The 25th of May, 1866, was no doubt to many a quite indifferent date, but to two persons it was the saddest day of their lives.
Charles Randall that day left Bonn, Germany, to catch the steamer
home to America, and Ida Werner was left with a mountain of grief on
her gentle bosom, which must be melted away drop by drop, in tears,
before she could breathe freely again.
A year before, Randall, hunting for apartments, his last term at
the university just begun, had seen the announcement, “Zimmer zu
vermiethen,” in the hall below the flat where the Werners lived.
Ida answered his ring, for her father was still at his government
office, and her mother had gone out to the market to buy the supper.
She would much rather her mother had been at home to show the
gentleman the rooms; but, knowing that they could not afford to lose a
chance to rent them, she plucked up courage, and, candle in hand, showed
him through the suite.
When he came next day with his baggage, he learned for the first time
what manner of apartments he had engaged; for although he had
protracted the investigation the previous evening to the furthest
corner, and had been most exacting as to explanations, he had really
rented the rooms entirely on account of a certain light in which a set
of Madonna features, in auburn hair, had shown at the first opening of
year had passed since this, and a week ago a letter from home had
stated that his father, indignant at his unexplained stay six months
beyond the end of his course, had sent him one last remittance, barely
sufficient for a steamer ticket, with the intimation that if he did not
return on a set day, he must thenceforth attend to his own exchequer.
The 25th was the last day on which he could leave Bonn to catch the requisite steamer.
Had it been in November, nature at least would have sympathized; it
was cruel that their autumn time of separation should fall in the
spring, when the sky is full of bounteous promise and the earth of
Love is so improvident that a parting a year away is no more feared than death, and a month′s end seems dim and distant.
But a week,—a week only,—that even to love is short, and the beginning of the end.但是一星期——就一星期——或许对爱情来说那是短暂的，但那也是一个结束的开始。
The chilling mist that rose from the gulf of separation so near before them overshadowed all the brief remnant of their path.
They were constantly together.
But a silence had come upon them.
Never had words seemed idler, they had so much to say.
They could say nothing that did not mock
the weight on their hearts, and seem trivial and impertinent because it
was exclusive of more important matter.
The utmost they could do was to lay their hearts open toward each
other to receive every least impression of voice, and look, and manner,
to be remembered afterward.
At evening they went into the minster church, and, sitting in the
shadows, listened to the sweet, shrill choir of boys whose music
distilled the honey of sorrow; and as the deep bass organ chords gripped
their hearts with the tones that underlie all weal and woe, they looked
in each other′s eyes, and did for a space feel so near that all the
separation that could come after seemed but a trifling thing.
It was all arranged between them.
He was to earn money, or get a position in business, and return in a year or two at most and bring her to America.
“Oh,” she said once, “if I could but sleep till thou comest again
to wake me, how blessed I should be; but, alas, I must wake all through
the desolate time!”
Although for the most part she comforted him rather than he her,
yet at times she gave way, and once suddenly turned to him and hid her
face on his breast, and said, trembling with tearless sobs:—
“I know I shall never see thee more, Karl. Thou wilt forget me in thy great, far land and wilt love another.
My heart tells me so.”
And then she raised her head, and her streaming eyes blazed with anger.
“I will hover about thee, and if thou lovest another, I will kill her as she sleeps by thy side.”
And the woman must have loved him much who, after seeing that look of hers, would have married him.
a moment after she was listening with abject ear to his
The day came at last.
He was to leave at three o′clock.
the noontide meal, Ida′s mother sat with them and they talked a little
about America, Frau Werner exerting herself to give a cheerful tone to
the conversation, and Randall answering her questions absently and
without taking his eyes off Ida, who felt herself beginning to be seized
with a nervous trembling.
At last Frau Werner rose and silently left the room, looking back at them as she closed the door with eyes full of tears.
as if by a common impulse, they rose and put their arms about each
other′s necks, and their lips met in a long, shuddering kiss.
breath came quicker and quicker; sobs broke the kisses; tears poured
down and made them salt and bitter, as parting kisses should be in which
sweetness is mockery.
Hitherto they had controlled their feelings, or rather she had
controlled him; but it was no use any longer, for the time had come, and
they abandoned themselves to the terrible voluptuousness of
unrestrained grief, in which there is a strange, meaningless suggestion
of power, as though it might possibly be a force that could affect or
remove its own cause if but wild and strong enough.
“Herr Randall, the carriage waits and you will lose the train,” said Frau Werner from the door, in a husky voice.
“I will not go, by God!” he swore, as he felt her clasp convulsively strengthen at the summons.
The lesser must yield to the greater, and no loss or gain on earth was worth the grief upon her face.
His father might disinherit him, America might sink, but she must smile again.
And she did,—brave, true girl and lover.
The devotion his resolute words proved was like a strong nervine to restore her self-control.
She smiled as well as her trembling lips would let her, and said, as she loosed him from her arms:—
“No, thou must go, Karl.
But thou wilt return, @nicht wahr@?”
I would not venture to say how many times he rushed to the door,
and, glancing back at her as she stood there desolate, followed his
glance once more to her side.
Finally, Frau Werner led him as one dazed to the carriage, and the impatient driver drove off at full speed.
It is seven years later, and Randall is pacing the deck of an ocean steamer, outward bound from New York.
It is the evening of the first day out.
and there passengers are leaning over the bulwarks, pensively regarding
the sinking sun as it sets for the first time between them and their
native land, or maybe taking in with awed faces the wonder of the deep,
which has haunted their imaginations from childhood.
already busily striking up acquaintances with fellow-passengers, and a
bridal pair over yonder sit thrilling with the sense of isolation from
the world that so emphasizes their mutual dependence and all-importance
to each other.
And other groups are talking business, and referring
to money and markets in New York, London, and Frankfort as glibly as if
they were on land, much to the secret shock of certain raw tourists, who
marvel at the in-sensitiveness of men who, thus speeding between two
worlds, and freshly in the presence of the most august and awful form of
nature, can keep their minds so steadily fixed upon cash-books and
But Randall, as, with the habit of an old voyager, he already
falls to pacing the deck, is too much engrossed with his own thoughts to
pay much heed to these things.
Only, as he passes a group of
Germans, and the familiar accents of the sweet, homely tongue fall on
his ear, he pauses, and lingers near.
The darkness gathers, the breeze freshens, the waves come
tumbling out of the east, and the motion of the ship increases as she
rears upward to meet them.
The groups on deck are thinning out fast,
as the passengers go below to enjoy the fearsome novelty of the first
night at sea, and to compose themselves to sleep as it were in the
hollow of God′s hand.
But long into the night Randall′s cigar still
marks his pacing up and down as he ponders, with alternations of tender,
hopeful glow and sad foreboding, the chances of his quest.
Will he find her?
It is necessary to go back a little.
When Randall reached
America on his return from Germany, he immediately began to sow his wild
oats, and gave his whole mind to it.
Answering Ida′s letters got to be a bore, and he gradually ceased doing it.
Then came a few sad reproaches from her, and their correspondence ceased.
Meanwhile, having had his youthful fling, he settled down as a steady young man of business.
day he was surprised to observe that he had of late insensibly fallen
into the habit of thinking a good deal in a pensive sort of way about
Ida and those German days.
The notion occurred to him that he would hunt up her picture, which he had not thought of in five years.
With misty eyes and crowding memories he pored over it, and a wave of regretful, yearning tenderness filled his breast.
Late one night, after long search, he found among his papers a bundle of her old letters, already growing yellow.
Being exceedingly rusty in his German, he had to study them out word by word.
night, till the sky grew gray in the east, he sat there turning the
pages of the dictionary with wet eyes and glowing face, and selecting
definitions by the test of the heart.
He found that some of these letters he had never before taken the pains to read through.
In the bitterness of his indignation, he cursed the fool who had thrown away a love so loyal and priceless.
All this time he had been thinking of Ida as if dead, so far off in another world did those days seem.
was with extraordinary effect that the idea finally flashed upon him
that she was probably alive, and now in the prime of her beauty.
a period of feverish and impassioned excitement, he wrote a letter full
of wild regret and beseeching, and an ineffable tenderness.
Then he waited.
After a long time it came back from the German dead-letter office.
There was no person of the name at the address.
She had left Bonn, then.
Hastily setting his affairs in order, he sailed for Germany on the next steamer.
The incidents of the voyage were a blank in his mind.
On reaching Bonn, he went straight from the station to the old house in—strasse.
he turned into it from the scarcely less familiar streets leading
thither, and noted each accustomed landmark, he seemed to have just
returned to tea from an afternoon lecture at the university.
In every feature of the street some memory lurked, and, as he passed, threw out delaying tendrils, clutching at his heart.
he broke away, hastening on to that house near the end of the street,
in each of whose quaint windows fancy framed the longed-for face.
She was not there, he knew, but for a while he stood on the other
side of the street, unmindful of the stares and jostling of the
passers-by, gazing at the house-front, and letting himself imagine from
moment to moment that her figure might flit across some window, or issue
from the door, basket in hand, for the evening marketing, on which
journey he had so often accompanied her.
At length, crossing the street, he inquired for the Werner family.
The present tenants had never heard the name.
Perhaps the tenants from whom they had received the house might be better informed.
Where were they?
They had moved to Cologne.
He next went to
the Bonn police-office, and from the records kept there, in which
pretty much everything about every citizen is set down, ascertained that
several years previous Herr Werner had died of apoplexy, and that no
one of the name was now resident in the city.
Next day he went to
Cologne, hunted up the former tenants of the house, and found that they
remembered quite distinctly the Werner family, and the death of the
father and only breadwinner.
It had left the mother and daughter quite without resources, as Randall had known must probably have been the case.
His informants had heard that they had gone to Dusseldorf.
His search had become a fever.
After waiting seven years, a delay of ten minutes was unendurable.
The trains seemed to creep.
And yet, on reaching Diisseldorf, he did not at once go about his search, but said to himself:—
“Let me not risk the killing of my last hope till I have warmed
myself with it one more night, for to-morrow there may be no more warmth
He went to a hotel, ordered a room and a bottle of wine, and sat
over it all night, indulging the belief that he would find her the next
He denied his imagination nothing, but conjured up before his
mind′s eye the lovely vision of her fairest hour, complete even to the
turn of the neck, the ribbon in the hair, and the light in the blue
So he would turn into the street.
Yes, here was the number.
Then he rings the bell.
She comes to the door.
She regards him a moment indifferently.
Then amazed recognition, love, happiness, transfigure her face.
“Karl!” and he clasps her sobbing to his bosom, from which she shall never be sundered again.
The result of his search next day was the discovery that mother
and daughter had been at Diisseldorf until about four years previous,
where the mother had died of consumption, and the daughter had removed,
leaving no address.
The lodgings occupied by them were of a wretched character, showing that their circumstances must have been very much reduced.
There was now no further clue to guide his search.
destined that the last he was to know of her should be that she was
thrown on the tender mercies of the world,—her last friend gone, her
last penny expended.
She was buried out of his sight, not in the
peaceful grave, with its tender associations, but buried alive in the
living world; hopelessly hid in the huge, writhing confusion of
He lingered in the folly of despair about those sordid
lodgings in Diisseldorf, as one might circle vainly about the spot in
the ocean where some pearl of great price had fallen overboard.
After a while he roused again, and began putting advertisements
for Ida into the principal newspapers of Germany, and making random
visits to towns all about to consult directories and police records.
A singular sort of misanthropy possessed him.
He cursed the multitude of towns and villages that reduced the chances in his favor to so small a thing.
He cursed the teeming throngs of men, women, and children, in whose mass she was lost, as a jewel in a mountain of rubbish.
he possessed the power, he would in those days, without an instant′s
hesitation, have swept the bewildering, obstructing millions of Germany
out of existence, as the miner washes away the earth to bring to light
the grain of gold in his pan.
He must have scanned a million women′s
faces in that weary search, and the bitterness of that million-fold
disappointment left its trace in a feeling of aversion for the feminine
countenance and figure that he was long in overcoming.
Knowing that only by some desperate chance he could hope to meet
her in his random wanderings, it seemed to him that he was more likely
to be successful by resigning as far as possible all volition, and
leaving the guidance of the search to chance; as if Fortune were best
disposed toward those who most entirely abdicated intelligence and
trusted themselves to her.
He sacredly followed every impulse, never making up his mind an
hour before at what station he should leave the cars, and turning to the
right or left in his wanderings through the streets of cities, as much
as possible without intellectual choice.
Sometimes, waking suddenly in the middle of the night, he would
rise, dress with eager haste, and sally out to wander through the dark
streets, thinking he might be led of Providence to meet her.
once out, nothing but utter exhaustion could drive him back; for how
could he tell but in the moment after he had gone, she might pass?
He had recourse to every superstition of sortilege, clairvoyance, presentiment, and dreams.
And all the time his desperation was singularly akin to hope.
dared revile no seeming failure, not knowing but just that was the
necessary link in the chain of accidents destined to bring him face to
face with her.
The darkest hour might usher in the sunburst.
The possibility that this was at last the blessed chance lit up his eyes ten thousand times as they fell on some new face.
But at last he found himself back in Bonn, with the feverish
infatuation of the gambler, which had succeeded hope in his mind,
succeeded in turn by utter despair!
His sole occupation now was revisiting the spots which he had frequented with her in that happy year.
one who has lost a princely fortune sits down at length to enumerate
the little items of property that happen to be attached to his person,
disregarded before but now his all, so Randall counted up like a miser
the little store of memories that were thenceforth to be his all.
Wonderfully, the smallest details of those days came back to him.
very seats they sat in at public places, the shops they entered
together, their promenades and the pausing-places on them, revived in
memory under a concentrated inward gaze like invisible paintings brought
One afternoon, after wandering about the city for some hours, he turned into a park to rest.
he approached his usual bench, sacred to him because Ida and he in the
old days had often sat there, he was annoyed to see it already occupied
by a pleasant-faced, matronly looking German woman, who was complacently
listening to the chatter of a couple of small children.
threw himself upon the unoccupied end of the bench, rather hoping that
his gloomy and preoccupied air might cause them to depart and leave him
to his melancholy reverie.
And, indeed, it was not long before the
children stopped their play and gathered timidly about their mother, and
soon after the bench tilted slightly as she relieved it of her
substantial charms, saying in a cheery, pleasant voice:—
“Come, little ones, the father will be at home before us.”
It was a secluded part of the garden, and the plentiful color
left her cheeks as the odd gentleman at the other end of the bench
turned with a great start at the sound of her voice, and transfixed her
with a questioning look.
But in a moment he said:—
“Pardon me, madame, a thousand times.
The sound of your voice so reminded me of a friend I have lost that I looked up involuntarily.”
The woman responded with good-natured assurances that he had not at all alarmed her.
Randall had an opportunity to notice that, in spite of the
thick-waisted and generally matronly figure, there were, now he came to
look closely, several rather marked resemblances to Ida.
The eyes were of the same blue tint, though about half as large, the cheeks being twice as full.
spite of the ugly style of dressing it, he saw also that the hair was
like Ida′s; and as for the nose, that feature which changes least, it
might have been taken out of Ida′s own face.
As may be supposed, he
was thoroughly disgusted to be reminded of that sweet girlish vision by
this broadly moulded, comfortable-looking matron.
His romantic mood
was scattered for that evening at least, and he knew he should not get
the prosaic suggestions of the unfortunate resemblance out of his mind
for a week at least.
It would torment him as a humorous association spoils a sacred hymn.
He bowed with rather an ill grace, and was about to retire, when a
certain peculiar turn of the neck, as the lady acknowledged his salute,
caught his eye and turned him to stone.
Good God! this woman was Ida!
He stood there in a condition of mental paralysis.
fabric of his thinking and feeling for months of intense emotional
experience had instantly been annihilated, and he was left in the midst
of a great void in his consciousness out of touching-reach of anything.
There was no sharp pang, but just a bewildered numbness.
few filaments only of the romantic feeling for Ida that filled his mind
a moment before still lingered, floating about it, unattached to
anything, like vague neuralgic feelings in an amputated stump, as if to
remind him of what had been there.
All this was as instantaneous as a galvanic shock the moment he
had recognized—let us not say Ida, but this evidence that she was no
It occurred to him that the woman, who stood staring, was in common politeness entitled to some explanation.
was in just that state of mind when, the only serious interest having
suddenly dropped out of the life, the minor conventionalities loom up as
peculiarly important and obligatory.
“You were Fraiilein Ida Werner, and lived at No.—strasse in 1866, @nicht wahr@?”
He spoke in a cold, dead tone, as if making a necessary but distasteful explanation to a stranger.
“Yes, truly,” replied the woman curiously; “but my name is now
Frau Stein,” glancing at the children, who had been staring open-mouthed
at the queer man.
“Do you remember Karl Randall?
I am he.”
The most formal of old acquaintances could hardly have recalled himself in a more indifferent manner.
“@Herr Gott im Himmel!@” exclaimed the woman, with the liveliest surprise and interest “Karl!
Is it possible?
Yes, now I recognize you.
She clapped one hand to her bosom, and dropped on the bench to recover herself.
Fleshy people, overcome by agitation, are rather disagreeable objects.
Randall stood looking at her with a singular expression of aversion on his listless face.
after panting a few times, the woman recovered her vivacity and began
to ply him vigorously with exclamations and questions, beaming the while
with delighted interest.
He answered her like a schoolboy, too destitute of presence of mind to do otherwise than to yield passively to her impulse.
But he made no inquiries whatever of her, and did not distantly allude to the reason of his presence in Germany.
he stood there looking at her, the real facts about that matter struck
him as so absurd and incredible that he could not believe them himself.
Pretty soon he observed that she was becoming a little conscious
in her air, and giving a slightly sentimental turn to the conversation.
was not for some time that he saw her drift, so utterly without
connection in his mind were Ida and this comfortable matron before him;
and when he did, a smile at the exquisite absurdity of the thing barely
twitched the corners of his mouth, and ended in a sad, puzzled stare
that rather put the other out of countenance.
But the children had now for some time been whimpering for supper
and home, and at length Frau Stein rose, and, with an urgent request
that Randall should call on her and see her husband, bade him a cordial
He stood there watching her out of sight, with an unconscious smile of the most refined and subtle cynicism.
Then he sat down and stared vacantly at the close-cropped grass on the opposite side of the path.
By what handle should he lay hold of his thoughts?
That woman could not retroact and touch the memory of Ida.
That dear vision remained intact.
He drew forth his locket, and opening it gazed passionately at the fair girlish face, now so hopelessly passed away.
By that blessed picture he could hold her and defy the woman.
that fat, jolly, comfortable matron, he should not at least ever again
have to reproach himself with his cruel treatment of Ida.
And yet why not?
What had the woman to do with her?
She had suffered as much as if the woman had not forgotten it all.
His reckoning was with Ida,—was with her.
Where should he find her?
In what limbo could he imagine her?
Ah, that was the wildering cruelty of it.
was not this woman, nor was she dead in any conceivable natural way so
that her girlish spirit might have remained eternally fixed.
She was nothing.
She was nowhere.
She existed only in this locket, and her only soul was in his heart, far more surely than in this woman who had forgotten her.
Death was a hopeful, cheerful state compared to that nameless nothingness that was her portion.
For had she been dead, he could still have loved her soul; but now she had none.
soul that once she had, and, if she had then died, might have kept, had
been forfeited by living on, and had passed to this woman, and would
from her pass on further till finally fixed and vested in the
decrepitude of age by death.
So, then, it was death and not life that secured the soul, and his sweet Ida had none because she had not died in time.
Ah! had not he heard somewhere that the soul is immortal and never dies?
Where, then, was Ida′s?
She had disappeared utterly out of the universe.
She had been
transformed, destroyed, swallowed up in this woman, a living sepulcher,
more cruel than the grave, for it devoured the soul as well as the body.
Pah! this prating about immortality was absurd, convicted of
meaninglessness before a tragedy like this; for what was an immortality
worth that was given to her last decrepit phase of life, after all its
beauty and strength and loveliness had passed soulless away?
To be aught but a mockery, immortality must be as manifold as the manifold phases of life.
Since life devours so many souls, why suppose death will spare the last one?
But he would contend with destiny.
Painters should multiply the face in his locket.
He would immortalize her in a poem.
He would constantly keep the lamp trimmed and burning before her shrine in his heart.
She should live in spite of the woman.
But he could now never make amends to her for the suffering his cruel, neglectful youth had caused her.
He had scarcely realized before how much the longing to make good that wrong had influenced bis quest of her.
Tears of remorse for an unatonable crime gathered in his eyes.
He might, indeed, enrich this woman, or educate her children, or pension her husband; but that would be no atonement to Ida.
And then, as if to intensify that remorse by showing still more
clearly the impossibility of atonement, it flashed on him that he who
loved Ida was not the one to atone for an offense of which he would be
incapable, which had been committed by one who despised her love.
Justice was a meaningless word, and amends were never possible,
nor can men ever make atonement; for, ere the debt is paid, the
atonement made, one who is not the sufferer stands to receive it; while,
on the other hand, the one who atones is not the offender, but one who
comes after him, loathing his offense and himself incapable of it.
The dead must bury their dead.
And, thus pondering from
personal to general thoughts, the turmoil of his feelings gradually
calmed, and a restful melancholy, vague and tender, filled the aching
void in his heart.