Bertha Garlan

Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Mary Meehan, and the Project
Online Distributed Proofreading Team




She was walking slowly down the hill; not by the broad high road which
wound its way towards the town, but by the narrow footpath between the
trellises of the vines. Her little boy was with her, hanging on to her
hand and walking all the time a pace in front of her, because there was
not room on the footpath for them to walk side by side.

The afternoon was well advanced, but the sun still poured down upon her
with sufficient power to cause her to pull her dark straw hat a little
further down over her forehead and to keep her eyes lowered. The slopes,
at the foot of which the little town lay nestling, glimmered as though
seen through a golden mist; the roofs of the houses below glistened, and
the river, emerging yonder amongst the meadows outside the town,
stretched, shimmering, into the distance. Not a quiver stirred the air,
and it seemed as if the cool of the evening was yet far remote.

Bertha stooped for a moment and glanced about her. Save for her boy, she
was all alone on the hillside, and around her brooded a curious
stillness. At the cemetery, too, on the hilltop, she had not met anybody
that day, not even the old woman who usually watered the flowers and kept
the graves tidy, and with whom Bertha used often to have a chat. Bertha
felt that somehow a considerable time had elapsed since she had started
on her walk, and that it was long since she had spoken to anyone.

The church clock struck—six. So, then, scarcely an hour had passed since
she had left the house, and an even shorter time since she had stopped in
the street to chat with the beautiful Frau Rupius. Yet even the few
minutes which had slipped away since she had stood by her husband’s grave
now seemed to be long past.


Suddenly she heard her boy call. He had slipped his hand out of hers and
had run on ahead.

“I can walk quicker than you, mamma!”

“Wait, though! Wait, Fritz!” exclaimed Bertha. “You’re not going to leave
your mother alone, are you?”

She followed him and again took him by the hand.

“Are we going home already?” asked Fritz.

“Yes; we will sit by the open window until it grows quite dark.”

Before long they had reached the foot of the hill and they began to walk
towards the town in the shade of the chestnut trees which bordered the
high-road, now white with dust. Here again they met but few people. Along
the road a couple of wagons came towards them, the drivers, whip in
hand, trudging along beside the horses. Then two cyclists rode by from
the town towards the country, leaving clouds of dust behind them. Bertha
stopped mechanically and gazed after them until they had almost
disappeared from view.

In the meantime Fritz had clambered up onto the bench beside the road.

“Look, mamma! See what I can do!”

He made ready to jump, but his mother took hold of him by the arms and
lifted him carefully to the ground. Then she sat down on the bench.

“Are you tired?” asked Fritz.

“Yes,” she answered, surprised to find that she was indeed feeling

It was only then that she realized that the sultry air had wearied her to
the point of sleepiness. She could not, moreover, remember having
experienced such warm weather in the middle of May.

From the bench on which she was sitting she could trace back the course
of the path down which she had come. In the sunlight it ran between the
vine-trellises, up and up, until it reached the brightly gleaming wall of
the cemetery. She was in the habit of taking a walk along that path two
or three times a week. She had long since ceased to regard such visits to
the cemetery as anything other than a mere walk. When she wandered about
the well-kept gravel paths amongst the crosses and the tombstones, or
stood offering up a silent prayer beside her husband’s grave, or, maybe,
laying upon it a few wild flowers which she had plucked on her way up,
her heart was scarcely any longer stirred by the slightest throb of pain.
Three years had, indeed, passed since her husband had died, which was
just as long as their married life had lasted.

Her eyes closed and her mind went back to the time when she had first
come to the town, only a few days after their marriage—which had taken
place in Vienna. They had only indulged in a modest honeymoon trip, such
as a man in humble circumstances, who had married a woman without any
dowry, could treat himself to. They had taken the boat from Vienna, up
the river, to a little village in Wachau, not far from their future home,
and had spent a few days there. Bertha could still remember clearly the
little inn at which they had stayed, the riverside garden in which they
used to sit after sunset, and those quiet, rather tedious, evenings which
were so completely different from those her girlish imagination had
previously pictured to her as the evenings which a newly-married couple
would spend. Of course, she had had to be content.

She was twenty-six years old and quite alone in the world when Victor
Mathias Garlan had proposed to her. Her parents had recently died. A long
time before, one of her brothers had gone to America to seek his fortune
as a merchant. Her younger brother was on the stage; he had married an
actress, and was playing comedy parts in third-rate German theatres. She
was almost out of touch with her relations and the only one whom she
visited occasionally was a cousin who had married a lawyer. But even that
friendship had grown cool as years had passed, because the cousin had
become wrapped up in her husband and children exclusively, and had almost
ceased to take any interest in the doings of her unmarried friend.

Herr Garlan was a distant relation of Bertha’s mother. When Bertha was
quite a young girl he had often visited the house and made love to her in
a rather awkward way. In those days she had no reasons to encourage him,
because it was in another guise that her fancy pictured life and
happiness to her. She was young and pretty; her parents, though not
actually wealthy people, were comfortably off, and her hope was rather to
wander about the world as a great pianiste, perhaps, as the wife of an
artist, than to lead a modest existence in the placid routine of the home
circle. But that hope soon faded. One day her father, in a transport of
domestic fervour, forbade her further attendance at the conservatoire of
music, which put an end to her prospects of an artistic career and at the
same time to her friendship with the young violinist who had since made
such a name for himself.

The next few years were singularly dull. At first, it is true, she felt
some slight disappointment, or even pain, but these emotions were
certainly of short duration. Later on she had received offers of
marriage from a young doctor and a merchant. She refused both of them;
the doctor because he was too ugly, and the merchant because he lived in
a country town. Her parents, too, were by no means enthusiastic about
either suitor.

When, however, Bertha’s twenty-sixth birthday passed and her father lost
his modest competency through a bankruptcy, it had been her lot to put up
with belated reproaches on the score of all sorts of things which she
herself had begun to forget—her youthful artistic ambitions, her love
affair of long ago with the violinist, which had seemed likely to lead to
nothing, and the lack of encouragement which the ugly doctor and the
merchant from the country received at her hands.

At that time Victor Mathias Garlan was no longer resident in Vienna. Two
years before, the insurance company, in which he had been employed since
he had reached the age of twenty, had, at his own request, transferred
him, in the capacity of manager, to the recently-established branch in
the little town on the Danube where his married brother carried on
business as a wine merchant. In the course of a somewhat lengthy
conversation which took place on the occasion of his farewell visit to
Bertha’s parents, and which created a certain impression upon her, he had
mentioned that the principal reasons for his asking to be transferred to
the little town were that he felt himself to be getting on in years, that
he had no longer any idea of seeking a wife, and that he desired to have
some sort of a home amongst people who were closely connected with him.
At that time Bertha’s parents had made fun of his notion, which seemed to
them somewhat hypochondriacal, for Garlan was then scarcely forty years
old. Bertha herself, however, had found a good deal of common sense in
Garlan’s reason, inasmuch as he had never appeared to her as, properly
speaking, a young man.

In the course of the following years Garlan used often to come to Vienna
on business, and never omitted to visit Bertha’s family on such
occasions. After supper it was Bertha’s custom to play the piano for
Garlan’s entertainment, and he used to listen to her with an almost
reverent attention, and would, perhaps, go on to talk of his little
nephew and niece—who were both very musical—and to whom he would often
speak of Fraulein Bertha as the finest pianiste he had ever heard.

It seemed strange, and Bertha’s mother could not refrain from commenting
now and again upon it, that, since his diffident wooing in the old days,
Herr Garlan had not once ventured so much as to make the slightest
further allusion to the past, or even to a possible future. And thus
Bertha, in addition to the other reproaches to which she had to listen,
incurred the blame for treating Herr Garlan with too great indifference,
if not, indeed, with actual coldness. Bertha, however, only shook her
head, for at that time she had not so much as contemplated the
possibility of marrying this somewhat awkward man, who had grown old
before his time.

After the sudden death of her mother, which happened at a time when her
father had been lying ill for many months, Garlan reappeared upon the
scene with the announcement that he had obtained a month’s holiday—the
only one for which he had ever applied. It was clearly evident to Bertha
that his sole purpose in coming to Vienna was to be of help to her in
that time of trouble and distress. And when Bertha’s father died a week
after the funeral of her mother, Garlan proved himself to be a true
friend, and one, moreover, blessed with an amount of energy for which she
had never given him credit. He prevailed on his sister-in-law to come to
Vienna, so that she could help Bertha to tide over the first few weeks of
her bereavement, besides, in some slight degree, distracting her
thoughts. He settled the business affairs capably and quickly. His
kindness of heart did much to cheer Bertha during those sad days, and
when, on the expiration of his leave, he asked her whether she would be
his wife she acquiesced with a feeling of the most profound gratitude.
She was, of course, aware of the fact that if she did not marry him she
would in a few months’ time have to earn her own living, probably as a
teacher, and, besides, she had come to appreciate Garlan and had become
so used to his company that she was able, in all sincerity, to answer
“Yes,” both when he led her to the altar and subsequently when, as they
set off for their honeymoon, he asked her, for the first time, if she
loved him.

It was true that at the very outset of their married life she

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