Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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the races, the races - and his wife."

"His wife?" asked Gotthold.

"Why, of course. We wouldn't have lent him another penny long ago; but
for the sake of his wife, who is really a lovely woman; we can't let
him go to ruin entirely. Of course he knows that better than any one
else, and so she is always obliged to be of the party when any new
credit is to be obtained. A week ago to-day, when we were in
Plüggenhof, Otto paid his attentions to her at the table in the
wildest way - in the presence of his own wife, née Baroness von
Grieben-Keffen - and half an hour after dinner Brandow had his five
thousand thalers in his pocket. It was a piece of madness on Otto's
part; we had agreed that we would not give more than five thousand
together. It would have proved a capital thing for us, but that
damned Jew has spoiled it again. The devil knows why he helped him.
And the Assessor told me he had been paid too. Twenty-five thousand
thalers at one slap! I don't understand it at all - and that's saying
something, for I generally know all his tricks and turns. The Pastor
thinks you, and nobody else, have given him the money; and in return
Brandow will overlook it if you and his wife - there, you needn't fly
into a rage. Parson's gossip, that's all. You would take care of
yourself - twenty-five thousand - ridiculous! But he has it - that's a
fact, as they say in England - ever been in England? I was there - eight
years ago when we were arranging about the Sundin races - famous
country! horses, women, sheep - famous!-what was I going to say? He has
the twenty-five thousand, and Dollan's safe for five years, the
Assessor says; and now Brownlock too! Damn! that is a horse! On my
honor, I haven't seen his equal even in England. What action! What a
hock! And how he went over everything! Magnificent! But too heavy! too
heavy, 'pon honor - he won't cross the piece of marsh-land we have now
taken into the race-course. They say Prince Prora declared it wasn't
fair! It's all very well for him to talk, he has no interest in the
racing! Won't you come in with us? I hear there is to be a little
card-party made up."

"I have never gambled, and - my headache is coming on again."

"Strange, I've no more idea what a headache is than if I had no
head - you artists probably get it from the oil paints; they smell
abominably."




CHAPTER XIX.


The young nobleman followed the others, who had already entered the
house and gone into Brandow's room on the right of the hall, where the
gaming-table, as Gotthold had noticed through the window, was already
prepared.

"Why, Herr Weber, are you going to stay out here?" asked Rieke, who had
been standing in the hall, and now approached him.

Her gray eyes rested upon him with a very friendly expression, and the
thought passed through his mind that it probably depended only upon
himself to win the goodwill of this avaricious creature, and even now
he might make up for his neglect, nay must do so if he wished to
accomplish the object for which he had returned to Dollan. He had given
her a very handsome present when he took his departure that morning;
perhaps he only needed to go on as he had begun.

"We didn't expect to see you again so soon," added the girl; "and you
went away so suddenly: you left a great many things behind; a beautiful
red silk handkerchief - shall I get it for you?"

She was now standing close beside him, and as if by accident, touched
his arm.

"I think it would be very becoming to you," said Gotthold.

"Do you? I should think you would know a great deal about what was
becoming to me. You never had eyes for anybody except - some one else."

"Where is your mistress to-day? Why doesn't she appear?" asked
Gotthold, and then as he fancied he saw a cloud pass over the girl's
face, added: "I would give a great deal to know."

"How much?" said the girl, with a roguish laugh.

"Rieke, where are you?" cried Brandow's voice from the dining-room.

"We want some more glasses. Where is the girl?" and he banged the door
angrily behind him.

"He didn't see us," whispered Rieke. "I must go in now, but I'll come
back again directly."

She glided away; Gotthold stood still a few moments, undecided whether
to make an attempt to see Cecilia on his own account or not. There was
no question that the girl could be of use to him if she chose; but
would she choose? She seemed really frightened when Brandow called; but
he had not relied much upon the fickle favor of the frivolous lass, and
perhaps the whole thing was a preconcerted plot between Brandow and the
girl in order to make sure of him, entangle him the more firmly in the
net. No, it was better, trusting only to his own skill, to take
advantage of the opportunity.

And the opportunity was more favorable, than any which might offer
again. A second stolen glance through the window into the already
lighted room showed him that the party were busily engaged in their
game - faro apparently - and Brandow had the bank - so he could not leave
now. Rieke was standing at the back of the tolerably large room with a
waiter full of glasses, which the Pastor was filling from a large
bowl - so she too was employed for the present. The hall was perfectly
still; the table in the dining-room still stood just as the guests had
left it - the solitary candle at which they had lighted their cigars
flickered in the strong draught, as if ready to go out. This room was
also unoccupied; so he succeeded in reaching the dusky garden unseen.

Although the sun had scarcely set, it was almost dark. The clouds,
which had dispersed a little during the afternoon, were once more piled
in huge dark masses, which a high wind blowing in irregular gusts,
drove to and fro as if in wild sport. The tops of the old trees swayed
hither and thither; and the tall hedges rustled and hissed like a
thousand sharp tongues.

So it seemed to Gotthold. Again and again he paused, gasping for
breath; he was so entirely unaccustomed to do anything by stealth. And
yet it must be; he could not part from her forever in this way.

The end of the house, in the lower part of which was her chamber, and
above it the room he had occupied, looked out upon a smaller garden,
which was separated from the courtyard by a wall, shut in on the
opposite side by a barn, and divided from the larger garden at the back
of the house by a very thick, high hedge. It had originally been a
fruit and vegetable garden, and a few huge old apple and pear trees
still stood in different parts of it; but had afterwards been converted
into a play-ground for the children of the house, for whose sake the
asparagus and cucumber beds had been transformed into a grass plot, and
a narrow door cut through the thick wall of the nursery.

Gotthold had repeatedly seen Cecilia, who always retired early in the
evening, in this garden with the child, or - at a later hour - alone. His
hope was to find her here, or at any rate to make known his presence,
of which she had probably not been informed, and - he did not know what
would, must happen then; he only said to himself that things could not,
should not remain as they were.

The place, so far as it could be seen from the door, was empty, but a
light appeared at first one and then another window. Cautiously as he
closed the door, he could not prevent its creaking loudly on its rusty
hinges; at the same moment a watch-dog with which Gretchen often played
sprang towards the intruder with a loud bark, but was silent again as
soon as it recognized Gotthold. He accepted the animal's caresses as a
good omen, and walked cautiously on towards the light, which now
streamed steadily from one window, that of the child's sleeping-room,
which adjoined Cecilia's. Gotthold, with a beating heart, approached it
and saw her.

She had apparently just put the little girl's playthings away, and then
sank into a chair beside the table, supporting her forehead upon her
left hand, the image of grief. The rays of the light standing behind
her clearly revealed the exquisite shape of the head, the delicate
outlines of the slender neck, the soft curves of the shoulders and
bust, while the deep shadow seemed to increase the expression of sorrow
upon the pure features. Gotthold's heart overflowed with love and pity.
"Cecilia, dearest Cecilia!" he murmured.

She could not have heard the words; but at that moment she raised her
head, and, glancing towards the window, perceived the dark figure
before it. Starting from her chair with a low exclamation of joy, she
extended her arms, then waved him back with both hands, crying in tones
of agony:

"No, no, for God's sake!"

Gotthold had neither seen Cecilia's repellent gesture, nor heard her
words. He had hastily entered by the door, which was only latched, and
was now kneeling at her feet, clasping her hands, and covering them
with passionate kisses.

All that had moved his heart and filled it to bursting during these
last few days, so overflowing with the joy and anguish of love, all the
nameless agony he had suffered from the night before until now, gushed
from his lips in a torrent of wild, passionate words; and, however she
might struggle against it, she felt herself carried away and borne
along by the tide, until, springing up and clasping her in his arms, he
cried: "So come, Cecilia! you must not remain another moment in this
house, must not stay under the same roof with this scoundrel, who
allows himself to be paid with paltry money for the shame of knowing
that his wife is beloved by another, and loves him in return. I went
away without you this morning - it all came upon me so suddenly, was so
incomprehensible; I thought I must obey your command, although I did
not understand you, although you acted from compassion for the man whom
you had once loved, nay, out of a remnant of affection for him. Now I
understand you better, now I know, once for all, that you love me, now
I have found - we have found each other again; now no one, nothing shall
part us! Cecilia! you do not answer me?"

She had gazed at him with eyes that expressed the most painful
astonishment. Now she seized the light and led the way into her
chamber, at the back of which stood her bed, and close before it the
tiny couch of her child.

The little one lay with her eyes not quite closed, her lips half
parted, and her round cheeks flushed with the childish slumber which
follows waking hours, as the hues of twilight follow the setting sun.
Cecilia did not point to the child; but her glance and the expression
of her features said as plainly as words, "This is my answer."

Gotthold's eyes fell; in the selfishness of passion he had scarcely
thought of the child at all, and certainly never as an obstacle. He did
not understand it even now. "Your child will be mine," he faltered.
"You shall never be parted from the child; I will never separate you
from her."

She had placed the light on the floor, that it might not shine in
Gretchen's eyes, and then knelt beside the little bed, pressing her
forehead against the edge, and waving her hand for him to go. Gotthold
stood beside the kneeling form with the despair of a man who feels that
his cause is lost, and yet cannot and will not give it up. Suddenly the
dog, which had followed them, began to growl, and then broke into a low
bark as he put his nose to the threshold of the door which opened into
the sitting-room; Gotthold thought he heard a rustling there, and
walked towards it; Cecilia threw herself before him. Her countenance
and gestures expressed the most deadly terror; she motioned towards the
nursery, through which they had come, and as Gotthold did not instantly
obey, hurried into the room herself. Gotthold mechanically followed.

"Go, go, for God's sake!" exclaimed Cecilia.

They were the first words that had escaped her lips.

"I will not fly again!"

"You must! or all has been in vain! The torture, the conflict, the
shame - all, all."

"Cecilia," cried Gotthold, fairly beside himself, "I should be unworthy
the name of a man, if I left you so again. I want light; I want to know
what I am doing, why I am doing it?"

"I dare say no more; you must understand me; I thought you would have
done so from the first, or I should not have had the courage; I should
be the most miserable creature on earth if you did not understand me
even now. But you will, or I could not love you. And now, by your love
for me, Gotthold, you must not remain here an instant longer. Farewell,
and farewell forever!"

It seemed as if a struggle had taken place between the two in the
dimly-lighted room; he had held her and she had clung to him as if
forever; then she desperately released herself from his hold, and
pushed him from her, as if his presence must bring death and
destruction. Then he once more held the dear form in his arms, clasped
it to his heart, felt her hot, quivering lips pressed to his, and then
stood outside in the garden, with the rain beating into his face, the
swaying tree-tops above him rustling and whispering, and the tall
hedges beside him hissing and muttering, as if with thousands and
thousands of tongues: "Fool, silly fool, simpleton, to let yourself be
cheated, once, twice, as often as she - or he chooses - how do I know?"

He burst into a loud laugh, and as he did so there was a burning
sensation in his breast which grew hotter and hotter; he would have
given much if he could have wept. But that he could not, would not do.
After all, nothing was yet decided; nothing was yet lost, although his
soul was as dark as the black night that covered the earth around him.
No star pierced the rack of dense driving clouds; scarcely the faintest
ray of light was visible in the west. And yet - this dull gleam came
from the sun, which had set and would rise again to-morrow; it was a
pledge that the gloomy night would not last forever. And on his lips
still lingered a memory of her breath, the fervor of her kisses. No!
no! There could be no eternal separation! This torture could not last
forever!




CHAPTER XX.


Pretty Rieke had been detained in the dining-room longer than she
liked, the Pastor had performed his office of cup-bearer with an
unsteady hand, and moreover thought it necessary to accompany the
performance with long-winded, incoherent speeches; but the gentlemen at
the gaming-table had drunk the faster, and impatiently demanded more,
until at last Rieke, tired of the continual running to and fro which
seemed to have no end, resolutely carried the side-board with the bowl
upon it to the gaming-table, and thus rendered it possible for the
willing Pastor to present the glasses he filled himself. Then, after
leaning over Hans Redebas' chair and watching the game a few minutes,
she glided hastily out of the room.

She wanted to continue her conversation with Gotthold. The handsome,
quiet man had always pleased her, and she had played the rôle of spy,
which Brandow had assigned her, less from love for her master than
jealousy of her mistress, to whom she grudged the attentions of the
stately stranger. The generous present he had bestowed upon her that
morning had in some degree touched, and even puzzled her, and the
cordiality he had just shown had completely disarmed her. Of course he
had only come back for her mistress' sake, but to her fickle heart it
was no enigma how one object can be kept in view without losing sight
of another. She would even help him, if he was very, very friendly to
her; and after all, it was certainly better for her if the stranger
finally ran away with her mistress.

But she did not find him at the door, where she had left him. Besides,
the door was not a suitable place to continue the interesting
conversation, and the hall was equally undesirable. Perhaps he was in
the dining-room. He was not there; the trees in the garden, into which
she cast a glance, were tossing quite too rudely. Where could he have
gone? Where, except to his own room, to look after the things he had
left there! She must help him; he could not find anything in the dark.

The pretty servant-girl drew a long breath, and then in the twinkling
of an eye glided noiselessly up the stairs and across the hall to the
gable room Gotthold had occupied during his stay. Here she paused,
pressing her hands to her burning cheeks and heaving breast, and then
after a low knock, to which she expected no reply, slowly opened the
door, as if with timid reluctance. Her cheeks had burned, her heart had
throbbed in vain-the room was empty. She went to the window, and
instantly drew back again. There, close beneath her, in the children's
playground, was the man she sought, cautiously approaching the window
from which a faint, varying light fell upon the tree-trunks; and then
he disappeared - where, except through the nursery to her? She had not
given the two hypocrites credit for that; they knew how to help
themselves, to be sure! It was too shameless! Then the promise he had
made her several times, but which she had not really believed, that he
would make her his wife if the other was once out of the way, might
come true. At any rate, he should know it; they deserved nothing
better.

"What does this mean?" cried Hans Redebas, as Brandow, with a hasty
apology, rose from the table just as the cards had been cut.

"I'll come back directly," answered Brandow.

"That we should have expected," shouted Redebas. "Pastor, another
glass!" Brandow left the table unwillingly; he had been winning
considerable sums, and his gambler's superstition warned him that he
ought, not to turn his back upon the game; but Rieke had beckoned to
him over Hans Redebas' shock of black hair-something particularly
important must have happened.

He followed the girl into the hall, and from thence into the
sitting-room on the left, where she told him by signs to step lightly,
until they reached the narrow door that opened into Cecilia's
sleeping-room. A faint ray of light gleamed through the crack over the
threshold. The girl crouched down and put her ear to the door. Brandow
stood bending over her, also listening. They could distinctly hear some
one speaking, but neither who it was, nor what was said. But what did
it matter? To whom could she speak here, except to him? What could they
say except what they dared not suffer others to hear? And now the light
grew brighter - they had entered the sleeping-room. Brandow trembled
from head to foot with jealous fury. Should he rush in and strangle the
pair, expose them to open shame? But Gotthold was no longer the feeble
boy of former days; the result of a conflict with him, man to man, was
at least doubtful, and he had certainly already received his pay. The
disgrace would cling to him, and - it was too late! The barking of the
dog, which made him and his accomplice fly from the door, must have
warned them too; he would find the nest empty. Be it so; he had heard
enough.

"Well?" said Rieke, when they had glided back through the sitting-room
and were again standing in the hall.

"Go in, and say I will come directly," replied Brandow.

The tone in which he spoke predicted some evil; Rieke was almost sorry
for what she had done. "He isn't like you," she said soothingly, with
the most perfect sincerity.

Brandow laughed scornfully. "Go in," he repeated, stamping his foot.

The girl obeyed; Brandow went to the open door and gazed across the
dark court-yard towards the stables. The rain beat into his face, and
with it came the sickly odor of native tobacco. On the left, directly
under him, before the stone bench glowed a red spot, and a harsh voice
asked:

"Well, what about harnessing the horses?"

It was the man for whom he had just been looking, upon whom he had
depended for the execution of the plan of vengeance brooding darkly in
his soul, nay the man, as he now imagined, who had implanted its first
germ. So it was to be.

"He won't want to go away now, if it were only on account of the bad
weather."

"The others must go too."

"They have stayed here often enough."

"Send them away."

Brandow reflected a moment. "If I win a few hundred more, they will go
of their own accord," he murmured. "But you must give him a thorough
soaking, Hinrich - a thorough one, mind."

"Where there is no bottom," said Hinrich.

The words quivered through Brandow's soul like a flash of lightning
across a midnight sky. That was the very thing.

"And I'll give you whatever you ask!" he said, in a hoarse tone,
bending down into the cloud of smoke that rose from Hinrich's pipe.

"No pay, no work, - and that trick with Brownlock a little while ago
cost me five louis-d'or. I should like half down now."

"Here it is," said Brandow, feeling in his pocket, and giving him as
much of the gold he had just won as he could grasp.

"You have always been a good master to me," said Hinrich, rubbing the
gold pieces together in his horny palm.

"And will be a still better one in future."

"The gentlemen will go away if you don't come in at once," said Rieke,
hurrying out. She had left the door of the room open, and Hans Redebas'
gruff bass voice was heard shouting: "Brandow! Brandow!" amid shrill
laughter, and a hoarse tone repeating: "We won't go home! We won't go
home!"

"I'll get rid of you," muttered Brandow. "You will stay here, Hinrich."

"I'll wait, sir."

Brandow went back into the gaming-room.

"You are taking an undue advantage of the freedom the accidental
absence of ladies bestows," said Brandow, with cutting contempt, as his
guests received him with upraised glasses and a halloo, to which Gustav
von Plüggen added a loud hip, hip, hurrah!

"Accidental?" cried Hans Redebas; "not at all accidental; you are
driving a good business to-day."

"And where is your wife?" said Otto von Plüggen.

"I demand an explanation of this," cried Brandow; "I will not permit - "

He paused suddenly. Turning angrily towards Otto von Plüggen, he saw
Gotthold, who must have entered the room directly behind him, and had
unquestionably heard all. It was impossible to discuss this subject in
his presence. So, with a violent effort, he forced back the furious
hate that surged up in his heart at the sight of his face, and cried:

"So there you are at last! Where in the world have you hidden yourself?
Thank God, you have come to put an end to this horrible gambling."

"Ho! ho!" exclaimed Hans Redebas, "horrible gambling! Is that the way
the wind blows? I believe you! He has won six hundred or more already.
Does that taste badly?"

"I owe no man any revenge, however," cried Brandow, with a gesture of
exaggerated violence.

"But, Brandow," expostulated the Assessor, "you mustn't weigh every
word; Redebas had no intention of offending you. He only wanted to
continue the game, and, to speak frankly, I don't see what we could do
better."

"Well, Herr Assessor, if you think what you have also won - "

"The few thalers!" said the Assessor, not without some little
embarrassment.

"I can certainly make no objection," continued Brandow. "I only thought
that this little consideration was due our friend Gotthold, who does
not play, and of whom we have seen so little, or rather I should say,
ourselves. He doesn't lose a great deal in dispensing with our society,
but we do in losing his."

"Pray don't disturb yourselves on my account," said Gotthold.

"Well, then, in the devil's name, go on," cried Hans Redebas, seizing
the cards. "I'll keep the bank for once, I can probably find a few
little savings still."

And with his left hand he drew from the thick pocketbook lying before
him a pile of bank-notes which he crushed together in a heap. "There
now, play in regular order, Brandow and the rest of you, I beg."

"I am sorry, but what can I do? I hope you will excuse me," Brandow
whispered to Gotthold, as he resumed his place at the table. Gotthold
drew back, and could do nothing but accept the invitation of the
Pastor, who was sitting in one corner of the great leather-covered
sofa, and as Gotthold took his place beside him, leaned a little
forward, not without difficulty, and began to talk with a faltering
tongue.

"Yes, yes, my beloved friend, a sinful world, a wicked, sinful world,
but we must not be too harsh, not too harsh, for Heaven's sake! You
work all the week, or at least order your servants to work for you; but
they must not do it on Sunday, on pain of a heavy punishment. Just
before the beginning of this harvest, we sent out a paper written in
the strongest terms. What were they doing with the long hours? Idleness
is the beginning of all crimes: gambling, drinking - Rieke, a glass - two


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Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 13 of 24)