THE ALBUM— THE MEDITERRANEAN HEATH.
Travelling some little time back in a wild part of Connemara, where I had been for fishing and seal-shooting, I had the good luck to get admission to the chateau of a hospitable Irish gentleman, and to procure some news of my once dear Ottilia.
Yes, of no other than Ottilia v. Schlippenschlopp, the Muse of Kalbsbraten-Pumpernickel, the friendly little town far away in Sachsenland — where old Speck built the town pump, where Klingenspohr was slashed across the nose — where Dorothea rolled over and over in that horrible waltz with Fitz-Boo — Psha! — away with the recollection; but wasn’t it strange to get news of Ottilia in the wildest corner of Ireland, where I never should have thought to hear her gentle name? Walking on that very Urrisbeg Mountain under whose shadow I heard Ottilia’s name, Mackay, the learned author of the “Flora Patlandica,” discovered the Mediterranean heath — such a flower as I have often plucked on the sides of Vesuvius, and as Proserpine, no doubt, amused herself in gathering as she strayed in the fields of Enna. Here it is — the self-same flower, peering out at the Atlantic from Roundstone Bay; here, too, in this wild lonely place, nestles the fragrant memory of my Ottilia!
In a word, after a day on Ballylynch Lake (where, with a brown fly and a single hair, I killed fourteen salmon, the smallest twenty-nine pounds weight, the largest somewhere about five stone ten), my young friend Blake Bodkin Lynch Browne (a fine lad who has made his continental tour) and I adjourned, after dinner, to the young gentleman’s private room, for the purpose of smoking a certain cigar; which is never more pleasant than after a hard day’s sport, or a day spent indoors, or after a good dinner, or a bad one, or at night when you are tired, or in the morning when you are fresh, or of a cold winter’s day, or of a scorching summer’s afternoon, or at any other moment you choose to fix upon.
What should I see in Blake’s room but a rack of pipes, such as are to be found in almost all the bachelors’ rooms in Germany, and amongst them was a porcelain pipe-head bearing the image of the Kalbsbraten pump! There it was: the old spout, the old familiar allegory of Mars, Bacchus, Apollo virorum, and the rest, that I had so often looked at from Hofarchitect Speck’s window, as I sat there, by the side of Dorothea. The old gentleman had given me one of these very pipes; for he had hundreds of them painted, wherewith he used to gratify almost every stranger who came into his native town.
Any old place with which I have once been familiar (as, perhaps, I have before stated in these “Confessions”— but never mind that) is in some sort dear to me: and were I Lord Shootingcastle or Colonel Popland, I think after a residence of six months there I should love the Fleet Prison. As I saw the old familiar pipe, I took it down, and crammed it with Cavendish tobacco, and lay down on a sofa, and puffed away for an hour wellnigh, thinking of old, old times.
“You’re very entertaining to-night, Fitz,” says young Blake, who had made several tumblers of punch for me, which I had gulped down without saying a word. “Don’t ye think ye’d be more easy in bed than snorting and sighing there on my sofa, and groaning fit to make me go hang myself?”
“I am thinking, Blake,” says I, “about Pumpernickel, where old Speck gave you this pipe.”
“‘Deed he did,” replies the young man; “and did ye know the old Bar’n?”
“I did,” said I. “My friend, I have been by the banks of the Bendemeer. Tell me, are the nightingales still singing there, and do the roses still bloom?”
“The HWHAT?” cries Blake. “What the divvle, Fitz, are you growling about? Bendemeer Lake’s in Westmoreland, as I preshume; and as for roses and nightingales, I give ye my word it’s Greek ye’re talking to me.” And Greek it very possibly was, for my young friend, though as good across country as any man in his county, has not the fine feeling and tender perception of beauty which may be found elsewhere, dear madam.
“Tell me about Speck, Blake, and Kalbsbraten, and Dorothea, and Klingenspohr her husband.”
“He with the cut across the nose, is it?” cries Blake. “I know him well, and his old wife.”
“His old what, sir!” cries Fitz-Boodle, jumping up from his seat. “Klingenspohr’s wife old! — is he married again? — Is Dorothea, then, d-d-dead?”
“Dead! — no more dead than you are, only I take her to be five-and-thirty. And when a woman has had nine children, you know, she looks none the younger; and I can tell ye that when she trod on my corruns at a ball at the Grand Juke’s, I felt something heavier than a feather on my foot.”
“Madame de Klingenspohr, then,” replied I, hesitating somewhat, “has grown rather — rather st-st-out?” I could hardly get out the OUT, and trembled I don’t know why as I asked the question.
“Stout, begad! — she weighs fourteen stone, saddle and bridle. That’s right, down goes my pipe; flop! crash falls the tumbler into the fender! Break away, my boy, and remember, whoever breaks a glass here pays a dozen.”
The fact was, that the announcement of Dorothea’s changed condition caused no small disturbance within me, and I expressed it in the abrupt manner mentioned by young Blake.
Roused thus from my reverie, I questioned the young fellow about his residence at Kalbsbraten, which has been always since the war a favorite place for our young gentry, and heard with some satisfaction that Potzdorff was married to the Behrenstein, Haabart had left the dragoons, the Crown Prince had broken with the —— but mum! of what interest are all these details to the reader, who has never been at friendly little Kalbsbraten?
Presently Lynch reaches me down one of the three books that formed his library (the “Racing Calendar” and a book of fishing-flies making up the remainder of the set). “And there’s my album,” says he. “You’ll find plenty of hands in it that you’ll recognize, as you are an old Pumpernickelaner.” And so I did, in truth: it was a little book after the fashion of German albums, in which good simple little ledger every friend or acquaintance of the owner inscribes a poem or stanza from some favorite poet or philosopher with the transcriber’s own name, as thus:—
“To the true house-friend, and beloved Irelandish youth.
“‘Sera nunquam est ad bonos mores via.’
“WACKERBART, Professor at the Grand-Ducal Kalbsbraten-Pumpernickelisch Gymnasium.”
Another writes —
“‘Wander on roses and forget me not.’
“AMALIA v. NACHTMUTZE,
“GEB. v. SHALAFROCK,”
with a flourish, and the picture mayhap of a rose. Let the reader imagine some hundreds of these interesting inscriptions, and he will have an idea of the book.
Turning over the leaves I came presently on DOROTHEA’S hand. There it was, the little neat, pretty handwriting, the dear old up-and-down strokes that I had not looked at for many a long year — the Mediterranean heath, which grew on the sunniest banks of Fitz-Boodle’s existence, and here found, dear, dear little sprig! in rude Galwagian bog-lands.
“Look at the other side of the page,” says Lynch, rather sarcastically (for I don’t care to confess that I kissed the name of “Dorothea v. Klingenspohr, born v. Speck” written under an extremely feeble passage of verse). “Look at the other side of the paper!”
I did, and what do you think I saw?
I saw the writing of five of the little Klingenspohrs, who have all sprung up since my time.
“Ha! ha! haw!” screamed the impertinent young Irishman, and the story was all over Connemara and Joyce’s Country in a day after.
OTTILIA IN PARTICULAR.
Some kind critic who peruses these writings will, doubtless, have the goodness to point out that the simile of the Mediterranean heath is applied to two personages in this chapter — to Ottilia and Dorothea, and say, Psha! the fellow is but a poor unimaginative creature not to be able to find a simile apiece at least for the girls; how much better would WE have done the business!
Well, it is a very pretty simile. The girls were rivals, were beautiful, I loved them both — which should have the sprig of heath? Mr. Cruikshank (who has taken to serious painting) is getting ready for the exhibition a fine piece, representing Fitz-Boodle on the Urrisbeg Mountain, county Galway, Ireland, with a sprig of heath in his hand, hesitating, like Paris, on which of the beauties he should bestow it. In the background is a certain animal between two bundles of hay; but that I take to represent the critic, puzzled to which of my young beauties to assign the choice.
If Dorothea had been as rich as Miss Coutts, and had come to me the next day after the accident at the ball and said, “George, will you marry me?” it must not be supposed I would have done any such thing. THAT dream had vanished for ever: rage and pride took the place of love; and the only chance I had of recovering from my dreadful discomfiture was by bearing it bravely, and trying, if possible, to awaken a little compassion in my favor. I limped home (arranging my scheme with great presence of mind, as I actually sat spinning there on the ground)— I limped home, sent for Pflastersticken, the court-surgeon, and addressed him to the following effect: “Pflastersticken,” says I, “there has been an accident at court of which you will hear. You will send in leeches, pills, and the deuce knows what, and you will say that I have dislocated my leg: for some days you will state that I am in considerable danger. You are a good fellow and a man of courage I know, for which very reason you can appreciate those qualities in another; so mind, if you breathe a word of my secret, either you or I must lose a life.”
Away went the surgeon, and the next day all Kalbsbraten knew that I was on the point of death: I had been delirious all night, had had eighty leeches, besides I don’t know how much medicine; but the Kalbsbrateners knew to a scruple. Whenever anybody was ill, this little kind society knew what medicines were prescribed. Everybody in the town knew what everybody had for dinner. If Madame Rumpel had her satin dyed ever so quietly, the whole society was on the qui vive; if Countess Pultuski sent to Berlin for a new set of teeth, not a person in Kalbsbraten but what was ready to compliment her as she put them on; if Potzdorff paid his tailor’s bill, or Muffinstein bought a piece of black wax for his moustaches, it was the talk of the little city. And so, of course, was my accident. In their sorrow for my misfortune, Dorothea’s was quite forgotten, and those eighty leeches saved me. I became interesting; I had cards left at my door; and I kept my room for a fortnight, during which time I read every one of M. Kotzebue’s plays.
At the end of that period I was convalescent, though still a little lame. I called at old Speck’s house and apologized for my clumsiness, with the most admirable coolness; I appeared at court, and stated calmly that I did not intend to dance any more; and when Klingenspohr grinned, I told that young gentleman such a piece of my mind as led to his wearing a large sticking-plaster patch on his nose: which was split as neatly down the middle as you would split an orange at dessert. In a word what man could do to repair my defeat, I did.
There is but one thing now of which I am ashamed — of those killing epigrams which I wrote (mon Dieu! must I own it? — but even the fury of my anger proves the extent of my love!) against the Speck family. They were handed about in confidence at court, and made a frightful sensation:
“IS IT POSSIBLE?”
“There happened at Schloss P-mp-rn-ckel,
A strange mishap our sides to tickle,
And set the people in a roar; —
A strange caprice of Fortune fickle:
I never thought at Pumpernickel
To see a SPECK UPON THE FLOOR!”
LA PERFIDE ALBION; OR, A CAUTION TO WALTZERS.
“‘Come to the dance,’ the Briton said,
And forward D-r-th-a led,
Fair, fresh, and three-and-twenty!
Ah, girls; beware of Britons red!
What wonder that it TURNED HER HEAD?
SAT VERBUM SAPIENTI.”
“REASONS FOR NOT MARRYING.
“‘The lovely Miss S.
Will surely say “yes,”
You’ve only to ask and try;’
‘That subject we’ll quit;’
Says Georgy the wit,
‘I’VE A MUCH BETTER SPEC IN MY EYE!’”
This last epigram especially was voted so killing that it flew like wildfire; and I know for a fact that our Charge-d’Affaires at Kalbsbraten sent a courier express with it to the Foreign Office in England, whence, through our amiable Foreign Secretary, Lord P-lm-rston, it made its way into every fashionable circle: nay, I have reason to believe caused a smile on the cheek of R-y-lty itself. Now that Time has taken away the sting of these epigrams, there can be no harm in giving them; and ’twas well enough then to endeavor to hide under the lash of wit the bitter pangs of humiliation: but my heart bleeds now to think that I should have ever brought a tear on the gentle cheek of Dorothea.
Not content with this — with humiliating her by satire, and with wounding her accepted lover across the nose — I determined to carry my revenge still farther, and to fall in love with somebody else. This person was Ottilia v. Schlippenschlopp.
Otho Sigismund Freyherr von Schlippenschlopp, Knight Grand Cross of the Ducal Order of the Two-Necked Swan of Pumpernickel, of the Porc-et-Siflet of Kalbsbraten, Commander of the George and Blue-Boar of Dummerland, Excellency, and High Chancellor of the United Duchies, lived in the second floor of a house in the Schwapsgasse; where, with his private income and his revenues as Chancellor, amounting together to some 300L. per annum, he maintained such a state as very few other officers of the Grand-Ducal Crown could exhibit. The Baron is married to Marie Antoinette, a Countess of the house of Kartoffelstadt, branches of which have taken root all over Germany. He has no sons, and but one daughter, the Fraulein OTTILIA.
The Chancellor is a worthy old gentleman, too fat and wheezy to preside at the Privy Council, fond of his pipe, his ease, and his rubber. His lady is a very tall and pale Roman-nosed Countess, who looks as gentle as Mrs. Robert Roy, where, in the novel, she is for putting Baillie Nicol Jarvie into the lake, and who keeps the honest Chancellor in the greatest order. The Fraulein Ottilia had not arrived at Kalbsbraten when the little affair between me and Dorothea was going on; or rather had only just come in for the conclusion of it, being presented for the first time that year at the ball where I— where I met with my accident.
At the time when the Countess was young, it was not the fashion in her country to educate the young ladies so highly as since they have been educated; and provided they could waltz, sew, and make puddings, they were thought to be decently bred; being seldom called upon for algebra or Sanscrit in the discharge of the honest duties of their lives. But Fraulein Ottilia was of the modern school in this respect, and came back from the pension at Strasburg speaking all the languages, dabbling in all the sciences: an historian, a poet — a blue of the ultramarinest sort, in a word. What a difference there was, for instance, between poor, simple Dorothea’s love of novel reading and the profound encyclopaedic learning of Ottilia!
Before the latter arrived from Strasburg (where she had been under the care of her aunt the canoness, Countess Ottilia of Kartoffeldstadt, to whom I here beg to offer my humblest respects), Dorothea had passed for a bel esprit in the little court circle, and her little simple stock of accomplishments had amused us all very well. She used to sing “Herz, mein Herz” and “T’en souviens-tu,” in a decent manner (ONCE, before heaven, I thought her singing better than Grisi’s), and then she had a little album in which she drew flowers, and used to embroider slippers wonderfully, and was very merry at a game of loto or forfeits, and had a hundred small agremens de societe! which rendered her an acceptable member of it.
But when Ottilia arrived, poor Dolly’s reputation was crushed in a month. The former wrote poems both in French and German; she painted landscapes and portraits in real oil; and she twanged off a rattling piece of Listz or Kalkbrenner in such a brilliant way, that Dora scarcely dared to touch the instrument after her, or ventured, after Ottilia had trilled and gurgled through “Una voce,” or “Di piacer” (Rossini was in fashion then), to lift up her little modest pipe in a ballad. What was the use of the poor thing going to sit in the park, where so many of the young officers used ever to gather round her? Whir! Ottilia went by galloping on a chestnut mare with a groom after her, and presently all the young fellows who could buy or hire horseflesh were prancing in her train.
When they met, Ottilia would bounce towards her soul’s darling, and put her hands round her waist, and call her by a thousand affectionate names, and then talk of her as only ladies or authors can talk of one another. How tenderly she would hint at Dora’s little imperfections of education! — how cleverly she would insinuate that the poor girl had no wit! and, thank God, no more she had. The fact is, that do what I will I see I’m in love with her still, and would be if she had fifty children; but my passion blinded me THEN, and every arrow that fiery Ottilia discharged I marked with savage joy. Dolly, thank heaven, didn’t mind the wit much; she was too simple for that. But still the recurrence of it would leave in her heart a vague, indefinite feeling of pain, and somehow she began to understand that her empire was passing away, and that her dear friend hated her like poison; and so she married Klingenspohr. I have written myself almost into a reconciliation with the silly fellow; for the truth is, he has been a good, honest husband to her, and she has children, and makes puddings, and is happy.
Ottilia was pale and delicate. She wore her glistening black hair in bands, and dressed in vapory white muslin. She sang her own words to her harp, and they commonly insinuated that she was alone in the world — that she suffered some inexpressible and mysterious heart-pangs, the lot of all finer geniuses — that though she lived and moved in the world she was not of it, that she was of a consumptive tendency and might look for a premature interment. She even had fixed on the spot where she should lie: the violets grew there, she said, the river went moaning by; the gray willow whispered sadly over her head, and her heart pined to be at rest. “Mother,” she would say, turning to her parent, “promise me — promise me to lay me in that spot when the parting hour has come!” At which Madame de Schlippenschlopp would shriek, and grasp her in her arms; and at which, I confess, I would myself blubber like a child. She had six darling friends at school, and every courier from Kalbsbraten carried off whole reams of her letter-paper.
In Kalbsbraten, as in every other German town, there are a vast number of literary characters, of whom our young friend quickly became the chief. They set up a literary journal, which appeared once a week, upon light-blue or primrose paper, and which, in compliment to the lovely Ottilia’s maternal name, was called the Kartoffelnkranz. Here are a couple of her ballads extracted from the Kranz, and by far the most cheerful specimen of her style. For in her songs she never would willingly let off the heroines without a suicide or a consumption. She never would hear of such a thing as a happy marriage, and had an appetite for grief quite amazing in so young a person. As for her dying and desiring to be buried under the willow-tree, of which the first ballad is the subject, though I believed the story then, I have at present some doubts about it. For, since the publication of my Memoirs, I have been thrown much into the society of literary persons (who admire my style hugely), and egad! though some of them are dismal enough in their works, I find them in their persons the least sentimental class that ever a gentleman fell in with.
“Know ye the willow-tree
Whose gray leaves quiver,
To yon pale river?
Lady, at even-tide
Wander not near it,
They say its branches hide
A sad, lost spirit!
“Once to the willow-tree
A maid came fearful,
Pale seemed her cheek to be,
Her blue eye tearful;
Soon as she saw the tree,
Her step moved fleeter,
No one was there — ah me!
No one to meet her!
“Quick beat her heart to hear
The far bell’s chime
Toll from the chapel-tower
The trysting time:
But the red sun went down
In golden flame,
And though she looked round,
Yet no one came!
“Presently came the night,
Sadly to greet her —
Moon in her silver light,
Stars in their glitter.
Then sank the moon away
Under the billow,
Still wept the maid alone —
There by the willow!
“Through the long darkness,
By the stream rolling,
Hour after hour went on
Tolling and tolling.
Long was the darkness,
Lonely and stilly;
Shrill came the night-wind,
Piercing and chilly.
“Shrill blew the morning breeze,
Biting and cold,
Bleak peers the gray dawn
Over the wold.
Bleak over moor and stream
Looks the grey dawn,
Gray, with dishevelled hair,
Still stands the willow there —
THE MAID IS GONE!
Sing we a litany —
Sing for poor maiden-hearts broken and
Sing we a litany,
Wail we and weep we a wild Miserere!”
One of the chief beauties of this ballad (for the translation of which I received some well-merited compliments) is the delicate way in which the suicide of the poor young woman under the willow-tree is hinted at; for that she threw herself into the water and became one among the lilies of the stream, is as clear as a pikestaff. Her suicide is committed some time in the darkness, when the slow hours move on tolling and tolling, and is hinted at darkly as befits the time and the deed.
But that unromantic brute, Van Cutsem, the Dutch Charge-d’Affaires, sent to the Kartoffelnkranz of the week after a conclusion of the ballad, which shows what a poor creature he must be. His pretext for writing it was, he said, because he could not bear such melancholy endings to poems and young women, and therefore he submitted the following lines:—
“Long by the willow-trees
Vainly they sought her,
Wild rang the mother’s screams
O’er the gray water:
‘Where is my lovely one?
Where is my daughter?
“‘Rouse thee, sir constable —
Rouse thee and look;
Fisherman, bring your net,
Boatman your hook.
Beat in the lily-beds,
Dive in the brook!’
“Vainly the constable
Shouted and called her;
Vainly the fisherman
Beat the green alder;
Vainly he flung the net,
Never it hauled her!
“Mother beside the fire
Sat, her nightcap in;
Father, in easy chair,
When at the window-sill
Came a light tapping!
“And a pale countenance
Looked through the casement.
Loud beat the mother’s heart,
Sick with amazement,
And at the vision which
Came to surprise her,
Shrieked in an agony —
‘Lor! it’s Elizar!’
“Yes, ’twas Elizabeth —
Yes, ’twas their girl;
Pale was her cheek, and her
Hair out of curl.
‘Mother!’ the loving one,
‘Let not your innocent
Lizzy be blamed.
“‘Yesterday, going to aunt
Jones’s to tea,
Mother, dear mother, I
FORGOT THE DOOR-KEY!
And as the night was cold,
And the way steep,
Mrs. Jones kept me to
Breakfast and sleep.’
“Whether her Pa and Ma
Fully believed her,
That we shall never know,
Stern they received her;
And for the work of that
Cruel, though short, night,
Sent her to bed without
Tea for a fortnight.
“Hey diddle diddlety,
Cat and the Fiddlety,
Maidens of England take caution by she!
Let love and suicide
Never tempt you aside,
And always remember to take the door-key!”
Some people laughed at this parody, and even preferred it to the original; but for myself I have no patience with the individual who can turn the finest sentiments of our nature into ridicule, and make everything sacred a subject of scorn. The next ballad is less gloomy than that of the willow-tree, and in it the lovely writer expresses her longing for what has charmed us all, and, as it were, squeezes the whole spirit of the fairy tale into a few stanzas:—
“Beside the old hall-fire — upon my nurse’s knee,
Of happy fairy days — what tales were told to me!
I thought the world was once — all peopled with princesses,
And my heart would beat to hear — their loves and their distresses;
And many a quiet night — in slumber sweet and deep,
The pretty fairy people — would visit me in sleep.
“I saw them in my dreams — come flying east and west,
With wondrous fairy gifts — the new-born babe they bless’d;
One has brought a jewel — and one a crown of gold,
And one has brought a curse — but she is wrinkled and old.
The gentle queen turns pale — to hear those words of sin,
But the king he only laughs — and bids the dance begin.
“The babe has grown to be — the fairest of the land
And rides the forest green — a hawk upon her hand.
An ambling palfrey white — a golden robe and crown;
I’ve seen her in my dreams — riding up and down;
And heard the ogre laugh — as she fell into his snare,
At the little tender creature — who wept and tore her hair!
“But ever when it seemed — her need was at the sorest
A prince in shining mail — comes prancing through the forest.
A waving ostrich-plume — a buckler burnished bright;
I’ve seen him in my dreams — good sooth! a gallant knight.
His lips are coral red — beneath a dark moustache;
See how he waves his hand — and how his blue eyes flash!
“‘Come forth, thou Paynim knight!’— he shouts in accents clear.
The giant and the maid — both tremble his voice to hear.
Saint Mary guard him well! — he draws his falchion keen,
The giant and the knight — are fighting on the green.
I see them in my dreams — his blade gives stroke on stroke,
The giant pants and reels — and tumbles like an oak!
“With what a blushing grace — he falls upon his knee
And takes the lady’s hand — and whispers, ‘You are free!’
Ah! happy childish tales — of knight and faerie!
I waken from my dreams — but there’s ne’er a knight for me;
I waken from my dreams — and wish that I could be
A child by the old hall-fire — upon my nurse’s knee.”
Indeed, Ottilia looked like a fairy herself: pale, small, slim, and airy. You could not see her face, as it were, for her eyes, which were so wild, and so tender, and shone so that they would have dazzled an eagle, much more a poor goose of a Fitz-Boodle. In the theatre, when she sat on the opposite side of the house, those big eyes used to pursue me as I sat pretending to listen to the “Zauberflote,” or to “Don Carlos,” or “Egmont,” and at the tender passages, especially, they would have such a winning, weeping, imploring look with them as flesh and blood could not bear.
Shall I tell how I became a poet for the dear girl’s sake? ’Tis surely unnecessary after the reader has perused the above versions of her poems. Shall I tell what wild follies I committed in prose as well as in verse? how I used to watch under her window of icy evenings, and with chilblainy fingers sing serenades to her on the guitar? Shall I tell how, in a sledging-party, I had the happiness to drive her, and of the delightful privilege which is, on these occasions, accorded to the driver?
Any reader who has spent a winter in Germany perhaps knows it. A large party of a score or more of sledges is formed. Away they go to some pleasure-house that has been previously fixed upon, where a ball and collation are prepared, and where each man, as his partner descends, has the delicious privilege of saluting her. O heavens and earth! I may grow to be a thousand years old, but I can never forget the rapture of that salute.
“The keen air has given me an appetite,” said the dear angel, as we entered the supper-room; and to say the truth, fairy as she was, she made a remarkably good meal — consuming a couple of basins of white soup, several kinds of German sausages, some Westphalia ham, some white puddings, an anchovy-salad made with cornichons and onions, sweets innumerable, and a considerable quantity of old Steinwein and rum-punch afterwards. Then she got up and danced as brisk as a fairy; in which operation I of course did not follow her, but had the honor, at the close of the evening’s amusement, once more to have her by my side in the sledge, as we swept in the moonlight over the snow.
Kalbsbraten is a very hospitable place as far as tea-parties are concerned, but I never was in one where dinners were so scarce. At the palace they occurred twice or thrice in a month; but on these occasions spinsters were not invited, and I seldom had the opportunity of seeing my Ottilia except at evening-parties.
Nor are these, if the truth must be told, very much to my taste. Dancing I have forsworn, whist is too severe a study for me, and I do not like to play ecarte with old ladies, who are sure to cheat you in the course of an evening’s play.
But to have an occasional glance at Ottilia was enough; and many and many a napoleon did I lose to her mamma, Madame de Schlippenschlopp, for the blest privilege of looking at her daughter. Many is the tea-party I went to, shivering into cold clothes after dinner (which is my abomination) in order to have one little look at the lady of my soul.
At these parties there were generally refreshments of a nature more substantial than mere tea punch, both milk and rum, hot wine, consomme, and a peculiar and exceedingly disagreeable sandwich made of a mixture of cold white puddings and garlic, of which I have forgotten the name, and always detested the savor.
Gradually a conviction came upon me that Ottilia ATE A GREAT DEAL.
I do not dislike to see a woman eat comfortably. I even think that an agreeable woman ought to be friande, and should love certain little dishes and knick-knacks. I know that though at dinner they commonly take nothing, they have had roast-mutton with the children at two, and laugh at their pretensions to starvation.
No! a woman who eats a grain of rice, like Amina in the “Arabian Nights,” is absurd and unnatural; but there is a modus in rebus: there is no reason why she should be a ghoul, a monster, an ogress, a horrid gormandizeress — faugh!
It was, then, with a rage amounting almost to agony, that I found Ottilia ate too much at every meal. She was always eating, and always eating too much. If I went there in the morning, there was the horrid familiar odor of those oniony sandwiches; if in the afternoon, dinner had been just removed, and I was choked by reeking reminiscences of roast-meat. Tea we have spoken of. She gobbled up more cakes than any six people present; then came the supper and the sandwiches again, and the egg-flip and the horrible rum-punch.
She was as thin as ever — paler if possible than ever:— but, by heavens! HER NOSE BEGAN TO GROW RED!
Mon Dieu! how I used to watch and watch it! Some days it was purple, some days had more of the vermilion — I could take an affidavit that after a heavy night’s supper it was more swollen, more red than before.
I recollect one night when we were playing a round game (I had been looking at her nose very eagerly and sadly for some time), she of herself brought up the conversation about eating, and confessed that she had five meals a day.
“THAT ACCOUNTS FOR IT!” says I, flinging down the cards, and springing up and rushing like a madman out of the room. I rushed away into the night, and wrestled with my passion. “What! Marry,” said I, “a woman who eats meat twenty-one times in a week, besides breakfast and tea? Marry a sarcophagus, a cannibal, a butcher’s shop? — Away!” I strove and strove. I drank, I groaned, I wrestled and fought with my love — but it overcame me: one look of those eyes brought me to her feet again. I yielded myself up like a slave; I fawned and whined for her; I thought her nose was not so VERY red.
Things came to this pitch that I sounded his Highness’s Minister to know whether he would give me service in the Duchy; I thought of purchasing an estate there. I was given to understand that I should get a chamberlain’s key and some post of honor did I choose to remain, and I even wrote home to my brother Tom in England, hinting a change in my condition.
At this juncture the town of Hamburg sent his Highness the Grand Duke (apropos of a commercial union which was pending between the two States) a singular present: no less than a certain number of barrels of oysters, which are considered extreme luxuries in Germany, especially in the inland parts of the country, where they are almost unknown.
In honor of the oysters and the new commercial treaty (which arrived in fourgons despatched for the purpose), his Highness announced a grand supper and ball, and invited all the quality of all the principalities round about. It was a splendid affair: the grand saloon brilliant with hundreds of uniforms and brilliant toilettes — not the least beautiful among them, I need not say, was Ottilia.
At midnight the supper-rooms were thrown open and we formed into little parties of six, each having a table, nobly served with plate, a lackey in attendance, and a gratifying ice-pail or two of champagne to egayer the supper. It was no small cost to serve five hundred people on silver, and the repast was certainly a princely and magnificent one.
I had, of course, arranged with Mademoiselle de Schlippenschlopp. Captains Frumpel and Fridelberger of the Duke’s Guard, Mesdames de Butterbrod and Bopp, formed our little party.
The first course, of course, consisted of THE OYSTERS. Ottilia’s eyes gleamed with double brilliancy as the lackey opened them. There were nine apiece for us — how well I recollect the number!
I never was much of an oyster-eater, nor can I relish them in naturalibus as some do, but require a quantity of sauces, lemons, cayenne peppers, bread and butter, and so forth, to render them palatable.
By the time I had made my preparations, Ottilia, the Captains, and the two ladies, had wellnigh finished theirs. Indeed Ottilia had gobbled up all hers, and there were only my nine in the dish.
I took one — IT WAS BAD. The scent of it was enough — they were all bad. Ottilia had eaten nine bad oysters.
I put down the horrid shell. Her eyes glistened more and more; she could not take them off the tray.
“Dear Herr George,” she said, “WILL YOU GIVE ME YOUR OYSTERS?”
She had them all down — before — I could say — Jack — Robinson!
I left Kalbsbraten that night, and have never been there since.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00