Friedrich Spielhagen.

The Breaking of the Storm, Vol. I. online

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2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].





Translated from the German



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The weather had grown worse towards evening. The groups of navvies on
their way to the new railroad at Sundin cowered closer together between
the piled-up barrels, casks, and chests on the fore-deck, while the
passengers had almost disappeared from the poop. Two elderly gentlemen
who had been talking a good deal together during the journey now stood
on the starboard side, looking at the island round which the steamer
had to pass to the south-west, and whose level shores, sweeping in
broad curves towards the promontory, appeared every moment more

"So that is Warnow?"

"No. I beg your pardon, President - that is Ahlbeck, a fishing village,
which is, however, on the Warnow estates. Warnow itself lies farther
inland. You can just see the church tower over the edge of the dunes."

The President dropped the eye-glass with which he had vainly searched
for the tower.

"You have sharp eyes, General, and are quick at finding out your

"I have only been there once, it is true," answered the General; "but
since then I have had only too much cause for studying this line of
coast on the map."

The President smiled.

"Yes, yes; it is classical ground," said he; "it has been long fought
over - long and vainly."

"And I am convinced that it was right that the struggle should be in
vain: at least, that it should have only a negative result," said the

"I am not sure that it will not be taken up again," answered the
President. "Count Golm and Co. have been making immense efforts

"After you have so clearly proved that it is impossible that the
railway should pay?"

"And you that the harbour would be useless!"

"Pardon me, President, the decision was not left to me: or, to speak
more correctly, I declined to make it. The only place in the least
suitable for the harbour would be just there, in the southernmost
corner of the bay, protected by Wissow Head - that is to say, on the
Warnow property. It is true that I am only a trustee for my sister's
estates - - "

"I know, I know," interrupted the President; "old-fashioned Prussian
honesty, which becomes over-scrupulous sometimes. Count Golm and Co.
are less scrupulous."

"So much the worse for them," said the General.

The two gentlemen turned and went up to a young girl, who was sitting
in a sheltered place under the lee of the deck cabin, and passing the
time as best she could, partly in reading, partly in drawing in a
little album.

"You would like to remain on deck, I suppose, Elsa?" said the General.

"Are you both going into the cabin?" answered the girl, looking up from
her book. "I think it is horrible down below; but it certainly is too
chilly here for you, President."

"It really is excessively chilly," answered the President, turning up
the collar of his overcoat, and casting a glance at the sky; "I think
we shall have rain before sunset even now. You really should come with
us, do not you think so, General?"

"Elsa is weatherproof," answered the General, smiling. "But you might
put a shawl or something round you. Shall I fetch you anything?"

"Thank you, papa! I have everything I can possibly want here," said
Elsa, pointing to her bundle of plaids and rugs; "I will cover myself up
if it is necessary. _Au revoir!_"

She bowed gracefully to the President, gave her father a loving look
and took up her book again, while the two gentlemen turned into the
narrow passage between the cabin and the bulwarks.

She read for a few minutes, then looked up again and followed with her
eyes the cloud of smoke which was still issuing from the funnel in
thick, dark, eddying masses and rolling down upon the vessel. The man
at the wheel, too, still stood on the same spot, still turning the
wheel sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left, and again holding
it immovable in his rough hands. And, yes, there was still the man who
had been, walking up and down with such indefatigable perseverance from
end to end of the vessel, and had showed in so doing a steadiness in
his movements which Elsa, in the course of the day, had repeatedly
tried to imitate, but with very doubtful results.

Otherwise, Elsa thought, he had not much to distinguish him; and she
said to herself that she should hardly have noticed him amongst a
greater number of people, certainly not have observed him attentively,
perhaps not even have seen him; and that if in the course of the day
she had looked at him constantly and really studied him, it was only
because there had not been much to see, to observe, or to study.

Her sketch-book which she was now turning over proved this. This was
meant for a view of the harbour of Stettin. It would require a good
deal of imagination to make anything out of that, thought Elsa. This
one has come out better - the flat meadows, the cows, the floating
beacon, smooth water beyond with a few sails, another strip of meadow,
and the sea in the distance. The man at the wheel is not bad either: he
stood still. But the "Indefatigable" is a terrible failure, a positive
caricature! That is the results of being always in motion! At last!
Only five minutes, Mr. What's-your-name! this really might be good, the
attitude is capital!

The attitude was certainly simple enough. He was leaning against a
bench with his hands in his pockets, and as he looked straight out into
the sea towards the west, his face was in full light, notwithstanding
that the sun was hidden behind clouds, and it was also - what Elsa
always particularly liked to draw - in profile.

"A fine profile," thought Elsa, "although the finest features - the
large, good-humoured blue eyes - are not seen at their best so. But, on
the other hand, the dark beard will come out all the better, I can
always succeed with beards; the hands in the pockets is very
convenient, the left leg entirely hidden by the right, not particularly
artistic but most convenient for the artist; now the bench - a little
bit of the bulwarks and the 'Indefatigable' is finished." Elsa held the
book at a little distance from her to look at the sketch as a picture;
she was highly pleased. "That shows that I really can finish off a
thing when I do it with all my heart," she said to herself, and wrote
under the picture: "The 'Indefatigable.' With all my heart, 26th
August, '72, E. v. W."

While Elsa had been so busily trying to put upon paper the young man's
figure and features, her image also had been present to his mind; and
to him it was all the same, whether he shut his eyes or kept them open,
he always saw her with equal clearness, and always equally graceful and
charming, whether at the moment of their departure from Stettin, when
her father introduced her to the President, and she bowed so prettily;
or as she breakfasted with the two gentlemen, and laughed so merrily as
she put her glass to her lips; or as she stood on the bridge with the
Captain, and the wind blew her dress so close to the slender figure,
and the grey veil fluttered like a flag over her shoulder; or as she
spoke to the navvy's wife on the deck who was sitting in front of her
on the coiled-up ropes and hushing her baby wrapped up in a shawl; as
she stooped down, lifted the shawl for one moment, and looked with a
smile at the hidden treasure; and as, a minute later, she passed by,
and a severe look of the brown eyes asked him how he had dared to watch
her? or as she now sat against the cabin and read and drew, and read
again, and looked up to the clouds of smoke or to the sailor at the
wheel. It was extraordinary how firmly her image had impressed itself
on his mind in the short time; but then for more than a year he had
seen nothing but the sky above and the water below. It was no wonder
after all if the first pretty and nice-looking girl he saw after such
long abstinence made so great an impression upon his feelings.

"And besides," said the young man to himself, "in three hours we shall
be at Sundin, and then farewell, farewell for ever more. But what are
they doing? You are surely not going over the Oster sands with this

With these latter words he turned to the man at the wheel.

"Well, sir, it's a fact," answered the man, rolling his quid from one
cheek to the other; "seems to me, too, we ought to starboard a bit, but
the Captain thinks - - "

The young man did not wait for the end of the speech. In former years
he had often made this voyage; but he had passed the spot towards which
their course was now directed only a few days ago, and had been alarmed
to see that where there had formerly been fifteen feet of water, there
were now only twelve. To-day, after the strong west wind had kept the
tide back to such an extent, there could hardly be ten feet, and the
steamer drew light. And yet there was no lessening of speed, no
soundings were taken, not one of the proper precautions thought of! Was
the Captain mad?

The young man ran so hastily past Elsa, and his eyes, as they fell upon
her, had in them so singular an expression, that she rose involuntarily
and looked after him. In another moment he was on the bridge beside the
stout, elderly Captain, to whom he spoke long and earnestly, and at
last even as it seemed warmly, while he repeatedly pointed with his
hand to a particular spot in the direction in which the ship was going.

A strange feeling of anxiety came upon Elsa, such as she had not
experienced in the whole journey. It could not be a small matter which
roused such excitement in this quiet, good-humoured-looking man!
And now she was certain of what she had already more than once
guessed - that he was a sailor, and in that case no doubt a first-rate
one, who was of course in the right, though the fat old Captain did
shrug his shoulders so coolly, and point in the same direction, and
then look through his telescope and shrug his shoulders again, while
the other now hastily descended the steps from the bridge to the poop,
and came straight towards her as if intending to address her.

But he did not do so at once, although, as he hastened by her, his look
met hers, and he no doubt read the silent inquiry in her eyes and on
her lips. He hesitated a moment, and - yes, really - he turned back, and
was now close behind her.

"Madam - - "

Her heart beat as if it would burst. She turned round.

"Madam," he repeated, "it is wrong, I know, to alarm you, and perhaps
without cause. But it is not impossible - in fact, I think it is
probable - that within five minutes we shall be ashore. I mean we shall
run aground."

"Good heavens!" cried Elsa.

"I do not think any harm will come of it," continued the young man, "if
the Captain - - Ha! we have only got half-steam on now - half-speed; but
he ought to have reversed the engines, and probably even that would be
too late now."

"Can he not be made to do it?

"On board his own ship the Captain is supreme," answered the young man,
smiling, in spite of his vexation. "I am a sailor myself, and in
similar circumstances would yield just as little to any persuasions."

He lifted his cap, bowed, and moved a step away, then stopped again. A
deeper light shone in the blue eyes, and a slight tremor came into the
clear, strong voice as he continued:

"There is no question of real danger. We are near the shore, and the
sea is tolerably smooth. I only wished that you might not be taken by
surprise. Forgive my boldness."

He bowed again, and then quickly retired, as if he wished to avoid
further questions.

"There is no question of danger," murmured Elsa. "It is a pity; I
should like to have been saved by him. But my father must know this.
The President ought to be prepared; he needs it more than I do."

She turned to the cabin; but already the diminished speed of the
vessel, which in the last half-minute had still further lessened, had
attracted the attention of the passengers assembled there. Her father
and the President were already ascending the steps.

"What is the matter?" called the General.

"We cannot possibly be in Prora already?" said the President.

At that moment they all felt what seemed like an electric shock, while
an odd, dull, grinding sound fell unpleasantly upon their ears. The
keel had touched the sand-bank, but had not stuck fast. A shrill
whistle, a couple of seconds' breathless silence, then the whole ship
shook and quivered with the force of the reversed motion of the screw.

But what only a few minutes before would have averted the danger was
too late now. The vessel had to pass backwards over the same sandbank
which it had only just managed to get over. A larger wave in its
retreat had forced the stern a few inches further down. The screw
laboured vigorously; the ship heeled over a little, but remained fixed.

"What the devil is the meaning of this?" cried the General

"There is no question of real danger," said Elsa quickly.

"Bless my soul! my dear young lady!" cried the President, who had
turned very pale.

"We are very near in shore, and the sea is tolerably quiet," said Elsa.

"What do you know about it?" cried the General. "The sea is not a thing
to be trifled with."

"I am not trifling, papa," said Elsa.

The hasty movements and shouts and cries that suddenly surrounded them
on all sides, and the singular and uncomfortable position of the ship,
all sufficiently proved that the prediction of the "Indefatigable" had
come true, and that the steamer was aground.


Every effort to get the ship off had proved unavailing; indeed, it
might even be considered fortunate that the screw had not been broken
by the tremendous effort required of it. The ship had not heeled over
any more, however; and if the night were not stormy, they might lie
here peaceably till the next morning, when a passing vessel could take
off the passengers and carry them farther on their journey, if they had
not got afloat before then, which, indeed, might happen at any moment.

So spoke the Captain, whose coolness was undisturbed by the misfortune
which his own obstinacy had caused.

There was the fact that on the charts, by which he and every other
captain had to steer, fifteen feet were marked at this place; and the
gentlemen at the head of affairs might take the blame to themselves and
provide better charts, or, at any rate, proper buoys. And if, as he
very well knew, other captains had for years past avoided this shoal,
and had preferred to go some miles out of their way, he had constantly
since then, and even the day before yesterday, crossed this very spot.
However, he had no objection to launching the large boat and landing
the passengers, for them to get on their way afterwards as best they

"The man is drunk or mad!" said the President, when the Captain had
turned his broad back and retired to his post. "It is a sin and a shame
that such a man should command a ship, even a mere tub; but I will have
a strict inquiry held, and he shall receive exemplary punishment."

The President's long thin person quivered with anger, fear, and cold;
the General shrugged his shoulders.

"That is all very fine and very well, my dear President," said he; "but
it will come a little too late, and will not help us out of our awkward
position. On principle, I never interfere in matters which I do not
understand; but I wish we had some one on board who could advise us
what to do. We must not ask the sailors - that would be encouraging
insubordination. What do you want, Elsa?"

Elsa had looked at him meaningly. He went up to her and repeated his

"Ask that gentleman," said Elsa.

"What gentleman?"

"That one there; he is a sailor, he can certainly advise you best."

The General fixed his sharp eyes upon the person designated.

"Ah, that man," said he. "He really does look as if he might - - "

"Does not he?" said Elsa. "And he told me before that we should run

"Of course he does not belong to the ship?"

"Oh no - at least, I think - but speak to him yourself."

The General went up to the "Indefatigable."

"I am told, sir, that you are a sailor."

"I am."

"Navigating officer?"

"Merchant captain: Reinhold Schmidt."

"My name is General von Werben. I should be much obliged to you, sir,
if you would give me your opinion, as a sailor, upon our situation; of
course in strict confidence. I should be sorry to ask you to give
evidence against a comrade, or in any way to shake his authority, which
we may still possibly stand much in need of. Is the captain, in your
opinion, to blame for our mishap?"

"Yes and no, General. No, because the charts by which, according to
rule, we must be guided, show a channel in this place. The charts were
right, too, till within the last few years. Since then there has been a
great deal of silting up, and also, in consequence of the west wind
which has prevailed for some weeks, the water has been constantly
falling. More prudent men avoid this spot on that account. I, for my
part, should have avoided it."

"Good! And what do you think of our situation? Are we in danger? or are
we likely to be in danger?"

"I think not. The ship lies almost straight, and on smooth sand. If
nothing new happens, it may lie so a long time."

"The Captain is right, then, in keeping us on board?"

"I think so; all the more that the wind, for the first time for days
past, seems inclined to veer round to the east, and if that happens, we
have good grounds for supposing that we shall be afloat again in a few
hours. However - - "


"Man is liable to error, General. If the wind - it is south-east now;
the thing is not likely, but it is possible - if the wind should get
round to the west again, and blow harder, perhaps very hard, then there
might be serious danger."

"We ought, then, to take advantage of the Captain's permission to leave
the ship?"

"As the passage would be easy, and perfectly safe, I cannot at any rate
advise against it; but then it should be done while there is still
sufficient daylight: it would be best immediately."

"And you? You would remain - of course?"

"Of course, General."

"Thank you."

The General touched his cap with a slight bend of the head. Reinhold
lifted his for a moment, returning the movement with a stiff bow.

"Well?" asked Elsa, as her father came back to her.

"The man must have been a soldier," answered the General.

"Why so?" asked the President.

"I wish I could always get such clear, explicit reports from my
officers. The case stands thus."

He repeated what he had just heard from Reinhold, and wound up by
saying that he would speak to the Captain about the immediate
disembarkation of such passengers as wished it.

"For my part, I do not intend to put myself to such inconvenience,
which may be unnecessary too, unless Elsa - - "

"I, papa!" cried Elsa, "I should not think of such a thing."

The President was in much embarrassment. It was true that he had only
that morning, on leaving Stettin, renewed a very slight former
acquaintance with General von Werben; but now, after he had been in
conversation with him all day, and had taken every opportunity of
showing attentions to his daughter, he could not well do otherwise than
declare, with a quiver of the lips, which was meant for a smile, that
he would share with them as formerly the pleasures, so now the
disagreeables of the journey. Should the worst come to the worst, the
Prussian Government would be able to console itself for the loss of a
president, who besides, as the father of six hopeful children, would
have his name handed down to posterity, and could therefore make no
claim upon the sympathy of his contemporaries.

Notwithstanding his resigned words, the worthy official was very
uncomfortable at heart. In secret he cursed his own inconceivable
thoughtlessness in having trusted himself to a "tub," merely to be at
home a day sooner, instead of waiting for the next day's mail-boat; he
cursed the General's "stupid security," and the young lady's
"coquettish affectation of courage," and when a few minutes later the
large boat was really launched, and in an incredibly short time, as it
seemed to him, filled with the happily small number of deck passengers,
and a few ladies and gentlemen from the after-cabin, and at first with
a few powerful strokes of the oars, and soon after with sails hoisted,
made all speed to the shore, he sighed deeply, and firmly resolved, at
whatever cost, even at that of a scornful smile from the young lady's
lips, that he also would leave the ship before night.

And night was approaching only too rapidly for his fears. The evening
glow in the western sky was fading with every minute, and from the
east, from the open sea, it grew darker and darker. How long would it
be before the land, which to his short-sighted eyes already appeared
only as an indistinct outline through the evening mists, would
disappear altogether from his sight?

And there could be no doubt, too, that the waves were rising higher
every minute, here and there even for the first time that day showing
crests of white foam, and breaking with ever-increasing force against
the unlucky ship! Added to this the horrible creaking of the yards, the
dismal howling of the wind in the rigging, the intolerable roaring and
hissing of the steam, which was being almost incessantly let off from
the overheated boiler! The boiler would blow up perhaps finally, and
the shattered limbs of the man who but now was buttoning up his
overcoat, would be sent flying hither and thither through the air.

The President grew so hot at this idea that he unbuttoned his coat and
then buttoned it up again as he was struck by the ice-cold wind.

"It is unendurable!" muttered he.

Elsa had long since observed how very little the President liked
remaining on board ship, and that he had only made up his mind to it
with evident unwillingness, out of consideration for his travelling

She had been maliciously amused at first with the embarrassment which
he tried to conceal, but now her good-nature conquered. He was after
all an elderly gentleman, and apparently not very strong, and a
civilian! he could not of course be expected to have either the
intrepid courage or the indifference to hardships of her father, who
had not even put on his greatcoat yet, and was now taking his usual
evening walk up and down the deck. But papa had made up his mind, once
for all, to remain; it would be quite useless to try to persuade him to
go. "_He_ must devise some means!" said she to herself.

Reinhold had disappeared after his last words with her father, and was
not now on the after-deck; she went forward, therefore, and found him
sitting on a great chest, looking through a pocket telescope towards
the shore so intently that she had come close to him before he remarked
her. He sprang hastily to his feet and turned towards her.

"How far have they got?" asked Elsa.

"They will land directly," he answered. "Will you look through this?"

He handed her the glass. At the moment when she touched it the metal
still retained some warmth from the hand which had held it. In general
this was not at all a pleasant sensation to her, but on this occasion
she did not perceive it. She thought of it for a moment as she tried to
bring the spot which he pointed out to her within the focus of the

The attempt was unsuccessful; she could see nothing but undefined mist.

"I would rather trust to my eyes!" cried she, putting down the
telescope. "I can see it so, quite plainly, there close in shore - in
the white streak. What is that?"

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Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenThe Breaking of the Storm, Vol. I. → online text (page 1 of 17)