(Essentials of European Literature)

Upon the death of his father, an accountant, Anton Wohlfart, a very young man, traveled to the capital of his province in eastern Germany. In the city, he found employment in the mercantile establishment of T. O. Schroter, an industrious and honorable German businessman. During his journey, Wohlfart encountered two people who were later to play an important part in his life. He wandered accidentally onto the estate of Baron von Rothsattel, whose beautiful daughter Lenore made a lasting impression on the boy. He also met Veitel Itzig, a young Jew who had been a former schoolmate, making his way to the city to seek his fortune.

An industrious, intelligent, and personable young man, Anton Wohlfart soon made a place for himself among his fellow workers and in the esteem of his employer. Among the other clerks in the firm was Fritz von Fink, a young Americanized German whose sense of industry and honor had been warped by a stay in New York City. Von Fink became a friend of Wohlfart despite differences in social standing and the escapades into which von Fink led Wohlfart, sometimes to Wohlfart’s embarrassment and chagrin.

In the meantime, Baron von Rothsattel, who had little talent for managing his estates or business, was led to accept the advice of Hirsch Ehrenthal, an unscrupulous Jewish usurer and businessman who plotted the baron’s financial ruin so that he might buy up his estates at a fraction of their value. Ehrenthal, who had persuaded the baron to mortgage his estates in order to purchase lands in Poland and to build a factory to extract sugar from beets, depended on the baron’s lack of business acumen to ruin him, with a little help from Ehrenthal on the way. Ehrenthal did not realize at the time that Itzig, whom he had employed, was also plotting to acquire the baron’s estates by a dishonest manipulation of documents and the knowledge he had of Ehrenthal’s affairs. Itzig was coached in his scheme by a drunken lawyer who also hoped to make some profit from the nobleman’s ruin.

Fritz von Fink finally decided to return to America to take over the affairs of a wealthy uncle who had recently died. Before he left, he proposed marriage to Sabine Schroter, Wohlfart’s employer’s sister, but the young woman refused the nobleman’s offer. Shortly after his departure, revolt broke out in the nearby provinces of Poland. In order to prevent business losses and reestablish his affairs there, Schroter bravely entered Poland, accompanied by Wohlfart. During their stay, Wohlfart saved his employer’s life, winning his and his sister’s gratitude. Because of his employer’s trust, Wohlfart was left in Poland for many months as the firm’s agent, to reorganize the business of the company. He returned to Germany to be honored by his employer and given a position of considerable responsibility. During his stay in Poland, he had met Eugen von Rothsattel, the baron’s son, who proved to be a gallant but impractical young man. Because of his admiration for the young nobleman and his romantic regard for Lenore von Rothsattel, Wohlfart had lent a large sum of money to Eugen.

As time passed, the...

(The entire section is 1285 words.)