The Mysterious Individual/XI

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The following morning Kronenberg found the musician alone in the drawing room. He could not refrain from informing him of the previous night's strange incident.

Oh, the musician exclaimed, you mustn't be in the least bit surprised at a thing like that; you're going to come across that sort of thing quite a bit. This old Baron Mannlich, the Countess's brother, is never happy in his idleness, which he finds tedious, until he has succeeded in laying his hands on a master-key; while he condescends to converse with the house guests, he also considers it necessary to examine their rooms closely in their absence. And woe betide them if they have left any of their papers or letters lying around! For he will take them with him to study them and occasionally lose them, or to get the schoolmaster to explain any obscure passages to him. He carries out a thorough search for elegant trifles, such as pin-cases, scissors, smelling-bottles; he has already compiled a veritable arsenal of such things, from which he sometimes rewards needy chambermaids in order to earn their gratitude.

Kronenberg had to laugh. The name Mannlich seemed familiar to him, but he could not remember where he had heard it before. The musician, who, once he had begun to speak, needed no further encouragement to continue, proceeded to describe the family.

You, Lord Feldheim, he said sardonically, have discovered how to be assured forever of the Countess's love, even if you were not related to her. So long as the dear old lady has a patient to look after, she is in her element; she loves to play doctor, and as I know how passionate she can be, I sometimes feign illness, especially after a little squabble (because she really cannot tolerate me), just to get back in her good books. But of course, sporting a completely bashed-in head, falling lifeless and unconscious beneath the crushing hooves of a horse, bleeding from forehead, nose and eyes that really called all her forces into play, and made my puny little needs seem pathetic by comparison.

It seems cruel to me, Kronenberg said irritably, to make fun of this fine trait.

Really? replied the musician. You, I suppose, are humane, sensitive and sentimental? By all means, let them cure and mollycoddle you; I have nothing against that. I'm just saying, your entrance here in this house, or your admission into this family, was remarkable enough, even without the accident; and, despite her shock, the Countess relished the opportunity to apply all her arts to your corpse. She would also like to bring up her daughters as benefactresses but they prefer to stick to healthy men, and your illness has not commended you so highly to them. The two younger countesses are full of arrogance and guile, they are happy only when they are pleasing to others, and spare neither friend nor enemy their charms. What lamentation, what chastisement, what patriotic desperation, when the battle was lost! They wanted to flee to Norway or Greenland just so they would not have to be seen by any of these despicable enemies with their un-German eyes. And now! Little Sidonie takes extraordinary pleasure in the company of the young, friendly major; she accepts all his marks of attention with joy, and is morose if she does not see him every day. And little Leonora faithfully assists her prudent sister in her admiration of the kind and valiant gentleman. Whenever we make music, it is really only for his sake; his favourite pieces, which are generally the worst, must be performed; he flatters and lies, and they adore, dissemble and marvel at him. That is the way of the world.

But what about their father? Surely he could not enjoy watching such a spectacle?

It is not particularly serious, rejoined the other man. Dear, exasperating, blissful coquetry: for most young girls, that is the source of their happiness! And the old gentleman is so good and honest, so guileless, that he is only happy when his children are pleasing. He has also had to put aside his anger towards the French, whom he does not understand, and dust off his fine phrases, which he had long forgotten. But he cannot resist terrifying every billeted soldier with his German threats and accounts of our bravery; invariably they laugh at him, whether openly or behind his back. That's also why that hypocritical sneak, the wan-faced relative, is his favourite, because he sometimes removes the mute from his instrument and gives vent to his disgust in very loud and heroic tones. He is always predicting to us all, and to the foreigners as well, the fall of France and the reawakening of our own nation. The young major Duplessis just laughs at him, but the grumpy old captain Liancourt often wrinkles his forehead, and there is certainly going to be a dust-up one of these days between him and Emmerich; it might even have happened already if the eldest son Conrad didn't go hunting so frequently with the French, and the youngest son Anton didn't joke around with him in that ridiculous manner of his. At first the young gentlemen couldn't squeeze enough hatred for the enemy from every nook and cranny of their beings, but now these visits have become so necessary to them on a daily basis to alleviate their boredom that they would be completely at a loss without them.

Now, said Kronenberg, you have sketched the characters of the entire family, and not with a loving hand either; Cecilia is the only one you have not mentioned.

Because she absolutely does not belong with the others! the musician exclaimed emotionally and angrily. Because this silly creature, who has no idea what she wants, is like a visitant from the Third Heaven.[1] She neither sees nor hears what is happening around her, she neither loves nor hates, she is so beautiful that one is driven to distraction, and she has so little idea how to make use of her beauty that she wanders about like a silly child. Oh, her being, her eyes, her voice, yes, she could wring my heart and transform me into a different person. But love? No, I couldn't imagine such a thing, unless in the depths of her heart she harbours a fool's respect for that sober and tedious cousin of hers, who I wish had taken a worse tumble than you into the fountain out there, and never recovered.

The furious man ran off, gesticulating wildly, and Kronenberg felt as if a sharp pain had convulsed his bosom during his final utterance. He was afraid that Cecilia might be in love already, perhaps without even realizing it, and a feeling of despair arose within him: a sense of futility seized him, and he longed to be far away, dead even, just to shake off this distress. Old Count Werthheim surprised him and interrupted his train of thought. He spoke of the Marshal, whose appearance at this sad time had bestowed upon him a sense of pure joy. This already aged man was sensible of his country's misfortune, and spoke of the latest events as charitably as he did wisely. The count was touched that he should find more comfort amongst his enemies, as it were, than he had ever found amongst his compatriots, even his close friends; for his own sons, misled, as he lamented, by the prattle of that musician, only rarely agreed with him. For there are good things that the multitude are often unable to appreciate, precisely because these things are imperceptible and supreme; on the other hand, these ordinary people often covet other things, whose value they set too high, because their substance can be specified and their outer appearance shines forth in dazzling splendour. It was this quiet happiness, this genuine Germanness, that the Count so often had to defend, and which he himself only ever felt to a slight extent, despite the added support of his relative, and he was usually driven from the field whenever anyone pitted against him the glory of the great nation, its conquests, its political and military development, its judiciary, and everything that excites the admiration of the modern age. It seemed that he and the Marshal, who had established his residence only a few miles away for the foreseeable future, or so it was thought, had struck up a genuine friendship. The old man spoke, not without emotion, of Kronenberg too, whose illness and countenance, but especially his wise albeit laconic remarks, would have deeply interested the commander-in-chief. It was expected that they would see him more often, and so hopefully the officers and their soldiers would be obliged to behave themselves in this district.

The company gathered again for music and games; Kronenberg observed even more closely the melancholy relative, as the musician called him, and he was left in no doubt that he was in love with Cecilia; she too seemed to be more sympathetic to him than to all the others. With bitter feelings the invalid dragged himself back to his lonely sick-bed.



  1. Third Heaven: II Corinthians 12:2-4. The concept of three heavens, the third being the highest, derives from Babylonian mythology.