The Mysterious Individual/V
The following day it became clear during lunch how well young Wildhausen had selected the colours for his description. His mother was very haughty and curt, and did not even bother to conceal her resentment; the master of the house was so timid and humble that he hardly dared raise his eyes; he even abstained for the day from wine and loud speeches in equal measure. No occasion presented itself that would have allowed the lady to vent her anger; only when the servant brought the newspapers and pamphlets did she cry out in a shrill voice:
— Take away all this trash immediately! I have finally grown tired of seeing such silly rubbish lying around the house, in which the greatest man of our century is so despicably abused! When the French papers arrive, bring them to me!
Lord Wildhausen looked at the departing servant with wistful and piteous eyes, and sent him a timid and pleading glance to the effect that he should save his favourite reading matter, but he dared not utter a single word aloud. Also, the work which had been so highly praised the previous day was no longer to be seen, and Karl's surmise that his mother's despotic whim would see that it remained under lock and key appeared to be borne out. There were prolonged silences at the dinner table; Karl's stories, and still less the jokes and anecdotes Kronenberg risked, met with neither approval nor encouragement. When they got up from the table, Lady Wildhausen departed immediately; the old man followed her with downcast eyes, and as he was passing Kronenberg, he nudged him and whispered:
— Come to my room in fifteen minutes!
In the meantime the two young friends took a stroll through the garden.
After a short time Kronenberg, who had already learned to abide by the rules of the house, went with slow steps to Lord Wildhausen's room. The old man, he found, was still embarrassed, as he rummaged through his papers. He was nervous, uncertain how he ought to begin.
— Virtue is not always recognized, my dear young friend, he finally stammered, and I too am not often understood. Humanity is a weak creature. If I were allowed to follow my own mind, — however — who knows? — in the future — I hear that you are in some difficulty, and could easily be prevented from making your planned journey. If it is not possible for me to do everything I would like for you, at least take this loan, which you can repay at your own convenience in better times.
With these words he handed him a purse containing two hundred gold coins.
— And, he continued, you must accept a memento of me; I first thought of giving you my equipage — but there are — in short, I give you a splendid, well-ridden horse which is somewhat too spirited for me. For a young man in robust health, like yourself, this is the pleasantest mode of transport.
— You're embarrassing me, you're overwhelming me, said the young man.
— Without hesitation, the old man declaimed, — for even my wife is afraid of this animal, because it is too wild for all of us. But do not think that I am acting entirely without self-interest. I have a large request to make of you, the performance of which would place me under a great obligation; and if you succeed in this thing I desire, you will make me truly happy.
— Name it.
— Consider yourself a welcome guest here for as long as you like; but when you leave, I would consider it an act of friendship if you called at Neuhaus on your way. There you will find a family comprising the most offensive members that only imagination could conceive. But the most odious of them all is the daughter; she has no principles, she is vain, flirtatious and averse to everything that is good, especially all German sentiments. Father, mother, son and daughter together constitute a nest of confirmed atheists, amongst whom no one is more highly esteemed than Voltaire, Diderot and that wretched society of free spirits who are now all but obsolete. My son is infatuated with the girl, and is determined to settle her in this house as my daughter-in-law. If I am obliged to yield in this matter, I will have to drag out my final days in a foreign land. Become acquainted with these people, and then advise my son; you have a great and wholehearted influence over him. Speak with the father, who may listen to reason, and in a discreet manner make my objections clear to him.
After delivering this speech, the old man embraced his young friend cordially, and then added emotionally:
— And now I implore to you with fatherly kindness, do not admit with such noble frankness that you are the author of that remarkable book. Troubled times are coming. Everything indicates a very unequal struggle, a very dangerous game in which Germany's freedom will be lost. The enemy have not yet shown their hand. Until then, the government will certainly not condone your observations, and later, when the tragedy has been performed, your safety, nay your life itself, will be in jeopardy.
— I shall take your warning to heart, replied Kronenberg. You're so right that my book has already been banned, even in my native land. I cannot fathom how they discovered on the frontiers of the Duchy that I am the author; but the other evening, when I was waiting for your messenger, four or five men were lying in wait for me, and it was only through stealth that I evaded them.
Karl was delighted when Kronenberg handed him the money he had received from his father. It was decided to use this sum to keep the most pressing of his creditors quiet for the time being, if not actually to pay them off, should his uncle not want to get involved in any of his affairs. But failing this, the money could be forwarded to Kronenberg.
After dinner the two friends stayed up late into the night; but there was still no sign of Christoph with news of the wallet and missing passport. Just as they were about to abandon their vigil, a horse clattered into the yard and Christoph could be heard yelling at the groom, who had fallen asleep.
— He must have gone all the way back to the spot where the carriage overturned, said Kronenberg.
Presently Christoph came upstairs, flushed and breathless, and even more petulant than usual.
— Have you been the whole way and back, you poor fellow? Karl called out as he entered.
— I managed to avoid that, answered the old man, for in the last but one inn that we stopped at I found the gentleman's blasted wallet. I dismounted at the last tavern, had the whole place turned upside-down, the beds upset, chairs and benches searched through, but all in vain.
— But you have been gone for nearly twenty-four hours. Where have you been gallivanting to, then?
— Oh, for at least thirteen hours I have been sitting quite still.
— How so?
— Hold your horses, said the old man, and don't lose your patience. When I had carried out a rigorous search of that place and had put the fear of God into the landlord, I set off again. I had scarcely covered two miles on my way back when someone rode past me at a crossroads: a lovely horse, the rider well dressed — and — who was it? Only the same suspicious character who, in my opinion, filched the wallet. — I veered off to the left after him, but the chap had seen me now and recognized me. His guilty conscience urged him to suddenly turn into a dirt track on the right, as if he had decided to go for a ride on the spur of the moment, as it were. I too left the main road and followed him. He probably did not expect that, because now he took off at full speed. Our good Ackergaul could not match his speed; but I did not let up, for I intended to have the rogue arrested in the city. My, how that horse can run when the spurs are digging into his ribs! I arrived at the city gates earlier than I expected. The civic guard was already under arms; I asked for so-and-so, and described him, when they stopped me and forced me to dismount; I was placed under guard. From there I was taken to the mayor. I'm a beggar, a vagabond and so on, a suspicious good-for-nothing — I must be sent to the tower. Heavens above! At that point I flew off the handle, effing and blinding all over the shop, and much of what I said the mayor did not receive with a good grace. I am to produce my passport. A passport for a ride on horseback! — I must go to prison; an honourable and cultured man, who identified himself with his passport as Baron Kronenberg, had informed against me, as he put it. None of my cursing or swearing had any effect. I gazed out over the city gates through a narrow grille; my cell overlooked the whole city. In the evening, when it was already dark, the captain of the cavalry Herr von Wolf was walking down the street. I cry out at the top of my voice to my guard: tell him about my case. Eventually he obtains my release, and as I had grumbled a lot about satisfaction, the mayor thinks I should thank the Heavens to have got off so lightly; because I should really be serving eight days on bread and water for cursing the authorities. The jailer also has to get a tip. Then I had to travel another six whole miles on my way back. — But as I always say: complete confusion has already taken over the country; the thief has the honest man imprisoned, the topsy-turvy world or Revolution has arrived!
- Napoleon Bonaparte.
- Contributors to the French Enlightenment's Encyclopédie.