and positive qualities about this man, which in themselves would have set him somewhat apart from other men. Thus he had crotchety ideas about truth and honor, such as one might expect from so knightly looking a personage. It was Karl Linders, who, at a later period of our acquaintance, amused himself by chalking up, “Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter,” beneath his name. His musical talent—or rather genius, it was more than talent—was at that time not one fifth part known to me, yet even what I saw excited my wonder. But these, and a long list of other active characteristics, all faded into insignificance before the towering passion of his existence—his love for his child. It was strange, it was touching, to see the bond between father and son. The child’s thoughts and words, as told in his eyes and from his lips, formed the man’s philosophy. I believe Eugen confided everything to his boy. His first thought in the morning, his last at night, was for der Kleine. His leisure was—I can not say “given up” to the boy—but it was always passed with him.
Courvoisier soon gained a reputation among our comrades for being a sham and a delusion. They said that to look at him one would suppose that no more genial, jovial fellow could exist—there was kindliness in his glance, bon camaraderie in his voice, a genial, open, human sympathetic kind of influence in his nature, and in all he did. “And yet,” said Karl Linders to me, with gesticulation, “one never can get him to go anywhere. One may invite him, one may try to be friends with him, but, no! off he goes home! What does the fellow want at home? He behaves like a young miss of fifteen, whose governess won’t let her mix with vulgar companions.”
I laughed, despite myself, at this tirade of Karl. So that was how Eugen’s behavior struck outsiders!
“And you are every bit as bad as he is, and as soft—he has made you so,” went on Linders, vehemently. “It isn’t right. You two ought to be leaders outside as well as in, but you walk yourselves away, and stay at home! At home, indeed! Let green goslings and grandfathers stay at home.”
Indeed, Herr Linders was not a person who troubled home much; spending his time between morning and night between the theater and concert-room, restauration and verein.
“What do you do at home?” he asked, irately.
“That’s our concern, mein lieber,” said I, composedly, thinking of young Sigmund, whose existence was unknown except to our two selves, and laughing.
“Are you composing a symphony? or an opera buffa? You might tell a fellow.”
I laughed again, and said we led a peaceable life, as honest citizens should; and added, laying my hand upon his shoulder, for I had more of a leaning toward Karl, scamp though he was, than to any of the others, “You might do worse than follow our example, old fellow.”
“Bah!” said he, with unutterable contempt. “I’m a man; not a milksop. Besides, how do I know what your example is? You say you behave yourselves; but how am I to know it? I’ll drop upon you unawares and catch you, some time. See if I don’t.”
The next evening, by a rare chance with us, was a free one—there was no opera and no concert; we had had probe that morning, and were at liberty to follow the devices and desires of our own hearts that evening.
These devices and desires led us straight home, followed by a sneering laugh from Herr Linders, which vastly amused me. The year was drawing to a close. Christmas was nigh; the weather was cold and unfriendly. Our stove was lighted; our lamp burned pleasantly on the table; our big room looked homely and charming by these evening lights. Master Sigmund was wide awake in honor of the occasion, and sat upon my knee while his father played the fiddle. I have not spoken of his playing before—it was, in its way, unique. It was not a violin that he played—it was a spirit that he invoked—and a strange answer it sometimes gave forth to his summons. To-night he had taken it up suddenly, and sat playing, without book, a strange melody which wrung my heart—full of minor cadences, with an infinite wail and weariness in it. I closed my eyes and listened. It was sad, but it was absorbing. When I opened my eyes again and looked down, I found that tears were running from Sigmund’s eyes. He was sobbing quietly, his head against my breast.
“I say, Eugen! Look here!”
“Is he crying? Poor little chap! He’ll have a good deal to go through before he has learned all his lessons,” said Eugen, laying down his violin.
“What was that? I never heard it before.”
“I have, often,” said he, resting his chin upon his hand, “in the sound of streams—in the rush of a crowd—upon a mountain—yes, even alone with the woman I—” He broke off abruptly.
“But never on a violin before?” said I, significantly.
“Why don’t you print some of those impromptus that you are always making?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. Ere I could pursue the question some one knocked at the door, and in answer to our herein! appeared a handsome, laughing face, and a head of wavy hair, which, with a tall, shapely figure, I recognized as those of Karl Linders.
“I told you fellows I’d hunt you up, and I always keep my word,” said he, composedly. “You can’t very well turn me out for calling upon you.”
He advanced. Courvoisier rose, and with a courteous cordiality offered his hand and drew a chair up. Karl came forward, looking round, smiling and chuckling at the success of his experiment, and as he came opposite to me his eyes fell upon those of the child, who had raised his head and was staring gravely at him.
Never shall I forget the start—the look of amaze, almost of fear, which shot across the face of Herr Linders. Amazement would be a weak word in which to describe it. He stopped, stood stock-still in the middle of the room; his jaw fell—he gazed from one to the other of us in feeble astonishment, then said, in a whisper:
“Donnerwetter! A child!”
“Don’t use bad language before the little innocent,” said I, enjoying his confusion.
“Which of you does it belong to? Is it he or she?” he inquired in an awe-struck and alarmed manner.
“His name is Sigmund Courvoisier,” said I, with difficulty preserving my gravity.
“Oh, indeed! I—I wasn’t aware—” began Karl, looking at Eugen in such a peculiar manner—half respectful, half timid, half ashamed—that I could no longer contain my feelings, but burst into such a shout of laughter as I had not enjoyed for years. After a moment, Eugen joined in; we laughed peal after peal of laughter, while poor Karl stood feebly looking from one to the other of the company—speechless—crestfallen.
“I beg your pardon.” he said, at last, “I won’t intrude any longer. Good—”
He was making for the door, but Eugen made a dash after him, turned him round, and pushed him into a chair.
“Sit down, man,” said he, stifling his laughter. “Sit down, man; do you think the poor little chap will hurt you?”
Karl cast a distrustful glance sideways at my nursling and spoke not.
“I’m glad to see you,” pursued Eugen. “Why didn’t you come before?”
At that Karl’s lips began to twitch with a humorous smile; presently he too began to laugh, and seemed not to know how or when to stop.
“It beats all I ever saw or heard or dreamed of,” said he, at last. “That’s what brought you home in such a hurry every night. Let me congratulate you, Friedel! You make a first-rate nurse; when everything else fails I will give you a character as Kindermädchen; clean, sober, industrious, and not given to running after young men.” With which he roared again, and Sigmund surveyed him with a somewhat severe, though scarcely a disapproving, expression. Karl seated himself near him, and, though not yet venturing to address him, cast various glances of blandishment and persuasion upon him.
Half an hour passed thus, and a second knock was followed by the entrance of Frau Schmidt.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” she remarked, in a tone which said unutterable things—scorn, contempt, pity—all finely blended into a withering sneer, as she cast her eyes around, and a slight but awful smile played about her lips. “Half past eight, and that blessed baby not in bed yet. I knew how it would be. And you all smoking, too—natürlich! You ought to know better, Herr Courvoisier—you ought, at any rate,” she added, scorn dropping into heart-piercing reproach. “Give him to me,” she added, taking him from me, and apostrophizing him. “You poor, blessed lamb! Well for you that I’m here to look after you, that have had children of my own, and know a little about the sort of way that you ought to be brought up in.”
Evident signs of uneasiness on Karl’s part, as Frau Schmidt, with the same extraordinary contortion of the mouth—half smile, half sneer—brought Sigmund to his father, to say good-night. That process over, he was brought to me, and then, as if it were a matter which “understood itself,” to Karl. Eugen and I, like family men, as we were, had gone through the ceremony with willing grace. Karl backed his chair a little, looked much alarmed, shot a queer glance at us, at the child, and then appealingly up into the woman’s face. We, through our smoke, watched him.
“He looks so very—very—” he began.
“Come, come, mein Herr, what does that mean? Kiss the little angel, and be thankful you may. The innocent! You ought to be delighted,” said she, standing with grenadier-like stiffness beside him.
“He won’t bite you, Karl,” I said, reassuringly. “He’s quite harmless.”
Thus encouraged, Herr Linders stooped forward and touched the cheek of the child with his lips; then, as if surprised, stroked it with his finger.
“Lieber Himmel! how soft! Like satin, or rose leaves!” he murmured, as the woman carried the child away, shut the door and disappeared.
“Does she tackle you in that way every night?” he inquired next.
“Every evening,” said Eugen. “And I little dare open my lips before her. You would notice how quiet I kept. It’s because I am afraid of her.”
Frau Schmidt, who had at first objected so strongly to the advent of the child, was now devoted to it, and would have resented exceedingly the idea of allowing any one but herself to put it to bed, dress or undress it, or look after it in general. This state of things had crept on very gradually; she had never said how fond she was of the child, but put her kindness upon the ground that as a Christian woman she could not stand by and see it mishandled by a couple of men, and oh! the unutterable contempt upon the word “men.” Under this disguise she attempted to cover the fact that she delighted to have it with her, to kiss it, fondle it, admire it, and “do for it.” We knew now that no sooner had we left the house than the child would be brought down, and would never leave the care of Frau Schmidt until our return, or until he was in bed and asleep. She said he was a quiet child, and “did not give so much trouble.” Indeed, the little fellow won a friend in whoever saw him. He had made another conquest to-night. Karl Linders, after puffing away for some time, inquired, with an affectation of indifference:
“How old is he—der kleine Bengel?”
“Two—a little more.”
“Handsome little fellow!”
“Glad you think so.”
“Sure of it. But I didn’t know, Courvoisier—so sure as I live, I knew nothing about it!”
“I dare say not. Did I ever say you did?”
I saw that Karl wished to ask another question; one which had trembled upon my own lips many a time, but which I had never asked—which I knew that I never should ask. “The mother of that child—is she alive or dead? Why may we never hear one word of her? Why this silence, as of the grave? Was she your wife? Did you love her? Did she love you?”
Questions which could not fail to come to me, and about which my thoughts would hang for hours. I could imagine a woman being very deeply in love with Courvoisier. Whether he would love very deeply himself, whether love would form a mainspring of his life and actions, or whether it took only a secondary place—I speak of the love of woman—I could not guess. I could decide upon many points of his character. He was a good friend, a high-minded and a pure-minded man; his every-day life, the turn of his thoughts and conversation, showed me that as plainly as any great adventure could have done. That he was an ardent musician, an artist in the truest and deepest sense, of a quixotically generous and unselfish nature—all this I had already proved. That he loved his child with a love not short of passion was patent to me every day. But upon the past, silence so utter as I never before met with. Not a hint; not an allusion; not one syllable.
Little Sigmund was not yet two and a half. The story upon which his father maintained so deep a silence was not, could not, be a very old one. His behavior gave me no clew as to whether it had been a joyful or a sorrowful one. Mere silence could tell me nothing. Some men are silent about their griefs; some about their joys. I knew not in which direction his disposition lay.
I saw Karl look at him that evening once or twice, and I trembled lest the blundering, good-natured fellow should make the mistake of asking some question. But he did not; I need not have feared. People were not in the habit of putting obtrusive questions to Eugen Courvoisier. The danger was somehow quietly tided over, the delicate ground avoided.
The conversation wandered quietly off to commonplace topics—the state of the orchestra; tales of its doings; the tempers of our different conductors—Malperg of the opera; Woelff of the ordinary concerts, which took place two or three times a week, when we fiddled and the public ate, drank, and listened; lastly, von Francius, königlicher Musik-direktor.
Karl Linders gave his opinion freely upon the men in authority. He had nothing to do with them, nothing to hope or fear from them; he filled a quiet place among the violoncellists, and had attained his twenty-eighth year without displaying any violent talent or tendency to distinguish himself, otherwise than by getting as much mirth out of life as possible and living in a perpetual state of “carlesse contente.”
He desired to know what Courvoisier thought of von Francius; for curiosity—the fault of those idle persons who afterward develop into busybodies—was already beginning to leave its traces on Herr Linders. It was less known than guessed that the state of things between Courvoisier and von Francius was less peace than armed neutrality. The intense politeness of von Francius to his first violinist, and the punctilious ceremoniousness of the latter toward his chief, were topics of speculation and amusement to the whole orchestra.
“I think von Francius would be a fiend if he could,” said Karl, comfortably. “I wouldn’t stand it if he spoke to me as he speaks to some people.”
“Oh, they like it!” said Courvoisier; and Karl stared. “Girls don’t object to a little bullying; anything rather than be left quite alone,” Courvoisier went on, tranquilly.
“Girls!” ejaculated Karl.
“You mean the young ladies in the chorus, don’t you?” asked Courvoisier, unmovedly. “He does bully them, I don’t deny; but they come back again.”
“Oh, I see!” said Karl, accepting the rebuff.
He had not referred to the young ladies of the chorus.
“Have you heard von Francius play?” he began next.
“What do you think of it?”
“I think it is superb!” said Courvoisier.
Baffled again, Karl was silent.
“The power and the daring of it are grand,” went on Eugen, heartily. “I could listen to him for hours. To see him seat himself before the piano, as if he were sitting down to read a newspaper, and do what he does, without moving a muscle, is simply superb—there’s no other word. Other men may play the piano; he takes the key-board and plays with it, and it says what he likes.”
I looked at him, and was satisfied. He found the same want in von Francius’ “superb” manipulation that I did—the glitter of a diamond, not the glow of a fire.
Karl had not the subtlety to retort, “Ay, but does it say what we like?” He subsided again, merely giving a meek assent to the proposition, and saying, suggestively:
“He’s not liked, though he is such a popular fellow.”
“The public is often a great fool.”
“Well, but you can’t expect it to kiss the hand that slaps it in the face, as von Francius does,” said Karl, driven to metaphor, probably for the first time in his life, and seeming astonished at having discovered a hitherto unknown mental property pertaining to himself.
“I’m certain of one thing: von Francius will go on slapping the public’s face. I won’t say how it will end; but it would not surprise me in the least to see the public at his feet, as it is now at those of—”
“Humph!” said Karl, reflectively.
He did not stay much longer, but having finished his cigar, rose. He seemed to feel very apologetic, and out of the fullness of his heart his mouth spake.
“I really wouldn’t have intruded if I had known—”
“Known what?” inquired Eugen, with well-assumed surprise.
“I thought you were just by yourselves, you know, and—”
“So we are; but we can do with other society. Friedel here gets very tedious sometimes—in fact, langweilig. Come again, nicht wahr?”
“If I sha’n’t be in your way,” said Karl, looking round the room with somewhat wistful eyes.
We assured him to the contrary, and he promised, with unnecessary emphasis, to come again.
“He will return; I know he will!” said Eugen, after he had gone.
The next time that Herr Linders arrived, which was ere many days had passed, he looked excited and important; and after the first greetings were over, he undid a great number of papers which wrapped and infolded a parcel of considerable dimensions, and displayed to our enraptured view of a white woolly animal of stupendous dimensions, fastened upon a green stand, which stand, when pressed, caused the creature to give forth a howl like unto no lowing of oxen nor bleating of sheep ever heard on earth. This inviting-looking creature he held forth toward Sigmund, who stared at it.
“Perhaps he’s got one already?” said Karl, seeing that the child did not display any violent enthusiasm about the treasure.
“Oh, no!” said Eugen, promptly.
“Perhaps he doesn’t know what it is,” I suggested, rather unkindly, scarcely able to keep my countenance at the idea of that baby playing with such a toy.
“Perhaps not,” said Karl, more cheerfully, kneeling down by my side—Sigmund sat on my knee—and squeezing the stand, so that the woolly animal howled. “Sieh! Sigmund! Look at the pretty lamb!”
“Oh, come, Karl! Are you a lamb? Call it an eagle at once,” said I, skeptically.
“It is a lamb, ain’t it?” said he, turning it over. “They called it a lamb at the shop.”
“A very queer lamb; not a German breed, anyhow.”
“Now I think of it, my little sister has one, but she calls it a rabbit, I believe.”
“Very likely. You might call that anything, and no one could contradict you.”
“Well, der Kleine doesn’t know the difference; it’s a toy,” said Karl, desperately.
“Not a toy that seems to take his fancy much,” said I, as Sigmund, with evident signs of displeasure, turned away from the animal on the green stand, and refused to look at it. Karl looked despondent.
“He doesn’t like the look of it,” said he, plaintively.
“I thought I was sure to be right in this. My little sister” (Karl’s little sister had certainly never been so often quoted by her brother before) “plays for hours with that thing that she calls a rabbit.”
Eugen had come to the rescue, and grasped the woolly animal which Karl had contemptuously thrown aside. After convincing himself by near examination as to which was intended for head and which for tail, he presented it to his son, remarking that it was “a pretty toy.”
“I’ll pray for you after that, Eugen—often and earnestly,” said I.
Sigmund looked appealingly at him, but seeing that his father appeared able to endure the presence of the beast, and seemed to wish him to do the same, from some dark and inscrutable reason not to be grasped by so young a mind—for he was modest as to his own intelligence—he put out his small arm, received the creature into it, and embracing it round the body, held it to his side, and looked at Eugen with a pathetic expression.
“Pretty plaything, nicht wahr?” said Eugen, encouragingly.
Sigmund nodded silently. The animal emitted a howl; the child winced, but looked resigned. Eugen rose and stood at some little distance, looking on. Sigmund continued to embrace the animal with the same resigned expression, until Karl, stooping, took it away.
“You mustn’t make him, just because I brought it,” said he. “Better luck next time. I see he’s not a common child. I must try to think of something else.”
We commanded our countenances with difficulty, but preserved them. Sigmund’s feelings had been severely wounded. For many days he eyed Karl with a strange, cold glance, which the latter used every art in his power to change, and at last succeeded. Woolly lambs became a forbidden subject. Nothing annoyed Karl more than for us to suggest, if Sigmund happened to be a little cross or mournful, “Suppose you just go home, Karl, and fetch the ‘lamb-rabbit-lion.’ I’m sure he would like it.” From that time the child had another worshiper, and we a constant visitor in Karl Linders.
We sat together one evening—Eugen and I, after Sigmund had been in bed a long time, after the opera was over—chatting, as we often did, or as often remained silent. He had been reading, and the book from which he read was a volume of English poetry. At last, laying the book aside, he said:
“The first night we met, you fainted away from exhaustion and long fasting. You said you would tell me why you had allowed yourself to do so, but you have never kept your word.”
“I didn’t care to eat. People eat to live—except those who live to eat, and I was not very anxious to live, I didn’t care for my life, in fact, I wished I was dead.”
“Why? An unlucky love?”
“I, bewahre! I never knew what it was to be in love in my life,” said I, with perfect truth.
“Is that true, Friedel?” he asked, apparently surprised.
“As true as possible. I think a timely love affair, however unlucky, would have roused me and brought me to my senses again.”
“Oh, I was alone in the world. I had been reading, reading, reading; my brain was one dark and misty muddle of Kant, Schopenhauer, von Hartmann, and a few others. I read them one after another, as quickly as possible; the mixture had the same effect upon my mind as the indiscriminate contents of taffy-shop would have upon Sigmund’s stomach—it made it sick. In my crude, ungainly, unfinished fashion I turned over my information, laying down big generalizations upon a foundation of experience of the smallest possible dimensions, and all upon one side.”
He nodded. “Ei! I know it.”
“And after considering the state of the human race—that is to say the half dozen people I knew, and the miseries of the human lot as set forth in the books I had read, and having proved to myself, all up in that little room, you know”—I pointed to my bedroom—“that there neither was nor could be heaven or hell or any future state, and having decided, also from that room, that there was no place for me in the world, and that I was very likely actually filling the place of some other man, poorer than I was, and able to think life a good thing” (Eugen was smiling to himself in great amusement), “I came to the conclusion that the best thing I could do was to leave the world.”
“Were you going to starve yourself to death? That is rather a tedious process, nicht wahr?”
“Oh, no! I had not decided upon any means of effacing myself; and it was really your arrival which brought on that fainting fit, for if you hadn’t turned up when you did I should probably have thought of my interior some time before seven o’clock. But you came. Eugen, I wonder what sent you up to my room just at that very time, on that very day!”
“Von Francius,” said Eugen, tranquilly. “I had seen him, and he was very busy and referred me to you—that’s all.”
“Well—let us call it von Francius.”
“But what’s the end of it? Is that the whole story?”
“I thought I might as well help you a bit,” said I, rather awkwardly. “You were not like other people, you see—it was the child, I think. I was as much amazed as Karl, if I didn’t show it so much, and after that—”
“Well. There was the child, you see, and things seemed quite different somehow. I’ve been very comfortable” (this was my way of putting it) “ever since, and I am curious to see what the boy will be like in a few years. Shall you make him into a musician too?”
Courvoisier’s brow clouded a little.
“I don’t know,” was all he said. Later, I learned the reason of that “don’t know.”
“So it was no love affair,” said Eugen again. “Then I have been wrong all the time. I quite fancied it was some girl—”
“What could make you think so?” I asked, with a whole-hearted laugh. “I tell you I don’t know what it is to be in love. The other fellows are always in love. They are in a constant state of Schwäramerei about some girl or other. It goes in epidemics. They have not each a separate passion. The whole lot of them will go mad about one young woman. I can’t understand it. I wish I could, for they seem to enjoy it so much.”
“You heathen!” said he, but not in a very bantering tone.
“Why, Eugen, do you mean to say that you are so very susceptible? Oh, I beg your pardon,” I added, hastily, shocked and confused to find that I had been so nearly overstepping the boundary which I had always marked out for myself. And I stopped abruptly.
“That’s like you, Friedhelm,” said he, in a tone which was in some way different from his usual one. “I never knew such a ridiculous, chivalrous, punctilious fellow as you are. Tell me something—did you never speculate about me?”
“Never impertinently, I assure you, Eugen,” said I, earnestly.
“You impertinent! That is amusing, I must say. But surely you have given me a thought now and then, have wondered whether I had a history, or sprung out of nothing?”
“Certainly, and wondered what your story was; but I do not need to know it to—”
“I understand. Well, but it is rather difficult to say this to such an unsympathetic person; you won’t understand it. I have been in love, Friedel.”
“So I can suppose.”
I waited for the corollary, “and been loved in return,” but it did not come. He said, “And received as much regard in return as I deserved—perhaps more.”
As I could not cordially assent to this proposition, I remained silent.
After a pause he went on: “I am eight-and-twenty, and have lived my life. The story won’t bear raking up now—perhaps never. For a long time I went on my own way, and was satisfied with it—blindly, inanely, densely satisfied with it; then all at once I was brought to reason—” He laughed, not a very pleasant laugh. “Brought to reason,” he resumed, “but how? By waking one morning to find myself a spoiled man, and spoiled by myself, too.”
A pause, while I turned this information over in my mind, and then said, composedly:
“I don’t quite believe in your being a spoiled man. Granted that you have made some fiasco—even a very bad one—what is to prevent your making a life again?”
“Ha, ha!” said he, ungenially. “Things not dreamed of, Friedel, by your straightforward philosophy. One night I was, take it all in all, straight with the world and my destiny; the next night I was an outcast, and justly so. I don’t complain. I have no right to complain.”
Again he laughed.
“I once knew some one,” said I, “who used to say that many a good man and many a great man was lost to the world simply because nothing interrupted the course of his prosperity.”
“Don’t suppose that I am an embryo hero of any description,” said he, bitterly. “I am merely, as I said, a spoiled man, brought to his senses and with life before him to go through as best he may, and the knowledge that his own fault has brought him to what he is.”
“But look here! If it is merely a question of name or money,” I began.
“It is not merely that; but suppose it were, what then?”
“It lies with yourself. You may make a name either as a composer or performer—your head or your fingers will secure you money and fame.”
“None the less should I be, as I said, a spoiled man,” he said, quietly. “I should be ashamed to come forward. It was I myself who sent myself and my prospects caput;[A] and for that sort of obscurity is the best taste and the right sphere.”
“But there’s the boy,” I suggested. “Let him have the advantage.”
“Don’t, don’t!” he said, suddenly, and wincing visibly, as if I had touched a raw spot. “No; my one hope for him is that he may never be known as my son.”
“Poor little beggar! I wonder what will become of him,” he uttered, after a pause, during which I did not speak again.
Eugen puffed fitfully at his cigar, and at last knocking the ash from it and avoiding my eyes, he said, in a low voice:
“I suppose some time I must leave the boy.”
“Leave him!” I echoed, intelligently.
“When he grows a little older—before he is old enough to feel it very much, though, I must part from him. It will be better.”
Another pause. No sign of emotion, no quiver of the lips, no groan, though the heart might be afaint. I sat speechless.
“I have not come to the conclusion lately. I’ve always known it,” he went on, and spoke slowly. “I have known it—and have thought about it—so as to get accustomed to it—see?”
“At that time—as you seem to have a fancy for the child—will you give an eye to him—sometimes, Friedel—that is, if you care enough for me—”
For a moment I did not speak. Then I said:
“You are quite sure the parting must take place?”
“When it does, will you give him to me—to my charge altogether?”
“What do you mean?”
“If he must lose one father, let me grow as like another to him as I can.”
“On no other condition,” said I. “I will not ‘have an eye’ to him occasionally. I will not let him go out alone among strangers, and give a look in upon him now and then.”
Eugen had covered his face with his hands, but spoke not.
“I will have him with me altogether, or not at all,” I finished, with a kind of jerk.
“Impossible!” said he, looking up with a pale face, and eyes full of anguish—the more intense in that he uttered not a word of it. “Impossible! You are no relation—he has not a claim—there is not a reason—not the wildest reason for such a—”
“Yes, there is; there is the reason that I won’t have it otherwise,” said I, doggedly.
“It is fantastic, like your insane self,” he said, with a forced smile, which cut me, somehow, more than if he had groaned.
“Fantastic! I don’t know what you mean. What good would it be to me to see him with strangers? I should only make myself miserable with wishing to have him. I don’t know what you mean by fantastic.”
He drew a long breath. “So be it, then,” said he, at last. “And he need know nothing about his father. I may even see him from time to time without his knowing—see him growing into a man like you, Friedel; it would be worth the separation, even if one had not to make a merit of necessity; yes, well worth it.”
“Like me? Nie, mein lieber; he shall be something rather better than I am, let us hope,” said I; “but there is time enough to talk about it.”
“Oh, yes! In a year or two from now,” said he, almost inaudibly. “The worst of it is that in a case like this, the years go so fast, so cursedly fast.”
I could make no answer to this, and he added, “Give me thy hand upon it, Friedel.”
I held out my hand. We had risen, and stood looking steadfastly into each other’s eyes.
“I wish I were—what I might have been—to pay you for this,” he said, hesitatingly, wringing my hand and laying his left for a moment on my shoulder; then, without another word, went into his room, shutting the door after him.
I remained still—sadder, gladder than I had ever been before. Never had I so intensely felt the deep, eternal sorrow of life—that sorrow which can be avoided by none who rightly live; yet never had life towered before me so rich and so well worth living out, so capable of high exultation, pure purpose, full satisfaction, and sufficient reward. My quarrel with existence was made up.