L. Mühlbach.

The Merchant of Berlin An Historical Novel online

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Gotzkowsky sighed deeply and dropped his head on his breast. At this
moment there were heard from without loud hurrahs and jubilant sounds,
mingled with the tones of martial music.

King Frederick II. was returning this day to Berlin, after a long
absence, and the happy and delighted Berliners had prepared for him a
pompous and brilliant entry. They had built triumphal arches, and the
guilds had gone forth to accompany him into the city, now adorned
for festivity. The procession had to pass by Gotzkowsky's house, and
already were heard the sounds of the approaching music, while the
shouts and cries of the people became louder and shriller.

Ephraim stepped to the window, opened it, and pointing down into the
street, he said, with a mocking laugh: "Just look, Gotzkowsky! There
is the true test of your beautiful, high-toned principles. How often
has Berlin not called you her benefactor, and yet she is overjoyed
on the very day you are going to ruin! The whole town of Berlin knows
that Gotzkowsky fails to-day, and yet they pass by your house with
merry music, and no one thinks of you."

"He is right," murmured Gotzkowsky, as the huzzas sounded under his
window. "He is right! I was a fool to love mankind."

Ephraim pointed down into the street again. "See," said he, "there
comes Count Salm, whom you saved from death when the Russians
were here. He does not look up here. Ah, there goes the banker,
Splittyerber, whose factories in Neustadt Eberswald you saved at the
same time. He, too, does not look up. Oh! yes, he does, and laughs.
Look there! There goes the king with his staff. You have caused his
majesty much pleasure. You accomplished his favorite wish - you founded
the porcelain factory. You travelled at your own expense into Italy,
and bought pictures for him. You preserved his capital from pillage
by the Austrians and Russians. The Dutch ambassador, who at that time
interfered in favor of Berlin with the Austrians, him has the king in
his gratitude created a count. What has he done for you? What Verelse
did was but a trifle in comparison with your services, yet he,
forsooth, is made a count. What has the king done for you? See, the
king and his staff has passed by, and not one of them has looked up
here. Yesterday they would have done so, for yesterday you were rich;
but to-day they have forgotten you already: for to-day you are poor,
and the memory of the people is very short for the poor. Ah! look down
again, Gotzkowsky - so many gentlemen, so many high-born people are
passing! Not one looks up!"

Against his will Gotzkowsky had been drawn to the window, and, enticed
by Ephraim's words, he had looked down anxiously and mournfully at the
brilliant procession which was passing by. How much would he not have
given if only one of the many who had formerly called themselves his
friends had looked up at him, had greeted him cordially? But Ephraim
was right. No one did so. No one thought of him who, with a broken
heart, was leaning beside the window, asking of mankind no longer
assistance or help, but a little love and sympathy. But, as he looked
down into the street again, his countenance suddenly brightened up.
He laid his hand hastily on Ephraim's shoulder, and pointed to the
procession.

"You are right," said he; "the respectable people do not look up here,
but here comes the end of the procession, the common people, the poor
and lowly, the workmen. Look at them! See how they are gazing at me.
Ah, they see me, they greet me, they wave their hats! There, one of
them is putting his hand to his face. He is a day-laborer who formerly
worked in my factory. This man is weeping, and because he knows that
I have been unfortunate. See! here come others - poor people in ragged
clothes - women with nurslings in their arms - tottering old men - they
all bend dewy eyes on me. Do you see? they smile at me. Even the
children stretch up their arms. Ah, they love me, although I am no
longer rich."

And turning with a beaming face and eyes moistened with tears toward
Ephraim, he exclaimed: "You tell me that I have miscalculated. No!
you are mistaken. I calculated on the kernel of humanity, not on the
degenerate shell. And this noble kernel of humanity resides in the
people, the workmen, and the poor. I trusted in these, and they have
not betrayed my confidence."

Ephraim shrugged his shoulders. "The people are weathercocks; they
will stone to-morrow the same men whom they bless to-day. Only wait
until public opinion has condemned you, and the people, too, will
forsake you. Protect yourself, then, against men. When you were rich,
every one partook of your liberality; now that you are poor, no one
will be willing to share your misfortune. Therefore save yourself,
I tell you. Collect whatever papers and valuables you may have. Give
them to me. By the God of my fathers I will preserve them faithfully
and honestly for you!"

Gotzkowsky repulsed him with scorn, and indignant anger flashed from
his countenance. "Back from me, tempter!" cried he, proudly. "It is
true you possess the wisdom of the world, but one thing is wanting in
your wisdom - the spirit of honor. I know that this does not trouble
you much, but to me it is every thing. You are right: I will be a
beggar, and men will point at me with their finger, and laugh me to
scorn. But I will pass them by proudly, nor will I bend my head before
them, for my dignity and honor as a man are unconnected with gold
or property. These are my own, and when I die, on my tomb will be
written - 'He died in poverty, but he was an honorable man.'"

"Fool that you are!" exclaimed Ephraim, laughing in contempt. "You are
speculating on your epitaph, while the fortune of your life slips away
from you. Take my advice: there is yet time to secure your future."

"Never, if it is to be accomplished by frauds!"

"Think of your daughter."

A painful quivering flitted across Gotzkowsky's face. "Who gives you a
right to remind me of her?" asked he angrily. "Do not soil her name by
pronouncing it. I have nothing in common with you."

"Yes, you have, though," said Ephraim with a wicked smile. "You have
done me a good deed, and I am thankful. That is something in common."

Gotzkowsky did not answer him. He crossed the room hastily, and
stepped to his writing-table, out of a secret drawer of which he drew
a dark-red case. He opened it and snatched out the diamond ring that
was contained in it.

"I do not wish your gratitude," said he, turning to Ephraim, anger
flashing from his countenance - "and if you could offer me all the
treasures of the world, I would throw them to the earth, as I do this
ring!" And he cast down the costly jewel at Ephraim's feet.

The latter raised it coolly from the ground and examined it carefully.
He then broke out into a loud, scornful laugh. "This is the ring which
the Jews presented to you when you procured our exemption from the
war-tax. You give it to me?"

"I give it to you, and with it a curse on the tempter of my honor!"

"You repulse me, then? You will have none of my gratitude?"

"Yes; if your hand could save me from the abyss, I would reject it!"

"Let it be so, then," said Ephraim; and his face assumed an expression
of hatred and malice - for now it could be perceived that the rich
Ephraim was again overcome by Gotzkowsky, although the latter was a
poor and shattered man. His sympathy and his help had only met with
a proud refusal from him whom he had not succeeded in humbling and
dragging down to the dust.

"Let it be so, then!" he repeated, gnashing his teeth. "You will
not have it otherwise. I take the ring," and looking at Gotzkowsky
maliciously, he continued: "With this ring I will buy you a place in
the churchyard, that the dishonored bankrupt may, at least, find
an honorable grave, and not be shovelled in like De Neufville the
suicide!"

"What do you say - De Neufville is dead?" cried Gotzkowsky, hurrying
after him as he neared the door, and seizing him violently by the arm.
"Say it once more - De Neufville is dead?"

Ephraim enjoyed for a moment, in silence, Gotzkowsky's terrible grief.
He then freed himself from his grasp and opened the door. But turning
round once more, and looking in Gotzkowsky's face with a devilish
grin, he slowly added, "De Neufville killed himself because he could
not survive disgrace." And then, with a loud laugh, he slammed the
door behind him.

Gotzkowsky stared after him, and his soul was full of inexpressible
grief. He had lost in De Neufville not only a friend whom he loved,
and on whose fidelity he could count, but his own future and his last
hope were buried in his grave. But his own tormenting thoughts left
him no leisure to mourn over his deceased friend. It was the kind of
death that De Neufville had chosen which occupied his mind.

"He came to his death by his own hand; he did not wish to survive his
disgrace. He has done right - for when disgrace begins, life ends - and
shall I live," asked he aloud, as almost angrily he threw his head
back, "an existence without honor, an existence of ignominy and
misery? I repeat it, De Neufville has done right. Well, then, I dare
not do wrong; my friend has shown me the way. Shall I follow him? Let
me consider it."

He cast a wild, searching look around the room, as if he feared
some eye might be looking at him, and read desperate thoughts in
the quivering of his face. "Yes! I will consider it," whispered he,
uneasily. "But not here - there in my cabinet, where every thing is
so silent and solitary, no one will disturb me. I will think of it,
I say." And with a dismal smile he hurried into his study, and closed
the door behind him.


* * * * *




CHAPTER XIV.

ELISE.


The bridal costume was completed, and with a bright face, smiling and
weeping for sheer happiness, Elise stood looking at herself in a large
Venetian mirror. Not from vanity, nor to enjoy the contemplation of
her beauty, but to convince herself that all this was not a dream,
only truth, delightful truth. The maiden, with blushing cheeks, stood
and looked in the glass, in her white dress, till she smiled back
again; so like a bride, that she shouted aloud for joy, kissed her
hand to herself, in the fulness of her mirth, as she greeted and
smiled again to her image in the mirror. "I salute you, happy bride!"
said she, in the exuberance of her joy. "I see in your eyes that you
are happy, and so may God bless you! Go forth into the world and teach
it by your example, that for a woman there is no happiness but love,
no bliss but that of resting in the arms of her lover. But am I
not too simply clad?" cried she, interrupting herself suddenly, and
examining herself critically in the glass. "Yes, indeed, that simple,
silly child is not worthy of such a handsome and splendid cavalier:
a white silk dress and nothing else! How thoughtless and foolish has
happiness made me! My Heaven! I forgot that he comes from the land
of diamonds, and that he is a prince. Oh! I will adorn myself for my
prince." And she took from her desk the costly set of diamonds, the
legacy of her mother, and fastened the glittering brilliants in her
ears, on her arms, and the necklace set with diamonds and emeralds
around her snow-white neck.

"Now that looks splendid," said she, as she surveyed herself again.
"Now perhaps I may please him. But the last ornament is still
wanting - my myrtle-wreath - but that my father shall put on." Looking
at the wreath, she continued, in a more serious and sad tone: "Crown
of love and of death! it is woven in the maiden's hair when she dies
as a maiden, whether it be to arise again as a wife or as a purified
spirit." And raising her tearful eyes to heaven, she exclaimed: "I
thank Thee, O God, for granting me all this happiness. My whole life,
my whole future, shall evince but gratitude toward Thee, who art the
God of love."

Soon, however, it became too close and solitary in this silent
chamber. She wished to go to her father, to throw herself on his
breast, to pour out to him all her happiness, her affection, her joy,
in words of thankfulness, of tender child-like love. How the
white satin dress rustled and shone! how the diamonds sparkled and
glittered, as, meteor-like, they flitted down the dark corridor! With
a bright, happy smile, holding the wreath in her hand, she stepped
into her father's room. But the apartment was empty. She crossed it
in haste to seek him in his study. The doors were locked and no one
answered her loud calls. She supposed he had gone out, and would
doubtless soon return. She sat down to await him, and soon sank into
deep thought and reverie. What sweet and precious dreams played around
her, and greeted her with happy bodings of the future!

The door opened, and she started up to meet her father. But it was not
her father - it was Bertram. And how altered - how pale and troubled
he looked! He hardly noticed her, and his eye gleamed on her without
seeing her. What was it that had so changed him? Perhaps he already
knew that she was to be married to-day, and that her lover, so long
mourned, had returned to her. She asked confusedly and anxiously for
her father.

"My God! is he not here, then?" asked Bertram in reply. "I must speak
to him, for I have things of the greatest importance to tell him."

Elise looked at him with inquiring astonishment. She had never seen
him so intensely excited in his whole being, and unwillingly she asked
the cause of his trouble and anxiety.

Bertram denied feeling any anxiety, and yet his eye wandered around
searchingly and uneasily, and his whole frame was restless and
anxious. This only made Elise the more eager to find out the cause of
his trouble. She became more pressing, and Bertram again assured her
that nothing had happened.

Elise shook her head distrustfully. "And yet I do not deceive myself!
Misfortune stands written on your brow." Then, turning pale with
terror, she asked, "Do you bring my father bad news?"

Bertram did not answer, but cast his eyes on the ground to escape her
searching gaze. There awoke in her breast all the anxiety and care of
a loving daughter, and she trembled violently as she implored him
to inform her of the danger that threatened her father. He could
withstand her no longer. "She must learn it some time; it is better
she should hear it from me," muttered he to himself. He took her hand,
led her to the sofa, and, sitting down by her side, imparted to her
slowly and carefully, always endeavoring to spare her feelings, the
terrible troubles and misfortunes of her father. But Elise was little
acquainted with the material cares of life. She, who had never
known any extreme distress, any real want, could not understand how
happiness and honor could depend on money. When Bertram had finished,
she drew a long breath, as if relieved from some oppressive anxiety.
"How you have frightened me!" said she, smiling. "Is that all the
trouble - we are to be poor? Well, my father does not care much about
money."

"But he does about his honor," said Bertram.

"Oh, the honor of my father cannot stand in any danger," cried Elise,
with noble pride.

Bertram shook his head. "But it is in danger, and though _we_ are
convinced of his innocence, the world will not believe it. It will
forget all his noble deeds, all his high-mindedness and liberality, it
will obliterate all his past, and only remember that this day, for the
first time in his life, he has it not in his power to fulfil his word.
It will condemn him as if he were a common cheat, and brand him with
the disgraceful name of bankrupt." With increasing dismay Elise had
watched his countenance as he spoke. Now, for the first time, the
whole extent of the misfortune which was about to befall her father
seemed to enter her mind, and she felt trembling and crushed. She
could feel or think of nothing now but the evil which was rushing
in upon her parent, and with clasped hands and tears in her eyes she
asked Bertram if there was no more hope; if there was no one who could
avert this evil from her father.

Bertram shook his head sadly. "His credit is gone - no one comes to his
assistance."

"No one?" asked Elise, putting her hand with an indescribable
expression on his shoulder. "And you, my brother?"

"Ah, I have tried every thing," said he; and even in this moment
her very touch darted through him like a flash of delight. "I have
implored him with tears in my eyes to accept the little I possess, to
allow me the sacred right of a son. But he refused me. He will not, he
says, allow a stranger to sacrifice himself for his sake. He calls me
a stranger! I know that my fortune cannot save him, but it may delay
his fall, or at least cancel a portion of his debt, and he refuses me.
He says that if I were his son, he would consent to what he now
denies me. Elise," he continued, putting aside, in the pressure of the
moment, all consideration and all hesitation, "I have asked him for
your hand, my sister, that I may in reality become his son. I know
that you do not love, but you might esteem me; for the love I bear
your father, you might, as a sacrifice to your duty as a daughter,
accept my hand and become my bride."

He ceased, and looked anxiously and timidly at the young girl, who
sat blushing and trembling by his side. She felt that she owed him an
answer; and as she raised her eyes to him, and looked into his noble,
faithful face, which had never changed, never altered - as she thought
that Bertram had always loved her with the same fidelity, the same
self-sacrifice - with a love which desired nothing, wished for nothing
but her happiness and contentment, she was deeply moved; and, for the
first time, she felt real and painful remorse. Freely and gracefully
she offered him her hand.

"Bertram," she said, "of all the men whom I know, you are the most
noble! As my soul honors you, so would my heart love you, if it were
mine."

Bertram bent over her hand and kissed it; but as he looked at her, his
eye accidentally caught sight of the sparkling jewels which adorned
her arms and neck, and aware for the first time of her unusually
brilliant toilet, he asked in surprise the occasion for it.

"Oh, do not look at it," cried Elise; "tell me about my father. What
did he answer you when you asked him for my hand?"

"That he would never accept such a sacrifice from his daughter, even
to save himself from death."

"And is his fall unavoidable?" asked Elise thoughtfully.

"I almost fear it is. This morning already reports to that effect were
current in the town, and your father himself told me that if Russia
insisted on payment, he was lost irretrievably. Judge, then, of my
horror, when I have just received from a friend in St. Petersburg the
certain intelligence that the empress has already sent a special envoy
to settle this business with the most stringent measures. This half
a million must be of great importance to the empress, when, for the
purpose of collecting it, she sends her well-known favorite, Prince
Stratimojeff!"

Elise started from her seat in horror, and stared at Bertram. "Whom
did she send?"

"Her favorite, Stratimojeff," repeated Bertram, calmly.

Elise shuddered; her eyes flashed fire, and her cheeks burned. "Who
has given you the right to insult the Prince Stratimojeff, that you
call him the favorite of the adulterous empress?"

Bertram looked at her in astonishment. "What is Prince Stratimojeff
to you?" said he. "The whole world knows that he is the favorite
of Catharine. Read, then, what my correspondent writes me on the
subject." He drew forth a letter, and let Elise read those passages
which alluded especially to the mission of the imperial favorite.

Elise uttered a scream, and fell back fainting on the sofa; every
thing swam before her; her blood rushed to her heart; and she muttered
faintly, "I am dying - oh, I am dying!" But this momentary swoon soon
passed over, and Elise awoke to full consciousness and a perception of
her situation. She understood every thing - she knew every thing. With
a feeling of bitter contempt she surveyed all the circumstances - her
entire, pitiable, sorrowful misfortune. "Therefore, then," said she to
herself, almost laughing in scorn, "therefore this hasty wedding, this
written consent of the empress - I was to be the cloak of this criminal
intercourse. Coming from her arms, he was anxious to present me to the
world. 'Look! you calumniate me! this is my wife, and the empress is
as pure as an angel!'" She sprang up, and paced the room with
hasty steps and rapid breathing. Her whole being was in a state of
excitement and agitation. She shuddered at the depth of pitiable
meanness she had discovered in this man, who not only wished to cheat
and delude her, but was about, as if in mockery of all human feeling,
to make herself the scapegoat of her imperial rival.

She did not notice that Bertram was looking at her in all
astonishment, and in vain seeking a clew to her conduct. "This is too
much!" cried she, half soliloquizing. "Love cannot stand this! Love!
away with the word - I would despise myself if I could find a spark of
this love in my heart!" She pressed her hands to her breast, as if she
wished thereby to extinguish the flames which were consuming her "Oh!"
she cried, "it burns fearfully, but it is not love! Hate, too, has
its fires. I hate him! I know it now - I hate him, and I will have
vengeance on the traitor! I will show him that I scorn him!" Like an
infuriated tigress she darted at the myrtle-wreath which lay on the
table. "The bond of love is broken, and I will destroy it as I do this
wreath!" she exclaimed, wildly; but suddenly a gentle hand was laid
upon her extended arm, and Bertram's soft and sympathizing voice
sounded in her ear.

What he said, what words he used - he who now understood all, and
perceived the fulness of her grief - with what sincere, heart-born
words he sought to comfort her, she neither knew nor understood. But
she heard his voice; she knew that a sympathizing friend stood at
her side, ready to offer a helping hand to save her from misery, and
faithfully to draw her to his breast. She would have been lost, she
would have gone crazy, if Bertram had not stood at her side. She felt
it - she knew it. Whenever she had been threatened with calamity, he
was always near, to watch and shield, to afford her peace and comfort.

"Bertram! Bertram!" she cried, trembling in every limb, "protect me.
Do not shut me out from your heart! have pity on me!" She leaned her
head on his breast and wept aloud. Now, in her sorrow, she felt it to
be a blessing that he was present, and for the first time she had
a clear consciousness that God had sent him to her to be a helping
friend, a guardian angel.

The illusions and errors of her whole life fell from before her eyes
like a veil, and she saw in a clear light both herself and Bertram.
And now, as she leaned her head upon his breast, her thoughts became
prayers, and her tears thank-offerings. "I have entertained an angel
unawares," said she, remembering, unintentionally, the language of
Holy Writ. When Bertram asked the meaning of her words, she answered,
"They mean that an erring heart has found the right road home."

She wiped away her tears with her long locks. She would no longer
weep, nor shed a single tear for the false, intriguing traitor, the
degenerate scion of a degenerate race. He was not worthy of a sigh of
revenge, not even of a reproach. A mystery had slept in her breast,
and she thought to have found the true solution in the word "Feodor!"
but she was mistaken, and God had allowed this long-mourned,
long-desired man to return to her, that she might be allowed to read
anew the riddle of her heart more correctly, to find out its deceitful
nature, its stubborn pride, and to conquer them. Thus thinking, she
raised her head from Bertram's breast, and looked at him "You asked my
father for my hand. Do you still love me?"

Bertram smiled. This question seemed so strange and singular! "Do I
love you?" asked he. "Can he ever cease to love who has once loved?"

"Do you still love me?" she repeated.

"Faithfully and honorably," said he, with feeling.

"Faithfully and honorably!" cried Elise, deeply moved. "Oh those are
words as strong as rocks, and like the shipwrecked sailor, I will
cling to them to save myself from sinking. Oh, Bertram, how good you
are! You love my father, and desire to be his son, only for the sake
of helping him."

"And if need be, to work for him, to give up my life for him!"

With her bright eyes she looked deeply into his, and held out her hand



Online LibraryL. MühlbachThe Merchant of Berlin An Historical Novel → online text (page 26 of 29)