Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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names of the laborers, while Gotthold hastily walked on by the path,
which in a few moments brought him to the edge of the forest, where an
old beech-tree stood alone in the open field, upon which the moon shed
a dim, fitful light through the rifts in the heavy black clouds. It was
the rye-field, which they had been reaping that day. A loaded wagon was
just starting, and men were still working around a few others, but, as
it seemed to Gotthold, rather lazily; he heard the voices of the men
raised in eager conversation, and saw that they were standing in little
groups between the sheaves, several rows of which extended along the
edge of the forest. The thought that such important work had been
interrupted or carried on less zealously on his account was unpleasant
to Gotthold, and he hurried towards the workmen. He had not perceived
Cecilia, although he could see the whole field with tolerable
distinctness; she had probably gone back to the house again.

But as he approached the beech-tree, a white figure which had been
sitting with its face buried in its hands, and was now startled by his
hasty steps, rose from the circular bench that surrounded the huge
trunk.

"In Heaven's name, Möller, have you returned already? Is he - "

"It is I myself; Cecilia, dear, dearest Cecilia!"

"Gotthold!"

She had thrown herself into his arms; he held the pliant figure which
clung closer and closer to him in an ardent embrace; her soft lips
quivered against his in a long, tremulous, passionate kiss.

"Is that you?" said Carl Brandow's voice suddenly, close beside them.

It seemed as if he had sprung from the earth; doubtless the sheaves,
the last of which stood partly under the ends of the drooping boughs of
the beech-tree, had concealed his approach, but in the shadow of its
foliage probably nothing but Cecilia's light dress had been visible to
the new-comer. Yet, in Gotthold's sensitive mood, the man's loud laugh
had a horrible sound, and his clear voice a disagreeably shrill tone
never heard before, as, flourishing his riding-whip in the air,
according to his custom, he cried: "I have heard all; I always say:
Don't turn your back, something always happens which wouldn't have
occurred otherwise. I shouldn't have let you go on such a wild-goose
chase, any more than I would have commenced reaping at the end next the
barn. What will become of this stuff if it should begin to rain again,
as there is every appearance of its doing, and rain all day to-morrow?
In that case we can take it to the manure heap, instead of the barn;
nobody will come here with a wagon for a week, and it will have
sprouted long before then."

"It isn't so bad after all, sir," said Statthalter Möller, who had just
come up with the men he had overtaken in the forest. "We haven't any
more room in the barn; we'll put up a cover here, and then it will be
all right."

"Of course, you always know better than I!" exclaimed Brandow.

"I wanted to begin by the barn; but Hinrich Scheel wouldn't allow it,
and said you yourself - "

"Oh! of course I did it myself; I'm always to blame when you idiots
have done anything stupid!"

It was not the first time that Gotthold had heard Carl Brandow scold
his workmen in this way; but never had the cause been so frivolous, and
the wrong so clearly on his own side. Gotthold had himself heard him,
as he rode away that morning, call to Hinrich Scheel that they were to
begin the reaping at the upper end of the field by the forest. Was he
drunk? Had he seen more than he wished to have known? Did he want to
wreak his jealous fury on the innocent workmen? Or was this merely the
preamble, and a test to see whether, in the explanation which must take
place immediately, he would adopt the tone of an injured, insulted man?

Gotthold did not fear this explanation; his only dread was that it
might take place in Cecilia's presence. He wished his loved one to be
away, and moreover he felt the necessity of hearing one word from her
to assure him that all this was no confused dream, but reality; that in
the kiss which still trembled on his lips she had given herself to him,
that he might venture to act, decide for her.

But the fear of provoking an outbreak from Brandow made him timid and
awkward; she shrank away, actuated by the same feeling; and he did not
succeed in carrying out his intention on the way home. Brandow walked
between them; he was obliged to relate his adventure, and Brandow
railed at Cousin Boslaf, who was always everywhere, from whom one
wasn't safe even when on the water, and who had undoubtedly arranged
the whole scene, including the thunder-storm and all its appurtenances,
in order to be able to save something again. Under other circumstances
Gotthold would not have allowed such sarcasms, which Brandow
accompanied with sneering laughter, to pass unanswered; but now he must
be suffered to say what he chose. Then the latter clapped him on the
shoulder, crying: "No offence, Gotthold; but I can't bear the old
sneak, and have my own reasons for it. Either a man is master of his
house, or he isn't; to have a third party, who is always interfering
everywhere, and of course always thinks he knows best, would not do, at
least not for me. As we used to say at school, 'One king, one ruler!'
You probably remember the Greek words too; I, poor devil, am glad I
happened to keep the German ones."

They reached the house. Gotthold could not shake off Brandow, who
detained him before the door in conversation about some agricultural
matter, while Cecilia entered. Hinrich Scheel came up and complained of
the Statthalter, who had ordered even the carriage-horses to be
harnessed to the wagons. Brandow flew into a furious passion; Gotthold
murmured something about being obliged to change his clothes, and
slipped into the house. But he found no one in the sitting-room except
pretty Rieke, who was setting the tea-table, and looked roguishly at
him out of the corners of her eyes while he glanced over the newspaper
which lay on the table before the sofa. The girl went out, but came
back immediately, and pretended to be doing something in the closet;
she evidently intended to remain in the room. Gotthold now went up to
his chamber, and changed his clothes, which had been only partially
dried in the beach-house. As he performed the task, his trembling hands
almost refused to obey his bidding. Was it the fever of impatience
before the final decision, or was it actual sickness, brought on by
over-exertion during the storm? "Don't be sick now," he murmured; "now
of all times! Now, when you no longer belong to yourself, when you owe
your life, your every breath, your every drop of blood to her!"

Brandow's voice echoed from the lower floor in loud, angry tones. Was
he talking to Cecilia? Had the rage, perhaps repressed with difficulty
till now, burst forth? Was the drama to be played before the servants?

In the twinkling of an eye Gotthold had left his room, crossed the long
dark entry, and gone down-stairs. But fortunately his fear had been
groundless. Cecilia had sent word that she felt tired, and should not
come to supper. Then why couldn't they have set the table in his room
on the other side of the hall, where they would be undisturbed and
disturb no one? Would Rieke never have any sense? Rieke answered
pertly, as she reluctantly obeyed the command, that she wished other
people's sense was as good as hers; who was to know what to do when one
order was given one minute, and another the next! Brandow told her to
be silent. The girl laughed scornfully: Oh! of course it was very
convenient to forbid people to open their mouths, but it wouldn't do in
the long run, and if she wanted to speak she would speak, and then
other people would have to hold their tongues.

"Leave the room," shouted Brandow furiously.

The girl answered with a still more impudent laugh, and then left the
apartment, banging the door after her.

"That's what one gets for being too indulgent," cried Brandow,
swallowing at a single gulp a glass of wine which he had poured out
with an unsteady hand.

He cast a sly glance at Gotthold, who looked him steadily in the face.
What did this scene mean? What could the girl tell, if she chose to
speak? Had she claims upon her master which he was obliged to
acknowledge? Had a weapon unexpectedly fallen into his hands which
might be of use to him in this hour? An ignoble weapon indeed; but
perhaps not too much so for a conflict with a man who, while the
husband of such a wife, did not disdain the servant.

Yet Gotthold said to himself that he would not begin the quarrel, but,
if possible, defer it until he had come to some understanding with
Cecilia about the next step to be taken. And it seemed possible; nay,
Gotthold soon became doubtful whether Brandow at most had anything more
than a vague suspicion, to which he either could not or dared not give
expression. Perhaps he wished to increase his courage by drink, for he
now drained glass after glass, and brought one bottle of old wine after
another from his sleeping-room; perhaps he wanted to give vent to his
powerless anger, in some degree at least, when he railed at Cousin
Boslaf, the old sneak who had perfectly disgusted him with life by his
perpetual interference, until he at last forbade him the house; and
then spoke once more of his miserable circumstances, as he called them,
for which, however, he was less to blame than some other people.

"True," he exclaimed, "I have spent more on my journeys than tailors
and glove-makers do; I have lived in a manner befitting a gentleman,
but the principal cause of my disgraceful situation is my marriage. Of
course you look incredulous; you would like, as an old ally of the
Wenhofs, to contradict me; it would be useless; I know too well how all
this has come about. I will say nothing about the noble Curt - the few
college debts I was obliged to pay for him were a mere bagatelle; but
the old man, who was by no means so old as not to have a damned good
relish for the pleasant things of this world - the old man was not a
particularly desirable father-in-law. I even had to pay for the wedding
outfit, but - good heavens - at such a time a man would bring the stars
from the sky to adorn his beloved; so I wouldn't have minded advancing
the money for the few trinkets and other things, if that had been the
end of it. But unfortunately that was not the case. I gave my
father-in-law ten thousand thalers in cash during the two years he
lived, and was obliged to pay at least as much in debts after his
death. That's a pretty good bit of money, _mon cher_, when a man has no
more than enough for himself; and so my beautiful Dahlitz went to the
devil, and I was glad to be able to creep into Dollan for shelter, and
some day Dollan will go to the devil too; for a man can't keep the best
farm in the world nowadays, unless he has property of his own, and the
prudent Brothers of the Convent of St. Jurgen have kept me as short as
my father-in-law, who could never get the better of them. But what am I
thinking of, to be entertaining such a distinguished gentleman with
this rubbish! You can't help me, and if you could, a man doesn't allow
himself to be helped by his good friends - he applies to his good
enemies."

Brandow laughed loudly, and starting up, paced hastily up and down the
room with an agitated air, and at last stopped before the closet
containing his weapons, pulled a pistol from its nail, cocked it, and
turning towards Gotthold, cried:

"Only, unfortunately, the good friends are often the same as the good
enemies, so that one can't separate them. Don't you think so!"

"It may happen so," said Gotthold quietly; "but you would do better to
hang up the pistol again; your hand is too unsteady for such tricks
to-night; some accident might occur."

Gotthold was determined not to enter upon an explanation with the
half-intoxicated man this evening, under any circumstances; and equally
determined not to yield to his threats, if this was intended for one,
and permit the ransom money to be extorted, which he must pay if he
wished to leave the place without any further difficulty.

The expression of calm decision upon the grave countenance of his guest
had not escaped Brandow; he let the half-raised weapon fall, laid it
aside, came back to the table, threw himself into his chair, and said:

"You are right! Some accident might happen; but no one would care, and,
after all, it would only be consistent if I should put a bullet through
my brain. You are a lucky fellow. You have been obliged to work from
your early youth, and so have learned a great deal; now a great
fortune, more than you can use, comes to you without the least trouble.
I have never worked, have learned nothing, and I lose a property
without which I am nothing, less than nothing: the jest of all who have
known me, a scarecrow to the gay birds I have hitherto equalled or
excelled, and who now leave the poor plucked crow to his fate. Death
and the devil!"

He dashed his glass down upon the table so violently that it broke.

"Oh, pshaw! the matter is not worth getting into a passion about.
Everything must have an end, and however they may jeer at me, nobody
can say I have not enjoyed life. I have drunk the best wine, ridden the
fastest horses, and kissed the prettiest women. You are a connoisseur
too, Gotthold; you have done just the same in your quiet way, of
course. Yes, you were always a sly-boots, and I had a cursed respect
for your cunning, even in our school-days. Well, no offence; I am not
very stupid, and clever people, like you and me, always get along
together; it's only dunces who quarrel - dunces, silly boys, as we were
then. Do you remember? Tierce, quart, quart, tierce! Ha! ha! ha! That
wouldn't suit us now. Touch glasses, old boy, and drink! Drink to good
fellowship!"

And he held out his brimming glass.

"My glass is empty," said Gotthold; "and so is the bottle. Let us go to
bed; we have drunk more than enough."

He left the room before Brandow, who was staring at him with eyeballs
starting from his head, could reply.

As the door closed behind him, Brandow made a spring like that of a
wild beast after its prey, and then paused in the middle of the room,
showing his white teeth, and shaking his clenched fists at the door.

"Cursed scoundrel! I'll have your blood, drop by drop; but first I'll
have your money!"

His uplifted arms fell; he tottered to the table, and sat there
supporting his burning head in his hands, gnawing his lips with his
sharp teeth till the blood sprang through the skin, mentally heaping
crime upon crime, but none would lead him to his goal. Suddenly he
started up and a hoarse laugh burst forth. So it should be! She, she
herself must ask him, and that was the way to force her to do so!
Vengeance, full vengeance, and no danger, except that the servant might
chatter! She had already threatened to do so several times, and to-day
had been more impudent than ever; but all must be accomplished
to-morrow, and to-night was available for many things.

That night - he did not know how late it was, for he had lain there
fully dressed, with throbbing temples, awake, and yet as if in some
wild dream, falling from the heights of more than earthly bliss into
the depths of helpless anxiety and dread - that very night Gotthold
heard above the rustling of the foliage before his window, and the
plashing of the rain against the panes, a sound which made him start
from his bed, and, holding his breath, listen intently. The noise was
like a scream, a woman's scream, and could only have come from the
chamber below him, where Cecilia slept alone with her child. He reached
the window at a single bound. The wind and rain beat into his face, but
above the wind and rain he distinctly heard Brandow's voice, now louder
and now lower, as a man speaks who is carried away by passion, and then
violently forces himself to be calm. At intervals he thought he
distinguished her voice; but perhaps it was only his fancy, excited to
madness, which filled the pauses in which he did not hear the voice of
the man he hated. A conjugal scene in the chamber of the wife, who
cannot, must not lock her door; who must hear the wild words of the
furious drunken husband, and has nothing to oppose to his fury save her
tears!

"And she bears it, must bear it! Must wring her hands helplessly! This
is bitterer than death!" 'murmured Gotthold. "Why didn't I speak? All
might now have been decided! Is not keeping silence when one ought to
speak also a lie, a cruel, horrible lie, and must falsehood be spoken
by the good as well as the bad? To-morrow, if to-morrow were only here,
if such a night can have a morrow."

He threw himself on his bed, moaning and sobbing, and buried his head
in the pillows, then started up again. Was not that a step moving
slowly and cautiously over the floor? Was any one coming to him with a
murderous weapon? Thank God!

Gotthold sprang to the door and tore it open. Everything was
silent - silent and dark. The stairs from below led directly up the
middle of the entry, between the two gables; the cautious step he had
heard was not on his side, and had undoubtedly gone towards the other,
where, opposite to his room, were two smaller chambers, one of which,
on the left, stood empty, and the other was occupied by pretty Rieke;
for a faint light, which was quickly extinguished, now gleamed through
a crack in the door of the right-hand room, and through the deep
stillness came a laugh, instantly hushed, as if a hand had been
suddenly placed over the laughing lips.

Gotthold shut the door; he wished to see and hear no more.




CHAPTER XV.


A gray dreary morning followed the dark rainy night. Endless masses
of vapor, now and then piled into thick clouds, rolled in from the
sea, - masses so deep that they almost covered the lofty tops of the
poplars, which now bent before the rude wind over the drenched straw
roofs of the barns, and then rebounded defiantly, shaking their
branches indignantly.

Gotthold stood at the window of the sitting room, gazing gloomily at
the dreary scene. He had slept an hour towards morning, almost against
his will; but anxiety for what might be coming weighed upon his soul
more heavily than physical exhaustion upon his body. Terrible as the
night had been, stars of hope ever and anon had sparkled cheeringly
through the darkness; now it seemed as if this dreary day had only
dawned to say: This solitary, hideous drifting is life, reality; what
have I to do with your dreams? As he came down the staircase, he had
seen almost with an emotion of horror that preparations for the
reception of guests were being made in the large hall looking out upon
the garden, which was generally unused; the clattering of pots and
pans, and the loud voices of maid-servants came from the kitchen at the
end of the long hall; and a groom was just pushing from the stable the
carriage which was to bring the guests from Prora. Everything was going
on as usual, as if to-day would be like yesterday, and to-morrow like
to day; as if nothing could happen which would make the old world young
again as it was on the first day that dawned on Paradise. And yet, and
yet, it surely was no dream; it had certainly happened. It could not
blow away like formless mist! It must assume some shape, emerge from
the chaos, perhaps be worked out by a hot conflict; it was all the
same! Only it could not be lost!

But this dreary inactive waiting was terrible! She must know that he
had been standing here half an hour already, waiting for her, for one
word from her lips, even one look, to say to him: I am yours, as you
are mine; trust me as I trust you. Why did she not come? The moment was
more favorable than any which might occur again all day. Brandow had
just crossed the courtyard to the stables, as he did every morning; the
breakfast was on the table; they had always spent half an hour together
at this time undisturbed - and to-day, to-day she must needs leave him
alone!

A boundless impatience took possession of him; he paced up and down the
room, glancing every moment towards the door through which that other
had come and gone last night, and which was closed upon him, listening
with straining ears that he might distinguish some sound, but heard
nothing except the sleepy buzzing of a fly; even the house clock in the
tall old-fashioned wooden case did not tick to-day; the hands had
stopped during the night.

He pressed his hands to his beating temples; it seemed as if he should
go mad if this torture did not cease, and then a thought occurred to
him more terrible than all the rest. Was she afraid of him? Did shame
withhold her from appearing before the eyes of him against whose heart
her own had throbbed yesterday, whose kiss she had received and
answered? No, no, a thousand times no! Whatever kept her from him, it
was not that, not that! It was a crime against her proud nature even to
think it! She might die, but not live to be dishonorable. Perhaps she
was ill, very ill, helpless, alone - ah! that was Gretchen's voice:
"Mamma, I want to go with you; I want to go with you to Uncle Gotthold.
I want to bid Uncle Gotthold 'good morning!'" and then low soothing
tones, then the door opened and she entered.

Gotthold rushed toward her, but only a few steps. She had raised both
hands with a gesture of the most imploring entreaty, and the most
imploring entreaty looked forth from the large tearful eyes, and pure
pale face. So she approached, so she stood before him, and then almost
inaudible words fell from her quivering lips.

"Will you forgive me, Gotthold!"

He could not answer; gesture, expression, words - all told him that his
haunting fear had become reality; that in one way or another all was
lost.

A fierce anguish overpowered him, and then anger arose in his heart; he
laughed aloud!

"So this is all the courage you have!"

Her arms fell, her lips closed, her features quivered convulsively, and
her whole frame trembled.

"No, Gotthold, not all. But I thank you for being angry; or it might
have been impossible for me to perform my task. No, don't look at me
so; don't look at me so. Laugh as you laughed just now! What can a man
do but laugh, when a woman by whom he believes himself beloved comes
and says - "

"You need not," cried Gotthold; "you need not; a man does not
comprehend such things, but he feels them without words."

He turned towards the door.

"Gotthold!"

There was despair in the tone; the young man's hand fell from the
latch.

"Can it be, Cecilia? I have frightened you by my vehemence; but it
shall not happen again. Only say one word - tell me you love me, and I
will bear all; everything else is a matter of indifference to me; we
must and shall see some way of escape; but you cannot let me go so, not
so, I implore you!"

But he searched her face for some token of assent in vain. Her features
seemed set in a horrible smile.

"No," she said, "not so: not before you have promised that you will
save my husband, whom I love and honor; from whom I cannot, will not
part."

She uttered the words slowly, in a monotonous tone, like something
learned by rote, and now paused like a scholar who has forgotten her
lesson.

"What does this farce mean?" said Gotthold.

The door of the sleeping-room opened, Gretchen put her curly head in,
and then came bounding towards her mother. Cecilia clasped the child
passionately in her arms, and hastily continued, while a feverish
flush replaced her former death-like pallor: "Save him from the
bankruptcy into which he will fall, if you do not help him. The matter
concerns - concerns - "

She released Gretchen, and pressed both hands upon her brow.

"Mamma, mamma," screamed the little one, beginning to cry aloud, as
Gotthold supported the tottering figure to the nearest chair.

"What is the matter with my wife?" asked Brandow.

Gotthold had not heard him enter. At the first sound of his voice
Cecilia raised herself from his arms, and stood erect between the two
men, without support, clasping the child to her heart, pale as death,
but with an expression of sorrowful resolution; and there was a
strange, unvarying firmness in the tone of her voice, as, fixing her
eyes upon her husband, she said:

"He knows, and will do it."

And then turning to Gotthold:

"You will do it for the sake of our old friendship, Gotthold, will you
not? And farewell, Gotthold; we shall not see each other again."

She held out an icy hand to him, took Gretchen in her arms, and left


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