Theodor Fontane (18191898). Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
BETWEEN Berlin and Potsdam Katherine was already drawing down the yellow curtains of the car windows to protect herself from the dazzling light which grew stronger and stronger. But on this same day no curtains were drawn in the little home on the Luise Bank and the forenoon sun shone brightly in at Frau Nimptschs window and filled the whole room with light. Only the background was in shadow and here stood an old-fashioned bed with a high pile of red and white checked pillows, against which Frau Nimptsch was leaning. She was sitting up rather than lying down, because she had water on the lungs and was suffering severely from asthma. She kept turning her head toward the one open window, but still oftener toward the fireplace where no fire was burning to-day.
Lena was sitting by her, holding her hand, and when she saw that her mother kept looking in the same direction, she said: Shall I make a fire, mother? I thought that you were lying warm in bed and it is such a hot day
When she came back to the bed, the old woman smiled contentedly and said: Yes, Lena, it is hot. But you know, I always want to see it. And when I do not see it, I think everything is gone and there is not a spark of life left. And there is so much trouble here.
Yes, child, it has passed away often, but it must come sometime and at seventy it may come any day. I wish you would open the other window too, so that there will be more air and the fire will burn better. Just look, it isnt burning well, it smokes so
Lena did as she was asked and when the sick woman had taken the drops, she really seemed to be a little better and easier around her heart. She propped herself up with her hands and raised herself higher, and when Lena had put another cushion behind her back, she said:
And, Lena went on, when I had told him that, he took my hand and exclaimed cheerfully: So then, Lena, it is all settled! But I shook my head and said, not quite so fast, because I still had something to confess to him. And when he asked what it was, I told him that I had had two love affairs: First there, mother, you know all about it and the first I liked very much and the other I loved dearly and still cared for him. But he was now happily married and I had never seen him again but just once, and I did not want to seen him again. But, since he was so good and kind to us, I felt obliged to tell him everything, because I would not deceive anyone, and certainly not him.
Frau Nimptsch was evidently anxious and uneasy, although indeed one could not tell whether the cause was what Lena had told her or the struggle for breath. But it almost seemed as if it were her breathing, for suddenly she said: Lena, child, I am not high enough. You will have to put the song book under me too.
Lena did not contradict her, but went and got the song book. But when she brought it, her mother said: No, not that one, that is the new one. I want the old one, the thick one with the two clasps. And when Lena came back with the thick song book, she went on: I used to have to bring that same book to my mother too when I was not much more than a child and my mother was not yet fifty; and she suffered here too, and her great frightened eyes kept looking at me so. But when I put the Porst song book, that she had got when she was confirmed, under her, she grew perfectly quiet and fell peacefully asleep. And I want to do that too. Ah, Lena. It isnt death but dying. There, now. Ah, that helps me.
Lena wept softly to herself and since she now saw plainly that the good old womans last hour was very near, she sent word to Frau Dörr, that her mother was in a bad way and would not Frau Dörr come. She sent word back, Yes, she would come. Toward six oclock she arrived, bustling noisily in, for she knew nothing about being quiet, even with sick people. She tramped about the room so that everything on or near the hearth shook and rattled, and at the same time she scolded about Dörr, who was always in town when he ought to be at home, and always at home when she wished he was in Jericho. Meanwhile she took the sick womans hand and asked Lena, whether she had given her plenty of the drops?
That was not enough, Frau Dörr assured her, and after bringing to light all her medical knowledge she added: She had let the medicine draw in the sun for a fortnight, and if one took it properly the water would go away as if it were pumped out. Old Selke at the Zoological had been just like a cask, and for more than four months he could never go to bed, but had to be propped up straight in a chair with all the windows wide open, but when he had taken the medicine for four days, it was just as if you squeezed a pigs bladder: havent you seen how everything goes out of it and it is all soft and limp again!
Lena, whose anxiety was only too justly redoubled by these heroic measures, took her shawl and made ready to go for a doctor. And Frau Dörr, who was not usually in favor of doctors, had nothing to say against it this time.
And I saved up enough for all that is needed, long ago, when I was still able to save up. And it is in the top drawer. And the chemise and short gown are there and a pair of white stockings marked with N. And it is lying among the other things.
But the old woman did not seem to have heard Frau Dörrs question, and without answering, she merely folded her hands, looked up toward the ceiling with a pious and peaceful expression and prayed: Dear Father in heaven, protect her and reward her for all that she has done for a poor old woman.
Ah, Lena, said Frau Dörr to herself and then she added: The good Lord will do that too, Frau Nimptsch, I know him, and I have never seen any one come to grief that was like Lena and that had such a heart and such hands as she has.
So the minutes passed away and when Lena came back and knocked on the door of the corridor, Frau Dörr was still sitting on the footstool and holding her old friends hand. And only when she heard Lena knock did she lay down Frau Nimptschs hand and go to open the door.