Theodor Fontane (18191898). Trials and Tribulations.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
AT about this same time there were at the club two young cavaliers, one of them, who was tall, slender and smooth-faced, belonged to the Gardes du Corps; the other, who was somewhat shorter, and had a full beard with only the regulation smooth chin, had been dismissed from the Pasewalkern. The white damask table cloth, which remained from their breakfast, had been turned back and the two were playing piquet on the bare half of the table.
Yet there are exceptions. Many names belonging to the aristocracy of the circus already appear in the third and fourth generation, which seems to point to some alternation of a slender and a stouter form, or if you like, to the new moon, the first quarter, &c.
You are mistaken. Error in calculo. You forget that there may be adoptions. All these circus people are secretly Gichtelianer and pass on their property, their rank and their names according to agreement. They seem the same and yet they are different. There is always fresh blood. Cut. Besides that I have another bit of news. Afzelius is to join the General Staff.
In the two back rooms of the club, the narrow side of which looked out on a sunny but tiresome garden, there were in all only six or eight men, all silent, all more or less absorbed in their whist or dominoes, and not the least absorbed were the two men who had just been talking about Ella and Afzelius. The game ran high, and so the two did not look up until they saw, through an open curved niche, a new-comer approaching from the next room. It was Wedell.
Thereupon the two men pushed the cards aside and the young man whom Wedell had greeted as Serge took out his watch and said: Quarter past three. Time for coffee. Some philosopher, and he must have been one of the greatest, once said that the best thing about coffee was that it was always suitable under all circumstances and at all times of day. Truly that was a wise saying. But where shall we take it? I think we had better sit outside on the terrace, right in the sun. The more one braves the weather the better one fares. Here, Pehlecke, three cups. I cannot listen to the falling of the pins any longer. It makes me nervous; outside, indeed, there is noise too, but it is different, and instead of the sharp strokes, we shall hear the rumbling and thundering of the underground railway, and we can imagine that we are on Vesuvius or Ætna. And why not? All pleasures are in the last analysis imaginary, and whoever has the best imagination enjoys the most pleasure. Only unreality gives value and is actually the only reality.
Serge, said the man who had been addressed as Pitt at the piquet table, if you go on with your famous wise sayings, you will punish Wedell more severely than he deserves. Besides, you must have some mercy on me because I have been losing. So, we will stay here, with the lawn behind us, this ivy near us, and a view of a bare wall. A heavenly location for his Majestys guards! What would old Prince Pückler have said to this club garden? Pehlecke, here, bring the table here, that will do. And, to finish with, you may bring us some of your very best lager. And now, Wedell, if you want to win forgiveness, give your cloak a shake, and see if you cannot shake a new war or some other big piece of news out of it. You are related to God in heaven through the Puttkamers. With which branch I need not say. What more is he brewing?
Pitt, said Wedell, I beg you, dont ask me any questions about Bismarck. For in the first place, you know that I know nothing about such matters, because cousins in the seventeenth degree are not precisely the intimates and confidants of princes, and in the second place, I come, instead of from the Prince, direct from a shooting match where with a few hits and many, many misses, no other than his Highness was the target.
And you call that a sharp corner to turn? I beg to disagree with you, Wedell; Rienäcker stands in a much more difficult position: he has 9000 marks a year and spends 12000, and that is the sharpest of all corners, at least sharper than the marriage corner. Marriage is no danger for Rienäcker, but a rescue. For that matter, I have seen it coming. And who is it then?
Katherine? Ah, now I know. Katherine Sellenthin. Hm! Not so bad, in fact a brilliant match. Old Sellenthin, he is the old man with the plaster over his eye, has six estates, and with the farms there are really thirteen. If divided in equal parts, Katherine will get the thirteenth thrown in. My congratulations.
Certainly. A wonderful flaxen-haired blonde with eyes as blue as forget-me-nots, but for all that she is not sentimental, and is less like the moon than like the sun. She was here at Frau Zulows Pension, and at fourteen she was already surrounded and courted.
Not really at the Pension and not every day, but on Sundays when she went to lunch with old Osten, the one whom you have just seen. Katherine, Katherine Sellenthin! she was like a rail then, and that is what we used to call her, and she was the most charming little hoyden that you can imagine. I can still see her braid of hair, which we always called the distaff. And Rienäcker will now have a chance to spin it off. Well, why not? It will not be so difficult for him.
After all, it may be more difficult than many think. answered Wedell. And while he certainly needs his finances improved, yet I am not sure that he would decide at once in favor of the blond beauty from his own province. For you must know that Rienäcker has for some time past enjoyed another tint, indeed ash-blond, and if what Balafré lately told me is true, he has been seriously considering whether he should not raise his blanchisseuse to the rank of la dame blanche. He sees no distinction between Castle Avenal and Castle Zehden. A castle is a castle and, you know, Rienäcker, who for that matter, goes his own way in many things, was always in favor of naturalness.
No, it is not imaginary, said Wedell. But I believe what I know. Rienäcker, in spite of his six feet, or perhaps because of them, is weak and easily guided and is peculiarly gentle and tenderhearted.
He certainly is. But circumstances will compel him and he will break away and free himself, at the worst like a fox out of a trap. It is painful and a bit of ones life is left behind. But the main thing is to get out againout, out and free. Long live Katherine! And Rienäcker! What does the proverb say? God helps those who help themselves.