While they talked they had arrived at Schrotter’s house door. It was nearly midnight, and had stopped raining, and all the houses except Schrotter’s were dark. Light shone from the two windows of his Indian drawing room, and one of the curtains was drawn aside a little, leaving a face clearly visible. It was Bhani, who was waiting patiently for Schrotter’s return, and gazing eagerly down the street. As the three friends stopped at the door the head disappeared, and the curtain fell back again into its place.
The feverish pulse of a city is not felt in the same degree in all parts of it. There are places from which all circulation seems shut out, and where the rapid stream of life hardly shows a ripple. Quiet houses are there, only separated from the noisy street by the thickness of a wall. They seem to be many miles from the heated movement of life, and their inhabitants complacently gaze from their windows with the same unconcern as they would look at a picture on their own walls—a view perhaps of violence or excitement, a storm at sea, or a battle.
The Markers’ house in the Lutzowstrasse was just such a peaceful island in the tossing sea of the city. It was only a few steps from the Magdeburger Platz—the first story in a stately house with a round arch over the door. Three generations of women—grandmother, mother, and daughter—lived there, without a single man to take care of them, attended only by an old widowed cook and her daughter, who had grown up into the position of a waiting maid. A dreamy, monotonous life they lived here, like that of the sleepers in the palace of the Sleeping Beauty behind their hundred-year-old hedge of thorns.
The grandmother was the head of the house—Frau Brohl, a lady of over sixty years, and a widow for the last twenty. She was a small thin woman, her figure very much bent, with snow-white hair, a narrow, pale face, and pretty brown eyes. She moved slowly and with great exertion, spoke softly and with shortness of breath, and seemed weary and sad. She looked as if she had some hidden sickness, and as if her feeble lamp of life might soon flicker out. As a matter of fact she had never had a day’s illness; her appearance gave the impression of weakness, and increasing age made her neither better nor worse. Even now she was the first to rise in the morning and the last to go to bed; had the best appetite at table; and, in her occasional walks, was the least tired.
Her late husband—Herr F. A. Brohl, of the firm of Brohl, Son & Co.- -had been one of the largest ship-brokers in Stettin. They had lived together for a quarter of a century in peace and happiness, and her eyes filled with tears when she remembered that part of her life. It was a beautiful time, much too good for a sinful human being. They had a house to themselves, with large high rooms, and every day she received visits from the richest women of the town, and visited them in return. There was never a betrothal, marriage, or christening in a well-known family to which she was not invited; every child in the street knew her and smiled at her; and the suppers in her hospitable house were renowned as far as Russia and Sweden.