Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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the room without looking back, while the child stretched out its little
hands over her shoulder, calling, "Bring me something pretty to-day,
uncle Gotthold. Do you hear, uncle Gotthold?"




CHAPTER XVI.


"If women only wouldn't take everything tragically," said Brandow;
"it's really a pity. First she proposed it herself, and now - but we
mustn't expect the dear creatures to be consistent."

"And what do you require of me?" asked Gotthold.

He had seated himself at the table, while Brandow strode restlessly up
and down the room, pretending to busy himself in doing first one thing
and then another.

"Require! How you talk! Require! If I had had anything to require of
you I shouldn't have been silent so long; but I think my wife has told
you all, or did she - "

"She has told me everything except the amount."

"Except the amount? Capital! capital! - so exactly like a woman! Except
the amount! Of course there's no occasion to lay any stress upon such
secondary considerations."

And Brandow essayed a laugh which sounded rather hoarse.

"Short and good."

"Short, for aught I care, and good. Well, I hope you'll take it so. I
want twenty-five thousand thalers."

"When?"

"That's the devil of it. Ten thousand, which I owe the trustees of the
convent for arrears of rent, are to be paid to-morrow to the convent
treasurer at Sundin; but Sellien, if he comes to-day, would take the
money back with him; of course, however, that is only a favor on his
part, and would be a convenience on mine - there's no obligation; so
to-morrow morning will be time enough for that. The rest - I mean the
fifteen thousand - is a debt of honor, which must be paid this evening,
if I don't wish to lose Brownlock and my wheat harvest, which I
pledged. Between ourselves, they really had designs only upon
Brownlock. They, that is, the two Plüggens and Redebas, who fairly
pressed me for the money, and then fixed to-day as the last limit of
time for payment, because they knew what a strait I am in about my
arrears of rent, and hoped, under any circumstances, I should be unable
to pay, and then they would have Brownlock. The sneaks, the swindlers!
Brownlock, that is worth twice as much as the whole amount - Brownlock,
a horse on which I already have fifteen thousand in my betting-book,
and which will bring me in thirty thousand as sure as my name is Carl
Brandow."

He acted as if he had talked himself into a rage, and lashed the air
and the tops of his boots with his riding-whip, while his crafty eyes
rested steadily upon Gotthold, who still sat motionless at the table,
resting his head on his hand.

"And I am to procure the money for you? How did you arrange that?"

"My plan was something of this kind: my wife told me you wished to
leave us to-day; of course I am prodigiously sorry; but you have your
reasons, which I respect, although I don't know them; and you will
perhaps make use of the carriage I am just going to send to Prora for
the Selliens. I'll let Hinrich Scheel, on whom I can depend implicitly,
go with you; and Hinrich could then bring back the fifteen thousand
with which I must feed my dear guests. You need not pay the money at
all; that blameless usurer, your worthy Wollnow, might not count it
out. The ten thousand for Sellien can remain there: he can take it
himself to-morrow morning, when he will be obliged to pass through
Prora again. Just write me a line, or even tell Hinrich that the money
will be ready for him at Wollnow's on receipt of my order. Then he
could leave the acquittance here, or give it to Wollnow, from whom I
can get it whenever I have an opportunity, and the affair is settled."

"And suppose Wollnow won't give me the money?"

"Won't give it to you? Why, you have fifty thousand in his business."

"Not a groschen more than ten."

"But Semmel assured me - "

"Semmel is mistaken."

Brandow had paused, with his riding-whip uplifted. Was the man trying
to drive a bargain? A paltry ten thousand? Did he expect to get off
with that?

A scornful smile flitted over his sharp face, which was unusually pale
to-day, and the riding-whip whizzed through the air.

"Oh, pshaw, you have credit for fifty thousand. Credit is money, as
nobody knows better than I, who have lived on it so long. But do as you
choose! I don't plead for myself - I'm made of hard wood, and shall
survive the storm. I am sorry for poor Cecilia, though. She reckoned so
confidently upon your friendship; persuaded me so urgently to confide
in you."

Gotthold had been compelled to exert all his strength in order to
control himself during this horrible scene, and not show his antagonist
how terribly he was suffering. Suddenly a mist crept over his eyes, a
roaring sound was in his ears, it seemed as if he was lying on the
ground, and Brandow, who stood over him, was just raising his arm for a
second blow. Then, with a violent effort, he shook off the faintness
that threatened to overpower him, and said, rising:

"That is right. Cecilia shall not have reckoned upon my friendship in
vain; take care that you don't make a mistake yourself."

Brandow had involuntarily recoiled a few paces, startled by Gotthold's
ghastly face. He tried to answer with a jest to the effect that he was
not in the habit of being mistaken where his debts were concerned; but
Gotthold cut short the sentence with a contemptuous "Enough!" and left
the room to pack his clothes.

Fifteen minutes after, the carriage driven by Hinrich Scheel rolled
away through the misty morning across the moor, on the way to Prora.




CHAPTER XVII.


Coffee had just been served in Frau Wollnow's pleasant little balcony
room in the second story. The gentlemen had gone down-stairs to smoke a
cigar in the office, but the ladies were still sitting at the table,
from which the pretty young servant-girl was removing the dishes. The
three children, who could not become accustomed to the altered
arrangements of the household - coffee was generally served in the
sitting-room below - romped noisily around, to Frau Wollnow's great
amusement, while Alma Sellien smoothed a frown of displeasure from her
white forehead with her soft dainty hand.

"Couldn't you send the children away now?"

"The children!" said Frau Wollnow, casting an astonished glance from
her round brown eyes at her brown-eyed darlings.

"I'm always a little nervous in the morning; and to-day must be doubly
cautious, as I have a country excursion in prospect."

"Pardon me, dear Alma; I forgot you were not accustomed to the
noise. It is not always so bad; but since Stine left me day before
yesterday - dear me, I can't blame her; the good old thing wants to get
married, and to a young man who might almost be her son, so she
certainly has no time to lose. She has gone back to her parents. The
wedding will take place in a fortnight. It was hard enough for her to
leave the children - "

"You were going to send the children away, dear!"

The children were sent away. Alma Sellien leaned back in the corner of
the sofa exhausted, and said, closing her soft blue eyes as it half
asleep: "I am sure this will be another disappointment."

"What, dear Alma?" asked Frau Wollnow, whose thoughts were still with
her children.

"My husband is so terribly enthusiastic about him; he's always
enthusiastic about men I afterwards think horrible."

"You will be mistaken this time," cried Frau Wollnow, who, engrossed in
this interesting subject, even failed to hear her youngest child crying
upon the stairs; "your husband has said too little rather than too
much. He is not only a handsome man - which, for my part, I consider of
very little consequence - tall, and of an extremely elegant, graceful
bearing, which harmonizes most admirably with the gentle, yet resolute
expression of his features, the mild, yet steady gaze of his large
deep-blue eyes, and even the soft, but sonorous tone of his voice."

"You are surely turning poetess," said Alma.

Ottilie Wollnow blushed to the roots of the curly bluish-black hair on
her temples.

"I don't deny that I am very, very - "

"Much in love with him," said Alma, completing the sentence.

"Why yes, if you choose to say so; that is, as I love everything good
and beautiful."

"An excellent theory, which I profess myself, only unfortunately in
practice we must always be withheld by the opposition of our husbands.
Yours did not seem to be quite so much delighted with your protégé."

"My good Emil!" said Frau Wollnow, "we don't agree in a great many
things, and, dear me, it is certainly no wonder; he has been obliged to
work so hard all his life, that it has made him a little grave and
pedantic; but he is a thoroughly good man, and in this case you are
entirely mistaken; at heart he is even more interested in Gotthold than
I, or, if that is saying too much, quite as much so."

"It did not seem so."

"But it was only seeming. He is afraid of compromising his dignity if
he talks as he really feels. I have found that all people who have had
a sorrowful youth are so. Even the heart, so to speak, needs to have
had its dancing lessons, and when it has had none, when it has always
been compelled to beat under the pressure of straitened, gloomy
surroundings, as in my poor Emil's case, people never overcome it all
their lives. But what I was going to say is, that this time there is a
special reason for it. My good Emil certainly never told even me - dear,
kind man, as if I would have taken it amiss - that thirty or thirty-five
years ago he was once very deeply in love with Gotthold's mother, when
they lived in the same house in Stettin - it is a long and very romantic
story."

"Oh! oh!" said Alma, "who would ever have given your husband credit for
that?"

"Why," cried Ottilie, "you are entirely mistaken in Emil; his nature
has a freshness, a power, a youthful fire - "

"How happy you are!" said Alma with a faint sigh.

"I hope you are no less so; but I wanted to explain why Emil always
becomes so quiet when the conversation turns upon Gotthold. That is the
reason of it, and then he has taken it into his head that this visit to
the Brandows must turn out unlucky for him - Gotthold. You know Gotthold
used to be in love with Cecilia; nay, between ourselves, I am sure he
loves her still. But now, tell me yourself: can you see any great
misfortune in that?"

"Not at all; I only think it rather improbable; you know I have never
been able to share your enthusiasm about Cecilia, and don't see why all
the men are to be in love with her. Her husband evidently isn't; at
least I know a lady to whom he devotes himself whenever he meets her,
in a way that proves his heart is not very strongly engaged in any
other quarter."

"If he has one. Forgive me, dear Alma, you are a prudent woman, and I
am sure you love your husband; but Brandow is really an extremely
dangerous man. Possessed of the most attractive manners, when he
chooses to adopt them; always lively and humorous, even witty, yet
sensible when the occasion requires him to be so; and moreover bold,
fearless, an acknowledged master of all chivalrous arts - and such
things always impose upon us women - in a word, a dangerous man. Good
Heavens, would it have been possible, under any other circumstances, to
understand how the aristocratic, poetic Cecilia could have fallen in
love with him! But what does all this avail without true love, and I do
not believe Carl Brandow is capable of the feeling. Now let a man such
as I have described Gotthold to be, enter the home of such a couple, - a
man, moreover, who has scarcely conquered a boyish love for the
wife, - indeed, if one reflects upon it, one can hardly blame my
husband: such passionate natures, and in the loneliness of country
life, - it really seems as if scales had fallen from my eyes. And
Gotthold has not written a word all this week! Still waters run deep,
but may not deep waters perhaps be still? And I have actually been the
cause of it by my unlucky mania for pictures!"

"I think I can set your mind at rest, so far as that goes," said Alma.
"I have found that men always have some reason for doing what they
wish; if it isn't one thing, it's another. And then this evening, or
to-morrow morning at latest, if we spend the night at Dollan, I can
bring you the very latest and most exact news about all these
interesting complications. I only fear they will prove less interesting
than you expect."

"Lucky Alma!" said Ottilie sighing; "how much I should like to go with
you. But my husband would never allow it."

"'Allow' is a word a husband should never be permitted to use to his
wife," said Alma, as she slipped her wedding-ring up and down her
slender finger.

The conversation between the two ladies was interrupted by Assessor
Sellien, who hastily entered the room.

"Why," said his wife, "have you come back already? Is the carriage
here? I haven't put on my travelling-dress yet."

"The carriage is not here," said the Assessor as he seated himself
between the two ladies, and raised his wife's hand, which hung loosely
over the back of the sofa, to his lips; "I only came to ask whether you
would not prefer to stay here."

"Stay here!" said Alma, hastily starting from her lounging attitude in
the sofa corner. "What has got into your head, Hugo?"

"You have one of your headaches, dear child, and a very bad one; I
noticed it some time ago."

"You are entirely mistaken, dear Hugo; I feel unusually well this
morning."

"And this terrible weather," said the Assessor, looking thoughtfully
through the open door that led to the balcony; "there, it is raining
again; I don't understand how ladies can expose themselves so."

He rose and shut the door.

"Brandow will send a close carriage in any case," said Alma.

"So much the worse," cried the Assessor. "You could not endure an hour
in a close carriage, poor child. And then those terrible roads - I know
them! To cross Dollan moor after it has rained all night - it's actually
dangerous."

"I will not expose you to the danger all alone," said Alma smiling.

"That is very different, dear child. Men must follow wherever duty
calls."

"And the prospect of a good dinner - "

"In a word, dear Alma, you would do me a favor if you would stay here."

"I have not the least inclination to do you this favor, dear Hugo, and
now what else is there, if I may ask?"

The Assessor had risen and walked up and down the room.

"Well, then," he said pausing, "you know how unwilling I am to deny you
anything; but this time I really cannot allow you to go."

Alma looked at her husband in astonishment; Ottilie, who could no
longer control herself, burst into a merry laugh, exclaiming:

"'Allow' is a word a husband should never be permitted to use to his
wife."

"Perhaps the word is not exactly suitable," said the Assessor; "but it
does not alter the fact. And the fact is, that your husband has just
given me certain information, which makes Alma's accompanying me this
time appear not only undesirable, but even impossible. And your
husband, my dear lady, is entirely of my opinion."

"But Emil's solicitude carries him entirely too far," cried Frau
Wollnow angrily; "poor Cecilia has not deserved this. That is attacking
a woman's reputation, not only unnecessarily, but without the slightest
reason. If people are so excessively strict, they will be obliged to
give up all society."

"I don't understand you, dear madam," said the Assessor, "at least I do
not know what connection Frau Brandow's reputation could have with this
very disagreeable affair."

"Then I don't understand you," replied Ottilie.

"It will be best," answered Sellien, "in order to avoid further
misunderstandings, to tell the ladies plainly what the point in
question really is. True, Herr Wollnow charged me to be cautious; but
the flattering obstinacy with which my wife rejects my timid attempts
to induce her to stay here, compels me to withdraw from my diplomatic
position. Herr Wollnow has just informed me that my confident
expectation that Brandow would have the ten thousand thalers ready,
which I was to receive from him to-day, is all an illusion. To be sure,
Brandow wrote me about a fortnight ago, and made no secret of his
embarrassments; but he's such a clever fellow, and has always helped
himself out of his scrapes when the pinch came; at any rate, he made no
answer to my encouraging letter, and as I said before, I supposed he
would not let me come for nothing, but on the contrary have everything
ready. Now, however, I hear from your husband that matters are very
different, in fact quite desperate. Brandow's credit is entirely
exhausted. Herr Wollnow says that nobody could be found on the whole
island who would lend him a thaler, since the two Plüggens and Redebas,
who have kept his head above water so long, declared yesterday in
Wollnow's counting-room that their patience was exhausted, and he would
not get another shilling from them. Instead of that, they were to get
something from him, that is, they were to receive a very large sum
within a few days. They mentioned fifteen thousand thalers; but Herr
Wollnow thinks there was probably a little exaggeration about it. But
even if this was the whole amount of Brandow's indebtedness - which is
undoubtedly not the case - he is still a lost man. The convent
confidently expects that Brandow will pay his two years' rent
to-morrow. If he does not, it will certainly make use of its right, and
proceed to expel him from Dollan, and then Brandow will be as
thoroughly and completely ruined as a man can be."

"Poor Cecilia! Poor, poor Cecilia!" cried Frau Wollnow, bursting into
tears.

"I am sorry for her," said the Assessor, playing with his long nails.
"But what can be done?"

"Emil must help them!" exclaimed Frau Wollnow, removing her
handkerchief from her face a moment.

"He will beware of that, as he said just now; it is pouring water into
the Danaïdes seive."

"But you, dear Herr Sellien, you are his friend; you cannot see your
friend go to ruin."

The Assessor shrugged his shoulders. "Friend! Dear me, whom don't we
call by that name? And my relations with Brandow are very superficial,
mere business connections, if you choose to call them so; are they not,
my dear wife?"

"Certainly, certainly," murmured Alma.

"And I should be giving up this very business relation if I allowed
Alma to accompany me, when the situation was so critical. In the
presence of ladies it is very difficult not to touch the chords of
tender feeling, and it seems to me extremely desirable to avoid the
possibility of doing so. Are you not of my opinion, dear Alma?"

"It is a very disagreeable affair," said Alma.

"Is it not? And why should you expose yourself to it unnecessarily? I
knew my wise little wife would yield the point at last."

And the Assessor tenderly kissed Alma's hand.

"But in that case it seems to me you must stay here too, my dear Herr
Assessor," said Frau Wollnow.

"I? Why? On the contrary, it is only prudent for me to appear as
natural as possible. I know nothing; I suspect nothing. Of course I
shall be extremely sorry when Brandow takes me aside and tells me he
can't pay; but I'll wager the dinner will be none the worse for that,
and taste none the worse to me. His red wine and champagne were always
superb."

Frau Wollnow rose and went out upon the balcony. She must breathe the
fresh air, even at the risk of having her new silk morning-dress
spoiled by the rain, which was now falling quite heavily from the gray
sky. "Poor, poor Cecilia!" she repeated sighing, "and there is no one
who can and will save you."

She remembered that she had brought her husband a dowry of fifty
thousand thalers, but she could not touch them without Emil's
permission, and Emil would not allow it. Should she try to move him by
throwing herself prostrate at his feet? She could almost have laughed
outright at the extravagant idea, especially when she imagined the
astonished expression her husband's face would wear; but the tears
again sprang to her eyes and mingled with the rain-drops that beat upon
her burning face. Suddenly the husband and wife within were roused from
their low-toned, eager conversation by a loud exclamation from the
balcony. "Gotthold, good heavens, Gotthold!"

"Where, where?" cried the Assessor and his wife with one voice, as they
hurried out upon the balcony.

"There he comes," said Ottilie, pointing towards the square, across
which a man with a broad-brimmed hat, pulled low over his eyes, was
walking directly towards the house.

"He isn't so tall as Brandow," said Alma, who was critically inspecting
the new-comer through an opera-glass.

"What can he want?" asked her husband.

"We shall soon know," said Frau Wollnow, as with a vague feeling of
anxiety she pressed her two companions back into the room.

But Gotthold had only asked for Herr Wollnow, the maid-servant informed
them, and she had been ordered to show him into Herr Wollnow's
counting-room. The interview, whatever its purport might be, lasted
much longer than was at all agreeable to the impatient waiters, and
after an hour, during which the Assessor had rather increased than
lessened the ladies' impatience by a detailed account of his adventures
with Gotthold in Sicily, Herr Wollnow appeared alone. They were
astonished, amazed, and scarcely satisfied when Wollnow said that
Gotthold had only gone to the Fürstenhof to change his clothes, and
would come back if his business gave him time. They wanted to know what
business could be so pressing that Gotthold had selected Sunday morning
for its transaction.

"The ladies must ask that of himself," said Herr Wollnow; "he has not
taken me into his confidence. All I know is, that he is going to drive
back to Dollan with our friends here, return to-night or to-morrow
morning in the same excellent company, from which he anticipates a
great deal of pleasure, and then continue his journey without further
delay. It seems that the point in question concerns the hasty purchase
of a few gifts, with which he wants to surprise his host and hostess at
Dollan at parting; at least he wanted me to give him a sum of money
which is rather large for mere travelling expenses, but I can say no
more."

And Herr Wollnow, apparently with the utmost unconcern, hummed an air
from "Figaro" as he left the room to avoid further questioning.

"I don't think it at all polite for him not to present himself a
moment, at least," said Alma; "I've a great mind to punish him for it
by not appearing at breakfast."

"Oh! pray don't," said the Assessor.

Ottilie Wollnow made no answer. She knew her husband too well to have
the gloomy expression of his eyes and the cloud on his brow escape her
notice, in spite of his apparent unconcern. Besides, she had a
foreboding that Gotthold's interview with her husband had not been
quite so innocent as it seemed, that there was something disagreeable,
perhaps some misfortune impending, and above all, she was convinced
that the Selliens were getting into a passion in vain, and Gotthold
would not appear at breakfast.




CHAPTER XVIII.


The little company at Dollan had already been wandering for half an
hour up and down the rain-soaked paths in the garden, between the
dripping hedges, waiting for the arrival of Assessor Sellien and
dinner.

"You're a pretty fellow," cried Hans Redebas, who was walking with Otto
von Plüggen, as Brandow with Gustav von Plüggen and Pastor Semmel met
him on the same spot for the third time: "first you invite us to meet
some one who vanishes in the dew and mist; then it occurs to your
lovely wife, on whose account we all come here, to have a headache and
not appear; and finally, we're kept waiting for the Assessor, and
wandering around your old wet garden like horses in a tread-mill! I'll
give you ten minutes, and if we don't sit down to the table by that
time I'll have my horses harnessed, and we'll dine in Dahlitz, and not
badly either. What do you say to that, Pastor?"

And Herr Redebas laughed and clapped the Pastor, who had come with him
in his carriage, rudely on the shoulder. Brandow laughed too, and said
they must have patience; it was not his fault that the Assessor had not
arrived, and things had gone contrary that day; the dinner had been
ready a long time.

"Then in the name of three devils, let's go to the table, or I shall
faint away," cried Herr Redebas.

It was by no means probable that this man, with the frame and strength
of a giant, would be overcome by such a sudden attack of weakness; but


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Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 11 of 24)