"Clothes Make People (Kleider machen Leute)" by Gottfried Keller (1874) - one of the most famous German-language stories now available in English

(actualisé le ) by Gottfried Keller

This famous story by the Swiss writer Gottfried Keller (1819-1890) was first published in 1874 in the second volume of his collection of stories The People of Seldwyla about the mores and adventures of the people of the mythical but somehow very typical Swiss town of that name.

It recounts – brilliantly – in a very humorous vein the adventures of a penniless, unemployed tailor whose only possession in the world is a set of rather nice clothes that he has fabricated for himself, thanks to which he is mistaken for a visiting young lord when, after hitching a ride from a passing four-horse coach, he stops off in the neighbouring town of Goldach, where he is plied with fine food and wines and spare clothes and accessories of all sorts by the good people of that wealthy town. And where he is presented in a very favourable light to a most memorable person indeed, the lovely and very forceful daughter of one of the town’s leading citizens, a certain Nettchen who sort of takes over the story and the reader’s interest too as soon as she enters the scene.

In addition to its quite hilarious comical aspects, Kleider machen Leute (Clothes Make People, aka Clothes Make the Man) is a fascinating portrayal and a subtle parody of the mores and foibles of the wealthy Swiss merchants and business men who had already in the earliest parts of the century – we are in the thirties or forties of that momentous century, during the period of the author’s youth – risen to prominence throughout that peaceful land in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and the explosion of world trade.

One of the best-known stories in the whole of German literature, this 15,00-word novelette is quite unknown outside of the German-language cultural sphere, where it is almost universally unobtainable in translation.

The new translation presented here has been done specially for this site.

e-book versions of this quite wonderful story, with illustrations and the original German-language text, are available for downloading below.


On an unfriendly November day a penniless tailor was walking along the road towards Goldach, a small, wealthy town only a few hours distance from his hometown of Seldwyla. The tailor had in his pocket nothing more than a thimble, that for want of a coin he was constantly turning over between his fingers when he put his hands in his pocket to shelter them from the cold, and his fingers were becoming quite painful from this constant turning and rubbing. For he had lost his job after the bankruptcy of one of Seldwyla’s master tailors and had been forced to leave the town to look for employment elsewhere. He had breakfasted on nothing more than a few snowflakes that had floated into his mouth, and he did not have the slightest idea as to where any lunchtime bread would come from. To go begging would be particularly difficult and even seemed to be out of the question, as over his black Sunday suit, the only one he had, he was wearing a broad, dark-grey roundcoat, a cloak that gave its wearer a noble and romantic appearance, especially as his long black hair and moustache were well-kept and his features were pale but regular.

These clothes had become a necessity for him and he felt deceitful without them; all he asked was to be left in peace to do his work, and he preferred to go hungry than to be separated from his roundcoat and his Polish fur cap that he wore so well.

That was why he could only work in the larger towns, where such things did not attract too much attention; but travelling as he was without any means, this caused him the greatest difficulties. When he came near a house people looked at him with surprise and curiosity and the last thing they expected was that he would go begging; so the words died in his mouth, all the more so as he was not very eloquent, and he was the martyr of his fine coat and suffered from hunger as black as the finest velvet lining.

As he was worrying and weakly walking up a hill he came up to a luxurious new travelling coach, that a splendidly-outfitted coachman had fetched in Basel and was bringing back to his master, a foreign Count who was the lord of an old castle somewhere in the eastern part of Switzerland. The coach was equipped with all kinds of facilities for storing baggage and seemed to be heavily loaded although everything was quite empty. The coachman was walking alongside the horses because of the steepness of the hill, and as he was getting back into the coach at the top he asked the tailor if he wanted to sit in one of the empty seats inside. For it had started to rain and he had seen at a glance that the man on foot was trudging along tiredly and miserably.

The offer was thankfully and humbly accepted, after which the coach rolled rapidly on and within an hour was stately thundering through the arched gateway of Goldach. The elegant vehicle stopped abruptly in front of the first inn, “The Balance”, whereupon the houseboy rang the bells so heftily that the wire almost broke. The innkeeper and others popped out and opened the gate; children and neighbours were already grouped around the splendid coach, curious as to what such a magnificent outer shell might have inside, and when the disconcerted tailor finally jumped out in his overcoat, pale and handsome and looking melancholically down at the ground, he seemed to them to be at the least a mysterious Prince or the son of a Count. There was only a small space between the coach and the gate and it was quite blocked by the onlookers. Perhaps he lacked the presence of mind or the courage to simply break through the group and go out on his way – but he didn’t, and instead, without any will of his own, let himself be led up the stairs and into the building, and only first really took stock of his surroundings when he found himself sitting down in a comfortable dining room and his venerable overcoat being taken away by the servants.

“The gentleman would like to dine?” he was asked. “The service will be rapid, as the dishes have already been prepared!”

Without waiting for an answer, the innkeeper rushed into the kitchen and called out: “In the name of three devils! We have nothing else but beef and the shoulder of mutton! The partridge pie can’t be cut up because it’s been reserved for the gentlemen this evening. What luck! The one day when we were not expecting any guests and have nothing on hand should a guest like that arrive! And the coachman has a coat of arms on his buttons and the coach is like a duke’s! And the young man can scarcely open his mouth for refinement!”

But the calm cook said: “Well, what is there to moan about, sir? The pie will be sufficient: he will hardly eat it all up! We’ll serve the gentlemen in the evening by piecemeal; we’ll still be able to get six more portions out of it!”

“Six portions? You forget that the gentlemen are used to stuffing themselves full!” opined the innkeeper, but the cook continued imperturbably: “So let them! We can quickly fetch half a dozen cutlets, we need some anyway for the stranger, and what he leaves over we can cut up into small pieces and mix them into the pie. Just let me take care of it!”

Thereupon the valiant innkeeper said earnestly: “Cook, I have told you before that such things are not worthy of this town and of this establishment! We live here properly and honourably and so may it be!”

“Fine, a thousand times, alright, alright!” cried out the cook, finally aggravated. “When one doesn’t know how to help oneself, one has to make sacrifices! Here are two snipes that I have just bought from the hunter; they can, if needs be, be put in the pie! A partridge pie with snipes is not good enough for the greedy gentlemen! And also there are the trout - I put the biggest in running water when the fine coach came along, and there’s the sauce cooking in the pan; so in all we have fish, a cut of beef, cutlets with vegetables, roast mutton and the pie; just give me the key so that we can also bring out the preserves and the desert! And you could very well hand that key over to me with all honour and trust, so that one wouldn’t have to always run around after you and often be in the greatest embarrassment!”

“Dear cook, don’t take it badly! I promised my saintly wife on her deathbed to always keep the key in hand on my person - it’s because of that and not out of mistrust. Here are the pickles and here are the cherries, here are the pears and here are the apricots; but we shouldn’t serve the old sweetmeat any more: Liese should run over to the baker’s and bring back three plates of cakes and pastries, and if he has a good fruit pie he should include that too!”

“But sir! You can’t serve all that to a single guest, with the best will in the world he couldn’t manage it!”

“That doesn’t matter, it’s a question of honour! It won’t hurt that a great gentleman can say that when traveling through our town he had an exceptional meal, even though he was quite unexpected and came in the wintertime! We don’t want to have the reputation of the innkeepers of Seldwyla, who always feed themselves well and serve bones to strangers! So, go quick and lively now, hurry up all of you!”

While these involved preparations were going on the tailor was in the most fearful anguish because the table was being set with shining objects, and as intensely as this starving man had only a short while before been longing for food, he now as anxiously wanted to flee from the forthcoming meal. Finally he gathered up his courage, took up his coat, put on his bonnet and set off for the exit. Because of his state of confusion he was unable to find the stairway right away in the extensive establishment, so the harassed innkeeper, who thought he was looking for the commodities, called out to him: “Allow me, dear sir, to show you the way!” and led him along a long hallway that ended at a finely-lacquered door bearing a delicate inscription.

So the wearer of the cloak without resisting went in like a lamb and firmly closed the door behind him. There he leaned against the wall bitterly sighing and longing for the glorious freedom of the country road that now seemed to represent the ultimate in happiness, in spite of the bad weather.

He now became ensnared by the first of his own misdeeds, as he lingered too long in that enclosed space and thereby took the first step down the steep slope of evil-doing.

The innkeeper, who had seen him go in with his coat on, called out, “The gentleman is cold! More heat in the dining room! Where is Liese, where is Anne? Quick, put some logs in the oven with some handfuls of sawdust so that they burn up well! By the devil, do people have to come to table in “The Balance” with their coats on?”

And as the tailor made his way back along the corridor, as melancholic as the wandering ghost of an ancestral castle, the innkeeper accompanied him with a hundred compliments and much wringing of the hands back to the accursed dining room. There without further delay he was invited to the table, the chair was pushed back in place, and because the odour of a powerful soup such as he hadn’t smelled for ages robbed him completely of any willpower to resist, he let himself in the name of God bend down and dipped the heavy spoon into the glorious brown broth. In deep silence he refreshed his dulled spirits and was served with attentive silence and calm.

When he had emptied the bowl and the innkeeper saw how much it had pleased him, he politely encouraged him to have another spoonful, a good thing in this rough weather. Then the trout was brought up covered with greenery, and the innkeeper laid a nice portion on the dish before him. However the tailor, tormented by his worries, didn’t dare to take up the shining knife but pushed about timidly and delicately with the silver fork. The cook, who was peeping out from the kitchen door to watch the important guest, saw this and exclaimed to the others: “Praise be to Jesus! He knows just the right way to eat a fine fish; he doesn’t saw away with the knife in the delicate thing as if he wanted to slaughter a calf. He comes from a grand domain, I’d swear to it if it weren’t forbidden! And how handsome and sad-looking he is! He must be in love with a poor young girl that he’s not allowed to be with! Yes, for sure: distinguished people also have their sufferings!”

Meanwhile the innkeeper saw that the guest hadn’t taken anything to drink, and declared deferentially: “The gentleman doesn’t care for the table wine; perhaps he would like to order a glass of fine Bordeaux, that I can highly recommend?”

Whereupon the tailor committed the second of his errors, as he submissively answered yes rather than no, and straightaway the innkeeper personally went down into the cellar to fetch a select bottle of wine, as it was important to him that it be said that there was the right kind of establishment in this town. When the guest scarcely took a sip from the wineglass because of his bad conscience, the innkeeper went back most contented into the kitchen, clicking his tongue and exclaiming: “Ho! By the Devil, he knows what it’s all about, he only rolls my good wine about on his tongue, just like one lays out a golden ducat on the scales!”

“Praise be to Jesus!” said the cook. “Just what I said, that he knows how things should be done!”

So the meal followed its course, albeit rather slowly, for the poor tailor still ate and drank prudishly and indecisively and the innkeeper, to give him all the time he wanted, made sure that there was always enough food on the table. Although there wasn’t much to say about how much the guest had eaten so far, his appetite was becoming more and more dangerously stimulated now that the initial shock had been overcome, and when the partridge pie appeared the spirits of the tailor began to rise at the same time, and a firm thought began to form in his mind. “This is a unique occasion!” he said to himself, warmed up and spurred on by a new drop of wine. “Now I would be a fool if I wanted to endure the forthcoming shame and persecution without having filled myself up to the hilt beforehand! So let’s do it, while there’s still time! The little tower that they have just put on the table just has to be the last dish; I’ll have a go at it, come what may! What I have put down in my stomach even a king can’t take away!”

No sooner said than done: with the courage of desperation he cut into the appetizing pie, without any thought of stopping, so that in less than five minutes half of it had disappeared, and the outlook for the gentlemen of the evening was beginning to be alarming. Meat, truffles, dumplings, bottom, top, everything went without thought of anyone else; the only thing that mattered was to fill himself up to the hilt before fate caught up with him, and to that end he drank the wine in copious draughts and stuck hefty portions of bread in his mouth; in short it was as animated a scene as when just before a coming storm the hay in the meadow simply flies up on the pitchfork into the barn. And again the innkeeper rushed into the kitchen crying out: “Cook! He’s eating up the pie, while he has hardly touched the roast! And he is drinking up the Bordeaux by the half-glass!”

“Good for him” said the cook, “just let him go on, he knows about partridges! If he were a commoner, he would have contented himself with the roast!”

“I can also say” added the innkeeper; “that he doesn’t seem to be very elegant, but when I was traveling for my apprenticeship I saw only generals and bishops eating just like that!”

Meanwhile the coachman had given the horses to be fed and had taken a solid meal in the commoners’ dining room, and as he was in a hurry he had the horses harnessed again. The personnel of ”The Balance” could no longer contain their curiosity and asked the splendid coachman, before it was too late, who his master up above was and what his name was. The coachman, a mischievous and cunning fellow, replied: “Did he not tell you so himself?”

“No” was the answer and he replied: “It is true that he is not very talkative; well, he’s Count Strapinski! He’s going to stay over here today and perhaps a few days more, for he has ordered me to go on ahead with the coach.”

He played this mean trick to get even with the tailor for having, as he thought, gone into the inn playing the master without a word of thanks to him for his hospitality. Pushing the joke to the limit, he got up onto the coach, swung his whip and drove away out of the town, without enquiring about the bill for himself and the horses, so that all was in order and the tailor was left with the bill.

Now it must be said that he had been born in Silesia and really was called Strapinski, Wenzel Strapinski; perhaps it was by chance or perhaps the tailor had taken out his papers and left them in the coach where the coachman had found them. It is enough to say that when the innkeeper came in beaming joyfully and asked if Count Strapinski would like to have a glass of old Tokay wine or of champagne with his desert, informing him that his room would soon be ready, the astounded poor Strapinski became confused again and didn’t say anything.

“Extremely interesting!” murmured the innkeeper to himself, while he again hurried into the cellar and from a special crate took out not only a bottle of Tokay but also a little jug of Bocksbeutel white wine, with a bottle of champagne under his arm. Soon Strapinski saw a small forest of glasses arranged in front of him, over which the champagne goblet towered like a poplar tree. Things shone and clinked and wafted enticingly over him, and what was even odder was that the poor but graceful man reached not at all awkwardly into the forest when he saw the innkeeper putting some red wine into his champagne, and poured some drops of Tokay into his own. In the meantime, the town clerk and the notary had arrived to take their coffee and to play their daily game of cards. Soon the eldest son of Häberlin und Cie, the youngest son of Pütschli-Nievergelt and the accountant of a large spinning mill, Herr Melcher Böhni, also arrived; one by one, instead of starting their card game, each of these gentlemen came over in a wide arc behind the Polish Count, their hands in their back pockets, their eyes twinkling and smiling with all their teeth. For these were all gentlemen of good houses who spent their entire lives at home while relatives and friends were spread around all over the world, thanks to whom they believed themselves to be fully informed about the wide world.

So that was a Polish Count? They all from their offices had seen the coach leaving, but no one knew if the innkeeper was hosting the Count or if the latter was doing the hosting; certainly until now the innkeeper had never made any big mistakes, on the contrary he was well known as a rather cunning fellow, and so gradually the circle of curious citizens that had formed about the stranger became ever smaller until finally they were all sitting familiarly around the same table, having adroitly invited themselves to the feast, and without further ado had begun a game of dice, with a bottle of wine.

Certainly they didn’t drink too much, as it was still early, but on the other hand it was proper to have a drop with their coffee, and to bestow clouds of smoke on the Pole, as they were already calling him among themselves, so that he could realize all the better the value of the establishment in which he now found himself.

“May I offer the Count a really excellent cigar? I have had them directly from my brother in Cuba!” said one.

“The Polish gentleman might also like to taste a good cigarette, this is authentic tobacco from Smyna that my business partner has sent to me” called out another as he passed a little red silk box over to him.

“These from Damascus are finer, Herr Count”, called the third, “our representative over there got them for me himself!”

The fourth passed over a massive cigar exclaiming: “If you want to try something really excellent, have one of these plant cigars from Virginia, privately grown, privately produced, and absolutely unobtainable in the marketplace!”

Strapinski, with a bittersweet smile, said nothing and was soon enveloped in a fine cloud of smoke that glowed with a pleasant silver tinge in the sun that was breaking through the clouds. The sky cleared in less than a quarter of an hour and a most beautiful autumn afternoon was on its way, so to take advantage of such pleasant moments that would perhaps not often occur in the remaining days of the year it was decided to go out to visit the domain of the cheerful town Councillor and taste the new red Sauser wine that he had put down only a few days before. Pütschli-Nievergelt Junior sent for his hunting-coach, and soon his great white horses were stamping on the cobblestones in front of “The Balance”. The innkeeper also brought out his team and the Count was courteously invited to join the expedition to get to know the region better.

The wine had warmed his spirits and he quickly reflected that this would provide the best opportunity to slip away unnoticed and continue his journey; the bill would just have to be borne by the foolish and too-insistent gentlemen. He accepted the invitation with a few polite words and got up into the hunting-coach with the young Pütschli.

Now it just so happened that the tailor, after having worked on occasion for his proprietor in his home village as a youth, had done his military service as a hussar and knew how to handle horses. When his companion politely asked him if he would like to drive the team, he took over the reins and whip and drove in the approved manner rapidly through the town gateway out onto the country road, so that the gentlemen looked at each other and whispered: “In any case he really is someone!”

In half an hour they had reached the Councillor’s domain. Strapinski drove up a splendid curved entrance and let the fiery horses show off their splendour; everyone jumped down from the coaches, and the Councillor came along and led the guests into the manor where straightaway the table was laid with a half dozen decanters full of the carnelian-coloured Sauser new wine. The hot, fermenting liquid was first tasted, then praised and then gaily set upon, while the host went about the house with the news that a distinguished Count was there, a Pole, and a fine reception was being prepared.

Meanwhile the company had divided itself into two groups to continue their interrupted game, a game that no get-together of gentleman in the region could be without, no doubt to provide some kind of activity. Strapinski, whose participation was ruled out for various reasons, was invited to watch the proceedings, as that seemed to them to be eminently worthwhile since they devoted so much intelligence and presence of mind to card games. He had to take a seat between the two parties, and they set out to be play cleverly and adroitly while properly entertaining their guest. So he sat there like a sickly prince for whom his courtiers were performing a pleasant spectacle about the ways of the world. They explained to him the most important twists and turns, the attacks and key events, and when for a moment their attention was exclusively concentrated on the play in one of the games then the other party took up the entertainment of the tailor. The objects of most interest here seemed to be horses, hunting and suchlike; Strapinski was well informed in these matters, as he only had to recall the turns of speech he had heard formerly in the company of officers and landlords that had at the time greatly interested him. When he used these terms, albeit only sparingly, with a certain modesty and with a constantly melancholic smile, he produced a great effect; when two or three of the gentlemen got up and spoke aside together, they said: “He is a real Junker!”

Only Melcher Böhni the bookkeeper, a born doubter, rubbed his hands gleefully together and said to himself: “I can see it coming, when we’ll have another putsch in Goldach, it’s certainly already here! It’s about time too, as it has been two years now since the last one! The man there has fingers strangely pricked all over, he must have come here from Prague or Ostroleka! Well, I must not disturb the course of events!”

Both games had now come to an end and the gentlemen’s thirst for the Sauser wine had abated, and they now preferred to cool themselves off somewhat with the Councillor’s old wine that was brought before them; certainly the cooling-off was of a somewhat impassioned nature, as right away, so as not to fall into slothful idleness, they proposed a game of pure chance. The cards were mixed, everyone put down a silver thaler coin, but when it came to Strapinski’s turn he could hardly put his thimble on the table. “I don’t have that kind of coin” he said with embarrassment, but Melcher Böhni, who had been observing him, put one in for him without anyone noticing anything, for they were all too comfortably off to suspect that anyone in the world could possibly not have any money on them. The next moment the whole amount was pushed over to the tailor, who had won the throw; out of confusion he just left everything and Böhni looked after him for the second round, which another won, and again on the third round. The fourth and fifth rounds were again won by the Pole, who progressively perked up and was becoming interested in the game. Remaining calm and reserved, he played with changing luck; once he came back down to a single thaler that he had to put back in, and when they finally became tired of the game he had a number of gold Louis pieces, more money than he had ever possessed in his life, and as he saw that everyone was putting their coins away he took possession of his, not without feeling that he was living in a dream. Böhni, who had been constantly watching him closely, was now completely in the clear on his account: the devil was driving him in a four-horse carriage!

As he had right away noticed that the mysterious stranger showed no greed about the money, and that he had behaved most modestly and innocently, he had no hard feelings against him and decided to leave things as they were.

Count Strapinski gathered his thoughts as they were going out for a walk before the evening meal, and decided that this would be an appropriate time to inconspicuously take his leave. He had sufficient travel money and thought that he could send money from the next town to “The Balance” innkeeper to pay for the midday meal he had been obliged to have there. So he put the great cape artfully around himself, pushed the fur bonnet down over his eyes and walked slowly there and back under the row of high acacia trees in the evening sun, looking at the lovely countryside or rather spying out the country road that he wanted to be on. He went with his clouded forehead, his charming but melancholic moustache, his shining black locks, his dark eyes, his pleated cloak swaying splendidly around him; the evening rays and the whispering of the wind through the trees above him heightened the impression he made, so that the company looked on him from afar attentively and with benevolence. Progressively he went somewhat further away from the house, strode through some bushes behind which a path led across a field, and as he saw with a glance that he was hidden from his companions was about to press on with quick steps across the field when suddenly the Councillor and his daughter Nettchen came around a corner towards him. Nettchen was a very pretty young lady, most splendid, who was rather dandily dressed and was wearing a set of fine jewellery.

“We were looking for you, Count," called out the Councillor, “so that first of all I could introduce you to my child and secondly so that you might do us the honour of having a small evening meal with us; the other gentlemen are already in the house.”

The traveller quickly took off his bonnet and made a respectful, even timorous bow, blushing profusely. For events had taken a new turn: a young woman had entered the scene. His timidity and excessive respectfulness did not make a bad impression on the lady; on the contrary, the bashfulness, modesty and respectfulness of such a distinguished and interesting young nobleman struck her as touching, even charming. There you have a man, passed the thought through her mind, so noble and yet so modest and unspoiled; harken ye all, wild youth of Goldach, who scarcely ever take off your hat before a young maiden!

She greeted the knight graciously, while she also blushed charmingly, and right away spoke directly and rapidly and without constraint with him, as is the manner of ladies in small towns who want to show themselves off to strangers. As for Strapinski, he rapidly changed his mind; whereas up to now he had done nothing in the least to fit into the role that everyone had burdened him with, he now unconsciously began to speak with choicer terms and to liberally mix bits of Polish into his talk, in short, in the presence of the lady the young tailor began to plunge forward like a steed carrying his knight.

At the table he had the place of honour next to the daughter of the house, for the mother was dead. He was soon melancholic again, as he was thinking about how he must now either go back into the town with the others or escape out into the night, and he further meditated on how short-lived the happiness that he was now having really was. But nevertheless he was enjoying this happiness and said to himself: ‘Ah, for once in your life something nice has happened and you have sat next to such a lofty person’.

It was not in fact a small thing to see a shining hand beside you that clinked with three or four bracelets, and with every fleeting side glance to see a venturesome, charming curly head, a comely blush, a fluttering eyelid. For he could do or not do as he wished, whatever he did was considered as unusual and noble and his clumsiness itself was amiably looked upon as somewhat odd unselfconsciousness by the young lady, who was more used to gossiping for hours on end about society scandals. Two of the guests gave forth with a song about what a good thing man was, a theme in fashion in the thirties. The Count was invited to sing a Polish song. The wine had finally overcome his shyness, if not his worries; he had once worked for a few weeks in Poland and knew a few words of Polish, even a Polish folk song by heart, without understanding its meaning like a parrot. So he sang in a noble manner, more faint-heartedly than loudly, in a lightly quavering tone that seemed to evoke some secret sorrow, in Polish:

A hundred thousand swine are penned up
From Desna up to Weichsel,
And Kathinka, the swineherd,
Is wading in dirt up to her ankles!

A hundred thousand oxen are bellowing
On Wolhynien’s green pastures,
And Kathinka, yes Kathinka
Thinks I am in love with her!

“Bravo! Bravo!” cried all the gentlemen, clapping their hands, and Nettchen said, moved: “Ah, the National anthem is so nice!” Luckily no one asked for a translation of the song.

After such a high point the entertainment came to an end; the tailor was bundled into a carriage and with care brought back to Goldach; before that he had to promise not to leave without coming back to say good-bye. In “The Balance” another glass of punch was taken; however Strapinski was exhausted and asked for a bed. The innkeeper himself led him to his room, whose stateliness he scarcely noticed although he was used to sleeping in poor hostels. He was standing there without any belongings whatsoever in the middle of a fine carpet when the innkeeper suddenly discovered the absence of baggage and tapped himself on the forehead. Then he went quickly out and rang for the staff, exchanged words with them, and came back and confided: “It is true, Herr Count, that we forgot to take down your bags! Even the basic necessities are missing!”

“Even the little pack that was in the coach?” asked Strapinski anxiously, for he was thinking of a hand-sized bundle that he had left on the seat that contained a handkerchief, a hairbrush, a comb, a little box of pomade and a stick of beard wax.

“That too is missing, there is nothing at all”, replied the shaken innkeeper, as he supposed it must have contained something very important. “We must right away send an express message to the coachman”, he exclaimed zealously, “I’ll look after it!”

However the Herr Count, who was just as appalled, clasped him in his arms and said with emotion: “Don’t, you mustn’t do that! People should lose sight of me for a while” he added, troubled by this turn of events.

The astonished innkeeper went back to the guests, who were still taking their punch, and explained the situation to them, concluding that the Count must be a victim of political or family persecution; for at this time many Poles and other refugees from oppression were to be seen in the region; others were spied upon and ensnared by foreign agents.

However Strapinski had a good sleep, and when he woke up late he first saw the innkeeper’s splendid Sunday nightgown hanging on the chair, behind which was a little table covered with all possible kinds of toilet articles. Then a whole bevy of servants arrived with baskets and cases full of fine linen, with clothes, cigars, books, boots, shoes, spurs, whips, furs, bonnets, hats, socks, stockings, pipes, flutes and violins offered by the friends he had made the day before, with the pressing request to use these objects for the time being. Since they invariably spent the mornings in their offices, they would be able to pay him a visit after dinnertime.

These people were nothing less than ridiculous or gullible, although they were prudent business men, more cunning than perceptive; it was only because their well-kept town was small and that it sometimes seemed dreary to them that they were constantly on the look-out for a new diversion, an event or novelty to which they gave themselves over unrestrainedly. The four-horsed carriage, the descent of the stranger, his noonday meal, the declarations of the coachman were such simple and natural things that the citizens of Goldach, who were quite devoid of idle suspicions, turned them into an event as big as a mountain.

As Strapinski looked upon the stock of goods that were stretching out in front of him, his first reaction was to reach into his pocket to find out if he was dreaming or was really awake. If his thimble was still there in all its customary loneliness, then he was dreaming. But no, the thimble lay comfortably among the coins he had won at gambling and was rubbing itself up companionably against the thalers; so he gave in again to his benefactors and went out of the room down into the street, to see for himself the town in which he was getting along so well. The cook, who was standing at the kitchen door, gave him a deep bow and looked upon him with renewed satisfaction; in the vestibule and at the front door of the inn were other house guests, all with their bonnets in their hands, and Strapinski went out with an elegant but modest demeanour, his coat nicely wrapped around him. His destiny was looming larger by the minute.

He looked upon the town differently than if he had been going to his work there. It seemed to be made up essentially of large, solidly built houses, that all had a decorated stone or painted sign and bearing a name. In these names the fashions of their periods were easily recognisable. The Middle Ages were reflected in the oldest as well as in recently-built ones that had taken their places, but the old names came from the time of warring sheriffs and of myths. They were called The Sword, The Iron Helmet, The Armour, The Crossbow, the Blue Shield, The Swiss Dagger, The Knight, The Rifle, The Turk, The Wonder of the Seas, The Golden Dragon, The Linden Tree, The Pilgrim’s Stave, The Water Sprite, The Bird of Paradise, The Pomegranate Tree, The Guild House, The Unicorn and suchlike. The period of the Enlightenment and philanthropy was clearly to be read in the moralistic ideas that shone in golden letters over house doors such as The Harmony, The Probity, The Old Independence, The New Independence, The Citizen’s Courage a, The Citizen’s Courage b, The Trust, The Love, The Hope, The Goodbye 1 and 2, The Cheerfulness, The Inner Rectitude, The Outer Rectitude, The Well-Being of the Region (a neatly-kept little house in which a friendly old lady with a peaked hat sat winding thread behind a canary cage all hung with nasturtiums), The Constitution (under which a barrel-maker was incessantly tapping zealously and noisily on small pots and casks to frame them with hoops), a house horribly called The Death had a washed-out skeleton that stretched from top to bottom between the windows; this was where the Justice of the Peace lived. In the house with “The Patience” lived the debt-accountant, a famished image of misery, as in this town no one owed debts to anyone anymore.

Finally the newest houses proclaimed the poetry of the manufacturers, bankers and shippers and their likes with splendid-sounding names: Valley of Roses, Morning Valley, Sun Mountain, Violet Mountain, Garden of Youth, Joy Mountain, Henretta Valley, The Camelia, Wilhelmina Mountain and so on. The signs with valleys and mountains named after women always meant that the proprietor had a lovely wife.

On every street corner there was an old tower with a complicated clock, coloured roof and decorated golden wind-vanes. These towers were well kept, as the citizens of Goldach were proud of their past and of their present and rightfully so. The whole splendour was surrounded by the old circular wall that, although it no longer served any purpose, was nevertheless looked upon as a jewel as it was overgrown with thick old vines and encompassed the little town within an evergreen wreath.

All this made a wonderful impression on Strapinski; it was if he had been transported to another world. For as he read the inscriptions on the houses, the likes of which he had never seen before, he was convinced that they referred to the special secrets and ways of each house, that there really was behind each house door what was indicated on its sign, and that he had arrived in a kind of moral utopia. So he was inclined to believe that the wonderful reception he had had here was related to all this, so that for example the sign of “The Balance” where he was staying meant that there the inequalities of fate had been evened out and done away with, and that now a travelling tailor could become a Count there.

"Heroic Landscape" by Gottfried Keller

In his wanderings he came to the town’s gateway, and as he looked out upon the open field beyond the dutiful thought came back to him for the last time that he could without delay set out on his way. The sun was shining; the road was good, solid but not too dry and not too moist, just right for traveling. He also had funds, so that he could easily head out where he pleased, and there was nothing to prevent him from doing so.

He stood there now, like the youth at the parting of the ways, at a real crossroads: from the wreath of linden trees that encircled the town rose up hospitable columns of smoke, the golden tips of the towers sparkled enticingly over the tree tops; happiness, pleasure and debt, a mysterious fate beckoned there; from the field on the other side gleamed however the open way into the distance; work, deprivation, poverty and gloom were waiting there, but also a clear conscience and a calmer way of life; feeling this, he wanted to walk away purposefully into the field. At that moment a coach rolled rapidly by: it was the young woman from yesterday, who in a floating blue veil was sitting all alone in a decorated light carriage with a fine horse, driving it into the town. Surprised, Strapinski straightaway just took off his cap and held it humbly in front of his chest; the maiden bowed at him with sudden blushes but in a friendly manner, and in a flourish drove the horse on in a gallop.

Strapinski however instinctively changed direction and turned sadly back into the town. Later that same day he was galloping on the town’s best horse at the head of a whole group of horsemen through the avenue that led around the green town wall, and the falling leaves of the linden trees danced like a golden rainfall about his transfigured head.

"Ideal Forestland" by Gottfried Keller

Now he had fully recovered his spirits. With each passing day he changed like a rainbow that visibly becomes brighter as the sun rises. He learned within hours, in a flash, what others don’t in years, because had been injected with something as essential as the colours ensconced in raindrops. He observed carefully the customs of his new friends and was transformed by these observations into a new and different kind of being; he particularly sought to overhear what they really thought of him and what kind of image they had formed of him. He worked at further transforming this image according to his own tastes, to the pleasurable distraction of those who were looking for something new, and to the wonderment of those, especially the women, who thirsted for more stimulating edification. So he rapidly became the hero of a kind of novel, towards which he ardently strived with the aid of the town, but whose essential nature was still always kept secret.

However this new life of Strapinski that he had never known before in his former obscurity earned him one sleepless night after another, and it is to be pointed out with blame that it was as much his constant fear of the shame of it being discovered that he was a poor tailor as it was his honest conscience that robbed him of his sleep. His inner need to present something delicate and exceptional, even if only in the choice of clothes, had brought him into this predicament and this present constant fear of being discovered, and his conscience was now only powerful enough to nourish a constant resolve that if a good occasion arose he would find a reason to go on away on a trip and then by lotteries and suchlike to win enough, from a mysterious faraway place, to repay the good folk of Goldach all that they had given him. He soon regularly purchased lottery tickets from towns that had a lottery or from their representatives, with more or less modest wagers, and this exchange of letters became remarked upon everywhere as an indication of his extensive network of contacts and relationships.

Soon he had more than once won a few guilders and these were promptly reinvested in further wagers, when one day he received a particularly important sum of money from a foreign correspondent, who happened to be named Banker, that was enough to reimburse all of his obligations. He was already no longer astonished by his luck, that seemed to be self-evident, but felt however relieved, especially towards the good innkeeper of “The Balance”, whose good table had caused him so much trouble. However, instead of rapidly settling everything by paying off his debts and going away, he was considering another method, that he preferred: to pretext a short business trip and then from any big town whatever to announce that unavoidable circumstances prevented him from ever returning, thereby fulfilling his obligations and leaving a good image behind him, and he would be able to take up his tailoring profession anew with more circumspection and luck, or eventually by other means have a decent career. The best would be to be able to stay as a tailor in Goldach and he now had the means to establish himself modestly there; however it was clear that he could only live there in the role of a Count.

Because of the evident inclination and special pleasure of the lovely Nettchen that rejoiced him whenever they were together, talk about them was already circulating, and he had even remarked that the young woman was being referred to here and there as ‘the Countess’. How could he prepare this precious being for such a turn of events? How could he reward the destiny that had raised him so high with such wanton lies and shame himself?

He had received a bill of exchange from Banker, his lottery dealer, that he had cashed in at a Goldach establishment; this transaction strengthened once again the good opinion of his person and of his relations, as the solid commercial men of Goldach did not in the slightest think of a simple lottery transaction. That same day Strapinski went to a stately ball to which he had been invited. He arrived dressed simply in black and announced there and then to his hosts that he was obliged to leave on a trip.

Within ten minutes the news was known to the whole gathering, and Nettchen, whom Strapinski was trying to catch a glimpse of, seemed to be startled and to be avoiding his glances, becoming first red and then quite pale. Then she danced several times with young men one after the other, seemed to be distracted and to be breathing heavily, and responded to an invitation of the Pole, who had finally come up to her, with a curt bow without looking at him.

Oddly disturbed and concerned he went out, took up his splendid coat and walked with flowing locks up and down a garden pathway. It was now clear to him that it was only because of her that he had stayed there for so long, that the vague longing to see her once more had unconsciously taken hold of him, but that however the whole affair was an impossibility of the most desperate kind.

As he was walking up and down he heard quick steps behind him, light but restless. Nettchen came towards him and seemed, judging on a few words she called out, to be looking for her carriage, although hers was on the other side of the house and here there were only winter cabbages and twisted rose bushes dreaming away the sleep of the just. Then she came back again, and as he now with beating heart stood in her way and pleadingly stretched his hands out towards her, without further ado she flung her arms about his neck and burst out crying. He covered her glowing cheeks with his fine, fragrant locks, and his mantle covered the slim, proud, snow-white form of the girl like the large black wings of an eagle – it was a truly a beautiful scene, that seemed to be justified by its very existence.

In this adventure Strapinski lost his senses but won the happiness that now and then is granted to those who lack understanding. That same night Nettchen told her father on the journey home that none other than the Count would be hers; he appeared early the next morning to declare himself to the father, amiably bashful and melancholic as usual, who made the following declaration: “Thus fate and the will of this foolhardy maiden have been satisfied! Already as a schoolchild she had persistently maintained that she would only marry an Italian or a Pole, a great pianist or a robber chieftain with nice hair locks, and now she has had her wishes granted! She has refused all well-meaning offers from hereabouts; once again I must reject the clever and able Melchior Böhni, who will yet have successful business affairs, and she has dreadfully mocked him again because he only wears a little red goatee and sniffs from a little silver box! Now, thank God, a Polish Count from the farthest wilderness is here! Take the goose, Herr Count, and send her back to me some day when she has become fried in her Polishness and is unhappy and howling! Well now, how delighted the blessed mother would have been, if she were still alive, to see that her spoiled daughter has become a Countess!"

Then there was a lot of commotion; in a few days’ time the engagement would have to be celebrated; for the Councillor maintained that the future son-in-law could not delay his business affairs and his projected trip because of the marriage, which would have to be accelerated on this account.

Strapinski brought to the engagement ceremony gifts that had cost him half of his current fortune; the other half was spent on a feast that he wanted to give in honour of his future bride. It was Carnival time and the sky was clear in the shining late-winter weather. The country roads had become magnificent sledding routes, such as are only rarely seen, and Herr von Strapinski organized a sledding excursion and a ball in a stately inn well-known for such outings that was located on a high plain with a splendid view over the surroundings, a two good hours’ drive away and halfway between Goldach and Seldwyla.

At this time it so happened that Herr Melchior Böhni had business in the latter town and drove over there a few days before the festivities in a light sled smoking his best cigar, and it further happened that the citizens of Seldwyla also organized a sledding excursion on the same day and at the same place as the Goldachers, a costumed or masked ball.

So the convoy of sleds from Goldach set out at noon with such ringing of bells, blowing of horns and cracking of whips through the streets of the town that the emblems of the old houses looked down upon them with astonishment, and they passed out through the town gateway. Strapinski and his bride-to-be sat in the first sled; he was wearing a Polish overcoat of green velvet, studded with laces and heavily embellished and lined with fur. Nettchen was completely enveloped in a white fur coat; blue veils protected her face from the fresh air and from the sun-rays reflecting from the snow. The Councillor had been prevented from participating by an urgent affair; however it was his team of horses and sled that the bridal pair were driving, decorated in front with a golden woman’s image representing Fortuna; for the town dwelling of the Councillor was called “The Fortuna”.

Behind them followed fifteen or sixteen vehicles each with a man and a lady, all dressed up and gay, but none of the couples were as lovely and stately as the bridal pair. The sleds all had their figureheads like sea-going ships, always representing the sign of the house to which they belonged, so that the population cried out: “Look, here comes Bravery! How pretty Prowess is! the Improvement seems to have a new coat of paint and the Frugality to be freshly gilded! Ah, the Jacob’s Fountain and the Bethesda Pond!"
In the “Bethesda Pond”, which as a modest single-horse sled was the last of the train, Melchior Böhni was driving calmly and comfortably. As figurehead of his vehicle he had the image of a little Jewish gnome that had been waiting for thirty years at the pond for his salvation. Thus the squadron sailed onwards in the bright sunshine and soon appeared on the gleaming height in the distance, near the goal. Then gay music was heard coming from the other side.

A confusion of motley colours and forms broke out from a fragrant, frosty wood that developed into a train of sleds of adventurous aspect, silhouetted high up on the white edge of the field against the blue sky, that glided up onto the heights at the same time. It seemed to consist mostly of big farm freight-sleds, attached together two by two, serving as a base for strange forms and displays. On the front vehicle towered a huge figure representing the goddess Fortuna that seemed to be flying through the airs. It was a giant straw doll full of shimmering tinsel, whose gauze gowns fluttered in the breeze. On the second vehicle was riding an equally giant goat, standing out blackly and sombrely and with lowered horns chasing after Fortuna. There followed a curious structure that represented a fifty-foot-high clothes-iron, then a powerfully snapping pair of scissors that was snapping open and shut in the middle of a string and seemed to be the canopy of a blue silken vesting. Other such well-known references to the art of tailoring followed, and at the end of all these images there followed a large four-horse sled on which the society people of Seldwyla were seated in colourful costumes, with much loud laughter and song.

As both sled-trains arrived at the same time in front of the inn there was a great commotion and mingling of people and horses. The citizens of Goldach were surprised and astonished by the adventuresome encounter; the Seldwylers were for the moment pleasant and modest in a friendly way. Their leading sled with the Fortuna bore the inscription: “People Make Clothes”, and it turned out that the whole company represented real tailors from all countries and historical periods. It was a kind of historical-ethnographic Tailor’s Festival sled-train that ended with the reverse and complementary inscription: “Clothes Make People!” In the end sled with this inscription were sitting in effect, as the result of the work of the foregoing sewers from heathen to Christian times, honourable emperors and kings, councillors and staff officers, prelates and canonesses wearing expressions of the utmost gravity.

This mass of tailors was able to adroitly extract itself from the general confusion, and left the gentlemen and ladies from Goldach, with the future marriage couple at their head, who were rushing up the broad stairs into the large reception room, to go modestly into the lower hall that they had reserved. The Count’s group thought that these goings-on were quite decorous, and their initial surprise gave way to gaiety and approving smiles at the indestructible wit of the Seldwylers; but the Count himself had a decidedly gloomy feeling that was not at all to his liking, although in his present state of preoccupation he harboured no particular suspicions and had not even noticed where all these people had come from. Melchior Böhni, who had carefully put away his “Bethesda Pond” and ostentatiously placed himself near Strapinski, declared in a loud voice that all of these decorated sleds had come from another town.

Soon the two groups, each on their respective levels of the establishment, sat down at the covered tables and were gaily engaged in discussions and frivolities in anticipation of further entertainment.

And that was announced to the Goldachers as they went in pairs up into the ballroom where the musicians were already tuning their violins. As they were all standing in a circle preparing to organise themselves for a round dance, an envoy from the Seldwylers appeared with a friendly, neighbourly offer to entertain the ladies and gentlemen of Goldach with a dance spectacle. This offer could not be rejected out of hand as a fine entertainment was certainly to be expected from the joyous Seldwylers, and so as indicated by the envoy they grouped themselves in a large semi-circle, in the centre of which Strapinski and Nettchen sparkled like princely stars.

Then progressively the aforementioned tailor groups entered one after the other. Each performed a delicate pantomime of the phrase “People Make Clothes” and of its reverse, in which they first showed a stately piece of clothing - a prince’s coat, a priestly gown and suchlike - being energetically prepared, and then a poor man wearing it, who, suddenly transformed, straightened up in an attitude of the greatest dignity and went festively about the room to the accompaniment of music. The animal fable was also acted out in this sense, where a powerful crow appeared who had decorated itself with peacock feathers and went hopping about quacking, a wolf that adroitly tailored for himself a sheep’s pelt, and finally an ass with a fearsome lion’s skin of vines that he draped around himself heroically as if it were the coat of the Carbonari secret society.

All those who appeared withdrew at the end of their performance and progressively extended the half-circle of the Goldachers into a wide ring of spectators until finally there was an empty inner space. Then the music became serious and melancholic as the last personage passed into the circle, on which all eyes were concentrated. It was a slender young man in a dark coat, with graceful dark locks and with a Polish bonnet: it was none other than the Count Strapinski, as he had walked along the country road on that November day and had gone up into that fateful carriage.

The whole gathering gazed intently in silence at the figure, who solemnly and melancholically took a few paces in step with the music and then placed himself in the middle of the inner circle, spread the coat out on the floor, sat himself down in the attitude of a tailor and began to undo a bundle. He took out an almost-finished Count’s overcoat just like the one Strapinski was wearing at that moment, rapidly and skilfully sewed tassels and knots onto it and ironed it properly, all the while verifying with his fingers the heat of the iron. Then he got slowly up, took off the threadbare coat and put the splendid one on, took out a little mirror, combed himself and completed his costume, so that he was finally standing there as a living image of the Count. All of a sudden the music took on a rapid, spirited manner and the man wrapped his affairs in the old coat and threw the package over the heads of the onlookers to the far side of the room, as if he wanted to cut himself off forever from his past life. Thereupon as a proud man of the world he began to move about the circle with stately dance steps, here and there bowing gracefully to the onlookers, until he reached the bridal couple. Suddenly, standing straight as a rod he stared at the Pole, who was completely transfixed, while at the same time as if pre-arranged the music stopped and a fearful silence invaded the room like a sudden flash of lightening.

“Ah, ah, ah, ah”, he cried in a loud voice and stretched his arm out to his unhappy counterpart, “Look at the fellow Silesian, the water-Pole! Who left my work, because he thought that because of a little business problem he had finished with me! Now, I am glad that things are going so well with you and that you are having such a gay Carnival time here! Will you be working now in Goldach?”

At the same time he gave his hand to the pale and smiling young Count sitting there, who took it reluctantly as if it had been a red-hot iron bar, while his double called out: “Come, friends, look at our dear tailor companion, who looks like Raphael and has so pleased our serving maids, not to mention the pastor’s daughter, who really has become a bit crackers!”

Then all the people from Seldwyla came over and pressed around Strapinski and his former master and started to true-heartedly shake his hand, while he wavered and trembled on his chair. At the same time the music started up again with a lively march; the Seldwylers, after having gone up to the bridal pair, put themselves in order for their departure and left the room singing a well-prepared, diabolical chorus of laughter, while the Goldachers, amongst whom thanks to Böhni the explanation of the miracle had spread with the speed of lightening, mingled among themselves and with the Seldwylers, so that all in all there was a mighty tumult.

When this had finally died down the room was nearly empty; a few people were standing by the walls whispering embarrassedly among themselves; a pair of young ladies kept themselves at a distance from Nettchen, undecided as to whether they should approach her or not.

But the couple sat unmoving on their chairs like a stone statue of an Egyptian King and Queen, immobile and isolated, in order, people imagined, to feel their inescapable, burning desolation.

Nettchen, white as marble, turned slowly towards her bridegroom and looked at him in an odd manner from the side.

He stood slowly up and went out with heavy steps, his eyes fixed on the floor flowing copiously with tears.

He went through the Goldachers and Seldwylers grouped on the stairs like a ghost stealing away from a fairground, and they bizarrely let him pass through them in the same manner, avoiding him but without laughing or calling hard words after him. He also went between the sleds and horses from Goldach that had been harnessed there for the return trip, while the Seldwylers in their quarters were enjoying themselves more than ever, and he turned, half unconsciously but with the resolve never to return to Goldach again, onto the road towards Seldwyla on which he had set out a few months beforehand. He soon disappeared into the gloom of the woods through which the road ran. He was bareheaded, for his Polish bonnet had been left on the window sill in the dance hall next to the gloves, and he walked along like that with sunken head and his freezing hands sheltered under his folded arms, while he gradually gathered his thoughts together and arrived at some conclusions. The first clear feeling that he was conscious of was a monstrous shame, as if he had really been a man of social standing and had now become infamous because of a fateful stroke of bad luck. Then this dissolved into a feeling of injustice: up until his glorious entry into the accursed town he had never let himself become guilty of a wrongdoing; as far back into his childhood as he could remember he had never been punished or reprimanded for lying or deceiving, and now he had become a cheat because the folly of the world had overcome him in an unwary and so to speak defenceless instant, and transformed him into its plaything. He thought of himself as a child would, whom another and evil-minded child had talked into stealing a chalice from the alter; he now hated and despised himself, although he was also crying about himself and the unhappy aberration of his ways.

When a prince takes over lands and peoples; when a priest proclaims the teachings of his church without conviction but lives in grandeur from his sinecures; when an arrogant teacher benefits from the honours and advantages of a high chair of learning without having the slightest notion of the dignity of his profession and without making the slightest efforts of his own; when an artist without virtue becomes an object of fashion by his frivolous behaviour and empty gesticulations and steals the bread and fame due to authentic works; or when a swindler, who has inherited or obtained by surreptitious means an important business concern, by his folly and lack of consciousness has deprived thousands of their savings and reserves; then all of these do not cry over themselves, but rather rejoice in their good fortune and never spend a single evening without gay company and good friends.

Our tailor was however bitterly crying over himself, that is to say that he began suddenly to do so as his thoughts that had been dwelling on the heavy chain of events suddenly began to turn to his abandoned bride, and out of shame before the unforeseeable future he bent down low. The unhappiness and the humiliation brought back to him in a shining flash the lost happiness and turned the confused, enamoured, erring man into a cast-off lover. He stretched his arms up to his shining cold forehead and staggered all the more as he was going along the road, then stopped still and was shaking his head when a sudden red glow came over the snow around him and bells and laughter rang out. It was the Seldwylers with their torches on their way home. Already the nostrils of the first horses were nearly upon him; he gathered himself together, sprang over the edge of the road and ducked under the foremost boughs of the forest. The wild train of sleds went by and echoed finally in the gloomy distance without having noticed the fugitive; who, after a good while lying there listening without moving, overwhelmed by the cold, by the fiery drinks he had taken earlier and by his tragic stupidity, stretched his limbs out imperceptibly and fell asleep on the crispy snow, while an icy breeze began to blow from the east.

In the meantime Nettchen had also risen from her isolated chair. She had in a way attentively watched her beloved while he was leaving, had sat there more than an hour without moving, and then had burst unto bitter tears as she rose up and went aimlessly towards the door. Two friends now came over with half-hearted consoling words; she asked them to fetch her coat, scarf, hat and other affairs, which she wordlessly put on, energetically drying her eyes with the veil. Because when one cries one almost inevitably has to blow one’s nose, so she was obliged to take out her pocket-handkerchief and give a hearty sneeze, upon which she looked about her proudly and angrily. That glance fell upon Melchior Böhni, who approached her in a friendly, humble and smiling manner and declared that she now would now need someone to accompany her back to her father’s house. He said that he would leave the “Bethesda Pond” here at the inn so as to be able to drive the honoured unfortunate lady back to Goldach in the “Fortuna”.

Without answering she went with quick steps down to the courtyard where the sled with its impatient, well-fed horses was waiting, one of the last that were still there. She got in without hesitation, took up the reins and the whip and while the inattentive Böhni was happily occupied with searching for a tip for the groom who had cared for the horses, unnoticed she drove the team forward onto the country road with strong strides that rapidly became an unbridled gallop. In fact they weren’t going home, but rather along the road towards Seldwyla. It was only when the lightly swaying coach had disappeared from view that Herr Böhni became aware of the situation and rushed on foot in the direction of Goldach with “Ho! Ho!” and cries to stop, and then hurried back and with his own vehicle chased after the fleeing sled or according to his interpretation after the beauty who had been abducted by the horses, until he reached the gateway to the excited town, where the scandal was already occupying all the tongues.

Why Nettchen had gone in that direction, out of confusion or with deliberate intention, is hard to say. Two circumstances may shed a slight light upon the matter here. First of all, bizarrely enough, Strapinski’s fur coat and gloves that had remained on the window sill behind the couple were now in the “Fortuna” next to Nettchen; no one had noticed when and how she had taken these objects, and she herself didn’t know; it had happened like in a sleepwalk. She wasn’t even now aware that the bonnet and gloves were lying next to her. Then she exclaimed out loud several times: “I must have two more words with him, just two words!”

These two facts appear to show that it wasn’t only chance that drove the fiery pace of the horses. Also it was noticeable, when the “Fortuna” arrived at the passage through the woods, over which the full moon was now shining, how Nettchen slowed down the pace of the horses and held the reins tighter, so that they were almost only at a walk, while the driver directed her saddened but nevertheless sharp eyes attentively on the roadway, without passing over the slightest object on the left and on the right.

And yet at the same time a deep, heavy, unhappy oblivion had taken possession of her soul. What are happiness and life? What do they depend upon? What are we ourselves, who because of a ridiculous Carnival sled become happy or unhappy? To what have we owed it that because of a happy and sincere inclination we reap shame and hopelessness? Who sends us such foolish forms of deception that so destructively intervene in our destiny while they themselves dissolve like flimsy soapsuds?

Such more dreamlike than thought-out questions were occupying the soul of Nettchen, when her eyes were suddenly directed towards a long dark object that stood out from the moonlit snow at the side of the road. It was the stretched-out Wenzel, whose dark hair mingled with the shadows of the trees while his slim body lay clearly in the light.

Nettchen automatically reined in the horses, whereupon a deep stillness came over the woods. She stared unwaveringly at the dark body until it became almost unrecognizable to her sharp eyes, and she lightly attached the reins, got down from the sled, gave the horses a calming stroke and cautiously and silently approached the form.

Yes, it was he. The dark green velvet of his coat stood out finely and nobly against the night snow; the slender body and the sleek limbs fully enclosed and clothed, everything even in that rigidity, in that forlorn manner at the edge of the way, seemed to declare: Clothes Make People!

As the solitary beauty bent closer and recognized him with certainty, she saw right away what mortal danger he was in, and feared that he might already have become frozen. She took hold of one of his hands that seemed to have become cold and insensible. Forgetting everything else, she shook the poor man and called his forename in his ear “Wenzel, Wenzel!” In vain, as he didn’t move but only breathed weakly and dolefully. Then she fell upon him, ran her hand over his face and in her anguish rubbed his whitened nose with hers. Then in a moment of inspiration she took handfuls of snow and rubbed them vigorously over his nose and face and also his fingers, as much as she could until the lucky unfortunate recuperated, awoke and slowly brought his form upright.

He looked about himself and saw his saviour standing before him. She had drawn back her veil; Wenzel recognized every feature in the white face that was looking at him wide-eyed.

He threw himself down before her, kissed the rim of her coat and cried out: “Forgive me! Forgive me!”

“Come, strange man!” she said with repressed trembling in her voice. “I am going to talk with you and take you away!”

She indicated to him to climb up in the sled, which he promptly did; she gave him the bonnet and gloves as absent-mindedly as she had taken them previously, took up the reins and whip and went forward.

On the other side of the woods, not far from the road, was the farm of a woman whose husband had recently died. Nettchen was the godmother of her children and her father the Councillor was her landlord. Only recently the woman had come to them to wish the daughter happiness and to offer all sorts of advice, and perhaps at this hour she might not know anything about the turn of events.

Nettchen drove towards this farm, left the road and with cracking whips drew up before the house. There was still light behind a small window, as the farm-woman was awake and occupied, although children and relatives were long asleep. She opened the window and gazed down in astonishment. “It’s only me, it’s us!” cried Nettchen. “We have lost our way on the new road, that I have never been on before; please make us some coffee, dear Godmother, and let is come in for a moment before we continue on our way!”

Very happy to oblige, the woman hurried down as soon as she recognized Nettchen, and was charmed and intimidated at the same time to see both the big animals and the foreign Count. In her eyes happiness and the splendour of the world had crossed her threshold in the person of these two people; uncertain hopes, any part of them, any modest advantage whatsoever to be gained for her or her children animated the good woman and provided her with all the spryness she needed to serve the young people of the high society. She quickly woke up the farmhands to go out and look after the horses, and soon she had prepared hot coffee that she now brought in where Wenzel and Nettchen were sitting facing each other in the half-darkened parlour, a weakly flickering little lamp between them on the table.

Wenzel was sitting with his head in his hands, not daring to look up. Nettchen was leaning back in her chair and kept her eyes closed fast, as well as the bitter, lovely mouth that showed that she was not at all asleep.

When the godmother had set the drink on the table, Nettchen quickly got up and whispered to her: “Leave us alone for a quarter of an hour, please, and go to bed dear woman! We have had a bit of a quarrel and still have to talk things over today, for which this is a good opportunity!”

“I quite understand, be it so!” said the woman and soon left the two alone.

“Drink this”, said Nettchen, who was sitting down again, “it will make you healthy again!” She herself did not have anything. Wenzel Strapinski, lightly hesitating, reached out, took a cup and drank it down, more because she had said to do so than to refresh himself. He looked at her now, and as their eyes met and Nettchen searchingly looked into his, she shook her head and said: “Who are you? What do you want with me?”

“I am not quite what I appear to be!” he replied sadly. “I am a poor fool, but I shall make up for everything and give you satisfaction and no longer be alive!” Such words were said so convincingly and without any special emphasis that Nettchen’s eyes imperceptibly lit up. Nevertheless she repeated: “I want to know who you really are and where you come from and where you want to go.”

“Everything has happened in such a way that I can now tell you the whole truth”, he answered and told her who he was and how he had come to Goldach in that special coach. In particular he told her how he had several times wanted to flee but because of her appearance on the scene had been held back like in a bewitched dream.

Nettchen felt several times an urge to burst out laughing; however the seriousness of her present situation prevented that when it was on the verge of breaking out. She continued with more questioning: “And where did you think you would go with me and what did you think of doing?”
“I hardly know”, he replied; “I was hoping for further unusual or lucky events; also I thought sometimes of the kind of death that I wanted to deal out to myself, after I . . .”

Here Wenzel stopped, and his pale face became quite red.

“Now, continue!” said Nettchen, herself becoming pale, while her heart was pounding heavily.

That enflamed Wenzel’s soft, large eyes and he cried out: “Yes, now it is clear to me how things would have turned out! I would have gone out in the wide world with you and after I had lived a few short happy days with you, I would have confessed to the deception and straightaway done away with myself. You would have gone back to your father where you would have fully recuperated and easily forgotten me. No one would have needed to know more than that I had disappeared without trace. Instead of suffering from a longing for a worthy destiny, for a good heart, of longing for love all my life”, he continued wistfully on, “I would have for an instant been utterly happy and high above all those who are neither happy nor unhappy and therefore never want to die! Oh, if you had only left me lying in the cold snow, I would have gone to sleep so peacefully!”

He had again become still and stared gloomily before him.

After a while Nettchen, who was calmly observing him, said, after the pounding of her heart that had been stirred up by Wenzel’s speech had somewhat died down: “Have you ever played the same or similar tricks before and lied to strangers who had done nothing to you?”

“That I have already asked myself in this bitter night and cannot remember when I have ever been a liar! I have never yet had nor experienced such an adventure! Yes, even the time when the temptation had arisen to become someone significant or at least to appear to be one, still half a child, I resisted and gave up the happiness I seemed to be headed for!”

“What’s this?” questioned Nettchen.

“My mother, before she was married, was in the service of a neighbouring lady proprietor and had gone on trips to large towns with her. She had thereby acquired a finer manner than the other women of our village and was really also quite vain, for she always clothed herself and me, her only child, better and with more care than was customary. My father, a poor schoolmaster, died however at an early age, leaving us in extreme poverty without any prospects for the happy life that my mother used to dream of. Moreover she had to work hard to be able to feed us and thereby was obliged to give up what she loved the most, having a somewhat better appearance and clothing. Unexpectedly the lady proprietor, who in the meantime had become widowed when I was sixteen years old, told her that she was moving with her whole household permanently to a new residence; she wanted Mother to let me go with them, as it was a shame for me to become a day labourer in the village or a farmhand; she would have me learn something finer, which was what I was longing for, while I lived with them and performed light service duties. That now appeared to be the best that we could hope for. Everything was arranged in that sense and was ready when Mother became pensive and sad and one day suddenly begged me tearfully not to leave her, but to stay poor with her; she would not grow old, she said, and I would certainly still achieve something worthwhile, even if she were dead. The lady proprietor, whom I had sadly informed of this, came over and made propositions to Mother; but she then became completely disturbed and once cried out something else, that she would not let anyone steal her child away; whoever knows him . . .”

Here Wenzel Strapinski stopped again and wasn’t able to continue.

Nettchen asked: “What’s was that that your Mother said – ‘whoever knows him’? Why don’t you continue?”

Wenzel reddened and replied: “She said something bizarre, that I didn’t really understand and that in any case since then have not felt; she said, whoever knows the boy will never more be able to leave him, and meant to say with that that I had been a good-natured child or something of the sort. In short, she was so excited that in spite of all the blandishments of the lady I renounced and stayed with Mother, for which she loved me more than ever, begging me a thousand times over for my forgiveness that she was more important to me than my happiness. As I however now had to learn a trade, it so happened that there was nothing much else for me to do than to become apprenticed to the village tailor. I didn’t want to do it but Mother cried so much that I gave in. That is the story.”

To Nettchen’s question why and when he had left his mother, Wenzel replied: “I was called up to military service. I was put into the Hussars and became a quite handsome red hussar, although perhaps the dumbest in the regiment, in any case the calmest. After a year I finally got leave for a couple of weeks and rushed home to see my good Mother, but she had just died. So there I was, when my time was done, alone in the world and I finally fell into my present unhappy predicament.”

Nettchen smiled as he was lamenting about this, while attentively observing him. They had now been in the parlour a good while; all of a sudden a thought occurred to her.

“Since you”, she said suddenly although in a markedly hesitating manner, “were constantly so valued and amiable, without doubt you must have had at some time your own love affair or suchlike and I think you have more than one little woman on your conscience – don’t you want to tell me about that? “

“Oh, God!” replied Wenzel, who had become all red, “before I knew you I never touched so much as the fingertips of a girl, except for . . .”

“Well?” said Nettchen.

“Well”, he continued, “ that same lady who wanted to take me away and educate me had a child, a young girl eight or nine years old, an unusual, vigorous child as sweet as sugar and as lovely as an angel. For her I often had to be the servant and protector and I became used to it. I had to take her regularly to a church rectory quite far away, where she had lessons from an old minister, and then to bring her back. Also, on other occasions I had to take her out, when no one else was available to go with her. This child, then, as I was taking her home for the last time through the fields in the evening, began to tell me about the forthcoming move, explained to me that I just had to accompany them and asked me if I wanted to. I said that it was not possible. The child continued nevertheless with much agitation to insistently plead with me, while clinging on my arm and hindering my progress, as children know so well how to do, so that I unthinkingly quite gruffly freed myself. On that, the girl bent her head and tried with some shame and sadness to repress the tears that were now breaking out, and she was hardly able to master her sobbing. Touched by this, I wanted to comfort the little girl, however she tore herself angrily away and left me in a fit of ungraciousness. Since then the lovely little girl has always stayed in my mind, and my heart has always gone out to her, even though I never heard from her again...”

Suddenly the speaker, who was in a mild state of excitement, turned pale and stared at his companion.

“Now”, said Nettchen for her part in a curious tone of voice, having paled in the same way, “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Wenzel stretched his arm out, pointed his finger at her as if he had seen a ghost, and exclaimed: “This I have seen before. When that child was angry, the lovely hairs over the temples and forehead stood out somewhat, so that you could see them moving, and it was just like that a while ago in the field in that evening light.”

Effectively, the curls next to her temples and over her forehead had just moved slightly, as if there had been a slight waft of air over her face.

The eternally somewhat coquette Mother Nature had used here one of her secrets to bring the difficult affair to its end.

After a short silence, during which her bosom was beginning to beat heavily, Nettchen got up, went around the table towards the man and fell about his neck with the words: “I won’t let you go! You are mine, and I shall go with you in spite of the whole world!”

And so only now did they celebrate together their true betrothal from the bottom of their souls, while with a soft passion they took their destiny upon themselves and kept faith in one another.

It was in no way so difficult to want to direct this destiny a little; moreover they quickly and pertly made new decisions. For she said to the good Wenzel, who was lost in dreams after the renewed change in his fortunes: “Now we shall go straight to Seldwyla and show to the people there, who thought they had destroyed us, that they have only managed to really unite us and make us happy!”

That did not in the least enlighten the brave Wenzel. He much preferred to set out on unknown horizons and secretly and romantically to live there in quiet happiness, as he put it.

Nettchen for her part cried out: “No more romance! As you are, a poor wanderer, I shall show you what I am like and in spite of all these proud and mocking people in my homeland I shall be your wife! We shall go to Seldwyla and there by industry and cleverness become independent of the people who have been so scornful towards us!”

No sooner said than done! As soon as the farm-woman had been called and reimbursed by Wenzel, who began taking on his new role, they left on their way. Wenzel now took the reins, Nettchen leaning herself with satisfaction against him as if he had been a church column. For a person’s will is their kingdom of heaven, and Nettchen had become of age three days beforehand and so could do as she wished.

In Seldwyla they stopped before “The Rainbow” inn, where a number of people from the sleds were sitting with glasses in front of them. As the couple appeared in the inn the word spread like fire: “Ha, we have an abduction here! We have set a delicious affair underway!”

However Wenzel went in with his bride without looking around, and after she had gone into her room, he went over to the “Wild Man”, another good inn, and strode proudly through the Seldwylers still gathered there up to his room there, that he had asked for, and left them to their astonished debates, over which they drank themselves into the worst of headaches.

The word “abduction” was at the same time racing around the town of Goldach.

So in the early morning the “Bethesda Pond” set out towards Seldwyla, with the excited Böhni and Nettchen’s stricken father aboard. In their hurry they had almost driven straight through Seldwyla when they saw just in time the sled “Fortuna” comfortably standing before the inn and they consoled themselves with the thought that at least the fine horses had not gone any further. They let theirs be tended to when their assumption had been confirmed and they learned of Nettchen’s arrival and stopover, and they also went into “The Rainbow”.

A little while went by until Nettchen sent a message asking her father to come up to her room alone to talk with her there. It was also being said that she had already sent for the best advocate in the city, who was expected in the course of the morning. The Councillor went somewhat heavy-hearted up to his daughter, meditating on the best way to get his desperate daughter to come back with him, and expected her to be in a confused state of mind.

But Nettchen just came up to him calmly with a soft but firm manner. She thanked her father with emotion for all the love and bounty he had bestowed on her and quickly clarified the situation in a few straightforward sentences: first, she did not want to live in Goldach after what had happened there, at least not for the next few years; secondly she wanted to have the important heritage that her mother had left for her and that her father had long ago undertaken to transfer to her on the occasion of her marriage; thirdly she wanted to marry Strapinski about which above all nothing could make her change her mind; fourthly she wanted to live with him in Seldwyla and help him to build a prosperous business there, and fifthly and lastly all would be well, for she was convinced that he was a good man and would make her happy.

The Councillor began his efforts with the reminder that Nettchen certainly knew how much he wanted her fortune to be transferred over to her for the furthering of her happiness at the earliest possible occasion. Then however he painted a picture of the sorrow that had overtaken him since first learning of the horrible catastrophe, of the impossibility of the relationship that she wanted to establish, and finally he showed her the only way that the whole conflict could be solved. It was Herr Melchior Böhni, who was ready by his immediate personal intervention to resolve the whole situation and with his spotless reputation defend and uphold her honour in the face of the world.

But the word honour put the daughter in a state of great agitation. She exclaimed that honour was just what she was offered, not to marry Herr Böhni, whose company she couldn’t stand, but rather to remain true to the poor stranger to whom she had not only given her word but whose company she could stand!

There was then a fruitless exchange of words, that the steadfast beauty eventually put an end to with an outbreak of tears.

Almost at the same time Wenzel and Böhni came in, having met on the stairs, and a major conflict was menacing as the advocate, who was well known to the Councillor, also made his appearance and straightaway exhorted them to be peaceful and prudent for the time being. When he was informed in a few preliminary words of the present situation he decreed that first of all Wenzel should go back to the “Wild Man” and keep quiet there, that Herr Böhni should also go out and stay away, that Nettchen on her side should maintain the proper forms of a good citizen until the outcome of the affair, that her father should renounce any form of coercion, and that the independence of the daughter was legally beyond doubt.

So there was an armistice and a general separation of ways for a few hours.

In the town, where the advocate had let it be known that a large fortune was at stake that perhaps might come to Seldwyla because of this affair, there was now a great commotion. The opinion of the Seldwylers swung suddenly over to the cause of the tailor and his betrothed, and they decided to protect the lovers by all means and sacrifices and to ensure justice and freedom in their town. As the rumour went around that the beauty from Goldach was to be forcibly taken back, they banded together and established armed guards of honour in front of “The Rainbow” and “The Wild Man”, and embarked with pronounced enthusiasm upon one of their greatest adventures, a memorable continuation of the one of the previous day.

The shocked and irritated Councillor sent his Böhni back to Goldach for help. He galloped over there and the next day led a large number of men and a sizeable police force back in support of the Councillor, and it began to appear that Seldwyla might become another Troy. The two parties stood there menacingly facing one other; the city drum was already in action and emitting rightful drumbeats. Then high authorities, both spiritual and wordly, arrived on the scene and the negotiations, which had been going on furiously on all sides, finally ended with the result that since Nettchen had stayed firm and that Wenzel, with the encouragement of the Seldwylers, had not let himself be intimidated, the banns of their marriage would be formally published after all the necessary documents had been produced, and that in the meantime any legal objections could be raised with the consequences to be determined.

Because of the legal majority of Nettchen such objections could only be raised against the doubtful person of the false Count Strapinski.

On his own the advocate, who was now acting on his and of Nettchen’s behalf, determined that the young foreigner had until now neither in his homeland nor during his travels the shadow of a doubt on his reputation and that from everywhere only good and benevolent testimonies had arrived in his favour.

As far as the events in Goldach were concerned, concluded the advocate, the fact was that Wenzel had never put himself forward as a Count but that this rank had been wholeheartedly attributed to him by others; that in writing he had on all occasions correctly signed himself with his real name Wenzel Strapinski without ever adding the noble attribute; and that he had not committed any reprehensible act other than that of having had a set of foolish acquaintances that he would not have had had he not arrived in that coach and if that coachman had not played such a bad trick on him.

So the war ended with a marriage, at which the Seldwylers with their so-called “cat’s heads” guns shot off with enthusiasm to the annoyance of the Goldachers who could clearly hear their thunder on account of the west wind. The Councillor gave Nettchen her heritage and she declared that Wenzel must now become an important tailor-merchant and be called Herr Tailor in Seldwyla, as the fabric dealer was called Herr Fabric-Dealer, the steel merchant was called Herr Steel-Merchant, and so on.

That came to be too, although in quite another way than the Seldwylers had expected. He was modest, thrifty and adroit in his business dealings, which took on an important dimension. He made them their violet or white-and-blue diced velvet waistcoats, embellished their ball costumes with golden buttons, turned their worn-out coats red, and everyone owed him money, but not for long. Because if anyone wanted something new and nicer, whether one came to fetch it or had it delivered, one had to pay him what was already owed, so that amongst themselves they complained that he was squeezing their blood out from under their fingernails.

Thus he became round and stately and almost seemed to have lost his dreamy appearance; he became from year to year more experienced and agile in business affairs and was able to participate with his quickly-reconciled father-in-law, the Councillor, in such good speculations that his fortune was redoubled, and after ten or twelve years with that many children, that Nettchen, the Strapinska, had given birth to, and with her he settled down in Goldach and himself became a notable.

However he didn’t leave so much as a penny behind in Seldwyla, either from ingratitude or out of vengeance.

Gottfried Keller at the age of 21
Gottfried Keller at the age of 35
Gottfried Keller at the age of 41
Gottfried Keller at the age of 51

Clothes Make People (Kleider machen Leute) - Kindle version
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