[After Effi and Mrs. Zwicker had been in Ems for nearly three weeks they took breakfast one morning in the open air. The postman was late and Effi was impatient, as she had received no letter from Innstetten for four days. The coming of a pretty waitress to clear away the breakfast dishes started a conversation about pretty housemaids, and Effi spoke enthusiastically of her Johanna’s unusual abundance of beautiful flaxen hair. This led to a discussion of painful experiences, in the course of which Effi admitted that she knew what sin meant, but she distinguished between an occasional sin and a habitual sin. Mrs. Zwicker was indulging in a tirade against the pleasure resorts and the ill-sounding names of places in the environs of Berlin, when the postman came. There was nothing from Innstetten, but a large registered letter from Hohen-Cremmen. Effi felt an unaccountable hesitation to open it. Overcoming this she found in the envelope a long letter from her mother and a package of banknotes, upon which her father had written with a red pencil the sum they represented. She leaned back in the rocking chair and began to read. Before she had got very far, the letter fell out of her hands and all the blood left her face. With an effort she picked up the letter and started to go to her room, asking Mrs. Zwicker to send the maid. By holding to the furniture as she dragged herself along she was able to reach her bed, where she fell in a swoon.]
Minutes passed. When Effi came to she got up and sat on a chair by the window and gazed out into the quiet street. Oh, if there had only been turmoil and strife outside! But there was only the sunshine on the macadam road and the shadows of the lattice and the trees. The feeling that she was alone in the world came over her with all its might. An hour ago she was a happy woman, the favorite of all who knew her, and now an outcast. She had read only the beginning of the letter, but enough to have the situation clearly before her. Whither? She had no answer to this question, and yet she was full of deep longing to escape from her present environment, to get away from this Zwicker woman, to whom the whole affair was merely “an interesting case,” and whose sympathy, if she had any such thing in her make-up, would certainly not equal her curiosity.
On the table before her lay the letter, but she lacked the courage to read any more of it. Finally she said: “What have I further to fear? What else can be said that I have not already said to myself? The man who was the cause of it all is dead, a return to my home is out of the question, in a few weeks the divorce will be decreed, and the child will be left with the father. Of course. I am guilty, and a guilty woman cannot bring up her child. Besides, wherewith? I presume I can make my own way. I will see what mama writes about it, how she pictures my life.”