The Merchant of Berlin
Part 7 out of 7
possibly be--could it be John Gotzkowsky, the celebrated banker, the
honored and bright hero of the Exchange, the money-king before whom
all Europe bowed down?
An expression of malicious joy stole over Itzig's face; but he
suppressed it immediately, for the last words of his prayer still
floated around his lips, and somewhat purified them. "Ah!" said he, in
a friendly tone, as he stepped toward Gotzkowsky, stretching out both
his hands to him, "the great and powerful John Gotzkowsky does me the
honor to visit me. What joy for my humble house!"
Gotzkowsky did not allow himself to be misled by this seeming
politeness. He observed him with sharp and penetrating eyes, and then
proudly said: "Listen, Itzig; let us be candid with each other. You
know the reports which are current about me in the city and on the
"I know them, but do not believe them," cried Itzig, with an altered,
earnest mien. "Yes, I know these reports, and I know too what they
are worth. They are a speculation of Ephraim, that your notes may
be depreciated, that he may buy them in at a low rate. I know that
Gotzkowsky is a rich man; and a rich man has judgment, and whoever
has judgment is prudent--does not venture much, nor stand security for
"I have perhaps less of this judgment than you think," said
Gotzkowsky. "It may be that I have stood security."
"Then you will certainly know how to pay?" said Itzig, with a forced
"But how if I cannot pay?" said Gotzkowsky, sadly.
Itzig stepped back, and gazed at him horrified.
"If I cannot pay," continued Gotzkowsky, impressively; "if I am
unable to pay half a million for Leipsic, another half million for the
Russian claims, after having lost the same amount yesterday by the new
treasury ordinance--what would you say to that, Itzig?"
Itzig listened to him with increasing terror, and gradually his
features assumed an expression of hatred and savage rage. When
Gotzkowsky had finished, he raised his clasped hands to heaven, as if
imploring the wrath of God on the head of the sinner. "My God! sir,
are you, then, going to fail?"
Gotzkowsky seized his hand, and looked into his quivering face with
an expression of intense anxiety. "Listen to me, Itzig. I may yet be
saved; every thing depends upon my obtaining a delay, that my credit
may not be shaken. You are rich--"
"No, I am poor," interrupted Itzig, vehemently. "I am perfectly poor;
I have nothing but what I earn."
"But you can earn a great deal," said Gotzkowsky, with a faint smile.
"I wish to effect a loan from you. Take my word of honor as security."
"Your word of honor!" cried Itzig, thrusting back his hand. "What can
I do with your word of honor? I cannot advance any money on it."
"Consider! the honor of my name is concerned--and this, till now,
I have kept unsullied before God and man!" cried Gotzkowsky,
"And if my own honor was concerned," exclaimed Itzig, "I would rather
part with it than my money. Money makes me a man. I am a Jew. I have
nothing but money--it is my life, my honor! I cannot part with any of
But Gotzkowsky did not allow himself to be repulsed. It seemed to him
that his future, his honor, his whole life hung upon this moment. He
felt like a gambler who has staked his last hope upon one throw of
the dice. If this fails, all hope is gone; no future, no life is left,
nothing but the grave awaits him. With impetuous violence he seized
the hand of the rich Itzig. "Oh!" said he, "remember the time when you
swore eternal gratitude to me."
"I never would have sworn it," cried Itzig--"no, by the Eternal, I
never would have done it, if I had thought you would ever have needed
"The honor of my name is at stake!" cried Gotzkowsky, in a tone of
heart-rending agony. "Do you not understand that this is to me my
life? Remember your vow! Let your heart for once feel sympathy--act as
a man toward his fellow-man. Advance me money upon my word of honor.
No, not on that alone--on my house, on all that belongs to me. Lend me
the sum I need. Oh! I will repay it in a princely manner. Help me over
only these shoals, and my gratitude to you will be without bounds. You
have a heart--take pity on me!"
Itzig looked with a malicious smile into his pale, agitated face.
"So the rich, the great Christian banker, in the hour of his trouble,
thinks that the poor derided Jew has a heart; I admit that I have a
heart--but what has that to do with money? When business begins, there
the heart stops. No, I have no heart to lend you money!"
Gotzkowsky did not answer immediately. He stood for an instant
motionless, as if paralyzed in his inmost being. His soul was crushed,
and he scarcely felt his grief. He only felt and knew that he was
a lost man, and that the proud edifice of his fortune was crumbling
under him, and would bury him in its ruins. He folded his hands
and raised his disconsolate looks on high; he murmured: You see my
suffering, O God! I have done my utmost! I have humbled myself to
begging--to pitiful complaining. My God! my God! will no helping hand
stretch itself once more to me out of the cloud?"
"You should have prayed before to God," said Itzig, with cruel
mockery. "You should have begged Him for prudence and foresight."
Gotzkowsky did not heed him. He fought and struggled with his immense
suffering, and, being a noble and a brave man, he at length conquered
it. For a moment he had been cowed and downcast, but now he recovered
all the power of his energetic nature. He raised again his bowed head,
and his look was once more determined and defiant. "Well, then, I have
tried every thing; now I accept my fate. Listen, then, Herr Itzig, I
am going to suspend payment; my house must fail!"
Itzig shuddered with a sudden terror. "My God!" cried he, "only
yesterday I bought a draft of yours. You will not pay it?"
"I will not do it, because I cannot; and I would not do it, if I
could. I have humbled myself before you in the dust, and you have
stretched out no hand to raise me. Farewell, and may that now happen
which you would not prevent when you could! You punish yourself.
Itzig held him convulsively back, and cried, in a voice drowned by
rage, "You will pay my draft?"
"I will not," said Gotzkowsky. "You have judged; take now your
reward." He threw Itzig's hands from him, and hastened from the spot.
Behind him sounded the wailing and raging of Itzig, who implored
Heaven and hell to punish the criminal who had cheated him of his
* * * * *
THE LEIPSIC MERCHANT.
Exhausted and weary, Gotzkowsky returned to his house, and retired to
his room, to give himself up to the sad and terrible thoughts which
tortured him. He could not conceal from himself that the sword above
his head was only suspended by two thin threads. If De Neufville did
not return from Amsterdam, and if the courier did not bring a relief
from Leipsic, then was he lost without redemption, and the deadly
sword must fall. For the first time did he think of death; for the
first time did the thought of it flash like lightning through his
brain, and make him almost cheerful and happy.
He could die; it was not necessary that he should bear the pain and
humiliation of life. He could take refuge in the quiet, silent grave
under the turf, which would soon be decked with flowers over his
agonized breast. He had worked much; his feet were sore, and his heart
weary, from his walk through life. Why should he not lay himself down
in the grave to rest, to dream, or to sink in the arms of eternal,
But this enticing thought he cast forcibly from him. He had not yet
lost all hope. His anticipations rose as the door opened, and the
servant handed him a large sealed letter, which the courier from
Leipsic had just brought. With hasty hand he seized the letter, and
motioned to Peter to retire. But as soon as he was alone, and was
about to break the seal, he drew back and hesitated. This letter
might, indeed, contain his salvation; but it might also contain his
death-sentence. He weighed it in his hand thoughtfully, and muttered
to himself: "It is as light as a feather, and yet its contents may
be heavy enough to hurl me down the abyss. But this is foolish," he
exclaimed aloud, drawing himself up proudly. "At least I will know my
fate, and see clearly into the future."
With a firm hand he broke the seal. But as he read, horror and dismay
were depicted in his countenance, and his whole frame shook.
Violently he flung the paper on the ground. "This, then, this is my
reward--reproaches, accusations, instead of thanks; scorn and
malice, instead of compassion. Reproaches, because I assisted them;
accusations, that I had offered to help them; only because without me
it would have been impossible for the King of Prussia to raise so much
money. Without my mediation, they say, they would not have paid, but
at the utmost would have had to endure a somewhat longer imprisonment,
which would have been more tolerable than the loss of such immense
He paced impatiently up and down, and as he came to the letter he
spurned it with his foot, like a poisonous adder, too loathsome to
touch. "I have deserved this punishment," cried he, laughing aloud
from inward pain.
"Who bade me love mankind? who bade me help them, instead of like
a highwayman falling upon and plundering them, when they were
defenceless? Fool that I was to give to life any other interpretation,
any other end!" He threw himself in a chair, and was soon buried in
thought. Once more he reviewed his whole past, and as he made up the
accounts of his life, he had to confess that the total of his hours
of happiness was but small, while that of his years of misery and toil
was heavy enough to bear him down. But there was still one hope, and
as long as he could expect De Neufville's arrival all was not lost,
and he must still wait in patience, still struggle with the worm that
gnawed at his heart. With such painful thoughts as these was he busied
when the door opened, and Elise entered with a glowing countenance.
She was so happy, that in her selfishness she did not perceived his
troubled and care-worn looks. "Oh" said she, kissing his hand, "I
am so happy at last to find you alone at home. Several times have I
sought you here."
"With letters for me?" asked he, hurriedly, for he had not observed
Elise's excited countenance. Both were so occupied with their own
thoughts and feelings, that they took note of nothing else. "Have not
letters arrived?" asked he once more.
"No letters have arrived," said she, smiling joyously, "but happiness
"De Neufville is here, then!" cried Gotzkowsky, anxiously, hurrying
toward the door.
"What has De Neufville to do with it?" asked Elise, with surprise
holding him back.
Gotzkowsky stared for a moment, terrified at her bright face, and then
a sad smile stole across his own. "Poor fool that I am!" he muttered;
"I complain of the egotism of men, while I am selfish enough to think
only of myself." He drew Elise toward him, and looking at her with
infinite tenderness, said, "Well, my child, speak: what happiness has
"Look at me," said she, playfully; "can you read nothing in my looks?"
Sadly he looked down deep into her large bright eyes. "Oh, your eyes
shine as bright as two stars of hope, the last that are left me!"
Elise threw both her arms around his neck, and kissed him, then drew
him with gentle force toward the ottoman, and, as she forced him down
on the cushions, she took her own seat, smiling, on the stool at his
feet. "How often, my father, have you sat here and cared for me! Ah!
I know well how much sorrow I have caused you in these last four sad
years, I could not command my heart to forget. You knew this, and yet
you have been considerate and gentle as a mother, and kind as the best
of fathers. You were never angry with me on account of my grief; you
knew of it, and yet you allowed me to weep." She took his hand in
hers, and for a moment covered her hot, burning face with it, then
looked cheerfully up in his face. "See," she said, "I do not shed any
more tears, or, if I do, they are tears of joy. My father, I come to
ask your blessing. Feodor is again here; he has come to ask me of you
for his wife. Oh, forgive him, and grant your blessing to a love which
till now has been the anguish of my life, but which hereafter will be
its chief happiness!"
Blushing and with maiden modesty she nestled in her father's breast.
Gotzkowsky felt himself paralyzed with terror. He pressed his child's
head warmly to his breast, saying to himself, "And this, too, my God!
you try me sorely. This is the greatest sacrifice you have demanded of
me yet; but my pride is gone. This offering, too, will I make."
"Well, my father, you do not answer?" asked Elise, still leaning
on his breast. "All is right, is it not? and you will give us your
fatherly blessing, and forgive Feodor the errors of former years, and
receive him as a son?"
Gotzkowsky, with his eyes still raised to heaven, moved his lips in
silent prayer. At last, after a long, painful pause, he said solemnly:
"Well, let it be so; I give my consent."
Elise uttered a cry of joy, and, amidst tears of unalloyed delight,
kissed him, as smiling, and often interrupted by her own deep emotion,
she narrated her meeting with Feodor, Lodoiska's death, and the letter
she had written to her. "Oh, how delightful this hour would be,"
continued she, after finishing her narrative, "if I could only remain
with you! Love bids me go, and yet it keeps me here! I have promised
Feodor to go with him, but I did it in my haste, seeing only him and
listening only to his prayers. Now I see you, my father, and it seems
to me as if I could not leave you to-day."
"To-day!" cried Gotzkowsky, and a ray of joy shone from his face. He
arose, and, with folded arms, paced the room. His soul was full of
gratitude to God, to whom he had prayed in his despair. Was this not
a sign that God was with him, even if men forsook him?--that God had
pity on him, even if all others were pitiless. This day his child
wished to leave him, to enter on a brilliant destiny. He had,
therefore, no longer any need to be anxious about her fate; and, as
she was going to leave at once, he would be spared the torture of
having her as a witness to his disgrace and degradation. He took her
to his breast, and kissed her with heartfelt fervor. "Farewell, my
child, my only happiness; you wish to leave me. I will be alone, but
I will have time to think of and pray for you." He then cast her from
him almost roughly, for he felt as if his grief would unman him. "Go,"
he cried, "your bridegroom is waiting for you; go, then, and order
your bridal ornaments."
Elise smiled. "Yes, I will adorn myself; but you, father, will place
the wreath of myrtle on my head, will you not? That is the sacred
and last office of love with which a mother sends a daughter from her
arms. I have no mother. You are both father and mother to me. Will you
not crown me with the myrtle-wreath?"
"Yes," said he, with a sigh, "I will place the myrtle on your brow,
and God grant it may not turn to a crown of thorns! Go now, my child,
adorn thyself, and leave me alone to pray for you."
He greeted her smilingly, and accompanied her to the door. But when
she had left the room he felt indescribably lonesome, and, pressing
his hands against his breast to suppress the cry which choked him, he
muttered in a low tone, "I have lost her--she is mine no longer. Every
thing forsakes me. The unfortunate is ever alone!"
Once more a knocking, repeated at his door, awakened him from his
reverie. Peter his servant entered, and announced Herr Ephraim.
A ray of joyful astonishment flashed across him, and, as he stepped
hastily toward the rich Jew of the mint, he said to himself: "Is it
possible that this man comes to have pity on me in my distress? Will
he be more magnanimous than Itzig? Will he assist me?"
* * * * *
EPHRAIM THE TEMPTER.
"You seek me?" asked Gotzkowsky, as Ephraim entered and saluted him in
Gotzkowsky's sharp glance had detected in his insolent hearing and
contracted features that it was not pity or sympathy which had brought
the Jew to him, but only a desire to gloat over the sufferings of his
victim. "He shall not enjoy his triumph. He shall find me collected
and determined, and shall not suspect my grief." Thus thinking, he
forced his features into a cheerful expression, and handing a chair
to the still silent Ephraim, said laughingly: "Indeed, I must be in a
dangerous plight, if the birds of prey are already settling around me.
Do you already scent my death, Herr Ephraim? By Heaven! that would be
a dainty morsel for you!"
"You are angry with me," said Ephraim, shaking his head slowly; "but
you shall know how much injustice you do me. I bring you an important
and fearful piece of news."
"It must be fearful, indeed," interrupted Gotzkowsky, "as you do
yourself the pleasure of bringing it to me in person."
Ephraim shrugged his shoulders and abruptly replied, "De Neufville has
A cry of horror escaped Gotzkowsky's lips; he staggered, and was
obliged to support himself by a chair to keep himself from falling.
This was the last, decisive blow, and it had wounded him mortally. "De
Neufville has failed!" he muttered low to himself.
"Yes, he is bankrupt!" said Ephraim with scarcely suppressed malice.
"The proud Christian merchant, whose greatest pleasure it was to
look down with contempt upon the Jew Ephraim, he is bankrupt. The Jew
stands firm, but the Christian merchant is broken." And as he spoke,
he broke into a scornful laugh, which brought back to Gotzkowsky his
composure and self-possession.
"You triumph!" he said, "and on your brow is marked your rejoicing
over our fall. Yes! you have conquered, for De Neufville's failure
is your deed. It was you who persecuted him so long, and by cunning
suspicions and calumny undermined his credit until it was destroyed,
and the whole edifice of his honorable industry fell together."
"It _is_ my work," cried Ephraim exultingly, "for he stood in my way,
and I have pushed him out of it--what more? Life is but a combat;
whoever is the strongest--that is, has the most money--is conqueror."
"De Neufville has fallen--that is a hard blow," muttered Gotzkowsky;
and as his wandering eye met Ephraim's, he added with an expression
of complete prostration: "Enjoy my suffering; you have succeeded--I am
hurt unto death!"
"Listen to me, Gotzkowsky," said Ephraim, approaching nearer to him;
"I mean well by you."
"Oh, yes!" said Gotzkowsky, bitterly; "after you have hastened my
downfall, you condescend to love me. Yes, indeed! I believe in your
friendship; for none but a friend would have had the heart to bring
such a Job's message."
Ephraim shook his head. "Listen to me," said he; "I will be quite
candid with you. Formerly I hated you, it is true, for you were more
powerful and richer than I was; you were renowned for being honest and
punctual, and that hurt me. If a large bargain was to be made, they
were not satisfied unless Gotzkowsky was concerned in it, and if your
name stood at the bottom of a contract, every one was pleased. Your
name was as good as gold, and that vexed me."
"And for that reason you wished to overthrow me, and worked
unceasingly for my downfall; because you knew that I expected this
remittance of light money from Hamburg!"
"I procured the decision that the light money should be declared
uncurrent, that is true. I succeeded. From this hour I am more
powerful and richer than you. You shall see that I only hated your
house, not yourself; I have come to help you. You must indeed fail;
that I am aware of, and that if you were to put forth all your power,
you could not stand this blow, You must and will fail, and that this
Gotzkowsky muttered some unintelligible words, and covered his face
with his hands. "Yes," he cried, piteously, "I and all my hopes have
Ephraim laid his hand suddenly upon his shoulder. "Seek, then, to save
some plank from the wreck, on which you may swim. You can no longer
save your creditors; save yourself."
Gotzkowsky removed his hands slowly from his face, and looked at him
with astonishment and wonder.
Ephraim met his look with a smiling and mysterious expression, and
bending down to Gotzkowsky's ear, whispered: "I think you will not be
such a fool as to give up all you have to your creditors, and to go
out of your house a poor man. Intrust me with your important papers,
and all that you possess of money and valuables, and I will preserve
them for you. You do not answer. Come, be reasonable; do not allow the
world the pleasure of pitying you; it does not deserve it. Believe
me, mankind is bad; and he is a fool who strives to be better than
his fellows." He stopped, and directed an inquiring look toward
The latter regarded him proudly and with contempt. "This, then, is
your friendship for me? You wish to make me a cheat!"
"Every man cheats his neighbor," cried Ephraim, shrugging his
shoulders; "why should you alone be honest?"
"Because I do not wish to be ashamed of myself. It is the fault of
others that I fall to-day. It shall not be said that Gotzkowsky is
guilty of any crime of his own."
"It will be said, nevertheless," interrupted Ephraim; "for whoever is
unfortunate, is in the wrong, in the eyes of men. And if he can help
himself at the expense of others, and does not do it, do you think men
will admire him for it? No! believe me, they will only laugh at him.
I have often been sorry for you, Gotzkowsky; for, with all your good
sense, your whole life through has been a miscalculation--"
"Or rather say," said Gotzkowsky, sadly, "I have not calculated
enough, and from all the experiences of my life I have not drawn the
"You miscalculated," said Ephraim, "for you calculated on gratitude.
That is a bad investment which does not bear interest. Mankind cannot
be grateful, and when any one tries to be so he must sink, for others
are not so. Whoever wishes to succeed in this world, must think only
of himself, and keep his own interest in sight."
"You wise men of the world are right!" cried Gotzkowsky, with a hoarse
Unhindered by Gotzkowsky's vehement and scornful bearing, Ephraim
continued: "If I had thought as you did, I would not have been able
to operate against you, nor could I have brought the mint ordinance
to bear on you. Then, to be sure, I would have been grateful, but it
would not have been business-like. Therefore I thought first of my
own welfare, and after that I came here to serve you, and show you my
"I do not desire any gratitude. Let me go my way--you go yours."
Ephraim looked at him almost pityingly. "Be reasonable, Gotzkowsky;
take good advice. The world does not thank you for being honorable.
Mankind has not deserved the pleasure of laughing at you. And they
"Leave me, I tell you!" cried Gotzkowsky; "you shall not deprive me of
my last possession, my conscience!"
"Conscience!" sneered Ephraim. "You will starve on that capital."
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
"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
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
"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.
* * * * *
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
to him. "Give me your hand, Bertram," said she, softly. "You were a
better son to my father than I have been a daughter. I will learn from
you. Will you be my teacher?"
Bertram gazed at her astonished and inquiringly. She replied to this
look with a sweet smile, and like lightning it shot through his heart,
and a happy anticipation pervaded his entire soul. "My God! my God!
is it possible?" murmured he, "is the day of suffering, indeed, past?
He felt Elise suddenly shudder, and pressing his hand significantly,
she whispered, "Silence, Bertram, look there!"
Bertram followed the direction of her eyes, and saw Gotzkowsky, who
had opened the door of his study, and was entering the room, his
features pale and distorted, and his gaze fixed. "He does not see us,"
whispered Elise. "He is talking to himself. Do not disturb him."
In silence she pointed to the curtains just behind them, concealing
a recess, in the middle of which stood a costly vase. "Let us conceal
ourselves," said she, and, unnoticed by Gotzkowsky, they glided behind
* * * * *
Gotzkowsky had closed with life and earthly affairs. He had signed the
document declaring him a bankrupt, and he had delivered over all his
property to his creditors. The die had been cast. He had been powerful
and great through money, but his power and greatness had now gone from
him, for he was poor. The same men who yesterday had bowed down to the
ground before him, had to-day passed him by in pride and scorn; and
those who had vowed him eternal gratitude, had turned him from their
door like a beggar. Why should he continue to bear the burdens of
a life which had no longer any allurements, and whose most precious
jewel, his honor, he had lost?
De Neufville had done right, and only a coward would still cling to
life after all that was worth living for had disappeared. They should
not point scornfully at him as he went along the streets. He would not
be condemned to hear whispered after him, "Look! there goes Gotzkowsky
the bankrupt." No, this fearful word should never wound his ears or
pierce his heart.
Once more only would he pass through those streets, which had so often
seen him in his glory--once more, not poor, nor as the laughing-stock
of children, but so that those who now derided him should bow down
before him, and honor him as the mourning emblem of departed honor:
only his body should pass by these men who had broken his heart. He
had determined to quit this miserable existence, to leave a world
which had proved itself to him only a gulf of wickedness and malice,
and his freed spirit would wing its way to regions of light and
With such thoughts he entered the room which was to be the scene of
his last hours. But he would not go down to the grave without bearing
witness to the wickedness and malice of the world. His death should be
a monument of its disgrace and ingratitude.
For this purpose he had sought this room, for in it was the costly
_etagere_ on which stood the silver pitcher presented to him by the
Council of Leipsic as a token of their gratitude, and from it he would
drink his fatal draught. He took it and emptied into it a small white
powder, that looked so innocent and light, and yet was strong enough
to drag him down with leaden weight into the grave. He then took the
water-goblet and poured water on it. The draught was ready; all that
was necessary was for him to put it to his lips to imbibe eternal
rest, eternal oblivion.
Elise saw it all--understood it all. She folded her hands and prayed;
her teeth chattered together, and all that she could feel and know
was, that she must save him, or follow him to the grave. "When he
raises the pitcher to his lips, I will rush out," she whispered to
Bertram, softly, and opened the curtains a little in order to watch
Gotzkowsky had returned to the _etagere_. He took the silver-oaken
wreath, the civic crown presented to him by the city of Berlin, and
looked at it with a bitter, scornful smile. "I earned this," he said,
half aloud--"I will take it with me to the grave. They shall find my
corpse crowned with this wreath, and when they turn away in shame, the
broken bankrupt, John Gotzkowsky, will enjoy his last triumph over a
degenerate world." And as if in a dream, in the feverish delirium of
grief, he placed the wreath on his brow, then for a moment stood with
his head bent in deep thought.
It was a strange picture to see his proud, tall figure, his pale,
nervous face, crowned with the silver wreath, and opposite to him,
looking through the curtains, his daughter, whose glowing eyes were
eagerly watching her father.
And now Gotzkowsky seized the silver pitcher, raised it on high--it
had already touched his lips--but suddenly he staggered back. A
dearly-loved voice had called his name. Ah, it was the voice of his
daughter, whom he had forgotten in the bitterness of his grief. He had
believed his heart dead to all feeling, but love still lived in him,
and love called him back to life. Like an electric shock it flew
through his whole frame.
He put the pitcher down, and covering his face with his hands, cried,
"Oh, unnatural father! I forgot my child!"
Behind him stood Elise, praying to God eagerly and fervently. She
wished to appear quite composed, quite unsuspicious, that her father
might not have even an inkling of her knowledge of his dark design.
Her voice dare not tremble, her eye must remain clear and calm, and a
smile play about her lips, which yet quivered with the anxious prayers
she had just offered to God. "My father!" she said, in a low but quiet
voice--"my father, I come to beg your blessing. And here is the myrtle
wreath with which you were to adorn me."
Gotzkowsky still kept his face covered, but his whole frame trembled.
"I thank Thee, O my God! I thank Thee! the voice of my child has saved
me." And turning round suddenly, he stretched out both arms toward
her, exclaiming aloud: "Elise, my child, come to my heart, and comfort
Elise uttered a cry of joy, rushed into his arms, and nestled close to
his heart. She whispered in his ear words of fervent love, of warmest
affection. They fell on Gotzkowsky's heart like soothing balm; they
forced tears of mingled joy and repentance from his eyes.
A long while did they remain locked in each other's arms. Their lips
were silent, but their hearts spoke, and they understood each other
without words. Then Elise raised herself from her father's embrace,
and, again offering him the myrtle-wreath, said with a smile, "And
now, my father, bless your daughter."
"I will," said Gotzkowsky, drying his eyes. "Yes, from my whole soul
will I bless you. But where is the bridegroom?"
Elise looked at him inquiringly. "Will you bid him, also, welcome?"
"That I will with all my heart!"
Elise approached the curtain, drew it back, and taking Bertram's hand,
led him to her father, saying, with indescribable grace: "My father,
bless your children."
"This is your bridegroom?" asked Gotzkowsky, and for the first time a
sunbeam seemed to flash across his face.
Bertram with a cry of delight drew Elise to his heart. She clung to
him, and said warmly: "I will rest on your breast, Bertram. I will
be as true and as faithful as yourself. You shall reconcile me to
mankind. You will make us both happy again. My father and I put our
hope in you, and we both know it will not be in vain. Is it not so, my
father?" She extended her hand to Gotzkowsky.
He took it, but was too much affected to speak. He pressed it to his
eyes and his breast, and then looked with a smile into the countenance
of his daughter.
Elise continued: "Look, father, life is still worth something. It
gives you a son, who is happy to share your unhappiness with you. It
gives you a daughter, who looks upon every tear of yours as a jewel in
your crown; who would be proud to go as a beggar with her father from
place to place, and say to all the world, 'Gotzkowsky is a beggar
because he was rich in love toward his fellow-men; he has become poor
because he was a noble man, who had faith in mankind.'" And as she
drew her father into her own and Bertram's embrace, she asked him,
smiling through her tears, "My father, do you still wish to leave your
"No, I will live--live for you!" cried Gotzkowsky, as, almost overcome
with emotion and pleasure, he threw his arms around their necks, and
kissed them both warmly and lovingly. "A new life is to begin for us,"
said he, cheerfully. "We will seek refuge in a quiet cottage, and take
with us none of the show and luxury for which men work and sell their
souls--none of the tawdriness of life. Will you not be content, Elise,
to be poor, and purchase the honor of your father with the loss of
this vain splendor?"
Elise leaned her head on his shoulder. "I was poor," she said, "when
the world called me rich. Now I am rich when it will call me poor.
Give up every thing that we possess, father, that no one may say
Gotzkowsky owes him any thing, and has not kept his word." With ready
haste she loosened the necklace from her throat, the bracelets from
her arms, and the drops from her ears. "Take these, too," said she,
smiling. "Add them to the rest. We will keep nothing but honor, and
the consciousness of our probity."
"Now I am your son, father," cried Bertram, with beaming eyes. "Now
I have a right to serve you. You dare no longer refuse to accept all
that is mine for your own. We will save the honor of our house, and
pay all our creditors."
"That we will do," exclaimed Gotzkowsky; "I accept your offering, my
son." And joining Elise and Bertram's hands together, he cast grateful
looks to heaven, saying: "From this day forward we are poor, and yet
far richer than many thousands of rich people; for we are of sound
health, and have strong arms to work. We have good consciences, and
that proud contentment which God gives to those only who trust in His
* * * * *
The appointed hour had arrived, and in the full splendor of his rich
uniform, decorated with orders, and glittering with diamonds bestowed
upon him by the favor of two empresses, Prince Feodor von Stratimojeff
entered Gotzkowsky's house. With the proud step of victory he ascended
the stairs that led to the apartments of his bride. The goal was at
last reached. The beautiful, lovely, and wealthy maiden was finally to
become his wife. He could present her at the court of St. Petersburg,
and with her beauty, her virtue, and his happiness revenge himself on
the fickle empress. These were his thoughts as he opened the door and
entered Elise's room. There she stood in her white bridal attire, as
delicate, as slender, and as graceful as a lily to the sight. There
stood also her father, and the friend of her youth, Bertram. The
witnesses to the ceremony were present, and nothing more was necessary
but to lead her to the altar. Elise had requested of her father that
she herself should see the prince, and give him his dismissal. She had
also requested that Bertram should be present. She wished to show him
that her heart had, at once and forever, been healed of its foolish
and unholy love, and that she could face the prince without trembling
or hesitation. This was an offering which she wished to bring to the
honor of her future husband and her own pride; and she would have
despised herself if a motion of her eyebrow or a sigh from her breast
had betrayed the sadness which, against her will, she felt in her
heart. She looked, therefore, with a cold and calm eye on the prince
as he entered, and for the first time he seemed no longer the handsome
man, the being endowed with numberless fascinations, of former days.
She read only in his flaccid features the sad history of the past. The
charm was broken which had held her eyes captive. Her vision was clear
again, and she shuddered before this wild, demoniacal beauty which she
had once adored as God's image in man. As she looked at him, she felt
as if she could hate him, because she had loved him; because she had
spent her first youth, her first love, her first happiness, on him;
because he had defrauded her of the peace and innocence of her heart;
and because she no longer had even the right of weeping for her lost
love, but was forced to turn away from it with blushes of shame.
Feodor approached with an air of happy triumph and satisfaction, and,
bowing low to her father, said, with a most exquisite smile, "I have
come to seek my bride--to request Elise's hand of her father."
With eyes beaming with pleasure he offered Elise his hand, but hers
remained calm and cold, and her voice did not tremble or falter as
she said: "I am a bride, but not yours, Prince Stratimojeff;" and
extending her hand to Bertram, she continued: "This is my husband!
To-day, for the third time, he has saved me--saved me from you!"
Prince Feodor felt annihilated, and staggered back as if struck by an
electric shock. "Elise! is this the way you reward my love?" asked he
sadly, after a pause. "Is this the troth you plighted me?"
She stepped up close to him, and said softly: "I kept my heart
faithful to my Feodor, but he ceded it to Prince Stratimojeff. Elise
is too proud to be the wife of a man who owes his title of prince to
the fact of being the favorite of an empress."
She turned and was about to leave the room, but Feodor held her back.
No reserve, no concealment were any longer possible to him. He only
felt that he was infinitely wretched, and that he had lost the hope of
his life. "Elise," he said, in that soft, sad tone, which had formerly
charmed her heart, "I came to you to save me; you have thrust me back
into an abyss. Like a drowning man I stretched out my hand to you,
that in your arms I might live a new life. But Fate is just. It hunts
me back pitilessly from this refuge, and I must and will sink. Well,
then, though the waves of life close over me, my last utterance will
be your name."
Elise found herself capable of the cruel courage of listening to his
pathetic words with a smile: "You will yet have time to think over
your death," said she, with proud composure; and, turning to her
father, she continued, "My business with this gentleman is finished.
Now, father, begin yours." She gave her hand to Bertram, and, without
honoring the prince with another look, she left the room with her
"And now," said Gotzkowsky coldly, "now, sir, let us proceed to our
affairs. Will you have the kindness to follow me to my counting-room?
You have come to Berlin to rob me of my daughter and my property! You
have been unsuccessful in the one; try now the other."
"That I will, that I shall!" cried the prince, gnashing his teeth, and
anger flashing from his eyes. "Elise has been pitiless, I will be so
"And I would hurl your pity from me as an insult," said Gotzkowsky,
"if you offered it."
"We are then enemies, for life and death--"
"Oh, no! We are two tradesmen who bargain and haggle with each other
about the profits. There is nothing more between us." He opened the
door and called in his secretary and his cashier. "This gentleman,"
said Gotzkowsky, with cutting coldness, "is the agent of Russia, sent
here to negotiate with me, and in case I cannot pay, to adopt the most
severe measures toward me. You, gentlemen, will transact this business
with him. You have the necessary instructions." He then turned to the
prince, who stood breathless and trembling from inward excitement,
burning with anger and pain, and leaning against the wall to keep
himself from falling. "Prince," said he, "you will be paid. Take these
thirty thousand dollars; they are the fortune of my son-in-law. He
has given it cheerfully to release us from you. Here, further, are my
daughter's diamonds. Take them to your empress as a fit memorial
of your German deeds, and my pictures will cover the balance of my
indebtedness to you."
"It is too much, it is too much!" cried Prince Feodor; and as if
hunted by the furies, he rushed out, his fists clinched, ready to
crush any one who should try to stop him.
[Footnote 1: Gotzkowsky paid his debt to Russia with thirty thousand
dollars cash; a set of diamonds; and pictures which were taken by
Russia at a valuation of eighty thousand dollars, and formed the first
basis of the imperial gallery at St. Petersburg. Among these were some
of the finest paintings of Titian, some of the best pieces of Rubens,
and one of Rembrandt's most highly executed works--the portrait of his
* * * * *
John Gotzkowsky, the rich merchant of Berlin, had determined to
struggle no longer with Fate; no longer to undergo the daily
martyrdom of an endangered honor, of a threatened name. Like the
brave Sickenhagen, he said to himself, "Better a terrible end than an
endless terror," and he preferred casting himself down the abyss at
once, to be slowly hurled from cliff to cliff. He had given notice to
the authorities of his failure, and of his intention of making over
all his property to his creditors. He was now waiting to hand over the
assets to the assignees, and leave the house which was no longer his.
Not secretly, however, but openly, in the broad daylight, he would
cross the threshold to pass through the streets of that town which
was so much indebted to him, and which had formerly hailed him as her
savior and preserver. It was inevitable--he must fall, but his fall
should at the same time be his revenge. For the last time he would
open the state apartments of his house; for the last time receive his
guests. But these guests would be the legal authorities, who were to
be his heirs while he was yet alive, and who were to consign his name
to oblivion before death had inscribed it on any tomb-stone.
The announcement of his fall had spread rapidly through the town,
and seemed at last to have broken through the hardened crust which
collects around men's hearts. The promptings of conscience seemed
for a moment to overcome the voice of egotism. The magistrates were
ashamed of their ingratitude; and even the Jews of the mint, Ephraim
and Itzig, had perceived that it would have been better to have
avoided notoriety, and to have raised up the humbled Gotzkowsky, than
to have trodden him in the dust entirely.
Instead of the officials whom he had expected, however, a committee of
the Council, accompanied by Ephraim and Itzig, entered his house and
asked to speak with him. He received them in his apartments of state,
with his children at his side. His figure was erect, his head proudly
raised, and he regarded them, not as an unfortunate, downcast man, but
as a superior would regard his inferiors; and they lowered their eyes
before his penetrating glances, ashamed and conscious of wrong.
"The Council have sent us," said one of the aldermen.
"I have no further business with the Council," said Gotzkowsky,
"Gotzkowsky, do not be angry with us any longer," said the aldermen,
almost imploringly. "The magistracy, in acknowledgment of your
great services to the city, are ready and willing to pay the sum you
demand." Gotzkowsky shook his head proudly. "I am no longer ready to
accept it. The term has expired; you can no longer buy me off; you
remain my debtors."
"But you will listen to us," cried Itzig. "We come in the name of the
"We are empowered to assist you," added Ephraim. "We have been
instructed by the Jews to give you, on the security of your signature
and the prepayment of the interest, as much money and credit as will
prevent your house from failing."
Gotzkowsky's large bright eyes rested for a moment searchingly and
speculatively on Ephraim's countenance; and the light, mocking smile
which stood on the lips of the Jew confirmed his determination, and
strengthened him in his resolution. "My house has failed," said he,
quietly and proudly, and, reading the anxiety and terror depicted on
their countenances, he continued almost exultingly: "yes! my house
has failed. The document in which I announced it and declared myself
a bankrupt, has already been sent to the magistracy and the merchant's
"You dare not fail!" cried Itzig, in a rage.
"You dare not put this insult upon the Council and the town,"
exclaimed the aldermen, with dignity. "We cannot allow posterity to
say of us, 'The town of Berlin left the noblest of her citizens to
perish in want and misery.'"
"It will be well for me if posterity should say so, for then my name
and my honor will be saved."
"But the magistracy will be delighted to be able to show its gratitude
"And the Jews will be delighted, too," cried Itzig. "The Jews are
ready to help you."
Gotzkowsky cast an angry look at him. "That is to say, you have
calculated that it will not profit you if I do fail. You have large
drafts on me, and if I fail, you only get a portion of your debt;
whereas, if I stand, you get the whole. You would be magnanimous from
self-interest, but I do not accept your magnanimity--you shall lose.
Let that be your punishment, and my revenge. You have wounded my heart
unto death, therefore I will strike you on the only spot in which
you are sensitive to pain: I attack your greed of money. You come too
late; I am bankrupt! My drafts are no longer current, but my honor
will not die with my firm."
They were all silent, and gazed down to the earth frowningly. Only one
looked toward Gotzkowsky with a clear, bright eye. This was Ephraim,
who, mindful of his conversation with Gotzkowsky, said to himself,
triumphantly, "He has taken one lesson from me--he has learned to
But Itzig was only the more furious. "You wish our ruin," said he,
angrily. "You will be ungrateful. The Jews, who made you a present of
a handsome ring, have not deserved that of you. What will the world
"The world will learn the cause of my ruin, and condemn you," said
Gotzkowsky. "Go, take all that I have; I will reserve nothing; I
despise riches and estate. I wish to be poor; for in poverty is peace.
I turn my back upon this house, and I take nothing with me but this
laurel-wreath and you, my children."
Smilingly he gave his hands to Bertram and Elise. "Come, my children!
let us wander out in the happiness of poverty. We shake the dust from
our feet, and are light and free, for though we are poor, we are rich
in love. Yes, we are poor; but poverty means freedom. We are no longer
dependent upon prejudices, conventionalities, and forms. We have
nothing more to conceal or hide. We need not be ashamed of our
poverty, for we dare to show it to all the world; and when we go
through the streets as ragged beggars, these rich people will cast
down their eyes in shame, for our poverty will accuse them, and our
rags testify against them. Come, my children, let us begin our life of
poverty. But when death comes to take me away, crown my cold brow with
this laurel-wreath, given me by the city of Berlin, and write on my
coffin: 'This is the world's reward!'"
And firm and erect, leaning on his children, Gotzkowsky crossed the
room. No one dared to detain him. Shame and remorse, anger and terror,
kept them all spell-bound. "Let us go, let us go; I have a horror of
this house, and this splendor sickens me."
"Yes! let us go," said Elise, throwing her arms around her father's
neck. They went out into the street. How refreshing did the cool air
seem to them, and how soft and sweet did the calm blue sky look
down upon them! Gotzkowsky gazed up at it. He did not perceive the
multitude of people which stood before his own door, or rather he did
not wish to see them, because he took them for a portion of the idle,
curious populace, which follows misfortune everywhere, and finds a
spectacle for the amusement of its _ennui_ in the suffering of others.
But for this once, Gotzkowsky was mistaken; it was indeed only poor
people who were standing in the street, but their countenances bore
the marks of sympathy, and their looks were sad. They had heard of
his misfortunes, and had hastened hither, not from curiosity, but from
interest in him. They were only factory-hands, to whom Gotzkowsky had
been benefactor, friend, and adviser; they were the poor whom he had
supported and comforted, who now stood before his house, to bid him a
last farewell. To be sure, they could render him no assistance--they
had no money, no treasures--but they brought their love with their
At the head of the workmen stood Balthazar, with his young wife, and
although his eyes were dimmed with tears, he still recognized his
master who had done him so much kindness; and although his breast was
stifled with grief, yet he controlled himself, and cried out, "Long
live Gotzkowsky, our father!"
"Hurrah for Gotzkowsky! Long may he live!" cried the crowd, not
jubilantly, but in a sad tone, half smothered by tears.
Gotzkowsky's countenance beamed with joy, and with a grateful smile
he stretched out his hand to Balthazar. "I thank you, my friend," he
said; "you have often shouted in compliment to me, but never has it
given me so much pleasure as to-day."
"Never has it been done more cordially and sincerely," said Balthazar,
pressing Gotzkowsky's hand to his lips. "You have always been a father
and a friend to us, and we have often been sorry that you were so rich
and powerful that we could not show you how dear you were to us. Now
that you are no longer rich, we can prove that we love you, for we can
work for you. We have come to an agreement among ourselves. Each of
us will give one working-day in the week, and the proceeds shall go to
you, and as there are one hundred and seventy of us workmen, you shall
at least not starve, Father Gotzkowsky."
Gotzkowsky looked at him with eyes glistening with pleasure. "I thank
you, my friends," said he, deeply moved; "and if I do not accept your
offer you must not think that I do not appreciate its greatness or its
beauty. Who can say that I am poor when you love me, my children?"
At that moment, a carriage stopped at the door. Bertram had brought it
to convey them to their new and modest residence.
"Are you going, then, to leave us forever?" said Balthazar mournfully.
"No, my children, I remain among you, in the midst of you. I am only
going to exchange this large house for a smaller one."
"Come," cried Balthazar, "come, my friends, we will escort our father,
Gotzkowsky, to his new house. The town of Berlin shall see that only
rich people are ungrateful, and that the poor never forget their
benefactor and their friend. Come, let us take out the horses. We will
draw Father Gotzkowsky through the streets."
The crowd answered with a thundering hurrah; and with busy haste they
proceeded to the work. The horses were unharnessed, and twelve of the
most powerful workmen crowded around the pole. In vain did Gotzkowsky
beg them to refrain, not to make him an object of general curiosity.
But the people paid no heed to his request--it was a necessity to
their hearts to give him a public proof of their love. Almost by force
they raised him into the carriage, and compelled Bertram and Elise,
who had mixed with the crowd for the purpose of escaping attention,
to take their seats beside him. And now the procession advanced. Women
and workmen went on before, rejoicing and jumping about merrily at the
side of the carriage; and when they met other workmen, these latter
stopped and waved their hats, and greeted Gotzkowsky, calling him
the great factory-lord, the father of his workmen, the benefactor of
Berlin. Especially when the procession came to the low houses and
the poor cottages, the small dusty windows were thrown open, and
sun-browned faces looked out, and toil-hardened hands greeted and
The forsaken, the ruined Gotzkowsky celebrated this day a splendid
triumph. The jubilant voice that thus did him homage was that of the
people--and the voice of the people is the voice of God!
[Footnote 1: With these words Gotzkowsky closes his autobiography.]
* * * * *
All was now over--the curtain had fallen: Gotzkowsky had run his
brilliant career, and retired into oblivion. His fall was for some
days the topic of conversation of the good Berliners; but it was
soon superseded by some other novelty, and without either sympathy or
ill-feeling they passed by the deserted house with the closed windows
which had once been Gotzkowsky's residence. The king had purchased
it, in order to carry on, at the expense of the royal government, the
porcelain factory which Gotzkowsky had founded.
Months had passed by. How many changes had taken place in this short
space of time! How many tears had been shed there, how many hopes
Elise had become Bertram's wife; and she lived with him in the small,
quiet residence which they had selected in the most remote quarter of
the town. The three had entered the low, narrow rooms, which were to
be their home, with the firm determination not to let themselves
be annoyed by such slight material privation as they might have to
endure, but to pass them over with cheerful equanimity and proud
indifference, consoling themselves with the conviction that no one
could rob them of their great and pure love. And besides this,
their honor and their reputation were untouched, for every one was
acquainted with Gotzkowsky's fate, every one knew that he had not
fallen through his own fault, but through the force of circumstances,
and the baseness of mankind.
He might have cause of complaint against the world, it had none
against him. With his creditors he had been honest. All that he
possessed he had given up to them, and they were all satisfied. With
proud step and unbent head could he pass through the streets, for no
one dared to follow him with insulting words. Nor had he need to be
ashamed of his poverty, for it was in itself a proof not only of
his unmerited misfortune, but of his integrity. All this he said and
repeated to himself daily, and yet it pained him to go through the
streets, feeling solitary and downcast. His eyes even filled with
tears, as one day passing by his house he saw the gates open, and
equipages, as in former days, at his door, while genteel and rich
people, with cold, apathetic countenances, were entering his house
as they had done of yore. Formerly they came to Gotzkowsky's splendid
dinners, now they had come to the auction. The _fauteuils_ and
velvet-covered sofas, the carpets and gold-embroidered curtains, the
chandeliers of bronze and rock crystal, the paintings and statuary,
the silver table-ware, and the costly porcelain service, all these
were now exposed for sale.
There is something sad and mournful about an auction. It speaks always
of the ruin and breaking up of a man's life and the happiness of his
family, of the wreck of a shattered existence, and the sad remains of
what was once, perhaps, a brilliant destiny. On the day of an auction
there ceases to be a home, the sacred secrets of family life vanish;
home is no longer the abode of peace, and the long-cherished _penates_
hide their heads in grief.
Then the gates are opened, and the curious multitude rushes in, and
with callous eye spies into each corner and every room; tries the
sofas on which, perhaps, yesterday some poor widow sat weeping for her
lost husband; throws itself down on the bed which once had been the
sacred temple of their love; and coldly and unfeelingly examines the
furniture of parlor and boudoir, which yet retains the appearance
of comfort and of genial repose, though soon to be scattered to
the winds, to proclaim aloud its sad and secret story in the gaudy
show-room of some second-hand dealer. All the beauty and splendor of
Gotzkowsky's former days were now to be displayed at auction. For this
reason there stood so many carriages before his door; for this reason
did so many noble and wealthy persons come to his house, and, mixed
with brokers and speculators, crowd into those halls, which they had
formerly trod with friendly smiles and in costly dresses.
No one took any heed of the figure of a man crouching, leaning against
the staircase, with his hat pressed down over his brow, and the collar
of his cloak drawn up high over his face. No one perceived how he
shuddered when the auctioneer handled the beautiful articles and
called on the public to bid. It was to him a terrible grief to assist
at these obsequies of his past life, and yet he could not tear himself
away. He felt fascinated, as it were, by some supernatural power, and
forced to remain in the house and attend this horrible ceremony.
In the tediousness of his lonesome, inactive, idle misery, it was a
species of diversion to him, something to arouse him from his dull
rumination, to be present at this disintegration and demolition of his
As Jeremiah once sat among the ruins of Jerusalem, so sat Gotzkowsky
with concealed face at the threshold of his house, listening with
savage joy to the strokes of the auctioneer's hammer--albeit each blow
struck him to the heart, and made its wounds smart still more keenly.
At times, when a well-known voice fell on his ear, he would raise
his head a little, and look at the bidders, and examine their cold,
unsympathizing faces. How many were there among them whom he had
once called his friends, and to whom he had done good! And now, like
vultures, they flocked to the carcass of his past; they bought his
treasures, while their eyes glistened with malicious joy. They were
delighted to be able to boast that they possessed a souvenir of the
When Gotzkowsky saw this, he felt ashamed that he had once smiled
lovingly on these men, had confided in them, and believed in their
assurances of friendship. He rose to leave, feeling himself refreshed
and strengthened, for his depression and grief had left him. Never had
he walked the streets more proudly than on the day when he returned
from the auction to his dark, lowly dwelling. Never had he looked upon
mankind with greater pity or more bitter scorn. And yet it pained him
to reenter this dismal, quiet house, and to force himself back
into the _ennui_ and indolence of his inactive life. It was such
a sensitive, burning pain, so, in the fulness of his strength and
manhood to be condemned to do nothing more than drag on a weary
existence--to sleep, to eat, and to dream of the past! And yet he
would repeat to himself, he was strong and active to work and create;
and nevertheless, he was condemned to idleness, to live by the favor
and toil of others, even if these others were his children.
But they worked for him with so much pleasure and so much love!
Bertram had accepted the situation of book-keeper in a large factory,
and his salary was sufficient to support the three. To be sure, they
had to manage carefully, and provide scantily enough. But Elise was
active and notable; though as the spoilt child of wealth, she had,
indeed, been able to learn nothing of those minor offices of life
which are called by women "housekeeping." Still the instinct of her
sex had enabled her soon to acquire this knowledge, and in a short
time she became mistress of it. It was, indeed, a pleasant sight to
see Elise, with the same quiet cheerfulness, acting at one moment the
part of cook in the kitchen, at another setting her little chamber to
rights with busy hands, and making amends in cleanliness and neatness
for what was wanting in elegance and beauty. True, she was altered,
but never since she had been. Bertram's wife had her brow been
darkened or her eye dimmed. Her face was always bright and clear: for
her husband, when he returned home, she had always a smile of welcome,
a cordial greeting--never a word of complaint or of mourning over the
privations she was obliged to undergo, or the wealth she had lost.
Elise felt rich--for she loved her husband; not with that ardent,
consuming passion which she had once felt, and which had been the
cause of so much disappointment and so many tears; but with that
gentle, affectionate flame which never dies out, but is constantly
supplied and nourished by esteem and appreciation.
Bertram was no longer her brother; he was her beloved, her friend, her
counsellor, and comforter, above all. With him she was always certain
to be understood and appreciated, to find comfort and help. As on a
rock, she could now rely on the noble heart of one who was at the same
time so firm, and yet so soft in loving, that he had never doubted
her, never turned away from her. Her whole heart was given up to him
in gratitude and affection, and with her whole life did she wish to
reward him for his noble love, for the self-sacrificing gratitude with
which he had given up his entire fortune to her father, and saved
the name and honor of his house from disgrace and shame. She desired
neither splendor nor jewels. Surrounded by the halo of her love, and
of her quiet, peaceful happiness, this poor, little dwelling seemed
to her as a temple of peace and of holy rest; and, locked in Bertram's
embrace, her wishes never reached beyond its narrow sphere.
But Gotzkowsky was not as yet able to attain this resignation. This
repose was to him an annihilating torment, and the inactive vegetation
a living death. With each day the torture increased, the soreness of
his heart became more corroding and painful. At times he felt as if he
must scream out aloud in the agony of his despair. He would strike his
chest with his clinched fists, and cry to God in the overflow of
his sufferings. He who his whole life long had been active, was now
condemned to idleness; he who through his whole life had worked for
others, was now obliged to lay his hands in his lap, and allow
others to labor for him. How had he deserved this? What crime had he
committed, that after he had toiled and worked honestly, he should go
down, whilst others who had enriched themselves by fraud and lying,
by cunning and malice, should drive through the streets in splendid
carriages, surrounded by elegance and wealth, while he was obliged to
creep along, bowed down with sorrow? He had gone down, while Ephraim
had risen higher and higher. He had become poor because he was honest;
but Ephraim had grown rich on usury. His firm had failed, while
Ephraim continued to coin money. What did the Jew care that his name
was branded by the people, that they spoke with cutting sarcasm of the
pewter-money to which he had so skilfully imparted the appearance of
silver coin, and that he was derided by all? Gotzkowsky's name, too,
had been scoffed at, and he had been a benefactor of the people, while
Ephraim had been their blood-sucking leech.
At last, Gotzkowsky came to a firm determination that he would have
revenge--yes, revenge on this ungrateful generation which had betrayed
and forsaken him--revenge on the men who had shown themselves so small
and pitiful. He wanted to remind those who were flourishing in pride
and splendor, of their meanness and ingratitude. He would accuse no
one, but his whole life was an indictment, not against individual men,
but whole communities and cities, against the king himself. They had
all been ungrateful toward him. They were all his debtors, and in
presence of the whole world he would cast their ingratitude, their
meanness, their malice, and knavery in their face, and humble them
by recalling the past. He wrote for that purpose _The History of his
Life_, not in anger and scorn; he did not dip his pen in gall, he made
no ill-natured reflections, no contemptuous remarks. He did nothing
more than quietly and simply, clearly and truthfully, describe
his life and his deeds, and whenever it was necessary, confirm
his assertions by quotations from the official documents relating
The very simplicity and truthfulness of this "_Biography of a
Patriotic Merchant_" procured for it an enormous success, and made the
long-forgotten, much-calumniated Gotzkowsky for a while the topic of
conversation, not only in Berlin, but throughout all Germany. Every
one wanted to read the book. All wished to have the malicious pleasure
of seeing how much people of rank, communities, cities, and princes,
were indebted to this man, and how pitilessly they had let him sink.
The natural consequence was that the book, though written simply and
with reserve, gave great offence. Gotzkowsky had accused no one, but
the facts accused. His present poverty and need condemned the proud,
high-born people, and showed to the world their cold-heartedness and
miserable conduct. He had not exposed _individuals_ to the judgment
of the world; no--his book accused the whole magistracy of Berlin of
deeds of ingratitude; and it even included the king, for whom he had
bought a hundred thousand _ducats_' worth of pictures, and who had
only paid him back a hundred and fifty thousand _dollars_.
If his book had contained the smallest untruth, if there had been
the least false statement in it, they would have stigmatized him as a
calumniator and scandalizer of majesty. But Gotzkowsky had only told
the truth. They could not, therefore, punish him as a false witness
or slanderer. Consequently they had to content themselves with
suppressing "The Life of a Patriotic Merchant."
The booksellers in Berlin were therefore ordered to give up all the
copies, and even Gotzkowsky received an order to return those in his
possession. He did so; he gave up the book to the authorities, who
persecuted him because they had cause to blush before him; but his
memory he could not surrender. His memory remained faithful to
him, and was his support and consolation, whenever he felt ready to
despair; this made him proud in his misfortune, and free in the bonds
of poverty. And now they were really poor; and penury, with all its
horrors, its humiliations and sufferings, crept in upon them.
Gotzkowsky's book had awakened all those who envied and hated him, and
they vowed his ruin. It showed how much the merchants of Berlin
were indebted to him, and how little of this indebtedness they
had cancelled. It was therefore an accusation against the wealthy
merchants of Berlin, against which they could not defend themselves,
but for which they could wreak revenge. Not on him, for he had nothing
they could take from him--no wealth, no name, no credit, and, in
their mercantile eyes, no honor. But they revenged themselves on his
family--on his son-in-law. The rich factory-lord, whose book-keeper
Bertram had been, deprived him of his situation; and in consequence of
a preconcerted arrangement, he could find no situation elsewhere. How
could he now support his family? He was willing to work his fingers to
the bone for his wife, for his father, for his child; who looked up so
lovingly to him with its large, clear, innocent eyes, and dreamt
not of the anxiety of its father, nor of the sighs which told of
the anguish of its young mother. But nowhere could he procure
employment--nowhere was there a situation for the son-in-law of
Gotzkowsky, who had accused the merchants, the magistrates, yea, even
the king! And now they were indeed poor, for they had no work; but,
condemned to inactivity, to comfortless brooding, they shudderingly
asked themselves what was to become of them--how this life of
privation was to end.
But while Bertram and Elise remained sad and dispirited, Gotzkowsky
suddenly brightened up. For a long time he had walked up and down in
silent thought. Now, of a sudden, his countenance assumed the cheerful
expression of former days, and energetic self-reliance was expressed
in his features. Elise looked on with astonishment. He drew out from
his chest the last remains of by-gone days, the silver oak-wreath set
with diamonds, presented him by the town of Berlin, and the golden
goblet given by the town of Leipsic. He looked at them for a long time
attentively, and then went out, leaving Elise alone, to weep and pray
to God to send them help, and to console Bertram when he came home
from his fruitless search after a situation.
It was some hours before Gotzkowsky returned, but his countenance
still retained its cheerfulness, and his features exhibited the energy
and activity of past days. He stretched out his hands to both of his
children, and drew them affectionately toward him and embraced them.
"Are we then really poor, possessing one another? I say that we are
still rich, for our hearts are yet warm, and our honor is not yet
lost. But we have not yet learned to bear the indigence of our outer
life, We have covered our poverty with the gloss of respectability; we
have been ashamed to appear in the streets in coarse clothes; we have
not yet learned to distinguish the necessary from the superfluous; we
have endeavored to be poor, and yet happy, in a city. That has been
our mistake. The happiness of poverty does not reside within the cold
walls of a town. It is not sown among the paving-stones of a street.
It is only in Nature, who is rich enough to nourish and give to all
those who trustingly cast themselves on her bosom--only in Nature, and
the privacy of country life, that we can find rest and peace. Come,
my children, let us leave this town; let us have the courage to become
children of Nature and free citizens of poverty. Let us cast the show
and glitter of a city life behind us, and wander forth, not over the
sea nor into the desert, but to a cottage in a wood. I have stripped
off the last vestige of the past, and the silver wreath and the golden
goblet have been of some use, for they have furnished us the means to
found a new existence. Bertram, have you the courage to commence life
anew and become a peasant?"
Bertram smiled. "I have both the courage and the strength, for I am
hearty and able to work."
"And you, Elise, are you not too proud to bring up your child as a
Elise kissed her child, and handed him to her father. "Let us bring
him up to be a good and healthy man--a man like you and his father,
and he will overcome the world and poverty, and be happy."
"Oh! I well knew that I could count upon you; and now I know how we
all can be helped. We are rich enough to buy, in some corner of the
world, a little piece of land that we can cultivate, and on which we
can build a cottage. The product of my valuables is sufficient for
that purpose; and what we can realize from these articles of furniture
will be sufficient to defray our travelling expenses. Get ready, then,
children; to-morrow we leave for Silesia. In the mountains there
we will look out some quiet, secluded valley, where the newly-made
peasants can build them a cottage. There we will forget the past, and
cast all its sufferings behind us; or if we do speak of them, it will
be as of the tales of our childhood. Come, my children, let us return
to Nature, God, and contentment. Do you remember, Elise, how I once
related to you that as a lad I once lay hungry and wretched on the
high-road? The hand which was then stretched out to me did not proceed
out of the cloud, but from heaven. It was not the consolation of
an alms that it gave me, but the comforting assurance of love which
raised me up and strengthened me, directing my looks to God, and
teaching me to love Him in all His works. God dwells and speaks in
Nature. Let us seek Him there, and serve Him in the sweat of our brow
and in the coarse peasant's frock."
* * * * *
And they went, and did as Gotzkowsky said. They moved to Silesia, and
bought themselves there, among the mountains, a piece of land and a
cottage, in which they led a quiet, retired, happy life. The world
forgot them. Gotzkowsky's name passed into oblivion. But history
preserved it, and still holds him up as an example, not only of the
most noble patriotism, but also of the ingratitude of men. His book,
too, is left us, and bears witness for him. But as we read it, we
become sad, and are ready to cry out, as he does, "_This is the
[Footnote 1: His biography begins in those words: "I know that I
subject myself to a variety of judgments. How ridiculous will I appear
in the eyes of many, because I did not use my fortune for my own
benefit! They will say, 'A man who pretends to know the world, a
merchant, furthermore, whose principal merit is to make himself rich,
and found a great house, gives so little heed to self-interest, and
entertains dreams of humanity and benevolence, hardly pardonable in
a philosopher. Others, again, will deem my acts too good-natured,
improvident, or vain, as usually happens, when such are considered
from a point of view different from the actual one. But as long as
I am convinced that I have acted as a true Christian and an honest
patriot, I can despise all these criticisms. I would not act
otherwise, if I had my whole life to live over again. But I would be
more prudent, as I am better acquainted with the character of those
in whom I confided most. The peace of mind and cheerfulness which
innocence and the consciousness of good deeds impart, are too
perceptible to me, to allow me to hesitate for a moment between the
demands of selfishness and those of humanity."]
Back to Full Books