The Mysterious Individual/I

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The Mysterious Individual by Ludwig Tieck, translated by Wikisource
SECTION I


The Mysterious Individual

A Novella

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It was already dark, and a snowstorm was making visibility even more difficult, when the landlady of the inn told the waiter to lock the main gate.

No one of importance, she cried, is likely to travel in this weather; the main coach has left for the city, as always happens.

Goodness knows, the servant replied, the gates of the fortress are now closed, and our humble abode has already been of service to many a fine gentleman.

Look! he cried out in a lively voice, just as a post-horn sounded; a team of horses arrived presently at a smart trot and came to a halt in front of the inn.

Can I have a heated room? a young man asked, as he climbed out, shivering; he examined the inn and the aforementioned landlady, and at the same time ordered the postilion to carry his small valise to the downstairs chamber that the obliging landlady assigned to him for the time being as it was already warm.

This must be a distinguished gentleman, the maid said to the landlady, as the postilion departed again with the carriage.

How so? asked the landlady.

He has already asked, continued the garrulous maid, if any carriage has arrived that could take him on from here.

At that moment the young man stepped outside and asked for the gate to be opened, as he wanted to have a little look around outside. At the same time he ordered a hearty dinner and asked which wines were available. The landlady ran anxiously into the kitchen, engaged the maids, and threw more wood on the fire, which was already blazing fiercely, so that the gentleman would not be obliged to wait later.

It was completely dark when the young traveller returned. Just as he was about to pass through the gateway he saw a few dark figures in the distance creeping towards him; but before he could make them out a stranger rushed inside ahead of him, hastily slammed shut the gate, and at the same instant fell down on his knees in supplication before him. The young man stepped back in amazement; the other man, however, spoke volubly and in an educated manner in a foreign language:

Do not abandon me to misfortune, Sir; I can see that you are a generous man; you can save me, if you just permit me to stay in this inn and kindly defray whatever trifling expenses I may incur. Deny me this little help and you render complete the misery of an unfortunate man, who would love to owe his happiness and the happiness of his family to you, as one sent from Heaven.

The figure kneeling abjectly on the stones in the gateway, the fine expression of the supplicant, and the suddenness of the incident had frightened and shocked the young man.

Get up, he called out to him, also speaking in French. If I am to help you, my fellow-lodgers must not find you here like this. Stand up.

The waiter came with a candle when he heard the gate being slammed shut, and the light fell on a physiognomy so peculiar that the traveller almost regretted that he had promised to help the supplicant. Pale and trembling, the latter leaned against the wall and tried as much as he could to hide his face from the light with a dark cloth; he was wearing a shabby overcoat; and a tear, which now fell from one of the poor man's clear blue eyes and gave expression to all his fear and embarrassment, had such an effect upon the young man that he did not again waver in his original albeit hasty resolution.

There's someone else here, he said to the landlady, who had hurried outside. This man is an associate of mine and I entrust him to you. He has been dispatched here with letters for me. Give him a room with a good bed, some wine and dinner. I will pay for everything.

The stranger, who seemed to understand everything, bowed befittingly; his lips trembled, as though he was about to say something, but he turned suddenly without speaking and followed the maid, who lit his way towards the rear of the building.

The young man had gone into the dining room on the ground floor. He paced back and forth restlessly, unable to get over the shock that he now wished to conceal.

Are the coachman and his equipage still here? he asked the landlady, who was laying the table with the waiter's assistance and setting out the food and wine.

No, Sir, she replied. Such travel is quite impossible at the moment on account of the snow.

Come and sit by me, the young man said. I do not like to eat alone.

The landlady, flattered and at the same time embarrassed, bowed cringingly, considered herself unworthy of such an honour, and declared that she would never dare to commit such an impropriety; but in the end she sat down, smiling complacently, opposite him. She drew on her finest talents as a hostess and was furious with the boorish waiter, who could not help laughing when he saw how gauchely she gesticulated and heard how she related so many unnecessary things at great length and in such a long-winded fashion.

She was just as curious as she was talkative, and the young man, elevated by the wine, did not leave her in the dark for long concerning where he intended to go and why he did not wish to be delayed in his journey by the inclement weather.

I am going to join my fiancée in Franconia, he began to relate. A friend insisted upon sending his equipage to meet me and it is a mystery to me why it has not yet arrived. Some urgent matters concerning my sovereign, which I absolutely could not put off, have continually delayed my journey up to now. The old Count, however, my father-in-law to be, has now admonished me so strenuously that I have pushed everything to one side, even leaving some matters unsettled, in order not to leave my lovely young bride forsaken any longer. The man whom you have quartered back there has been dispatched in great haste to convey some important news to me, matters which I absolutely must attend to before I resume my journey.

The bell rang and when the door was opened a stocky old man entered; he was completely covered in snow and was wearing a cap and white sheepskin. He turned to the stranger and immediately exclaimed loudly and rather familiarly:

So here you are, Herr von Kronenberg. Ah! What an arduous journey I have had to make, especially that last mile.

He handed over a letter, which the traveller hastily opened. Ten or twelve gold pieces, which had not been packed securely, fell out on him.

The letter contained the following message:

The old boy is reluctant to allow his horses to travel on the bad roads in such ugly weather; but he is even more worried for his beautiful new carriage. You must therefore forgive me for sending you the enclosed with old Christoph, as I do not wish to further infuriate my father, who is in a particularly bad mood as it is. You can take the route over the mountains by mail-coach. At the last stop you will find the equipage, and tomorrow evening expect to embrace your Carl v. Wildhausen.


Somewhat taken aback, the landlady regarded the uncouth messenger; but Herr von Kronenberg immediately sent the old man out to procure supplies for the arduous excursion. Then he took one of the gold pieces and beckoned the waiter, saying:

Give this to the stranger in the rear building so that he can begin his return-journey tomorrow: at the same time tomorrow morning the mail-coach should be ordered for me.

The conversation, which had been so lively and familiar to begin with, now faltered; and it could not get going again when the servant acknowledged the heartfelt thanks of the stranger, and the woman inquired somewhat more intimately about him. The embarrassment, however, became even more intense when a stranger entered at the same time as the waiter, who was returning from the mail-coach. The traveller greeted the newcomer with the exclamation, My dear Freimund!, and leapt into his arms.

I can't believe my eyes, the stranger said. When I passed the lighted window, I thought that it couldn't possibly be you. How in the world

He now saw the landlady seated at the table and looked at her with astonished eyes. Young Kronenberg did not know what to say; the elderly woman strove to maintain her composure and to remain in her place, which she had only been obliged to take out of politeness; but the traveller was finally compelled to pull himself together and ask her to look after the stranger and the servant who had just arrived and to see if either of them required anything. The woman rose slowly and left the room, but not without making manifest her irritation.

You strange fellow! said Freimund. You appear to have invited this woman into your company, and now you send her away again because of me! But how do you come to be here anyway? Ten miles from your home? I was sure you would be there and happily married by now.

Kronenberg locked the door and leaned against the window; then he said softly:

Do not tell anyone that you found me here, for it would cause me much embarrassment. I am not getting married, the engagement has been called off.

So the rumour is true, then? his friend exclaimed. I did not want to believe it. And Fräulein Cecilia

She is resigned. She desires it herself for the most part. But how do you come to be here?

I was hunting two miles from here, said the other man, and was just about to ride home. I was hoping to visit you in a few days to become acquainted with you as a married man.

Let us speak no more of this, said Kronenberg, breaking off tetchily. I and Cecilia would have been unhappy, truly miserable, but I can't just turn around and suddenly unravel the whole web of emotions, circumstances and misunderstandings which this step has entailed, however shocking it may have been.

Unhappy, miserable, said his friend. Yes, those are certainly two very serious words that have for the most part far more significance in life than happiness and bliss. So where do you go from here?

That I cannot tell you, replied the disgruntled man, nor any of my friends.

What have we here? Freimund began, hoping to steer the conversation in a new direction. I see you have a copy of the work that everyone is now talking about. For the most part I find the observations true and astute; nevertheless the bold tone and the bitter denunciation of a man who now rules a piece of Europe appals many. But the thing people are most curious about is who could possibly be the author. Famous individuals and complete unknowns have been suggested. I hope this book doesn't get you into any trouble, if you intend to travel abroad.[1]

Get me into trouble? Kronenberg said with a smile. And who do you think wrote it?

I have absolutely no idea. Even the style is completely unfamiliar to me.

But the style shouldn't be unfamiliar to you, not completely at any rate, for you have already read many of the author's works.

You know him then?

When Kronenberg smiled mysteriously and a little mischievously, Freimund, surprised and startled, exclaimed:

What? You're not the author yourself, are you? Impossible!

Why impossible? replied the other. I do not mean to say that I am responsible for literally everything; and of course I could not discover all the facts here in Germany. But, as you know, I have good sources in Paris and I am well connected with men who could observe the government closely, and as a result I was able to paint a rather accurate portrait of this dangerous man, as I believe him to be.

This is complete news to me, exclaimed Freimund. I'm astonished. I can't get over it. And you dare to admit this when it is quite likely that in the not-too-distant future we will be at war with this wonderful man and his agitated people? When probably the strangest and saddest circumstances are being prepared for our Fatherland?

What the German does and asserts, replied his friend, he must also be able to champion courageously.

After an hour Freimund left the traveller, having once again repeated his well-meant warnings. The latter went thoughtfully up to his room. He was awakened the following morning by the post-horn and got dressed quickly. The bill, which to be sure he assumed would not be small, he found to be quite exorbitant. He thought to himself that it would probably have been more reasonable if his polite and intimate conversation with the landlady had not been interrupted. An open carriage drove up, and as another snowstorm had been forecast, Kronenberg boarded this vehicle with a stern expression, for he anticipated a rather unpleasant day in the mountains and on the bad roads. The waiter berated the poor accommodation of the mail-coach, but the landlady did not put in an appearance. As the carriage drove round the inn, a wan face looked out through a narrow window, which the traveller recognized as belonging to the supplicant of the previous evening; the latter extended his hands towards him after first touching them to his mouth, as though he wished to thank him. Kronenberg wrapped himself in his cloak, and had no desire to socialize with old Christoph, who had heaved himself into the carriage in his sheepskin; he was all the more ill-tempered, as he thought he noticed a derisive sneer on the waiter's face as they drove off.

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Notes[edit]

  1. In 1804 an anonymous book was published in Hamburg entitled Napoleon Bonaparte und das französische Volk unter seinem Konsulat (Napoleon Bonaparte and the French People Under His Consulate). It was hostile to Napoleon, who suppressed the work and demanded that the alleged author Johann Friedrich Reichardt (whose second wife was an elder sister of Tieck's wife) be punished. An investigation, however, found that Reichardt was not the author. The actual author of the work, Count Gustav von Schlabrendorf, had entrusted the manuscript to Reichardt in Paris in 1802. But Napoleon refused to accept the findings of the investigation and Reichardt was obliged to flee from Halle after the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt (14 October 1806). This incident forms the background of Tieck's novella. See Internet Archive.