PART 1 OF 3
George gently opened the door of Anna's room. She still lay asleep in bed and breathed deeply and peacefully. He went out of the slightly darkened room, back again into his own and shut the door. Then he went to the open window and looked out. Clouds bathed in sunshine were sweeping over the water. The mountains opposite with their clearly-defined lines were floating in the brilliancy of the heavens, while the brightest blue was glittering over the gardens and houses of Lugano.
George was quite delighted to breathe in once more the air of this June morning, which brought to him the moist freshness of the lake and the perfume of the plane-trees, magnolias and roses in the hotel park; to look out upon this view, whose spring-like peace had welcomed him like a fresh happiness every morning for the last three weeks.
He drank his tea quickly, ran down the stairs as quickly and expectantly as he had once, when a boy, hurried off to his play, and took his accustomed way along the bank in the grey fragrance of the early shade. Here he would think of his own lonely morning walks at Palermo and Taormina in the previous spring, walks which he had frequently continued for hours on end, since Grace was very fond of lying in bed with open eyes until noon.
That period of his life, over which a recent though no doubt much-desired farewell seemed to squat like a sinister cloud, usually struck him as more or less bathed in melancholy. But this time all painful things seemed to lie in the far distance, and at any rate he had it in his power to put off the end as long as he wanted, if it did not come from fate itself.
He had left Vienna with Anna at the beginning of March, as it was no longer possible to conceal her condition. In January, in fact, George had decided to speak to her mother. He had more or less prepared himself for it, and was consequently able to make his communication quietly and in well-turned phraseology. The mother listened in silence and her eyes grew large and moist. Anna sat on the sofa with an embarrassed smile and looked at George as he spoke, with a kind of curiosity. They sketched out the plan for the ensuing months. George wanted to stay abroad with Anna until the early summer. Then a house was to be taken in the country in the neighbourhood of Vienna, so that her mother should not be far away in the time of greatest need, and the child could without difficulty be given out to nurse in the neighbourhood of the town. They also thought out an excuse for officious inquisitive people for Anna's departure and absence.
As her voice had made substantial progress of late—which was perfectly true—she had gone off to a celebrated singing mistress in Dresden, to complete her training.
Frau Rosner nodded several times, as though she agreed with everything, but the features of her face became sadder and sadder. It was not so much that she was oppressed by what she had just learnt, as she was by the realisation that she was bound to be so absolutely defenceless, poor middle-class mother that she was, sitting opposite the aristocratic seducer.
George, who noticed this with regret, endeavoured to assume a lighter and more sympathetic tone. He came closer to the good woman, he took her hand and held it for some seconds in his own. Anna had scarcely contributed a word to the whole discussion, but when George got ready to go she got up, and for the first time in front of her mother she offered him her lips to kiss, as though she were now celebrating her betrothal to him.
George went downstairs in better spirits, as though the worst were now really over. Henceforth he spent whole hours at the Rosners' more frequently than before, practising music with Anna, whose voice had now grown noticeably in power and volume. The mother's demeanour to George became more friendly. Why, it often seemed to him as though she had to be on her guard against a growing sympathy for him, and there was one evening in the family circle when George stayed for supper, improvised afterwards to the company from the Meistersingers and Lohengrin with his cigar in his mouth, could not help enjoying the lively applause, particularly from Josef, and was almost shocked to notice as he went home that he had felt quite as comfortable, as though it had been a home he had recently won for himself.
When he was sitting over his black coffee with Felician a few days later the servant brought in a card, the receipt of which made a slight blush mount to his cheek. Felician pretended not to notice his brother's embarrassment, said good-bye and left the room. He met old Rosner in the doorway, inclined his head slightly in answer to his greeting and took no further notice.
George invited Herr Rosner, who came in in his winter coat with his hat and umbrella, to sit down, and offered him a cigar. Old Rosner said: "I have just been smoking," a remark which somehow or other reassured George, and sat down, while George remained leaning on the table.
Then the old man began with his accustomed slowness: "You will probably be able to imagine, Herr Baron, why I have taken the liberty of troubling you. I really wanted to speak to you in the earlier part of the day, but unfortunately I could not get away from the office."
"You would not have found me at home in the morning, Herr Rosner," answered George courteously.
"All the better then that I didn't have my journey for nothing. My wife has told me this morning ... what has happened...." He looked at the floor.
"Yes," said George, and gnawed at his upper lip. "I myself intended.... But won't you take off your overcoat? It is very warm in the room."
"No thank you, thank you, it is not at all too warm for me. Well, I was horrified when my wife gave me this information. Indeed I was, Herr Baron.... I never would have thought it of Anna ... never thought it possible ... it is ... really dreadful...." He spoke all the time in his usual monotonous voice, though he shook his head more often than usual.
George could not help looking all the time at his head with its thin yellow-grey hair, and felt nothing but a desolate boredom. "Really, Herr Rosner, the thing is not dreadful," he said at last. "If you knew how much I ... and how sincere my affection for Anna is, you would certainly be very far from thinking the thing dreadful. At any rate, I suppose your wife has told you about our plans for the immediate future ... or am I making a mistake...?"
"Not at all, Herr Baron, I have been informed of everything this morning. But I must say that I have noticed for some weeks that something was wrong in the house. It often struck me that my wife was very nervous and was often on the point of crying."
"On the point of crying! There is really no occasion for that, Herr Rosner. Anna herself, who is more concerned than any one else, is very well and is in her usual good spirits...."
"Yes, Anna at any rate takes it very well, and that, to speak frankly, is more or less my consolation. But I cannot describe to you, Baron, how hard hit ... how, I could almost say ... like a bolt from the blue ... I could never, no, never have ... have believed it...." He could not say any more. His voice trembled.
"I am really very concerned," said George, "that you should take the matter like this, in spite of the fact that your wife is bound to have explained everything to you, and that the measures we have taken for the near future presumably meet with your approval. I would prefer not to talk about a time which is further, though I hope not too far off, because phrases of all kinds are more or less distasteful to me, but you may be sure, Herr Rosner, that I certainly shall not forget what I owe to a person like Anna.... Yes, what I owe to myself." He gulped.
In all his memory there was no moment in his life in which he had felt less sympathy for himself. And now, as is necessarily the case in all pointless conversations, they repeated themselves several times, until Herr Rosner finally apologised for having troubled him, and took his leave of George, who accompanied him to the stairs.
George felt an unpleasant aftermath in his soul for some days after this visit. The brother would be the finishing touch, he thought irritably, and he could not help imagining a scene of explanation in the course of which the young man would endeavour to play the avenger of the family honour, while George put him in his place with extraordinarily trenchant expressions.
George nevertheless felt a sense of relief after the conversation with Anna's parents had taken place, and the hours which he spent with his beloved alone in the peaceful room opposite the church were full of a peculiar feeling of comfort and safety. It sometimes seemed to them both as though time stood still.
It was all very well for George to bring guide-books, Burckhardt's Cicerone, and even maps to their meetings, and to plan out with Anna all kinds of routes; he did not as a matter of fact seriously think that all this would ever be realised.
So far, however, as the house in which the child was to be born was concerned, they were both impressed with the necessity of its being found and taken before they left Vienna. Anna once saw an advertisement in the paper which she was accustomed to read carefully for that very object, of a lodge near the forest, and not far from a railway station, which could be reached in one and a half hours from Vienna. One morning they both took the train to the place in question and they had a memory of a snow-covered lonely wooden building with antlers over the door, an old drunken keeper, a young blonde girl, a swift sleigh-ride over a snowy winter street, an extraordinarily jolly dinner in an enormous room in the inn, and then home in a badly-lighted over-heated compartment. This was the only time that George tried to find with Anna the house that must be standing somewhere in the world and waiting to be decided upon. Otherwise he usually went alone by train or tramway to look round the summer resorts which were near Vienna. Once, on a spring day that had come straight into the middle of the winter, George was walking through one of the small places situated quite near town, which he was particularly fond of, where village buildings, unassuming villas and elegant country houses lay close upon each other. He had completely forgotten, as often happened, why he had taken the journey, and was thinking with emotion of the fact that Beethoven and Schubert had taken the same walk as he, many years ago, when he unexpectedly ran up against Nürnberger. They greeted each other, praised the fine day, which had enticed them so far out into the open, and expressed regret that they so rarely saw each other since Bermann had left Vienna.
"Is it long since you heard anything of him?" asked George.
"I have only had a card from him," replied Nürnberger, "since he left. It is much more likely he would correspond regularly with you than with me."
"Why is it more likely?" inquired George, somewhat irritated by Nürnberger's tone, as indeed be frequently was.
"Well, at any rate you have the advantage over me of being a new acquaintance, and consequently offering more exciting subject-matter for his psychological interest than I can."
George detected in the accustomed flippancy of these words a certain sense of grievance which he more or less understood, for, as a matter of fact, Heinrich had bothered very little about Nürnberger of late, though he had previously seen a great deal of him, it being always his way to draw men to him and then drop them with the greatest lack of consideration, according as their character did or did not fit in with his own mood.
"In spite of that I am not much better off than you," said George. "I haven't had any news of him for some weeks either. His father, too, appears to be in a bad way according to the last letter."
"So I suppose it will soon be all up with the poor old man now."
"Who knows? According to what Bermann writes me, he can still last for months."
Nürnberger shook his head seriously.
"Yes," said George lightly. "The doctors ought to be allowed in cases like that ... to shorten the matter."
"You are perhaps right," answered Nürnberger, "but who knows whether our friend Heinrich, however much the sight of his father's incurable malady may put him off his work and perhaps many other things as well—who knows whether he might not all the same refuse the suggestion of finishing off this hopeless matter by a morphia injection?"
George felt again repulsed by Nürnberger's bitter, ironic tone, and yet when he remembered the hour when he had seen Heinrich more violently upset by a few obscure words in the letter of a mistress than by his father's madness, he could not drive out the impression that Nürnberger's opinion of their friend was correct. "Did you know old Bermann?" he asked.
"Not personally, but I still remember the time when his name was known in the papers, and I remember, too, many extremely sound and excellent speeches which he made in Parliament. But I am keeping you, my dear Baron. Goodbye. We will see each other no doubt one of these days in the café, or at Ehrenbergs'."
"You are not keeping me at all," replied George with deliberate courtesy. "I am quite at large, and I am availing myself of the opportunity of looking at houses for the summer."
"So you are going in the country, near Vienna this year?"
"Yes, for a time probably, and apart from that a family I know has asked me if I should chance to run across...." He grew a little red, as he always did when he was not adhering strictly to the truth. Nürnberger noticed it and said innocently: "I have just passed by some villas which are to let. Do you see, for instance, that white one with the white terrace?"
"It looks very nice. We might have a look at it, if you won't find it too dull coming with me. Then we can go back together to town."
The garden which they entered sloped upwards and was very long and narrow. It reminded Nürnberger of one in which he had played as a child. "Perhaps it is the same," he said. "We lived for years and years you know in the country in Grinzing or Heiligenstadt."
This "we" affected George in quite a strange way. He could scarcely realise Nürnberger's ever having been quite young, ever having lived as a son with his father and mother, as a brother with his sisters, and he felt all of a sudden that this man's whole life had something strange and hard about it.
At the top of the garden an open arbour gave a wonderfully fine view of the town, which they enjoyed for some time. They slowly went down, accompanied by the caretaker's wife, who carried a small child wrapped in a grey shawl in her arms. They then looked at the house—low musty rooms with cheap battered carpets on the floor, narrow wooden beds, dull or broken mirrors.
"Everything will be done up again in the spring," explained the caretaker, "then it will look very cheerful." The little child suddenly held out its tiny hand towards George, as if it wanted him to take it up in his arms. George was somewhat moved and smiled awkwardly.
As he rode with Nürnberger into the town on the platform of the tramway and chatted to him he felt that he had never got so close to him on all the many previous occasions when they had been together, as during this hour of clear winter sunshine in the country. When they said goodbye it was quite a matter of course that they should arrange a new excursion on a day in the immediate future. And so it came about that George was several times accompanied by Nürnberger, when he continued his househunting in the neighbourhood of Vienna. On these occasions the fiction was still kept up that George was looking for a house for a family whom he knew, that Nürnberger believed it and that George believed that Nürnberger believed it.
On these excursions Nürnberger frequently came to speak of his youth, to speak about the parents whom he had lost very early, of a sister who had died young and of his elder brother, the only one of his relatives who was still alive. But he, an ageing bachelor like Edmund himself, did not live in Vienna, but in a small town in Lower Austria, where he was a teacher in a public school, where he had been transferred fifteen years ago as an assistant. He could easily have managed afterwards to have got an appointment again in the metropolis, but after a few years of bitterness, and even defiance, he had become so completely acclimatised to the quiet petty life of the place where he was staying that he came to regard a return to Vienna as more a sacrifice than anything else, and he now lived on, passionately devoted to his profession and particularly to his studies in philology, far from the world, lonely, contented, a kind of philosopher in the little town. When Nürnberger spoke of this distant brother George often felt as though he were hearing him speak about some one who had died, so absolutely out of the question seemed every possibility of a permanent reunion in the future. It was in quite a different tone, almost as though he were speaking of a being who could return once again, that he would talk with a perpetual wistfulness of the sister who had been dead several years. It was on a misty February day, while they were at the railway station waiting for the train to Vienna, and walking up and down with each other on the platform, that Nürnberger told George the story of this sister, who when a child of sixteen had become possessed as it were by a tremendous passion for the theatre, and had run away from home without saying goodbye in a fit of childish romanticism. She had wandered from town to town, from stage to stage, for ten years, playing smaller and smaller parts, since neither her talent nor her beauty appeared to be sufficient for the career which she had chosen, but always with the same enthusiasm, always with the same confidence in her future, in spite of the disillusions which she experienced and the sorrow which she saw. In the holidays she would come to the brothers, who were still living together, sometimes for weeks, sometimes only for days, and tell them about the provincial halls in which she had acted as though they were great theatres; about her few successes as though they were triumphs which she had won, about the wretched comedians at whose side she worked as though they were great artists, tell them about the petty intrigues that took place around her as though they were powerful tragedies of passion. And instead of gradually realising the miserable world in which she was living a life which was as much to be pitied as that of any one else, she spun every year the essence of her soul into more and more golden dreams. This went on for a long time, until at last she came home, feverish and ill. She lay in bed for months on end with flushed cheeks, raving in her delirium of a fame and happiness which she had never experienced, got up once again in apparent health, and went away once more, only to come back home, this time after a few weeks, in complete collapse with death written on her forehead. Her brother now travelled with her to the South; to Arco, Meran, to the Italian Lakes, and it was only as she lay stretched out in southern gardens beneath flowering trees, far away from the whirl that had dazed and intoxicated her throughout the years that she realised at last that her life had been simply a racketing about beneath a painted sky and between paper walls—that the whole essence of her existence had been an illusion. But even the little everyday incidents, the apartments and inns of the foreign town, seemed to her memory simply scenes which she had played in as an actress by the footlights, and not scenes which she had really lived, and as she approached nearer and nearer to the grave, there awoke within her an awful yearning for that real life which she had missed, and the more surely she knew that it was lost to her for ever, the clearer became the gaze with which she realised the fullness of the world. And the strangest touch of all was the way in which, in the last weeks of her life, that talent to which she had sacrificed her whole existence without ever really possessing it manifested itself with diabolic uncanniness.
"It seems to me, even to-day," said Nürnberger, "that I have never heard verses so declaimed, never seen whole scenes so acted, even by the greatest actress, as I did by my sister in the hotel room at Cadenabbia, looking out on to the Lake of Como, a few days before she died. Of course," he added, "it is possible, even probable, that my memory is deceiving me."
"But why?" asked George, who was so pleased with this finale that he did not want to have it spoiled. And he endeavoured to convince Nürnberger, who listened to him with a smile, that he could not have made a mistake, and that the world had lost a great actress in that strange girl who lay buried in Cadenabbia.
George did not find on his excursions with Nürnberger the house in the country for which he was looking. In fact it seemed to become more difficult to find every time he went out. Nürnberger made occasional jokes about George's exacting requirements. He seemed to be looking for a villa which was to be faced in front by a well-kept road, while it was to have at the back a garden door which led into the natural forest. Eventually George himself did not seriously believe that he would now succeed in finding the desired house, and relied on the pressure of necessity after his return from his travels.
It seemed more essential to get as soon as possible into touch with a doctor, but George put this off too from one day to another. But one evening Anna informed him that she had been suddenly panic-stricken by a new attack of faintness, had visited Doctor Stauber and explained her condition to him. He had been very nice, had not expressed any astonishment, had thoroughly reassured her and only expressed the wish to speak to George before they went away.
A few days afterwards George went to see the doctor in accordance with his invitation.
The consultation hours were over. Doctor Stauber received him with the friendliness which he had anticipated, seemed to treat the whole matter as being as regular and as much a matter of course as it could possibly be, and spoke of Anna just as though she had been a young wife, a method of procedure which affected George in a strange but not unpleasant way.
When the practical discussion was over the doctor inquired about the destination of their journey. George had not yet mapped out any programme, only this much was decided, that the spring was to be spent in the south, probably in Italy. Doctor Stauber took the opportunity to talk about his last stay in Rome, which was ten years back. He had been in personal touch on this occasion, as he had been once before, with the director of the excavations and spoke to George in almost ecstatic terms of the latest discoveries on the Palatine, about which he had written monographs as a young man, which he had published in the antiquarian journals. He then showed George, and not without pride, his library, which was divided into two sections, medicine and the history of art, and took out and offered to lend him a few rare books, one printed in the year 1834 on the Vatican collections and also a history of Sicily. George felt highly excited as he realised with such vividness the rich days that lay in front of him. He was overcome by a kind of homesickness for places which he knew well and had missed for a long time. Half-forgotten pictures floated up in his memory, the pyramids of Cestius stood on the horizon in sharp outlines, as they had appeared to him when he had ridden back as a boy into the town at evening with the prince of Macedon; the dim church, where he had seen his first mistress step up to the altar as a bride, opened its doors; a bark under a dark sky with strange sulphur yellow sails drew near to the coast.... He began to speak about the several towns and landscapes of the south which he had seen as a boy and as a youth, explained the longing for those places which often seized on him like a genuine homesickness, his joy at being able to take in with mature appreciation all the differing things which he had longed for, reserved for himself and then forgotten, and many new things besides, and this time too in the society of a being who was able to appreciate and enjoy everything with him, and whom he held dear.
Doctor Stauber, who was in the act of putting a book back on the shelf, turned round suddenly to George, looked gently at him and said: "I am very glad of that." As George answered his look with some surprise he added: "It was the first tender allusion to your relationship to Annerl that I have noticed in the course of the last hour. I know, I know that you are not the kind of man to take a comparative stranger into your confidence, but if only because I had no reason to expect it, it has really done me good. It came straight from your heart, one could see it; and I should have been really sorry for Annerl—excuse me, I always call her that—if I had been driven to think that you are not as fond of her as she deserves."
"I really don't know," replied George coolly, "what gave you cause to doubt it, doctor."
"Did I say anything about doubts?" replied Stauber good-humouredly. "But, after all, it has happened before that a young man who has had all kinds of experiences does not appreciate a sacrifice of this kind sufficiently, for it still is a sacrifice, my dear Baron. We can be as superior to all prejudices as much as we like—but it is not a trifle even to-day for a young girl of good family to make up her mind to do a thing like that, and I won't conceal it from you—of course I did not let Annerl notice anything—it gave even me a slight shock when she came to me the other day and told me all about it."
"Excuse me, Herr Doctor," replied George, irritated but yet polite, "if it gave you a shock that is surely some proof against your being superior to prejudices...."
"You are right," said Stauber with a smile, "but perhaps you will overlook this lapse when you consider that I am somewhat older than you and belong to another age. Even a more or less independent man ... which I flatter myself I am ... cannot quite escape from the influence of his age. It is a strange thing, but believe me, even among the young people, who have grown up on Nietzsche and Ibsen, there are quite as many Philistines as there were thirty years ago. They won't own up to it, but it does go against the grain with them, for instance, if some one goes and seduces their sister, or if one of their worthy wives suddenly takes it into her head that she wants to live her own life.... Many, of course, are consistent and carry their pose through ... but that is more a matter of self-control than of their real views, and in the old days, you know, the age to which I belong, when ideas were so immovably hide-bound, when every one for instance was quite sure of things like this: one has to honour one's parents or else one is a knave ... or ... one only loves really once in one's life ... or it's a pleasure to die for one's fatherland ... in that time, mind you, when every decent man held up some flag or other, or at any rate had something written on his banner ... believe me, the so-called modern ideas had more adherents than you suspect. The only thing was that those adherents did not quite know it themselves, they did not trust their own ideas, they thought themselves, as it were, debauchees or even criminals. Shall I tell you something, Herr Baron? There are really no new ideas at all. People feel with a new intensity—that's what it is. But do you seriously think that Nietzsche discovered the superman, Ibsen the fraud of life and Anzengruber the truth that the parents who desire love and honour from their children ought to 'come up to the scratch' themselves? Not a bit of it. All the ethical ideas have always been there, and one would really be surprised if one knew what absolute blockheads have thought of the so-called great new truths, and have even frequently given them expression long before the geniuses to whom we owe these truths, or rather the courage to regard these truths as true. If I have gone rather too far forgive me. I really only wanted to say ... and you will believe me, I am sure.... I know as well as you, Baron, that there is many a virgin girl who is a thousand times more corrupt than a so-called fallen woman; and that there is many a young man who passes for respectable who has worse things on his conscience than starting a liaison with an innocent girl. And yet ... it is just the curse of my period ..." he interpolated with a smile, "I could not help it, the first moment Annerl told me her story certain unpleasant words which in their day had their own fixed meaning began to echo through my old head in their old tones, silly out-of-date words like ... libertine ... seduction ... leaving in the lurch ... and so on, and that is why I must ask you once more to forgive me, now that I have got to know you somewhat more intimately ... that is why I felt that shock which a modern man would certainly not own that he experienced. But to talk seriously once again, just consider a minute how your poor father, who did not know Anna, would have taken the matter. He was certainly one of the shrewdest and most unprejudiced men whom one can imagine ... and all the same you have not the slightest doubt that the matter would not have passed off without his feeling something of a shock as well."
George could not help holding out his hand to the doctor. The unexpectedness of this sudden allusion caused so intense a longing to spring up within him that the only thing he could do to assuage it was to begin to talk of him who had passed away. The doctor was able to tell him of many meetings with the late baron, mostly chance casual encounters in the street, at the sessions of the scientific academy, at concerts. There came another of those moments in which George thought himself strangely guilty in his attitude towards the dead man and registered a mental vow to become worthy of his memory.
"Remember me kindly to Annerl," said the doctor as he said goodbye, "but I would rather you did not tell her anything about the shock. She is a very sensitive creature, that you know well enough, and now it is particularly important to save her any excitement. Remember, my dear Baron, there is only one question before us now—to see that a healthy child comes into the world, everything else.... Well, give her my best regards. I hope we shall all see each other again in the summer in the best of health."
George went away with a heightened consciousness of his responsibilities towards the being who had given herself to him and to that other who would wake up to existence in a few months. He thought first of making a will and leaving it behind with a lawyer. But on further consideration he thought it more proper to confide in his brother, who after all stood nearer to him in sentiment than any one else. But with that peculiar embarrassment which was characteristic of the really intimate relationship between the brothers he let day after day go by, until at last Felician's departure on the hunting expedition in Africa was quite imminent.
The night before, on the way home from the club, George informed his brother that he was thinking of taking a long journey in the near future.
"Really! For how long shall you be away?" asked Felician.
George caught the note of a certain anxiety in these words and felt that it was incumbent on him to add: "It will probably be the last long journey I shall take for some years. I hope to find myself in a permanent position in the autumn."
"So you have quite made up your mind?"
"Yes, of course."
"I am very glad, George, for different reasons, as you can imagine, that you want at last to do something serious. And besides, it's a very sound thing, that it is not a case of one of us going out into the world while the other remains at home alone. That would really have been rather sad."
George knew quite well that Felician would get a foreign diplomatic post in the following autumn, but he had never realised so clearly that in a few months that brotherly life which had lasted for so many years, that common life in the old house opposite the park, yes, his whole youth so to speak, would be irrevocably over and done with. He saw life lying in front of him, serious, almost menacing. "Have you any idea," he asked, "where they will send you?"
"There is some chance of Athens."
"Would you like that?"
"Why not? The society ought to be fairly interesting. Bernburg was there for three years and was sorry to leave. And they have transferred him to London, too, and that's certainly not to be sniffed at."
They walked in silence for a while and took their usual way through the park. An atmosphere suggesting the approaching spring was around them, although small white flakes of snow still gleamed on the lawns.
"So you are going to Italy?" asked Felician.
"As far down South as last spring?"
"I don't know yet."
Again a short silence. Suddenly Felician's voice came out of the darkness. "Have you heard anything of Grace since then?"
"Of Grace?" repeated George, somewhat surprised, for it had been a long time since Felician had mentioned that name. "I have heard nothing more of Grace. Besides, that is what we arranged. We took farewell of each other for ever at Genoa. That is already more than a year ago...."
A gentleman was sitting on a seat quite in the darkness in a fur coat with a top hat and white gloves. "Ah, Labinski," thought George for a whole minute; the next minute he of course remembered that he had shot himself. This was not the first time that he had thought he had seen him. A man had sat in broad daylight in the botanical garden at Palermo under a Japanese ash-tree whom George had taken for a whole second for Labinski; and recently George had thought he had recognised the face of his dead father behind the shut windows of a fiacre.
The houses gleamed behind the leafless branches. One of them was the house in which the brothers lived. The time has come, thought George, for me to mention the matter at last. And to bring matters to a head, he observed lightly: "Besides, I am not going to Italy alone this year."
"Hm! Hm!" said Felician, and looked in front of him.
George felt at the same moment that he had not taken the right tone. He was apprehensive of Felician's thinking something like this: "Oh yes, he has got an adventure again with some shady person or other." And he added seriously: "I say, Felician, I have something serious I should like to talk to you about."
"Well, George," said Felician gently, and looked at him sideways, "what is up, then? You are not thinking of marrying by any chance?"
"Oh no," replied George, and then felt irritated that he had repudiated that possibility with such definiteness. "No, it is not a question of marriage, but of something much more vital."
Felician remained standing for a moment. "You have a child?" he asked seriously.
"No, not yet. That's just it, that is why we are leaving."
"Indeed," said Felician.
They had got out of the park. Involuntarily both looked up to the window of their house, from which only a year ago their father had so often nodded his welcome to them both. Both felt with sorrow that somehow since their father's death they had gradually slipped away from each other—and felt at the same time a slight fear of how much further from each other life could still take them.
"Come into my room," said George when they got upstairs. "That's the most comfortable place."
He sat down on his comfortable chair by his secretary. Felician lounged in the corner on a little green leather ottoman which was near the writing-table and listened quietly.
George told him the name of his mistress, spoke of her with heartfelt sympathy, and asked Felician, in case anything should happen to him, George, in the near future to undertake to look after the mother and her child. He left so much of his fortune as was still available to the child, of course. The mother was to have the usufruct until the child became of age.
When George had finished Felician said with a smile after a short silence: "Oh well, you've got every reason to hope that you will come back as whole and sound from your journey as I will from Africa, and so our conversation has probably only an academic significance."
"I hope so too, of course. But at any rate it reassures me, Felician, that you know all about my secret, and that I can be free from anxiety in every way."
"Yes, of course you can." He shook hands with his brother. Then he got up and walked up and down the room. Finally he said: "You have no thought of legitimising your relationship?"
"Not for the time being. One can never tell what the future may bring forth."
Felician remained standing. "Well...."
"Are you in favour of my marrying?" exclaimed George with some astonishment.
"Not at all."
"Felician, be frank, please."
"Look here, one should not advise any one in affairs like that. Not even one's own brother."
"But if I ask you, Felician? It seems to me as though there is something in the business you didn't quite like."
"Well, it is like this, George.... You won't misunderstand me.... I know of course that you are not thinking of leaving her in the lurch. On the contrary, I am convinced that you will behave all through far more nobly than any ordinary man in your position. But the question is really this, would you have let yourself go into the thing if you had considered the consequences from every point of view?"
"That of course is very hard to answer," said George.
"I mean just this: Did you intend ... not to make her your companion for life, but to have a child by her all the same?"
"Great heavens, who thinks of that? Of course if one had wanted to be so absolutely on the safe side——"
Felician interrupted him. "Does she know that you are not thinking of marrying her?"
"Why, you don't think, surely, I promised her marriage?"
"No. But you did not promise to leave her stranded either."
"It would have been equally mean if I had promised, Felician. The whole thing came about as affairs like that always do, developed without any definite plan right up to the present time."
"Yes, that is all right. The only question is whether one is not more or less under an obligation to have definite plans in really vital matters."
"Possibly.... But that was never my line, unfortunately."
Felician remained standing in front of George, looked at him affectionately and nodded a few times.
"That is quite true, George. You are not angry with me.... But now that we are talking about it.... Of course I am not suggesting I have any right to lecture you on your mode of life...."
"Go ahead, Felician.... I mean if.... It really does me good." He stroked him lightly on the hand which lay on the back of the ottoman.
"Well, there is not much more to be said. I only mean that in everything you do there is just ... the same lack of system. Look here, to talk of another important matter, I personally am quite convinced of your talent and many others are, too. But you really work damned little, don't you? And fame doesn't come of itself, even when one...."
"Quite so. But I don't work as little as you think, Felician, it is only that work is such a peculiar business with people of my temperament. Frequently when one is out for a walk or even asleep one gets all kinds of ideas.... And then in the autumn...."
"Yes, yes, we hope so, though I am afraid that you won't be able to live on your salary at the commencement, and it is very questionable how long your little money will hold out with your mode of life. I tell you candidly, when you mentioned a few moments ago the sum which you were able to leave to your child I had quite a shock."
"Be patient, Felician. In three or five years, when I have my opera finished...." He spoke in an ironical tone.
"Are you really writing an opera, George?"
"I am beginning one shortly."
"Who is doing the libretto for you?"
"Heinrich Bermann. Of course you scowl again."
"My dear George, I have always been very far from lecturing you in any way about the people you associate with. It is quite natural that you with your intellectual tastes should live in a different set and mix with different people to those I do, people whom I should probably find rather less to my taste. But so long as Herr Bermann's libretto is good you have my blessing ... and Herr Bermann, of course, too."
"The libretto is not ready yet, only the scenario."
Felician could not help laughing. "So that's how your opera stands! I only hope the theatre is already built at which you are going to get a post as conductor."
"Come, come," said George, somewhat hurt.
"Forgive me," replied Felician, "I have not really any doubts about your future. I should only like you yourself to do a bit more towards it. I really should be so ... proud, George, if you were to do anything great, and it, I'm sure, only depends on yourself. Willy Eissler, who is a man of genuine musical gifts, told me again only the other day that he thinks more of you than of most of the young composers."
"On the strength of the few songs of mine which he knows? You're a good fellow, Felician, but there is really no need for you to encourage me. I already know what I have got in me, only I must be more industrious, and my going away will do me quite a lot of good. It does one good to get out of one's usual surroundings for a time, like this. And this time it is quite different from last. It is the first time, Felician, that I have had anything to do with a person who is absolutely my equal, who is more ... whom I can treat as a true friend as well, and the consciousness that I am going to have a child, and by her, too, is, in spite of all the accompanying circumstances, rather pleasant."
"I can quite understand that," said Felician, and contemplated George seriously and affectionately.
The clock on the writing-table struck two.
"What, so late already," cried Felician, "and I have got to pack early to-morrow. Well, we can talk over everything at breakfast to-morrow. Well, good-night, George."
"Good-night, Felician. Thank you," he added with emotion.
"What are you thanking me for, George? You really are funny!" They shook hands and then kissed each other, which they had not done for quite a long time, and George resolved to call his child Felician if it was to be a boy, and he rejoiced at the good omen of a name which had so happy a ring.
After his brother's departure George felt as deserted as though he had never had another friend. Living in the great lonely house, where he seemed to be weighed down by a mood like that which had followed the first weeks after his father's death, made him feel depressed.
He regarded the days which still had to elapse before the departure as a transition period, in which it was not worth while starting anything. The hours he spent with his mistress in the room opposite the church became colourless and blank. A psychological change, too, seemed to be now taking place in Anna herself. She was frequently irritable, then taciturn again, almost melancholy, and George was often overcome by so great a sense of ennui when he was with her that he felt quite nervous of the next month in which they would be thrown completely into each other's society. Of course the journey in itself promised change enough, but how would it be in the subsequent months which would have to be spent somewhere in the neighbourhood of Vienna? He must also think about a companion for Anna; but he was still putting off speaking to her about it, when Anna herself came to him with a piece of news which was calculated to remove that difficulty, and at the same time to raise another one, in the simplest way conceivable. Anna had recently, particularly since she had gradually given up her lessons, become more and more intimate with Therese, and had confided everything to her, and so it soon came about that Therese's mother was also in the secret. This lady was much more congenial to Anna than her own mother, who after a slight glimmer of understanding had held aloof, aggrieved and depressed, from her erring daughter.
Frau Golowski not only declared herself ready to live with Anna in the country, but even promised to discover the little house which George had not been able to find, while the young couple were away. However much this willingness suited George's convenience, he found it none the less somewhat painful to be under an obligation to this old woman, who was a stranger to him, and in moments when he was out of temper it struck him as almost grotesque that it should be Leo's mother and Berthold's father, of all people, who should be fated to play so important a part in so momentous an event in Anna's life.
George paid his farewell visit at Ehrenbergs' on a fine May afternoon three days before he went away.
He had only rarely shown himself there since that Christmas celebration and his conversations with Else had remained on the most innocent of footings. She confessed to him, as though to a friend who could not now misunderstand remarks of that character, that she felt more and more unsettled at home. In particular the atmosphere of the house, as George had frequently noticed before, seemed to be permanently overcast by the bad relations between father and son. When Oskar came in at the door with his nonchalant aristocratic swagger and began to talk in his Viennese aristocratic accent, his father would turn scornfully away, or would be unable to suppress allusions to the fact that he could make an end this very day of all that aristocracy by stopping or lowering his so-called allowance, which as a matter of fact was neither more nor less than pocket-money. If, on his side, his father began to talk Yiddish, as he was most fond of doing in front of company, and with obvious malice, Oskar would bite his lips and make a point of leaving the room. So it was only very rarely during the last few months that father and son stayed in Vienna or in Neuhaus at the same time. They both found each other's presence almost intolerable.
When George came in to Ehrenbergs' the room was almost in darkness. The marble Isis gleamed from behind the pianoforte, and the twilight of the late afternoon was falling in the alcove where mother and daughter sat opposite each other. For the first time the appearance of these two women struck George as somewhat strangely pathetic. A vague feeling floated up in his mind that perhaps this was the last time he would see this picture, and Else's smile shone towards him with such sweet melancholy, that he thought for a whole minute: might I not have found my happiness here, after all?
He now sat next to Frau Ehrenberg (who was going on quietly knitting) opposite Else, smoked a cigarette and felt quite at home. He explained that, fascinated by the tempting spring weather, he was starting on his projected journey earlier than he had intended, and that he would probably prolong it until the summer.
"And we are going to Auhof as early as the middle of May this time," said Frau Ehrenberg, "and we certainly count upon seeing you down there this year."
"If you are not elsewhere engaged," added Else with a perfectly straight face.
George promised to come in August, at any rate for some days. The conversation then turned on Felician and Willy, who had started with their party a few days ago from Biskra on their hunting expedition in the desert; on Demeter Stanzides, who announced his immediate intention of resigning from the army and retiring to an estate in Hungary; and finally on Heinrich Bermann of whom no one had had any news for some weeks.
"Who knows if he will ever come back to Vienna at all?" said Else.
"Why shouldn't he? What makes you think that, Fräulein Else?"
"Upon my word, perhaps he'll marry that actress and trot about the world with her."
George shrugged his shoulders ... he didn't know personally of any actress with whom Heinrich was mixed up, and he ventured to express a doubt whether Heinrich would ever marry any one, whether she was a Princess or a circus rider.
"It would be rather a pity if Bermann were to," said Frau Ehrenberg, without taking any notice of George's discretion. "I certainly think that young people take these matters either too lightly or too seriously."
Else followed up the idea: "Yes, it is strange, all you men are either cleverer or much sillier in these matters than in any other, although really it is just in such crucial moments of one's life, that one ought as far as possible to be one's ordinary self."