"The Golden Cup" (1812) by Ludwig Tieck - a classic of German romanticism

(actualisé le ) by Ludwig Tieck

Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) was one of the leading figures in the German romantic movement at the beginning of the 19th century, a movement that brought themes of the mysterious, the magical, the fantastic and the unexplainable into German-language letters at the time.

It was in a way a precursor of the fantasy and science-fiction themes in the literature of our own times!

Here we have a tender love story featuring notably a magnificent young woman, her ardent but too-poor lover and an alchemist, who tries very hard to sort things out for them with his unusual and very strange instruments, and a striking portrait of the sociological lifestyle of those days not as different from our own as one might think.

Well worth discovering, in a translation done specially for this site.


Portrait of Ludwig Tieck, aged 62

e-book versions of this charming and even moving tale can be downloaded below.


The Golden Cup


The morning chimes of the great cathedral bells were ringing. Men and women were passing over the wide square in various directions, coaches were driving by and priests were going to their churches. Ferdinand stood on the wide steps, looking out over the people passing by and observing those who came up to participate in the High Mass. Sunshine was glancing off the white stones, everyone was seeking shelter from the heat; only Ferdinand remained standing there, leaning against a pillar under the burning rays without feeling them, plunged as he was in the memories that surged forth in his mind. He was thinking back on his life, and was enraptured by the joyous feeling that had entered his life and chased everything else in him away. At the same time of day he had stood here a year ago, watching women and young girls coming to the mass; with an indifferent heart and smiling eyes he had looked upon the diversity of female figures passing by; many a roguish glance had come his way and many a young woman’s cheek had blushed; his spying eyes had watched how charming little feet mounted the steps, and how lovely ankles were more or less revealed by the swaying dresses. Then a slim and noble young form clothed in black, her eyes demurely fixed before her, had crossed the marketplace and unselfconsciously swept gracefully up the stairs, the silken dress wrapped itself about her fine body as if it were swinging in tune with music; then as she was taking the last steps by chance she raised her eyes and encountered his eyes with the bluest of glances. It was as if he had been pierced with lightening. She stumbled, and although he sprang forward as quickly as possible he could not prevent her from kneeling a short moment before him in the most charming attitude. He helped her get up; she did not look at him but was all red in the face, and did not respond when he asked if she had hurt herself. He followed her into the church and could see nothing but the image of her when she had been kneeling before him with her lovely bosom quivering. On the following day he was again at the threshold of the temple at the spot that was now sacred to him. He had wanted to leave on a trip, his friends were impatiently waiting for him in his hometown; but from now on his homeland was here - his heart had been overwhelmed. He saw her often; she did not avoid him, but gave him only a few stolen glances, for her wealthy family watched closely over her and a distinguished and jealous fiancé even more so. They avowed their love to one another, but could not see how to resolve the situation, as he was a foreigner and could not offer the benefits to his beloved that she was entitled to expect. He was sorely conscious of his poverty; however when he thought of his previous way of life he thought of himself as now being inordinately rich, for his existence was blessed, his heart was constantly moved by the finest of emotions; nature now looked friendly upon him and its beauty evident to his senses; he no longer felt that devotion and religion were strangers, and he now passed over that same threshold into the mysterious darkness of the temple with quite different feelings than in the days of his light-heartedness. He drew back from his former acquaintances and lived only for his love. When he went through the streets and saw her even if only at her window he was happy for the whole day; he had often spoken to her in the evening twilight, as her garden bordered on a friend’s, who was moreover unaware of his secret. A year went by this way.

All of these scenes of his new life were going through his consciousness once again. He looked out and there was her noble form swinging across the square; she shone out to him like a sun from the confused mass of people. A mellow song rang through his sensitive soul, and he went back into the church as she approached. He held the holy water out to her; her white fingers trembled as they brushed against his own, and she graciously bowed down. He followed her and kneeled down near to her. His heart was submerged in feelings of both melancholy and love, and it seemed to him just as if devout prayers were bleeding out from the wounds of his desire; every word of the priest penetrated him, every tone of the music poured devotion into his bosom; his lips shook, as the beautiful creature pressed the crucifix of her rosary onto her passionate red mouth. How could he not have understood beforehand this faith and this love? Then the priest raised up the Blessed Sacrament and the bells rang out; she bent humbly down and crossed her breast; and it was as if a flash of lightening had struck all his powers and feelings, and the altar image seemed to him to come alive and the colourful twilight of the window seemed like a light of paradise; tears streamed profusely from his eyes and appeased the all-consuming fervour of his breast.

The religious service was at an end. He proffered the holy water to her again; she spoke a few words and went off. He remained where he was so as not to attract attention; he watched her going until the hemline of her dress had disappeared around a corner; for him it was like when a tired traveller in the woods sees the last rays of the setting sun disappear. He awoke from his state of dreaminess when an ancient, dried-up hand clapped him on the shoulder and someone said his name.

He looked around and recognized his friend Albert, the morose old recluse who had withdrawn from contacts with others and whose solitary house was open only to the young Ferdinand. "Do you remember our rendezvous?" asked the husky voice. "Oh yes!" answered Ferdinand, and continnued "and will you still keep to your promise today?" "Right this very hour!" the other answered, "if you will follow me."

They went through the city and into a vast house in an outlying street. "Today", said the old man, "you must come with me to the out-of-the-way room in the house in back, where we cannot be disturbed.” They went through many rooms, then up some stairsw where there were several corridors, and Ferdinand, who thought he knew the house, was bewildered by the number of rooms as well as by the bizarre layout of the wide-reaching house; all the more so, that the old man, who was unmarried and who had no family, lived there alone with a single servant, and had never wanted to rent the superfluous rooms out to strangers. Albert finally opened a door a said: "Now we are here." They were in a large, high-ceilinged room lined with red damask framed with golden borders, the armchair was covered with the same material, and a purple light shone through heavy curtains of red silk that were drawn together. "Wait just a moment," said the old man, as he went into another room. While waiting, Ferdinand looked through a few books, in which he found strange incomprehensible characters, circles and lines next to many wonderful drawings, and after the few that he could read there were alchemical writings; he knew moreover that the old man was said to be an alchemist. There was a lute on the table, which was strangely inlaid with pearls and coloured wood that formed shining figures of birds and flowers; the star in the middle was a magnificent mother-of-pearl, around which numerous disarticulated circus figures were arranged, somewhat like the rosette of a gothic church. "You are looking at my instrument", said Albert who had come back, "it is over two hundred years old, and I brought it back as a souvenir of my trip to Spain. But leave all that, and come and sit down here."

They sat down at the table that was also covered with a red tapestry, and the old man placed a wrapped-up object on the table. "For pity for your youth", he began, "I have recently promised to tell you the truth about whether you can ever become happy or not, and this promise I shall keep at present, even if you have recently considered the affair to be a jest. You must not be afraid, for what I plan to show you can be looked upon without danger, and you will neither hear frightful conjurations from me nor will you see any horrible apparitions. My experiment can miscarry in only two cases: if in fact you do not really love as deeply as you have lead me to believe, because then my efforts are in vain and will come to nothing; or if you disturb the oracle and ruin everything by useless questions, or hasty reactions by leaving your seat and destroying the image; so you must promise that you will remain calm."

Ferdinand gave his word, and the old man uncovered the object that he had brought with him. It was a golden cup very artistically and beautifully worked. Around the wide foot ran a wreath of flowers with myrtles mixed in with various leaves and fruits, artfully worked with alternating dimmed and bright gold. A similar but richer band, with small figures and flying wild little animals that were pursued by children or that were playing with them, ran around the middle of the goblet. The rim was finely rounded and turned up on the lip, and inside it the gold sparkled with a reddish glow. The old man placed the goblet between them and indicated to him to approach. "Do you not feel something?" he asked, "when you look deep into this glow?" "Yes", said Ferdinand, "This glow is mirrored inside me, I can say that I feel it like a kiss in my enamoured bosom." "All is well!" said the old man, "now don’t let your eyes wander around, but keep them fixed on the brightness of the gold, and think as forcefully as you can of your beloved."

Both of them sat calmly there for a while, and looked deeply at the shimmering goblet. Soon however, the old man began to make silent movements with his stretched-out finger, at first slowly then quicker and finally in rapid circles about the glow. Then he paused and drew the circles on the other side. A while after he had begun Ferdinand thought he heard music, but it sounded at first as if it came from outside in a distant street; however the tones soon came nearer, they became louder and louder, they vibrated more and more distinctly and finally there was no doubt left that they were coming from inside the cup. The music became ever louder, and of such penetrating power that the young man’s heart trembled and tears rose into his eyes. The hand of the old man went rapidly around the mouth of the goblet in various directions, and it seemed as if sparks were leaping from his fingers and flashing with ringing sounds onto the golden surface. Soon the sparkling points were multiplied and were following the movements of his finger as if lined on a row of thread; they glowed with various colours, and grew progressively thicker and thicker together, until they closed together in solid lines. Now it seemed as if the old man in the reddish gleam of the curtains drew a marvellous net over the shining gold, as he arbitrarily pulled the rays here and there and wove them over the opening of the cup; they obeyed him and remained lying there, weaving and swaying backwards and forwards like a covering. When they were firmly attached, he drew a circle again around the edge, the music sank back down and became lighter and lighter until it could no longer be heard, and the lighted net trembled as if in anguish. It broke apart with the increasing fluctuations and rays rained down in drops into the chalice, as a reddish cloud rose up moving in multiple circles and wafting over the opening like foam. A brighter point swept with great rapidity through the cloudy circle. There was a form there, and it suddenly appeared through the mist as an eye, as golden locks flowed around and above it in circles; straightaway a soft redness gleamed on and off in the wavering shadows, and Ferdinand recognized the smiling features of his beloved, the blue eyes, the tender cheeks, the lovely red mouth. The head moved back and forth, rose clearly and visibly up over the slender white neck and bent down before the enraptured youth. The old man drew yet more circles around the goblet, and the shining shoulders appeared, and as the lovely form arose from the golden bed and was graciously swaying, there now appeared both tender, curved, distinct bosoms at the points of which their delicate rosebuds were shimmering, enclosed in a sweet redness. Ferdinand thought that he could feel the breath from the beloved figure as it bowed to him, and he almost embraced it with his burning lips; he could no longer master himself in his frenzy but pushed forward to kiss it on the mouth, and wanted to take hold of the lovely arms and lift the naked form out of its golden prison. Immediately a violent shudder took hold of the graceful form that shattered the head and the body into a thousand lines, and then there was a rose, from which a sweet smile seemed to linger, lying at the foot of the cup. In a flurry of desire Ferdinand took hold it and pressed it to his mouth, and under the burning impact of his desire it dissipated and vanished into the air.

"You have kept your word poorly!" said the old man in anger; "you will be able to measure the consequences for yourself!"

He wrapped up the cup again, drew up the curtain and opened the window; the clear daylight broke in, and Ferdinand with many apologies and in a melancholic mood left the grumbling elder.

He hurried through the streets of the city, and sat down under the trees after passing through the town gate. She had told him that morning that she had to travel in the evening with some relatives to the countryside. Off and on he sat down, at other times he wandered, overcome with love, in the woods; always he saw before him the graceful image as it had risen up ever more from the glowing golden cup; at first it was as if she would come forward towards him in all the glow of her beauty, and then that most beautiful of forms broke up before his very eyes, and he was furious with himself that by his impetuous desire and the confusion of his senses he had destroyed the image and perhaps his happiness as well.

As the area became progressively filled up after noontime with more and more people, he withdrew deeper into the woods; but he could nevertheless see the main road in the distance, and he examined attentively every coach that came out through the town gate.

The evening was approaching. The setting sun sent out shimmering reddish rays, and then the richly gilded coach flew out of the town gate, glowing in the evening glaze. He hurried towards it. Her eyes had been looking out for his. She leaned her glowing bosom out of the coach, friendly and smiling, and he caught her loving gesture of greeting; now he stood beside the coach, her gaze fully on him, and as she drew back when the coach went forward the rose that had decorated her bosom flew out and lay at his feet. He picked it up and kissed it, and it seemed to him to be an omen that he would never see his beloved again and that his happiness was now destroyed forever.


People were running up and down the stairs, the whole building was in a commotion, shouting and noises were all around in preparation for the morrow’s big celebration. The mother was in a most active and joyful state, the bride let everything be as it would be and withdrew into her room, contemplating her destiny. Still to arrive were the son, the captain, with his wife, and two older daughters with their husbands; Leopold, a younger son, was busily occupied in increasing the general state of disorder, in making yet more noise and in making everything even more confused while appearing to be helping with everything. Agatha, his yet-unmarried sister, tried to bring him to reason and to get him to do nothing at all and leave the others in peace; but the mother said, "Don’t disturb him in his foolishness, for today it more or less doesn’t matter; only I beg of you all, as I have so much to think about, not to bother me with anything that I don’t absolutely need; if you break some dishes, if some silver spoons are missing; if the outside help have broken one or two window panes, don’t make me angry by telling me about such buffoonery. We’ll take account of all that when the agitation of the coming days will have come to an end."

"Right you are, Mother," said Leopold, "those are rules worthy of a sovereign! If some maids break their necks, if the cook drinks herself silly, if the chimney catches fire, if the cellar master lets the malmsey wine run out or drinks it up, you don’t want to hear of such childishness. There would have to be an earthquake that brings the house down, my dearest, because that couldn’t be hidden away!"

"When will he ever become a bit more reasonable!" said the mother; "What will your sisters think if they find you to be still as silly as you were when they last came two years ago?"

"They will have to do justice to my character;" answered the lively youth, "that I am not as versatile as they or their husbands are, who have changed so much in so few years, and not to their advantage."

The bridegroom came in and asked after the bride. The room maid was sent to call for her. "Did Leopold tell you about my request, dear Mother?" asked the betrothed.

"I wasn’t able to," he declared, "in the disorder of this house one can’t have a sensible discussion."

The bride came in then, and the young people joyfully greeted one another. "The request that I was talking about," continued the groom, "was that you wouldn’t take it badly if I bring one more guest into your house, that is already so full these days."

"You know yourself", said the mother, "that as roomy as it is, there are no more rooms available for guests."

"However" called out Leopold, "I have already largely taken care of it: I have put the large parlour in the house in back in order."

"Oh, that will hardly do!" said the mother, "for years now that has been only used as a storage space."

"It has been splendidly arranged," said Leopold, "and the friend for whom it is intended doesn’t mind such things at all, he only cares about our affection; also he has no wife and is happy to be on his own, so it will suit him well. We have had enough trouble to convince him and bring him back into society again."

"Not your sad alchemist and believer in spirits?" asked Agatha. "None other than him," replied the bridegroom, "if you want to call him that."

"Then don’t allow it, dear Mother," continued the sister; "why should such a man come into our house? I have seen him a few times with Leopold on the street, and he seemed frightful to me; also the old sinner hardly ever goes to church, he loves neither God nor men, and it would be no blessing to bring such an unbeliever under our roof on such a festive occasion. Who knows what might come out of it?"

"How you are talking now!" said Leopold in anger, "Since you don’t know him, you are misjudging him, and since his nose doesn’t please you and he is no longer young and charming, so he must be, according to you, a believer in ghosts and an accursed person."

"Dear Mother", said the bridegroom, "do grant our dear friend a place to stay in our house and let him participate in the general rejoicing. He appears, dear sister Agatha, to have had much unhappiness that has made him mistrustful and unsociable; he avoids all company, and has only made exceptions for me and Leopold, but I have much to be thankful to him for: he was first to have given my soul a better direction, I can even say that he alone has made me worthy of my beloved Julie."

"He has lent me all kinds of books", continued Leopold, "and what is more, old manuscripts, and what is even more, money, on the strength of my word alone; he has the Christian attitude, little sister, and who knows, when you get to know him better, you will get to love him too, if you put aside your primness, no matter how hateful he seems to you now."

"Well, bring him in, then," said the mother, "I have already had to hear so much about him from Leopold that I am curious to make his acquaintance. Only it must be your responsibility that we can offer him no better accommodation."

At that point the guests arrived. They were members of the family: the married daughters and the officer, accompanied by their children. The good woman was happy to see her grandchildren, everyone exchanged warm greetings and gay talk and after the bridegroom and Leopold had been embraced they left to search out their morose friend.

He lived for the most part of the year a league from the town in the country, but he also had a small dwelling with a little garden near the town gate, where the two young people had by chance first met him. They met up with him now in a coffee house where he was waiting for them. As it was already evening, they all went back to the house after some discussion.

The mother received the newcomer in a very friendly manner; the daughters kept themselves somewhat apart, and Agatha was especially timid and carefully avoided his glance. After the first general discussion the eye of the old man however turned steadfastly to the bride, who had joined the company; he seemed utterly charmed and it was noticed that he unobtrusively sought to dry a tear in his eye. The bridegroom was pleased by his attitude, and as they were later standing aside by a window he took the hand of the elder and asked him: "What do you have to say about my Julie? Is she not an angel?"

"O my friend" answered the old man, "such beauty and grace I have never seen before; or I should rather say - for that expression is not quite right - that she is so beautiful, so enchanting, so heavenly, that it seems to me as if I have known her for a long time, as if she were, stranger as she is to me, the most familiar image of my imagination, one that has been constantly dwelling in my heart."

"I understand what you are saying" said the youth, "yes, true beauty, greatness and elevation, as they astonish and amaze us, surprise us not as something strange, unheard of and never seen before, but in such moments reveal to us the nature of our innermost being, our dearest memories are awakened and our most precious emotions are brought to life."

At the evening meal the stranger hardly took part in the conversation, but he looked so unwaveringly at the bride that she finally became embarrassed and anxious. The officer talked about a campaign that he had participated in, the wealthy merchant talked about his affairs and the bad weather, and the landowner about the improvements that he had made to his property.

After dinner the bridegroom went back to his own dwelling for the last time, as in the future he would live with his young bride in the mother’s house, where their room had already been prepared. The company separated, and Leopold led the stranger to his room. "Please excuse us," he said on the way, "that your lodging is in a relatively isolated location, and not as comfortable as the mother would have wished, but you can see yourself how numerous the family is, and more relatives will be arriving tomorrow morning. At least you won’t be able to run away from us, for you certainly wouldn’t be able to find your way out of this big house."

They went through a few more corridors and finally Leopold left him, wishing him good night. The servant installed two night candles in the room and asked the guest if he should undress him, and as any services were declined, withdrew and left him alone. "How is it," he said to himself as he was walking back and forth in the room, "that that image surges so lifelike today in my heart? I forgot about the past and thought to see her very self. I was young again and the tone of her voice sounded just as it had then; it seemed to me as if I had awoken from a bad dream, but no, now I am awake, and see that the graceful illusion was only a sweet dream."

He was too moved to go to sleep and looked at some drawings on the walls and then at the room. "Today everything seems so familiar!" he cried out, "Can it be that I am mistaken in imagining that this house and this room are not unknown to me?"

He sought to consolidate his memories and took up some large volumes that stood in the corner. When he had leafed through them he shook his head. A lute case was leaning against the wall; he opened it and took out a curious old instrument that was damaged and had no cords. "No, I am not mistaken!" he exclaimed emotionally, "this lute is too recognizable, it is the Spanish instrument of my long-dead friend Albert; there are his books of magic, this is the room in which he awoke in me that gracious oracle; the redness of the carpet has faded, the golden border has become dimmed, but everything is wondrously alive, everything from those hours are in my mind; it was frightening to me as I was coming here on that long, complicated passageway that Leopold led me along; ô Heaven, it was here on this table that that image rose up, and grew as if it had drunk from and been refreshed by the red of the gold; that same image was smiling at me here, that this very evening almost drove me mad in the dining room, in that same room where I had so often been in deep discussions with Albert and walked up and down with him."

He undressed himself, but slept little. In the morning he got up early, and looked at the room anew; he opened the window, and saw the same garden and buildings as before, only a number of new buildings had been built in the meantime. "Forty years have gone by since then", he sighed, "and that day of long ago had longer life in it than all the rest of the time that has since gone by."

He was called to join the company again. The morning passed in many-sided conversations, and finally the bride made her entrance in her wedding dress. As long as the old man was in her view she seemed to be in a state of great emotion, and her movement of recoil escaped the notice of no one in the room. Everyone went to the church where the marriage ceremony was performed; when they had all returned to the house, Leopold asked his mother: "Now, how does our friend, the morose good old man, please you?"

"I had thought of him" she answered, "as being much more frightful from your description than he really is; he is mild and well-intentioned, one can have confidence in him."

"Confidence?" called out Agatha, "in those frightfully burning eyes, those thousands of wrinkles, that pale, pinched mouth and the bizarre laugh that seems and sounds so sarcastic? No, God preserve me from such friends! When evil spirits want to appear in human clothing, they must look like that."

"Probably younger and more charming", answered the mother, "but I don’t recognize this nice old man in your description any more. One can see that he has a strong character and is used to keeping all his feelings to himself; he may, as Leopold says, have experienced much unhappiness that has made him distrustful and he has lost that straight-forward openness that is above all a characteristic of those who are happy."

Her talk was interrupted, as the other guests then came in. Everyone sat down at the table, and the stranger sat next to Agatha and the wealthy merchant. As the toasts were about to began, Leopold called out: "Wait a moment, my worthy friends, now we must have our celebration cup here, that has to go around the table!" He wanted to get up, but the mother gestured to him to remain seating. "You won’t be able to find it," she said, "for I have packed up all the silverware." She went out quickly to fetch it herself. "Our elderly mother is so sprightly and busy" said the merchant, "and heavy and wide as she is, she can nevertheless move about with so much agility even though she is already sixty years old; her face is always cheery and joyful, and today she is especially happy as she has been rejuvenated by her daughter’s beauty." The stranger applauded him, and the mother came back with the cup. It was filled with wine, and it began to circulate around the table, as each person in turn made a toast expressing their dearest wishes. The bride drank to the good health of her husband, he to the love of his beautiful Julie, and everyone continued in turn. The mother hesitated as the beaker came to her. "Boldly, now!" the officer said, in a somewhat rough and hasty tone, "we know that you consider all men untrue and that not a single one is worthy of having the love of a woman; what is then your most cherished wish?" The mother looked at him, while a sudden expression of anger spread over her calm face, "Because my son" she said, "knows me so well and teases me so strongly about my mood, allow me not to express what I have just now been thinking, and may he only seek by his sincere affection to really understand what my true convictions are." She passed the cup on, without having drunk from it, and the company was for a moment struck dumb.

"People say," said the merchant softly, as he leaned over to the stranger, "that she was not in love with her husband, but with another who was untrue to her; at the time she had become the most beautiful maiden in the town."

As the goblet came to Ferdinand, he looked at it with astonishment, as it was the same one out of which Albert had once called up the lovely figure. He looked into the golden interior and in the ripples of the wine, and his hand trembled; it would not have astonished him if out of the shining magic container once again that figure had arisen in all its bloom and with its vanished youth. "No" he said after a while half out-loud, "that’s wine that is glowing here!" "What else could it be?" said the merchant smiling, "drink it with confidence!" A shudder of fright went through the elder, he said the name Franziska out loudly, and set the goblet to his ardent lips. The mother glanced at him questioningly and with astonishment. "Where does this goblet come from?" said Ferdinand, who was ashamed of his emotion. "A long time ago", answered Leopold, "even before I was born, my father bought it at the same time as this house with all the furniture in it from an old, solitary bachelor, a quiet man that the neighbourhood held to be a magician." Ferdinand couldn’t say that he had known him, for his soul was in too much of a dreamlike upheaval to let the others even remotely see into his thoughts.

After the company had left the table he was alone with the mother, for the young people had retired to prepare for the ball. "Sit down beside me" said the mother, "we shall rest a little as we have passed the age to go dancing, and if it is not unbecoming to ask you, tell me then if you have already seen our cup somewhere else, or if not, what it was that moved you so deeply."

"Oh dear lady" said the old man, "excuse me for my foolish sharpness and emotion; but since I have been in this house it has been as if I am no longer myself, for at each instant I forget that my hair is grey and that my loved ones are dead. Your lovely daughter, who is celebrating the most joyful day of her life, is so similar to a young woman that I knew and worshipped in my youth that I must consider it a miracle; not similar, no, the expression is too weak, she is her herself! Also, I have often been in this house and once got to know this cup in the strangest fashion." He straightaway recounted his adventure. "That day in the evening", he concluded, "I saw my beloved for the last time out there in the park as she drove away across the countryside. A rose fell from her, that I have kept; she herself was lost for me, for she was untrue and soon after married."

"God in Heaven!" cried the old lady and sprang up, violently moved, "are you really Ferdinand?"

"That is my name", he said.

"I am Franziska", answered the mother.

They wanted to embrace each other, but quickly drew back. Each observed the other prudently; each sought to evoke from the ruins of time those features that they had known and loved in the other, and as in dark stormy nights under the flight of black clouds some stars mysteriously shimmer fleetingly only to go out again, so it seemed to them at times to perceive from the eyes, the forehead and the mouth the well-known features flashing by, and it was as if their youth was crying and smiling at the same time from afar. He bowed low down and kissed her hand, while two large tears flowed out, and then they warmly embraced each other.

"Is your wife dead?" asked the mother.

"I have never married", sobbed Ferdinand.

"Heaven!" said the old lady, wringing her hands, "so I became the unfaithful one! But no, not unfaithful. When I came back from the countryside where I had been for two months, I heard from everyone, from your friends as well and not only from mine, that you had long before gone off on a voyage and married in your homeland; they showed me the most credible letters, they pressured me strongly, they took advantage of my desolation and my anger and so it came to pass that I gave my hand to the worthiest of men; although my heart and my thoughts were always devoted to you."

"I did not go away from here" said Ferdinand, "but after a while learned of your engagement. They wanted to separate us, and they succeeded. You are a happy mother; I live in the past, but I shall love all your children as if they were my own. But how amazing that we have never seen each other since then!"

"I seldom went out" said the mother, "and as my husband took on another name soon after the marriage on receiving a heritage, you could hardly suspect that we were living in the same town."

"I avoided people" said Ferdinand, and loved only solitude; Leopold is practically the only one who brought me out to mix with others. Oh dear friend, it is like a frightful ghost story, the way we have lost and found each other!"

The young people found the elders dissolved in tears and deeply moved. Neither explained what had happened; the secret seemed too precious to them. But since then, the old man was the friend of the house, and only death separated the two souls who had so wonderfully found each other again, and shortly afterward definitively reunited them once more.


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The Golden Cup - ePub version

Portrait of Ludwig Tieck, aged 62