Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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

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* * * * *

What The Swallow Sang







"_By His Own Might_," "_A Twofold Life_," _etc_.


Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873, by
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

Poole & Maclauchlan, Printers,
205-213 _East 12th St_.,

What The Swallow Sang.


"I won't give you any farther trouble, I can find what I want myself."

The sexton's wife looked at the gentleman in some little surprise, and
then glanced at the bunch of huge keys which hung in the door she had
just opened for the stranger.

"That's right; you need not be uneasy, I shall not stay long, and here
is something for your trouble."

He pressed a piece of money into her hand, and turned towards the door.

"The Herr Pastor has strictly forbidden it," said the woman.

"He will have no objection," replied the stranger. "I will leave a few
words for him."

He took his note-book and wrote a few lines. When he tore out the leaf
he perceived on the other side a little sketch which he had dashed off
that afternoon with a few hasty strokes, while his carriage stopped
before a village inn.

A smile flitted over his grave features.

"That won't do," he murmured. "And here again, everything is filled
with scrawls. Well," he added aloud, as he thrust the note-book back
into his pocket, "I will write from P - - . Please tell him so;
farewell, my good woman."

The sexton's wife did not venture to make any reply, and turned away.
The stranger looked after her retreating figure a few minutes.
"Strange," he murmured, "it seems as if it would be committing a
sacrilege to utter my name aloud in this place! It was really a relief
to my mind that the woman did not know me. How we are all under the ban
of gloomy feelings which we should be ashamed to confess to others! To
be sure it is not strange that these emotions should almost overpower
me here; here, in this spot which should be my home, where my cradle
stood, and yet where I was not allowed to return until the grave had
closed over him to whom I owe my life."

He had taken a few noiseless steps within the church, and now pausing,
gazed around the narrow space. The sun, already low in the horizon,
cast through the round, leaden-cased panes of the lofty narrow windows
a mysterious light, which brightened or faded as the soft breeze raised
or lowered the branches of the ancient linden-trees outside the walls.
And thus, now clear now dim, but always sorrowful, the memories of his
early years swept through the stranger's mind as he stood motionless,
his eyes wandering over the massive white-washed walls, the few dusky
pictures hung here and there at far too great a height, the little
oaken font black with age, the altar with its two large brass sconces,
and the pulpit, whose desk was covered with a tattered cloth.
Everything was just as it used to be; he even remembered the holes in
the cover, only it was all very much smaller, more poverty-stricken and
tasteless than memory had pictured it. Yet this was the most favorable
light, - what must it be in the broad glare of day! And his gloomy,
sorrowful childhood, - what was it when he extinguished the magical
light of memory, when he saw it as it really was, as a cold fanatical
father had made it to the child so early bereft of a mother's love.

The traveller started from his revery as a sharp sound suddenly echoed
through the quiet church as if something had burst asunder. It was the
clock, which had just begun to strike. He passed his hand over his
brow, mechanically counted the strokes and listened to the rumbling
echo till the last sound died away. "Seven o' clock," said he; "it is
time for me to set out again."

He walked around behind the benches, up a side aisle, on the right of
the pulpit, until he reached the large iron door of the crypt. It was
fastened, but on both sides, affixed to the wall, were the mural
tablets of the pastors of Rammin, who had preached the gospel over the
coffins of their predecessors whom they were some day to join. He went
to the last stone and read the inscription, that here rested in God,
Gotthold Ephraim Weber, D.D., installed in 1805 as Pastor of St. Mary's
church in Rammin, born August 3d, 1780, died June 15th, 1833.

"Gotthold Ephraim Weber," murmured the stranger, "that is my name too,
and I am also a Doctor of Theology. That I would not remain where my
father placed me, but insisted upon taking the profession for which,
according to my best knowledge and belief, I was born, separated him
who now lies here from me forever. No, no, not that, at least that was
not the true cause! I never understood in your sense what is written
here: 'Blessed are those who die in the Lord.' We were never one, had
been separated long before we parted. Well, father, at least let there
be peace between us now. I wish with all my heart that you may have the
bliss in which you believed; and say: 'blessed are the - dead,' so you
certainly have the happiness in which I believe."

Gotthold made a gesture like one who holds out his hand in
reconciliation. "Let us have peace now," he repeated.

A little bird, which had perched for a moment in one of the openings
above the window, twittered so loudly that the sweet clear tones filled
the silent empty church.

"I will take it as an answer," said Gotthold.

He left the building as slowly as he had entered it, and went down the
broad path in the churchyard to a spot where, at a large iron cross,
which also bore the inscription, "Blessed are those who die in the
Lord," a narrow walk branched off towards the wall. Scarcely anything
had been altered in this older portion of the cemetery; he still
remembered every mound, every cross, every stone, and every epitaph;
there at last was what he was seeking - the grave with the low wooden
railing, the stunted weeping willow, the little slanting cross,
neglected as ever, or perhaps even more so - his mother's grave.

He had lost her so very young, when he was only four or five years old,
that he had scarcely the faintest shadow of personal remembrance; he
had never seen a picture of her, and his father only mentioned her name
when he said angrily: "You are just like your mother," yet perhaps for
this very reason his fancy had always busied itself very frequently
with this dead mother, who had been like him, and would certainly have
loved him as he loved her dear shadow, until it almost assumed a bodily
form. A dear, dream-like form, which came unbidden, and disappeared
when he would so gladly have detained it longer.

He plucked a few leaves from the willow, but scattered them over the
grave again.

"We need no mementos," he said; "we understand each other without any
outward tokens, and it shall remain as it is, decay silently and
gradually, as time wills. Who would be benefited by the most superb
monument I could order from Thorwaldsen's master hand? Not you - what do
the shades in Nirwana care for such earthly vanities - and not I. I
shall never stand upon this spot again, and to others the stone would
be only a stone. No, it is better so; it is in harmony with the place."

He looked up, and his artist's eye wandered over the graves, upon whose
long grass, swaying in the soft breeze, the setting sun scattered rosy
hues, to the ancient church, whose rude square tower still glowed in
the purple light, while the main building was already in deep shadow.

"This scene and hour would make a beautiful picture," said Gotthold,
"but I shall not paint it. That would efface it from my mind, and I
wish to hold it fast there forever."

He closed his eyes a moment, and when he opened them did not look
around again as he walked slowly, with his hands behind his back,
through the narrow path to the gate. Suddenly he paused and
involuntarily extended his hand towards two little graves close beside
the path, whose inscriptions had caught his eye in passing. "Cecilia
Brandow," "Caroline Brandow." The date of the birth and death of the
children was also added in tiny characters, as small as the mounds

A strange emotion thrilled his frame. He had thought this was over,
utterly effaced from his life, and that he could take the journey to
the bedside of his dying father, which had become a pilgrimage to his
parents' graves, without being disturbed by the vicinity of his early
love. Nay, just now when he came out of the church door, he had gazed
from this lofty stand-point over the wide landscape to the park of
Dahlitz, through whose dusky trees gleamed the white gables of the
mansion, and the past had remained mute. Now it flooded his soul like a
torrent which has suddenly burst its bounds. Her children - and she
herself was then scarcely more than a child! Her children. One, the
eldest, had borne her name - the name which ever since those days had
always had a peculiar, sacred association, so that he could never hear
or read it without a strange thrill. Cecilia! Her children! Strange!
Incomprehensibly strange! Incomprehensible as the death to which they
had so soon fallen victims! She had wept and knelt at these graves with
her husband beside her, the husband whose name was also inscribed in
gilt letters upon these tablets, and who asserted his paternal rights
in the Christian name of the younger: "Carl Brandow"! Did he too shed
tears for his children? It was impossible to think of Carl Brandow's
sharp, hard features wet with tears.

How the face of Gotthold's enemy - the only one he had ever had - rose in
almost tangible outlines before his mind, while a sharp pang ran
through the deep scar which, beginning under his hair, passed over the
right temple, across the cheek, and even divided the heavy beard, the
scar on whose account the sexton's wife, mindful of the words that
marked people should be avoided, had been so unwilling to leave the
stately stranger alone in the church. Was the wound going to bleed
again - the wound that man's hand had dealt when both were schoolboys?
Would it have been any miracle at that moment, when his heart was
throbbing so violently, as if to say: The wound I have been struck is
newer by some years, and much fresher and deeper, yet you see it is not
healed as you supposed, and never will be!

"Never," said Gotthold, "never! Well, at least I will not touch it.
And - the innocent children are not to blame, if there is blame
anywhere. I wish. I could call them back to life for you, poor Cecilia,
and may Heaven preserve those who I trust have been given you in their

A figure clad in black, with a low broad-brimmed hat and white
neck-tie, approached the churchyard from the parsonage. It was
doubtless his father's successor, the new Pastor, who had returned from
examining the school earlier than the sexton's wife expected, and come
in search of the stranger who had inquired for him, and then ordered
the church to be unlocked. In his present excited frame of mind
Gotthold would gladly have avoided this meeting; but the reverend
gentleman appeared to have seen him already, for he quickened his
steps, and, as Gotthold now approached him, held out both hands,
exclaiming: "Must we meet again under such sorrowful circumstances?"

Gotthold cast a puzzled glance at the beardless, plump white face of
the man who now stood before him, clasping and pressing his hands; his
watery blue eyes winking perpetually, either from emotion or because
the setting sun was shining into them.

"Don't you know me, my dear brother?" asked the reverend gentleman;
"didn't they tell you my name? August Semmel - "

"Surnamed Kloss,"[1] said Gotthold with an involuntary laugh. "I beg
your pardon, I really had not heard your name, and then I have never
seen you lately except in uniform, with a military cap on one side of
your head, and your face covered with a beard; it is really an
excellent mask."

Pastor Semmel dropped Gotthold's hands and hastily turned away, so that
he placed himself in shadow.

"A mask," he said, rolling up his eyes piously; "yes indeed! and, as I
now think, a very vain, not to say sinful one. I often scolded you then
because you would not enter our corps, although you sometimes did not
disdain to go to an ale - to amuse yourself with us, I mean; now I envy
you for having had the power of self-renunciation I lacked."

"So Saul has now become Paul," replied Gotthold smiling, "while my
journey to Damascus is still delayed."

"Yes, yes," said the Pastor. "Who would have thought it! The most
industrious of us all at school, the most indefatigable at the
university; always held up as a pattern by teachers and professors;
when in the fourth session already cram - preparing us older ones for
the examination, passing your own with great distinction, and all
this - "

"For Hecuba! No, dear Semmel, you must not revile my art, although I
freely admit I am but a poor artist as yet. But I can assure you of one
thing: it is easier to pass a creditable examination in theology than
to paint a good picture. I speak from experience; besides if I had
remained a theological student, who knows whether the son might not
have stepped into his father's place instead of you? That is to be
considered too."

"There would have been a terrible competition," said Herr Semmel,
"although on the other hand a prophet has little honor in his own
country; and to be frank, when I was a candidate here - after I left
Halle I spent four years in Lower Pomerania as a tutor in Count
Zerneckow's family, and afterwards came to Neuenkirchen to relieve the
old man, who had grown very garrulous, so that I thought I was
positively settled - but he has entirely recovered his powers again, and
so it happened very opportunely - what was I going to say? yes - when I
applied for this place a month ago, and thought it would be an
advantage to present myself as an intimate school and university friend
of my predecessor's son, I found the recommendation was not
satisfactory everywhere. Herr Otto von Plüggen of Plüggenhof - "

Gotthold could not help laughing. "I suppose so," said he, "I have
often punched his stupid head when he went to school in P."

"You know I was in the first class, while you were still in the
second," continued the Pastor in an apologetic tone, "and had entirely
forgotten that you must have known each other; but when, warned by my
experience with von Plüggen, I mentioned you more cautiously to several
others, I found a certain, what shall I term it? hostility would be
unchristian, but - "

"Let us drop the subject," said Gotthold somewhat impatiently.

"Certainly, certainly," replied the Pastor, "although you will be glad
to hear that I took advantage of this very opportunity to speak of your
generous gift to the poor of our parish, which - "

"But why did you do that when I particularly requested that my name
should not be mentioned?"

"Because it is written: 'Thou shalt not hide thy light under a bushel;'
and because it was the only way to silence the injurious report that
had become associated with your name."

"Injurious report?" asked Gotthold.

"Why yes, because people knew that for the last seven years, ever since
your uncle's death, you have been in possession of a large fortune, and
yet your father - "

"Good Heavens! what could I do," cried Gotthold, "if my father
obstinately refused all my offers? but I really cannot discuss this
matter any farther. Besides, it is high time for me to set out, if I
wish to reach P. in good season. Has Herr Wollnow arranged everything
my father left according to your wishes? Unfortunately, I could not
attend to it myself, since, as you have probably learned from him, I
fell sick on my journey, and was forced to remain several weeks in
Milan; but I wrote to him from there to carry out the wishes of my
father's successor in every respect."

"Without knowing who that successor was!" exclaimed Herr Semmel; "yes,
that's the way with you artists. Well, I have not been grasping. True,
there were many valuable books on theology in your father's library
which I would gladly have retained, and as you gave the purchaser
permission to set his own price - "

"That is all right, my dear Semmel, and now don't come a step farther."

"Only to your carriage, which I saw standing at the door of the inn."

"Not another step, I beg of you."

They were standing at the churchyard gate, which opened into the
village-street; but the Pastor seemed unable to release Gotthold's

"For your own comfort, and the honor of your old schoolmates, I must
add one remark in connection with our former subject of conversation.
All were not guilty of such uncharitableness - I may surely be permitted
to give it that name without being uncharitable myself. Some of them
spoke very warmly in your praise; no one more so than Carl Brandow."

"Brandow! Carl Brandow!" exclaimed Gotthold; "it is certainly - "

"Certainly only his duty, if he tries to make amends to you for an
offence committed in youthful thoughtlessness by everywhere asserting
the truth, and declaring that the demon of avarice is the very last
that could obtain dominion over you; and if your father died as poor as
he had lived, it was undoubtedly - "

"Farewell!" said Gotthold, extending his hand across the low door to
the Pastor.

"May God bless and keep you!" said the Pastor. "You ought to spare
another hour to spend with an old friend."

Gotthold said no more. He had withdrawn his hand with almost
uncourteous haste, and was now walking rapidly down the village-street,
with his hat pulled far over his brows. Herr Semmel looked after him
with a contemptuous smile on his fat face.

"The enthusiast!" said he; "it seems as if the ill-luck he has had has
turned his brain. But no matter. People must cling to the rich. Carl
Brandow is a sly fellow. He probably knows why, from the moment he
heard he was coming back, he took a new key, and cannot say enough in
praise of the man whom he once abused like a reed-sparrow. Perhaps he
wants to try to borrow of him. Well, he certainly needs a loan. Plüggen
says he is making his last shifts. He will be at Plüggenhof to-morrow.
My news will make quite an excitement."


The long village-street was empty. Here and there an old woman appeared
in the doorway of one of the low straw-roofed huts, or a few half-naked
children played behind the tangled hedges in the neglected gardens;
every one else had gone to the fields, for this was the first day of
the rye-harvest.

The village-street was empty, and the swallows had free course. Up and
down they moved in their arrowlike flight, now on the ground, now
rising in graceful circles, straight lines, or zig-zag course,
chirping, twittering, and unweariedly fluttering their slender wings.

Gotthold paused, pushed back his hat, which he had drawn over his eyes,
and gazed as if absorbed in thought at the graceful little creatures,
which he had loved from his earliest childhood. While he stood watching
them, the angry displeasure roused by the Pastor's words gradually
yielded to a strange melancholy.

"What the swallow sang, what the swallow sang," he murmured. "Yes, yes,
it echoes through the village just as it did then: -

When I went away, when I went away,
I left well-filled chests behind,
But returning to-day, but returning to-day,
Naught I find.

"I thought I understood it - but I had only read it with my eyes, not my
heart, the heart of a lonely man, who after an absence of ten years
returns to the sacred scenes of his youth to find what I have found
to-day - the most painful memory of that which was once mine."

Up and down flew the swallows, now close to the earth, and now in a
lofty curve over a loaded harvest-wagon which had turned into the
principal street from an adjoining lane, and disappeared in a barn.

"How does it go on," said Gotthold: -

Back the swallows dart, back the swallows dart,
And the chests again run o'er;
But an empty heart, but an empty heart,
Fills no more.

He passed his hand over his eyes to brush away the tears which
constantly sprang into them, while a mournful smile played around his

"It would be an amusing spectacle to my Roman friends if they could see
me standing here crying like a schoolboy; and what would you say,
Julia? The same thing that you did when I translated the song: That is
all nonsense, my dear friend. How can a heart be empty? My heart has
never been empty since I knew I had one, and now it is full of love for
you, as yours is for me, you German dreamer. Then you stroked the hair
from my brow, and kissed me as only you can kiss. And yet, and yet! If

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