Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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Brandow had every reason not to increase the ill-humor of his guests.
Already, to shorten the time before dinner, they had played a game of
cards, in which the Pastor took no share except by his intense
interest, and lost a few hundred thalers. To be sure, the amount was
very little in comparison to the sum he owed his visitors; but they had
been irritated by the loss, and took the less care to conceal their
annoyance as Brandow still uttered no word in allusion to the business
for whose settlement they had really assembled. Undoubtedly he was
unable to pay. To be sure, they had expected it, nay, in point of fact,
the whole transaction which Hans Redebas and the two Plüggens had
jointly undertaken was based upon this supposition; but now each was
not sorry to consider himself in the light of a man of honor, whose
confidence had been most shamefully betrayed.

Herr Redebas, especially, was in a very irritable mood. The conditions
to which, at the conclusion of the mutual bargain, he had agreed,
pleased him less and less every moment. Why had he not required the
whole sum to be paid, or else claimed for his share the second stake
Brandow had offered in addition to Brownlock, his wheat-harvest? The
wheat, as he had just convinced himself, was an exceptionably,
unexpectedly fine crop; it would have brought in a very large profit;
while the horse, after all, was a doubtful bargain. Since the committee
had included a large tract of marsh land in the course laid out for the
race between the gentlemen riders, the chances in favor of Brownlock,
which was universally considered too heavy a horse, were very
considerably lessened. And, moreover, what had such a sedate, man as
Hans Redebas to do with such things, which, after all, were only fit
for the nobility? It would be better for the two Plüggens to see what
they could make of the horse! It was their trade; they understood it,
and so in God's name let them take the beast for their ten thousand,
and leave him the wheat crop! But this time, in spite of the proverbial
want of harmony that prevailed between them, the two brothers made
common cause. The bargain had been settled, and every one must rest
satisfied with it; if Hans Redebas fancied he was the only one who
could see into a thing, he'd find himself greatly mistaken. Therefore,
as Herr Redebas could not vent his anger upon his two companions, he
thought himself entitled to treat Brandow with all the more rudeness
and want of consideration. Even before dinner he had shown this
disposition to an extravagant degree, and the wine, of which he drank
immense quantities at the table, in spite of its many other excellent
qualities, did not possess that of improving the giant's temper.

At any other time it would have been an easy matter for Brandow to
parry his antagonist's coarse jests and turn the laugh against him;
nay, he was usually considered among his associates to be a man whom
one could not offend, with impunity; but to-day his dreaded powers of
sarcasm, as well as his often tested courage, seemed to have deserted
him. He did not hear what could not have been inaudible, did not
understand what no one could fail to comprehend, laughed when he would
usually have started up in fury, and with pale trembling lips tried as
well as he could to give the conversation a jesting turn, for which
purpose he grasped at more and more questionable expedients, and at
last related anecdotes, which even to the long-suffering Pastor, seemed
altogether too scandalous.

In spite of the noise and laughter, in spite of the row of empty
bottles which grew longer and longer under the side-board, it was a
dreary, uncomfortable meal, and to no one more so than to the master of
the house. Brandow knew from long experience that he could require his
nerves to bear a great deal, but it now seemed as if he should not be
able to accomplish what he had undertaken to-day. While laughing
heartily over a story he had just related, his fingers fairly trembled
with the longing he felt to snatch the champagne bottle from the cooler
and shatter it upon Redebas' huge black head. He was aware that his
strength was almost exhausted; he should break down if Hinrich Scheel
did not return soon and release him from this horrible torture of
uncertainty. And then it seemed as if this torment was nothing to the
other, the torment of the certainty that his wife loved that man, and
despised him too much even to hate him, and that he fully deserved her
scorn. Again and again - with the speed of lightning - in the few seconds
it required to raise a glass of wine to his lips and swallow the
contents - he lived over the scene of the night before in her
sleeping-room, when he stood before her with clenched fists, and not a
muscle in her pale face quivered until he struck her to the heart with
the fatal blow which he had cruelly withheld so long. To her heart! Her
heart! It had been a master-stroke! A thrust which crushed the proud
haughty woman like a stag overtaken by a bullet, rendered her his weak,
obedient tool, and made him master of the situation. An enviable
situation, to sit here and endure Redebas' coarse taunts, laugh at his
own silly wit, look at the stupid faces of the two Plüggens, be cordial
to the canting Parson, be forced to see that no one's glass was empty,
and amid all the noisy tumult listen continually for the rolling of the
carriage which would bring Hinrich, and with Hinrich the money for
which he had done what he had done, suffered what he had suffered, and
without which he was a ruined man. At last, at last! There was the
clatter of horses' hoofs, and the rattle of a carriage, which stopped
before the house. No one had heard it except himself! So much the
better, he could speak to Hinrich undisturbed!

He left his guests under the pretext that he wanted to get another
brand of champagne, and hurried across the hall to the open door,
before which the carriage was still standing, and he perceived the
Assessor engaged in conversation with Hinrich Scheel, when he suddenly
heard his own name called from his room, the door of which also stood
open, and turning at the sound, saw the man he hated standing before
him. A thrill of mingled rage and alarm shot through his frame like a
two-edged sword. What brought this man back? How could he dare to
return? To say that he had no money, would not pay.

"We have a few moments to ourselves," said Gotthold, bolting the door
behind Brandow; "the Assessor is still outside; he knows nothing; no
one knows anything except, of course, Wollnow, without whom I could not
procure the money you wanted. Even now I have been unable to get it as
you wished, and therefore was obliged to come here again. You wanted
fifteen thousand thalers in cash. Wollnow, who is obliged to make very
large payments for the purchase of grain this morning, could give me
only ten thousand; the remainder I bring you in these drafts of five
thousand thalers each, accepted by Wollnow, and payable at sight
to-morrow, in Sundin, by Philip Nathanson, the wealthiest banker there.
These drafts, in consequence of Wollnow's credit with your friends in
the neighborhood, are as good as ready money. I think you will be able
to settle your affairs with them yourself; but in any case I am here to
come to your assistance with my personal credit, though I confidently
believe that it will not be needed."

Gotthold laid a large sealed packet on the table, and drew from his
pocket-book the three drafts, which he handed Brandow, and the latter
glanced over with a practised eye to convince himself that these papers
were really as good as ready money.

A sensation of wonderful relief overpowered the half-intoxicated man.
Freedom from the agony of expectation, the certainty of deliverance
from his desperate situation, and, moreover, the prospect of soon
coming out as winner of the Sundin races, and gainer of an immense sum
of money by the aid of his now restored Brownlock - all this overwhelmed
him like a delirium of joy, and he felt a sort of longing to clasp in
his arms the man who had aided in procuring all this, as his preserver
and only true friend; and at the same moment he said to himself that it
was impossible that this man, dreamer and enthusiast though he was,
would entrust to him a sum, which in itself was a little fortune,
unless the worst that his jealous fancy had imagined had already
happened - and the expression of the staring eyes he now fixed upon
Gotthold seemed to say: "I could crush you like a serpent which has
crossed my path!"

"I do not think you will ever be in a situation to return this money,"
said Gotthold; "perhaps it will not be disagreeable to you to hear that
from this time I renounce all expectation of repayment, and therefore a
receipt, which would really remain only a bit of paper."

He left the room; Brandow burst into a hoarse laugh.

"That, too," he muttered, "as if another proof were needed! But you
shall pay for it, both of you, so dearly, that this in comparison will
be only a drop of water on a hot stone."

The Assessor looked in through the door, which Gotthold had left half
open. He had heard from the latter that Brandow was here, and hastened
to take advantage of the favorable opportunity to greet his friend
alone, and express his regret that Gotthold's business had detained
them so long in Prora, that he was unable to bring his wife, who was
suffering from a severe headache, to Dollan. Brandow declared it to be
a proof of the sympathy between two beautiful natures that his wife was
also attacked by the same sickness to-day; and the sarcastic, even
sneering tone in which he said it, caused the Assessor to secretly
congratulate himself upon his caution in coming to this falling house
alone. His astonishment was all the greater when Brandow continued with
the most perfect composure: -

"And as we are now alone, my dear Sellien, we will take advantage of
the opportunity to settle our little business matter. Here are the ten
thousand thalers due. I have them from Wollnow. The package is just as
I received it, stamped with his seal. If you wish to take the, I
presume superfluous, but perhaps necessary trouble, of counting them,
don't have the least hesitation about it. When you have finished,
follow me. I'll make out a receipt, which you will please sign and put
in this drawer."

The Assessor was so astonished that he really hardly knew what to
answer; at any rate he was determined to subject the contents of the
package to a rigid scrutiny, in spite of Wollnow's seals. Brandow
hastily dashed off a receipt, and then left the room with a sarcastic:
"Don't make any mistakes, my dear Assessor!"

He had discharged this business hastily in order to be able to speak to
his confidant. Hinrich Scheel was still waiting before the door with
the carriage; but he had very little to tell, and didn't know why the
departure from Prora had been so long delayed. He thought there had
been some trouble about the money, and they were obliged to wait for
Loitz, who had gone out to drive. The Assessor's wife was not sick; on
the contrary, she was standing on the balcony beside Frau Wollnow,
kissing her hand to the gentlemen as they drove away. Neither did he
know what the gentlemen were talking about on the road; they had
jabbered in some foreign language most of the time. So he drove into
every hole on the way - and there were plenty to-day after the rain - and
made the ride so uncomfortable for the Herr Assessor that he finally
swore aloud in good German, and declared he would not go over that road
again to-day if he was paid a ton of gold. Then the other answered: "In
that case he must go back alone, for he wouldn't stay all night at
Dollan under any circumstances."

"It's a bad road at night," said Brandow.

"Especially when it's as dark as it will be this evening," answered
Hinrich Scheel.

The eyes of the master and servant met and were instantly averted
again.

"There are many things which might make an accident befall a person who
was positively determined to go over it at night," said Brandow slowly.

"Unless the driver was very careful," added Hinrich Scheel.

Again their eyes met. No doubt Hinrich had understood him - this time as
usual, no doubt this time as usual, Hinrich knew what he wanted.
Brandow drew a long breath. He would fain have seen whether Hinrich
would not have said another, a final word; but the latter had turned
towards his horses. A loud tumult of voices, shouting at each other in
tones of the most violent rage, echoed from the dining-room, and at the
same moment Rieke came running out. The pretty maid-servant's round
cheeks were deeply flushed, her gray eyes sparkled, and her luxuriant
fair hair was not so smooth as it had been at the commencement of the
dinner.

"What is the matter?" asked Brandow.

"They've been quarreling for the last fifteen minutes. I think they
will soon come to blows," said Rieke, showing her white teeth in a
merry laugh.

"We will speak of it again," Brandow called to Hinrich, who was just
driving the carriage away, and then drew Rieke into the dark hall.

"He has come back again," said he; "see where he goes, and as soon as
you notice anything, tell me."

"I don't want to be everlastingly running after those two," said Rieke
sulkily.

"Oh, of course you like it much better to have the gentlemen yonder
pinch your cheeks and hug you."

"Why not?" said the girl.

"You know what I promised last night," whispered Brandow, now throwing
his own arm around her slender waist, and putting his lips to her ear.

"Promising is one thing, and keeping your word is another," said Rieke,
but without making any very strenuous effort to release herself.

The noise in the dining-room grew louder.

"There, you will be a good child," said Brandow; "and now off with you;
I must see what those fellows are doing."

Hans Redebas had thought he would take advantage of their host's
momentary absence to again urge upon the two brothers his proposal that
they should give up Brandow's wheat-crop to him for his share, and in
exchange take entire possession of Brownlock; and as a witness of the
honesty of his intentions, quoted the Pastor, with whom he had
repeatedly talked the matter over on the way to Dollan. The Pastor, who
wished to make himself agreeable to his patron in every way, had
endeavored to depict the advantages the arrangement would have for all
concerned, but in his drunkenness laid on the colors so vividly that
the two brothers were startled, and recalled a partial concession which
they had already made. Upon this Hans Redebas called the Pastor a
stupid dunce, who was always meddling with everything, though he knew
nothing at all, except a little theological trash, and therefore ought
to keep his mouth shut everywhere except in his pulpit. Then the
reverend gentleman had started up exclaiming that "dunce" was a word
which, as an old graduate of Halle, he would not endure from any one,
even his patron, upon which Herr Redebas burst into a roar of laughter,
which roused the drunken man to actual fury.

Meantime the two Plüggens had also commenced a violent dispute. Gustav
had whispered to his brother that he should like to accept the offer,
if Redebas would add two thousand thalers to it; Otto, as the elder,
warned the younger brother against entering into any bargain with
Redebas, who had more sense in his little finger than he in his whole
body. Gustav considered himself insulted by this doubt of his
shrewdness, and muttered something about the "straw" which might be
found in the other's head, an allusion to the well-known nickname of
the elder brother, which of course produced a response in which "hay"
was given a prominent place. So all four shouted at each other, to the
great amazement of the groom, Fritz, who listened with open mouth till
he suddenly felt some one touch him on the shoulder, and looking up saw
his master's face.

"Be off, and don't come in here again till I call you."

The lad left the room; Brandow again surveyed the brawlers at the table
with hasty glances. "This is just the right moment," he muttered
through his clenched teeth.

He approached the table, but instead of sitting down, remained standing
with his arms resting on the back of his chair, and said, rejoicing in
the sight of the confused faces of the four men, who had suddenly
become silent: "Pardon me for interrupting your interesting
conversation, gentlemen, especially with a mere business matter, but it
must be settled. Hinrich Scheel has just returned from Prora - with the
Assessor and another gentleman whose name shall be kept secret for the
present. I had requested Wollnow to send me fifteen thousand thalers in
cash from my balance in his hands. He begged me to allow him to send
drafts to the same amount instead. Drafts, gentlemen, given by the
house of Louis Loitz & Co., in Prora, accepted by Wollnow himself, and
payable by Philip Nathanson in Sundin. Perhaps the gentlemen will be
kind enough to hand me in exchange for these drafts - of five thousand
thalers each - the three notes you lately received from me, in case you
happen to have them with you."

Bowing ironically, Brandow held out the three drafts which he had
arranged in his hand in the shape of a fan.

The confederates looked at each other suspiciously. The matter was not
perfectly regular; the notes were payable in cash; they were not
obliged to take drafts; but they had just been quarrelling too much
among themselves to be capable of forming a united resolution at once,
and at heart each was glad that the other was cheated out of the prey
he had deemed secure.

"Well, gentlemen," exclaimed Brandow, "I hope none of you will take
exception to the manner of my payment. It would be an insult to the
worthy Wollnow, to whose complaisance we have all at times been
indebted. Or would you like to have the Assessor, who may come in at
any moment, be a witness of the way in which the Herren von Plüggen and
Herr Hans Redebas are in the habit of treating an old friend who has
become involved in a little embarrassment?"

In fact the Assessor's voice was now heard in the hall.

"Hand it over," said Hans Redebas.

"I'll raise no objections," said Otto von Plüggen.

"I'm no spoil-sport," said Gustav.

The drafts were put into the pocket-books of the three gentlemen, in
exchange for the notes, which Brandow, with a sarcastic smile, crushed
like pieces of waste paper, and thrust into his pocket just as the
Assessor entered.

His appearance afforded Brandow a welcome pretext for breaking up the
dinner-party, which had already in his opinion lasted too long. It had
stopped raining; would they not prefer to drink their coffee in the
cool garden, instead of that close room? He expected to find Gotthold
in the garden, and was not mistaken. They met him walking up and down
in one of the most out-of-the-way paths. He said nothing when Brandow
spoke of his return as a surprise he had prepared for his guests, and
apologized for his non-appearance on plea of a violent headache, which
often attacked him suddenly, and he had hoped to shake off before
presenting himself to the company. The two Plüggens were delighted to
see their old school-fellow, whom they had always cordially hated, and
Herr Redebas esteemed it an honor to make the acquaintance of such a
famous man, although it was very evident that he had not the least idea
in what particular branch of human activity Gotthold had won his
renown. The Pastor, upon whom he was accustomed to depend at such
times, unfortunately could give him no information, because he had just
thrust his arm into the Assessor's, whom he met that day for the first
time, and was assuring him of his eternal friendship. The Assessor
laughed and was good-natured enough to laugh again, when Hans Redebas,
to display his much-admired strength, raised the pair in his arms and
carried them around the open space, thereby inciting Otto von Plüggen
to take out his silk pocket-handkerchief, and holding it by the two
corners, jump over it forward and backward, while Gustav, in laudable
emulation of his ingenious brother, balanced a garden chair on his
lower teeth.

"Now I should like to show you my trick," cried Brandow, "and therefore
will beg you to follow me a few steps."

He went forward and opened a little door in the hedge, which led
directly into the open space where he trained his racers. It was a
tolerably large piece of ground, selected with great discrimination,
and prepared with much skill for the purpose for which it was intended.
There were wide and narrow ditches, low and high fences, broad
stretches of smooth, closely-shaven turf to permit the horse to display
his full speed, and heavy fallow ground for a hunting gallop. Brandow
had inclosed three sides of this space, the fourth of which was
occupied by the stables, with a board fence the height of a man, and
kept it jealously secluded from every one. Now he rejoiced in the
glances of envious admiration the three landed proprietors cast around
them. But he had a still greater annoyance in store. As the little
party moved towards the stables, Hinrich Scheel came forward to meet
them, leading Brownlock. The beautiful animal champed his bit
impatiently, rubbed his delicate head against the shoulder of his
groom, and then once more gazed at the by-standers with his large black
eyes, as if to ask each who would have courage to cope with him.

"Well, gentlemen," cried Brandow, "you had a great desire to ride
Brownlock; there he is. I'll bet ten louis-d'or to one, that none of
you can even mount him."

"I shouldn't like to break the beast's back," muttered Hans Redebas.

Otto Plüggen had sprained his foot in leaping, but Gustav thought he
could easily win the ten louis-d'or.

Gustav von Plüggen was universally acknowledged to be a good rider, and
had gained the prize more than once in the Sundin races. He did not
doubt for an instant that he should win the bet, but nevertheless
thought it advisable to go to work with all possible caution. So he
walked around the horse to render it familiar with the sight of him,
patted the slender neck, scratched its smooth forehead, and then, still
talking to the animal, gently took the reins and told Hinrich Sheel to
stand aside. But the moment he touched the stirrup with his foot,
Brownlock sprang aside so violently, that Gustav was glad even to
retain his hold upon the bridle. Again and again he made the attempt,
always with the same want of success.

"I could have told you so before," cried Herr Redebas.

"You're making a fool of yourself again unnecessarily," snarled his
brother.

Gotthold had noticed that Hinrich Scheel always stood directly before
the horse with his squinting eyes fixed steadily upon it, and whenever
Gustav tried to mount, made an almost imperceptible motion with his
head, upon which the animal, whose black eyes were fixed intently upon
its trainer, either sprang aside or reared.

"I think you would do better if you told Hinrich Scheel to go away from
the horse, Herr von Plüggen," said he.

"Oh! Gustav will give it up," cried Brandow hastily; "I only made the
bet in jest; the fact is, that Hinrich Scheel has trained Brownlock not
to allow any one to mount except himself or me; and I could not get
into the saddle against Hinrich's will. This was the very trick I
wanted to show you."

Every one, with the exception of Gotthold, took the whole thing as a
joke, until Brandow proved the contrary before their own eyes.
Brownlock would not allow him to mount, until Hinrich Scheel gave the
sign. Now came the second part of the exhibition Brandow had in store
for his guests. He rode Brownlock over the whole course, taking the
most difficult obstacles with an ease which displayed in the clearest
light his perfect horsemanship, as well as the almost wonderful
strength and endurance of the noble animal, and filled the hearts of
his three rivals with the bitterest envy.

"It's a shame for a fellow like that to have such a horse," said Gustav
Plüggen, who had joined Gotthold, while the rest of the party went to
visit the stables; "a downright shame. That is: he certainly rides
splendidly - for a plebeian, I mean; but a plebeian never ought to be
allowed to keep race-horses. I talked about it enough in the committee,
when we were arranging the races at Sundin eight years ago; but I
couldn't get my way. Now we have the consequences. For the last four
years Brandow has taken all the best prizes; it's enough to drive one
mad. The fellow would have been ruined long ago if it hadn't been for


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Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 12 of 24)