The Mysterious Individual/VIII

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In the next town Kronenberg wrote to Baron Wildhausen and his son. The letter to the former included the following remarks, amongst others:

My dear friend, I could scarcely call these people atheists; but certainly they care little for God or Mankind. A happy marriage could change the daughter for the better, especially if it were possible to free her from the boredom which is ruining the entire family, and which has even subdued this young soul. I am convinced, however, that a profound mind such as yours could completely restore her, if she is still to be saved at all. These people do not nearly rate French literature as highly as your description led me to expect; they merely tolerate it, as they might Greenlandic or Japanese; no doubt your dear wife would be deeply offended by their contemptuous indifference.

In his letter to the Baron's son Kronenberg wrote:

Regarding your beloved, I cannot possibly imagine that you would be happy with her. However, such things certainly cannot be predicted. I am just worried that, if it comes to that, you will also have to marry a very trivial jester into the bargain, who for the time being seems to be indispensable to the salvation of the young lady's soul. He is to this family what the balance spring is to a watch and certainly, if she is not continually wound up by him, she will stop going altogether. Of myself I can say little more, so tiresome has my own company become to me. I fear that the fortune I trifled away so wantonly in my youth will never be recovered. Everyone is allotted a certain number of experiences in life; perhaps I have already received my full share, and like the Prodigal Son I have squandered them. I probably should have drawn on them over a longer period of time, and now I must come to a decision all the sooner.

He sealed the letters. His horse had already been led out, because he wanted to leave at a moment's notice. Just then the waiter hurried upstairs and cried:

Sir, young Count Burchheim is downstairs. He wishes to speak to you on some important business.

Kronenberg turned pale.

So I have not been able to avoid him after all, he said to himself quietly. So be it! Perhaps this will cut in an instant a knot that would otherwise have taken me many years to unravel.

He went downstairs; the stranger did not appear. After waiting a short while, Kronenberg mounted his horse.

Where is Count Burchheim? he called once more through the window.

Here! shouted someone from behind the door, and at the same moment young Wehlen jumped out, laughing at the horseman. The latter, however, was as furious as he could possibly be and lashed out with his whip and struck the mocker's face. Wehlen, not expecting this reception, jumped back at first, but then he gave the horse, which was already galloping away, such a sharp blow with his stick that it took off at full speed and careered through the streets and the city gates, to the mortal danger of the rider. The whole town was thrown into turmoil and gave up the young man for dead. Once outside the town, the animal cleared the roadside ditch, ran through a freshly ploughed field, and finally collapsed from exhaustion. Kronenberg gathered himself, helped his nag to rise, and tried to regain the highway across the meadows and footpaths and through the woods.

In cheerful sunshine he roamed through many beautiful districts, sometimes lingering in the towns, making new acquaintances, tarrying at the watering-places, and trying to occupy himself and take his mind off his troubles. By now he had penetrated into the valleys of a romantic mountain range, and the variety of forest and mountain, hill and meadow delighted him immensely. He had to admit that the relationship between himself and his horse was threatening to become more lax; and he could not deny that the animal had become more docile and responsive since he had first got it. It had lost none of its old tricks; it had even acquired many new ones in the meantime; and now it could scarcely be subdued, even after many hours. Kronenberg had already quietly made up his mind to sell or exchange it if a favourable opportunity arose.

The weather was especially warm this day, and the adventurous traveller was well again, and more contented than he had been for some time.

O charming Nature, he said almost aloud, as he rode slowly along hills and vine-trellises, that hast such comfort and balm for every pain! O, thou exalted teacher, who could ever have a mind sufficiently accomplished and receptive to hear and understand thy words! How much louder and true art thou! From the serene sky pure love wafts and resounds; a divine rustle sounds in the forest; the waters chatter sweetly and garrulously; the mountain streams roar; and through lea, meadow and wood blows a spirit of harmony, purity and truth. The beasts, the birds, the creatures that swim in the water, they all are and remain true to their calling. There in the pond, the long-legged stork affects somewhat more gravitas with his measured gait than is really necessary; and the little wagtail flitters back and forth with such an excess of gaiety, not because she feels happy, but because she wishes to be considered clever. But Mankind poor Mankind! No sooner is his tongue loosed than he gives himself over wholly to lying with his very first babbling, and then there is no going back; even his innermost thoughts are untrue, his most heartfelt emotions a sham, and he loses himself in a labyrinth of doubts, excuses, finery and vanity. And yet it is so comforting to be honest and true. That's the truth of the matter, even if lies can hardly be called shadows. Have then perhaps affectation and, through lying, forced praise and admiration been able to make amends for only some of the heartfelt pains occasioned by the catastrophes it had to endure whenever anyone got wind of my misery or uncovered it completely? Yes, from today, from this moment on, I shall renounce all forms of deception, and find life itself, which up till now has always remained hidden behind these shadows.

In the distance he saw a pleasant country seat before him: a spacious house, built for the most part in the old style; beside it a fruit and vegetable garden, and fountains; and behind it a large park, the whole surrounded by a wall. As he got closer, he noticed that the highway went to the left in front of the house, close to the wall: but the main gate was fully open and through this he could see into the courtyard. Many people were gathered on a large glacis in front of the manor; he could make out the faces of some pretty girls; he was sorry that he could not in all propriety ride through the courtyard in order to get a closer look at them. His horse, however, corrupted by its pranks and as though it could sense these thoughts and wished to facilitate this desire, made straight for the gateway at a strong gallop. When the crowd of people gathered on the wide stairway saw this, some of them jumped down; but they all stretched out their arms and cried:

Cousin! Cousin! Dear cousin! You have finally made it!

The horse, encouraged by this welcome, took no more notice now of the bridle or the spurs but continued its headlong career and carried the embarrassed Kronenberg into the courtyard despite all his attempts to turn the horse aside. The cheers of the haughty relatives became even louder, and the anxious rider now feared that his horse, in its mad and blind rush, might even carry him through the opposite gateway, and the quickly disappointed cousins would send gales of laughter after the rapidly disappearing apparition. In order to prevent this, he used all means at his disposal; he wanted to stop and ask the company for forgiveness, and then ride on at walking pace. He had made up his mind to do this, but his indomitable horse had other ideas entirely. The latter reared, leapt to the side, and as Kronenberg finally lost his cool, it threw him out of the saddle, pitching him in the process into the courtyard's stone fountain. Blood was running down his eyes, and the last thing he heard was a shrill cry. Everyone ran over to him; but darkness had already enveloped him he had lost consciousness.