E. Werner.

The Northern Light online

. (page 1 of 25)
Online LibraryE. WernerThe Northern Light → online text (page 1 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

E-text prepared by Marilynda Fraser-Cunliffe, Mary Meehan, and the Project
Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team (http://www.pgdp.net)


From the German of E. WERNER

Author of "At a High Price," "His Word of Honor," etc.

Translated by MRS. D. M. LOWREY



The grey mist of an autumn morning lay upon forest and field. Through
its shadowy vapors a swarm of birds were sweeping by, on their Southward
way, now dipping low over the tops of the tall fir forest, as if giving
a last greeting to their summer homes, and then rising high in the air;
turning their flight due South, they disappeared slowly through the fog.

At the window of a large manor-house, which lay at the edge of the
forest, two men stood, watching the course of the birds and conversing
earnestly with each other. One was a tall, stalwart figure, whose firm
and erect bearing betokened the soldier fully as much as the uniform he
wore. He was blonde and blue-eyed, not handsome, but with a strong and
speaking countenance; a typical German in form and feature. Yet
something like a shadow lay upon the man's face, and there were,
wrinkles, on his brow which surely were not the result of age, for he
was yet in the prime of life.

"The birds have started already on their journey to the south," said he,
after watching the flight attentively until they had finally disappeared
in the cloud of mist. "The autumn has come to nature and to our lives as

"Not to yours yet," objected his companion. "You are just in the hey-day
of life, in the full strength of your manhood."

"True enough, as to years, but I have a feeling that age will overtake
me sooner than others. I often feel as if it were autumn with me now."

The other man, who might have been a few years the speaker's senior, was
slender, and of middle height, and clad in civilian's dress. He shook
his head impatiently at his companion's last observation. He appeared
insignificant when compared with the strong, well-built officer near
him; but his pale, sharply cut face wore a look of cold, superior
repose, and the sarcastic expression around the thin lips, together with
his aristocratic air and bearing, suggested a hidden strength behind a
feeble exterior.

"You take life too hard, Falkenried," he said reprovingly. "You have
changed strangely in the last few years. Who would recognize in you now,
the gay young officer of other days? And what's the reason of it all?
The shadow which once darkened your life has long since disappeared. You
are a soldier, heart and soul, and have repeatedly distinguished
yourself in your profession. A high position awaits you in the future,
and the thing above all others is - you have your son."

Falkenried did not answer; he folded his arms and looked out again into
the mist, while the other continued: "The boy has grown handsome as a
god in the last few years. I was quite overcome with surprise when I
saw him again, and you yourself, told me that he was unusually gifted
and in many things showed great talent."

"I would that Hartmut had fewer talents and more character," said
Falkenried, in an almost acrid tone. "He can make verses quick enough,
and to learn a language is child's play to him, but as soon as he tries
some earnest science, he's behind all the others, and in military
tactics I can make nothing of him at all. You cannot comprehend,
Wallmoden, what iron severity I am constantly compelled to employ."

"I fear you accomplish little by this same severity," interrupted
Wallmoden. "You should take my advice and leave your son to his studies.
He has not the qualifications for a soldier. You must see that for
yourself by this time."

"He shall and must acquire those qualifications. It is the only possible
career for such an intractable nature as his, which revolts at every
restraint and to which every duty is a burden. The life of a student at
the university would give him unrestrained liberty; only the iron
dicipline of the service will force him to bend."

"The only question is, how long will you be able to force him to do your
will? You should not deceive yourself; there are inherited tendencies
which will not allow themselves to be repressed or eradicated. Hartmut,
now, is in appearance the counterpart of his mother; he has her features
and her eyes."

"Yes," assented Falkenried gloomily, "her dark, demoniacal, glowing
eyes, which cast their spell upon all who knew her."

"And were your ruin," supplemented Wallmoden. "How often did I warn and
advise you then; but you would not listen. Your passion had seized you
like a fever and held you like chains. I declare I never have been able
to understand it."

Falkenried's lips were drawn in with a bitter smile.

"I can readily believe that you, the cool, calculating diplomat, you,
whose every word is weighed, are protected against all such witcheries."

"I should at least be cautious in my choice. Your marriage carried
unhappiness on its face from the very beginning. A women of a foreign
race, with strange blood in her veins and the wild, passionate Sclave
nature, without character, without understanding of what we here call
duty and morality; and you with your rigid principles, with your
sensitive feeling of honor, it could ultimately lead to but one end. And
I believe you loved her in spite of all, until your separation."

"No," said Falkenried, in a hard tone, "the fire burned out in the first
year; I saw that only too clearly. But I shrank back from publishing to
the world my household misery by a legal separation. So I bore it until
no choice remained, until I was forced. But enough of this."

He turned abruptly on his heel and looked from the window again; but the
quick movement betrayed rather than concealed the torture which he with
difficulty repressed.

"Yes, it takes a great deal to tear up a nature like yours by the
roots," said Wallmoden earnestly. "But the divorce freed you from the
unhappy bond, and why should you not bury the memory as well?"

Falkenried shook his head and sighed heavily. "One cannot bury such
memories; they are forever rising from their supposed sepulchres, and
just now - " he broke off suddenly.

"Just now; what do you mean?"

"Nothing; let us speak of other things. You have been in Burgsdorf
since day before yesterday; how long do you expect to remain?"

"About two weeks. I haven't much time at my disposal, and am for that
matter only nominally Willibald's guardian, for my diplomatic position
keeps me out of the country most of the time. The guardianship really
rests in the hands of my sister, who rules over everything."

"Well, Regine is equal to the position. She governs the great estate and
the numerous servants as though she were a man."

"And gives her orders like a cavalry officer from morning to night," put
in her brother. "Recognizing all her excellent qualities, I,
nevertheless, feel a slight creepy sensation whenever I am constrained
to visit Burgsdorf, and I always leave the place with shattered nerves.
They live in a most primitive fashion over yonder. Willibald is a
perfect young bear, and of course at the same time the apple of his
mother's eye, and she, by the way, is doing her best to bring him up as
a bluff country squire. It's useless to enter any protest, and, for the
matter of that, it seems just what the youngster's good for."

Their conversation was interrupted at this moment by a servant, who
entered and handed his master a card. Falkenried glanced at it.
"Counsellor Egern? I am glad of that. Tell the gentleman to come in."

"You have a business engagement I see," said Wallmoden rising. "Then
I'll not disturb you."

"On the contrary I beg you to remain. I have had an intimation of this
visit and its purpose, and know what will be the result of our
conversation. The question is - " He did not finish, for the door opened
and the lawyer entered. He seemed surprised not to find the officer
alone, as he had fully expected, but Falkenried took no notice of his
ill-concealed astonishment.

"Herr Counsellor Egern - Herr von Wallmoden, secretary of legation," said
the host, presenting them. The man of law bowed with cool politeness as
he took the seat offered him.

"I have the honor of being known to you, I believe, Herr Major," he
began. "As your wife's attorney at the time the suit for divorce was in
progress, I had the opportunity of making your acquaintance." He paused
as if expecting an answer; but Major Falkenried gave no sign beyond an
affirmative nod.

Wallmoden was all attention. He could understand now his friend's
irritation on his arrival.

"I come to you to-day in the name of my former client," continued the
counsellor. "She has authorized me - have I your permission to speak

He glanced at the diplomat, but Falkenried answered shortly: "Herr von
Wallmoden is my friend, and knows all about this affair. So you may
speak freely."

"Very well. The lady has, after an absence of many years, returned to
Germany, and naturally enough wishes to see her son. She has already
written you about the matter but has received no answer."

"I should think that was answer enough. I do not wish any such meeting,
and I will not permit it."

"That sounds very blunt, Herr Major. Frau von Falkenried, in that case,
has - "

"Say Frau Zalika Rojanow, if you please," interrupted the Major. "I
believe she assumed her maiden name again when she returned to her own

"The name does not signify on this occasion," responded the lawyer
composedly. "The question concerns only and alone a mother's natural
desire, which the father neither can nor dare refuse, even though, as
in this case, the son has been unconditionally adjudged to him."

"Dare not? But suppose he does dare?"

"In so doing he will overstep the limit of his rights. I beg you, Herr
Major, to consider the matter quietly before giving so decided a no. A
mother has rights of which no judicial decree can ever divest her, and
one of those rights is the privilege of seeing her only child again. In
this case my client has the law on her side, and she will appeal to it,
too, if my demand meets with the same refusal as did her written

"Very well, she can make the attempt. I'll run the risk. My son does not
know that his mother is living, and shall not learn it now. I will not
have him see her or speak with her, and I will know how to prevent it,
too. My no is absolute under all circumstances."

This declaration left nothing to be wished for as regarded energy; but
Falkenried's face was deathly pale, and his voice had a hollow, menacing
sound. One could see how fearfully the interview had excited him. He was
scarcely able to preserve the semblance of outward composure.

The attorney seemed to see the uselessness of further endeavor, and only
shrugged his shoulders.

"If this is your last word, then my errand is at an end, and we will
determine hereafter what our next step will be. I regret having troubled
you about the matter, Herr Major." He bowed himself out with the same
cool, indifferent manner with which he had entered. As the door closed
upon him, Falkenried sprang up and began pacing excitedly up and down
the room; there were a few minutes of oppressive silence, then Wallmoden
said, half aloud: "You should not have done that. Zalika will not resign
herself readily to your no; she made a desperate struggle for her child
in the beginning."

"But I obtained the victory. It is to be hoped she has not forgotten

"At that time the question concerned the possession of the child,"
objected the secretary. "Now the mother only asks permission to see him
again, and you will not be able to refuse her that, if she demands it

The Major stopped suddenly, and his voice was full of undisguised
contempt as he answered:

"She will not venture to do that after all that has happened. Zalika
learned to know me in the hour of our separation; she'll be cautious
about driving me to extremes a second time."

"But perhaps she will seek to accomplish secretly what you have openly

"That is impossible; the discipline of our institution is so severe
there could be no intercourse here of which I should not learn at once."

Wallmoden did not seem to share his friend's confidence. He shook his
head doubtfully.

"To speak openly, I regard it as a great mistake that you are
obstinately silent toward your son concerning his mother and the fact
that she is living. When he learns it from some other source, what then?
And sometime you must tell him."

"Perhaps, in a couple of years, when he'll have to enter the world. Now
he's only a student, a half-grown boy, and I cannot disclose to him the
drama which was once played in his father's house - I cannot."

"So be it. You know the woman who was once your wife, and know what to
expect from her. I fear there is nothing impossible for this woman to

"Ah, I know her," said Falkenried with intense bitterness, "and because
I know her I will protect my son from her at any price. He shall not
breath the poisonous breath of her presence; no, not even for an hour. I
do not under estimate the danger from Zalika's return, but as long as
Hartmut remains at my side he is safe from her, for she will never come
near me, I give you my word for that."

"We will hope so," answered Wallmoden, as he rose and reached out his
hand at parting. "But do not forget that the greatest danger with which
you have to contend lies in Hartmut himself; he is in every trait the
son of his mother. You are coming over to Burgsdorf with him day after
to-morrow, I hear?"

"Yes, he is to spend his short autumn vacation with Willibald. I shall
be able to remain a day only, but I'll surely come for that time.

The secretary left the house, and Falkenried returned once more to the
window, but he only gave a fleeting glance after his friend, who waved
him a parting greeting, then returned gloomily to his own thoughts.

"The son of his mother." The words rang in his ears, but the thought was
not new to him; he had known it a long time, and it was this knowledge
which had furrowed his brow so deeply, and wrung from him many a deep
sigh. He was a man who could brave any outward danger; but against this
unfortunate heritage of blood in his only child he had battled with all
his energy for years, but in vain.

* * * * *

"Now I tell you for the last time that all this noise and confusion must
come to an end, for my patience is finally exhausted. Such goings on as
we have had for the last three days are enough to make one think that
all Burgsdorf is bewitched. That Hartmut is full of mad tricks from his
head to his feet. When he once gets loose from the reins which his
father holds tight enough, I'll admit that, there's no getting on with
him, and of course you follow after him through thick and thin, and obey
your lord and master's slightest behest. Oh, you are a fine pair."

This philippic, which was delivered in a loud tone, came from the lips
of Frau von Eschenhagen of Burgsdorf, while sitting with her son and
mother at breakfast. The great dining-room lay on the ground floor of
the old mansion, and was an extremely simple room, with glass doors
leading out upon a broad stone terrace, and to the garden beyond. On the
brightly tinted walls hung a number of antlers, which bore witness to
the sporting tastes of former possessors, but these were the only
adornments of the room.

A dozen high-backed chairs, arranged stiffly in rows like grenadiers, a
cumbrous dining-table and a couple of old-fashioned sideboards
constituted the entire furniture of the room; and one could see at a
glance that they had already done service for several generations. Such
luxuries as wall-paper, paintings or carpet could not be found here.
Evidently the occupants were contented to live on just as their
ancestors had done, although Burgsdorf was one of the richest estates in
the district.

The appearance of the mistress of the house was in keeping with her
surroundings She was forty years old or there abouts, with a large,
strong figure, cheeks glowing with health, and firm, solid features,
which could never have been called beautiful, but denoted great energy.
Very little escaped the sharp glance of her gray eye, her dark hair was
brushed back smoothly, her gown was of coarse texture, simply made, and
looking at her hands, you saw at once that they were made for work.

There was nothing attractive in her appearance, and her manner and
bearing were thoroughly masculine.

The heir and future master of Burgsdorf, who had just been reprimanded
so sharply, sat opposite his mother, listening, as in duty bound, while
he helped himself liberally to ham and eggs. He was a handsome,
fresh-looking youth, about seventeen years old, whose appearance
indicated no great intellectual strength, but he seemed to beam with
good nature. His sun-burned face was the picture of health, but
otherwise he showed little resemblance to his mother. He lacked her
energetic expression, and the blue eyes and blonde hair were not from
her, but were an inheritance from his father. With his large, but very
awkward limbs, he looked like a young giant, and formed a striking
contrast to his more delicately formed, aristocratic looking uncle,
Wallmoden, who sat next him, and who said now with a slight _soupcon_ of
irony in his tone: "You certainly cannot hold Willibald answerable for
all these mad pranks; he certainly is a model son."

"I would advise him not to be anything else; who lives with me must obey
orders," cried Frau von Eschenhagen, as she struck an emphatic blow upon
the table, which made her brother wince.

"A man is bound to obey orders under your government," he answered. "At
the same time I would advise you, dear Regine, to do something more for
the intellectual development of your son. I have no doubt that under
your guidance he will become, in time, a most excellent farmer, but to
the education of a future landed proprietor, something more than that is
needed. Willibald has outgrown home instructors and should be sent away

"Sent a - ?" Frau Regine laid down knife and fork in unbounded
astonishment. "Sent away," she exclaimed, greatly irritated, "and in the
name of common sense, where?"

"Well, first to the university, and later to travel, that he may learn
something of the world and of men."

"That he may be altogether ruined by this world and these men, and no
comfort to me at all! No, Herbert, I'll never do that, and I tell you so
now, once for all. I have educated my son to be honest and fear God, and
do not think I shall turn him loose in your Sodom and Gomorrah which the
dear Lord in his forbearance has yet spared from the fire and brimstone
which it so richly deserves."

"You only know this Sodom and Gomorrah by hearsay, Regine," interrupted
Herbert, sarcastically. "You have lived in Burgsdorf ever since your
marriage; you must acknowledge that yourself!"

"I acknowledge nothing at all," declared Frau von Eschenhagen,
obstinately. "Will shall become a capable farmer; he is qualified for
that, and for that he needs no cramming at your universities. Or perhaps
you'd like to educate him in your own school, and make a diplomatist of
him? That would be too great an honor."

She began to laugh loudly, and Will, to whom the whole conversation had
appeared very comical, joined in in the same key. Herr von Wallmoden
took no part in this sudden explosion of gaiety; he only winced again,
as though his nerves were affected, and shrugged his shoulders.

"No, I had not thought of that. I know full well I should have my
trouble for my pains. But Willibald and I are the only representatives
of our family, and if I should not marry - "

"Should not? You are not thinking of marrying in your old age?"
interrupted his sister, sharply.

"I am in my forty-fifth year, dear Regine, and a man is not usually
considered old at that age," said Wallmoden, somewhat vexed. "Above all
things I consider marriages made late in life by far the happiest; one
is not influenced then by passion, as Falkenried was, to his lasting
wretchedness, but gives to reason the decisive word."

"The saints protect us! What if Willibald should wait to marry until he
is fifty years old and gray-headed?" cried Frau von Eschenhagen, greatly

"As an only son and future heir he will have to consider such matters;
as for the rest, the main point will be his own inclinations. What do
you think, Willibald?"

The young heir, who had disposed of his ham and eggs by this time, and
with undiminished appetite was now attacking the sausage, was evidently
much astonished that his opinion had been asked. Such a thing had never
happened before, and he was obliged to reflect deeply before he could
answer at all.

At length he reached a conclusion. "Yes, of course I must marry some
time, but mamma will choose a wife for me when the right time comes."

"She will indeed, my boy," assented his mother, warmly. "That is my
affair, so you need not trouble your head about it, and until then you
will remain here in Burgsdorf where I can have my eye upon you. As to
the university and traveling, that matter is - settled."

She threw a defiant glance at her brother, but he was gazing with a look
of horror at the enormous sausage to which his nephew and ward was
helping himself for the second time.

"Have you always such a large appetite, Will?" he asked.

"Always," Will assured him complacently, as he helped himself to a
large slice of bread and butter.

"No, we don't suffer thank God, with indigestion or any other stomach
trouble," said the mistress of the house tartly, "but we earn our bread
honestly here. First pray and work, then eat and drink, but what we do,
we do thoroughly, and that keeps body and soul together. Just look at
Will, now, and you will see that what I say is true." She gave her
brother a friendly slap on the shoulder with her last words, but this
token of her good will was so energetic that Wallmoden shrank back in
his chair, and immediately moved it sidewise to be out of the reach of
that muscular hand.

The expression of his face showed clearly that the "creepy sensation"
was coming over him again. In the presence of these patriarchial
conditions, he thought it best to forego any attempt to enforce his
prerogative as guardian, an office, moreover, which, so far as he was
concerned, had always been purely nominal. It was plain from Will's
manner that his mother's praise was highly gratifying to the young man's

"And Hartmut is not here for breakfast again, this morning. He seems to
think there is no necessity for being punctual at Burgsdorf, but I will
enlighten the young gentleman when he comes and make it clear to him
that - "

"There he is now," exclaimed Willibald. On the clear sunshine which
flooded the room through the open windows, there fell a shadow, and a
tall, slender figure appeared suddenly at the window and vaulted upon
the high sill.

"Well, what kind of an imp are you anyway, that you can only come in
through the window?" said Frau von Eschenhagen indignantly. "What are
the doors for?"

"For Will and all other well-ordered human beings," laughed the
new-comer good-naturedly. "I always take the nearest way, and that led
this time through the window." So saying he gave one spring from the
high seat into the middle of the room.

Hartmut Falkenried, like the young heir of Burgsdorf, stood upon the
boundary line where boyhood and manhood meet, but it needed only a
glance to recognize that he was his friend's superior in every respect.
He wore a cadet's uniform which became him well, but yet there was
something in his whole appearance which seemed to be at war with the
military cut and fit. The tall, slender boy was a true picture of youth
and beauty, yet there was something odd about this beauty, something
wild in his motions and appearance, with absolutely nothing to remind
one of the martial figure and earnest repose of his father. The
luxuriant, curly locks which crowned the high forehead, were of a deep,
blue black, and the warm, dark coloring of the skin betokened rather a
son of the south than of German parentage. Neither did the eyes, which
flashed in the youthful countenance, belong to the cool, earnest north;
they were enigmatical eyes, dark as the night, and full of hot,
passionate fire. Beautiful as they were, however, there was something
uncanny hidden in their depths, and though the laughter which

Online LibraryE. WernerThe Northern Light → online text (page 1 of 25)