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SKETCHES MADE IN GERMANY
gone to the
THERE was rare excitement in Frau Pastor Wiedermann's household -excitement decorously suppressed in deference to the feelings of their aged mistress, and in conformity to the old, the dear old peaceful order of things, now on the eve of momentous change. Visitors (which was Charlotte's bland euphemism for the less compromising term, boarders) from England had been prepared for, and were now momentarily expected, and lest the two girls should feel lonely and homesick at parting with their chaperon, who was travelling further with two more girls, Frau Pastor herself wa station to welcome them. And Martin, who rarely allowed his mother to go out alone, had rather unwillingly accompanied her, for he would have preferred to greet the strangers under his mother's roof. And now that the extraordinary work was all done, now that the domestic machinery and the new undermaid worked smoothly and could not go wrong in her absence, for twelve hours at least, Charlotte was cross and tired and snappish, and had obstinately refused to go to bed with her sick headache. Charlotte was a character in her morose way; though there were partial and discriminating friends of the family who voted the woman a nuisance, who could see no virtue in the ugly old woman, save her fanatical love of cleanliness, which gave her no rest or peace from Monday morning to Saturday night, so that by the time she had finished her weekly round of official inspection it was time to begin de novo; and often Frau Pastor herself, the pink of daintiness and order, would in private lament to Martin (Martin humorously sympathetic and a fellow-sufferer), and fairly long for a temporary cessation of hostilities and a little wholesome dirt. Charlotte's other qualities, by the way, were deep respect for her mistress ; veneration for the memory of a good master; superstitious regard for national customs and family traditions ; fiery, not to say volcanic, love for Martin, whose fostermother she had been ; and a niggardly housekeeping spirit, directing the smallest expenditure with official greed and cunning at times when Martin was in sore need of more drawing materials or
expensive pigments, the very smell of which turned Charlotte sick and faint. And what difference to Martin could a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, more or less, make in the cake? And if the miserly old woman liked to make a martyr of herself by drinking cold coffee when she might drink beer. . . . But to return to that afternoon.
Charlotte, my dear,' her mistress had exclaimed just before starting for the station, and while she stood drawing on her black silk gloves in the long and gloomy corridor, taking furtive bird-like peeps at her reflection in the big mirror, while Martin searched the studio for his gloves—' dear Charlotte, do go to bed. You have done too much. Anna can manage quite well. I insist on your going to bed, Charlotte.'
The little Frau Pastor was everlastingly insisting. When her mistress insisted, Charlotte, more obstinate than the proverbial mule, had an aggravating trick of smiling and saying nothing. So the gaunt woman smiled, and placidly folded her hands, and shook her grizzled head, and closed her lips with a snap. As everybody knew, the commands of her mistress were but perfunctory admonitions ; and who ever heard of Charlotte deserting her post so long as there was anything fresh to worry about and she could just manage not to succumb to a violent sick headache ?
Frau Pastor Wiedermann having insisted in her gentle way, sighed, then said quite naturally:
Very well, Charlotte. Then I shall have no anxiety about the chicken. Come, Martin, or we shall be late.'
Mother and son went out into the vestibule. Charlotte stood in the doorway and watched her tiny mistress in her shabby widow's weeds and her handsome crippled boy (he was five-and-twenty years of age and he looked nineteen), while the latter dexterously manipulated his crutches in descending the three stone steps to the draughty vestibule below. Frau Pastor Wiedermann lived parterre.
She would have chosen to live third étage, because it was cheaper, had it not been for Martin, who chaffed his mother and Charlotte, and laughed to scorn the feminine notion of there being danger in descending three stone staircases on crutches.
The heavy outer doors closed with a dull bang that reverberated through the great house and seemed to rouse Charlotte from brooding thoughts. She closed the door of her mistress's apartment, then put her hand to her head distractedly, for she was a martyr to bilious headaches. Her spare body, too, ached through zeal of work. How still everything was! She opened the door of the guest-chamber .and peeped in. All was in readiness for the two English girls, There stood the two snow-white beds, each with its own screen; the big couch, the two easy chairs; the pier glass between the casement windows, and now reflecting back to Charlotte's brilliant, haggard eyes the gaunt figure of a weary woman with folds of pain in her narrow shiny brow. Her gaze fell to the parquet.
Only that morning Anna, the new maid, and fresh and raw from a country mill, had slipped on the parquet and slightly twisted her ankle, so that Charlotte, inwardly fuming and volubly scolding, had been compelled to stop in the midst of her cooking to bathe and bandage it; but now it was quite well, thanks to Charlotte's muttered threats. And the old white porcelain stove-Charlotte ventured across the threshold and laid her hand on the tiles—they glowed. Yes, the room was quite warm enough. Softly she closed the door, and again put her hand to her head, and staggered rather than walked to the kitchen, where she collapsed, with a smothered cry, in her own high-backed chair near one of the windows, not forgetting in her bodily pain to dart the searchlight of her terrible grey gaze round the four walls of her domain.
Everything was in order. Everything wore an exasperating air of expectation. Everything waited like a scene on a stage; even the old kitchen furniture seemed to have assumed for the high occasion and for Charlotte's special mortification smart airs of idle curiosity. The very pots and pans had broken out into burnished leers, broad grins of goblin anticipation, and seemed to be rioting among themselves at the rout of their hard mistress and common enemyCharlotte, high-priestess of the scrubbing-brush and pail—and to be mocking her with the words :
* They are coming. We are waiting. You are fretting. It is your doing. You willed them to come. But nothing will ever be the same again. You will never again be the same Charlotte. Your mistress-Martin, for whom you would give your life—will never again be the same old Martin. Everything will change. And you called this change into being.'
And the woman, weary, excited, overwrought, anxious, doubtful, fearful, in acute bodily pain, muttered in her dogged way : • I've done
best. It must be for the best.' And she rose, the tension of doubt and anxiety stretching every movement, every thought, and drank greedily some cold coffee; then sat down again and began to knit because she was restless, and could not support the watchfulness of Anna's guileless eyes, imposing on her most secret looks and thoughts a maddening feeling of restraint, till a moment came when she felt strong desire to strike the girl. Living, as Charlotte lived, a cold, secret, self-sufficing life on the lonely heights of a supreme, if jealous and tyrannical, love, she hated intruders, even of her own nationality; and these expected guests were intruders from a strange land, coming with a strange jargon to perplex and offend the ear.
* It is for Martin's sake,' she again muttered with something like VOL. XLV-No. 264
a sob of furious jealousy and a scorching tear in her hard grey eyes. • It must be for the best. It shall be for the best.'
For Martin was going to be a great painter-one day. At present he was heavily handicapped, sorely tried. His mother's straitened means did not allow of the study he craved for under a great master. Art was long. Martin was five-and-twenty years of age.
For seven laborious years he had been lost in that lonely forest which encompasses the beautiful kingdom of art, wandering in dismal bypaths leading no whither, of crude effort and fantastic strain, without light, without guidance, without support. Battles had been fought, and lost, and fought again, and yet again, with set teeth, pallid lips, haggard eyes, a fainting heart, and the noble rage, the passionate enthusiasm of a fiery soul in the deeps of a divine despair. Still loomed before his longing eyes that stony track over which the feet of serious pilgrims must pass on bleeding-nor falter on the way-or ever they shall be permitted to view, much less to conquer, those faroff, smiling lands of peace, where amaranths bloom and streams of nectar flow.
Watching Martin one day while he sat before his easel in a fit of abstraction, Charlotte had begun to use her resourceful wits. It had been no difficult matter to persuade her gentle mistress to take boarders for Martin's sake-English or Americans--as they paid well, and the payments alone of two boarders would suffice to pay for the study Martin craved for. They could live better, too. Martin was looking pale and thin.
His mother sighed.
* Poor boy! He has been very patient. You are right, Charlotte. Time is passing. We must do something. Martin must study. There will be very little for him to live on when I am gone away.”
To this Charlotte had made no reply. She had pondered Martin's future long before that memorable day, dwelt upon it even while he lay all day on his back and Charlotte read to him, in hours when Martin suffered, and was strong, and possessed his ardent little soul with the quiet heroism of a wounded soldier on a battlefield. Only Martin was no soldier, only a hapless little crippled lad. Yes, even so far back as in those terrible days of Martin's suffering childhood Charlotte had often reflected, with fresh-recurring throes of secret joy, that always there would be her savings for Martin when his mother should be gone away.
Charlotte was thinking of her savings, and wondering how much a week it would take to feed the two English girls, when a bell jangled in the corridor.
I'll go, Anna,' Charlotte said quietly; but her heart beat loud and fast. And was that laughter outside ?
Yes, there they were. And had those two tall, straight-limbed, fresh-looking English girls been latter-day embodiments of the Furies,
Charlotte could not have regarded them more coldly, or with greater aversion.
They were standing on the steps, and looking upward-so that they missed Charlotte's scrutinising gaze-admiring something, a massive garland of fresh flowers festooned round the door. Above the door, in large letters of red calico on a white shield-were the words : ‘A hearty welcome.'
How pretty!' the two girls exclaimed. ' And how very kind. Is it for us, Frau Pastor ? '
Frau Pastor in the background and looking pleased, moved-so did Martin, for he felt his mother's words coming--and the tableau dissolved.
'It is a pretty custom we have in Germany,' said Frau Pastor in her very best English, which was, by the way, excellent.
What a charming welcome!'
The two girls turned to thank Martin, who blushed like a schoolboy, and then bowed like a courtier, in spite of his crutches. Or was it because of his crutches ?
Schillerstrasse 18, My dear Ellen,- We arrived in on Thursday, 1st, just three weeks
ago, and not a line from me till this scrawl arrives. Surely I have been abroad months, not weeks. Certainly there is no clock that can reckon the hours, the minutes, of those three long weeks, as I have lived them. Yet our life is very quiet, even monotonous in its routine, or it would be monotonous were the people around us less interesting than I find them. Next week, it is true, there will be excitement forthcoming in the shape of masters (and, German masters). And as a kind of 'extra-speshul' excitement there will be the Opera. Now for a peep, but only a 'snapshot' peep, into a very quiet corner of German life.
We occupy, or rather our hostess occupies, an apartment on the ground floor of a large house on the Schillerstrasse, a house with heavy iron balconies to the front windows, large outer doors, a paved vestibule, and stone staircases leading to regions we have not yet explored. Frau Pastor Wiedermann is a dear, pretty, faded, shabby, highly cultivated woman of about sixty, with iron-grey hair, very tiny in person, very active, very courteous, most anxious for our bodily comfort and the further enlightenment of our minds. She takes it for granted, dear little soul, that we are both good Christians, and that as in the Fatherland, so in our own dear country, Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott. She affects soft, clinging black dresses, in which she glides from room to room without a rustle, and black lace caps coming to a point on her grey hair, with long lapels reaching almost to her waist. Dresses and caps, though they have but one fashion, and that no longer in vogue, show a very fastidious daintiness. This small person