Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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glasses - don't you drink? Do very wrong - brewed myself - from a receipt
of my honored employer, Count Zernikow. I brewed more than three
hundred bowls during my career as tutor - could do it at last with my
eyes shut - with my eyes shut - eyes shut."

He had only stammered the last words, his heavy head fell forward, and
the lower part of his face disappeared amid the folds of his crumpled
white cravat. He sank helplessly back into his corner.

The vacant face filled Gotthold with angry contempt.

The man had realized the promise of the boy; intoxication had torn away
the mask of hypocrisy, and there was the stupid, dissolute face of the
Halle student, whom Gotthold so well remembered. It could not be
otherwise. But that this pitiful creature should be his father's
successor, this blinking owl sit in the eyrie of the eagle, whose fiery
eyes had always sought the sun; this coarse buffoon be permitted to
tinkle his bells in the very place where the preacher, with glowing
eloquence, had summoned his hearers to repentance and atonement, seemed
to him a personal insult. And yet this man was in his proper place; the
flock was worthy of the shepherd; everything here was of a piece - like
a picture drawn by some master hand, in the boldest outlines and most
glaring colors: the drunken Pastor nodding in the sofa corner, the
excited, wine-flushed faces of the gamblers, the voluptuous figure of
the maid-servant passing to and fro and handing the fiery beverage to
the revellers, exchanging a sly smile or hasty word with one,
coquettishly pushing away the hand of another, who tried to pass his
arm around her waist - the true goddess of this temple of sin! - and the
whole enveloped in the circling wreaths of gray smoke which ascended
from the constantly burning pipes, and floated in dusky red rings
around the dim wicks of the candles; only that it was no picture, but
the coarsest, rudest, most commonplace reality. And alas, the outrage
that she should be compelled to live under this roof, that the wild
riot should re-echo even in her quiet room - not for the first or last
time!-that these were the men who frequented the house - these
empty-headed, silly young noblemen, this rough upstart, with his coarse
hands and coarser jests. And when this company of fauns and satyrs
departed, to have for her only consoler solitude - solitude which stared
at her with cold, hard, piercing serpent eyes. There they were, those
very eyes; they had just glanced over the cards with a quick stealthy
look! Those eyes, and hers - soft, gentle, tender!

Gotthold no longer saw the gamblers. He beheld her sitting in the
lonely nursery beside her child's playthings; a touching figure, still
so girlish in its soft, delicate outlines. He saw the sad face suffused
with a roseate flush of joy, saw it disfigured with pain and terror-he
lived over in imagination the whole scene, which already seemed like a
dream; and dreamed on of a future which must surely come, a future full
of sunlight, love, and poetry.

He could not have told how long he had been sitting absorbed in
thought, when a loud noise at the gaming-table suddenly startled him.
Something unusual seemed to have happened; Hans Redebas and Brandow
alone retained their seats, the others were bending over the table with
eager faces; even Rieke was gazing so intently that she forgot to push
away the Assessor's arm, which had been thrown around her waist.

"Do you take it again?" cried Redebas.


"Another thousand? That will make it five!"

"Devil take it, yes!"

A breathless silence followed, in which Gotthold heard nothing but the
noise of the cards Redebas dealt, and then another outcry and tumult,
such as had previously roused him from his revery, only this time it
was so loud that even the drunken Pastor staggered out of his corner.
Gotthold approached the table. His first glance rested upon Brandow's
face, which was deadly pale; but his thin lips were firmly compressed,
and a disagreeable smile even sparkled in his stern, cold eyes, as he
now cried, turning to the new-comer:

"They have plucked me finely, Gotthold; but night never lasts forever."

"But this," cried Redebas throwing the cards on the table, and making a
memorandum in his pocket-book, "I decline!"

"What does that mean?" asked Brandow.

"That I will play no more," answered Redebas with a loud laugh, closing
his pocket-book and rising heavily.

"I always thought the loser could break up the game, not the winner."

"If the winner is not sure of his point - oh! yes."

"I demand an explanation!" cried Brandow, pushing the table aside.

"Why, Brandow, do be reasonable!" exclaimed Otto and Gustav von
Plüggen, in the same breath.

"Are you in partnership again?" answered Brandow with a sneering laugh,
and then stepped before Redebas: "I demand an explanation at once!"

The giant had drawn back a step: "Oho," he cried; "if that's what you
want, come on!"

"My dear Brandow," said the Assessor soothingly, putting himself
between them.

"I know what I am doing, Herr Assessor," answered Brandow, pushing him

"And I know too," cried Redebas, throwing up the window, and shouting
across the quiet court-yard in a voice like the roar of a lion.
"Harness the horses, August! harness the horses!"

A scene of wild confusion followed, in which all shouted together, so
that Gotthold could only distinguish a word here and there. Hans
Redebas raved loudest of all, but apparently quite as much from fear as
anger, while Brandow remained comparatively calm, and was evidently
intent upon separating the Assessor, who was constantly intermeddling,
from the three others whom the Pastor now joined, and by all possible
signs announced his intention of making a speech, in which he actually
several times got as far as the beginning: "My beloved friends!"

The three carriages, to which the impatient coachmen had harnessed the
horses long before, drove up. The quarrel had been continued from the
room to the hall, from the hall to the door, and even to the carriage

"We shall see, we shall see," cried Hans Redebas; "are you in, Pastor?
Then, in the devil's name, drive on - we shall see," he shouted again
from the carriage window, as the powerful Danish horses trotted away at
a rapid pace towards the northern gate, from whence the shorter road,
which, however, was scarcely visible in the darkness, led through the
forest to Dahlitz.

Meantime Otto and Gustav von Plüggen had finally become involved in a
quarrel with each other. Gustav, who had no lamps on his carriage,
declared that he must go across the moor, while Otto wanted to follow
Redebas. Gustav had already borne so much from his older brother that
day, that he considered himself obliged to take this refusal as a
personal insult. He had no bundle of hay in front of his head, and
wouldn't run the risk of breaking his skull against the trees in the
forest. "Then he could light the straw in it, and find his way home by
that," Otto replied.

So they drove away in opposite directions.

"That is very foolish," said Brandow, looking after Gustav's carriage.

"One will get across and the other won't," replied Hinrich Scheel.

"We know that you are the best driver."

"An accident is liable to happen to any one."

"That is, you want it to be so."

"It seems you don't."

Brandow did not answer immediately. He had thought the matter less
difficult; but he need not break his neck, only an arm or leg.

He cast a timid glance through the window; the light fell directly upon
Gotthold's grave, handsome face. Brandow ground his teeth. No, it was
not enough. He must have his life; the damned hypocrite deserved
nothing better, and where was the crime? An accident might happen to
the best driver.

Suddenly he started. He had not thought of that before. By his quarrel
with his associates at the gaming-table he had fortunately prevented
the whole party from remaining all night until broad daylight, as they
had often done before, and thus robbed Gotthold of a suitable excuse
for staying also, if such was his intention - and of that Brandow, after
what he had heard, was firmly convinced. He had also, by intentionally
keeping the Assessor out of the quarrel, made it impossible for the
latter to go away at once with the others, though he had not lacked
invitations, as thus his prey would have escaped him, for Gotthold
probably would not have remained without the Assessor. But now - how
could he separate the two? If the Assessor stayed - and he did not seem
to think of leaving - Gotthold would stay also, or at least have a
most plausible excuse for doing so; and if he forced the Assessor to
go -

Again his sullen glance wandered towards the two men in the room - the
Assessor talking to Gotthold with the most animated gestures; the
latter, to judge from his expression and movements, listening

"I drove them both here, so I can drive them both back again," said
Hinrich Scheel, pressing down the ashes in his pipe.

Both! One! yes; but what had the other done to him? Nothing! Nothing at
all! And he had received ten thousand thalers from him to-day.

"It's a pity about the beautiful money, if any accident should happen
to us on the moor," said Hinrich, knocking the tobacco out of his pipe;
"I'll get the carriage ready, and take those jades of Jochen Klüts; it
would be a pity to hurt our grays."

He walked slowly away. Brandow's eyes followed the short dark figure;
he wanted to call him back, to tell him he need not harness the horses,
but only a strange, hoarse, choking sound came from his throat; his
tongue clung to his palate, and as he raised his foot he staggered like
a drunken man, and was obliged to hold fast to the trunk of one of the
old linden-trees, through whose thick branches a violent gust of wind
was just roaring. The rain, which again began to fall, beat into his
face, now burning with a strange flush, although he was shivering from
head to foot.

There! What was that? The noise of the carriage which Hinrich was
pushing out of the barn. There was still time! But, after all, he had
said nothing, nothing at all; how could he help it if an accident
happened to Hinrich on the moor at night?

Gotthold and the Assessor had remained in the room; the latter was
trying to explain to Gotthold that Brandow had certainly been quite
right when he asked that the game should be continued, but had done
wrong to express his wish in so peremptory a manner; and finally he
ought not to have forgotten that he was the host, and as such must
overlook any little impropriety on the part of his guests.

During the latter part of his long speech, the Assessor had addressed
himself in an admonitory tone, partly to Brandow, who had just entered
the room, and going up to the side-board swallowed several glasses of
wine. "I have in fact been compelled to overlook many such things
to-day, and am obliged to you, Herr Assessor, for keeping me in
practice up to the last minute."

The tone in which Brandow said this, and the gesture with which he
approached the Assessor, were so peculiar that the latter was partly
sobered, and stared in astonishment at his host, who now came a step
nearer and said in a low voice:

"Or what do you call it, when the guests, in presence of the servants,
subject the conduct of the master of the house to such an unsparing
criticism?" and he pointed to Rieke, under whose direction another maid
servant and the groom Fritz were beginning to remove the glasses
standing about on the tables, and sweep up the fragments scattered over
the floor.

The Assessor drew himself up to his full height.

"I beg your pardon," said he, "and will request you to be kind enough
to place your carriage at my disposal for my return. I regret that I
did not accept from your other guests the favor I must now solicit of
you. I can still depend upon your company, Gotthold?"

"I think Brandow will make no objections."

"I beg the gentlemen to act their own pleasure."

They bowed to each other with distant civility. A few minutes after,
the same light carriage that had brought the two gentlemen to Dollan a
few hours before rolled over the rough road into the dark, gusty night.
Hinrich Scheel drove the horses.


It was about ten o'clock, but, although the season was mid-summer and
the moon must have already risen, dark as only a moonless night in
autumn could be. And with autumnal chillness the wind blew over the rye
stubble, and the rain, which had just begun to fall again with renewed
violence, beat into their faces.

"Button your coat up," said Gotthold to his companion, who was swaying
to and fro uncomfortably in his seat. "You seem very much heated."

"Because I have kept buttoned up all the evening," answered the
Assessor. "I mean it in a literal sense, on account of the ten thousand
thalers I have had in my breast-pocket; figuratively I might have been
somewhat more so; but for all that, I beg of you, my dear friend, give
me some explanation of Brandow's mysterious conduct. He actually turned
me out of doors! And why? I don't understand it. After we had been on
the most cordial terms the whole evening; after we had been, so to
speak, hand-and-glove. And everything settled! The whole large sum paid
in cash, down to the last penny, which, to be sure, is the greatest
mystery of all. And he is to have the money from Wollnow! Did Wollnow
mystify me? And why? I no more see any light in all this than I can see
my hand before my eyes. Horrible darkness!"

"The moon has been up an hour already," said Hinrich Scheel.

"And is that why you have no lamps on the carriage?"

"Herr von Plüggen had none either."

"You thought your pipe would give us light enough, didn't you?"

"I needn't smoke, sir."

"Then don't; I can't say that the odor of your canaster is very

"Folks like us can't smoke nice tobacco, like fine gentlemen," said
Hinrich Scheel, emptying his pipe so roughly that the sparks flew in
all directions through the darkness, and thrusting it into his

"Isn't this the same fellow who drove us here this afternoon?" asked
the Assessor in a low tone.

"The same," answered Gotthold; "and I should advise you to use the same
precaution we adopted on the way here."

But the Assessor was not in the mood to follow Gotthold's counsel. The
intoxication, from which the scene with Brandow had only roused him for
a short time, returned with redoubled power, now that he was exposed to
the cold night air. He began to abuse Brandow, in whose favor he had
always spoken at the convent, who but for him would have been obliged
to leave Dollan a year ago, who was greatly indebted to him in every
respect, and now repaid him with the basest ingratitude. But his
friendship and protection were now at an end. He still had the fine
fellow under his thumb. The lease must yet be renewed. To be sure,
Brandow had paid this time, but what guarantee of future security was
there to be had from a man who, in his precarious situation, loaded
himself with a gambling debt of five thousand thalers? He need only
give the monks this piece of information, and Brandow would be cast
off. Did Brandow expect to satisfy the convent by the assurance that he
would win the race on Brownlock! Brownlock, nothing but Brownlock!
Brandow had not won yet, and they were strict in their rules at the
race-course. Only last year, young Klebenitz - eldest son of a nobleman
though he was - had been excluded because it got noised abroad that he
had been twenty-four hours late in paying a gambling debt. It was still
very doubtful whether Redebas would have the five thousand thalers he
had just won from Brandow lying on his desk by to-morrow noon.

Gotthold had tried in vain to interrupt his loquacious companion, and
was therefore not at all displeased when the latter, after stammering a
few incoherent words, suddenly relapsed into silence, and leaning back
in his corner seemed to wish to sleep off his intoxication. Gotthold
spread his own travelling-rug over his knees, turned up the collar of
his overcoat, and gazing out into the darkness, resigned himself to his
thoughts. Brandow's conduct was incomprehensible to him also. What
could have induced him to insult the Assessor in this way? - a man whose
favor he had every reason to keep. Had he been drunk too? But if so,
the fit of intoxication must have come upon him very suddenly, and had
at all events assumed a singular form - the form of the hatred which
veils itself under the garb of cold politeness. Or, had all this
concerned him alone? Had he been so anxious to get his enemy out of the
house that he had even suffered it to cost him the friendship of the
influential man? That was a solution so simple and natural, so unlike
the cold calculating man; but if it was not drunkenness, or hate that
wishes to satisfy itself, what was it?

And suppose it were hate that desires to satisfy itself at any cost?
Suppose this hate was directed towards her, no less than him, nay
perhaps even more. Suppose this terrible man wanted to clear the house
of guests in order to give free course to his furious hate, to be able
to riot in some fell vengeance.

Gotthold half started from his seat, groaning aloud, and then sank back
again, reproaching himself for conjuring up such horrible apparitions.
That was certainly the most improbable of all. Whatever means he had
used the night before to break down the pride of one of the proudest of
women, he had conquered, he was master of the situation; he might be
satisfied! And was he not? He now knew the secret of coining gold,
cunning alchemist that he was; and how soon he might be again in a
situation where he would be obliged to make use of his art, that very
evening had proved. What becomes of the water you take in your hand?
What becomes of the money you give a gambler? Cousin Boslaf had been

But the more Gotthold endeavored to push aside the terrible thought as
improbable, nay impossible, the more distinctly the scene appeared
before his eyes. He saw him creep towards her chamber, cautiously open
the door, glide into the room, up to the bed. Merciful Heaven! what was
that? He had distinctly heard his name called in a piercing cry of
mortal agony.

It was only a trick of his excited fancy, a horned owl perhaps, which,
hurled along by the storm on noiseless wings, had swept close over his
head, and in its surprise uttered the cry. This, or something of the

Undoubtedly; but fancy continued the cruel sport none the less
zealously, and converted the long-drawn howling and hollow roaring of
the tempest over the moor, the rustling of the clumps of broom by the
wayside, the creaking of the carriage, and the panting of the weary
horses, into ghostly voices which muttered terrible words, voices and
words such as might be uttered by the shapes which glided through the
grayish black twilight over the masses of rock on the moor on the right
of the carriage, or flitted on the left through the impenetrable
darkness that brooded coldly over the morass.

The road had been gradually ascending for some time, and according to
Gotthold's belief, they had almost reached the crest of the hill, when
the horses suddenly stopped, snorting violently.

"What's the matter?" asked Gotthold.

Hinrich Scheel's only reply was several violent lashes, which urged the
horses onward again, but only a few paces, then they stopped once more,
snorting still louder, and pressing backward so that the carriage moved
a little down the hill.

"The damned jades!" cried Hinrich Scheel, who was no longer on his seat
on the box, but standing on the right of the carriage.

"What is the matter, I say?" cried Gotthold, starting up.

"Nothing at all," shouted Hinrich. "Sit still. The damned jades! This
little pull! I'll teach them to shirk. Sit still, we shall be up
directly! Damn the whip!"

Hinrich, who had been lashing the horses frantically, now disappeared
from the side of the carriage, the frightened animals made a few more
bounds forward - suddenly the vehicle leaned towards the left - farther
and farther; like a flash of lightning the thought passed through
Gotthold's mind, that if the carriage should upset here, it would
undoubtedly fall sixty feet down the slope into the morass; he already
had his hand on the back to swing himself out on the right, but would
not save himself without his companion. But the latter did not rise,
did not even stir. He seized him to drag him out of the carriage.
Too late! There was a dull roaring, rushing, rattling, as if the
earth itself was opening to engulf carriage, horses, and men; a
whizzing sound in their ears - a terrible shock, a falling, rolling,
crashing, - another crashing, rolling, shattering, and then - the horror
was over!


In the large comfortable room adjoining the office, in the subdued
light of a beautiful lamp - the companion to which was burning on a
side-table at the end of the room - sat Frau Ottilie Wollnow and Alma
Sellien; Ottilie engaged in sewing; while Alma leaned back in the sofa
corner, with her slender hands resting idly in her lap. Before the
ladies, on a high-backed chair drawn forward in the light, stood
Gotthold's picture of Dollan, at which Alma from time to time threw one
of her languishing glances. If the gentlemen came back that evening,
she wanted to give Gotthold a pleasant surprise by showing him the
interest she took in his work, and therefore the picture, which had
just been taken down at her request, must remain in its present

"I am only afraid it may slip down and get injured," said Ottilie; "and
besides, I am not at all sure they will come back this evening."

"I don't know what their return has to do with my enjoyment of art,"
answered Alma, shading her eyes with her hand, and looking at the
picture with an evident increase of interest. "In what bold relief
these beeches stand in the foreground! how easily the eye glides over
the fields in the centre, and lingers there in refreshing repose, ere
it turns with delight to the brown moor on the left, or wanders
longingly towards the dim blue horizon bounded by the sea! He is really
a great artist."

Ottilie laughed. "And do you mean to say all that to him?"

"Why not?" answered Alma. "I like to give every one his due."

"Especially when the 'every one' is a man so attractive as Gotthold."

"I have only seen and spoken to him five minutes this morning."

"And that has been enough to completely win the heart of such a subtle
connoisseur. Confess, Alma, you are fascinated, and now see that our
poor Cecilia must not be judged so very harshly, even if she really did
have the misfortune to think such a man attractive."

"You know my views in regard to these things are very strict," replied
Alma; "yes, very strict, though you do choose to open your eyes in
astonishment. But to speak frankly, it is a matter of perfect
indifference to me what your poor Cecilia thinks or doesn't think; only
I would rather not despair of the good taste and good sense of the men,
and that I certainly should do if such a man was so deluded as to think
your poor Cecilia charming."

"Why, Alma!"

"Pray, my dear Ottilie, allow me to have and retain my own opinion on
this point. Tell me instead - for it interests me, now that I have
become personally acquainted with him - what you know of his former
circumstances. Hugo declares he is almost a millionaire. Is he really
so rich, and how did he get the property? Hugo says it is a very
mysterious story - but he always says that when he can give no
information about a thing. What is it?"

"Nothing at all," replied Ottilie; "I mean nothing at all mysterious;
but the story is a sad one; I could not help crying when Emil related
it to me a short time ago - he had never spoken of it before!"

And Ottilie Wollnow wiped away the tears that already hung on her dark

"You make me terribly curious," said Alma; "how can a story be sad
which finally results in half a million?"

"It is probably not so much so now," said Ottilie; "besides, you must
not ask me for any particulars, for Emil's story was very - what shall I
say - very general - for reasons I hinted to you this morning, and
I - from the same cause - did not venture to ask him for any farther
details. We must always respect all such old German favors, and seem to
think them true and genuine."

"Old German favors?" asked Alma in astonishment.

Ottilie laughed. "That's what I call our husbands' reminiscences of

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Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 14 of 24)