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A HEAD BY HELLEU.*
Outside of the window the thick, gray veil of mist hung over the water. In the little warm room with the family portraits and the engravings on all the walls, the clock ticked. The old lady had risen hastily from her seat by the window and stood with outstretched, but outward turned hands, trembling, almost weeping. Grethe did not entirely close the door, but leaving it slightly ajar, peeped through the opening. The son led his bride towards his mother. All the light which was in the room fell on her paling, young face, with the anxious dilating eyes, the half open, trembling lips. He stood close beside her. For the length of a pulse-beat they all remained silent. Then the old lady breathed heavily. It sounded almost a sob.
"Thank God!" she said, falling on her son's neck.
The door of the room was closed. Grethe had seen well enough.
Then the three sat around the little sewing table by the window, the councillor's widow opposite her future daughter-in-law. She spoke quickly and with emotion:
"What anxiety I have had since morning, since receiving your letter. I thought you would bring me a Paris girl... I thought-I knew not what. And now such a young, pure creature, honest and German. Child, how shall I tell you how I thank you, that you are thus, and not what I thought. And you love him? But yes, otherwise you would not have done as you have. I can read that in your face. But you must love him very much, selflessly love him, if you will take him as he
* Translated for The Living Age by Adene Williams.
is. He is different from others; he demands much: reason, devotion, patience, consideration, unconditional, unreasoning devotion, everything; and as for him, he is a singular being. Indeed, since he finished his great work with which he was so intoxicated, he has become so sensitive that one never knows how a thing will strike him, still less how it will influence him. He feels everything more deeply and more painfully than ordinary men. He keeps one continually worried about him. Just think, I, his mother, who bore him and nurtured him, fostered and protected him, bearing him ever in my heart, who would willingly give my life blood for him each second, I tell you, I scarcely know him. I have doubted that he would bring a daughter home to me who would-who would bear the proud name of his father with dignity. We are noble, is that not grand, child? Should I not value that, so that we may still continue to be noble?-But why need I speak of that? Now everything is well, everything. And all the anxiety of the past years, how foolish! But why are you so silent? You have eyes, which say that you also can laugh and chatter. Tell me something of yourself, of your parents and how and when you learned to know him, and where and-Look about in my room. Do the engravings please you? Those Roman views are by Volpato, who brought them to Hubert's father, long before he was my husband, from his journey to Italy. Yes, then everything classic and from the South was valued, but now everything is different. Those etchings after Cornelius and Delaroche, Hubert considers horrible. What is your opinion? Do you also swear by the modern school? Indeed you must do so as his bride. What do
you think of the French, do you know them all."
"I sent her from Paris," said the son, "an etching by Paul Helleu."
"Ah, Helleu? He is the one who usually makes only sketches with a couple of swift strokes. And does that please you? Do you consider it beautiful?"
Lisbeth glanced towards her betrothed.
He scarcely noticed the look. "It is almost impossible to believe," he continued to his mother, "how the artist, who never saw her, was able to reproduce her features with his easily formed lovely sketch, all that is the most inward core of her being; the idea of undisturbed peace, the expression, one might say, of how this child, who is really but a child, uninfluenced by the world, proceeds on her own way, knowing how to guard her ego and her individuality-"
"But," inquired the old lady for the second time, "do you too then perceive all of this? Speak out freely, does the picture please you?"
"I?"-Lisbeth hesitated-"I really do not know. I believe he, Hubert, has such a good opinion of me and treasures me. And I do not understand the picture at all. At least Madam, the Doctor's wife "
The mother leaned over the little table and kissed the cheeks of the young girl: "Hubert, she is a trouvaille! A truly womanly creature. Modern enough for you and still to my liking --and so modest and so honorable, in confessing that she understands nothing of this art which only sketches and indicates, and does not complete-I wouldn't have thought it possibleCome, my dear, dear little daughtertell me, what is your name? I know nothing at all about you."
"Her name is Lisbeth," said Hubert. Tears sprang to the girl's eyes as he spoke so brusquely. At their first
meeting, when he had brought her to the house and had introduced himself to her at the door, she too, politely curtseying, had told him her name: Anna Louise Elizabeth Thiessing. But he had later confessed to her in what a comical school-girlish way she had said it, so that he knew at once that she did not belong to the station which her appearance indicated. And if he had not fallen in love with her the very first moment, he would have noticed it more particularly. Now he wanted to keep her from doing the same thing again, lest his mother should discover it too. He was ashamed of her. That he must not be, she would not have it. "Elizabeth Thiessing," she said distinctly.
The old lady looked at her smilingly. "Thiessen," I have not the pleasure of knowing the family. But you are from here? Tell me, who are thy people? And do not sit so uncomfortably and formally there, as if only making a visit. Show me that you feel at home here; take off your hat and jacket. Here comes Grethe with her cakes, home-made. She will naturally want the bride of her young gentleman to try them. Take off your gloves, dear Lisbeth, and help yourself."
Lisbeth again glanced towards Hubert. He leaned back in his chair, ate cakes, teased the old servant, as she was coming in, so that she tried to avoid him. What did he mean? What was he thinking of? If she took off her gloves-then, indeed, would the old lady know all.
And she took them off. Partly because she could not do otherwise-for Grethe stood there waiting with the plate of cakes and the little tray-half in defiance. For if this must be, the sooner the better. She drew off the new, yellow kid gloves, which she had herself bought on purpose for this visit, from her right hand, and stretched out her finger and took a
cake. With the same shocked feeling with which the mother and Grethe looked down at the hard, red, largejointed work-fingers, she herself looked at the poor hand, which trembling, crumbled the cakes on the little glass plate. She couldn't have eaten now for anything in the world.
"You can go now," said the Frau Geheimrath.
Did Hubert feel nothing, know nothing of what was happening?
The mother rose, went to the door, opened it and looked out. She wished to be certain that the old servant was not listening in the hall. Then she came back, with slow and short steps and dropped down on her chair, quite old, bent, trying to gather up her courage.
"Isn't she charming?" said Hubert, "in her bare head? See how the hair starts from the temples-exactly like the lines in Helleu's sketch. I could sit for a lifetime looking at this fine transition. You understand it, mamma, something of completeness, of faultlessness moves me, charms me sometimes to tears."
What was he saying? What did he mean?
If he had been speaking French, he would not have been more incomprehensible to Lisbeth. She understood better what the old lady was feeling, who sat before her in her black satin dress so straight and stiff in her chair, one hand clasped in the other, the two palms pressed together in perplexity, the fingers interlaced until they cracked. The young girl felt a sudden pity for the old, lonely mother. She did not herself know how it happened that she thought and felt thus, perhaps she did not at once know that she did feel so. But she stretched out her hand, coarse as it was, and laid it very gently on the old, weak, waxen fingers.
evening on the street. I am in service here."
"As what?" asked the Frau Geheimrath in a weak voice.
"As housemaid, at Holzdamm with Dr. Ross," Lisbeth arose and took her jacket in order to put it on again. But Hubert had also sprung up and prevented her.
"Mamma," he cried, turning to the old lady, who, shrinking together leaned back in her chair, "my good mamma, look at her, listen to her. Is she not noble without, within? Does she not show it, recognizing her station so frankly and freely? Good old mother, think, how often you have said to me, one should only look at man, at mankind, as they are in the heart, not on the dress or exteriors. How often have you chided me, because I noticed some ugly feature of the face, some hard tone of the voice, more than the inward excellences of people who were not congenial to me; because I overlooked other mistakes and faults when their physical forms or organs pleased Mother, look at her, in whom indeed the inner surpasses the outer, fine as it is, listen to her, so that you will know her. Just because I perceived that she is noble in her inmost heart have I loved her. And therefore I brought her to you without any preparation, that you should yourself see and know her, before you knew anything further of her. But now you must be good, mother, you must! For she will be my wife."
So he spoke and still more to the same purpose. The two scarcely heard him. They each had but the one thought: A servant-maid!
It was not said aloud, but it was so, and nothing could change it. They both felt it. But Mrs. Ehren was a lady who was more accustomed to control her emotions than Lisbeth, and more accustomed to self-posses
"I am no lady. He spoke to me one sion.
"Keep your seat," she said to the girl.
And Lisbeth sat down. This polite address was the last straw. She sat on the same chair as before, but not the same, not the honored guest, the joyfully received daughter, but the strange servant girl, to whom one could not refuse to offer a chair, because she was in the reception room as a visitor.
"That is right," said Hubert, "I knew well how you would see it, mamma, What else do you desire than my happiness? And I tell you it comes from her. If she does not become my wife, if this be but an illusion, then indeed, I should die. But I do not deceive myself. For she also loves me."
"Is your family here in town?" "No," said Lisbeth, "they live in Halstein." And she knew that the lady breathed more easily-"But my little sister will come here, as soon as she is confirmed. And then she will also hunt a place here."
"Ah, a place!-Hubert," asked the mother quickly, "Hubert, there are now other occupations for girls, so many others. If the sister, the sister of your future wife, must do something, she might be a companion or a bookseller, but—”
"Ah," said Lisbeth, "she knows little of these things as I do."
"Do not make yourself out worse than you are. Mamma, she has the learning of the heart, and also capacity for education. What charming letters she writes me, so drolly stiff! And what she will know from me and experience and grasp from life! I will only need to be careful that she does not learn too much, and like the daughters of higher rank talk about everything and become like all the rest of the world."
"Then you do not wish your bride to have any part in you, your work and your thoughts; you would have her
live in a different atmosphere, a feast for your eyes, and nothing more?" "No! She shall be my rest and my joy. She shall do not make such great eyes, Lisbeth!-she shall be a comfort to my mind as well as to my heart. As to whether she can chatter in French, rave over Botticelli or Wagner, express her opinions of Zola and Sudermann, is of no importance to me, for that I can do myself. That she loves me, is one with me, feels my deepest inner emotions-although she is not at all fin de siècle as I am, but quite oldfashioned and very simple-anticipates my wishes, lives for me and thinks for me. If ever the slightest doubt should come to me as to her unconditional love, her absolute surrender of self to me, I—but no, I would rather not depict the doubt. It would destroy, annihilate me. For then I should have deceived myself in my opinion of her, not have been deceived by her. And I should then lose all belief in myself-”
Thus the two spoke of her and named names, and used expressions of which Lisbeth understood nothing. She had never before seemed so stupid to herself. He appeared quite contented. The mother looked at the girl from time to time, but knew not how to say anything more to her. And Lisbeth sat in her place, as long as they stayed, dumb and still. When Hubert signified that they must go, as it was his mother's usual meal time and he and his bride would go to a restaurant and from there to the theatre, she rose from her chair obediently and made a parting curtsey. She knew while she was doing it, as she had formerly bowed to him, that a lady would not do this. But she could not help herself, she curtseyed nevertheless.
And Hubert smiled. "Sweet Lisbeth! Is it not so, mamma, you must certainly see that one could not help loving this child."
The Frau Geheimrath made no reply,
at least none that Lisbeth exactly heard. She kissed her son. To the girl she extended only a couple of fingers; and Grethe stood in the vestibule and in a most studied servant-like manner helped the Herr Doctor on with his coat and appeared not to see his bride, as she opened the door wide for him. Lisbeth should have gone out first, but she hesitated, involuntarily wanting the gentleman to go first. He took her by the arm and drew her outside.
"Ah!" he said, as if a weight had fallen from him. "That is endured and at an end. Mamma is so good, but she does not entirely understand me. Don't give yourself any uneasiness on her account. It is not necessary to our happiness for us to live in her circle and in her neighborhood."
"She is still your mother," said Lisbeth half aloud.
"Yes, but I am no longer a child. I love you! Can you not feel, do you not see how much? I will and I must and I am going to have you!" he cried, passionately. "See, this journey to Paris, as I have already said to you, is to be the proof to me that I can no longer exist without you. A couple of friends, to whom I told my intention to marry you, warned me that I had loved and forgotten many others, and I would also overcome this. But they were mistaken. Do you know why? Because I saw that you only could heal me-give me back my faith in myself and women and all mankind.
If you only knew how I have passed these four weeks! How I worked there, in the library, in the Museum, until late in the night. And how I hunted every distraction. But in the midst of the heaviest work and in the midst of the greatest feasts, among women of intellect and in assemblies of the best society, as among others of the worst, then do you know, how the longing toward home, toward peace, toward all
that is good and pure in me, drew me back to you?"
"And," he continued more quietly, as silently and with bowed head she walked beside him-they were now going through a lively street; the rain had ceased, but it was misty and was already becoming dark-“and what do others understand of that which we find within us, that which we need! How could you for a moment believe that my mother's doubt could change, influence me? I delayed the visit as long as I could. But it had to be made at last. Wherefore should we wait longer? And if her manner has impressed you, as I well see, then must we be married all the sooner, immediately. My very good friends of course have advised me figuratively and unfiguratively not to marry you. The good people. They are the Philistines, not I, who desire you for my honorable wife. Sweethearts I could have by the dozen, more beautiful, more prudent, more magnificent! But I will have you, for my whole life, for every minute and every second, 'for better, for worse,' as is so beautifully said in the English marriage ceremony, for glad days and for sorry ones, for healthy and for sick days. You shall be my home, in which I can strike root. I have proved myself. And you, my love, happily I do not need to prove you, I am certain of you. It is just this which makes me so happy, so confident, as I never before felt myself in any love. Look at me, Lisbeth, do not look so troubled. I am happy. Can you not be so too?"
He compelled her to look at him. "I don't know," said she softly, "I don't know, I am only anxious." But he smiled. "That is already passed. Forget it. You will soon get over it."
They had now reached the restaurant, in which they were to dine together. Twice before, after the Sun