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The Red Countess

Hermynia Zur Mühlen

1. The End and the Beginning: The Book of My Life1

Hermynia Zur Mühlen

Texte intégral

In the well tempered glass-house

  • 1 The note numbers refer to ‘Notes on Persons and Events Mentioned in the Memoir’ immediately followi (...)

1When I was a small child there was a cuckoo clock in the hallway across from my bedroom. I was very fond of it and never tired of hearing it. One night, however, the beloved clock played me a nasty trick. I was awakened from a deep sleep by a dull sound and started with fright as I heard in the stillness of the night eleven terrifying cries. Screech owls, I thought, and screech owl cries mean death. I was very frightened and began to scream and call for help, but no one heard me. A horrible feeling of despair surged over me: everyone in the house, in the little town, in the whole world was dead, and I had been left all alone in a world of the dead. Thinking back now on those childhood days, I am often reminded of that eerie night when my friend the cuckoo prophesied the death of a world. The world in which I grew up is dead. Even if many of its former denizens are still alive, the old refined, high-spirited levity is gone, as is the contempt for money and the natural, unmeditated highhandedness with which middle-class people were treated, even when they were millionaires.

2The “aristocratic” diplomatic service, which in those days — such, at least, was the conviction of the diplomats themselves — was distinguished by a kind of aura, was among the glories, now lost, of that bygone world. We in our family belonged to the “career,” and the “career” meant one thing and one thing only: the diplomatic service. For us nothing else was conceivable. This reverence for the “career,” it should be added, did not in any way prevent Austrian diplomats from making merry at the expense of their chiefs. The Austrian ambassador in London, for example, was known only as “the Superlative” — “dumb, dumber, Dehm.”1 In general the diplomats took nothing in the world seriously, including themselves. One of my uncles,2 for instance, who was himself in the service, taught me to give to the question “What is your father?” the following fine reply: “My father is a poor devil who wears a green monkey suit, writes stupid reports and costs the state a lot of money.” And my father3 never lost an occasion to explain that “Austria has only one real interest: the continued piety of the Muslims. As long as these people continue to wear the fez everything will be all right for us.” Most fezzes were manufactured at that time in Bohemia.

3Yet we ought not to have looked upon other callings with so much scorn, for my paternal grandfather4 had risen in the military to the rank of general, been appointed First Adjutant-General of Emperor Franz Joseph and been made a Knight of the Golden Fleece. And a greatuncle5 had been a cavalry general and governor of Mainz. His wife6 was a typical representative of her caste, a lovable, pretty, exceptionally pious old lady who followed the teachings of the Gospel by giving away half of her not too large income to the poor — a fact which, nevertheless, did not prevent her from saying to me one day: “The bourgeois, you know, are perfectly fine, and I know that before God we are all alike, but I just can’t see them as people like ourselves.” And she used to tell of charity balls where a ribbon was stretched across the middle of the ballroom — the bourgeois danced on one side, the aristocrats on the other. She was certainly a most consistent old lady; when her niece, Sophie Chotek,7 married the crown-prince, Franz Ferdinand, she said: “That person shall never cross my threshold again. She is a wicked young woman and has done the Kaiser a grievous wrong in depriving him of a rightful heir.”

4I found remarks of this kind extremely amusing because I had already, at a quite tender age, been “corrupted” by reading the Neue Freie Presse8 and other liberal newspapers. Only the Fremdenblatt9 was supposed to be read in our circles in those days, but my grandmother10 was an Englishwoman with the liberal views of the English at that time, and so it happened that, at the age of eight or nine, I considered the editorials of Herr Benedikt11 a Revelation and a new Gospel, and an unshakable conviction crystallized in my mind: the government is always wrong. One of my great-uncles12 was Minister of Agriculture and belonged to the clerical party. He pushed a law through which is called after him the Lex Falkenhayn, and the Freie Presse attacked him vigorously. Once, when we were paying our obligatory call on his wife in Vienna, this uncle also came into the room, and I, a little brat of eight, was astonished that such an “infamous scoundrel” could seem so innocent and friendly.

5My republican feelings were also awakened early, though I cannot claim that they were the product of logical thinking. They sprang from a purely personal thirst for revenge. About thirty minutes from the little health-resort of G.13 in the Salzkammergut, a veritable eyesore of a chateau towered over the beautiful landscape, disfiguring it horribly; it belonged to the Duke of Württemberg. The old duke had a particular aversion to dogs, and any dog that had somehow or other crept into his park was shot. I considered this proceeding most reprehensible and condemned it, as one condemns a wrong which does not directly concern one, coolly and without special anger — until one evening my little fox-terrier Grip did not return from one of his customary explorations of the countryside. Nor did he come back the following day, and when a week had passed we had to conclude that poor Grip had met his death in the Duke’s park. My condemnation, purely on principle, now flared into raging indignation. The old Duke embodied for me all the tyrants of history, all the murderers and criminals. Day after day, on our walks, I would drag my poor governess to the red-coloured castle, collecting on the way all the little stones I could find. I then threw them amid a torrent of curses into the park. From that moment on I was through with monarchs, princes, and dukes. And when many years later, during the German Revolution, the throne was taken from the house of Württemberg too, I thought of poor Grip and felt a quiet personal satisfaction, because my little murdered dog had been avenged.

6Quite slowly and gradually the “New Age” penetrated into our little lake-side town. The first female clerk to run a branch of the Post Office created a sensation. Most people had the feeling that letters deposited in this office would never arrive, and important insured letters were generally not entrusted to the fat, friendly Fräulein. I think that some of the old ladies who lived in villas and wore gloves all day long to protect their hands thought it improper that a woman should sit behind a window, and considered the respectable female postal clerk a lost creature.

7But “society” had scarcely recovered from this first sensation when it was shocked by a far worse one. On the smooth, beautiful streets brazen creatures suddenly appeared: bicyclists, women who dared display their limbs half-way up to the knee. In our home, we did not see the matter in such a tragic light, since grandmother believed women had a right to do anything they were capable of doing well, and even my mother rode a bicycle. But the other women were less indulgent; old Countess Szapáry14 had her gardener collect flint stones and lay them on the garden table. Then she sat behind the hedge of her garden and watched for women cyclists. If one of the immodest creatures passed her way, she was showered with a rain of stones, and the old Countess would shout with all her might after the bicycle: “Hussy! Hussy!”

8Yet it must be said to our credit that there was actually a woman in our circle with bobbed hair. In those days this was called a “Titus head.” The possessor of this Titus head was a romantic apparition in my eyes for another reason too: she had been an actress before her marriage to Count Prokesch-Osten and, under the name of Friederike Grossmann,15 had enjoyed great success. Herr Wiesinger, the stationer, was even then still selling a picture of her in her most celebrated role as “The Cricket.” I still remember the lively figure and large eyes of the “Cricket,” who cannot but have been extremely bored in the rather ceremonious atmosphere of our local society. Once during the Dreyfus affair, she allowed her feelings to get the better of her and, in her capacity as head of the Red Cross in G., sent a telegram to Madame Dreyfus in which she expressed the sympathy of the Red Cross. Wild excitement seized the little town; some were anti-Dreyfusards, but the others also shook their heads, for after all, Dreyfus, though innocent, was still a Jew, and therefore one ought not to act so impulsively, especially when one had been a member of the bourgeoisie before one’s marriage. I, naturally, was an ardent Dreyfus supporter, and had constantly to be reminded by grandmother, who moreover was also one, that a child must be polite even to those adults who hold different views. When Zola published his J’Accuse, a new world was opened up for me, and Zola took the place of all my other heroes.


9But the “Cricket” was not our only celebrity. Right next to the large garden of our villa there was another garden, which belonged to Pauline Lucca.16 The famous singer had just retired at that time; she was married to a Baron Walhoven and gave singing-lessons. I can no longer recall her face; I only know that she had beautiful, merry blue eyes and spoke with a frightful Viennese accent. Every year, towards the end of the season, she gave plays in the little theatre installed in her villa, and at one of these performances a young creature made her appearance — the freshest, most attractive, most enchanting being that one can imagine. Even the old ladies were charmed by her and her voice. “What is the name of the little one?” they asked after the performance. And the answer was: “Fritzi Massary.”17

10A little old white-haired man lived on the promenade and I knew that he was the composer Goldmark,18 a most remarkable personality. You could also find Peter Altenberg19 on the promenade, as well as the painter Angeli,20 whose celebrity in England was due to his being the best waltzer in London — so, at least, his friends maintained.

11But we also had local celebrities. There was a young instructor who was attacked by all the priests because he told the children about Darwin’s theory of evolution. The prefect of our district, Baron A., a wise and sensible man, took his side and informed us, often in great anger, of their persecution of Herr Lebida. Naturally, I immediately saw the young man with the pale face and dark hair as a hero and martyr. Since I did not know him I began to run after his two elderly sisters, on foot and on my bicycle — for grandmother had at last yielded to my pleas and given me a bicycle. The moment I saw the Lebida sisters in the distance (they always went out together) I would race after them, give them a look full of admiration, and hope that they would condescend at some point to speak to me. But they never did, and it may be that this circumstance increased my respect for their family. For notwithstanding all one’s liberal feelings, one was accustomed, after all, as the “little Countess,” to having the bourgeois feel honoured when one spoke to them.

12Naturally one was courteous towards everyone — but not on account of the individuals themselves. It was a matter of self-respect. “Don’t forget that you are a little lady.” How often have I heard that in my childhood. But in those days “lady” did not mean a well-dressed, idle, rich woman, but a person who was tactful and sensitive to the feelings of others, obliging and polite in every life situation, careful to hide her own feelings, and, however bad she might be feeling herself, capable of not letting others notice it. It was not solely their fault that the aristocrats considered themselves the umbilicus mundi; the bourgeoisie’s abject veneration of them also played a part. I remember quite clearly a doctor, otherwise a wise and very nice man, who had been called in to see me, saying on the occasion of the big fire at the charity bazaar in Paris: “It’s terrible to think how many aristocrats were burned to death there!” And I recall, too, my grandmother’s quietly asking “Do you think, doctor, that it was less horrible for the others?”

13Nor have I ever forgotten the explanation of my catechist, when, to the astonishment of the entire class, at the age of about ten, I declared: “I don’t believe our dear Lord is just; if he were, he wouldn’t permit there to be rich and poor.” The worthy gentleman stared at me grimly for a moment — he was horrified, I think, every time I opened my mouth — then he quickly found an answer. “There are rich and poor in order that the rich may get to heaven by giving alms to the poor.”

14It was likewise an unwritten law with us, moreover, that one had to be gracious in one’s dealings with the bourgeois and even more gracious — in a far more natural way, as though one had to do with one’s equals — in one’s dealings with the “poor,” the common people. A little incident seems to me to illustrate this well. In our little town the river Traun frequently overflowed its banks, threatening to bring down the old wooden bridge that spanned it. One day what we feared happened. With a horrible crack the bridge broke in two. Three working men fell into the river and were drowned. The prefect of the district (not Baron A.) who was in charge of the rescue work turned to his servant and said: “Go home, Johann, and tell the Countess that only working men were drowned.” I believe that even the working people were not as outraged by these words as the aristocrats. Count S. would most certainly have been boycotted from society had not some one found an excuse for him. “What do you expect? His wife’s mother is a bourgeoise.”

15Contempt for the bourgeoisie was so ingrained, even among the most unprejudiced members of our class, that it was impossible to dislodge it. My father was far too wise to harbour any belief in aristocratic superiority; he required of people only that they be intelligent and have their wits about them, and he sought these attributes mostly in vain among the members of his own class. Yet even he took care to use the inevitable prefix “poor” when speaking of his acquaintances in industry. A number of years ago, when I was translating a book in which the enormous wealth of a Rhineland industrialist was described in great detail, I had to burst out laughing in the midst of my tiresome task when I suddenly remembered how my father always spoke of the founder of this gigantic fortune — he was a good friend of his and could have bought us up, lock, stock, and barrel, a hundred times over — as “poor H., really quite a nice fellow all the same.”

16In those days, in our circles, money really counted for very little, even if, as a child, I long believed — perhaps not altogether mistakenly — that the “S. M. Rothschild” on the seal of the Rothschild business letters meant “Seine Majestät Rothschild.”


17Likewise, relatively little importance was attached to clothing. “One” wore tailor-made things from Jungmann in Vienna and the inevitable diamond buttons. It was not proper to be too elegantly dressed. That was left to the wives of the wealthy bourgeois. The old ladies sometimes ran around so shabbily dressed — like the women we in Austria used to call “church wives” — that an outsider unfamiliar with our ways could easily have felt like handing them ten kreuzers. “Church wives” were poor women whose greatest pleasure consisted in sitting for hours on end in church telling their beads. They attended nearly all the services on Sunday. I had little love for them, because, when the pews were full I had to give up my seat to them and stand. I had to do this for the elegant bourgeois women only when they were quite old. I also had to get up for working men and women because they had toiled hard all week.

18It was grandmother who taught me this respect for working people. In our garden we had a day-worker, an old woman we called Höllerin, and grandmother told me the story of her life. She was sixty years old, and she had three grandchildren at home whom she had to raise. She worked from morning till night, yet she was always friendly and always ready to chat with me. She had a pig at home, for which she would collect horsechestnuts, and when I had been good I was allowed, as a special privilege, to gather horsechestnuts in the garden for Höllerin. I was also allowed to give her toys for her grandchildren, and grandmother explained to me that one should never give ugly, broken toys to the poor. That would be an insult. One should give them the finest one had. Somewhere inside me there was a feeling for self-castigation, perhaps inherited from a distant ancestor, Saint Ignatius Loyola, who was the cousin of a remote ancestress, and so I followed grandmother’s injunction to the letter. But my asceticism seems to have been not quite genuine, for I remember that I once gave away my beloved black doll — her name was Bella and she said “Mama” and “Papa” when you pulled on two strings attached to her middle — but regretted it bitterly afterwards and for a long time could not get over my loss.


19We inhabitants of this old world were actually living as if in a beautiful well-tempered glass-house, filled with the scent of flowers. Outside, all sorts of horrible things were happening, but we saw only confusedly through the windows, which were overgrown with greenery, and did not let these things disturb us. To be sure, the glass-house also allowed many good attributes to sprout: genuine love of beauty, real culture, self-control (inseparable from good manners); but it also estranged us from the real world and created a helplessness in practical matters that was passed off as disdain for “business.” In our own personal green-house, however, the wise hand of my grandmother had cleaned off one of the panes. Through it I could look out on reality and there, even as a child, I caught sight of the problem of problems — riches and poverty — or what in those days was called the problem of “the poor.”


20There were not many “poor” in our little watering-place. Still enough, however, to set an intellectually curious child, hungry for justice, thinking. This was all the more inevitable as in my earliest youth I took the Gospel literally — and would announce to horrified grown-ups: “You are not Christians. If you were, you would not have two coats, for whoever has two should give one of them to someone who has none.”

21Why were “the poor” poor?

22Children and primitive people are always inclined to displace blame on to individuals or political classes. And so it was with me. If there were people who did not have enough to eat, this had to be due to the malevolence of individuals — in effect, of those individuals who held power. But who were these individuals? Not the bourgeois, for they also belonged in some measure to “the poor.” In those days I looked upon anyone as poor who did not have a house of his own as well as a carriage and at least four servants. And as we did not mix with the wealthy bourgeois, manufacturers and financiers existed for me only as a very vague concept. A banker was someone who took care of one’s fortune, and reported on his activity every month in a fine sealed letter, and a manufacturer was a sort of glorified tradesman. My sociological investigations were advanced by a work by Hans Blum21 on the revolution of ‘48. Later I discovered that Robert Blum’ s son had actually written a reactionary book. Yet at eleven — I was that age when I read the book — it appeared to me extremely revolutionary: bourgeois heroes fell in the struggle against monarchs and aristocrats and died in order to give the people a parliamentary constitution and freedom of the press. I discovered three important things: the bourgeoisie, magnanimous, virtuous, and industrious, in contrast to our idle, frivolous, and profligate class; the parliament, which expressed the will of the people (I was then eleven years old); and the press, which is called on to contribute to the victory of truth and justice. I had aspired at one time to be a circus rider or the female leader of a noble robber band, but from now on I recognized only two really superior callings: that of member of the House of Delegates or that of journalist. My uncle Anton22 gave me a statistical map of the House, on which the different parties were represented by different colours. On the reverse side were the number and names of the members. I learned them until I could reel them off by heart. The particular platforms of the various parties did not interest me. I was moved only by a burning hatred of the clerical party, because most aristocrats were in it. For I was by then already fully convinced of one thing: the aristocrats were to blame for all the misery in the world. To this conviction my uncle Anton had certainly contributed his share. He who was known at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the “Red Count,” and whose career had been considerably harmed by his liberal opinions, would call me into the drawing-room with special pleasure when there were guests and ask: “Where do the aristocrats belong?”23 To which I was to respond with unshakable conviction: “Strung up on the lamp-post.” Uncle Anton was altogether the highest authority for me in intellectual matters. When he came to visit us, I never left his side, and he often declared that he knew of nothing more exhausting than the hours he spent with me, for no one could answer all the questions I asked. But he did me the greatest kindness one can do to a child: he took me seriously, tried to explain everything to me, and if I often understood his explanations differently than he intended, that was not his fault. Grandmother also took me seriously, and I recall long debates with her on passive and active voting rights for women. She was in favour of women’s having the vote in principle; however, she thought that women were not yet ready for it, and that in Austria they would vote almost without exception for the clerical party. I naturally had a better opinion of the good sense of my sex; today, I have to admit that in many of her views grandmother was right.

The “Anchor Society

23After intense study, from my eleventh to twelfth year, of the “social question,” which for me was exclusively a question of politics and had nothing whatsoever to do with economics, I reached the conclusion that since the year’48, when the brave and generous bourgeoisie had taken to the barricades, nothing had been done for the improvement of the world. But now I had come along and would take matters in hand. Down with the aristocrats!

24And so one rainy Sunday morning I founded a Society for the Improvement of the World — the “Anchor Society.” It was all quite simple. I wrote to two cousins in Vienna, to a friend in Lisbon, and to three bourgeois acquaintances in our little town, telling them that I had founded a society for the improvement of the world and had appointed them members. I despotically drew up the rules myself. The first proclaimed the abolition of the nobility; the others, as I recall, were of a more practical nature and concerned membership dues: twenty-five kreuzers a month for regular members and one gulden for honorary members. With these funds the misery of the world was to be assuaged. All members were to wear an anchor badge so that later, when the number of members had swollen to millions, they would recognize one another in the wide world beyond and be able to work together. (The badge, which had a hook on the back, always tore our clothes and thus caused us all kinds of unpleasantness — but all that was part of our martyrdom for the Cause.) Of course, I was the head of the society, and my youngest cousin in Vienna was treasurer.

25The society issued a monthly bulletin composed by me and consisting of six copies written out in my own hand. It “appeared” on four lined folio pages, and was made up of one leading political editorial, in faithful imitation of the editorials of Herr Benedikt of the Vienna “Free Press”; an endless novel about an unbelievably noble anarchist, who lived with his sister in a hut on the heath, manufactured bombs, and held forth in speeches from morning to night, so that he never got around to throwing the bombs; news of the society, of which there was very little; and poems by Lenau,24 Freiligrath,25 and my special favourite, Anastasius Grün.26 Grandmother, who was our first honorary member — later, Uncle Anton also joined — and who with touching patience had me read the entire paper to her each month, presented me with a seal stamped with an anchor. Since, for some reason or other I had at the time a deep respect for the Freemasons, I would draw a triangle next to the seal on the back of the envelope, hoping that this secret sign would be noticed by the police and that one fine day I should be arrested.


26As a first step towards abolishing the nobility — aside from the wild editorials of the Anchor Journal — I omitted titles on all addresses and wrote only the names. One of my aunts whose mother had been a commoner felt insulted and wrote to grandmother, who explained to me that one should be considerate of the weaknesses of others; but her gentle, faint smile betrayed to me that she was really on my side, and I defended my conviction with glowing words. Finally we agreed that the half-bourgeois aunt should be allowed “Countess” on her address, but that I could limit myself to the name only in the case of her children, who were more “truly” aristocrats. My admiration for the bourgeoisie received something of a jolt from this incident, but I assumed that my aunt had been corrupted by her marriage to an aristocrat.

27The cousins raised no objection to being deprived of their nobility. (I think I was an extremely unpleasant, domineering brat, who simply terrorized them.) But the three bourgeois girls, whom I invited every Sunday and tried to work on “politically,” were less malleable and harder to influence. They both wanted and did not want to acknowledge that the old aristocracy was the cause of all the evil in the world. At first I worked, despite my young years, with purely feminine means, played one off against the other, favoured the one who allowed that I was right and turned against the one who refused to see what an evil the aristocracy was, turning up my nose and haughtily playing the “Countess” to the hilt. If that did not succeed either, I resorted to plain rudeness and cuffs on the ear. But the bourgeoisie proved itself the stronger; I did not succeed in bringing a single one of the three girls round to my view.

28As we had still not been honoured by the vigilance of the police, I decided, as a last resort, to write a play which would naturally be accepted by every theatre company and banned by the censor. It was a fine drama with many corpses and a tirade, in hexameters, against the aristocrats. Children were freezing and starving, and the wicked Count, who in the midst of a snow storm had refused to let them into his palace, just laughed demoniacally, “Ha-ha,” until he was silenced by his mother’s many pages-long curse on him. Quite exceptionally, I showed my masterpiece, out of authorial vanity, to my parents. Mother was irritated and responded with her customary: “You are an idiot.” But father laughed and laughed and finally said: “A second Goethe” — which filled me with satisfaction for several days until I realized that he had been making fun of me, and in discouragement burned my play.


29Meantime, the editorials of my paper had been getting better, for I had been diligently reading the speeches of the Social Democratic delegate Daschynski,27 who was a brilliant and powerful orator, and I had now abandoned Herr Benedikt in order to devote myself to Herr Daschynski. At that time I read the newspaper regularly. I had had to promise not to read the court proceedings, but the promise was not hard to keep, since in the court-room the government was not attacked, and nothing else was of interest to me. Grandmother, who was also interested in politics, catered to my passion, read articles to me, and called my attention to this and that; Uncle Anton, too, helped to strengthen my interest in politics. Father laughed at me, but he too would sometimes condescend to discuss politics when he could ride his favourite hobbyhorse, the Balkan question. While I insisted firmly that everything bad comes from the aristocracy, father maintained just as firmly that everything bad comes from that cursed storm-centre, the Balkans. For that reason, for a long time, the Balkans represented for me the entire field of foreign policy.

30The Anchor Society had been in existence for a year now, and yet the nobility had not been overthrown in Austria. I began to feel slightly discouraged. The finest editorials, the most powerful speeches of my noble anarchist seemed to be of no avail. The number of members was not growing. I had a vague presentiment that only a mass popular party, with me at the head, would be able to accomplish anything, but where were these masses to come from? Then, too, something was not quite right with the treasury; there was always less money in the cashbox than there should have been. In choosing a treasurer I had not taken into consideration my little cousin’s extreme fondness for bonbons. One day when I categorically demanded all the money in the cashbox to aid the victims of a flood, it was found to be empty. My little cousin humbly and woefully confessed that she had “eaten up” the money. In shame and disgrace she was removed from her post and one of the bourgeois girls living in G., whom I could keep an eye on, was appointed treasurer in her place. But this incident had shown me clearly that one could not depend on help from the aristocrats to overthrow the nobility. I still struggled to keep the Anchor Society alive for a while, by loudly crying out to any members I encountered as I bicycled through the little town: “Down with the government! Down with the nobility!” But even that did not produce a sympathetic policeman willing to arrest me and so bring the whole society to the attention of the public.

31The last number of the paper appeared; a swansong with the wildest of all wild editorials. It happened that just at that time Uncle Anton was visiting us, and I read my work aloud to him. The last words of it were: “And so we proclaim that this criminal government belongs where all governments belong — on the gallows!”

32When I ended my uncle was silent, and I thought joyfully that he was so moved he could not speak. But he looked at me for a long time with his big dark eyes, and then he turned, shaking his head, to grandmother: “The child will end up on the gallows herself one day.”

33Despite this prophecy I have not yet come to that point; I have only been tried for high treason28 before the supreme court in Leipzig, because I published a little story of some thirty pages in which I allegedly “undermined” the morale of the police. In fact, that story was a small pacifist tract in comparison with the editorials I wrote for the defunct Anchor Journal.


34The entire little town by the lake was actually a collection of islands. Each one of its villas, set in a beautiful garden of its own, was the retreat of someone who wanted to lead a separate life. Most of these people were extreme individualists, even if many of them — in true Austrian style — would have adamantly refused to be so described. “Stop using those horrible foreign words,” many would have said, and they would be the very same people who would say to you reproachfully, if you used the simple German past tense in conversation, instead of the usual compound past: “Get along with you, don’t talk so affectedly!”

35The calm and peace that reigned in those beautiful houses seems incredible today, unreal. Was life truly so harmonious, or did good manners simply create the illusion of harmony? The feeling of being a community, expressed in immediate use of the familiar second person by everyone who was part of “society” when addressing other members of “society,” extended in some measure to the servants. They “belonged” almost as much as family members and they often ruled over the children even more tyrannically than the family. I stood in real awe of our old valet Albert. He would on no account permit me to slide down the banisters — I think he considered it improper — and when at table I made a spot on the cloth and hastily pushed a plate over it, a relentless index finger came down and marked the spot and a deep voice announced: “The Countess has already made yet another spot!” ‘Mr. Albert’ — for I was not allowed to call him simply by his first name — owned a squirrel which he kept in a big cage in the servants’ room. If he was in a good mood, he would take out the little animal, and I was permitted to stroke it; if he was in a bad mood, he would say: “I haven’t time!” And woe unto me if I so much as touched the cage without his permission. One fine day, the squirrel escaped, but that did not diminish my interest in Herr Albert. There was a mystery attached to him, which I would have given my life to unravel: did he wear a wig or not? It was impossible to tell for sure. Uncle Anton spurred on my curiosity; whenever he came to see us, he would ask: “Have you discovered yet whether he wears a wig or not?” I would willingly have asked Herr Albert himself, but grandmother forbade me to ask such a tactless question, and so, to this day, I do not know whether he wore a wig or not.

36The second-tier servants never stayed very long with us, and I can remember only one. His name was Alois, and he never missed an opportunity of telling you that he was the only son of a widow. Alois sported a black moustache — which was contrary to all the rules of propriety — for in those days no servant was permitted to wear a moustache. But he was apparently a vain young man, and besought grandmother with tears in his eyes and allusions to his widowed mother, whose only son he was, to permit him to keep his moustache — and he was allowed to do so.

37I remember likewise the gardener. He was a small, silent man with two burning passions: elaborate flowerbeds and veterans’ reunions. He would have liked to lay out the entire garden in flower-beds, and grandmother had to fight strenuously against each one. At veterans’ reunions and funerals he wore a uniform and thus clad marched proudly in the procession. He called them both “celebrations,” because both made him equally happy. He was afflicted with a thin, constantly scolding wife whom I, as a small child, took for a witch. How often, terrified yet full of anticipation, I would creep to the gardener’s house on dark autumn evenings, hoping to see his wife ride through the air on a broomstick. Grandmother did not need to tell me to be polite to her. When I saw her I greeted her respectfully from afar, for fear of being bewitched.

38Fräulein Marie, the chambermaid, was also thin, and constantly felt offended. She had a brother who was a court councillor in Bavaria, and to whom she referred as often as Alois referred to his widowed mother. I received many a scolding because of her. Her presence disturbed me in my religious exercises more than anything else. It sometimes happened that she was there when I was saying my evening prayers and on every one of those occasions, I refused, for reasons no one could understand, to say the Ave Maria. I was firmly and stubbornly convinced that Fräulein Marie would assume I was referring to her when I said: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” And as I could not endure her, I would not have had her think for a moment that I was praying to her.

39For the cooks also I had a keen antipathy; they were always the one discordant note in our harmonious existence. Besides, my first act of social justice went so badly awry with one of them that my young soul was beset by evil doubts. We had a most lovable little kitchen maid, pretty and very young. She sometimes played with me and I was very fond of her. One day, as I was walking in the garden, I approached the kitchen window and heard the cook giving the girl, who was weeping bitterly, a terrible scolding. I became very angry. Then I noticed that directly under the window a large bowl of stewed fruit had been set out for our lunch. Here was my chance to punish the wicked cook. I quickly determined to scoop up some sand from the path and throw it into the bowl. When at lunch the sand was discovered, I was delighted, but not for long. The cook immediately announced that she suspected me, whereupon I admitted haughtily that I had wanted to “punish” her. I was severely reprimanded and told to beg the cook’s pardon. But I refused because of my confused feeling that she had tormented a weaker creature than herself. Grandmother, who was a good pedagogue, tried to explain to me, that the eternal heat of the oven and smell of the food made cooks nervous and irritable, and that a silly little girl like me had no right to punish a hard-working person. I did finally give in and apologize. But my dislike for cooks has remained with me to this day.

The beautiful circus rider

40Sometimes a circus came to our little town, and that was glorious. About ten minutes from our villa there was an empty plot of ground; and it was there that the tents were set up. How splendid it was to see the circus enter the town — the horses, the dogs, the clowns. And then the show! The most beautiful girls, who performed the most daring tricks; the elegant lady who demonstrated all the equestrian arts; the ring-master with his cracking whip. And it all smelled so strangely, of sand and horses and wild animals. It was a marvellous world, inhabited by fortunate people who rode horseback, walked the tightrope, and were allowed to wear brilliant clothing covered with spangles. My admiration for the tight-rope dancers cost me many black and blue marks, so many, that I gave up thinking of tight-rope dancing and transferred my desires and longings to riding a horse over a wooden plank. On one occasion an exceptionally beautiful equestrienne arrived with the circus. She had pink cheeks, golden hair, and a sweet smile such as one normally sees only on dolls. I admired her infinitely and would have given almost anything to make her acquaintance. My wish was to be fulfilled. One day someone told us that “stupid August” had been thrown from his horse and could not appear in public. Grandmother sent me with a bottle of French red wine to the injured man — perhaps in order to dampen somewhat my circus ardour. I went into a miserable little tent; on a plank bed lay a melancholy, oldish man, the last person in the world one would have thought capable of dashing exploits and clever repartee. Near him, darning stockings, sat a thin, weary woman, pale, fretful, her hair already turned grey — it was the beautiful equestrienne. My governess, who had accompanied me, thought it was out of compassion for the two poor devils that I almost began to weep. However, it was not pity that brought tears to my eyes, but disappointment, perhaps also the horror by which one is overcome when, for the first time in one’s life, one sees behind the scenes.


41It was an exciting adventure to go shopping in our little town. In a tiny street near the church lived the shoe-maker who had an enormous goiter, which even his long black beard could not cover. He would have one place one’s foot on a sheet of paper, and would draw an outline of it with a pencil — a procedure that tickled terribly. In the little workroom there were two extremely interesting works of art: one was a youthful portrait of Kaiser Franz Joseph, not in the form of a drawing, but in that of a piece of writing that told the story of the emperor’s life. Whenever you went to the shoe-maker’s, he would fetch this portrait and tell you that it had been made by a school teacher who had spent a whole year at the task. The second treasure was a little wooden flask on which was carved the martyrdom of Christ — the scourge, the crown of thorns, the vinegar sop, the cross, and the spear. This marvel had come from a convict. The shoe-maker was always glad to talk at length about these two precious objects, and I was always delighted when I got to hold them in my own hands.

42Not far from the cobbler’s was the glove-maker’s workshop. The glove-maker was a friendly old man who always spoke with great pride of the distinguished ladies for whom he had made gloves. The gloves were tried on like clothes. They had to fit without a wrinkle, as though they had been poured on.

43The shopkeepers were part of the place and seemed to have grown with it. It was as though they had always been there. It did happen once that a young stationer opened a new shop, but as he was the son of the old stationer, it was not an act of disloyalty to buy from him. But then a brand-new shop opened, an elegant shop that sold blouses and underclothing, hats and lace collars. The owners were foreigners — as the inhabitants of G. described everyone who did not hail originally from the town — and they were not only foreigners, they were Jews, and their name was Sonnenschein. This first Jewish shop gave rise to all sorts of discussions. Most of the ladies declared that they would never, in any circumstances, buy from the Sonnenscheins, that one should not take the trade away from the old-established Christian shopkeepers. For a few months they held heroically to their decision, but after half a year the prerogative of the Christian merchants was forgotten, and all “society” bought from the Sonnenscheins. We had gone to them from the beginning, and grandmother had more than once held little, mobile, dark-eyed Frau Sonnenschein up to me as an example of amiability and kindness. I can still see the thin little woman now; she never seemed to be still for an instant; her hands were busy, her big black eyes moved continually, she talked incessantly, and always found the right thing to say. Within six months she knew what all her customers were interested in, asked this one about her roses, that one about her dogs, and chatted about swimming, bicycling, or the latest fashions, while she pulled out different articles in order to show them and sent Herr Sonnenschein, who was slow and deaf, to fetch this and that. Within a year the most Catholic ladies bought only from Frau Sonnenschein, the shop became bigger and bigger, business got better and better, and everyone loved the little Jewess. When she died a few years later and very soon afterwards Herr Sonnenschein married one of his Gentile salesgirls, everyone was in a state of righteous indignation: how upset the poor little woman would have been had she known that her husband would marry a Christian! The new Frau Sonnenschein was regarded with hostility, the customers stayed away, the shop began going down, and the Christian tradespeople got their old clients back again.

Woman in the year 1900

44The woman of the year 1900 was a martyr who concealed the tortures she had to suffer behind heroically maintained smiles. In those days the most important thing for a woman was to have “a waist.” The ideal waist was one that could be encompassed by two hands of normal size. This was achieved in the following manner: a corset was put on unlaced, one pressed one’s arms close to one’s sides, and held in one’s breath, while the maid pulled with all her might at the corset laces. Then came a pause, one took another breath, and the maid gathered new strength. Then the procedure was repeated, and finally, after that, the dress, plentifully equipped with whale-bones, was put on. At the waist there was a strong band with hooks and eyes. Most of the time the ends of the band did not meet, so another tug had to be given to the corset, until at last the dress could be fastened. It took about two hours to do one’s hair. Countless small and large hairpins held together real and false switches and curls. Then the enormous hat was set in place and hatpins were stuck in. Frequently the hat was trimmed with birds and flowers only on one side, so that all the weight pulled at one spot. After ten minutes one had a headache; with the corset it was impossible to breathe; the collar stays bored into one’s neck; and the monstrous balloon sleeves hindered all free movement. So, heroically smiling, women went out to promenade holding up their skirts with hands that were soon weary from the weight.

45The disposition of purses and handkerchiefs was a chapter in itself. The clothes had a slit in back, a dangerous thing because it came open so easily. Such occurrences were signalled by the phrase: “there’s lightning!” A horrified hand would then immediately feel behind. If one wanted to reach into the pocket, one had first to open the slit and then begin to feel around for the pocket. I cannot explain how the pocket managed never to be where one expected to find it — but it did. One constantly saw women on the streets with anxious expressions, searching behind, frantic, desperate. Once the purse was found, they would forget to close the slit, or would be unable to locate the hooks and eyes.

46Naturally, it was not admitted that one had legs. A man at that time had to precede a woman when going upstairs so as not to fall under suspicion of wanting to see her legs. From the moment a young girl put on her first long dress — and how proud we were of those dresses, and how often we tripped over them — no one was even to suspect that she was supported on anything more than ankles and even ankles were not supposed to be seen. On the street one wore laced boots; for some reason open shoes were not respectable outside the house. The boots had a long row of buttons, and if one was in a hurry, a button would inevitably come off. The same thing happened with the gloves worn at balls; they came almost all the way up to the shoulder, were always too tight, pinched, and stretched, and were very expensive.

47How the women of 1900, with their balloon sleeves, wasp waists, and the flower-beds and aviaries on their heads, still managed to be pretty is an enigma today. But they were. Yes, they even managed to be graceful and to move elegantly. To be sure, one was in training for it from childhood. I still remember with horror the board with two diverging rods, which, held in place under the armpits and stretched across the back, was intended to develop an erect carriage. Another exercise for the same purpose was more entertaining: one placed a bottle full of water on one’s head and was then to walk the length of the corridor several times without holding on to the bottle and without spilling a drop. One also learned how to sit down, how to rise, and how to enter a room. Young girls were never supposed to sit in easy chairs. I still recall my father’s fury when once, weary from a long horse-ride, I lay down on a chaise longue in his presence.

48“Sit up straight! What kind of a position is that?” How often I had to hear that. And how many angry glances were directed at my feet, because the forbidden ankles were showing.

Childhood days

49We spent the spring, summer and autumn in the little town, which I long thought was the most beautiful place in the world. I loved our spacious garden with the old chestnut trees. In the spring we had breakfast under their white candles, and the hum of the bees mingled with that of the old silver teapot that had been handed down from my beautiful English great-grandmother. Flecks of light played on the blue Wedgwood china; in the tall pines which shaded the gentle slope, squirrels hopped from branch to branch, and blackbirds sang. In autumn the old chestnut trees glowed yellow and filled the dining-room with a warm gold colour. The big green tile stove roared happily, and I ate as slowly as possible, because after breakfast I had to go to my lessons.

50I loved our mountain, too, the pride of the little town, rising up on the opposite shore of the lake. On fine summer evenings the whole mass of stone turned pink, like the finest marble, and then, when it was already dusk all around, the Traunstein (as our mountain was called) shone forth out of the shadows like an undying flame. Gradually, however, it paled and turned cold and dead, and everything lost life and became suddenly old and joyless. At that moment, without knowing why, I felt a deep sadness. A day was dead, a day of childhood was irrevocably gone. I especially enjoyed the hour before breakfast when I would go to grandmother’s room and sit by her while she was having her hair done.

51She always read aloud to me: Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Jerome K. Jerome, Swift, Tennyson. I could not endure children’s books and stories for young people (the “Leatherstocking” tales excepted), and grandmother often laughed, half pleased, half worried, when I put away Trotzkopf29 and similar pearls of German literature for the young, because they were “much too absurd.” We even read Milton’s Paradise Lost in those wonderful morning hours, and I loved the rebel angel with all my heart.

52If winter came early I was doubly happy. The little snow-covered town looked like a picture on the Christmas cards we received from English cousins and friends. I especially liked the little church that stood on an island in the lake and was linked to the mainland by a long bridge. Entirely surrounded by white, it seemed to be floating in the clouds. I gladly sacrificed the pleasure of sleeping late on a Sunday in order to attend early mass in the island church. One stepped from the soft white dawn into the dark building. On the pews, spiral-shaped, faintly-smelling yellow wax lights burned with slender flickering flames, the reddish vestments of the ministrants glowed dully, the figure of the priest moved indistinctly in the chancel, and the little asthmatic organ gave forth its best. It was Advent, the moment of expectancy; the Messiah will soon be born. We all know this, and we cry to heaven that it might open up and send down the saviour of the world: rorate coeli. And afterwards, when we walked back across the bridge, the heavens had truly opened, the sun streamed down, the blue sky made the snow seem even whiter, the air was cold, and we were filled with good resolutions — and terribly hungry.

Rules of etiquette

53Sometimes we stayed over Christmas in G. If I was alone with grandmother it was marvellous. I was allowed to prepare a Christmas tree for the poor children, buy things for them, and order vast quantities of chocolate and cakes from the cook. Grandmother maintained that only the best was really good enough for the “poor children,” because they had so little happiness. The “poor children” enjoyed themselves royally and plundered the Christmas tree with noisy enthusiasm; but the parents were terrible. They sat anxious and unsure of themselves on the edge of their seats, continually making little bows, would neither eat nor drink chocolate, and kept saying thank you over and over again, which annoyed and embarrassed me. It bothered me because it had been impressed on me that my first duty as a “lady” was to make sure that all my guests felt absolutely at their ease. Another point of the social code required that if a person has once been a guest in a house, the mistress of that house should remember for all time thereafter whether or not the person takes milk in his tea as well as how many lumps of sugar he takes. If she asks the person on the second visit what he takes, that demonstrates a lack of interest in the guest’s preferences and constitutes a breach of etiquette. There was also another rule: “When you are grown up and give dinners and parties, you must never wear your best dress, because you might happen to have among your guests poorer and more shabbily clad women who would feel ill at ease in their less pretty clothes.” One was also instructed in the matter of letter writing. “When you write a four-page letter, make sure that three and a half pages concern the person you are writing to and his or her interests. Never take up more than half a page at most to tell about your own affairs; more than that would almost certainly be of no interest.” Also in conversation one should discover as soon as possible what the other’s interests are and talk of these exclusively — never of oneself. It was only much later that I discovered the profound significance of this precept and found out how easy it is to give the impression that one is extremely intelligent. All one needs to do is listen with great interest to one’s interlocutor. All the women whom history and literature present as uncommonly gifted were, above all else, good listeners, which, when you think of it, requires no special art, since in the end every human being is interesting when speaking of what is closest to his or her heart, whether that be politics, literature or something absolutely inconsequential. When a gardener speaks of flowers or a tailor of clothes, his whole person is transformed; everything good and beautiful about roses or clothing is transferred, as it were, to him, while he in turn invests material things with the interest that inheres in any living human being. As I have said, however, I did not discover this truth until much later; in youth one feels so rich that one thinks only of giving out, not of taking in.

Relatives in Vienna

54As soon as it began to get really cold we would leave G. First, there was the traditional three-week stop in Vienna to visit the dentist and various relatives. Going to the dentist was not entirely awful; for one thing it provided an opportunity for heroic behaviour, something I always enjoyed very much; in addition, that heroic behaviour was always rewarded in one way or another. The relatives were a more difficult matter; here one demonstrated heroism by enduring boredom, and that was a good deal harder.

55Aunt Maria30 was tiny, old, and roly-poly. She wore a faded yellow wig, and I think that, except for her chambermaid, no one ever saw her hands. Day and night they were encased in dirty, white, glacé leather gloves. Her rooms were dark and smelled strangely of a mixture of roseleaves and medicines. Aunt Maria had only one lung (though, for all that, she lived to be seventy); as a result, she kept out of the fresh air and almost never allowed her windows to be opened. Every afternoon at three, her old landau would drive up, drawn by her old horses and with her old coachman on the box, and Aunt Maria would go for a drive in the Prater31 with both carriage windows shut tight. She had a box at the Burgtheater and one at the Opera, the latter for tradition’s sake, for Aunt Maria was a relative of Beethoven’s immortal beloved, Theresa Brunsvick. She talked a great deal about music and inquired regularly about my progress with the piano — a painful topic. She suffered from “nerves” and so one had to speak very softly around her and sit still on a stool, so as not to jangle those nerves. When at last one had dutifully answered all her questions, she would ring and the old butler would come in: “Johann, bring the sweets.” And with that I was out of the program. Aunt Maria would talk with grandmother while I ate bonbons. Once old Johann brought in two little plates from which I ate alternately — with none too happy results, for on one of the plates had been placed not bonbons but sugarcoated laxative pills.

56When I was fourteen years old Aunt Maria gave me a pearl necklace with the admonition that I dedicate myself, with all my strength, to music. I was delighted with the pearls although I was not yet allowed to wear them. My aunt’s wish that I should become a good pianist has never been fulfilled. But this was in no way the fault of my piano teacher. Poor Herr Habert32 with his tired, sorrowful face went to inconceivable pains with me — but all in vain. I loved to listen to him when he spoke of his favourite composers, and under his guidance, learned to recognize the places in Schumann’s works that indicated the approaching madness of their creator, but with all that I never kept time properly and was invariably a bit off. Still, I did learn something else, when still quite young, from my music teacher: the tragedy of the unsuccessful artist. Herr Habert was an extremely gifted man; he had composed oratorios and masses, but he had never managed to establish himself as a composer. Finally — he must have been about fifty-seven at the time, which of course seemed utterly ancient to me — one of his oratorios was accepted for performance. Herr Habert was so happy that the piano lessons even became a pleasure. He played phrases and motifs from the oratorio for me, explained them, and no longer noticed when my timing was off. Then something happened, I don’t know what it was, and the oratorio was not performed. Herr Habert came a few more times to give me lessons, then excused himself saying he was very tired, and never came back. When I went to see him, he was lying in bed in his — to me — miserable three-room dwelling, his face completely grey, and his body small and shrunken. He did not complain; he only said that he was tired, very tired. A fat ugly wife and three unattractive grown-up daughters said he had to pull himself together. But he was too weary, and shortly after that he went to sleep forever.

57After visiting Aunt Maria we generally went to Aunt Vicky’s. If it was necessary to speak softly at Aunt Maria’s to spare her nerves, here one had to roar, for Aunt Vicky was stone deaf. She would look at you with a frozen face, as though it had been carved out of wood, in which only her little dark eyes seemed to be alive, and would bend down toward you with her huge ear-trumpet in her ear. Walking into her old-fashioned drawing-room with its stiff black ebony furniture was not without its perils. As soon as the door opened four yellow pugs would spring at you, yapping wildly and snapping at your legs. The pugs were old and peevish. Once the servant had quieted them they would crouch down sullenly on their cushions and glower at everything around them.

58Aunt Vicky’s deafness and frozen expression weighed like a mountain on the whole room. Here everything was lifeless and weird; one’s own voice sounded strange and unfamiliar when it roared into the ear-trumpet. The chairs were unwelcoming, even the flowers on the tables were dead. I was always happy when grandmother indicated that it was time for us to go.

59Sometimes we visited Aunt Steffi and that was much more agreeable. She was big and strong and, though no longer young, full of life. At her house one did not have to sit still on a stool; one could wander through the rooms and examine the curious things she had brought back from her distant travels. Aunt Steffi was what in those days was called an emancipated woman; she travelled alone all over the world; and would set off for Japan or China as fearlessly as others would go from Vienna to Salzburg.

The wide world

60Children create a strange picture of the world for themselves, finding some small detail or other that comes to characterize cities and countries for them for years to come. Thus Vienna to me was the city of pink tissue paper, for the washerwomen there placed sheets of pink tissue paper between individual garments when they returned them — which looked very pretty and dainty. Whenever I heard the name Vienna soft pink sheets of tissue paper immediately appeared before my eyes. Germany, on the other hand, was closely linked to fine railway stations and thick slices of bread and butter. The fine station was the one at Frankfurt-am-Main. We passed through it once and, while the train was stopped, went for a walk on the platform. Grandmother explained to me that this was the finest railway station in Europe. It made a great impression on me, far greater than Cologne Cathedral, which we saw on the same trip. There it was only the mosaic on the floor that pleased me.

61As for the thick slices of bread, they were for many years my only memory of the beautiful landscape around Lake Constance. We were travelling from Lindau to Rorschach and on the steamer ordered bread and butter. It came and so completely astonished me — accustomed as I was to paper-thin English sandwiches — that I was almost angry, for I thought, for some unfathomable reason, that thick slices of bread, especially when thickly spread with butter, were vulgar. Grandmother explained to me that in Germany one always gets thick sandwiches. My view of the German Empire was formed immediately: it was a vulgar country with beautiful railway stations.

62One of my first travel remembrances is of Venice. It is not a beautiful memory. I was at that time separated from grandmother and was travelling with my parents. It was winter. The lagoons were grey and gloomy and foul-smelling. On top of it all, in an effort to educate me — I was then seven years old — I was dragged through all the galleries. I saw picture after picture and found them all deadly boring. When I shyly explained that I had had enough of the innumerable saints, I received the inevitable “what an idiot you are,” which for a long time afterwards completely spoiled the old masters for me. Even at a time when I had begun to take genuine delight in works by Perugino and Luini, I refused — out of spite — to say so and it was not until I was quite grown up and was spending two years in Florence with my parents that I admitted to getting pleasure from painting.


63When my father was posted to Lisbon, he had the unhappy idea, for me at least, of taking me along with him. And so I was again obliged to leave “home” and go to be with two people who were really complete strangers to me. Of the trip I remember only that I was horribly seasick in the Bay of Biscay. When the ship cast anchor in Lisbon harbour I had a terrible fright. Out of little bobbing boats dark, bearded creatures emerged and clambered up to our ship. I thought they were monkeys. Later I realized that they were men. In Lisbon I saw for the first time the reverse side of having colonies. Soldiers were coming home from the Portuguese colony of Lourenço Marques — wounded men and men sick with yellow fever. They were received with great ceremony; the court and the entire diplomatic corps showed up. Well-dressed, well-nourished, healthy people, gathered respectfully around the beautiful queen and the fat king, stood about the dock, but from the ship came yellow shadows, emaciated, desiccated from the deadly climate. Many staggered as they disembarked, others had to be carried. There were also simple women there, weeping bitterly because their son was not among those who had been shipped back. I remember my father remarking scornfully on the way home: “The blessings of colonialism.”

64From Lisbon my mother and I went to Madeira. The ship put out to sea in the late afternoon. When we reached the dreaded bar where the Tagus empties into the ocean, the sun went down. The great waves boiled blood-red about the ship like liquid flames, and in the distance lay the ocean, dark and infinite. On this trip I came into contact with a person whom I have never been able to forget in the many years that have passed since that time, and of whom I shall always think with gratitude. The weather was bad, the trip took five days instead of the usual three, and I was seasick the whole time. My mother stayed up on deck: children do not know how to be seasick gracefully and are not a particularly pleasant sight in this condition. To the misery of seasickness would have been added the misery of loneliness had it not been for a big English sailor with red hair and many freckles. Perhaps he had children at home, perhaps he was simply a good man; at any rate he took care of me, as the saying goes, as a father takes care of his child. In the morning he came into my cabin and dressed me. To this day I remember how gentle and careful his big hands were. Then he carried me out on deck and helped me to combat seasickness. To accomplish this he employed the strangest means. I had to eat sour things, drink salt water and when none of this did any good, he resorted to the remedy he no doubt considered a universal cure and forced me to down a large glass of pure whisky. He was bitterly disappointed when that too failed to help. But throughout the entire day, he found time to come to me every little while, tuck me into my blanket, cheer me up, and promise me good weather and a smooth sea on the following day. In the evening he carried me back to the cabin and undressed me. I have forgotten his name, but not the man himself, with his big, strong, soft hands and the kindly smile on his freckled face.

65In Madeira an old Baron W. came to meet us. We climbed into the funny little sledge-like oxcart, and I was very anxious to sit on the rear seat. But the old gentleman assumed a pompous expression and said, pointing to the front seat: “Excuse me, Countess, but I know my Gotha.” How strong the class feeling must have been in the old man for the sight of an eight-year-old child who had turned quite yellow from sea-sickness to make him think of the Gotha! For some reason or other my memories of Madeira have faded. I see now only the great camelia bushes, the thickly wooded village of Monte from which you slid down the polished cobblestone path to Funchal in a sort of bobsled, as though it were a toboggan-run. I also remember a dreadful, seemingly endless dinner which the Austrian consul gave in honour of my mother, and at which twenty-five different vintages of Madeira wine were brought out.

66Our next stop was in Tenerife. Here it was very beautiful; the hotel lay right by the sea, and the mighty Pic rose up snow-covered into the blue sky. There were weird cacti that produced yellow, edible pears and eucalyptus trees with their wonderfully strong smell. One of the residents of the hotel was a beautiful Englishwoman who played the guitar and showed the most friendly interest in me. My mother forbade me to speak to her. I racked my brains for a reason for this prohibition. What could such a lovely, charming woman have done? And how did my mother — who was not even acquainted with her — know that she had committed a crime? I worried a great deal about the beautiful woman and often, while I was playing alone on the beach, I would think how I might help her get away in case the police came after her.

67After a month we returned to Lisbon where the Feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, who was born in the city, was being celebrated with much festivity. There were lights on all the hills surrounding the city, fireworks crackled all around, and against the night sky you could see the saint preaching his famous sermon to the fishes.

68By autumn my period of exile was finally over and I was allowed to return to grandmother.

English encounters

69We spent one summer on Lake Thun. At the hotel grandmother made the acquaintance of an English family consisting of two tall, suntanned men, their wives, and the daughters of the elder of the two men — one grown-up and two still quite small. When we were alone again she asked me: “Do you know who these people are?” “No.” “The sons of Charles Dickens.”

70The grandchildren of the great man were extremely disappointing. They were passionate mountain climbers and seemed to have no interest in literature. The oldest daughter did very bad water colours, and I still have an album from that time in which under one of Shakespeare’s sonnets she sketched an impossible tree of forget-me-nots. Only eleven-year old Olive composed stories, which she wrote into a copybook. But when we compared our stories at one point, I had to note, in all modesty, that mine were not a whit worse than hers. From that moment on Dickens’ descendants had no special aura for me.

71Olive and I together once had a strange experience. We went into the woods with her big sister Enid to pick bilberries. All along the way we had fun imagining that we would get lost and never be able to find our way back. We thought up all sorts of frightening situations: endlessly wandering around and searching vainly for the way back, having to go without food or water after all the bilberries had been eaten, and finally when winter came on, with lots of snow and ice, freezing to death. On the way back we two young ones ran on ahead. Whether by pure chance or because we were unconsciously led on by the thought of losing our way, we took the wrong path.

72After we had wandered down it for a few minutes we looked around for Enid: she had disappeared. We called her name — no answer. We laughed: “Now we really are lost.” And we ran on further. But the path became narrower, the bushes became more dense, the trees seemed to get taller. We continued to call vainly for Enid, and kept running on in the hope that her form would suddenly appear at some turn in the way; but we only got ourselves deeper and deeper into the wood.

73We were not laughing any more now. Anxiety had us so tightly by the throat that our shouts sounded muffled, strange, and frightening in themselves. All at once the wood had turned into something evil and menacing. The bushes made fiendish grimaces, and the tall pines had become dark as night and hostile. Weird noises filled the air, sounds of scraping and crackling. I turned away, not daring to look Olive in the face, for I had done so once and seen something horrible in her expression — stark fear. Her contorted child’s face was so dreadful, that I lost the last little remnant of my courage. All the visions we had conjured up in fun now became grim reality: we would never, never get out of the forest — we were going to perish here, miserably.

74And then the miracle happened that saved us: a bend in the path opened on to the highway, and we saw Enid, red with excitement and anger. How good it was to hear the sound of a human voice, even though it was scolding us roundly, how calming and comforting was the slap in the face that Olive got from her sister. The forest was immediately beautiful and friendly again, for there was a human being there, someone we belonged to, someone who spoke with a human voice and who was not alien and impenetrable like nature.


75Many years later I again saw fear on a human face. We were crossing the Mediterranean. The weather was bad, waves crashed on to the deck; with every breaker the ship seemed to be pitched up to meet the lowhanging, dark, stormy sky only to sink down again, after shuddering violently for a second, into bottomless depths. The few first-class passengers had gathered in the saloon after dinner. A pretty young American sat in a corner speaking. She talked incessantly as though to deafen herself, flirted with the men, laughed shrilly. But there was fear in her dilated eyes, and her hands were clenched together so tightly that the knuckles shone white. Her face was deathly pale, and her smile a frozen grimace. She talked about her husband and little son in America, and behind each word lurked the fear: I shall never see them again. She talked and talked — with the passengers, with the ship’s officers, with the stewards. Every one of her words was an entreaty: “Don’t leave me alone. Speak, make a noise so that I don’t hear the ghastly sound of the waves. Tell me there is no danger, that a ship has never yet gone down.” The moment a passenger left the saloon to go to his cabin she cringed: one fewer to stand between her and solitude, between her and her mortal anguish. It grew late; the young woman continued to talk, convulsively, feverishly — only, for the love of heaven, let me keep one other human being here so that I am not left alone. She seemed very fond of her husband — yet on that night she would undoubtedly have betrayed him with any man there, passenger, officer or sailor, anything so as not to have to remain alone with her fear.


76I too learned how calming the presence of other human beings can be when, as a child of nine, I got lost for the second time — in London no less. I was with my mother visiting an English aunt and was to pay a call on my Uncle Anton who was then at the embassy there. My mother put me in a hansom cab and gave the driver the address. Apparently the man misunderstood it, for when I got out and the carriage had driven off I found myself in front of a strange house in an unfamiliar street amid the tumult of the huge city. Strangely enough, I — who even today, I am ashamed to confess, am fearful when crossing the street — was not in the least afraid. There were people everywhere, so what could happen to me? I walked happily along several streets, enjoying the adventure and paying no attention to the fact that I was getting further and further from my destination. When at last I became tired, I went up to a policeman who put me in a hansom cab again and this time gave the driver the right address.

77I was shyly devoted to my English aunt. Like Aunt Maria, she too suffered from “nerves.” But she was a beautiful woman, and from earliest childhood I have always loved everything beautiful. This veneration of beauty was in my blood, perhaps because her beauty was the most important thing in the world to my beautiful mother. I have also Aunt Agnes33 to thank for my first acquaintance with a genuine authoress. Grandmother and Aunt Agnes once arranged to meet in Milan. Aunt Agnes had brought a travelling companion with her. Grandmother, knowing my penchant for hero-worship, told me that Miss May Cromelin,34 my aunt’s companion, was a writer. From that moment on I never left the unfortunate May Cromelin’s side. I was absolutely determined to be there when inspiration came to her and to experience the moment with her. I never experienced it. She was a dried-up old spinster who wrote sentimental, extremely moral love stories. Still, I thought she was wonderful and almost expired from adoration of her. Once when we set out on an excursion to Monza, I was horrified when May Cromelin was seated beside me on the rear seat. A writer, a genius by the grace of God, had by rights to be given the place of honour! All in all, however, May Cromelin, like Dickens’ sons, was a bitter disappointment. She called my adored Jerome K. Jerome35 “vulgar.” I was astounded. At that time I had no idea that half of England felt the same way about Jerome K. Jerome. When I turned in consternation to grandmother for an explanation, she smiled and said that literary people were often jealous of each other. It was as though I had received a blow to the head, for I had always believed that these people were especially devoted to each other and eager to lend each other mutual support whenever that was possible. Let it be recalled, by way of excuse, that I was then about ten years old.

78Strangely enough, though I obviously worshipped her, May Cromelin seemed to consider me stupid. When I asked her to inscribe something in my album, she wounded me deeply by choosing a line that began: “Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.” It is unpleasant to be told to be good when one’s ambition is to be a writer and an exceptionally clever person!

Thanks to a “Bohemian nose”

79Uncle Anton was responsible for my desire to be clever. The whole family, father, mother, grandmother had all been endowed by nature with beautiful noses, but I had been cursed with a Bohemian nose, a heritage from my other grandmother, my Czech grandmother. Father used to tease me about it and said that it would rain into my nose, it turned so steeply up to the heavens. But Uncle Anton looked at me searchingly one day and said:

“With that nose, child, you absolutely have to become a very cultivated and clever woman.”

80No injunction to be diligent, no scolding for poor schoolwork ever influenced me as much as that remark of my uncle’s. I gave up putting clothes-pins on my nose and strove only to become “a cultivated and clever woman.”

81Father too was much concerned with my education, although in a somewhat peculiar way. Whenever he came to visit grandmother, lunch was a torment for me, because he used that time to investigate the state of my knowledge. Unfortunately for me, he had the idea that a child should know everything he knew, and he was — not just for an Austrian aristocrat, but by any standard — an exceptionally well-educated man. To this day I detest Charles XII of Sweden, because I got my ears boxed when I was not yet eight years old for not being able to give an accurate account of his military campaigns. It was also at that time that father endeavoured to instill in me his own love of Shakespeare, and became furious when I begged him to explain the “improper” words. Nevertheless it was a joy for me to hear him recite the great soliloquies and especially Anthony’s speech over the body of Caesar; despite my age I could still understand the bitterness of the words.

82Taking a walk with father was also not an unadulterated pleasure. Every time we passed a tree I had to say what it was called in German, French, English, and later also in Italian. It was especially terrible if we spotted cranberries; I could never remember that they are called airelles in French.

Father as a young man

83If my answers to his questions had not been too stupid, and he was in good humour, father would tell me of his adventures in America. He had run away to America when he was quite a young man, and there, without a kreuzer in his pocket, had earned his own living — first as a waiter, which did not last long because he was so near-sighted, then as a salesman in a dry-goods store. He had made an excellent salesman, he claimed, and I think he was telling the truth, for no one was a greater charmer than my father, when he wanted to be. It is not difficult to believe that he could talk up the worst fabrics until he persuaded the American women that they were the best. He was discharged simply because he could never manage to roll up the bolts of cloth correctly. (I inherited that too from him; to this day I am incapable of making a decent package.)

84Later he went to the western states as an election speaker for the Republican party, if I am not mistaken. One story that he used to tell, about a poker game in Texas, was especially fine and exciting. A man was caught cheating and by a very simple method was rendered immediately incapable of doing further damage. One of the players pulled out a knife and stuck it right through the cheat’s hand, thus pinning it to the table.

85The last job father found was teaching German at a finishing school for girls. When speaking of this period of his life he made remarks to me that at the time were vague and quite incomprehensible concerning the early maturity and forwardness of American girls.

86Afterwards he became reconciled with my grandfather and came back to Europe. He was very proud of the fact that he, the spoiled child of an aristocrat, had made his way so well over there, and many years later when he was at the embassy in Washington, he was much amused when at grand embassy receptions he got to lead in to dinner the very ladies to whom he had once sold dry-goods.

Uncle Anton

87Uncle Anton came home from Japan where he had been ambassador, the youngest ambassador in the entire Austrian foreign service. All the places and countries where we had relatives “in the service” seemed near and familiar to us; in that easy way we acquired an international outlook.

88It was late autumn when Uncle Anton came. We sat in the little salon before an open fire, and he told us about Japan. He had brought back with him many beautiful things, lacquer, porcelain, and for me his big red Japanese visiting card. When a new ambassador had his first audience with the Mikado, a servant went before him bearing the big red visiting card. One ambassador had a great misfortune befall him on such an occasion. He had not taken the necessary precaution of having someone who knew Japanese review the card beforehand. On the great sheet of paper, fluttering in the wind as it was borne before him were inscribed the words:

“Here, humbly creeping on his stomach, a European son of a dog approaches our most high lord to beg grace for his country.”

89In the eyes of most Austrians the “Japaners,” as they called them, were funny little yellow men who had been created by Providence to produce beautiful knick-knacks and silks, to celebrate cherry-blossom festivals, to delight Europeans with lovely Geishas and to provide themes for operettas.

90Uncle Anton depicted for us a quite different people, the “Japanese” — striving, industrious, smart, and ambitious, the Prussians of the East. Many years before the Russo-Japanese War he spoke of the inevitable conflict between the two empires, and he was convinced that Japan would emerge victorious from the conflict. In any case, he hated czarist Russia and often announced: “Much as I hate war, should there be one with Russia, I would fight.”

91That was how I got my first live idea of Russia. Before then, it had been simply an infinitely vast land, with cities and rivers and lakes whose names one could never remember. Now it had become something dark and bad, ruled by an evil power that tortured men, banished them, and exiled them to wildernesses of ice. Alexander III was a blood-thirsty monster surrounded by criminals and scoundrels, and somewhere in the dim and distant depths a martyred people groaned beneath the scourge. At home we had an edition of the Divine Comedy illustrated by Doré, and whenever I thought of Russia the pictures of hell in that book appeared before my eyes.

92Uncle Anton was no longer happy at home in Austria. He had never been comfortable with the Austrians and their carefree way of living in the moment, and now he felt doubly estranged from them. He already had at that time the tendency toward solitude and the horror of people that finally drove him to withdraw to an old castle in the country, where, after years of living all alone, he died.

First encounter with the Orient

93Father was tired of always having a chief over him, so he switched to the consular service and was sent to Algiers. Thus it came about that we did not go to Italy or the Riviera that winter, but visited my parents in Algeria.

94This was the first piece of the Orient that I got to see. It really began in Marseilles. We stayed there in an enormous hotel, which grandmother dubbed a caravansary. What a magnificent word that was! It made me think of long caravans winding across the golden desert, of endless lines of camels trudging heavily along, and of a tiny donkey going ahead as their leader.

95This image of the donkey had been impressed on me by an anecdote, familiar in diplomatic circles, about a young man from the high aristocracy who was sent as attaché to a legation where the ambassador was socially his inferior and, in addition, had the reputation of being unusually stupid. At a dinner one evening the ambassador insisted on giving the young man precedence, but the impudent little attaché waived the honour with the remark: “Excellency, your place is without question at the head of the caravan.” As the little episode took place in the Orient, even the ambassador understood the allusion.

96All cities have a characteristic smell: Dresden smells of high, layered Baum-cakes, Munich of beer, Vienna of leather and bad tea, Lisbon of fish and pepper trees, Berlin of benzine and casually washed people, Frankfurt of bourgeois pride and democracy, but in Marseilles the smells of the West mingle with those of the East. Here one already gets that unique odour of the Orient — a mixture of attar of roses, Morocco leather, camel dung and sun-baked filth. An exciting smell that sets the nerves a-tingle and presages all kinds of strange adventures.

97The harbour already held out this promise; it was an adventure in itself with its multitude of large and small ships, strange figures of Arabs in white burnouses, Algerian soldiers, and sailors from all corners of the globe.

98I had at that time been made a present of my first camera and took the most remarkable pictures (because I always forgot to insert a new film) — of houses upside down, ships running into each other, humans and animals monstrously melded together. In my head too everything was as on the pictures. For the first time I was unable to absorb the many new impressions crowding in on me; they took me by storm, pulled me hither and thither, so that pleasure was mixed with dizziness and exhaustion.

99The first impression of Algiers is of blinding whiteness crowned by the glittering gold of the great church on a high hill: Notre Dame d’Afrique. I was enraptured. The overpowering spell of the Orient had seized hold of me. It has never let me go. The North, for me, remains to this day an ersatz of life, sad and colourless, with its ersatz sky, its ersatz sun, and its ersatz flowers.

100My enthusiasm cooled somewhat when my parents told me that on the next day I would start attending the Sacré Coeur. I had secretly been hoping for a holiday. However, father softened the blow for me by presenting me with a little donkey, Bichette, on which I made the daily trip to the convent. Ali, the Arab groom, trotted alongside me on foot.

101The convent was situated in a big, old garden, quite shut off from the world. Here, in the midst of the sun-drenched Orient, the old traditions of the Sacré Coeur were maintained. The cool austerity of the convent filled the high-ceilinged rooms, and even on the hottest days, the nuns in their heavy black garments and veils never seemed to be warm.

102It was a little difficult for me at first, being suddenly obliged to study all my subjects in French, though I soon got used to that. I loved the evenings most of all. My parents were of the opinion that parents should see as little of their children as possible; besides, they had a very active social life and had no time for me. So after I ate my solitary dinner, I was sent to father’s study and left to myself. Here, however, there were quantities of books, and I plunged in and indiscriminately read everything that fell into my hands. I recall especially an almost endless four-volume novel about the Thirty Years’ War; I read it sitting in an easychair by the window, before which stood a great orange tree. The oranges were just ripe then, and the air was heavy with their perfume; long afterwards whenever I read something about the Thirty Years’ War the scent of oranges would return to me.

103Sometimes father came in and said: “Reading something? That’s right.” And he would remove yellow-backed paper-bound French novels. Often he would say: “Read something worth while,” and would hand me works by Kürenberger,36 who was one of his favourite authors, or by Lamartine and Chateaubriand, on account of their good French style. I devoured with equal avidity Le Génie du Christianisme, Le Dernier des Abencérages, René, Atala, Voyages en Orient, the novels of Walter Scott — and the Thousand and One Nights tales.

104Sundays I spent with Sybil, an English friend. She was fifteen, a year older than myself, and it was she who introduced me to the sentimental side of life, of which, until then, I knew absolutely nothing. When I had come to know her better, she suddenly said, out of the blue:

“I’d like to talk to you about something. But I don’t know whether you might not find it shocking. Can’t you guess what it is? It begins with L.”

105As I couldn’t guess, Sybil explained, blushing all over: “Love.”

106Sybil’s big sister was engaged to be married, and Sybil herself had nothing in her head but love, love, and more love — sweet, pure, gentle love, such as one encounters in the old triple-decker English novels. She wanted to “play at love,” and I was to take the part of the man. At that time I was very much occupied with social issues, and I countered Sybil’s theme of “love” with my theme of “socialism.” But she would have none of it. Socialism bored her to tears. Finally we compromised. I was ready to pay court to her if I could be a socialist agitator, trying to convert a wealthy maiden to socialism. In this way I got my money’s worth out of the deal, for I was able to insert a long speech about socialism between two declarations of love, which I kept as short as possible.

107Many years later — I was already married — I received a letter from Sybil, whom I had long since lost sight of and who had chanced upon my address. At the very beginning of the letter she said: “I too am a socialist now.” I wonder if, back in that garden sloping steeply down to the blue sea, I did succeed in converting her after all?


108In the spring grandmother and I went back to G. Perhaps that journey home after all the travelling was the most beautiful part of it all. As the train passed between two steep banks on which anemones peeked out like white stars through the dead leaves of autumn and liverwort gleamed blue, my heart began to thump with joy and impatience. Then followed the ride from the station past the odd, green-covered hillocks, shrouded in mystery because, it was said, they were mass graves from the Peasant War, over the well-known streets of the little town, past familiar faces, the bath-house, and the riding school, up the steep hill, and through the big garden gate. And there stood the beloved house; the garden was smiling in the spring; and I was once more alone with grandmother. Life was beautiful.

Boarding school

109In the fall I went to Dresden to boarding school. The first months were unbearable; I suffered one humiliation after another. I was used to being called an “idiot” by my parents, but I considered it an expression of personal hostility and did not take it to heart or give it another thought. Here, however, people of my own age would say the same thing to me, even if the words were different. Here for the first time I heard the fine expression “gojischer Kopf.”37 The words were unknown to me, but the intonation and the scornful laughter left no doubt about their significance.

110The boarding school was divided into two cliques. One was composed of typical well brought up middle-class girls. It sickened and bored me. The other was made up of “intellectuals.” It consisted of only three girls, a Berliner, a Finn and a Jewish girl from Bohemia. Naturally I wanted to belong to this clique. The Finn, who was well disposed toward me on account of my socialist views, and the Bohemian, who was a good sort, would have been glad to include me, but it all came to nothing because of the Berliner’s resistance. For some reason or other this Käthe Bernhard could not stand me. She was about two years older than me, and most strangely formed, with a short fat body, on which was placed a beautiful head with wonderful eyes and a high intelligent forehead. When we took walks together the “clever” girls walked in a separate group, and I was obliged to trail along behind with the “stupid” ones. On top of everything, Käthe, true Prussian that she was, despised all Austrians. She is the only person who ever succeeded in awakening a certain counteractive patriotism in me. Then too the antipathy of the “intellectuals” was understandable, for I was the only aristocrat in the entire school, and when parents came to look the school over the fat old proprietress would call me and announce, with pride: “This is our little… Her cousin is the wife of the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand.” Whereupon, upset and embarrassed, I would make a stupid face and curtsey.

111Dutzi, whose room was next to mine, was very beautiful and newly baptized. She reproached me bitterly for sleeping late on a Sunday morning, instead of going to mass. Dutzi was a spoiled little creature who related to anyone who would listen how her mother and the late Crown Prince Rudolf38 had well,… One evening as I lay in bed reading she knocked on the connecting door and called: “Come into my room.”

112I obeyed. There stood Dutzi stark naked and beautiful as God had created her.

113“Am I not beautiful?” she asked.

114I was accustomed to nude pictures and statues and examined her with the eyes of an expert. “Yes, you are very beautiful, but don’t put on any more weight.” And I turned to go back.

115Dutzi glanced at me crossly. “Aren’t you going to stay in here with me?”

116“I have an interesting book I want to read.”

117And I left. I never could understand why from that time on Dutzi was angry with me.

118The “clever ones” still excluded me from their group, even though I studied like mad and — thanks to the culture I had picked up painlessly at home — often came out ahead of them in school work. Finally, however, I managed to gain admittance to the intellectual clique in a very “goyish” way. Once, when Käthe, with her insufferable superior smile, remarked yet again: “But that’s something you can’t understand!” my feelings of anger got the better of me and I gave her a good box on the ears.

119This obviously made a deep impression on the Berlin girl. From then on we were good friends, and I was one of the “clever ones.”

120We didn’t mind enjoying our own cleverness a little, got up an hour earlier than the others and read books that “improve the mind.” My old arrogance returned. I preached socialism and made the others read Henry George’s Progress and Poverty39 and, as a “socialistic” book, Stirner’s The Ego and His Own.40 Perhaps the girls who did not have a “goyish” head understood more of this than I did.

121Käthe was still vexed; she dragged out Schopenhauer in the little Reklam paperbacks and we all had to read The World as Will and Representation at six o’clock in the morning on empty stomachs.

122Annie, the Finnish girl, was not so heartless. She brought us Tolstoi’s Resurrection, the conclusion of which I even then found unsatisfactory, as well as the novels of Turgenev. As a matter of fact, as far as I personally am concerned, everything is her fault. I read Fathers and Sons and fell in love with Bazarov and Russia. Subsequently I discovered that Turgenev was at bottom a counter-revolutionary; but in those days he excited all my rebellious feelings, and I had but one wish: to go to Russia and join these heroic beings in bringing about the revolution.

123I also owe some less agreeable hours to the Finnish girl. She gave me Ibsen’s works to read. With one of them — entitled Nora in German — I was already familiar. When I was with my parents in Lisbon there was a little cupboard next to the toilet where father stored away books he had already read. Even at that time I seem to have been true to my principle: never waste a moment. At the age of eight, the sub-title of NoraA Doll’s House — tempted me and I pulled this book out from the pile. It was a bitter disappointment, because I did not understand a word of it. Now Annie gave me Ghosts to read, explaining with worldly wisdom: “All men have syphilis.”

124The play caused me days and nights of utter misery. It seemed to me that I could never be clean again. I washed myself at every opportunity and my body filled me with disgust.

125And then: “All men have syphilis.” All men — then my father too had had this disease, and I would end up like Oswald, crying for the sun.

126Käthe eased my mind finally with one word: “Rubbish!” and as she was the cleverest of us all, I believed her.

127On Sunday mornings when the kneeling and rising faithful went to church we “clever ones” gave talks to each other. Annie lectured on tyranny and revolution, Käthe discoursed on the meaning of drama — she wanted to be an actress — and I, naturally, held forth, with the infinite confidence of the ignorant, on social issues.

128Meanwhile, my position with the “clever ones” had become more firmly established. I could do something none of them was able to bring off: I could write. I wrote gruesome plays about the injustice of the world and about women’s rights, which we performed on Sundays. I always got the best part, because I was so good at “dying.”

129In the spring a new girl came to the school, who could not get admitted to either clique — a little Jewish girl from Vienna. She proclaimed to all that there was only one poet in the world, Hofmannsthal, and gave us his works to read. I found them boring, but held my tongue, because Mimi was such a nice girl. There were violent literary debates, but Mimi would not let herself be beaten down — until one day there was a sudden change in her. She received a letter from home, and ran around the whole day with tear-filled eyes. That evening she said: “There are other poets besides Hofmannsthal.”

130It was not till several days later that we discovered the answer to this puzzle. Mimi’s poet had become engaged to Mimi’s sister instead of waiting for her.


131When the holidays came I went with grandmother, who was suffering from a heart ailment, to Nauheim.41

132In August she died, in Switzerland. My youth, and everything that stood for security and freedom from care, was gone. A hostile world lay before me, a world of ill-intentioned strangers. I had no home any more. At sixteen, I had to cope alone with myself and with the world.

The convent

133After grandmother’s death, I asked Uncle Anton if he would take me in to live with him. He would have done so gladly, except that the conventions of the time formed an insurmountable obstacle. I was a grown girl, and he was not yet an old man. The tongues would have wagged furiously.

134After this effort had failed, I announced, much to their relief, that I would not come to live with my parents, but would begin training to become a school teacher; and would do it right in the convent in G. In this way, I could at least remain in the place where grandmother and I had lived together, and I would be able to spend summer afternoons in the villa and the garden. The house was empty, except for Fräulein Marie who was in receipt of a pension, lived in two of the rooms, and was very happy when I came. With her I could talk about grandmother and reminisce about the wonderful time when the house, now so sad and desolate, had been filled with her love and kindness.

135The convent had its good points; I learned there to live a perfectly simple life. We all wore the same hideous dark blue, beige-braided uniform, shared the same bad food, and had to clean our own rooms. I did, however, manage to get out of one unpleasant chore, bed-making, by cleaning the other girls’ shoes; in return, they made my bed for me.

136The two years I spent in the convent were peaceful and quiet. The person I loved most was dead, and I needed a heaven that held out the promise of our meeting again in the future. I got to know the seductive attraction of the mystical: strange nocturnal hours in the dim chapel, lit only by the pale red glow of the altar lamps. Easter-tide came, after the forty days of fasting, during which, with the penchant I then had for doing everything in excess, I almost starved. On an empty stomach and with a giddy head it is not difficult to see visions and feel the overpowering presence of a God. The miracle of faith is the miracle of the great union with a higher power, which is at once past, present, and future, the complete losing of one’s own puny self in the mighty whole of which one becomes a part. I have often had the same feeling when at a mass demonstration the “Internationale” was sung. Thousands upon thousands moved by the same world-embracing, barrier-breaking struggle, by the same hope, the same present, and the same future. And one is oneself part of that, no longer something separate, no longer an individual, but only a tiny, evanescent part of a great cause.

137I scraped through the exam by the skin of my teeth. I got entangled in traps in math and geometry but I had mastered the other subjects pretty well, and so I managed to slip through.

138Father brushed aside my desire to apply for a post as a school teacher: “Nonsense. Such things aren’t done.”

139And so I went to join my parents who were spending the summer in Cernobbio on Lake Como.

Villa d’Este

140The hotel, formerly the castle of an English queen, was situated on the lake and had an enormous park. Whenever I went out laden with books in search of an isolated spot, I invariably met a quiet man with glasses, going the same way. This was Professor Henry Thode,42 also in search of a remote nook where he could work in peace. Although we knew each other we never exchanged a word; but the professor always bowed to me in the most friendly manner, and I was happy that he shared my solitude in a way.

141Siegfried Wagner43 also came to Villa d’Este. With his big nose, the future Swastika-supporter looked quite Jewish. He whistled tunes from operettas, and impressed one as loud and common. Later in Florence I made the acquaintance of another, far more appealing member of the Wagner family, a daughter of von Bülow,44 who had married a Sicilian and after her husband’s death retired to Florence. Here she lived with her three children in rather modest surroundings. In her salon hung innumerable Wagner pictures, and her main topic of conversation was “Father” and “Papa.” One got a little confused until finally it became clear that “Father” was Hans von Bülow while “Papa” was Richard Wagner; “Papa” played by far the more important role.

142The Marchesa was a pretty, somewhat faded woman, blonde and German. In contrast, her oldest son, who was then attending the Naval Academy, was passionately Italian. He seems to have the same convictions — in Italian translation — as his step-uncle. Very badly written but enthusiastic glorifications of Fascism from the pen of Cosima’s grandchild can be read in the Corriere della Sera today.

143My poor mother suffered a great deal from the proximity of a grown daughter, and so father made the heroic decision to take me along with him to Tangiers, where for a year he had been serving as the Austrian envoy. Mother stayed behind in Europe.


144We embarked at Genoa. The sea was rough, and father drove me to despair by entering my cabin and demanding unfeelingly: “Just tell me, how did you contrive to be seasick?” As if I had done it on purpose!

145It was in fact only the short crossing from Gibraltar to Tangiers aboard the Gebbel-Tarik that was really bad. The little ship with its two funnels — a real one and a wooden one for show only — rolled helplessly from side to side.

146The friendly old English captain tried to cheer me up by showing me a canary which turned somersaults on his finger. His effort was in vain. The ship rolled and tossed, and the little yellow downy creature turned and turned until I was quite dizzy.

147At last, after hours of torment, the coast came in sight, and we were debarked in small boats. A figure out of the Thousand and One Nights, but clad in European style, came to meet us: Abensur, the Austrian vice-consul, a Moorish Jew and one of the handsomest men I have ever seen. Also waiting for us on the wharf were the Moroccan soldiers who accompany all the foreign representatives.

148In those days there were still no paved streets in all Tangiers. During the dry season one sank into the sand, and in the wet season the mud came up over the ankles.

149I was still shaky from seasickness but instead of going to the hotel in a carriage, as we usually did, I had to let myself be hoisted by a groom on to Ali, a little brown Arab gelding, while father mounted Moghreb, a large black Berber stallion that was a gift from the Sultan of Morocco.

150We rode up a steep path to an area of swarming streets, lined on both sides by open booths, and then reached the great city gate, which was closed every evening at dusk.

151Behind the gate was the suk, the big market-place. Here large dromedaries stood as motionless as if they had been carved out of wood; little grey donkeys raised their shaggy heads and brayed; and snake-charmers crouched on the ground, surrounded by gaping throngs. As they played monotonous melodies on primitive flutes, an enormous snake would uncoil and wave its body in rhythm. In other parts of the suk, people were gathered around a story-teller, who, half-singing, half-speaking, told of wonderful things. After the market place came an empty stretch with nothing but sand. Father spurred Moghreb into a gallop, and Ali began to gallop also. As I was sitting on a horse for the first time, I became extremely uncomfortable and clung without shame to the mane of the beautiful animal. So we rode up to the front of the Villa Valentina, the hotel at Tangiers, where we were welcomed by the proprietress in the most beautiful Austrian dialect.


152To save himself and me the bother of keeping house, father had taken five rooms in the hotel. The legation itself was just across the way, a one-story house in the midst of a tangled garden.

153Mother had sent a French maid along with me, because, now that in some degree I also represented Austria in Morocco, my external appearance (to which I was only too happy to pay no attention) had to be taken care of.

154Father made me a little speech about my social duties, and cautioned me never to go out unless I was accompanied by one of the Moroccan soldiers, and never to go riding without Sliman, the groom.

155It was about a year before the “Panther affair,”45 the country was unsettled, the tribes were in revolt, the sultan was threatened by his one-eyed brother,46 and through the streets rode, heavily armed and surrounded by armed men, a great man of the future: Raisuli.47

156For the first few days I was allowed to enjoy my new surroundings for hours on end, always accompanied by the bored, unhappy soldiers; I could stand in the market-place and ride on the beach. But then my social duties made their demands. We were invited to dinner by the French minister.

157“Do you know anything about Hippolyte Taine?” father asked me before this event and laid a copy of the Origines de la France Contemporaine before me on the table. “Madame St. R. T.48 is a niece of Taine’s, and she never misses a chance to talk about him. Don’t disgrace me.”

158“Sir Arthur Nicholson49 will be there, too,” he continued. “One of the shrewdest diplomats there is. He may even try to pump you. Don’t say anything stupid.”

159The evening came; the maid did my hair beautifully, and I put on my first low-necked dress, in which I thought I looked quite naked. Until dinner all went well, and then, sitting between the French and English ministers I discovered to my horror that I had to blow my nose — and I had no handkerchief.

160What was I to do? This was a fine way for me to make my debut. I sniffled violently and lost the thread of the conversation. Father was not within reach. My nose began to run; I looked around at my neighbours: which of them would be the first to understand my need? The Frenchman was grave and solemn, like a priest celebrating mass. I had been warned against the Englishman, but his blue eyes had a smile in them. I whispered to him: “Can you slip me a handkerchief under the table?” He looked at me astonished, and I began to feel dreadfully embarrassed. Then he laughed, father cast me an approving glance, because I was evidently not boring my dinner partner, and Sir Arthur Nicholson passed the handkerchief to me under the table.

161In his heart of hearts Sir Arthur Nicholson was no lover of Germans, and the German minister was no match for the artful Englishman. He knew this and always went around with a troubled, anxious look on his kindly face. All his other colleagues liked him. He was a good man, always ready to help, but he was no diplomat. He was happiest when he could be left to himself at home with his beautiful wife and many children, or when he invited the German colony to some celebration.

162Only the Germans, English, French and Spaniards had real interests in Morocco. Representing the entirely disinterested Austrian state, father watched with great interest the skirmishings and intrigues and told me about them, so that I was continually au courant. The first report received by the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning the activities of Raisuli and the latter’s future significance came from my pen. There was to be a wild boar hunt at the time, in which the boars are speared from horses with long lances, and I did not yet ride well enough to go on such a hunt. But as father planned to go, “You might as well write the report,” he said. “No one will read it anyway.”

163He was quite pleased with my work, and sent off the report, though he cut out a few poetical expressions, such as “the brave son of the mountains” and “the falcon-eyed hero.”


164I learned Spanish and also some Arabic, rode a lot, and danced the nights through. We had to go on horseback even to the balls. In the whole of Tangiers there was a single, ancient, musty-smelling sedan-chair; heaven knows from what century it dated, and what précieuses had leaned back against its cushions. The chair-bearers were Jews: they did not work on Saturdays and holidays, so that on those days elderly ladies were obliged to ride on donkeys to dinners and receptions. We young girls mounted our horses in our evening dresses, pulled the skirts up high and wrapped our legs in plaids. If it rained we held our umbrella in one hand and the bridle in the other. Soldiers walked in front of the horses carrying lanterns with two candles, which only the baschador, the ambassador, was permitted to have. Ordinary mortals had to be content with one candle.

165We would ride through the suk, the fantastic shapes of dromedaries rising ghost-like out of the darkness, little flickering lights burning in front of the tents, and countless rats running in front of the horses’ hoofs.

166We would halt at the closed gate. One of the soldiers would knock three times, the signal that a baschador wished to enter, then the gate would open with a grating sound and we would pass through. It was all a strange mixture of Orient and Occident. The members of the diplomatic corps were the same people one might meet in the capital of any country, and their dinners and balls could have been given in Vienna, Berlin or any other European city. Then, out of the blue, something happened that revealed the Orient and its barbaric cruelty in a glaring light.

Above all, no complications!

167One morning I was riding with Sliman through the town. Suddenly we heard a wild cry. An Arab dashed by us on horseback with a young girl stretched across the saddle. She was trying to get free and screaming desperately. Sliman, who had observed this scene quite calmly, explained: “She is a bad girl, Señorita. She worked at the house of some Jews and got involved with one of the sons. Now her brothers have come after her.”

168“And what will happen to her?”

169Sliman drew his hand across his throat in an unmistakable gesture and laughed in a friendly way.

170Cold chills ran down my spine; such a thing could not be allowed to happen; the Europeans cannot permit it.

171The French legation was closest; I galloped toward it. Monsieur St. R. T.50 received me cordially and with dignity, but became more and more reserved as I told him my story. He could do nothing, he said, the affair was no concern of the Europeans; if they got mixed up in it there might be complications, and above all: no complications!

172I rode on to the German legation; but I experienced the same reception there too; the same thing once again at the American consulate. I stormed in helpless rage; it was as though they were all standing calmly by while a murder took place. In those days I still believed that the purpose of diplomacy was to prevent people from being murdered.

173The prison on the Marschan, a hill outside the city, was barbaric too. It was a large building, low to the ground; the barred side was fully visible, and behind the bars you could see the prisoners crammed together, standing or crouching. They were not fed by the state but were dependent upon what friends and relatives brought them. Those who came from the interior were often on the verge of starvation. They pressed against the bars like wild animals, stretching out shrivelled hands to beg a piece of bread, scuffling and beating each other bloody over a bit of bread — and this within five hours of Gibraltar.

Trip into the Rif

174Father made me a present of a beautiful brown horse called Said, and poor Sliman complained bitterly, because I rode him so hard.

175“The Señorita is like a Semuria,” he told father, who gave me a long lecture to the effect that, even on horseback, a young lady of good society should not bear the least resemblance to the wildest of the Moroccan tribes.

176Sliman was a Kabyle from the Rif, a tall, lean, handsome man with a completely shaved head except for one long lock left standing straight up, so that the Prophet might seize him by it one day and take him into Paradise.

177He was exceptionally superstitious, and once I gave him a terrible fright. About two hours from Tangiers there was a thick grove which was inhabited, according to the natives, by djinns, or evil spirits. Once, while taking a ride, we came to the grove, and Sliman urged me to ride quickly by. I jumped off my horse and headed straight for the wood.

178Sliman besought me by his god and mine to stop; he was responsible for me, and what would father do to him if I were to be killed by the djinn? I laughed at him and went into the grove.

179The djinn did not harm me. When I came back, there was Sliman, who was afraid of nothing in the whole world, pale as death and trembling, scarcely able to believe his eyes when he saw me appear alive and unscathed.

180As soon as we got home, however, he implored my rather to forbid me to tempt the spirits again, otherwise, he, Sliman, could not accompany me any more when I went out riding.

181One evening he said to me: “Tomorrow I am riding home into the Rif.”

182“Take me with you.”

183At first he did not want to, then he gave in. I had taken the precaution of not saying anything to father about my plan; the environs of the town were not supposed to be safe, and women ought not to venture too far into the countryside.

184After a five hour ride we reached Sliman’s home village, a group of mud huts so low that one could not stand up in them.

185As an unclean Christian, I was put into an empty hut by Sliman. I later learned that the occupant of the hut had died a short time before. Sliman advised me strongly not to venture out of the hut. Here he was the master; I felt this and, somewhat intimidated, I obeyed. Sliman brought me bread and water, and then the whole village came and squatted down in front of the hut to marvel at the “infidel,” the first who had ever come there.

186Sliman explained to me how shameless they all considered my unveiled face; he did not consider it in the least improper that the heavily veiled women exposed their naked bellies.

187It was hot and damp in the low mud hut; I sat on the straw-covered earth floor; the straw was old and mildewed and swarming with fleas. The village had finally seen enough of me, and Sliman had disappeared with his family. I was in a way a prisoner.

188Finally Sliman came back, and we rode home. Then there was another big scene with father.

189“Really you are impossible! You go out riding all alone with Sliman to his village! You know very well how unsafe the country is. You are a woman, didn’t you think what might happen to you.” No, I really had not thought of it; I had simply been charmed and tempted by the unknown. It also seemed to me that father was exaggerating. Not a soul had come near me, and except for the fleas nothing unpleasant had happened to me. From that time on, however, I always had to inform father of my destination when I went out riding.

Slave trade

190Yet even when I merely went for an innocent walk about town, accompanied by one of the soldiers, I managed to get up to “stupidities” of one kind or another. In the marketplace there was an old Negro who played the banjo and sang in a cracked voice. He had been in America, spoke English and drawled a sort of song composed of the names of various cities in which he had lived: New York, San Francisco, Chicago-o-o! Beside him, squatting on the ground, was his little grandchild Maimuna, four years old, coal-black and round as a button, with gleaming teeth and shining bright eyes. I could never pass the two without stopping and playing with the child. One day the old Negro, pointing to Maimuna, asked me: “would you like to have her?”

191Naturally, I was delighted: “Yes.”

192“You can have her for one sovereign.”

193I paid the sovereign and took Maimuna by the hand. The soldier shook his head disapprovingly. He was used to seeing me pick up all the stray dogs I came across and bring them back to the legation garden, but a Negro child — that was too much!

194“What will the Baschador say, señorita?”

195“He will be delighted, Mohammed.”

196Maimuna, who already knew me quite well, came along willingly. At home I undressed her and put her in the bathtub. That pleased her less and she began to bawl with all her might. Then, wrapping her in my bathrobe, I carried her into father’s study which was sunnier than my room, placed her on the large round table and fed her cakes.

197The door opened, father came in from his ride, and seeing the naked black child sitting on his newspapers, stood stock still, horrified, in the doorway.

198“What is it this time?”

199“Maimuna, you already know her.”

200“What are you doing with her here in my room?”

201“I bought her from her grandfather.”

202“What? What did you say?”

203“She only cost a sovereign.”

204Then poor father lost all patience.

205“If that isn’t you all over! Now you go out and buy a Negro child so that people will say the Austrian legation is involved in the slave trade. You take that child right back to the old scoundrel!”

206Maimuna wept, I wept, but it was of no avail. I had to dress her and take her back to her grandfather. The old fellow was not at all angry; he had earned an easy sovereign. But father threatened me: “You do another stupid thing like that and back you go to your mother. That’s quite enough for one week. First my cigars and now this brat!”


207The incident of the cigars, with which he reproached me, illustrates the dangers of private acts of charity. Not far from the hotel there lived a poor Jewish family with countless children. The oldest son, Abrahamito, a little fellow of about ten, was my special friend. He wore his father’s old trousers, which came down over his shoes and which he held up by a rope fastened about his waist, and an old battered hat much too large for him. If I was alone in the house — Abrahamito always seemed to know when that was — he would come to the window and beg for cigars. Moved by the poverty of the boy I would reach into the cigar box and take out some of the prized Virginias which father had sent to him from Austria, and threw them to Abrahamito; he was happy, I felt magnanimous, and everything was just fine until one day my father said: “If only I knew where that little Jewish scamp, Abrahamito, gets the Virginias. Today he sold me ten more.”

208I turned so red that father noticed it. Abrahamito got no more cigars from me.

Christian customs and manners

209One of our soldiers, an old man of perhaps sixty, married a second wife. She was sixteen and extremely pretty. Old Ali seemed very much in love with his young wife. Every time he started to accompany me on my walks the same thing would happen without fail: he would begin to make the most terrible faces, press his hand to his middle and moan that he had a stomach ache. He had to go home and drink tea, he claimed. He was too old to run around with me, I could go on alone, he would meet me at the suk — but the Baschador must never know.

210After a few weeks this stolen leave time did not suffice him, he gave notice and was replaced by a young fellow named Mohammed, who was fresh from the interior and had never before associated with Europeans.

211The first time he accompanied us was to a wedding. The manager of the German postal service was marrying the daughter of the German engineer, R. The entire European colony had gathered in the tiny Protestant church. The soldiers from the legations waited in front of the door. A young girl with more good will and expenditure of voice than musical talent sang some wedding song or other. It must have sounded less than happy for when we came out of the church Mohammed asked father in astonishment:

212Baschador, what do the Christians do to the bride in the church to make her scream like that?”

213But not all their encounters with Christian customs and manners had such a harmless effect on the Arabs. Another Mohammed, the head-waiter in the hotel, had a story to tell about that. Mohammed was a hadji, a holy man, who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca — twice in fact. He had been forced by Christians to make the second pilgrimage. Mohammed had a young wife, a beautiful, marvellously developed Negress, Fatma. Fatma had worked with the Perdicarises,51 a family of rich Greek-Americans, who owned the finest house in all Tangiers and entertained a lot. (Old Mr. Perdicaris was later a victim of Raisuli; he was the first to be kidnapped by the bandit and was only released after payment of a very large ransom.)

214Once at a grand ball given by the Perdicarises, Fatma, gorgeously dressed, was supposed to distribute the cotillion favours. With true European-American thoughtlessness the Perdicarises insisted that on this one occasion Fatma should go unveiled. Fatma wept, refused, pleaded to be spared this dishonour. In vain. The “master” and the “mistress” threatened to fire her and Fatma knew that she would never be as well paid in any other house. The economically weaker party had to yield. On the evening of the ball Fatma stood in the hall with an expression of shame and despair on her face, not daring to raise her eyes from the floor. From time to time tears ran down her beautiful dark face. Fatma knew well enough what not covering her face meant for her, and her “master and mistress” knew too — but who would be interested in the humiliation of a black servant girl?

215From that evening on Fatma was ostracised. No decent Muslim woman spoke to her any more, friends and relatives disowned her. Had the wife of Mohammed, the hadji, become a woman of the streets the shame could not have been greater.

216Fatma took her misfortune very much to heart, became thin and melancholy and fled the moment she saw anyone coming. Yet Mohammed, who had been wounded in the depths of his honour, still stood by his wife; he was wise enough to know where the blame lay. And finally his love and wisdom found a means of salvation for Fatma.

217When it was time for the pilgrimage to Mecca, Mohammed and his wife made the journey to the holy city. Fatma came back purified, cleansed of her sin, and even more — sanctified. Now she no longer had to look away in the presence of others; she was a hadja, a holy woman; her sins were all forgiven and wiped away. But Mohammed never forgave the Christians for what they had done to Fatma and to him.

A friend of the Sultan

218After two months of rain and constantly howling and raging winds, spring came. Now there were two seas, one with blue waves lapping against the beach, and a second one inland — whole fields of blue irises, gleaming and perfuming the air, rippling like little waves in the wind. Everything was blue as far as the eye could see.

219The “foreigners” had been frightened off by the rain. Now new ones came in their place, among them the English writer, Cunningham Graham,52 who related with great pride that he had been arrested in Hyde Park for having made a socialist speech and that he was descended from the royal house of Stuart. He actually did look a great deal like the Van Dyck portrait of Charles I. He spoke of Bernard Shaw and the Fabians, and I became angry when father called him an unbearable poseur. Father could not endure Cunningham Graham because he was a friend of the Times correspondent, Walter Harris,53 my father’s bête noire. Harris owned a beautiful Arab house on the beach, which the Sultan had given him. He was a lean, sun-burnt man, and belonged to the type known in Austria as a Gschaftlhuber [a self-important “operator”]. He never spoke without mentioning “my friend the Sultan.” It was said that he had become rich by making the Sultan the most impossible gifts of articles imported from Europe: cuckoo clocks, wax flowers, music boxes. (At any rate, the Sultan had once proudly displayed a music box to my father and played him his favourite tune — “The Little Fisher Maiden” — on it.) For these worthless European trinkets Harris received in return horses, jewelled daggers, Morocco leather, and many other such gifts.

220When things began to go badly for the Sultan and those in the know began to anticipate the rise of his brother, he was left in the lurch by his faithless European friend. I still recall a scene at a daytime reception one day at the Russian legation. The B.’s had no children and Madame von B. asked me to serve tea at her afternoon receptions, and help her see to the material needs of her guests. The whole diplomatic corps was there when Harris in riding breeches, hot and dusty, strode into the salon, self-important as always. He announced the imminent downfall of the Sultan in a loud voice; this time he did not call the Sultan “my friend.” When he walked over to greet father, the latter placed his hand ostentatiously behind his back and asked in the inimitable tone of aristocratic superiority he could adopt at will: “If things are going so badly for your friend the Sultan, how is it that you are here, Mr. Harris? Why did you not stay with him?” Whereupon he turned his back on him.

221The Times correspondent became red as a turkeycock, stammered a few words and walked over to the tea table. But father was already there and said to me in a loud voice: “I forbid you to speak to that turncoat!”

222If father never became an ambassador and retired as a minister, such scenes as this were largely the cause. He let his anger get the better of him and did not consider the consequences of such incidents. At bottom he was cynical and believed in nothing. He had a favourite Spanish proverb which I hated in my youth but which often came back to me later as communicating a grim truth: mismos perros con otros collares; in other words: nothing changes; everything stays at it always was: it’s always the same dogs, only with different collars. But still, he did believe in one thing: that one should stick by one’s friends when things do not go well for them. Disloyalty, I think, was the only thing he did not dismiss with mocking laughter.

An anarchist

223One day the police in Gibraltar notified the Austrian legation that a notorious Austrian anarchist, Siegfried N., was due to arrive in Tangiers on the next steamer, and that he ought to be closely watched.

224Father told me this at breakfast and said, smiling: “What on earth can the fellow get up to here? Such nonsense.”

225But I was deeply stirred. A real anarchist, a man who — if it was necessary — threw bombs. I had to meet him! First I talked at great length about anarchism — as I understood it — and then slyly veered the conversation around to father’s open-mindedness. Finally, after a careful working up: “Come, father, he is certainly an interesting man. Invite him to dinner!”

226Had the “notorious” anarchist thrown a bomb at our breakfast table, the effect could hardly have been greater. Father stared at me: “You are really quite mad! The police warn us officially about the fellow and I, the minister, am to invite him to dinner!”

227But I insisted, begged and pleaded and — father always had a little sympathy for crazy ideas — at last he promised: “All right. If he isn’t altogether impossible I’ll invite him, so that your poor soul may have some peace.”

228Then he went across to the legation.

229I could hardly wait for the midday meal: Would father find the anarchist possible or impossible? I went to father’s library, pulled out books on anarchy — as there was nothing in which he was not at least casually interested, there were books by well-known anarchists on the shelves — and quickly “boned up” so as to be ready for any eventuality.

230Father came back in good humour with the mocking smile I knew so well on his lips.

231“So?” I was so excited I could scarcely articulate my question.

232“Yes, you shall have ‘your’ anarchist. He is coming to dinner, but you’ll be disappointed.”

233In general, I was not a vain girl, my beautiful mother had made sure of that with her repeated “Whenever I look at you I can’t believe that you are my daughter. You look like a Czech.” But that evening I took a long time to dress; I made myself beautiful for “my” anarchist.

234What will he be like? Will he even touch the food or will he reproach us for our frivolous life, for feasting while the poor go hungry? Perhaps his sense of justice will be affronted by the beautiful roses which I fetched from the Russian legation and with which I covered the whole table. He will certainly not suspect that the daughter of the Austrian minister, the granddaughter of one of the highest Austrian dignitaries, whose greatest pride was that “his most gracious Lord and Emperor” had once visited him in his villa at G. — a stone tablet in the hall proclaimed this — would be joining him in praising anarchy. And really I ought not have put on my low-cut white silk dress; a high-necked black one would be more fitting. Can one take a girl seriously if she wears a white silk dress and a string of pearls around her neck?

235But I did not possess a black dress, so all I could do was put away the pearls.

236I could already hear voices in the salon; he is there, he is there!

237I knew exactly how one is supposed to behave with ministers, dukes, arch-duchesses and normal mortals: but how do you behave with a “notorious” anarchist? How do you address him? One can’t say “Liberator of mankind.” And so, quite banally, just “Herr N.”? How can that show the respect due to him?

238With a violently beating heart I entered the salon. Father introduced me: “Herr N., my daughter.”

239Herr N. did not wear a red shirt. Herr N. did not appear to have a bomb concealed in his pocket. He wore a dinner jacket and was a rather small, still young Austrian Jew with a high forehead and bushy black hair.

240He made no fiery speeches at table. He ate the food he was served without batting an eyelid, and called us not profiteers and blood-suckers, but most politely Count Cr. and Countess.54

241Whenever father met my glance his blue eyes smiled. The two men conversed chiefly with one another. They talked about — literature. In vain I tried to turn the conversation toward the topic: anarchism.

242Herr N. looked at me pityingly and turned again to father. He had no idea of the timid awe with which I was waiting to hear an “anarchistic” word. When he had gone my father said:

243“You were right. I am glad I invited him. An intelligent, likeable, interesting chap.”

244To me, however, my acquaintance with my first anarchist was a bitter disappointment.

245A little while ago I heard of him through a mutual acquaintance: Herr (or rather “Colleague”) Siegfried N. is a minister himself now, and no longer keen to remember the dinner at the Austrian legation in Tangiers, still less the young girl he so deeply disappointed.

Mutton chops

246Spring also brought us an attaché, Herr von M.,55 who later, during the war, became a considerable personage in Austria: head of the press, I think. In those days we little suspected his future greatness; he was tall, thin, shy, and awkward, and he wore what in father’s eyes constituted a crime — mutton chops! He arrived on a Sunday. At dinner father moved uneasily in his chair, cast grim looks at the attaché from time to time, and at last could no longer contain himself.

247“You are a charming young man, M…., you also speak really excellent French, but if we are going to get along together those mutton chops will have to go!”

248Herr von M. looked at my father in astonishment and made a woeful face. I thought to myself: “He will die rather than sacrifice his mutton chops.”

249Father explained that mutton chops were the symbol of the old Austria, reactionary ideas, stupidity. Herr von M. became sadder and sadder, but about his mouth there was an expression of immovable resoluteness, and I felt that those mutton chops would weather all the storms of existence.

250The next day I went dutifully to mass. As I got up to leave after the service, a man was standing near the holy water font, who very gravely offered me some holy water. I looked at him with astonishment and at first did not recognize him. It was Herr von M. — minus the mutton chops.

251Such was the power of the baschador!

Arab festivities

252The Sultan lived in Rabat, where he also held audiences with the foreign diplomats.

253There was no court in Tangiers itself, only two Moroccan princes, Muley Ali and Muley Hafid, who gave parties from time to time to which the whole diplomatic corps was invited. When Muley Ali’s first son was born he decreed a three-day festival. The diplomats’ wives visited the young sixteen-year-old wife in the harem, sat around in utter boredom, listened to monotonous Arabian music, and drank green tea with peppermint leaves. It was considered impolite to decline the cup of tea offered one, and I did much in those days for the sake of the good name of Austria, for I could be offered as many as twenty cups of tea to drink — and I drank them. The music was enough to put you to sleep, always the same five notes. The room was full of heavy oriental perfumes, and it was difficult for the older ladies to keep their eyes open.

254Moroccan weddings also lasted three days; during this time neither the unfortunate bridegroom nor the unfortunate bride could get a wink of sleep by night or day. The wedding procession passed through the city, first the bridegroom and the male relatives on horseback and then the bride, likewise on a horse, but enclosed in a sort of cabinet hung with rugs and open only at the top. She was carried around for hours on end in this manner.

255The most momentous of all these occasions was the Muslim New Year celebration. In front of a mosque situated on a hill a lamb’s throat was cut, then two men seized the dying creature and ran down the hill with it to the nearest mosque in the town. If the lamb was still alive when they reached the mosque, the faithful would have a good year. If it were dead, that was a sign of coming misfortune. (Naturally it always lived until the mosque was reached.)

“Admiral Raschid”

256Ramadan came; the look of the town changed. Everything was still, as though paralysed. The faithful, exhausted from endless fasting, sat crouched on the ground, weary and morose; and the Europeans knew that they must be exceptionally careful; during Ramadan, the month of fasting, the natives were especially irritable, and it was very easy for the so greatly feared “complications” to develop.

257Raschid, father’s servant, made the most of these conditions; for everything he forgot or did wrong he always had an excuse: “Ramadan, Baschador.”

258Raschid had been a sailor on the Sultan’s one warship. He would recall this every time he reported for duty. The longer he remained in father’s service, the more exalted the rank he had held became. When father went home to Austria on leave he took Raschid with him, and this turned out to be the Moroccan’s misfortune. He had always been a vain fellow, and now he spent all his money on clothes in order to please the European women. He began to drink, too. His greatest pride was the calling cards which he had had made for himself and which read:

259Raschid ben Mohammed

260Amiral de sa Majesté le Sultan du Maroc

261Now he actually himself believed that he had been an admiral, and he recounted wild stories of naval battles, in which he, with the Sultan’s one warship, had defeated entire enemy fleets.

262In the end his vanity was his downfall. Father was at that time paying court to a pretty woman and sent Raschid with a large bouquet of roses for her. The next time he and Countess S. met, he wondered a little that she did not thank him for the flowers. In the course of the conversation he unraveled the solution of the mystery.

263“Your Arab servant is the most charming fellow. Imagine, he brought me the most wonderful bouquet of roses not long ago. Tell me, was the man really an admiral?”

264“Admiral” Raschid, who was obviously as attracted to the pretty woman as father was, had removed the latter’s card and substituted his own.

265Father sent him back to Tangiers. We never learned what became of our admiral.

A battle

266One morning we were awakened by shots: two hostile tribes had run up against each other on the beach, and now a sharp battle was raging. Father ordered two horses to be saddled, forbade me to leave the house, and as an extra precaution, himself locked the door of our stable where my good Said stood lonely and forlorn. Then he rode down to the beach with Sliman, who had prepared himself for any and all emergencies by slinging a long, old-fashioned musket around his shoulder.

267Naturally I had no intention of remaining at home; still, I could not go on foot to the scene of battle. I tried to open the stable door with every key I could lay hands on — in vain. Said neighed loudly when he heard me fumbling about at the door, but I could not get to him. I became more and more impatient. Then, in the door of the second stall, which was next to ours, I caught sight of Ali, the old groom of the French attaché. I saw that there was still one horse in the stable: Mesrur, a detestable black stallion, constantly rearing and unmanageable. With some nice words and a liberal tip I managed to persuade Ali that Monsieur C. would undoubtedly allow me to ride his horse. My saddle was in the locked stable; but it didn’t matter; for this once I could ride in a man’s saddle. (In those days that was considered exceedingly improper.)

268Somehow I got astride the stallion. The moment we reached the beach and he felt the hard sand beneath his hoofs he threw back his head and gave me a big bruise on my forehead. Then the dear animal bolted.

269In the distance there was shooting and a lot of loud shouting; white figures could be seen chasing wildly after each other. I tried to turn Mesrur in the direction of the fighting, but he did not like the noise and galloped off in the opposite direction, toward a rise in the dunes where he saw other horses standing.

270On one of those horses sat — of course — my father and on the second Monsieur C, the French attaché, whose animal I had appropriated without his permission!

271In the mad ride I had lost my hat, my hair had come undone and hung over my shoulders; I did not look in the least like “a young society lady.”

272To my astonishment, however, the thing passed off quietly. Deep down, father was delighted by my courage and proud that I had not let the stallion throw me. And the little attaché could not say much, either.

273It’s true that I did not get to see much of the battle; Sliman took me back home cursing all the way and giving free rein to his outrage at my unruliness.


274In June father went on leave, and we travelled to Florence where mother had rented a villa.

The antiquarian

275It was strange to be transported from the colourful barbarousness and exuberance of the orient to a city where the Middle Ages were still a living presence. I found the old grey stone buildings oppressive; even the Italian sky seemed pale and sad, and I felt extremely ill at ease. For father, Florence was a city from his childhood days in which he felt completely at home. My grandfather, as governor of Tuscany, had lived here with his family; his third son had been born here. To me, all that seemed such ancient history that it had already lost all reality for me, until one day, quite unexpectedly, a figure rose from the past to bring it closer to the present.

276I had discovered an old illustrated edition of the Divina Commedia in an antiquarian’s shop. I would have liked very much to have it, but the little old white-bearded man to whom the shop belonged was asking a price far beyond my means. In Italy in those days it was generally possible to bargain down the price of anything by half, so I went daily to the shop to haggle and bargain for the book. But the old gentleman would not budge. One day I told him that I would not come again; in case he should reconsider the matter he could let me know, and I gave him my name and address.

277The old man stared at me for a moment as though he saw a ghost standing in front of him. Then he repeated my name in a trembling voice:

278“Is that really your name?”


280“Are you related to Count Cr.56 who many years ago was governor of Tuscany?”

281“He was my grandfather.”

282The little old man reached for the book I wanted to buy, wrapped it up, and handed it to me.

283“Take it. It will cost you nothing, nothing at all. And if something else in my shop pleases you, take it, take it!” As he said this, tears coursed down his cheeks.

284I was quite alarmed; had the old man suddenly gone crazy?

285He came up to me, stroked my hand, and begged me repeatedly to pick out something else in the shop and take it as a gift.

286Finally he grew calmer and told me the reason for his strange conduct.

287When my grandfather was governor of Tuscany a plot against Austrian rule was uncovered. Among the conspirators were three very young boys, the youngest of them was sixteen years old.

288My grandfather was hated and feared because of his inexorable severity; the parents of the three young men thought their sons were lost. But on this one occasion my grandfather exercised mercy; perhaps he felt sorry for the three lads because he himself had three sons: he let them go.

289The youngest of them was the son of the old antiquarian dealer, to whose shop chance had led me.

290I had to promise to come again and bring father with me. The old man remembered him and spoke of him fondly as a “bel bambino.”

Andrea del Sarto

291After a few months my mother again found it unbearable to have a grown daughter in the house, and I was sent back to G. to stay with an aunt.

292Grandmother’s villa was still empty except for Fräulein Marie who occupied her two rooms. I went to my grandfather’s villa, a building situated on a hill, constructed in a conglomerate of styles, and bearing the name Bergschlössel.

293There was something here that was quite to my taste — a large, cool library filled with old and new books. I spent many hours in it. My aunt, the wife of one of my father’s brothers,57 was very kind to me, but at first I could not get acclimated. Everything truly Austrian had become strange to me, I had lived too intensely in another world. But I was young, the summer was beautiful, and after a short while everything became fun, the picnics, the dances — in summer there were no real “balls” — and the excursions on the lake. My aunt would have been very happy to settle me with an appropriate husband and, moved by the most praiseworthy intentions, invited “desirable parties” over to her house. It was not her fault that among the desirable parties there was a single “undesirable” one and that it was that one that appealed to me most. Perhaps it was because the young man was a painter who wanted to accomplish something and could talk of other things besides the usual boring “society” gossip.

294When I informed my aunt that we were engaged, there was a huge row and father was summoned by letter to come and stop me from doing “something foolish.”

295He looked at the matter from a practical angle: “In the first place, one doesn’t marry a baron, and in the second, he has only ten thousand gulden a year. You can’t marry a beggar, for goodness’ sake! From me you won’t get more than ten thousand gulden a year either. On that you could starve.”

296I knew nothing whatever about money; perhaps one really would starve on twenty thousand gulden a year.

297“Besides, it was only his grandfather who was ennobled.” It was another one of father’s aristocratic days. “Out of the question!”

298I was nineteen years old and had to yield and — that was perhaps the hardest part — do so with grace.

299“Your eyes are red with crying again. Stop making faces. You’re not a bourgeoise who doesn’t know how to hide her feelings.”

300With all that, father realized that I was going through a hard time and sometimes he forgot to be angry and tried to cheer me up. Not so my mother. When I got back to Florence, she treated me as though I had committed a crime. How often I took refuge, in those weeks, behind an imaginary headache, just so as to escape the dreadful dinners and no less dreadful hours in the drawing-room afterwards, when my mother would make mean, mocking comments about my distress.

301In front of her, father did not dare to protect me. But he brought me his universal panacea: books. I read everything written about Florence in the way of history and history of art, and gradually I came to feel the magic of that wonderful city. The dead became more alive for me than the living: Lorenzo di Medici and, above all, Savonarola. I read the story of the latter’s life, as well as his sermons, which I combined with the socialist ideas I had never abandoned.

302I spent whole afternoons in the galleries. Sometimes father came with me, but then everything invariably came to a disheartening end. My taste did not please him. We would wander happily enough through the rooms, delighting in special favourites, until we came to some picture by Andrea del Sarto. Then it would start:

303“I like him better than all the others put together.”

304“Don’t you see it’s kitsch?” father would ask impatiently.


306“Sickly sweet, vacuous kitsch! Just compare him with Masaccio.”

307Then we would both fly into a rage, and the end was always the same. Father would leave me standing in front of my beloved Andrea and say: “You really are too stupid. It’s impossible to go to a gallery with you!”

308As far as I can recall we never came out of a picture gallery, where there were Andrea del Sartos, together; we were always too angry with each other.

309Nevertheless I owe to these arguments one of my most beautiful and loving memories of my father. When I was in Russia, married and very ill, he sent me a big photograph of a Madonna by Andrea del Sarto. I can still imagine today what an effort he must have had to make to buy a reproduction of one of those “horrible” pictures.


310Life with my parents was responsible for many of the difficulties I experienced later in life. My mother’s great principle was that everything around her must be beautiful. And truly, from my mother’s Empire bedroom to the bright cretonne-covered furniture in the servants’ dining-room there was not a single ugly object in the entire villa. In every salon there were flowers that always matched the colour of the room. Everything visible was in unbelievable harmony with everything else. Basic material things were also important. If a new cook was engaged, he was obliged to do some “trial cooking” and prepare the most difficult and delicate dishes, before he was actually hired: an omelette, rice, vol-au-vent. Likewise the food that came to the table had to be beautiful. (Poor father had a secret fondness for “ordinary food” — sausage, tripe and onions — but he could enjoy these dishes only in little local restaurants; mother would not tolerate such “common” things at home.) If we had lived sumptuously I would certainly have found that vulgar, but this elegant simplicity — we were proud of the fact that we were driven in a horse-drawn carriage rather than an automobile, like the rich bourgeois — became, unnoticed, part of one’s very being, one’s flesh and blood, and in the end made trivial things seem absolutely important and thus distorted all values. It is impossible to wear a decolleté dress every evening, sit down to a beautifully appointed table, and feel that, for the moment, a well-cooked dinner is the most important thing in the world, without becoming estranged from real life. Once red plush furniture is seen as the epitome of horror, it becomes hard to understand people for whom such furniture is the object of all desire. Of all the kinds of intolerance, aesthetic intolerance is the most difficult to free oneself from, and perhaps the most cruel. It creates necessities without which life is found to be unacceptable, it encourages a kind of cowardice that lets one commit the one unpardonable sin: refusal to acknowledge what every one knows to be true. It creates individuals who because of their convictions are capable of carrying out a great deed, even perhaps sacrificing their lives, but who could never under any circumstances endure a “red-plush-furniture existence.” It is the small things in life that are truly dangerous and really shackle us, clinging to us like chains that will not be shaken off.


311Morocco as a “post” was not good enough for mother. For the time being, however, father had no prospect of getting anything else, and so he went into “disposition,” which means that he did not give up the career but took an unlimited leave until he could be offered a more acceptable post.

312“I got as far as ‘honourary Excellency.’ That’s sufficient for me,” he said laughing.

313(An ambassador was a real “Excellency,” but a minister or an envoy was only addressed in this way as a matter of courtesy — and that was known in Austria as an “honourary Excellency.”)

314To my sorrow my parents — especially mother — began to tire of Florence. The villa was given up, we spent the winter in Cannes, and in the spring went to Geneva.


315Father could never travel without his books. Wherever we went we were inevitably followed by case upon case of them. The unpacking and arranging of the books was entrusted to me. Sometimes we only stayed one month in a place, but the books always had to be taken out of the boxes and put in order; only then did father feel at home. It was my custom in packing and unpacking the books, as a sort of reward for my labours, to increase my own library in a rather dishonest manner. (When, later on, father visited me in Russia, he exclaimed more than once as he stood before my bookshelves: “What! Did you steal that, too? Well, now I understand your ‘socialism’: what belongs to you belongs also to me, but it will be a long time before what belongs to me belongs to you.”)

316In Geneva my somewhat dormant socialism was awakened to new life.58 At that time the entire quarter of the city known as Carouge was inhabited by Russian émigrés; wild-looking men and women with short hair and skirts reaching only to their ankles.

317I spent a great deal of time in Carouge, observed the strange figures with considerable interest, but never dared speak to one of them, however much I would have liked to. I was ashamed of my well-groomed appearance and my pretty clothes, ashamed of my whole idle, comfortable existence.

318On the first of May I succeeded in persuading father to accompany me to the May Day celebration in Carouge. It took place in a large vacant lot. I made poor father march a little way in the procession behind the red flag, but he got his revenge by dragging me to hear the speakers of the various parties and drew my attention to the disagreements among the speakers.

319My head was in a whirl; up to that time I had thought socialism one indissoluble whole, but here socialists were attacking one another. As I knew nothing about economic matters, I could understand nothing of it all. The debates were quite incomprehensible to me; the red flag alone was something to which I could cling. Father observed me with a mocking smile; then he discovered a likeable-looking Italian anarchist and began to talk to him.

320Weary and disillusioned I wandered over to another tribune where a young man was speaking in Russian.

321In the press my parasol was jerked from my hand. I hesitated for a moment to pick it up, for it had a beautifully carved silver handle, and I was embarrassed in this poor, shabby throng to acknowledge that it belonged to me.

322A dark-haired young girl of about my age bent quickly down, picked up the parasol and handed it to me with a friendly smile. My confusion disappeared. The young Russian girl spoke good French and we began to talk.

323When I saw father appear in the distance I hastily arranged a rendezvous with my new acquaintance and went towards him.

324From that time on we met almost every day in a public park beside the lake, known as Mon Repos. I went there as to a lovers’ tryst, with beating heart and in constant fear of being caught by my mother.

325The young Russian sensed in me a possible proselyte. She discoursed about socialism at great length and brought some order into my confused thoughts; she forced me to consider social problems not simply with my heart but with my head. She was a medical student and planned to return to Russia after she had completed her studies.

326We would sit on a bench at the edge of the lake. The waves splashed against the stones. Elegantly dressed people promenaded by us. In the distance the spa band played. And Natasha would speak calmly and even joyfully of Siberia and the prison that awaited her in Russia. She spoke of such things in the way other girls speak of balls and marriage. Only when she pronounced the word “revolution” did her voice take on another tone, like that of a pious Jew, when, carried away by his devotions, he pronounces the mysterious, forbidden name of his God.

327I never learned Natasha’s family name; nor did I have any desire to know it. She was not a regular human being to me, not a young girl like other girls, but the embodiment of an unattainable ideal: a human being who has sacrificed everything to a Cause.

328It was autumn when we met for the last time. The dry leaves rustled on the park paths, the lake was grey and the cold wind howled and whipped up the waves of the lake.

329Natasha, who was generally very reserved, kissed me good-bye and said: “You will join us. Promise me that you will join us.”

330I promised and believed at the time that, notwithstanding everything working against it, I would have the strength and the courage to keep my promise. But the little things of life had me chained. It was ten years before I kept my promise.

331I never saw Natasha again.

Return to the Orient

332When the first autumn mist shrouds the world in grey and the moaning of the wind announces the approach of winter, I often think back, with a slight feeling of envy, on the autumn days of my childhood and youth. At that time there was no need to fear the gloomy, cold days of winter; it was possible to escape from them.

333As soon as the weather began to turn bad, the question “Where shall we go this winter?” was raised. The whole sunny world of the south stood open — all that was necessary was to make a choice.

334To be sure, there were always long discussions before my parents could come to an agreement. And so this autumn, too, we bent over maps, deliberated, debated.

335The cold weather had set in early, so early that it caught the swallows by surprise. The cruel wind drove the little creatures into our rooms. Others, lashed by the stormy weather, lay dying miserably on the paths.

336Perhaps the early winter, which had also caught us unawares, awakened in my parents the desire to go further south this time; perhaps they already knew Italy too well. Whatever the reason, we left Geneva and took ship for Alexandria.

337Again the Orient, but a different Orient, an Orient washed, as it were, and neatly combed by the English.

338In Cairo, European buildings, European streets and hotels, electric trams. Alongside these, dark veiled women and fellahin riding through the town on their donkeys: a strange mixture.

339The bazaar was beautiful and enticing, with narrow lanes lined on both sides by open stalls where you could buy the most splendid oriental objects — some of them manufactured in Birmingham and Pforzheim.

340It was a favourite trick of the Arab guides to take innocent foreigners aside in the neighbourhood of the Pyramids and whisper mysteriously to them: “Here is the place to dig; perhaps the Effendi will find something ancient.” The Effendi would dig enthusiastically and in a short while bring to light a little scarab, a beautiful, unbelievably well-preserved little scarab — which, in truth, had not been buried in the time of the Pharaohs, but had instead a long journey behind it from the German factory to the Pyramids. But the Effendi did not know that, and the clever guide received an especially large tip.

341There are no more charming or adroit liars than the Egyptian guides. That fact was already noted by old Herodotus, and his portrait of these likeable rogues holds good today.

342The first time I saw the Sphinx I was disappointed. Then one moonlit night I went again with father and saw the real Sphinx. Before setting out we had coffee at the Mena House, the great hotel de luxe, surrounded by women in décolleté and men in dinner jackets; a band was playing and there was dancing; everything was European, everything was of our own time.

343Then we went alone across the sand, past the Pyramids, to the Sphinx.

344Here everything was very still, the sand gleamed dun-coloured like a massive lion’s mane, the moonlight illuminated the stone visage, and the Sphinx leered at us, with a superior and malicious smirk, as if to say: “Poor fools. I have known you and your likes for thousands of years. You vanish, but I remain. I have known everything, seen everything, and I know that nothing that happens in the world deserves more than a scornful grin.” The horrible creature crouched in the sand, the very embodiment of cynicism and mockery. The Sphinx was sinister not because she posed riddles and demanded answers to them, like the Sphinx of mythology; but because there were no riddles for her: she already knew everything — and laughed at it all.

345I was glad when we got back to the bright lights of the Mena House.


346My parents had spent a winter in Cairo once before and they were continually visited by old and new acquaintances. Among the former was Sir Rudolf Slatin Pasha.59 To look at him one would never have guessed that he had become personally acquainted with “fire and sword” in the Sudan. He was a little, lean, modest man who spoke in a soft voice with an unadulterated Austrian accent. He hailed from Upper Austria and had been a clerk in a bookshop until his desire for adventure led him into far-off lands. Now he was already a great man in Egypt. But he made nothing of that and only became a little less quiet and more animated when the conversation turned to the Sudan.

347There was also an interesting individual among the German diplomats, a Baron Oppenheim.60 He spoke Arabic like a native, and would frequently disappear from Cairo for months on end — no one knew where. He lived in a beautiful house set up in the Arab manner, and it was rumoured that he had been converted to Islam. He had no official position in the diplomatic corps, but in fact was a propagandist for the Kaiser. The object of his mysterious trips into the interior was to gain the sympathy of the people for Germany — in anticipation of a possible war one day with England.

348At that time Germany was investing a great deal of money in spreading propaganda among the Muslim peoples. Curiously, the latter had a certain admiration for the Kaiser. They liked the noisy, almost oriental parades and spectacles and the grand gestures, for these corresponded very well to the Arab “Fantasia Kebir”61 or Festival of Aïd el-Kebir, at which also there is much noise and shooting without serious consequences. The German diplomats concluded from this that it might be possible to excite the Muslims to Jihad62 or holy war. The oriental experts knew better, of course, but was there ever a diplomat willing to learn from an expert?


349In those days the Egyptian Muslims were true fanatics. A foreigner could safely curse them, after the custom of the country, with an Inallahbuk (God damn your father), but woe to the European who employed another current invective, Inalldinak (God damn your religion); he would be killed on the spot.

350Father, who had already been in Egypt before, when he was a young man, had seen the faithful throw themselves in front of the horses of the pilgrims returning from Mecca; if one of them chanced to be struck to death by a hoof he went immediately to Paradise.

351This custom no longer existed, but the departure of the holy carpet for Mecca was still a beautiful and impressive ceremony.

352The procession moved slowly and majestically to the great mosque, led by the camel bearing the holy carpet. It was led by an ancient white-haired Negro clad in green, who had already made the pilgrimage to Mecca twenty-five times. Behind came camels laden with water skins, above which large, newly cut palm branches waved in the breeze. From a distance, it looked like a moving forest of palms.

353The pilgrims passed the greater part of the night in prayer. In one portion of the mosque dancing dervishes held their services. A strange sight. They began at first to turn very slowly, calling to Allah, then the turning and twisting became faster and faster and the crying and calling out ever louder. At last the room was nothing but a brightly coloured, madly whirling, wildly roaring mass, in which it had become impossible to distinguish a single individual form. Colours blended into each other, voices mingled together, and the room was filled with turbaned heads whirling around like bright little planets.

354Before my eyes, too, everything began to turn around; the high shrill hysterical voices tore at my nerves. You had the feeling that if you did not keep a tight grip on yourself, you too would be sucked into that human maelstrom and begin to dance and scream. It was a weird evening. Here, seeing the frenzied dervishes and the pilgrims who next day would set out on the endless road to the holy city, you got a sense of the enormous power of this faith and the utterly alien character of its followers. You understood why the natives seem so strange, so closed off against outsiders, like the doors of their houses which blend into the walls; and you also understood the hostile looks you were constantly met with in the streets. Europeans did not belong in this land. They were intruders and would always remain such.

An adventure

355My recklessness and craving for adventure must have been inexhaustible back in those days, for I remember one experience which, though it ended harmlessly, could well have had a quite unpleasant outcome.

356I took the tram to the Pyramids, then took a side road and walked on until I came to a village.

357There I wandered about among the mud huts and played with the little naked children; I was especially taken by one very young little girl, and I took off a silver Egyptian bracelet and gave it to her, without suspecting for a moment what the consequences would be.

358The next instant I was entirely surrounded by the female population of the village. They all wanted me to give them something, and as I did not accede to their wishes, they rushed at me, screaming and crying. They tore my hat from my head, pulled off my clothes and grabbed at my silk underskirt. I already saw myself riding back on the tram to Cairo, clad in nothing but a chemise.

359Then I in turn started to scream. Some of the men came running up. The elder of the village realized at once that this event could have disagreeable consequences for his village.

360He roared at the women, and he roared at me; I didn’t understand a word he said, but the mere expression of his rage was comforting. Without offering the slightest resistance, the women gave up their booty and crept cowed and frightened into their huts.

361So I was able to ride back to Cairo, dishevelled and scratched up, but fully clothed all the same.

Garde de la Côte

362The Arab Garde de la Côte, positioned at the edge of the desert to combat smuggling, was commanded by a Württemberger, Baron Dummreicher.63

363It was a remarkable sight, this slender, elegant man, who still kept his Swabian dialect, at the head of a troop of Arab soldiers.

364Since they often had to pursue smugglers far into the desert, the Coast Guard rode on camels.

365Here, for the first time, I saw that a camel can be a beautiful, graceful beast. The young camels were delightful and very amusing, nothing but long legs and an immense head.

366Baron Dummreicher knew every one of his animals. They were as tame and friendly as horses, ate out of his hand, and gently licked his face with their huge tongues.

367We rode a little way into the desert. The moment when a camel rises to its feet is extremely disagreeable. Its long legs seem endless and one’s stomach starts to churn. Pure-blooded, thoroughbred camels have a fine elastic gait, but the others would shake the soul out of your body. Riding them is never, in any circumstances, particularly pleasant. You sit much too high up, and when a camel bolts, there is nothing you can do. You can only hold on to the saddle as tightly as you can and hope for the best.

368The little Coast Guard station lay in a very isolated spot. For weeks at a time its commander did not get a glimpse of a European, and he had settled so thoroughly into the way of life of the natives that he almost never came to Cairo. He no longer cared for Europeans.

Pork tripe

369In April it began to get hot; the foreigners who were there for the winter departed; a pleasant inertia took over the entire city.

370The Nile shimmered, greener in colour, between the tall trees lining its banks, and in the stillness of the evenings you could hear the sighing and moaning of the old wells as their buckets were drawn up by donkeys.

371We embarked at Alexandria and sailed to Beirut. Mother left the ship at Jaffa to go to Jerusalem. Disembarking here was a hazardous affair. There was no harbour at Jaffa. Passengers were brought to land in boats which bobbed up and down on the high waves and tacked between dangerous rocks. The boats were manned exclusively by Jews. They were the only ones who had the courage to brave the danger over and over again.

372Father and I continued on to Beirut.

373Beirut was very dirty and not especially beautiful. Here the worst of the Occident came together with the worst of the Orient. The Christian Syrians in the city lacked the nobility of the Muslims, and as far as their honesty is concerned, they had as bad a reputation as the Armenians.

374We often looked up the Austrian consul, who had been a boyhood friend of father’s. Count K.64 had made himself “impossible” by marrying the once beautiful daughter of a Greek pharmacist. He was always sent to posts where there was no social life. He had been stuck in Beirut for years with no prospect of ever being transferred to a more desirable post.

375The beautiful daughter of the Greek pharmacist had become heavy and fat and went about in a dirty dressing gown, her hair unkempt; a number of little, entirely Greek-looking children romped noisily about the house.

376Father had described his friend to me as an intelligent fellow, full of joie de vivre. He himself scarcely recognized him in the silent, morose man who no longer knew anything of the outside world and no longer cared to. One joy alone was left to him in life, an Austrian national dish: pork tripe. He prepared it himself in the kitchen, and if someone praised it he seemed to come alive and would relate in great detail how pork tripe should be cooked, and how difficult it was to prepare it correctly in this God-forsaken hole. It was a minor tragedy: this man, who was once expected to have a brilliant career, had given up everything for the love of a beautiful woman, but now the beautiful woman was old and fat and all he had left was — pork tripe.


377The Governor of Lebanon was a Pole,65 charming, elegantly dressed as though about to take a walk in Bond Street, bored, and continually longing for European capitals. He invited us to his castle in Lebanon from the heights of which he could look down upon his subjects, like a prince of olden times. The large, imposing building with its European salons was as incongruous here on the Old Testament mountain as the urbane Pole himself. It was beautifully located on a wooded slope, but I searched in vain for the cedars that are inseparably linked with the name of Lebanon. There were magnificent trees all around, but not a single cedar. What had happened to them? Had Solomon cut them all down when he built his temple?

378Once, however, on an expedition into the countryside, I did see a few of them. They were protected by steel railings like wild animals in a zoo. A rarity that could be looked at but not touched. Besides, they were not especially beautiful; apparently the Christian regime had not been conducive to their well-being.

379In spite of this, however, Lebanon itself was wonderfully beautiful, with its wild ravines and sunny slopes, its little villages nestled in narrow valleys and its mysterious groves. The entire Old Testament came alive; Rebecca stood slender and sunburned by the well watering the camels; in the distance, barely distinguishable from the blue mists enveloping them, the herds of the patriarchs grazed; and in the evening twilight, you could distinguish, against a purple sky, like a Fata Morgana, the black outlines of the caravans winding their way along the rim of hills towards Damascus.

380Mount Lebanon is the land of legend and saga; history and fiction mingle here, spinning a web of enchantment over hills and valleys. This quiet piece of earth has seen much blood flow — idyll and tragedy side by side.

381On a lonely peak which may only be reached by steep overgrown paths lies the old half-ruined castle of the robber knight, Emir Bekir. From here he ruled the land with an iron hand and undertook sallies against the infidels, to whom he was a terror. The forest has made its way into the old castle, strong young trees rise up between fallen walls, and creepers have covered the sad grey of weather-beaten stones with fresh green. Behind the castle, at the edge of a gorge, through which a mountain torrent rushes, there is a little garden. Here in this nook open to the sun and sheltered from the wind grow the most beautiful roses, and among the roses there is an uninscribed marble tombstone.

382The same legend that is told of Stenka Razin the Cossack,66 also flourishes in the rose garden of Emir Bekir. The Emir had brought back a Christian maiden from one of his plundering expeditions and made her his wife, even though she remained true to her Christian faith. However, his followers feared the influence of the Infidel woman and threatened to leave him if he refused to part with her. She understood the danger her presence meant for her beloved and begged him to kill her. The Emir stabbed her with his own hand and buried her in the little garden at the edge of the gorge. But he ordered the most beautiful roses to be brought up from the valley in order that his beloved wife might sleep surrounded by the flowers of her homeland.


383From Beirut we went on to Damascus. The little train which crosses Mount Lebanon puffed slowly upwards through snow and cold. Then, as though it longed to flee the desolation, it began to run down swiftly into paradise.

384A green plain, the Bekaa, nut trees and a sweet-smelling sea of pink blossoms, apricot trees, that is the entrance to Damascus.

385The Damascenes say that paradise was once located where their city now rises. One of the streams that pass through the city, the Barrada, also flowed through paradise. They recount a pretty legend about this river:

386When Adam and Eve were driven out of paradise they came to a desolate and barren land. Their eyes, accustomed to the beauties of the great garden, beheld with fear and sadness only barren country and desolate rocks. A deathly stillness lay all about them, no bird sang, no beast cried, no water splashed.

387They had been rejected by God and were alone in the wilderness, threatened by death. Then suddenly they heard a sound, louder than that of their own desperate weeping: the rushing of water. They looked up and saw a bright stream flowing through the desolate land; it was their old friend from paradise: the Barrada.

388The river had been moved by the wretchedness of the two humans; it did not abandon them, but flowed after them. And wherever it passed the wasteland became green and blossomed and bore fruit. All the domestic animals followed the river; the wilderness turned into a second paradise and the children of the first men played with the little waves of the generous river, to which, as to a second creator, they owed their being.

389That is why Damascus too is so beautiful; the waters of the Barrada on which it lies, once mirrored paradise and the river has given some of that paradisiac beauty to the city.


390The Damascenes were truly quite right to be proud of the city they had built. The slender minarets from which the call to prayer was sounded were superb, as was the great bazaar, which was like a second city in the midst of the city. Under the great dome, in a warm half-light, entire streets were laid out and in each street there were other beautiful things. Circles of light played on swords and daggers. The merchant selling them would take a thin blade in his hand, bend it double and then let it fly back with a light swishing sound. The handles of knives and swords were ornamented with precious and semi-precious stones and gleamed brilliantly. In another street unset gems were being offered for sale. Tiny blue ripples of aquamarine would trickle through the merchant’s fingers; during some fairytale night he had plucked down the Milky Way, and now it lay delicate and brilliantly white in a casket of moonstones. Out of a corner great red rubies glittered, full of malice, like evil eyes, and gentle turquoises smiled blue like a bit of northern sky that had strayed down here.

391Near the street of the precious stones there was a smell of leather; here were marvellous ornamented saddles and slippers of all colours.

392Less salutary for a European stomach was the street of sweets. The candied fruits and coloured sweet drinks sparkled like jewels and looked so beautiful that one constantly had to sample something.

393I was always delighted with the “free gift” you received after having made a purchase, or the bakshish that the merchant presented to you with such a friendly smile as his “gift”; certainly he had already made enough profit from you. Naturally the bakshish was always some utterly worthless little article, yet because it was a “gift” it possessed a particular charm.

394When you were invited out you dared not express great admiration for anything, for the host would immediately say: “My whole house is yours. Do me the honour of accepting this small trifle from me.”

395Father had forgotten to inform me of this custom and, once when we were visiting a wealthy Damascus merchant, in all innocence, I admired a vase and was enchanted when the owner of the house made me a gift of it. On the way home, however, father remarked with some irritation: “That will cost me a gold cigarette case. Don’t you know these people always expect a gift in return? It’s a blessing that you didn’t admire something more expensive!”

The first station on the Berlin-Baghdad railway

396The days were not long enough for us to see everything and enjoy everything — the beautiful Arab buildings, the large gardens of the wealthy merchants outside the city gate. We would wander aimlessly through the city, attracted by beautiful things on every side, take our shoes off and put on clumsy slippers before crossing the threshold of the mosques so as not to pollute the holy places. The slippers were always too big and I was continually in fear of losing them and finding myself in my stocking-feet on the sacred marble floor.

397The mosque of Omar was not only beautiful but a striking illustration of the tolerance and mutual understanding that prevailed in earlier days. When the Crusaders captured the city they wanted to have a church so that they could pray to their God. And so their “enemies,” the Muslims, gave them half of the mosque. An enormous curtain was stretched across the centre: on one side of it the Muslims held their services and on the other the Christians celebrated mass. Allah and the Christian God got on perfectly well together. To this day a stone tablet in the mosque commemorates this rare example of religious tolerance.

398The Muslims despise the Christians, but, with inborn tact, they are careful not to demean their religion. More than once I heard a Muslim, in conversation with father, explain with great politeness that he respects Jesus as a noble prophet, albeit a relatively minor one and in any case not remotely comparable with Mohammed. Of the Madonna, they would speak most respectfully, as the Sit (“Lady”) Mary.

399In those days Orient and Occident met in Damascus. Through the streets rode tall, heavily armed Circassians in their high fur hats; black-robed nuns, always in pairs, all carrying the inevitable umbrella, glided undisturbed through the throng; with their green turbans and shining robes, hadjis who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca and little children who had been born there (the greatest good fortune that could befall a Muslim child) stood out from all others in the crowd. And a few hours from Damascus, in a dismal, barren spot, next to the gleaming rails, stood a little house: the first station so far completed on the fateful Baghdad Railway line.

400The men from the interior of the country were afraid of the ugly, unprepossessing little stone building and the ugly, snorting monster, black with soot, that could run faster than their best camels. Perhaps it was their instinct that warned them. They would not have boarded the train for anything in the world.

A missionary

401In Lebanon we had already noticed women who veiled only half their face. These were Druze women. They seemed less timid and frightened than the Muslim women and the young ones sometimes used one eye very flirtatiously. The men also made an entirely different impression from the Syrian Christians; they were tall and well built with sharp, energetic features.

402We learned a number of things about the Druze from a man who had spent many years among them.

403We were sitting one evening in the small public room of the one hotel in a little place not far from Damascus when the sound of horses’ hooves could be heard coming from the road. A tall, sun-burned man with grey hair came in; he was dressed like an Arab except for the fact that his robe was black and not white. He was followed by a young Arab. We were the only Europeans in the hotel; after a little while the old gentleman came over to our table and asked in beautiful French if he might sit with us.

404He introduced himself with one of the oldest aristocratic French names and told us he was a Jesuit and had been living for twenty years among the Druze in Lebanon.

405As soon as the conversation turned to the Druze the old Jesuit thawed out; he spoke of them with great affection, you could almost say with enthusiasm.

406“They are the most decent people in the world,” he declared. “They do not steal, and they do not lie.”

407Father observed that the Druze were nevertheless notorious for their cruelty, and he reminded the Jesuit father of the Christian massacres. The latter shrugged his shoulders slightly and smiled as though it were a question of some inconsequential trifle.

408“The Druze are awaiting the return of their prophet,” he told us. “He has already appeared twice on earth. At his third coming paradise will begin on earth — paradise for the Druze. But for their womenfolk too, for, unlike the Muslims, the Druze believe that women too have souls and will be able to enter paradise. The Druze are much more tolerant than the Muslims and the Christians; even unbelievers will not be damned at the coming of the prophet, if they have been decent human beings; they will only become servants of the Druze. With me” — the old Jesuit smiled contentedly — “it will go well. My servant has promised me that I shall be his servant in paradise, and since I am — in his view — a decent human being, my only duty will be to black his boots.”

409“And have you converted many Druze?” father asked.

410The old missionary almost lost his temper.

411“Converted? What are you talking about? The Druze will not allow themselves to be converted. They are decent human beings and they hold fast to their own faith. If one of them came to me to be converted, I should know right away that he was not a real Druze but a rogue and a deceiver. I studied medicine, and people come to me to be healed of their sicknesses. I gladly take care of their bodies, but I should never venture to tamper with their souls.” Then the conversation turned to France and Europe.

412“Six months ago I was in Paris for the first time in many years,” said the Jesuit father. “For appearances’ sake, one has to go back once in a while. But I couldn’t take if for very long. I have been spoiled by living among the Druze. I don’t like Europeans, and I don’t like Christians either.”

413The Jesuit father laughed almost defiantly as he pronounced this heresy. Scorn played over his fine old face, which, with its high-arched nose and deep black eyes, resembled that of an Arab.

414On the following day he rode back to Lebanon — to the only decent people he knew in the world.


415On a Friday, the thirteenth, we embarked at Beirut. The steamer was supposed to put to sea in the forenoon, but it was midnight before the anchors rattled and the ship slowly got under way. The next day we learned from the captain the reason for this: the sailors had refused to sail on such an unlucky day.

416The unlucky day brought misfortune on me anyway. I felt wretched, had a high fever and a bad cough. But, in keeping with the principles of my upbringing, I kept it to myself, secretly swallowing large quantities of quinine which I wheedled out of the ship’s doctor. As a result, the entire trip to Constantinople is a blank in my memory. I recall only unbearable thirst, roaring in my ears, dizziness, and the heat. I presumed that I had caught malaria somewhere. It will go away, I thought, provided I take quinine regularly.

417As we came into Constantinople, however, I was coughing so much that even my parents realized something was not right. The doctor came and diagnosed a case of measles. Of all the things to do in Constantinople, I had thought of nothing smarter than to get myself sent to the German hospital with measles. I was furious, but I had to submit.

418After seemingly endless burning days of high fever I was released from the infectious diseases ward, and much thinner and with shaking knees, permitted to walk in the wonderful gardens of the hospital which stood on a hill overlooking the city.

419I made friends with Sister Katherine, a large, energetic woman who was in charge of the men’s section of the hospital. That is how I also made my way to that part of the garden where her patients lay or strolled around in the shade of the great trees.

420My interest was aroused by a young sailor, who seemed to be in an exceptionally bad way. I went up to him and with a great deal of sympathy asked him what he was suffering from.

421To my astonishment the poor devil turned red as a beetroot, looked around in embarrassment for Sister Katherine to help him out, seemed to be cudgelling his brains for an answer, and finally came out, stammering, with: “Rh… rheumatism.”

422Afterwards Sister Katherine told me dryly that young girls were well advised not to ask sailors about their maladies.

The diplomats’ summer resort

423As soon as I was able to leave the hospital we went to the island of Prinkipo, where we spent a month, and from there to Therapia, the diplomatic summer resort on the Bosphorus. White palaces with marvellous gardens stretching all the way to the water, nothing but green as far as the eye can see, thick groves where so many nightingales sing that it is hard to sleep at night, great Turkish barges and sail-boats passing through the Bosphorus — that was Therapia from the outside. Inside, it was a veritable hornets’ nest filled with the malicious buzzing and humming of mutually mistrustful and hostile people.

424This was the centre of all the gossip and intrigue of Turkey. Everyone was suspicious of everyone else and at the teas and tennis matches the diplomats kept a sharp eye on each other: who was on especially good terms with whom, who had talked longer than usual with some Turkish dignitary?

425One tall, heavy-set, morose-looking man was to be seen at all the diplomatic receptions and parties, generally in conversation with influential Turks. This was Freiherr v. d. G.,67 the German ambassador, of whom it was said that he had a hand in everything that happened in Turkey. The Young Turks68 did not like him; they spoke of him with a strange smile and a peculiar gesture of the hand. Sometimes Count Széchenyi69 appeared, as lively and energetic as a young man. He was the organizer of the Turkish fire brigade, which had the reputation of being one of the best fire brigades in the world. Certainly it never got out of practice, for there was an extraordinary number of fires in this part of the world. Red flames were continually leaping up into the night sky, the air was filled with the smell of burning and the silence was shattered again and again by the rattling of fire engines heading to the scene of a fire. The merry old Hungarian, who generally commanded the fire brigade himself, had — in contrast to most Europeans — not harmed the “Asiatics” but rather helped them; he had brought them a bit of genuine civilization.

426Diplomats are like women, they cut each other up mercilessly, and rarely and only unwillingly concede any superior knowledge or understanding to their esteemed colleagues. It gives them much greater happiness than it does ordinary mortals to think of everyone as “really quite stupid.” In Therapia, however, there was one man whose superior knowledge and understanding were universally acknowledged. He seems to have been better and more accurately informed about Turkish affairs than all the diplomats put together. “You must ask Paul Weitz,70 he will know for sure,” they would say, and the moment the cheerful, somewhat overweight correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung appeared he was surrounded by people who listened carefully to his every word.

427There was also a great figure in finance to be seen in Therapia, one Herr Gutmann;71 I believe he was from the Deutsche Bank. I was impressed by one fact only: that so young a man should understand something about banking, which is incomprehensible to me to this day. What Paul Weitz did not know, Herr Gutmann did — the two of them were the oracles of the Europeans.

428Father had become very friendly with one of the Young Turks, an energetic young man who played an important role in the Young Turk Revolution. The Young Turk never came to see us until late in the evening; it was dangerous to have anything to do with Europeans openly, and the Turkish espionage system was as good as that of czarist Russia. The Young Turk always came with his collar turned up high, and always made sure that no one was listening at the door.

429His precaution was not exaggerated; the place was swarming with secret police; servants, door-keepers, beggars on the streets — you could never be sure that any one of them might not be a spy. The Turks sold and betrayed each other, and the Armenians were even worse. The Albanians were the most trustworthy, but they in turn could make your life miserable with their fidelity — it was impossible to get rid of them. When father had first come to Turkey many years before, a strange little episode with a tragic ending had taken place in Constantinople.

430A European diplomat had an excellent Albanian servant whom he prized highly and of whom he was very fond. He was deeply grieved when the servant, an old man, became ill one day and, in spite of the most careful treatment, died.

431One morning a few days later a young Albanian appeared in the diplomat’s bedroom. When the diplomat in astonishment asked him what he wanted, he said:

432“I am the nephew of your servant. My uncle has left you to me. From this day on I am your servant.”

433The young Albanian was a worthless and dishonest servant, but the diplomat could not get rid of him. He tried to dismiss him, but each time he sent the Albanian away the fellow came back and said: “You cannot send me away. My uncle left you to me. You have to keep me.”

434Finally the diplomat lost patience and had the embassy soldiers throw the man out of the house. Two days later the diplomat was found dead in the street with a dagger in his heart. The servant was arrested. He did not deny the deed; it was his conviction that he was in the right. His uncle had bequeathed the diplomat to him and the diplomat had in a sense become his property; he could not be permitted to pass alive to anyone else.

435Father also liked to tell another characteristic story from the same period in his life. “Wild” pashas from the interior used to appear at diplomatic soirées in those days — barbarians little versed in social usages but endowed with practical sense, for they believed in always “taking away” something with them. One of them, with especially refined tastes, after having eaten his fill at the buffet, slipped an entire lobster into his pocket. A young attaché noticed it and in a fit of exasperation seized the sauce bowl and poured the contents into the pasha’s pocket with the polite remark: “Votre Excellence a oublié la sauce.”

436The young attaché was not destined to go very far in the “career.”

The Loreley

437In Constantinople and on the Bosphorus whenever the conversation turned to the subject of the warships of the various European nations, which lay at anchor there as a reminder of the power of their respective countries, the Austrians would become embarrassed and quickly talk of something else. It was really impossible to cut much of a dash with the old tub that represented Austria’s power; it was a screw steamer that might possibly have been new fifty years before, a miserable, clumsy, insignificant monstrosity, in the wretched appearance of which you could read the shame if felt in the company of its ally, the beautiful little Loreley.72

438The Loreley was lean and graceful, as snow-white as a preened swan, and spotless from the smallest screw to the guns. It was a pleasure to view the ship and take tea or lunch on its shining white deck. Yet for me personally the time spent on the ship was the source of various unpleasantnesses. When I think back on these, I still experience a feeling of aversion.

439Two days after our first lunch on the Loreley father called me and explained that the commander had asked him for my hand; as he was a charming man and everything else was also in order, I should think the matter over.

440I was anxious to get away from home. I liked Constantinople and I liked the Loreley — but I did not like the commander. I said no, much to my mother’s annoyance. To my mother’s annoyance but to my own good fortune, as well as to that of the commander, who is today one of the leading lights of the German Nationalists.

441After this episode the atmosphere at home became distinctly uncomfortable; father, who was always eager to avoid any unpleasantness, decided to make a trip into Asia Minor and took me with him.

In Asia Minor

442Led by two soldiers on horseback we travelled across wild stretches of country, over the roughest roads imaginable. Out of their swampy edges giant tortoises poked their heads. We got to Tarsus and saw the ruins of Paul’s house and from there we went to Eskisehir, where the inhabitants, using primitive techniques, made all kinds of objects out of meerschaum.

443As it was summer, we travelled at night in order to avoid the heat of the day. I remember particularly one journey by moonlight through a lonely stretch of forest country. It was deathly still all around; only the hoof-beats of our escort echoed through the night. There was a full moon. Father had warned me: “Wear a thick veil, the moon burns.”

444I didn’t believe him and didn’t follow his advice. The next morning I was burned quite brown and my whole face hurt.

445Once we spent the night in a little place where there was no inn. I stayed in the mayor’s house where I was given a fine big room. In the lower part of the door leading into the adjacent room there was an opening about three centimeters wide. This did not bother me, for no one was staying in that room.

446In the middle of the night, however, I was awakened by a mysterious sound: a loud sound of nibbling and scratching. My flesh began to creep. What could it be?

447I lit a candle and saw big horrible-looking worms crawling into my room through the opening in the door. I jumped out of bed and opened the door leading into the next room; the floor in there was alive with innumerable worms crawling around and nibbling noisily on mulberry leaves. They seemed to be completely at their ease — certainly more so than I was. The mayor, it turned out, was the biggest silk-worm grower in the area. I was very happy that I did not have to spend a second night in these disagreeable surroundings.

448We stayed in Bursa for a short while, and I spent many hours at the wonderful Turkish baths. In the marble halls there were pools and baths and douches at every temperature from cold to hot. One walked around there quite as one had been created by God — except for the Armenian women who wore, as their single article of clothing, a cross around the neck. The slim, brown forms of beautiful young girls were like fine bronzes; but there were also hideous, bulbous old women — they were not usually over thirty — who looked like caricatures. After one had gone through all the rooms and immersed oneself in all the different waters, one had one’s hair washed with henna by Negresses, and this was followed by a massage. (During this procedure I was always told: “You will never get a man, you are much too thin.”)

449After the massage one lay on a sofa, drank black coffee, smoked, and felt very much at peace with the world.

450I had my fortune told in the market-place at Bursa. I still remember one thing from what was foretold: “You will marry shortly and go to live in the coldest land in the world.”

451I laughed; how improbable that a creature who loved the sun and the warmth of the south above all else should move, of all places, to the coldest land in the world.

Return to Europe

452After we came back to Therapia father began to be bored. He already knew Turkey quite well from earlier journeys, and felt a desire to return to Europe. Good-natured as he was, he took me with him so as to spare mother and me the unpleasantness of living together.


453We took passage through the Dardanelles with the Austrian Lloyd.

454At a certain spot every steamer had to fire a cannon to indicate that everything on board was in order. As an Austrian minister to foreign countries, father was an important man on an Austrian ship, and so the captain invited me to fire the cannon.

455Before the shot was fired, I felt very important. Afterwards, however, there was such a tremendous ringing in my ears that I thought my eardrums would burst. I had not drawn back in time.

456It was a wonderful trip. The sea was as smooth as a lake, dolphins played in the blue water, and at night the little waves gleamed like molten silver.

457The ship put in at Piraeus, and we took the road to Athens.

458I had expected to find Homeric figures, and the modern Greeks were a great disappointment to me. On top of that father dragged me to the Acropolis in the noonday heat and then was vexed at my lack of enthusiasm. He was a great venerator of the Greeks and even then could still recite whole passages in Greek from the Iliad and the Odyssey.

459Athens was too European for me, and I began to feel nostalgic for the Orient. I was very happy when at last we left Athens and went on to Corfu, where an uncle of mine was consul.

460Here everything was still and green and beautiful. My uncle’s wife, whom I had not met before, was charming to me. I was thoroughly at ease and very happy.

461Soon afterwards my uncle lost this beautiful post — in a very strange manner. He was a talented, genial man who, however, from time to time would go off the deep end or throw a fit in anger. To his great misfortune he had one of those fits while my aunt was in Vienna, where she went periodically to take care of her affairs. A reforming zeal was not unconnected with my uncle’s fits. In this case the issue was the reform of the maisons publiques. My uncle fumed with rage over conditions in the bordellos of Athens and Corfu and the mistreatment of the prostitutes. Unhappily his rage was not confined to spoken words — he vented his wrath in newspapers and magazines, he was merciless in his attacks on the proprietors of the maisons publiques and he assuredly thought that some good would come of it all.

462The result, however, was a note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs transferring him to a much less desirable post.

463My uncle had not taken the precaution of finding out who the proprietor of most of the brothels was. On his passage through Austria to his new post he discovered that most of them belonged to the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs.


464We left Corfu, took ship to Trieste, and from there went on to Vienna.

465At first father was happy to see old acquaintances again, but after a few days he began to complain that they were boring and said he could not stand Vienna any longer.

466He too missed the colours of the Orient; everything seemed to him pale, monotonous, dead.

467We took the train to Frankfurt-am-Main. Here father pointed out to me, as a remarkable curiosity, a hotel near the station. A sign on the door read: “No dogs and Jews admitted.”

468At that time such a thing was still a curiosity in Germany.

469However we also saw something in Frankfurt that was more in keeping with my ideas of culture — even though it came from a barely civilized country and was foreign to the “innermost being of the German people.” We saw Saharet73 dance.

470I have seen a great many dancers since that time, including the entire Russian ballet, but I have never again seen such completely natural grace and charm, the expression, simultaneously, of a little wild animal and a beautifully refined woman.

471Frankfurt was the first big German city which I got to know well as a grown woman. I liked the handsome, noble buildings and the many oases of green — as well as the antipathy of its inhabitants to the Prussians. Like good tourists we made pilgrimages to the original home of the Rothschilds and to Schopenhauer’s house. We took in Dannecker’s74 fat Ariadne, and in the Palm House celebrated seeing tropical plants and flowers again with melancholy joy. One night when there was a full moon we wandered about on the Römerberg. The Middle Ages appeared before our eyes, the magnificent old houses seemed to tell of dark secrets. Here father was able to indulge in “ordinary food” to his heart’s content. He dragged me along to tiny restaurants and consumed innumerable Frankfurter sausages. On one such occasion he almost frightened a poor waiter to death. The city of wealthy merchants seemed to have reawakened strongly aristocratic feelings in him — this happened time and time again. True to his Austrian ways, he gave the waiter a — by German standards — extremely large tip. “Thank you very much, Herr Baron!” the fellow said. In the city of the Rothschilds that was indeed the highest title of nobility by which a person could be addressed. But father, deeply insulted, replied quickly and in a loud voice: “Call me Victor if it will make you happy, but for God’s sake don’t call me Baron!”

472The poor waiter thought he was dealing with a madman; he gave father a terrified look and rushed away — without having called him Victor.

473Little did I then suspect that Frankfurt would again play a role in my life, and that, after I had finally broken with my old world, it would become a kind of home for me.


474Father had gone into “disposition” too early. As much as he had grumbled about the “career” in the past, he now missed it. He was pursued everywhere by an inexorable grey spectre, which he could never get rid of for long: boredom. He tried to run away from it, but it always caught up with him and would not let him go. How often in the morning I would leave him content and cheerful, at peace with the world, enthusiastic about the place where we happened to be at the moment and then come back at lunch time to find him sitting in his room, surrounded by newspapers, looking years older, wearing a desolate expression, and muttering: “Really, it’s too unbelievably boring here. Even the people are dull and stupid. Pack your things, we are leaving tomorrow.”

475On the train or aboard ship he would become cheerful again; he was blessed with indestructible optimism, always expected something good to happen, and was always happy when he was “on the road.” He was bored only when the destination was reached.

476On the train, he used an excellent trick to get disagreeable fellow-travellers to leave our compartment. He would sit with a lowering expression and stare threateningly at the intruders. Then he would begin to mutter strange sounds, wave his arms wildly and behave generally like a lunatic. That was my cue; I had to assume a frightened expression and whisper to the passengers that my father had just been released from a mental hospital and had to be protected from any excitement.

477If the trick worked and the fellow-travellers speedily left the compartment, father would laugh like a schoolboy and be in a good mood for hours.

478From Frankfurt we took a trip on the Rhine. I compared it with the Nile and longed to be back in the Orient. At first father was enthusiastic about the “German River” — especially about the vineyards on its banks. He tormented me with talk of the Nibelungen, scolded me because, unlike him, I could no longer recite entire passages in middlehigh German, praised German orderliness and efficiency, and was generally content. Then we came to the Niederwald monument75 and, as he hated everything ugly, that immediately spoiled his good humour. All at once the Rhine with its “gingerbread castles” became a miserable river; the wines, in the long run, were undrinkable; even the orderliness and efficiency of the Germans left much to be desired. Now, casting angry looks at the patriots gathered around the monument, he recited Musset’s “Nous l’avons eu, votre Rhin allemand”76 and began loudly and ostentatiously to lament the fate of poor Alsace, which had come under the rule of a country capable of producing such a horror as the Niederwald monument. I was glad when the Rhine trip at last came to an end. We zigzagged back and forth through southern Germany and saw all manner of beautiful things, but father became more and more out of sorts and more and more regretted having returned to Europe. I was also ill-humoured, for I had again found a suitor who, both on aristocratic grounds — he was a baron — and on financial grounds, did not please father. I had a singular talent for setting my heart on someone my parents considered a “poor sucker.” The result: family scenes, arguments, irritation on all sides. Then I was shipped off to Merano77 for the winter with a lady companion as chaperone.

The eight-hour working day

479I came to Merano irritable and in a bad mood. The teas and balls bored me; I now found the usual chatter about Mitzi and Baby and Putzi hard to take. Among all the people I met, there was only one I liked — old Herr von Pribam.78 Years before he had been tutor to my father and his brothers and had subsequently filled a rather high post in some ministry. Now he lived with his wife and son in a pretty, tastefully furnished villa.

480I was flattered that the old gentleman, who avoided all his wife’s other guests, enjoyed chatting with me, and I was always delighted when his son would whisper to me at one of her teas: “Papa is in his study. You are to be sure to drop in on him.”

481Surrounded by his books, the old man led a solitary existence, writing up his memoirs. He could speak interestingly about many aspects of the old Austria; he did not like the “new times.” He did not agree with my reading newspapers: “They are not for young girls.” But he encouraged my reawakening literary ambition, and patiently read two horrendously bad novels and many equally bad short stories that I had concocted.

482That winter I appeared in print for the first time, in the Meraner Zeitung, under a fine pseudonym. I shall never forget the friendly, sandy-haired editor, Herr Ellmenreich. I have rarely felt so grateful to someone. The tiny editorial office lives on in my memory as an impressive, awe-inspiring room and I still have warm feelings for the Meraner Zeitung in which two feuilletons by me appeared.

483I hardly noticed that I received no honorarium. It was honour enough simply to have been published.

484After this good fortune (and after the well-intentioned editor had sent back both my novels), I suddenly discovered that every decent person should learn a trade, and I apprenticed myself to a book-binder. At first the honest Tyrolean thought I was mad, but later he got used to me and yelled at me as much as he yelled at the other apprentices when I cut a book crooked or spoiled the gold lettering. For months I applied myself diligently and learned everything I could in the little work-shop. Then I decided that for one week I would try to work the eight-hour day that was the still unattained goal of the labour movement.

485After the first two days, however, I had already made the discovery that the eight-hour day was a most remarkable ideal. My back and shoulders ached as though they were going to break, my hands trembled, I cut myself with every one of the knives, bruised my fingers with the paper-mill and upset the lime-pot. After work I could not eat, and at night I could not sleep. I could not get the smell of lime out of my nose and it made me nauseous. But I did not give in and held out for the entire week. Then, when, at last, on Saturday, our day off was about to come, I startled the entire shop by falling to the floor half dead and beginning to weep uncontrollably. I was very ashamed of myself, but I could not help it.

486That one week taught me more about social problems than a dozen heavy tomes.


487In the meantime father had retired, and my parents had to decide where they wanted to settle. This was not a simple matter. Father wanted to go to Switzerland and become a naturalized Swiss. He had always had a strong liking for Switzerland and the Swiss. But mother was against it; she did not like “hotel places.” Finally they agreed upon Baden-Baden where we spent a completely uneventful summer as far as I was concerned.

488In the autumn my parents went to India, and I again went to Merano with a lady companion.

489I was now twenty-four years old and, according to Austrian law, no longer a minor. I did not in the least enjoy living with my parents, and I had all sorts of wild schemes to make myself independent; but what could I actually do? In practical matters, I was as inexperienced as a child; all my life everything had been there for me and everything had been done for me, as though that was part of the natural order. I did not even know how one checks baggage at the station. But I wanted to get away from my parents at all costs. One of my aunts advised me to become a canoness, and I spent a considerable amount of time drawing up my family tree; for at that time anyone who aspired to become a canoness was required to demonstrate sixteen “incontestable” ancestors on both the paternal and the maternal sides. I could have spared myself this tedious task, for just at the point when I had successfully collected all my ancestors, I met a young Balt79 at a ball, and three weeks later I was engaged to be married.

490Had the two of us searched the whole world over it would have been impossible for either of us to have found anyone less suited than we were to each other. There was nothing about which we did not have opposing opinions. My future husband related with pride and enthusiasm that he had spent most of his time in the previous two years shooting revolutionaries; I, on the other hand, dreamed of an estate run as a co-operative, in which all the workers had a share. Neither of us made a secret of our convictions, but the young Balt, accustomed to the submissive German women of his homeland, assumed that after the first two or three children my “madness” would automatically disappear, while I, for my part, was convinced that it would be an easy matter for me to “convert” him.

491For that matter, we had little time to argue; ten days after our engagement he went back to Russia in order to be home for the Saat — the Sowing.

492I knew nothing about the Saat, could scarcely distinguish between barley and rye, and had never lived in the real country. But everything, as I imagined it, was very beautiful: the endless Russian steppe, the solitude and quiet, the many animals. The Russian cold did not alarm me in the least: “One goes south in the winter, of course.” I had occupied myself with social questions practically since childhood, but I could not conceive of an existence in which one did not spend the winter in warmer climes and in which everything was not designed to enhance one’s comforts and satisfy one’s taste for the beautiful.


493When my parents returned from their Indian trip they were not exactly enthusiastic about my engagement. Father came to Merano to meet his future son-in-law; he found him pleasant and likeable, but — the misalliance! First the barons and now a Herr von. A Protestant too, on top of that.

494“I will not try to dissuade you,” father said. “You are old enough to know what you are doing. But has it occurred to you that your sons can never become chamberlains or your daughters ladies of the Order of the Star and Cross?”

495I had not thought of it, nor did the revelation now worry me in the least. My sons and daughters would fight for the liberation of humanity, and for that they did not need to be either chamberlains or ladies of the Order of the Star and Cross.

496I went with father to Baden-Baden. Mother was already there. “You’ll see how disagreeable it will be when people only call you ‘gnädige Frau’ “she said scornfully. But she was glad to get rid of me at last and with great eagerness helped me prepare my trousseau. We were married in June, but not in Baden-Baden: that would have brought the grown daughter, whom my still beautiful mother preferred to keep a secret from people, too conspicuously into the limelight. She suffered enough from the grievous fact of my existence, even though father, in order to make things easier for her, had found a charming way of saving her youth. He always introduced me to strangers as: “My daughter from my first marriage.” Thus without lying, as he always proudly insisted, he succeeded in getting people to take me for my mother’s step-daughter. In order to heighten the illusion, I also had to call her by her first name.

497For these reasons, therefore, the wedding was not to take place in Baden-Baden, but in Frankfurt. Two days before the ceremony we discovered that the civil marriage had to be in Baden-Baden. We went back in all haste and experienced an amusing scene in the city clerk’s office. I was wearing a tailor-made dress, while father, my fiancé and his two brothers were in lounge suits. The clerk wrinkled his forehead when we appeared before him and said sternly:

498“Why have you come here dressed in everyday clothes? A marriage is a festive occasion in a person’s life. Go home and put on the proper clothes, and then I will marry you.”

499Our trunks were in Frankfurt, and we had no other clothing with us. But we were so intimidated by the clerk’s strictness that we rushed to tailor and dressmaker to have ourselves fitted out with the “proper clothes.” I came off easiest; my white lace dress was put together with a few stitches and some pins, but my father and my fiancé were most extraordinary looking in their ill-fitting frock coats. Still, they were indeed frock coats, and the clerk was content. Father was so angry about the makeshift coat and stared so furiously at the official during the whole ceremony that I could scarcely keep a serious face. Also, during the clerk’s long, unctuous speech he kept up a steady stream of facetious remarks; it was a very jolly wedding.

500The next day the church wedding took place. I do not remember now in what church; since then I have looked for it in vain. For me, however, the ceremonial aspect was marred by the fact that I had never been to a Protestant wedding before and did not know how to act.

501The leave-taking from my parents was not especially moving. Poor father found my father-in-law, who had come to the wedding, an unmitigated bore and had but one wish — to get rid of us all. By way of farewell, mother said: “I know that you would now like to have no more to do with us. Just remember, however, that it is very mauvais genre to break completely with one’s family when one gets married. Don’t forget it.”

502I kissed our little fox-terrier Jack, took his sister Gilly, whom I had begged from father, under my arm and went with my husband to Berlin, where we planned to remain for a week.

An Austrian woman in Russia

503It was a wonderfully beautiful summer, hot and dry, and I could not believe my husband when he said that “at home” it was still freezing on the moors at night. I did not like Berlin and was happy when one evening we boarded the train that was to take me to Russia.

504The long trip began. At the border my heart began to beat wildly: Russia — what experiences lay in store for me in this mysterious and dangerous land? How would it change me?

505The trains ran more slowly now, in broad, comfortable rocking movements. The locomotive spewed big glowing sparks out into the night.

506“The trains run on wood,” explained my husband. “In our distillery too we use only wood. It works out much cheaper than coal.”

507In all the stations there were enormous hissing samovars. Even at small whistle-stops you could get wonderful tea.

508We were already at the beginning of the great plain — endless fields and great forests which cast fantastic shadows. Night came but it did not get dark. A pale, ghostly light gave everything an air of unreality. The uncanny white light crept through the curtains of the compartment and kept one from sleeping. Outside, the vast plain slipped past the windows, cold and dead; not a village, not a house to be seen, nothing but endless fields.


509After a forty-eight hour journey we at last came to our station. A dismal grey stone building, and behind it, in the morning light, a tiny village.

510A carriage with four horses was waiting in front of the station, as well as a cart for the luggage. I was greeted by the driver and I replied politely but sleepily: “Terre, terre,” the only word of Estonian I knew; it means “good day.”

511I was dead tired. The carriage had hardly begun to move before I fell sound asleep. Whenever I was awakened by a jolt, I caught the same view of endless fields, with the rough road stretching ahead of us. For all I could tell, the carriage might not have moved at all while I slept.

512“How far is it to the estate?” I asked, drunk with sleep.

513“Seventy kilometers.”

514A thought that was hardly appropriate to someone on her honeymoon shot through my mind: Good God, seventy kilometers! How shall I ever get away from here if I can’t stand it?

515My mother had once said: “The ideal of country life for me is the Hotel St. … in Baden-Baden.” How far that kind of “country life” was from that in the Baltic provinces! For miles and miles nothing but meadows, fields, the occasional “big house” of an estate, and vast forests. (In the “Punishment Expedition”80 that followed the 1905–1906 Revolution the villages were all destroyed and their inhabitants sent to Siberia.)

516Siberia — the word weighed on the whole land like a nightmare. Article § 1 in the Russian legal code proclaimed that anyone was subject to punishment who by deed, word or thought came too close to the person of the Czar. You were sent to Siberia if you were caught reading a forbidden book, sent to Siberia if you taught peasant children without the government’s permission, sent to Siberia if you belonged to a temperance society; for in the eyes of the authorities every sports club, every temperance society was a potential band of conspirators. Every great estate had its own uriadnik,81 or country gendarme, and evidence brought by any one of these was sufficient to get you sent on the long journey.

517And what did not threaten the sacrosanct person of the Czar and the no less sacrosanct regime! The Neue Freie Presse, to which I subscribed came to me so blacked out by the censor that almost nothing remained except the “Court and Society News”; most of the time nothing at all was left of Harden’s82 Zukunft. Even in my encyclopedia, which was sent after me along with other books, whole sections of “Russia: history” had been blacked out.

518The Baltic barons, German to the core and wildly antagonistic to everything Russian, found this regime very much to their liking; they were not harmed, and with its assistance they could get workmen for almost nothing.

519They were absolute masters on their own estates; it was up to them whether their workers’ children could go to school or not (there was no obligatory school law in Russia). And woe to the worker who subscribed to the one progressive newspaper published in Estonian; as the workers’ mail was delivered in big black sacks first to the proprietor of the estate, the worker never got his paper, and was categorically forbidden ever to subscribe to it again.

520The attitude of the local people to the Baltic barons was understandably not especially cordial. Whenever one encountered a little farm cart on a country road the peasant would shout angrily: “Kurrati-sax!” (German devil!), and my husband impressed on me that I should never go for a long walk without my revolver; there was no knowing what “these animals” might do. As I was far more afraid of the little Browning83 he had given me as a “suitable” wedding present than of the entire population of “animals,” I did not follow his advice. Besides, despite my ignorance of the language, I was soon on good terms with all our workers. They said: “The master has married a blonde gypsy; she is crazy, but a good sort.”


521In Austria I had been familiar with the amiable arrogance of the aristocrats, which became disagreeable only when it was directed at the “bourgeois,” and which, in any case, did not exclude a grain of good-humored doubt about the aristocrats’ own godlike superiority. Here in Estonia there was no doubt; the smallest baron’s child was convinced that he had been created by a Protestant God, who was particularly well disposed toward him, of quite different material from that of the Estonian “animals.” The bourgeois, whatever their profession, were termed “literati,” and, so long as they spoke German, were treated with condescending politeness.

522”Literati,” God knows, the Baltic barons were not. When I arrived at the big house on my husband’s estate, where he had lived for six years, I found, after a thorough search, two books: the Bible and a pornographic work, The Memoirs of a Singer.84 And when I went to Dorpat85 for the first time and bought four hundred rubles worth of books and subscribed, on top of that, to magazines in various languages, my husband was genuinely dumbfounded, and my mother-in-law asked in astonishment: “What do you need all those books for? A good house-wife has so much to do taking care of the house that she hardly has time to read.”

523The “Austrian woman” quickly came to be regarded with horror by the good “Baltic housewives.” When at my first breakfast at home I asked in surprise: “Where is the jam?” my husband stared at me in even greater surprise and then announced: “Only whores eat jam.” And my poor mother-in-law, horrified, asked: “You bathe twice a day? No decent woman does that!”

524My clothes, and especially my underwear, which my mother had bought in Paris, also scandalized the family. One did not have lace on one’s underclothing, and one did not wear transparent nightgowns! The only thing that would have reconciled them to my sinful underwear — the coronet marking our aristocratic status — was missing. Coronets were much favored in the Baltic provinces, and at my parents-in-law’s there was a beautiful chamber pot with a magnificent five-pointed coronet on the bottom. (I always asked for it whenever I visited them, but that had nothing whatsoever to do with aristocratic feelings.)

525I would not do an injustice to the people among whom I lived for six years. They truly believed in aristocracy and in their own place among the elect. It never occurred to them, at any moment in their lives, that other people were also human. And the “literati” — doctors, teachers, and pastors — encouraged them in this belief.


526I sought in vain for the culture of these German “bearers of culture” in “barbaric” Russia. On our own estate I found miserable workers’ huts without floors, where from seven to twelve people lived crowded together in one room. My husband once came home with his cane broken and when I asked him in astonishment what had happened, he replied: “I broke it over the back of one of the labourers.”

527He could not understand when I cried, half weeping, half in anger: “Have the carriage hitched. I am leaving. I am getting a divorce!”


528He was equally dumbfounded by my response when once, coming up from the farm, he exclaimed in triumph: “I’ve given that fellow Tönnies the hiding of his life. The rascal dared to whistle the Marseillaise.”86 I went to the piano, which was by the open window, and played the Marseillaise over and over again the whole day long. The workers laughed: “The master can’t handle that gypsy.”

529When my husband was out at farms several hours away, they came directly to me, partly because I gave them French cognac when they complained to me of suddenly feeling faint — and it was remarkable how often these great strong men seemed to suffer from this — and partly because, having taken out a subscription for several copies of the prohibited Estonian newspaper, of which I understood not a word, I used to distribute those copies among them. The servant girls too were astonished because I did not beat them but was polite to them. We paid calls on other landowners; the “Austrian woman” had to be introduced. You drove for hours in the carriage and four and arrived dead tired. And then you had to talk for more hours with the good women of the house. They would chat about their children and their servants — like characters in a novel of small town life. After the meal the sexes would separate, the men going into the smoking-room, while the women remained in the salon. There would then be more talk of the children and the servants; it was desperately boring. The women would give me advice about housekeeping; little good it did. The men would ask me questions about farming to which I would give the most fantastic replies. On the way home my curiosity would be aroused: “What did your friends say about me?”

530My husband would laugh: “A charming woman but not very useful for breeding purposes. Much too delicate. How will you ever get children from her?”

531That was the general view of women in a country in which a family of under five was called “childless.” Here in the Protestant north, in a strange way, the oriental and the Baltic world views merged. A married woman was still nothing but a mother. She was not to dress in bright colours any more, was not to wear décolleté dresses, and was not to look pretty. She had attained her goal — a husband.

532“Why don’t you wear black instead?” my mother-in-law asked me when I appeared in one of my prettiest Paris dresses. “You are a married woman now, for goodness’ sake.”

533And every Sunday, which we always spent at my husband’s parents’ house, I was asked the same question: “What, not yet? You should ride less and above all not bathe so much.” And a disapproving glance would be directed at my narrow hips.


534In spite of everything the first summer was beautiful. I loved the birch woods and the broad moors where one could wander for hours. At sundown the brown heath glowed rust-red all the way to the far-off horizon. It was glorious to ride across the estate in the early morning, to stop and play with the colts in the paddock, to go to the kennels where the English hunting dogs belled. Along the river that flowed through the park there were lovely secluded spots. Silvery willows trailed their branches in the water and shone pale in the midday sun. Sometimes I would drift along in the canoe and jump into the water, warily keeping out of the way of the big old crayfish with their threatening claws.

535Autumn came, the maples flamed red, and the rowanberries glowed. Grey mists rose up from the river towards the house and swathed it in an impenetrable veil. Huge oak logs crackled in the fireplace, and the oil lamps spread their friendly light. A great silence settled over everything, except for the distant whirring of the threshing-machine, like some monstrous purring cat.

536Now came days of solitude. My husband went hunting on neighbouring estates; I had become ill and had to remain at home. In addition, I had to “watch over the farm.” I was not a good manager. When I was in the threshing-room I let the people steal as much as they wanted; heaven knows their pay was miserable enough. Once only, when one of them dragged a whole sack away right under my eyes, I asked him politely to please do it in a less obvious manner.


537The stables for the work horses were located about five minutes from the house, and my husband had asked me to keep an eye on the head stableman, because, my husband said, he was quite untrustworthy. One evening when it was already quite dark, I felt a sudden dutiful urge and went to the stalls. I found the stableman lying on the cold ground groaning in a frightful fashion. I was horrified, ran back to the house and returned with the universal panacea: cognac. I raised the sick man as well as I could and poured the cognac down his throat. It seemed to do him good, and I was much pleased with my medical knowledge, when suddenly our estate manager appeared, took in the touching scene, and quite dumbfounded asked: “What are you doing there, gnädige Frau. The fellow is dead drunk already!”


538The nearest doctor lived in a little village about three hours away; so even in the most favourable conditions, it was six hours before he could be at the estate. Hence the workers, their wives, and their children came to me with all their little ailments. In Florence I had worked for several months at the infirmary of the Sisters of Mercy and was therefore able to deal with minor illnesses.

539One day one of the old workers came running up to me and said, rather unemotionally: “I think my wife is dying. She has been in labour for six hours. Please, will you come and take a look at her.”

540I sent the coachman at once for the doctor and ran to the hut. There lay the woman in labour, groaning on the filthy floor, surrounded by loudly jabbering old women, each one giving a different piece of advice.

541“Why isn’t the woman in bed?” I asked in horror.

542“She will dirty the bed-clothes.”

543“I will give you some more.”

544“Will you give us a new mattress, too?”

545“You can have a whole new bed as far as I am concerned; only don’t let her lie any longer on the dirty ground.”

546They shook their heads at my mad ideas, but they did what I said. The woman herself was the most vociferous in her objections; she had given birth to six children on the floor, why should she be put in a bed for the seventh?

547The woman was forty-four years old; she should have left it at six children. The hours that went by before the doctor arrived were like a horrible dream. My experience at the infirmary was completely inadequate here; the only thing I could do was drive away the old women who kept wanting to touch the woman in labour with their dirty hands. It was hot and stuffy in the small space. The animal-like cries of the woman filled the entire room. The pale half-light of late afternoon fell on her pain-racked face. Death lurked in the corners. Children came running up and gaped at the woman, unmoved, with astonished eyes. The old women did not understand why I became angry and chased the children away. “We all have to go through this,” they said. “Why shouldn’t the children see it?”

548Finally the doctor came. He approached the bed and with a look of indifference on his face drew a pair of forceps from his bag. He glanced at me questioningly. “Do you think you can stand to stay here? It won’t make you faint?” He seemed far more concerned about the “gnädige Frau” than about the woman screaming and writhing in pain on the bed.

549When finally, after an eternity of pain and anxiety, the child was born, the doctor came up with me to the house and ate his supper, contentedly and with a good appetite.

550He was a remarkable type, that Doctor Hasenjäger [hare-hunter]. He fully lived up to his name, for his main interest in life was hunting. How often was he called to see a patient only to quite overlook the object of his visit the moment he heard my husband say: “Wouldn’t you like to take a gun and come into the woods first, doctor?” Sometimes he would forget to bring his instruments, but he always brought his shot-gun. He was more feudal than the most feudal baron, and his poor patients did not interest him in the least. He always approached the sick bed with a lighted cigar in his mouth, until one day, when he had been called to see a child with a pulmonary inflammation and did it again, I lost patience.

551“But it smells so bad in the huts,” he said. “Why shouldn’t I smoke?”

552“It is not good for the child.”

553He shrugged his shoulders: “There are so many of them. If one dies there is always a new one next year.”

554I saw red: “All right, you can go into the huts like that, but on one condition. If you are ever called to see me you shall come into my room also with a lighted cigar in your mouth.”

555The little hard blue eyes in his weather-beaten face stared at me uncomprehendingly. I was trembling with anger. “You’ll soon get over your sentimentality with this pack, my dear lady,” said Doctor Hasenjäger and with a sigh of regret threw away his cigar.

556That evening my husband asked me: “What on earth went on between you and the doctor? He told me you were extraordinarily nervous and that it would be a good idea if you had a child soon.”

557The doctor was not the only one with whom I had serious spats. One day while my husband was away a friend of his, whom I did not know as yet, came to see him. We chatted about all sorts of things, and finally got around to politics. The guest became extremely lively, praised the Russian regime, and finally said: “We have a wonderful method for treating political prisoners. It works better than any rack. For a week they get nothing to eat but herring and not a drop of water to drink.” He grinned. “Believe me, gnädige Frau, after a week of this diet they all come around.”

558The good man was most astonished when without a word I rang for the servant and said: “Have the Baron’s horses hitched at once. And if he comes back again he is not to be received.” He never came back again.

Family gathering

559In the late autumn a family gathering took place in Dorpat. It was to be a most festive occasion. Two new members of the family were to be “displayed” — I, the Austrian woman, and a young man from St. Petersburg who had become “Russianized” and was visiting the Baltic province for the first time. In addition, judgment was to be passed on a black sheep of the family.

560The gathering took place at Aunt Lilly’s house. Aunt Lilly was a widow and very rich. (Strangely enough, money made a great impression on the Baltic aristocracy, and my husband was most astonished when I explained that that was “bourgeois” and that money was something of quite secondary importance.)

561Aunt Lilly was famous because she had a blue salon; a genuine “period” salon. To the solid housekeeping women of the family with their plain tastes this seemed almost immoral.

562The “blue salon” and the adjoining rooms were full of people. My first thought was: “How on earth did a family that seems to be mostly made up of old maids get so many children?” The women wore black jet-trimmed silk dresses, cut high but very full about the bosom and hips. At first glance they all looked exactly alike; it was impossible to tell one from another. That is how I came to say nice things about their children to the real old maids among them, which affected them painfully. Aunt Lilly held court on a big blue sofa to a circle of people surrounding her. In a corner, anxious and bored, sat Grischa, the “Russianized” cousin who only spoke French and Russian; which seemed as outrageous to the assembled family members as the décolleté Empire dress and highheeled gold shoes of “the Austrian.”

563I was presented to one old lady after another. And each one asked: “How do you like our dear Baltic land? Do you find running a house with our terrible servants very difficult?”

564Smoking was not permitted in the blue salon, as a married woman I was not supposed to sit with the younger members of the family, and everyone looked disapprovingly at me. It was deadly. However, there was one other person there who felt as I did. That was Uncle Max,87 my father-in-law’s brother. Because he was poor and had scientific interests — I discovered later that the dear old gentleman was a well-known ichthyologist — he was treated with condescension by the rest of the family. For me, however, he was soon the best and most tolerant friend I had in all the Baltic provinces. He came up to me with his kindly smile and rescued me from a bunch of old ladies.

565“Come, you poor child, you must be bored to death. Sit down by Grischa. He will be so happy to have someone to talk French to.”

566And so we, the prime exhibits at this family gathering, who of all the people there could at least speak French, sat down together and quietly made malicious comments.

567The gathering had begun at three o’clock. It was now six; Grischa and I were surprised that there was nothing to eat.

568“What are we waiting for now?” we asked Uncle Max.


570Bruno was the black sheep upon whom judgment was to be passed today.

571“What did he actually do?”

572“He stole a forest.”

573“Stole a forest?”

574Uncle Max laughed at my astonishment — the thing seemed less incomprehensible to Grischa — and enlightened me. Bruno had been the manager of some Russian prince or other’s estate, had sold a forest belonging to the prince and pocketed the money. The prince did not seem to make too much of it, for he did not bring suit — but the family, on the other hand, did not want the dishonour to fall on it.

575At about half past six the servant opened the door; everyone immediately became stiff and solemn, and the whole blue salon breathed severity and pitilessness. Bruno entered, followed by his mother and sister whose black clothes, because of their grief and shame, seemed even blacker than those of the rest of the family.

576Bruno was a disappointment. He did not look in the least like a brazen thief who had stolen a whole forest, but was an ugly, frightened little man who pressed his fingers together in embarrassment and did not lift his eyes from the floor.

577No one shook hands with him. Only a stiff, formal nod of heads greeted him.

578The men came out of the smoking-room. Then Aunt Lilly rose majestically, and everyone followed her into the dining-room and sat down at the big table.

579Bruno sat at the end of the table between his mother and his sister, who cast beseeching glances at the others and wiped their eyes.

580The oldest male member of the family stood up and made a long speech in which a great deal was said about the family honour and about Bruno, the “shameful blot” on it. After that the accused defended himself as best he could, but a Russian forest is too big an object to be gainsaid, and as most of the members of the family themselves possessed forests which might have been stolen from them, they could appreciate the enormity of the crime. The head of the family rose again and announced that Bruno was to be cast out of the family for “dishonourable conduct,” that he was no longer part of it, and that he could no longer count on it for help and support of any kind.

581As Bruno and his family withdrew like a pack of whipped dogs, three of those present shook hands with him: Uncle Max out of kindness of heart, I out of contrariness, and Grischa because he thought that far too much fuss had been made about a trivial matter. Grischa did not own any forests and was a Russian tchinovnik88 (civil servant).

582The sentence had been pronounced, but there was still nothing to eat, and the boredom became more acute. It was impossible to continue to be indignant for hours over the unfortunate Bruno. Finally Grischa and I discovered two bridge partners and withdrew to the smoking-room to play cards.

583The old ladies observed this with strong disapproval and said to my husband: “Your dear wife has much to learn before she becomes a proper Balt wife.” And my poor husband offered the by now standard excuse for my shortcomings: “My wife is an Austrian and doesn’t understand all that.”

Winter silence

584The first snow fell, and darkness hung down over the land. The petrol lamps burned until eleven o’clock in the morning and had to be lighted again at three in the afternoon. The paths in the park were covered with snow, and you sank in over your knees the moment you left one that had been shovelled out. Our little river was frozen over with ice — it no longer gurgled; and everything else fell silent along with it. Nothing moved; the snow deadened every sound. The silence surrounded the house like a wall… and the sun had disappeared. Grey sky, grey silence, grey solitude.

585Dreadful evenings and dreadful nights followed. My husband was away a great deal elk hunting, and because of my health I was obliged to remain alone at home. Until dinner time it was still bearable. I could hear the servants moving about the house; foremen came by; I had to telephone my husband about this and that; from time to time you could hear the soft but audible sound of a sleigh passing. Somewhere, there was still life in the world.

586At nine o’clock the samovar was brought into my little salon. “Does the gnädige Frau need anything?” “No, thank you.” “Good night.” “Good night.” The servants betook themselves to the lower floor; I called all the dogs to me — six dachshunds, two setters, and my Gilly, and then the endless night began.

587Silence, oppressive, nerve-wracking silence. The hissing of the samovar gradually ceased. The dogs, sated with cakes, fell asleep. The world had disappeared; there was only the snow-bound house, in which I was alone, alone with the deathly silence. From the fireplace came the gentle ticking of the little Empire-style clock — very faint. Sometimes I could hardly hear the ticking. My God, if it stops, I shall forget my upbringing, I shall forget that one is not a bourgeois woman and that one must exercise self-control. I stare at the clock; if it stops, if its ticking ceases to be the only thing between me and dead silence, I shall begin to scream like a madwoman!

588Dear, good little clock, with your blue medallions reflecting the yellow light of the standard lamp, you never did stop. You never struck terror into me like your rival, the dining-room clock, when one eerie night it struck thirteen. I could have hugged you when your fine silver chimes sounded eleven, twelve, one, two o’clock, and gave me comfort. “I am alive,” they said. “My little clock-heart is beating next to yours. You are not all alone.”

589I surrounded myself with books, read, did needlework, shook the dogs to wake them up. They would wag their tails in a friendly and reassuring way and then go back to sleep. The big standard lamp would begin to hiss and flicker — the oil had been used up. Quickly, light the other lamp before that one goes out, just don’t let yourself be left in the darkness, alone with the silence that has its claws at your throat.

590Steps in front of the window. God be praised, the night-watchman is on his rounds and is checking the house. The good old man. Quickly, pour a glass of cognac for him and open the window. “Good evening, nightwatchman. Won’t you have a schnapps to warm you up?”

591Icy air swept into the room. I shivered in my teagown but scarcely noticed it. There was a human being out there, speaking with a human voice; I was no longer alone.

592The old night-watchman was pleased to get the cognac and quite willing to chat with me a little.

593He had only one topic of conversation: the depravity of the younger generation. I listened enthusiastically, agreed with him on everything, no matter how much he ranted and raved about the immorality of the old cabinetmaker on the estate who in a state of drunkenness had fathered a son by his own daughter — naturally the girl was to blame. Let him say the most terrible things about the young workgirls; just so long as he stays there and doesn’t go away; just so long as his hoarse, boozy voice saves me from the silence.

594But after three glasses of cognac, swallowed down very slowly, the old man had had enough: “Otherwise I’d fall asleep while walking on my rounds.”

595“Come back again, night-watchman. It is so cold. You must drink something or you’ll freeze.”

596“I have to make the big round now, gnädige Frau.

597The window was lowered. The steps faded away in the distance. Roughly and without mercy I shook the dachshunds from their sleep. “Schnauz, wake up. Little Kutz, big Kutz! Gilly, come here! Jacko, you’ve slept enough. Can’t you bark, just once?”

598Sleepy dog eyes, yawning dog muzzles. I crouched down on the floor next to Jacko, the black-haired Gordon setter, and laid my head against his soft fur. How warm he was, how alive. Give me your paw, Jacko, or I’ll go out of my mind.

599Little Empire clock, you are crazy. It has to be more than two o’clock. I’ve been sitting here an eternity. Look how many oak logs have been burned in the fire-place. What, only two? Are you sure? Shall I go into the dining-room and make certain? No, the big salon and the study are so dark, and in the darkness the silence feels even worse. I believe you, I shan’t go.”

600Sometimes the silence was broken, but not agreeably. One of the hounds in the pack would wake up and find his surroundings so gloomy that he would begin to howl. Then the whole pack would join in. The black night was filled with howling and whining. It was as though the end of the world had come and lost souls were crying out in anguish to an avenging heaven. Then I too, holding fast to Jacko, who was a philosopher and let nothing upset him, would begin to weep in helplessness and despair.

601As soon as dawn began to break I would chase all the dogs into my bedroom, entice them on to the bed and then lie down myself, dead tired but with my nerves all unstrung. No wonder I grew pale and thin during those winter months. My husband did not understand why, and I was ashamed to tell him of my fear of the lonely nights, for when he came into my bedroom one evening and, finding me crying my eyes out, asked what was wrong, and I replied: “There is no more sun, no sun anywhere,” he only laughed at me and said, “Of course the sun doesn’t shine at night, you little sheep!” He would never have been able to understand my fear of the silence.


602The winter was endless. On both sides of the road, which had been shovelled out, stood walls of snow as high as a man. Everything was covered with ice, and if I went in the open sleigh my hairpins got so cold that they burnt my head like flames. I sat by the fire-place the whole day long. When we went to pay our usual week-end visit to my parents-in-law my husband would have a reggi (hay-sled) hitched up. I would wrap myself up in furs and crawl under the straw, leaving only the tip of my nose outside so as to breathe. I made the entire journey in that condition. Whenever we took the ordinary sleigh, I would curl up under the fur covers and squat on the floor. Forty below, along with a bitter wind, was no light matter for someone who had spent every winter of her life in the warm south.

603My husband was a justice of the peace and had to travel to the little town of Fellin, about five hours away, to carry out his duties. On the eve of one of his trips, a neighbouring landowner came to see him.

604“I have a problem with a peasant,” the neighbour said in the course of the conversation. “It’s about a piece of land I have got to have. The peasant says it belongs to him. You’ll make a judgment in my favor of course?”

605Both men were disagreeably startled when I said in my most “aristocratic” tone of voice: “How much are you offering as a bribe, Baron Taube?”

606Even the excuse that, being an Austrian woman, I had no understanding of such matters failed to appease the old baron. Yet strangely enough — it must have been extremely awkward to have a wife like me — the peasant won his case.

607In Fellin we were visited by an elderly landowner whom everybody in the whole district made a fool of. He was an ill-kempt, thoroughly dirty old gentleman, with a long grey beard. By this time I had got used to the way the “neighbours” spoke of nothing but farming matters, and I did not expect anything else. But, quite abruptly, the old gentleman asked, as if he were talking about potatoes: “Have you read Anatole France’s new book?”

608As a result of this question, a warm friendship developed between the old gentleman and myself. He would come to the estate for a threeday hunt, bringing only a toothbrush with him, and generally stayed three weeks. We went out hunting together but we never brought anything home. We chatted about books and other countries and let the deer get away. The old gentleman had, in the eyes of the Baltic barons, a dark past. As a young man he had made the customary “educational tour” and had gone to Naples where he fell in love with a fisher girl. The Neapolitan beauty would not listen to him, and to the horror of his family the young Balt stayed ten years in Naples, ceaselessly trying to win the girl over. Finally, his parents stopped sending him money, his beautiful fisher maid married a Neapolitan, and he returned home, sad and constantly yearning for the south. His family married him to a “capable” woman who ran his estate for him. He, however, took refuge in books, where he found something of the life he had been robbed of. The good landowners looked on him with contempt, and it was touching to see this somewhat bungling, morose man awaken to new life on finding someone who knew Naples and modern literature.

609There was also a reading group: each estate contributed two books, which could be kept for one month. I aroused great indignation when I contributed Sombart89 and François Coppée.90 Sombart was condemned as revolutionary and Coppée as — indecent. The others brought to the circle, as modern writers — Stratz91 and Rudolph Herzog.92 One “intellectual” woman, who was said to have had an affair twenty years before with the revolutionary tutor of her son, dared to contribute Gerhart Hauptmann’s93 works, but no one ever read them: “So depraved we are not!”


610Yesterday it had still been winter, but today a real sun was shining, the ice was melting on the river, the big ice blocks were banging against each other and cracking, the snow was vanishing as if by magic, the winter wheat was putting out its green shoots, and, in front of the house, an overpowering scent was coming from the black alders. The northern spring arrives overnight; it comes with a gentle, warm wind that smilingly drives away all the misery of winter, with fragrance and blossoms and tender new leaves on the slender silver birches.

611Everything awakens from its winter sleep, kissed back to life by the blessed sun. The cows become restless in their stalls, the young colts frisk wildly in the paddock, the sheep bleat joyfully, and work begins in the fields. The earth gives off a wonderful smell, a promise of fertility and triumphant Life.

612In the fields, the cries of peewits filled the air — their eggs, so expensive in the cities, rotted here; the bright blue spring sky suddenly darkened as a flock of cranes passed over. In the dense grove near the house the moor hens sounded their mating calls; you could hear them from the house.

613As dusk fell, it was a special treat to wander through clearings in the woods, following the flight of the woodsnipes. Through the trees the sun could be seen sinking slowly below the fields; gradually the wood fell asleep and no more birdsounds were heard. Evening wrapped itself around the world; the cries of screech owls pierced the air. Then a lightning-like flash, a sudden rush, a flight of feathers, and a snipe fell to the ground.

614It was no pleasure for my poor husband to go hunting with me. He was a good huntsman, and I became sentimental over every deer or hare he brought down and called him a murderer (which never kept me from eating roast venison or hare). Once he wounded a roebuck, and the dogs leapt upon the beautiful dying animal.

615“Shoot it dead, for God’s sake, shoot it dead!”

616“I can’t. I’d hit the dogs! Stay where you are. Watch out!”

617But I ran up and pulled one of the dogs away. Only “little” Kutz had gotten such a hold that I couldn’t get him loose.

618“Shoot!” I cried: “It’s too awful, shoot!”

619My husband fired, the roebuck was dead, little Kutz fell to the ground, stunned. And now I was angry because something had happened to him. I carried him home in my arms; on the way he revived and bit my hand. That was the last deer hunt I ever took part in. For a long time afterwards I was haunted by the tortured look in the eyes of the dying buck.

St. Petersburg

620In the summer my husband was obliged to report for military duty and I insisted on going with him. One year of country life was enough; the prospect of going to St. Petersburg was extremely enticing.

621There was a good deal of tension and excitement at the time. Austria had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Russian capital was in an uproar about it.

622We arrived just as dawn was breaking; the Neva gleamed silver-grey; as we passed over the bridge, a dark gloomy building with towers and ramparts loomed up before us — the Peter and Paul Fortress, the prison for political offenders. The Nevsky Prospect stretched into the distance, with the Admiralty Tower at one end of it. Little droshkies tore along the streets. If a man and a woman were in one together, he would hold her about the waist, without any arrière-pensée, but simply to keep her from being thrown out.

623On the first evening we dined in the big Myedvyed restaurant.94 Two days before a very exciting scene had taken place here. A grand-duke had had dinner with a little actress and had offered her a thousand rubles if she would take off her clothes and walk through the big room naked. A thousand rubles was a lot of money, and besides it was dangerous to displease a grand-duke. The little actress slipped behind a screen, removed her clothing and began to walk naked through the restaurant. The guests were outraged, but they dared not say anything; they knew that the instigator of the affair was a grand-duke. The actress walked embarrassed among the tables, until a waiter had the presence of mind to throw a table cloth over her and get her to withdraw behind the screen again. The little actress fled from the restaurant; not so the grand-duke.


624At that time a terrible epidemic of cholera was raging in St. Petersburg, there were kettles of disinfectant in all the streets, innumerable hearses rattled by, and huge posters forbade, in the name of the Czar, the drinking of water from the Neva. At first it felt very uncanny, but one quickly got used to it. It was more difficult to get used to the tense atmosphere which enveloped the whole city. The revolution of 1905 had been suppressed with much bloodshed, but even the most dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries knew well that they had only won a breathing spell. The universal feeling was that “In ten or twelve years it will break out again.” These people already foresaw their downfall even then; their ferocity sprang from deadly fear. Everything was dangerous. Every book, every word, even colours. An Austrian vaudeville troupe was playing at the Summer Theatre; their last number was the then new Apache dance. When the dancers, a man and a woman, appeared on the stage a chill swept over the house, you could almost hear the people hold their breath: both dancers were dressed in flaming red. All chatter stopped. You were no longer aware of the strong perfume Russian women wear — there was a smell of horror. Wide-eyed, the audience stared at the stage, and although it was summer, the women drew their cloaks closer about their shoulders.

625“That’s the revolution dancing on your heads,” I whispered to my husband, and he replied: “Will you be still!” But his eyes, too, were fastened spellbound on the red figures dancing wildly on the stage.

626When the dancers went off there was a deathlike silence. Not a hand moved. Then the high society of St. Petersburg drew a deep breath, and returned, its limbs still quaking slightly, to its usual elegant life.


627In other European capitals wealth and poverty, the well-to-do parts of town and the working class sections are kept strictly separate from one another; in St. Petersburg, in contrast, everything was thrown together. Next to an elegant palace there was often a wretched low wooden hut, next to a de luxe restaurant a dirty pub.

628Summer was not the best season in St. Petersburg. “Society” had for the most part gone off to country estates or summer resorts. Nevertheless at the big restaurant on the “Islands” the display of luxury, of women in décolleté almost to the navel, of quantities of priceless jewels was astounding. Mixed in among all that were traders from Nizhny Novgorod and other cities inland, big, burly, bearded, dirty men who came into the restaurant in high boots and riding breeches, drank heavily, made a lot of noise, shouted a lot, spat with abandon on the floor, and left the waiter a hundred ruble tip. In the evenings on the “Islands” a band of Russian Gypsies played music that is even more furious and rousing than that of the Hungarian Gypsies. And here too the white nights lent to the scene an air of unreality — the whole thing felt like a dress rehearsal in a theatre lit by daylight, not like the last act of a tragedy advancing slowly but surely toward its end.

629It was not only countless hearses that rolled over the wood-paved streets of St. Petersburg; a far more sinister impression was created by police wagons escorted by mounted soldiers, or in the midst of a crowd two men handcuffed together, accompanied by policemen on either side.

630“Political types,” said my husband as I stopped in the street to stare at two very young boys being led away in this manner. No one showed any concern. It would have been too dangerous to utter a word of pity.

631Just as the conversation at teas and dinners in other cities is about tennis matches and who is getting engaged to whom, here it was about “conspiracies.” Here one had been uncovered, there a whole nest of conspirators had been eliminated. In Krasnoye Syelo,95 in Peterhof96 the police had “suspicious” characters under observation. The breeding ground of all evil was Finland, and the Secret Police was not doing a very good job any more; the Duma97 was a disaster for the country. The ground was already quaking in Russia at that time, but the foreign diplomats did not notice it. They encountered the same affable, well-bred men here as in Paris or Rome; at most they thought that the Minister of Foreign Affairs was too clever by half and that the Novoye Vremya98 was a despicable nationalist propaganda rag.

632“You haven’t the slightest idea of the way things really are and the mood of the people,” I remarked — with my then customary arrogance — to Count Berchtold,99 the Austrian ambassador, next to whom I was seated at a dinner. “Why do you only frequent drawing rooms? I advise you to visit the districts where the workers live.”

633“Oh, but please, dear Baroness — that wouldn’t do at all. That would be taken very badly here. Anyway, I have no interest in the internal politics of this country. I have a hard enough time of it as it is.” He complained about the hostility with which Austria was regarded, about the heavy responsibilities he bore.

634“Every day I read Bismarck’s Thoughts and Reminiscences. That is my Bible. One always learns something new from it.”

635But the wife of a Russian minister said to me with a fine ironical smile: “A charming man, the Austrian ambassador. An excellent causeur. And he knows so much about the Pre-Raphaelites!”


636The ambassador gave a dinner in my honour, as a former compatriot.

637“I am inviting the Germans for you. They are nice people. And the Englishman who was once at the same post you were. He would like to see you. A likeable fellow, Nicholson.”

638Sir Arthur Nicholson had changed very little. He was still the good diplomat to whom no one was too insignificant to be pumped for information. After dinner he led me into a corner and began a regular cross-examination about the Germans in the Baltic provinces. Were they loyal subjects of the Czar or were their sympathies entirely with Germany? In case of war should Russia fear treachery in the Baltic provinces? What were the relations between the population and the barons?

639A strange feeling of uneasiness came over me. When one is subjected to questioning like that, one is obliged to lie. Something odd now happened to me: I firmly believed I was lying when I told him of the absolute loyalty of the Baltic barons to the Czar — but what I told him was in fact the pure truth. It had been too long since I had stopped moving in diplomatic circles.


640It was unbearably hot in St. Petersburg, and my husband sent me to Peterhof, an old residence of the Czars. The great park, laid out in the manner of Versailles, with many fountains, sloped down to the sea. There were pretty villas in all the most beautiful parts of the place. Everything was well tended, clean, un-Russian.

641We were frequent guests in the house of General Keller,100 and when the great smotr (parade) was about to be held, he said to me: “Bring your Austrian friends along with you. The ambassador also, if you like.” The blond Russian giant looked at me with a smile — of the kind we in Austria call a Malefizlächeln [a malicious smile]; but I did not notice anything and thought only that he was most obliging.

642Count Berchtold came to the smotr; he saw regiment after regiment march and ride by. The Cossacks performed equestrian feats; their shaggy little horses were trained like dogs, they could be made to do anything. Artillery exercises followed. The Austrian ambassador was standing near me; he grew more and more wide-eyed, and there was a tense look on his face. Finally he whispered to me with a sigh: “My God, how those Russians can shoot! I never would have thought it of them! No — how those Russians can shoot!”

643The whole smotr seemed to make a deep impression on him. He became silent and meditative.

644A few years later, however, that day on the great dusty plain had apparently faded from his memory; he had forgotten “how those Russians can shoot.”


645That autumn my father, who had been in Japan and China, crossed with the Trans-Siberian into Russia to visit us. For the first few days he thought everything was wonderful. He went about the estate with my husband, offered him bits of “good” advice, which fortunately for the estate were not followed, and declared that a simple healthy life in the country had always been his ideal.

646On the third day he was already very discontented because there was no mail. (The mail had to be fetched from the station, and when my husband did not expect any important business letters we often went five or six days without mail.) Furthermore he wanted to go to a barber’s for a shave and was horrified to learn that the nearest one was three hours away.

647“One shouldn’t exaggerate the benefits of country life,” he remarked somewhat mournfully.

648He had planned to stay three weeks, and he did; but he was probably never in his entire life as utterly bored as during those three weeks.

649We took him to visit other estates, but that did not turn out to be of much help.

650“Tell me,” he asked angrily after one of those visits, “are there no pretty women at all in this damned country? How can the men stand it?”

651Every dinner was a catastrophe. My father would try a bit of the food and become more and more depressed.

652“You always were a barbarian in culinary matters, dear child — but how can one eat such awful stuff!”

653He declared that he would starve to death here and walked gloomily about the vegetable garden, digging up onions, which, according to him, were the only edible thing we had to offer. Then he had the groom bring him cookies from the nearest village. Whenever I went into his room I found him sitting there, bored to death, behind a five-days-old newspaper, nibbling cookies.

654He also found himself in an annoying dilemma. Without my having said a word to him, he noticed how hard life in the Baltics was for me. So, not wanting to excite longings in me, he decided not to talk to me about the real wide world outside. If, on occasion, he let himself go and spoke disparagingly about our way of life, he would stop all of a sudden, horrified, and change his tune: “You always wanted to live in the country. All this is great for you. Just see to it that there is an heir soon. Then you’ll be completely happy.”

Everyday matters

655My husband was as little aware as the other great landowners of an enormous contradiction in their lives.

656On the one hand, luxury: innumerable servants, riding and carriage horses, vast sums spent on hunting, old wines, and food. And on the other, a total lack of all the little things that make life attractive. Drawing-rooms in which the truly quite beautiful old furniture was covered with dark rep — so that the dirt would not show so much, bathrooms with no windows and no running water. (In any case, the custom was to take only one “general bath” a week.) No books, no magazines — or at most: Sport im Bild101 and, once in a while, Die Woche.102

657Their passionate devotion to all things German made these people look on foreign cultures with disdain. Young girls, out of patriotism, did not learn Russian, and being able to speak good French or English was almost immoral. In general, it was not good form to be educated — that was left to the “literati.”

658All this was easier to accept in the old than in the young people. A few of the old gentlemen were — in a primitive way — grands seigneurs, who had been transplanted from another century into the age of the telephone and the telegraph. The telephone and the telegraph were in any case used mainly for the entertainment of the landowners’ wives. Telegrams were received at the county seat by fat Fräulein Paulson, who would telephone the message to the estate; the same method was used to send a telegram. If a telegram contained an interesting item of news Fräulein Paulson telephoned the various estates: “Did you know that Fräulein v. Y. has become engaged?” or “Baron X. has become a father.” Once I sent my mother a telegram to Japan for her birthday. It was in English, which Fräulein Paulson did not understand, and half an hour later my mother-in-law rang me: “Is someone ill at your place? Did you send a telegram to Japan?”

659There were two railway stations near us — that is to say, one was thirty, the other seventy kilometers away. The little train that stopped at the closest one made fifteen kilometers an hour and in winter regularly got stuck in the snow. According to one story, it once ran off the rails, but neither the engineer nor the passengers noticed the difference. Still, speed itself is a relative matter. Once we went to a cattle market and took our head drover with us. He was a man of about forty, and he had never been on a train before. As we boarded the train, he already looked dubious, and when the train stopped at the first station, he came to our compartment, pale, his knees trembling, and said, almost in tears: “I won’t go any further, gnädiger Herr. Not even if you fire me this minute. The little devil runs like a mad thing, and there’s bound to be an accident. One ought not to tempt God like this.”

660In spite of all our assurances he got out and walked the whole of the long way back.

661Even my father-in-law preferred driving twenty hours in a carriage to riding in the train, albeit for a different reason. “I will not travel in the same conveyance with the common herd.” Nor would he drive with fewer than four horses, and in general he preferred six. His carriage raced along; Jan, the coachman, continually threatened with the prospect of being dismissed because he was thin (and a “gentleman’s coachman” should be fat), drove like the very devil.

662Gradually automobiles appeared, but they could not move very fast on the bad roads and continually had to stop to allow frightened horses and scarcely less frightened peasants to pass.

663A charming story was told about one of the old landowners. His nephew had bought an automobile, and the old gentleman let himself be talked into taking a drive in it. The speed pleased him, and when he got out he went up to the driver with a friendly smile and in the palm of his hand offered him a lump of sugar. It was his custom to do this with his horses when they made good time.


664A trip to town was always an exciting affair, for the train ran only every twenty-four hours. If you missed it, you had to take the post coach, which almost broke your bones. The Balts, who would let their coachmen wait for hours in the bitterest winter cold — the horses were always well covered — could not get used to the idea that they had to be punctual. When we went to town it was always the same story: “Hurry up. We’ll miss the train.”

665“I still have to shave.”

666“There isn’t time. Come along.”

667Then my husband would go to the telephone and ring the stationmaster: “Herr Wilms, I am taking the train. We shall be a little late.

668Please see to it that we don’t miss it.”

669“Certainly, Herr Baron.”

670And so indeed, when we arrived at the station half an hour late, there was the train patiently waiting for us, and Herr Wilms received us with a broad smile. Each year my husband made him a present of a cow.


671Cows played an important role on the estate. They lived far better than the workers, and if anything went wrong with them, the weather was never too bad to fetch the vet. I was a little afraid of the cows and kept out of their way; only the yard where the calves were raised appealed to me. The little creatures were soft and gentle and came to know one. But that too had its dark side; if one of the calves with which I had made friends was slaughtered, I would eat no meat for days. This greatly irritated my husband to whom it was “stupid sentimentality.”

672Twice a year Herr Meischtke, the cattle dealer, a little red-headed Jew, came to the estate. Sometimes he came in a carriage and four, sometimes with two horses, now and then with one, and once, indeed, on foot. But he recovered from every one of his business failures, and managed to swim up to the surface again. As soon as he had enquired about our health and asked if there was still no son and heir, the trading and haggling would begin. Herr Meischtke had nothing to teach my husband in this regard; the one was as crafty as the other. My love of truth was outraged — how can one, as an aristocrat, try to pass off inferior goods on a poor man who has to struggle so hard to earn his living? I made a face and then finally burst out: “Don’t buy that cow, Herr Meischtke. It has been sick for months and will not get any fatter!”

673From that day on, the moment Herr Meischtke arrived at the farm he always asked: “Where is the gnädige Frau Baroness? The gnädige Frau Baroness is a good business woman; she should be here when we strike our deal.”

674My husband had his revenge when I tried to sell my gelding, Charmant, to one of his friends for a very good price. The deal was almost closed when he asked in a friendly way: “Did my wife tell you that the gelding limps as soon as it strikes pavement?”

675When the visitor had gone, without having bought Charmant, I reproached my husband bitterly.

676“The fellow has so much money! And when I think of the way you always try to get the better of poor Herr Meischtke!”

677“One does not cheat one’s equals,” he replied sternly.

The “Russian soul”

678An Austrian relative went home after spending two weeks with us and raved in all the salons about the “unfathomable soul of the Russian people.” She had met two Russians: the excise officer who came at regular intervals to check on the brewery, and the judge from the closest county seat. For us, neither the excise officer, Alexander Tichonovitch, nor Judge Vladimir Stepanovitch was in the least unfathomable; nor in the matter of their souls was there much to remark. Alexander Tichonovitch always announced his arrival the day before — it would have been unpleasant for all if he had had to discover an irregularity in the brewery.

679“Is there enough Astchistchinoye (vodka)?” asked my husband hanging up the telephone receiver. “Alexander Tichonovitch is coming tomorrow.”

680He drove up in the forenoon. Hearty greetings all around; I sputtered a few words in broken Russian and led him to breakfast in the dining-room. His little eyes shone as they glanced over the table. He sat down and drank clear, colourless spirits out of a water glass. As far as the effect was concerned, he might just as well have drunk water. He spent two hours in this way. Then he went with me to the paddock; he was a great horse fancier.

681At luncheon he again drank quantities, and over coffee poured down one liqueur after another. His grey face did not become in the least flushed; he only talked a little more volubly, and his little grey eyes had a moist gleam. At last, at about five o’clock he said lazily: “Really I must go to the brewery now, but I’ll be back for tea.”

682I looked at him affectionately. “Alexander Tichonovitch, I should so like to make schnapps, but I haven’t any alcohol.”

683“Ah, what a good Hausfrau!” he cried enthusiastically. “What a dear, noble soul, always thinking of her guests! She shall make schnapps, the dear Baroness, she shall indeed.”

684And so, although it was strictly forbidden to take alcohol from the brewery, he came back from his inspection with three enormous bottles of “ninety degrees.” Sometimes he came back from the brewery with a wrinkled brow and a troubled expression on his face. On such occasions, my husband would tell me in the evening: “Poor Alexander Tichonovitch, he again has so many worries. His wife is not well, and his son’s education costs so much. He told me all about his troubles.”

685In our brewery everything was always in order.

686Vladimir Stepanovitch was a different type, tall and thin with the face of a hungry wolf. He came every year for a week to go hunting; it was advisable, in order to be prepared for any eventuality, to be sure to stay on good terms with him. As a passionate Russian he actually hated Germans, but he loved hunting more than anything. He was an exceptionally fine shot, and no wonder, for he was invited to hunt on all the estates in the neighbourhood.

687It was not altogether impossible to touch his judicial heart; you had only to find the right “words.” How my rather taciturn husband managed to do this, I once saw for myself. We were at the horse fair at Fellin and were just about to have dinner when my husband was called to the telephone. He came back half laughing; yet at the same time irritated: “Can you imagine, Kubias Tönnison (the foreman) is being sent to Siberia!”

688“What? Why?”

689“Yes, our estate manager just telephoned. The uriadnik has reported Tönnison. Yesterday when they were weeding in the potato field Tönnison said to the workers: ‘Do your work well. There will be war next year with the Germans, and then we’ll have a revolution, and the land will belong to us.’ Today the gendarmes came and took Kubias to O. Tomorrow morning he will be sent on.”

690“The uriadnik only did that because Tönnison stole his girlfriend from him. What are you going to do?”


692“But poor Tönnison!”

693“Poor Tönnison is a rotten apple, and if he says things like that he has it coming to him.”

694There was no getting around my husband with sentimental arguments; the only way to reach him was through his feudal feelings and his strong sense of being German.

695“But you are not going to let that miserable uriadnik take away one of your best workers! It was an impudence on his part to go ahead with this without first informing you.”

696“That is true.”

697“And surely you’re not going to let a miserable Russian judge tell you how to manage the estate. All this is a lot less about Tönnison than about your authority.”

698My husband got up. “I am going to telephone Vladimir Stepanovitch.” He was angry when he came back. “Impossible to get anywhere with that stupid fool. He says we can’t talk about such serious matters over the telephone.”

699“You see how that Russian is snapping his fingers at you.”

700My husband laughed: “I know very well what your aim is. I don’t care about Kubias, but I won’t let Vladimir Stepanovitch get the better of me. Tönnison is to be taken away at four in the morning. We just have time. Get changed, quickly. We are going to O.”

701The last train had left long before; we made the first part of the trip with our own horses, the last by post-coach. It was pouring cats and dogs, a howling autumn wind was blowing. The post-coach rocked from side to side on the road like a ship in rough seas, but I was too worked up to notice it.

702“Tell him we won’t invite him to hunt again if he doesn’t release Kubias.”

703“That won’t be enough.”

704“I’ll chip in two hundred rubles myself.”

705“It will cost five.”

706“All right. I’ll pay half.”

707At four o’clock in the morning we arrived in O. Vladimir Stepanovitch was awakened, and disappeared into his study with my husband.

708Half an hour later the two men emerged, looking very pleased.

709“An unfortunate error, Germinia Viktorovna,” said the judge amiably. “I’m so sorry you have had to make this long journey in the middle of the night. The uriadnik lied to me shamefully. He shall hear from me; it’s unpardonable to arrest an innocent man.”

710He turned to my husband.

711“Tönnison can go back with you, if you like.” We shook hands with the judge.

712“Come to our place next week for some hunting, Vladimir Stepanovitch,” I said affably. “We haven’t seen you in such a long time.”

713“Thank you. With pleasure.”

714When the carriage at last got under way with the liberated Tönnison on the box, my husband made a face: “These fellows are getting to be absolutely shameless. That little joke cost me seven hundred. But I’ll be taking Tönnison in hand myself now.”

715The one who came off worst in the whole affair was the uriadnik. Three days later, as punishment for his bare-faced lie he was transferred to a less desirable post. In his place came a fat friendly man whose age was a safeguard against any mix-up with women, and who was interested only in crimes against property.

716Not all functionaries made as high demands as Vladimir Stepanovitch — sometimes one got off for very little. Once, coming home from Reval, I sat alone smoking in a “non-smoking” compartment. A conductor appeared, called my attention to the “no smoking” sign and went away.

717After a little while, assuming that he would not come back, I lighted another cigarette, only to be caught again by the conductor. This time he spoke more sternly and said something about a fine.

718He came back a third time and found me again with a lighted cigarette. Very dignified, raising himself to his full height, every inch the inexorable tchinovnik, he closed the door behind him and came over to me. “It is forbidden…”

719The devil got into me. I held out my cigarette case to him: “Do you smoke?”

720The conductor was speechless. Words stuck in his throat. But a moment later he was sitting opposite me, grinning, and praising the quality of my cigarettes. In the course of the ten-hour train ride, he came many times to my compartment and smoked my cigarettes. “So long as I am here,” he declared, “you will not get into trouble for smoking.”

Crazy” ideas

721I had now been three years in the Baltic provinces. My husband’s friends and acquaintances shared, to a certain extent, the view of our workers: the woman is not only an Austrian; she is totally mad. It was so easy to come by a reputation for madness; it was enough to ask a guest: “At what time would you like to take your bath?” A look of astonishment; then the outraged response: “Do you find me so dirty that you have to offer me a bath?” Finally, a slight shaking of the head. I had been forgiven similar faux-pas: the décolleté dress at dinner, the little silk candle-shades on the dining-table lights, even the Paris skirts which came down only to my ankles. But my political position, my conviction, bordering on insanity, that an Estonian worker deserves the same respect as a Baltic baron was unpardonable. And who would ever have dreamed of asking a Baltic nobleman to sit down to dinner with an Estonian veterinarian?

722One of our most frequent guests was a Baron Wolff; he was a wild fellow, the type of the born lansquenet. He had served six months for firing a load of buckshot into the behind of a postillion who was not driving fast enough. Before that, he had fought on the side of the Boers in the Transvaal. He was an even more accomplished drinker than Alexander Tichonovitch, and in his hip-pocket he carried a loaded Browning which he whipped out on the slightest provocation. Along with that he was uncannily, almost pathologically arrogant. On one occasion, he had come to us again to go hunting on the estate, when by a stroke of misfortune we were obliged to call in the veterinarian in the morning to attend to a thoroughbred dam in labour.

723“The veterinarian can’t eat with us today,” my husband declared. “Wolff would get up and leave the table if you expected that much of him.”

724“The veterinarian is better educated and far nicer than all of you put together. If he doesn’t eat with you then I won’t either.”

725“Be reasonable, for goodness’ sake. You know that at the very best Wolff would only be rude to the man.”

726“But if I get him to be polite?”

727“Your speeches about the people won’t go down well with him.”

728“I shan’t make any speeches,” I promised.

729“Do as you like, but I won’t have any scenes at the table, do you understand? And my guest is not to be offended.”

730I went to our guest.

731“Baron Wolff, is it true that you will not sit down to eat at the same table with the veterinarian?”

732“Naturally, with that filthy Estonian, certainly not!”

733I gave the “Baltic nobleman” a searching look. “You come to see us almost every month, Baron Wolff. Have I ever refused to sit down to table with you?”

734The Baltic baron was speechless.

735“Don’t you think,” I said smiling amiably, “that if I condescend to sit down to table with a lowly baron, you might be happy sitting with the veterinarian?”

736Strangely enough this argument seemed to hit home. The luncheon passed off peacefully and merrily, in spite of the veterinarian’s presence. It is true that Baron Wolff later said to my husband: “If I had a wife like yours, I would see to it that she got shipped off to Siberia as soon as possible.”

737Later I lost the Baron’s friendship for good, and his visits became more infrequent. He was a wild anti-Semite, and could spend hours badmouthing the Jews. That irritated me. My father had brought me the first edition of the Semi-Gotha103 in order to show me that I had a Jewish relative — Saint Ignatius Loyola,104 whose cousin was an ancestress of mine on my mother’s side. (This edition was subsequently suppressed because the Romanoffs were in it too.) To my great delight, I discovered that the great-grandmother of the Jew-hating Baron Wolff was a Jewish woman. So the next time the Baron came to visit us I placed the Semi-Gotha, with the section about his family underlined in red, on the night table in the guest room. From that day on, he absolutely could not stand me.

“On the gentle art of making enemies”

738My father sent me Whistler’s book, On the Gentle Art of Making Enemies105 and wrote: “Actually you have no need of this. Still, you might just discover a way of making yourself disliked in it that you hadn’t thought of before.”

739I don’t want to boast, but in this art — for as long as I lived in the Baltic provinces — I was more than a match for Whistler.

740What was one to do, after all, when small-pox broke out among the workers on my father-in-law’s estate and not a thing was done to combat the epidemic?

741“The seventh child died today in one of the families,” my mother-in-law telephoned to tell me. She was a pious Protestant and an exemplary mother.

742“Have you had your people vaccinated?”

743“No, Doctor Hasenjäger is away and father will not call another doctor, but God will help.”

744My mother-in-law had once asked me, “Do you Catholics also have the commandments: thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery?” and I had answered: “On the contrary: our faith exhorts us to do all those things.” Consequently, she was not in the least surprised that the Catholic woman had more faith in vaccination than in God. What was more surprising was that the Catholic woman translated her faith into action by ringing up Vladimir Stepanovitch.

745“Vladimir Stepanovitch, people are dying like flies of small-pox on the W. estate. This is criminal. See to it that a doctor is sent out there at once to vaccinate the workers. Otherwise, I shall telegraph the Governor. Yes, certainly, you should feel free to say who demanded this.”

746The Governor was like God to these people, and the crazy Austrian woman was capable of anything. The doctor appeared on my father-in-law’s estate, accompanied by two gendarmes, and the workers were vaccinated along with their wives and children.

747To tell the truth, mass vaccination of this kind was not such a simple matter, as I had to learn for myself when I insisted that it be done on our estate. All our people were summoned, I bared my arm, and the doctor approached with his needle, so that everyone might see that there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Yet in spite of this, the women were terror-stricken and started to weep, and one of the workers, a fellow as strong as an ox, fell down in a dead faint after witnessing the “operation.” He collapsed right into my arms, and almost bowled me over. The blacksmith’s wife took her three children, fled into the forest, and was not seen again until five days later.

748My husband was triumphant: “Now you see that it’s impossible to get anywhere with this herd.”

749“Because no one teaches them anything. Let me build a school, then you’ll see soon enough. We have about a hundred children here. Please let me set up a school; I will pay the teacher.”

750I was pregnant at the time; at last there was the prospect of an heir; and my husband was in a gentle mood.

751“Very well, but on one condition — the wealthy peasants in the neighbourhood must pay a part of the cost. See if you can persuade them.”

752Did anyone ever succeed in persuading a wealthy peasant to do anything? I did not, at any rate. They scratched behind their ears and announced unanimously: “We don’t want a school. When children get a bit of education, they go off to the city and don’t want to work on the land any more. No, we won’t pay anything.”

753That was the end of the school project. It was the last public improvement plan my husband showed at least some willingness to co-operate on. A few months later his hopes for a son were dashed for the second time; and after a serious operation, I was nothing more than a fragile woman with eccentric ideas, in need of constant care, good for nothing.

Marriage and politics

754Things had now come to such a pass that my husband and I were no longer good-humouredly scornful of each other’s opinions or hopeful of bringing the other around to our own position. When the mail bag arrived whoever opened it handed the other his newspaper with the fire-tongs so as not to dirty his hands on it.

755More and more frequently I heard the words: “I will not allow such a thing to be said in my house!”

756“Where am I to speak the truth, then? Among strangers? I must have a neutral spot somewhere where I can speak as I wish.”

757I became obsessed by the idea of a “neutral” spot. Finally I bought a wood near the house from my husband with the intention of being “the master” there at least. Yet even this fell short of achieving my goals. If my husband was out riding, he would give it a wide berth whenever he knew I was there, and even when he did enter it on one occasion, I was more preoccupied with the threat of the venomous snakes that inhabited it than with starting a discussion.

758Had it not been for politics we might have got along quite well together; I had become so attached to country life that I loved even the silence and solitude of the winters. My husband for his part forgave my “eternal reading” and “stupid obsession with culture” and no longer hoped to make “a real Baltic housewife” out of me. But the conversation always veered towards politics, and scarcely a day passed without our getting into a “purely political” row.

759I experienced the worst of all of these on the way home from my parents-in-law’s estate. The newspapers had arrived during dinner, bearing news of a failed attempt on the life of the king of Italy.106 All evening I had listened patiently to repeated expressions of indignation at the “villainous” anarchists and had held my tongue. But family dinners rarely put one in a good mood. When at last we were in the sleigh going home and my husband began to speak again of the assassination attempt, I lost patience: “Stop, please, I implore you. I prefer the man who tried to do that to all of you. He risked something for the sake of his convictions.”

760“Be quiet!”

761“I can say what I like. I am truly sorry that the attempt failed.” (I was in no way a supporter of individual acts of “terror”; equally, I was not going to allow myself to be terrorized.)

762“I will not permit you to say such things in my presence, do you understand?”

763“I am more than sorry that the attempt failed.”

764“Joseph!” my husband called out to the driver. “Stop!”

765The coachman obeyed. My husband took me gently in his arms and carefully lifted me out of the sleigh.

766“Drive on.”

767There I was with my convictions and my anger, standing in the deep snow in low, open shoes and an evening dress with a long train under my fur coat, with nothing to do but walk the still considerable distance home in the darkness. Such incidents did not make me more favorably disposed toward reactionaries and autocrats.

The “business” with Sviderski

768There were hours when we stared at one another like two mistrustful animals, each one of us thinking, in despair: “The other means well enough. If I only treated him with more understanding, he would really be a very good person. But it’s impossible to penetrate the wall of prejudices he has built up around himself.”

769My husband discovered a curious explanation for my convictions. “You only side with the mob out of cowardice. You believe it will soon come to power, and you think that by siding with it now you will be all right when that happens. Strange, because you are not a coward in any other respect.”

770I justified myself. “You know I am not afraid. Just remember the affair with Sviderski.”

771The “affair with Sviderski” was one of the high spots of my life and had earned me high praise from the male members of the family. Sviderski, the new manager of the estate, was an unbearable, brutal East Prussian who beat the workers and was always telling everyone that his sister was married to a baron. Between us there was bitter enmity; I dubbed him Sigasax (German swine), and soon that is what all the workers called him. One afternoon when I was alone in the house, I heard a shot, and a moment later the cook came running in to me. “Oh my God, Sviderski is blind drunk; he is standing in the kitchen shooting with his Browning.”

772Crack — a second shot, and then a third.

773The cook was weeping: “What shall we do, gnädige Frau, for God’s sake, what shall we do?”

774“No one is to go into the kitchen. I shall go down to him myself.”

775“No, no, he will shoot the gnädige Frau dead.”

776I was much too furious with Sigasax to feel any dread. In the hall I took down a riding whip — what I expected to do with a whip against a revolver, I do not know — and ran to the kitchen. There stood Sigasax near the door, grinning idiotically. He raised his big Browning and aimed at me.

777I shall probably be dead in a moment, I said to myself, but then a saving thought flashed through my brain: the fellow is a Prussian, has seen service, has the military in his bones, and he is too drunk to know who is standing in front of him. In as military a tone as possible I yelled: “Right about face! Forward, March!”

778He was a Prussian of the true Wilhelminian school. His body stiffened, and he came to attention. Then he marched past me, as though I were a sergeant-major, through the other kitchen door into the open. With military commands I drove him across the court into his room where I locked him up. My husband laughed so much over my clever idea that he quite forgot to send Sigasax away. It was only months later that I managed to get rid of him.

Freedom from care

779A great deal of alcohol was consumed in the Baltic provinces. In winter the work days were short, and the workers drowned out the boredom of their dreary homes with schnapps. The steward in charge of our dairy-farm, a responsible, hardworking man, got drunk four times a year. On those occasions he filled the milk-wagon with empty cans, hitched up two horses, and galloped over the whole estate. The cans rattled about making an infernal din, while the steward sat on the box with a blissful expression on his face, singing at the top of his voice, and driving the horses as hard as he could. The god of drunkards was good to him. Nothing ever happened either to him or to his horses; only milk cans strewn along the road marked the path taken by the cart.

780The Estonian peasants were not satisfied with schnapps; they were drawn to a more deadly drink: ether. At the pharmacy in the county seat you could get anything you wanted — ether, cocaine, morphine — without a prescription. The estates purchased medicaments in large, wholesale quantities. In our huge medicine cabinet there was enough poison to send the whole estate to a better world. There were dreary days when I would stand in front of the shelf where the morphine and hypodermic needles were stored and have to call on every ounce of willpower I possessed, in order to resist the temptation to make my life easier with the help of these dangerous remedies. The ether-drinkers one ran into did not shout and stagger about like the brandy-drinkers. They had fixed expressions and seemed totally oblivious of their surroundings; this made a far more disturbing impression than ordinary drunkenness. It was heart-rending to see human beings destroying themselves in this manner.

781The Baltic barons drank quite as much as their “vassals,” but — with the exception of certain notorious drinkers — only on special occasions. On many of the estates there was only milk on the table when the family was alone. (The water was undrinkable.) At dinners and hunts, however, most of the “bearers of culture” got roaring drunk. The next day the salons looked like the scene of a battle. In the mahogany table-leaves there were huge holes burnt by cigars, sofa cushions with their stomachs ripped open lay all around, broken glass was everywhere. My piano was completely out of tune, one of the guests having poured a whole bottle of wine on the strings. In the circles in which I had formerly lived it was unheard of for men to get drunk in the presence of women — the worst that ever happened was that a Hungarian diplomat became sentimental and paid court more passionately than decorum allowed to some pretty woman or other, or sadly announced that nobody loved him. But here the men were frequently blind drunk, and their ever so moral wives thought nothing of it. “Our poor menfolk, they have so many worries with the farms. They have to relax once in a while.”

782When they went into “town” they amused themselves in the same primitive and uncivilized manner as the merchants from Nizhny Novgorod, for whom they had such disdain. The women stayed irreproachably with relatives and saw to it that there was herring and mineral water to deal with the inevitable hangover of their menfolk. I was the first respectable woman in Livland107 to get the men to take her along with them to a honky-tonk.

The superflous bunch of keys

783The Estonian peasant and worker was a good sort, intelligent, industrious, upright, a good friend and an equally good enemy. The dishonesty of the people was not an inborn trait; they were poorly paid, their working conditions were harsh — they were obliged to steal.

784“I tell you, dear child,” my mother-in-law often said to me, “that will not do. You must lock up the sugar and marmalade. You know well enough that the servants steal like ravens.”

785“Not at my house.”

786And that was not an exaggeration. After having made life miserable for myself during the first few months by continually leaving the enormous bunch of keys around, I tried another method. I called the servants together and in bad Estonian but with much emotion made them a fine speech, in which I told them that they were to feel at home in my house and that they should live as well as I did. If they wanted something they were to tell me, and as good friends do not secretly take things from each other, I begged them not to either.

787The people looked at me in astonishment, and then there was general hand-shaking. So I was able to rest easy, lay aside forever the hated keys, and proudly tell my neighbours: “At my house nothing is stolen.”

Hatred in the land

788There was something even more exciting in Dorpat than the honkytonk — a visit to the book-seller. Old Herr Krüger, a German from Germany proper, had taken me straight to his heart; the fact that I was his best customer may well have strengthened his affection for me. I spent long hours browsing among his books, generally in the forenoon when the shop was empty. As soon as the clerks had gone to lunch, he would give me a knowing smile and then roll down the iron shutter in front of the shop. A candle was lighted, and like two conspirators we tiptoed down into the cellar, one part of which was separated from the rest by an iron door. Herr Krüger looked around nervously, then pulled away the boxes piled before the iron door, took a key out of his pocket, opened the door without making a sound, and led me into the dangerous space where “forbidden” books were kept. A strange assortment. Stepniak,108 Kropotkin,109 Kennan’s work on Siberia,110 Rütten & Loening’s series on “Society”,111 works by Sombart and Bebel.112 Any one of these books would have been sufficient to send Herr Krüger to Siberia. Down here in the cellar, in the infectious atmosphere of forbidden writings, a change came over the old man. He no longer spoke in the third person; he did not say: “Here is a book which might interest the Baroness,” but: “Look at this, this is an interesting work, but the people here don’t understand anything. They are barbarians.” Then, to his heart’s content, he would vent his contempt for the barons, the reactionaries, the whole country. In his damp, musty book catacomb the respectable little old man became a revolutionary. Here all his hatred of the arrogant aristocracy, all the anger he had had to keep bottled up for months, spilled out. For a brief moment, down there in the cellar of his book shop, he was a free man.

789Such sudden transformations were not unusual. I studied Russian with a young Estonian girl who had graduated from the Russian Gymnasium. Her brother had been exiled to Siberia after the 1905 Revolution, and her father, a small farmer, was still being subjected by the police to repeated house searches and other forms of harassment. At first Linda Must was distant and reserved. She gave me my hour and never spoke a word that did not pertain to the Russian lesson. Slowly I managed to gain her confidence and later even her friendship. She let herself be persuaded to stay for tea after the lesson was over. I was happy to have some one with whom I could talk openly. Linda was a pretty girl, lively and clever. Once we were chatting happily of a hundred different things, when in astonishment I noticed that a change had come over my little friend. She was again sitting up stiffly, her face quite expressionless, as though she had put on a mask, and her eyes were cold and hard. In the doorway of the salon stood my husband — the enemy, the aristocrat. For as long as he was there, not a word was to be got out of her. An oppressive, icy atmosphere of hatred filled the entire room.


790This hatred of the landlords smouldered throughout the whole land, suppressed, but ready to break out at any moment. The Baltic barons, unabashed fighting men and rowdies, did not mind at all being surrounded by enemies; it added zest to their primitive joie de vivre. Besides, they despised their opponents and were convinced that they would always be able to handle them. I, in contrast, was depressed by my awareness of the general hostility, though I personally was never an object of it. The workers on our estate felt that for some reason or other the “foreign baroness” was on their side; they liked me, and they were good to me. The herdsmen neglected the other animals so as to take special care of my sheep. When I let the cook persuade me that it was possible to cross a hen with a pheasant the forester caught me a beautiful pheasant cock and the foreman planted a whole wood in the chicken run so that the pheasant would feel at home. The crossing did not work out, for although the hens were willing the pheasant refused to perform his marital functions. The wood, however, flourished in the chicken run and was a source of much happiness to me, as a sign that the people of whom I was genuinely fond did not look upon me too as an enemy.

791The workers, male and female alike, never lost an opportunity of demonstrating their friendship for me. I remember a certain potato harvest; my husband had gone off to hunt and I was to see to it that none of the potatoes were stolen. I was ashamed to stand idly in the fields among all the people working, and so I worked along with them as best I could. Now and again a worker came up to me and, using the familiar “du” form they used among themselves, said: “Don’t tire yourself out. The basket is too heavy for you, don’t lift it.” And when it began to get cool, one of the workers suddenly stepped up holding my leather jacket; without a word he had run to the house, half an hour away, to fetch the jacket for me.” Our lady is not to catch cold.” The good fellow was most bewildered when I suddenly began to cry because I was so touched by his goodness.

792I also think back upon one gloomy winter evening, when after a nasty scene with my husband I lost my head and ran wildly out into the snow. I had no idea where I was going, I only wanted to get away, far away — perhaps I would freeze to death, and then everything would be all right.

793My husband, who knew how much I feared the cold, thought: “She will come back as soon as she gets cold,” and sat down calmly at his desk. The house servants were of another opinion, however. They set out with lanterns to hunt for me.

794I ran into the forest, where the snow was very deep. I was dead tired; I sat down on the ground and tried to go to sleep — that was the easiest way to freeze to death. In the distance I heard voices calling: “Praua! Praua! (Lady!) Where are you?” But I let them call; I did not want to go back. I was beginning to be overcome by a pleasant weariness. How good it would be to go to sleep, to forget everything, and never be sad again. I felt my eyes closing.

795Someone shook me awake. Standing above me, a lantern in her hand, was Kaje, the washerwoman, who could hold her own with any man when it came to drinking and fighting. Her face, hard as if carved out of wood, beamed with joy because she had at last found me.

796“Come back at once.”

797“I don’t want to, Kaje. Go away and let me die.”

798She laughed. “Nonsense!” Then she picked me up like a child, placed me on her shoulders, and carried me back to the house, scolding me all the way, but now and again interjecting gently in her hoarse, boozy voice:

799“You poor child! You poor child!”

800I had dreamed of helping these people to a better, easier life, and now I was for them a “poor child” who needed to be helped and cared for.

A worker’s holiday

801There came a broiling hot summer. The fields dried up, clover and grass turned yellow. The sky was a relentless blue. Sometimes a little cloud would pass overhead and all eyes would be turned upward: Will it bring rain? The land was dying of thirst: the cows dragged themselves feebly around the parched meadows; all night long you could hear the mournful sound of an accordion; the fear of a crop failure lay heavy in the air. Now and again a hot breeze rose and drove clouds of smoke up as far as the house. A forest was on fire! Anyone driving through the country would come across veritable oceans of flame. The forests burned like match-wood, giant trees fell crashing to the ground, and for miles around there was a smell of smoke and soot. The horses were afraid and raced like mad past the flaming torches that had once been trees.

802On St. John’s Eve, the summer solstice, other fires burned. This one night was the workers’ lupanar — in an honourable sense. On this one night in the entire year all class distinctions were erased. The festivities took place in a large clearing not far from the house. There were rivers of schnapps and beer. No one could refuse to drink when invited. A worker came up with his glass: “Drink, Praua, to your health and mine and to the harvest!” Before the celebration of St. John’s Eve I used to take lots of aspirin for I had discovered that this was a way of forestalling the effects of the alcohol. St. John’s Eve was the only time when I did not take pleasure in the friendship of the workers. At one of the fires a certain Kubias was reciting a long poem of his own composition about an Estonian who left his home and went to a foreign land. There were thirty stanzas to the poem, and Kubias stopped at the end of each one to ask me if I liked it. At other fires, the game was to leap over them. The women laughed: “Our lady is not a real woman, she can leap like a young girl.” They came up to me. “What about that son, dear lady? It is really time now. But you are a gypsy, and gallop about the fields on a horse. You are a good woman; we would like you to give us a son for the estate.”

803I glanced nervously at my husband. He too wanted a son; I had gradually become in his sight the most useless creature in the world — a woman who cannot have children.

804At another spot I was seized by the workers, lifted up high and tossed through the air to another group. This was a most respectful act, a proof of their friendship, but it was not particularly pleasant. The people were accustomed to their own hefty women and did not reckon with my lightness; they threw me much higher than they expected, and I was happy when I landed in the arms of the second group without mishap.

805Still, it was a beautiful night; people forgot their enmity; the red moon lit up happy faces; and the workers, masters for one night, were friendly and full of good will.

Female harvesters and colonists

806At harvest time female workers came over from the Island of Moon.113 They wore red kerchiefs on their heads and were strong-willed women, who did not let themselves be pushed around. But each one of them could do the work of two men.

807The Moon girls had a house to themselves and set great store by cleanliness and neatness. They were always dissatisfied with everything, but the most tyrannical landlords yielded to their demands in all matters. These girls were extremely chaste, and no man was allowed into their house. In the evenings they walked about in pairs, like wandering poppies with dark red heads.

808In the autumn Russian women were brought in for the potato harvest. The moment they saw me, they would again ask: “Have you a son now? What, not yet? Well, why haven’t you a son?” They would scold me, sit down on the ground near me, and give me all sorts of good tips to help me finally have a child.

809The Russian women were the despair of the manager and the foremen. They would work very industriously for a certain time and then all sit down in the field and sing songs. No amount of scolding or threats affected them. Not until they had had their fill of singing would they return to work.

810The German colonists who were being hired on many of the estates were dangerous competition for the Estonian workers. One autumn my father-in-law too decided to employ German colonists. Stocky, sturdy peasant types with long blond and red beards, they arrived with their whole kit and caboodle. Strangely enough these Swabian peasants, who for generations had only married among themselves and still spoke in Swabian dialect, were very Jewish in appearance. The colonists were not packed together in some hole like the Estonian “herd of animals.” They were given decent, clean accommodations; they also got better pay and more allowances.

811“It is a real pleasure all the same,” my father-in-law opined, “to deal with people who speak our own language and who have honesty written all over their faces.”

812And my mother-in-law chimed in enthusiastically: “They are so God-fearing, they have asked me to read a sermon to them every Sunday and sing hymns with them.”

813“Isn’t the service for the ‘common herd’ good enough for them?” I asked spitefully.

814In the various Lutheran churches scattered widely over the countryside there were in fact two services on Sunday — one, very early in the morning, for the “people” and one, later in the morning, for “gentlefolk.” No “common” person was permitted to attend the latter. I myself once saw the sexton shut the door of the church in the face of an old peasant woman who had the audacity to want to attend the “gentlefolk’s” service.

815On Sundays the colonists streamed into the big salon. They asked for a “nice, long sermon” and could not get enough of hymns; they always had to sing “just one more.”

816“There is something really touching about the piety of these simple people,” said my father-in-law, who was not easily touched.

817“What about their work?” I inquired somewhat indelicately. I did not like these cunning peasant types with their nauseating religious zeal.

818“They haven’t got used to things yet. But you’ll see — as soon as they feel more at home they’ll get twice as much done as the Estonians.”

819The labour contracts were, as a rule, for one year. For that entire period, a worker did not have the right to leave the job and equally the landlord did not really have the right to fire a worker, though that stipulation was not taken too seriously. As wages were paid half-yearly in cash, it was impossible for a worker to leave. The German colonists were craftier than the Estonians; they insisted on being paid monthly. When winter came all those good people, except for one tall, thin, red-haired fellow, cleared out without saying a word, in the dead of night. The following morning their houses stood empty, and my father-in-law was left to manage as best he could. I was triumphant, for with much effort I had kept my husband from hiring colonists and so taking the bread out of the mouths of our Estonian workers, and he had finally agreed to wait and see “how the folk at W. turn out”

820The “one faithful colonist,” tall red-haired Ulrich, now became an important person on the W. estate. My father-in-law made him assistant manager and trusted him blindly; my mother-in-law gave a long sermon every Sunday for him alone, and then all the other members of the family had to come and sing hymns with him. Being of “another faith,” I was generally excused from this domestic religious service, though I “went along” with it when my two youngest brothers-in-law were at home. With them it was always possible to get something amusing going. We agreed to come to the service if we were permitted to select the hymns. So one fine day, to the horror of the God-fearing Ulrich, we sang a Moravian hymn which I had discovered in an old scrap book, and which — among other beautiful verses — contained the following:

I am an evil carrion, A wicked child of sin, Whose sins like Jewish usuries Consume themselves within. Lord take this sinful dog to You, Throw out the bone of grace, And bring this poor benighted one Unto Your Heavenly place.

821As it turned out, red-haired Ulrich was indeed himself, in the depths of his heart, a child of sin. Just before the half-yearly pay-day my father-in-law sent him to the nearest town to pick up the money for the wages — a very considerable sum — at the bank. Ulrich disappeared with the money, leaving no trace. My mother-in-law warned me over the telephone: “When you come to see us on Sunday, dear child, please don’t ask father about the ‘last of the Mohicans’; he is certain to fly into a rage.”

822No more German colonists were given employment on the W. estate.

A father-in-law’s ways

823My father-in-law held fast to the old German principle: “I am master in my own house.” The whole family, even his grown sons, trembled before him. He was a handsome, unbelievably young-looking man, a first-rate horseman and hunter, and thoroughly convinced of his likeness to God. If anyone contradicted him he flew into a rage. Since his twenty-first year when he had married and come into possession of the estate, his will had been law.

824As a child I had been so afraid of my mother that merely hearing her step was enough to make my knees shake; I understood a child’s fear. But that grown men should tremble before another man I could not comprehend. So it happened that in his fifty-second year, for the first time in his life, the universally feared and detested master of W. encountered an individual who dared to contradict him, who would not allow herself to be roared at, and who — when it came to the “explosion” so much feared by all the others — was capable of being every bit as disagreeable as himself. At first his astonishment was boundless. He would stare at me as though he thought I had lost my mind, then he would roar louder than ever: “If I were your husband I should beat you to a pulp.”

825“If you were my husband I should either have murdered you a long time ago, or else you would have learned how to behave like a gentleman.”

826“You forget that I am your husband’ s father.”

827“The poor fellow can’t be blamed for that.”

828“When I speak, you are to hold your tongue!”

829“Can you explain to me why I should?”

830The “explosion” would drag on. My poor mother-in-law would sit trembling in the next room. There would be an anxious expression on my husband’s face, but my small sisters-in-law would have a hard time concealing their glee.

831The battle would end mostly with my father-in-law’s saying, “It’s impossible to get anywhere with you” and leaving the room.

832Strangely enough, in spite of everything, he felt a certain fondness for me, mixed with fear. He was the only one who did not reproach me continually for being childless. In the two last years we almost never quarelled, and in a weak moment he once admitted, “It is impossible to get the better of that thin little woman.”

A weary summer

833The all-powerful tyrant did not know that at that very time I had come to a point at which the Baltic provinces and life itself had just about done with me. I was ill a lot of the time, could no longer ride or swim or take long walks, spent half the day lying on a chaise-longue, and had ample time to think about things.

834The thoughts that went through my mind were not particularly happy ones. I knew very well that my whole life was a betrayal of the cause in which I believed — in which, in fact, I believed more strongly the more I observed the injustice and oppression all around me. As a decent, self-respecting human being, I had to go away, begin a new life, work, serve the movement. But I was so tired that I longed only for rest, and I was afraid of the difficulties and the cares of an independent life, for which I felt I was quite unprepared.

835My mother came on a visit and said: “I really don’t see how you can live in such primitive, inelegant surroundings.” But when I compared my existence and my surroundings with those of our workers I was ashamed and could not understand how it was possible for me to act so much against my conscience.

836My little friend Linda had gone to St. Petersburg; everyone I came in contact with had different convictions from mine. What could I hope to achieve all alone against all of them?

837Somewhere far away, there was a larger world where people were fighting for justice, but here I lay in the garden under the tall pines, reading, knitting warm clothes for the workers’ children, and thinking as the sun went down behind the mournful silver willows: the end of another useless day. Will there ever be anything but useless days in my life?

838My poor husband was pleased that I had become “quiet and gentle”; but he could not understand why my buoyant good spirits had so completely disappeared. Still, a gentle, boring wife was better than a merry, loud-mouthed one.

839What I remember of these last two summers is above all the great silence. The little flower garden that I had laid out on the model of an old Italian convent garden was filled with the scent of roses; through the silver leaves of the willows the vast wheat fields were visible, bathed in a golden glow; the house gleamed white in the sunlight; and the dogs lay in the shade near my deckchair snapping lazily at the flies. Never before had I loved the house, the garden, the whole wonderfully beautiful estate as I did now that I was telling myself: I have to give it up, I can’t allow myself to live off the labour of others any longer. But my cowardice was always finding a way out, a reason to delay: I was ill, I was tired, I would be incapable of doing anything constructive. Not yet. Just a few more months, another year of ease and security.

A murder

840As summer drew to a close, a great anxiety came over the entire countryside. All sorts of strange things had been happening. One peasant’s barn was burned down, another found his cows dead in the meadow one morning. “Revolutionary” activities were clearly not involved, because the big landlords were unscathed; the mysterious evil had not touched them. Those affected were certain peasants who had a “bad reputation,” and who were said to have belonged, years ago, to a band of house burglars.

841One beautiful summer night there was loud knocking at the heavy house door, which was locked. My husband opened it, and on the steps stood a woman weeping, the wife of a tenant who lived about ten minutes away from us: “My husband has been murdered! A half an hour ago. Some one knocked at the door, and when he went to open it he was shot in the head with a bullet. It killed him at once.”

842Murder, a murder in the still of the summer night, and only a short distance from us. My husband took his revolver.

843“Telephone at once to Vladimir Stepanovitch, and have him send the gendarmes. And telephone to Fellin for the police bloodhound. Have the groom saddle the horses at once and get the peasants out to help with the man-hunt. Are you afraid?”


845“Then go down to the river. He might have tried to escape that way. Is your revolver loaded?”


847“If you catch sight of the fellow down there, try to hit him in the leg. Don’t aim too high. I’ll be along in a few minutes.”

848Standing at my post by the river was not exactly reassuring. In the bright moonlight the bushes cast strange shadows which moved like living beings, and the branches cracked and creaked. I drew Jacko, the setter, close to me. We stood there motionless. Let the man please not come this way. He is a murderer, that’s true, but to shoot at a human being! And anyway, I’m such a bad shot, I’m bound to hit him in the stomach instead of the leg.

849At last one of the foremen, armed with a shot-gun, took over from me. The entire farm was awake now; figures rose up everywhere out of the shadows. The men were furious, totally intent on capturing the murderer, while the women moaned, frightened to death. The last to show up was the fat uriadnik who came over from the next farm. Half asleep, he declared that it was a mean trick to commit a murder in the middle of the night and frighten people out of their sleep. My husband distributed guns to the men and sent them out in different directions. Then the horrific gave way to the prosaic.

850“Have the cook make coffee and butter some bread so that the peasants can have something to eat. And put some schnapps on ice for the captain of the gendarmerie.”

851Gradually silence again settled over the farm. Down in the little hut, which was visible from the upper stories of the house, lay a dead man, and somewhere not very far from us, the murderer was trying to get away. The moon leered mockingly, and in the east the sky was beginning to be coloured pink.

852Clip, clop — the sound of hoofs on the highway. Strange hard knockings like the approach of a threatening fate. The pack in the kennels began to howl. A command shouted in Russian, and the gendarmes came to a halt in front of the house.

853The captain declared that he could do nothing until the police dog arrived, and sat down to eat his breakfast in comfort. In the yard the horses champed at the bit, and the young workgirls joked around with the gendarmes until the big bell sounded the call to work.

854A loud murmur of voices, the sound of heavy steps; the peasants are coming. I looked out of the window; it is a scene from the Peasant War. That is how “Poor Konrad”114 might have marched his men out. At their head an old white-haired peasant with a scythe in his hand; following him, peasants armed with ancient flint-locks, axes and flails, sickles, and heavy oak clubs. Faces twisted in anger, raised, threatening fists: “We’ll tear the fellow to bits.”

855Breakfast calmed them slightly, but they would not wait for the police dog. They divided up into four troops and marched off again.

856At last the police captain had his fill of coffee and bread and butter; he began to drink schnapps and eat herring. Then the sound of rolling wheels; the Doberman arrived in a little peasant cart, escorted on both sides by mounted gendarmes, like a prisoner.

857The other gendarmes came out; the dog was led away ahead of them all to the hut of the murdered man. (As in a detective story, the murderer had dropped his leather belt in front of the hut.)

858The dog sniffed about for a while, then picked up the scent. He raced like mad across a great swampy meadow and plunged into the pine wood that lay along the highway. The gendarmes, my husband, and some armed men from the estate followed him.

859It was as though a a pack of hounds had been set loose on the trail of a hare. Somewhere a human being was trying to get away, creeping low behind bushes, anxiously avoiding every open space, wading across brooks to wipe out his tracks. Behind him the dog, the gendarmes, the furious peasants — a man hunt.

860About noontime a peasant from the neighbourhood rode up and asked to speak to me alone.

861“I have just received a threatening letter. Probably from the murderer.

862He is threatening to set fire to my farm. Phone the police in O. for me, and tell them to send me two gendarmes.”

863“You can phone yourself.”

864“No chance. He also threatens to shoot me or anyone else who informs the police. You phone.”

865I gathered that the peasant would rather have me be shot than himself, and so I phoned.

866In the afternoon the Russian examining magistrate arrived, an innocent-looking, still quite young man with a round face and round eyes behind spectacles. There was nothing about him that corresponded in the least to my idea of an examining magistrate; he chatted away innocently and amiably and drank unbelievable quantities of tea.

867Slowly the peasants came home; they had not found the murderer.

The hearing

868Darkness began to fall and the endless day gradually drew towards evening. A gendarme rode up to the house and announced to the magistrate in a military manner: “We have him. He was about four hours from the estate. We found him in a pasture. He was running around a hay-stack like a madman.”

869The expression on the magistrate’s face changed. His round eyes lit up behind the glasses. He wet his lips with his tongue and took on the look of a cat that has just spied a mouse.

870“When will he be here?” he asked.

871“In about an hour.”

872“Have him sent in to me at once.”

873“At your service, your honour.”

874The magistrate smiled amiably at me. “Now you will soon see me at work, Germinia Viktorovna.”

875He walked through all the rooms to choose the one best suited to his “work.”

876“The Baron’s study will be best.” He arranged the table lamp. “I shall sit here, and we’ll put the fellow over there in the light.”

877The posse returned; chained between two gendarmes was a pale frightened little man who seemed anything but a murderer. The gendarmes had found no weapons on him. The magistrate did not give him time to draw a breath. The prisoner was taken immediately into the study and seated on a stool directly in the brilliant light of the desk lamp. The magistrate leaned back in his arm-chair. Nothing was to be seen of his entire face except the lenses of his spectacles, which reflected the light from the lamp.

878Then the hearing began.

879At first the prisoner protested his innocence; he had indeed heard the shot; but he had been on the scene by accident. The murderer had met him and forced him to go with him. Yes, he knew who the murderer was, but he did not dare tell his name.

880Questions rained on him like hail-stones. Every statement he made was dissected, torn to pieces, twisted this way and that. A plump, threatening finger shot out o£ the shadow. The magistrate’s voice was sharp as a knife and cold as ice. From time to time he asked in an almost friendly tone: “Ah, so that was how it happened, eh? I see — ee — ee.”

881Then suddenly his round head seemed to roll out of the dark like a ball straight towards the accused man, the spectacles flashed, and the dreadful cold voice drawled: “You are lying.”

882Somewhere behind the drawn curtains silence and peace lay over the fields, somewhere people fought honourably with the same weapons, but here one man was boring a screw into the brain of another, boring deeper and deeper and smiling as he did it.

883The prisoner became entangled in contradictions; he began to stammer; sweat ran down his face; his hands trembled. Once he pleaded: “Water.”

884I got up at once, but a gesture from the judge kept me back. “Not now, Germinia Viktorovna. Later, after he has confessed, he may have anything he likes.”

885My hands were trembling too, and there was perspiration on my forehead. Vainly I tried to tell myself: “The man is a nasty murderer. He shot some one who had been one of his friends; he doesn’t deserve better.” Yet I wanted to hurl myself at that perfectly functioning machine, the examining magistrate, and force it to shut up.

886After a two-hour hearing the little Estonian peasant confessed to a murder — which, as it afterwards turned out, he had not committed. He could no longer stand the torture. If that judge had questioned me in the same way I would also have confessed to the murder.

887At last the prisoner was allowed to eat and drink. Then he was put in the cart and taken by the gendarmes to O.

888The investigating magistrate was a well-bred gentleman. As we left the study he asked with an amiable smile: “May I brush up a little before dinner, Germinia Viktorovna? This kind of work is pretty exhausting.”

889As the police cart with the prisoner in it was being driven out of the yard, the magistrate, combed, washed, and smelling of Russian eau de Cologne, sat down to table with a good appetite and spoke enthusiastically about St. Petersburg.


890The eerie atmosphere surrounding the tenant’s hut since the murder had not yet begun to wear off when there was a murder in St. Petersburg that sent shock waves through the whole country.

891It was early autumn. We were having dinner at the estate of the Czar’s Grand Master of the Horse. The master of the manor himself was in St. Petersburg, but his American wife and two pretty daughters were spending the summer on the estate.

892Dinners in the autumn were always jollier than at other times; the harvest, including the potatoes, was in, the hunting season was approaching, and the estate owners were contented and good-humoured. During this particular dinner the lady of the house was called to the telephone — a telegram from St. Petersburg.

893She came back pale and extremely upset: “Stolypin115 has been assassinated!”

894For a moment a deep silence fell upon the table. People looked at each other; their faces pale and strained. No one uttered a word, but everyone had the same thought: “The first sign. It’s breaking out again!”

895Then one of the old estate owners laughed loudly. The sound of his voice had a strange ring as it broke the complete silence.

896“We will defend ourselves as we did the first time!” he cried out resolutely. “We will soon bring the herd to order!”

897I glanced at the men sitting around the table — yes, they will defend themselves, they will fight to the last, they are not afraid, they are almost glad to engage their enemy. They are men who have somehow been transported from the time of the robber barons to our present age, fighting is their element. And they will fight well because they have an unshakable belief in their cause, and because there are no “traitors” among them. In the first revolution there had been two “traitors,” two elderly sisters who had always sympathized with the workers on the land. When the revolution broke out they raised the red flag over their castle and supplied the revolutionaries with guns. The Baltic barons seized the castle in “self-defence,” and the two women were brought to the nearest village. Here, on the village square, in front of everybody, their clothes were torn off and they were whipped with riding whips on their bare behinds. These were “social equals”; one can imagine how the other prisoners fared, those who were not social equals.

898While the others at the table were again beginning to engage in conversation, I kept thinking of the two “traitresses.” They had been typical Baltic women, modest and prudish. For as long as they did not know what was going to happen to them they had kept their courage up; but then they had broken down and, weeping, implored their captors: “Shoot us, but do not inflict this shame on us!”

899My husband who was sitting across from me, gave me a long, searching glance; he knew on which side I would stand if it “broke out again.”

900After dinner the men divided up into small groups. They spoke of “arming,” “self-defence,” “headquarters” and of how at the first sign of insurrection the women and children would be sent abroad, so that they, the men, “could have a free hand.”

901But the assassination of the minister was only a flash of summer lightning. The land became quiet once more, and routine existence again took its course.


902The following autumn the doctor ordered me to Davos. For months I had been running a fever and coughing. The climate was now too much for me.

903I wept desperately when I bade farewell to the familiar house and all the dogs; I knew that I should never see them again, I knew that fate had at last come to my aid by tearing me away from my life of comfort and security. The first step had been taken for me; if I did not go on now it would be sheer cowardice.


904As the train approached the Russian border, lots of soldiers were to be seen, nothing but soldiers, on foot, on horseback, with artillery. Uniforms everywhere. It created an uncanny feeling in the autumn peacefulness, caused a tightness around the heart. My God, what are all those soldiers doing so close to the border? The country is at peace after all. Can the rumour that the Czar has decided to avert the imminent danger of a new revolution by starting a war be true?

905The sun sank beneath the horizon, the fields were bathed in red, blood seemed to be streaming over them, and in the distance — the soldiers. Was it war?”

906“Manoeuvers” said a fellow traveller reassuringly, and in Berlin, when I ran across a friend, who was the German Empress’s head chamberlain, and asked: “For God’s sake, tell me the truth, will there be a war?”, he too laughed reassuringly: “Of course not. Don’t get all worked up. Germany doesn’t want war. And Russia knows very well that she can’t get the better of us.”

907He spent his entire life at court, he certainly had to know. But for months I was pursued by that vision of Russian uniforms near the frontier.

908When the Austrian crown prince was assassinated I saw these uniforms again, and the sunset and the plain with the blood streaming over it, the blood of innocent men who, on both sides, did not know what they were dying for.

909When the war broke out, I was still in Davos. It was not difficult for me to be “unpatriotic.” I knew the various peoples engaged in the war too well — there was hardly one of them of which I did not have some blood in my veins — to give any one of them preference over the others. All I could see was poor devils being driven pointlessly and uselessly to death; I also saw the one thing that is capable of putting an end to imperialist wars.

Being a “Russian” woman in Austria

910I was to have one more glimpse of my old world before I took the leap into the new one.

911In 1915 my parents were in Karlsbad, and my father who had not been able to recover from a heart attack was very eager to see me. But how was I, the citizen of an “enemy” country,116 to travel to Austria?

912“Write to Count Berchtold,” my father wrote me. “He will give you an entry permit for sure.”

913In the old Austria everything was possible. I received the permit, and now I had the experience of being the “Russian woman” in Austria after having been for so long the “Austrian woman” in Russia.

914“Just be sure not to make pacifist speeches,” acquaintances in Davos warned me, and my father also wrote: “For God’s sake don’t talk about bomb-throwing, and don’t say that all governments should be hanged.”

915Thus provided with good advice I entered “enemy territory.”

916On the border the first “incident” occurred. Among other books I had brought a volume of Shakespeare and Plato’s Republic. The two books aroused the suspicion of the customs officers.

917“That’s an Englishman,” said one of them eyeing the Shakespeare fiercely. “You can’t take that over the border with you.”

918I remarked demurely that the author had been dead for several hundred years.

919“He is an Englishman all the same. You can’t take the book with you.”

920Plato was examined from every angle; the officials were not sure about him. Finally one of them discovered the publisher’s name: Georg Müller, Munich. He turned to his assistant: “The writer is a Bavarian. She can take that book with her.”

921The volume of Shakespeare was left on the Swiss side of the frontier; the “Bavarian” Plato was allowed to accompany me into Austria.

922Shortly after we had passed the border a detective came into the compartment. “Which of you is the Russian woman?”

923I revealed my identity. He made me a long but friendly speech about what my conduct should be and then explained comfortingly: “I shall keep an eye on you, Countess.” (Good-hearted, as Austrians can’t help being, they immediately gave me back my old title.)

924At the next station a Turk got on the train. The detective immediately approached the “ally,” who, however, knew only Turkish and French, and so the two were unable to communicate. Then a brilliant idea came to the simple detective: the “Russian woman” certainly knew French. So the “enemy woman” acted as interpreter for the two “allies,” while our fellow passengers eyed the Turk just as suspiciously as they did me.

925Russian prisoners were working along the railway track. I gave them my cigarettes and spoke to them in their own language. It was moving to see the joy on their faces at hearing a few words of Russian. The friendly detective did not interfere. “I take it you’re not going to do any spying,” he said in a relaxed tone. “The Russians are good people, they don’t give us any trouble. Did they really have to declare war on us?” The other passengers remained neutral, except for one German, a citizen of the Reich, who declared rudely: “I’ll have you know, Fräulein, that martial law is in effect here.”

926There was a stirring of the old Austrian in me: “So what about it!”

927From that moment on, the German punished me with his contempt. In Linz the train pulled out right under my nose; there would not be another for seven hours. The detective turned me over to an old police officer: “You’ve got a Russian here, but she’s not dangerous.”

928An uncle of mine was governor of the city; I asked the police officer if I might be allowed to go and spend the hours I had to wait with him.

929“So,” he said good-humouredly, “Count Ch. is your uncle? Don’t you see that anyone could say that? You stay right here.”

930“And if I go into town anyway?”

931“Then we’ll shoot.”

932“And will you also hit me?”

933“What do you think? We have a reputation as good marksmen. You had better not put us to the test.”

934“May I at least phone my uncle?”


936The old fellow was adamant; I had to stay at the station.

937I had caught cold in the train and had exhausted my supply of handkerchiefs. I turned to the police officer for help. He called a porter: “Go into town and buy the lady a dozen handkerchiefs, but bring them to me first.”

938When the porter came back he took each one of the hideous, bright-bordered handkerchiefs separately and shook it. Not until this operation was completed did I finally get them. The old officer was a friendly man and a strong opponent of the war. “The whole thing is a piece of madness,” he declared. With him I could comfortably “talk pacifism.” But when I said that I wanted to spend the night in Pilsen, he stiffened: “I imagine you would find the Skoda works interesting. No, you’ll go only as far as Budweis. And report at once to the station master there.”

939I was dead tired when at about three o’clock in the morning I reached Budweis and knocked on the door of the officer on duty. A sleepy voice answered: “What is it now? Can’t one have any rest at all?”

940“I have to report to the station master.”

941“Why so?”

942“I am a Russian citizen.”

943“What did you say you are?”

944“A Russian citizen.”

945A very sleepy, half-dressed man came out of the door.

946“What are you?”

947“A Russian citizen,” I repeated patiently, and held out the document signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

948“What are you doing here then, if you are a Russian citizen?”

949I explained the object of my trip.

950He grabbed the document.

951“Well, why are you a Russian citizen?”

952“Because I am married to a Russian.”

953“So? But why did you marry a Russian?”

954He studied the document. “I see, Berchtold. Well then, if you were formerly an Austrian citizen… It’s all right. You can go. But tomorrow you must report to the district prefect.” He heaved a deep sigh, “There’s not a minute’s peace here. Now it’s a Russian woman coming in the middle of the night. You can go now. Have a pleasant journey.”

955The porter I had blindly entrusted myself to in my weariness led me to a terrible inn where the wash-basins were chained to the wall and the people spoke only Czech. I wanted just one thing: a cup of tea, but the owners refused to understand me. I decided to speak Russian: either I will be arrested or I will get my tea. I had scarcely uttered the word tchai when the expression on the faces of the proprietor and his wife changed. I immediately became an honoured guest. I was given tea and cake and even a jug of hot water to wash with — something which certainly no other guest in that inn ever requested. The innkeeper and his wife could not do enough to show how well disposed they were towards me.

956When I reported to the prefect he wrinkled his forehead: “You will have to stay here twenty-four hours, Countess. I must make inquiries at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

957“Look, tomorrow is my father’s birthday, and I do so want to be there in time for it.”

958He was an Austrian; and so he let me travel on without making inquiries.


959I had been a little fearful of the patriotism of the Austrians, but in 1915 it had already faded away completely. I encountered only two patriots. One, a Frau H., the wife of the biggest candy manufacturer in Austria, came to see my mother about an “entertainment” that had been organized for the benefit of wounded soldiers. A pretty, very elegant young woman with a wonderful string of pearls about her neck. “We shall stick it out,” she said enthusiastically.

960After her visit my mother asked me in astonishment: “You say you’re a socialist, so why were you so high and mighty with Frau H.? The poor woman was quite disconcerted.” I said nothing; mother would not have understood my explanation. The second was a woman of the aristocracy. From her came this beautiful phrase: “And when I think of all the dead whose names are in the Gotha117…!”


961On the way back to Switzerland I got into a difficult situation. A hotelkeeper in Innsbruck — he must have been an excellent judge of people’s character — asked me to take a check made out to someone in Italy with me to Switzerland and from there send it on to a bank. He had to make a payment to an Italian business associate; the war could not last forever; and he would lose a considerable sum of money if he did not make the payment now.

962I had no interest in either the hotel-keeper or his business associate, but the adventure was tempting.

963“I must tell you, Countess, that you will be interned if the check is found on you,” the honest hotel-keeper warned me.

964“So be it. I’ll take it with me.” When our train reached the frontier only three people got out besides me. We had a two hour wait.

965“This could turn out pretty interesting,” I thought. The dangerous check was in my handbag. “With all that time for customs’ examination the check is bound to be found.”

966A great, shaggy sheep-dog lay on the station platform. I had always been passionately fond of dogs, and so even now I forgot the danger I was in and bent down to play with the dog. He saved me from an Austrian internment camp. The officer in charge identified himself as the owner of the dog; he had brought it from Serbia. A point of connection had been found, and so I talked and talked and talked for two hours, without stopping, about dogs, war, Serbia, Russia — until at long last the train came in and we four passengers were able to board, without ever having been examined.

967The old Imperial Austria disappeared into the shadows of the night, and I never saw it again.

“Zdravstvui Revolyutsia!”

968Moissi118 was giving a guest performance of The Living Corpse in Davos. At the end of the first act a telegram came that provoked great agitation all around: “Revolution in Russia!” The citizens of the Central Powers pricked up their ears, and the Russians fell upon each other madly. “Zdravstvui Revolyutsia!” (Hail to the Revolution!) In the second act Moissi’s art was completely wasted. What did a corpse matter, alive or not, when over there in the East there was resurrection, new life! A nightmare had been lifted from the people; in the East a light had blazed up, promising peace, bread, and freedom. Revolution in Russia!

969Women are child-like; I took my wedding ring from my finger and bought myself a new plain gold band to mark my marriage to the Russian Revolution. But behind the childish gesture there was a serious intent: I have remained faithful to the Revolution.

970Now it was easy to take the final step, to sever the last link binding me to that useless, comfortable life. I broke with my old world and dared to leap into the new. I learned to work, to stand on my own two feet. (My husband made this easier for me by refusing, on various pretexts, to part with my dowry and my jewels even after our divorce. I had become a “class enemy” and, as a Baltic nobleman, he was not only entitled but obligated to cause me harm.) I was no longer a single individual struggling senselessly against overpowering opponents, but a tiny part of a great whole which I could serve, in however modest measure, to the best of my ability.

971It had been a long road from the carefree life of a diplomat’s daughter to where I stood now. Others might perhaps have covered the ground more quickly.

972Behind me lay a dying world of privilege, before me a new, vital world, still, as yet, in the throes of birth.

973My path had been unwittingly predicted in the Gotha. After the name of my great-grandmother in the Gotha stand three magic letters: K.P.D.,119 meaning Kaiserliche Palast-Dame, Lady-in-Waiting to the Empress. I can also attach these three letters to my name, but they now stand for something very different from what they meant in the case of Empress Marie Louise’s playmate.

974The End.

975No, the Beginning.

Notes de fin

1 The note numbers refer to ‘Notes on Persons and Events Mentioned in the Memoir’ immediately following the text (Chapter 3).

Table des illustrations

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