Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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their old love affairs, which they treasure with such ludicrous
emotion, and, so to speak, always wear secretly under their coats, in
order not to shame us by their brilliancy, for we are really good,
excellent wives; but how could we bear any comparison with these
heroines? In this case, to be sure - "

"Excuse me for interrupting you, dear Ottilie, but you were going to
tell me how Gotthold got his fortune."

"It is all closely connected," replied Ottilie; "the German favor, I
mean my good Emil's old flame and Gotthold's mother, is one and the
same person; but to be sure Emil declares I always begin my stories at
the end, so now by way of exception I'll commence at the beginning. But
how am I to do it?"

"Perhaps by stating who the lady you have mentioned really was."

"You always hit the nail on the head! Certainly, who was she? The only
child of her parents; her father was Reginald Lenz, a rich merchant in
Stettin - I have forgotten her mother's name; but she must have been a
dear, sweet creature, and loved her husband passionately, too
passionately perhaps. He was probably a very attractive man - he always
went by the name of 'handsome Lenz,' and such people are spoiled: the
merry bachelor life is continued after marriage; a few unlucky
speculations may have happened also; in a word, Herr Lenz failed at the
end of a few years, or stood on the verge of bankruptcy, and the books
did not balance as they ought; he would not survive the disgrace,
and - it is terrible to think of - he took a cheerful farewell of his
young wife to go out hunting, and clear his head after reckoning so
many figures, as he said, and in the evening they brought him home with
his brains dashed out. Was it not terrible?"

"Go on," said Alma.

"Ah! the rest is almost as bad. The young wife, who had had no
suspicion of her husband's situation - or she would not have let him
leave her - saw the body without the slightest preparation. An hour
after - the unhappy woman was daily expecting the birth of another
child - she was attacked by a violent fever, and in a few days was a
corpse."

"How imprudent," said Alma.

"The little five-year-old Marie - "

"An ugly name," observed Alma.

"I don't think so; at any rate its bearer was anything but ugly, Emil
says; and to speak frankly, I am sure that in this respect he does not
exaggerate, and the little lady, who naturally in the course of years
grew up to maturity, really possessed all the admirable qualities which
turned the head of the poor young fellow, who was then only twenty. And
he was not alone; all the other young men employed in the business
fared just the same. I forgot to say, or was just going to tell you,
that the poor little orphan had been received in her uncle's house, the
brother of her unhappy father, but a man who was exactly his opposite
in every respect; plain, stern, pedantic, an excellent business-man of
the old school, as Emil says, who had entered his counting-room and at
that time risen to be head clerk. His wife was wonderfully well suited
to him, that is, she was not one whit less plain, or less strict and
pedantic, so the poor little girl could not have found the house
exactly a bed of roses."

"In spite of all her admirers?"

"In spite of all her admirers. She inherited it from her father, who
always aimed too high."

"Perhaps she did not know what she wanted."

"That is possible; at any rate, none of the young men found favor in
her eyes, though Emil was slightly preferred; but only, he says,
because he was the only Jew in the Christian establishment, and
therefore in some degree rebuffed by the others - the position of the
Jews thirty years ago, you must know, was even more precarious and
uncomfortable than it is now, although even now everything is perhaps
not quite what it should be. At any fate, she treated the man
worst whose outward circumstances entitled him to the most
consideration - namely, her cousin Eduard, the only son of the house, a
quiet, shy young man, who loved her passionately. Emil says that even
now it makes the tears come into his eyes when he thinks of the time
that Eduard, who was his most intimate friend, spoke of what he
suffered, not in pompous, high-sounding words, which would not have
been at all like him, but so gently, so resignedly - "

"I can't bear these gentle, resigned men," said Alma.

"They seldom succeed, as poor Eduard's example shows. But to be sure,
she refused very different people, who were by no means gentle and
resigned - officers, barons, and counts: she was the wonder of the city,
and the idol of all the young men, and she noticed them no more than
the sun heeds the mist."

"You are really getting poetical," said Alma.

"It is one of Emil's comparisons, he always grows poetical when he
speaks of her - till at last the right one came."

"The country Pastor. Gracious Heavens! _Tant de bruit pour une
omelette_," said Alma.

"Excuse me, it was nothing of that sort; on the contrary, he was a very
remarkable man, who had turned the heads of as many women as she had
men. And it was not confined to women; many men, and those by no means
the least important, were also very enthusiastic about him, among
others, my Emil, who since he was baptized on our wedding-day, has not
set foot inside of a church, but then, Jew as he was, attended
regularly every Sunday the service held by the young Substitute - I
believe that's what they call them. The whole city went, he says;
people stood at the doors, and even outside, just to see him come in.
In a word, this young preacher was the right man. How they became
acquainted with each other I don't know, and it is of no consequence.
To see and love each other was the same thing. Her foster-parents, who
on Eduard's account were glad to get her out of the house, of course
gave their consent at once, although the little parish here in Rammin
on which they married was a place to starve rather than live in. So
they left Stettin, and came here, and - "

"The story ends," said Alma, "as all stories which begin in such a
remarkable manner usually do - in commonplace poverty. But I don't see
yet from all this how Gotthold got his half million."

"It is not a half million," replied Ottilie; "about a hundred thousand,
Emil thinks, and from whom should he get it but the good Eduard, who
would never marry, though the rich heir, of course, could have made the
most brilliant matches, but remained faithful to his early love as long
as he lived, and on his death-bed left a portion of his property to
benevolent institutions, and the remainder to his cousin's son as his
nearest heir."

"It must have been a very pleasant surprise," said Alma.

"Undoubtedly, although I must say that no real blessing attends the
money. To be sure, he is now a rich man, or at least well to-do; but
what personal benefit does he get? Scarcely any. Ten thousand thalers
or so were invested in Emil's business before our marriage; since then,
thank God, he has needed no stranger's money, and he has never troubled
himself about them; the rest he has left in the business in Stettin,
which is carried on by one of the partners of the old firm, and where
it is by no means safe; but he doesn't even touch the interest, except
to aid needy artists, or encourage struggling young men by enabling
them to go to the Academy, take a journey to Italy, or something of
that sort. Well, he doesn't need it; he easily earns as much as he
wants, and moreover is such a thoroughly good man that he likes to
befriend others, but I think he has already made up his mind what to
do."

"What?" asked Alma.

"Why doesn't he marry? He has certainly had the best opportunities, and
he is twenty-eight years old! I fear, I fear he will remain a bachelor
like his foster-uncle in Stettin, and - for the same reason. And as for
the money, I think I know what will become of that too. After what we
heard this morning about Brandow's circumstances, it would be very well
invested; for poor Gretchen probably will not inherit much from her
father and mother."

"He won't be such a fool!" exclaimed Alma.

"People said just the same about good Eduard Lenz. And I think, I
think - but you must not betray me when your husband returns - I think a
part of his property went into Brandow's hands to-day."

"Did your husband tell you so?"

"In that case I should be sure of it; the idea of Emil's
chattering - but you don't know him. It's all my own idea, but we shall
ascertain when the gentlemen come home to-morrow."

"I told them when they went away that I should expect them without fail
this evening," replied Alma, looking at the picture through her hand,
and mentally repeating the words with which she intended to receive
Gotthold.

"Why, there they are already!" cried Ottilie as the door-bell rang.

"It must be your husband back from his club."

"He does not ring," answered Ottilie; "besides, it is not his step."

Ottilie, with a "come in," went towards the door, at which they now
heard a knock. Alma leaned back in the sofa corner with her head a
little bent, in the act of displaying her white hands to the best
possible advantage, when she was startled from her _pose_ by a low
exclamation from Ottilie.

"Herr Brandow!"

"Pardon me, Madam, pardon me, ladies, for presenting myself unannounced
in the absence of a servant. I hope you will bear with me a few
minutes, and help me to carry out a little joke I want to play upon our
friends."

He bowed; Ottilie gazed at him in astonishment, even terror. Herr
Brandow did not look like a person who is trying to carry out a jest;
his face was pale and haggard, his long fair moustache disordered, his
dress a strange mixture of evening and riding costume, and splashed
with mud to his shoulders. And to come in this plight, at this late
hour, to a house where he was a stranger, nay, which had actually been
closed against him for years - Ottilie had only one explanation of all
this.

"Has any misfortune happened?" she exclaimed.

"Misfortune," said Brandow; "none that I am aware of; or yes, the
misfortune that I have treated my friends a little uncivilly. The
rudeness was very slight, but as I, although a sorely tried man, am not
accustomed to this kind of misfortune, I could not rest until I had
made the attempt to rehabilitate myself in my own eyes, to say nothing
of my friends, who have doubtless already forgiven me."

"Then they are coming to-night, are they not? I told you so," exclaimed
Alma.

"Certainly, and they will be here immediately, in - we will say twenty
minutes - yes, twenty minutes. They left Dollan at exactly ten minutes
of ten; it is now just half-past; with my powerful horses and so good a
driver as Hinrich they will not need more than an hour, in spite of the
horrible weather; so in twenty minutes, ladies, we shall hear the
carriage drive up."

Brandow had taken out his watch, and did not turn his eyes from it as
he made his calculation.

"And you?" asked Alma.

"I myself, dear madam, after parting from the gentlemen, with a want of
cordiality I sincerely regret, rode away from Dollan precisely at ten,
and just twenty-five minutes after had my horse put into the stable of
the Fürstenhof, that is, I was just five times as long in going over
the mile and a half from Dollan to the Fürstenhof, as in walking the
five hundred steps from the Fürstenhof here."

"You were twenty-five minutes in coming the same distance that will
occupy the others an hour!" cried Alma.

"Pardon me; I couldn't go by the same road our friends took across the
Dollan moor, or it would have spoiled my surprise. I rode over another
that leads through Neuenhof, Lankenitz, Faschwitz, etc. Frau Wollnow
doubtless knows the direction - a way quite as long, and certainly as
bad, as I unfortunately perceive too late, by the condition of my
clothes."

"Oh! how I admire these bold feats of horsemanship!" exclaimed Alma,
opening her eyes very wide to express her enthusiasm. "Sit down here
beside me, dear Herr Brandow."

She had forgotten the arrangement she had made for Gotthold's
reception, and as she pushed the back of the chair with her
outstretched hand, the picture slipped down and fell on the floor.
Ottilie, who saw it, uttered a loud exclamation. Brandow sprang forward
to raise it, but had scarcely cast a glance at it, when he dropped it
from his hands with a low cry.

"My poor picture!" exclaimed Ottilie.

"I beg ten thousand pardons," said Brandow. "I see that when a man has
ridden a mile and a half in twenty-five minutes, he is not quite master
of his limbs."

In fact, he trembled violently as he again took the picture in his
hands; nay, he seemed to find it difficult to stand. Ottilie, who
noticed it, at last invited him to sit down.

"Shall I not put the picture away first?" asked Brandow.

"On no account!" exclaimed Alma. "I can't part with it, and to you, my
dear friend, it must have a double interest. Just see in what bold
relief these beeches stand in the foreground. How easily the eye glides
over the fields in the centre and lingers in refreshing repose, ere it
wanders longingly towards the dim blue horizon of the sea on the right,
or turns with delight to the brown moor on the left."

"Oh! certainly, certainly," said Brandow, without looking at the
picture; "it is intended for Dollan, isn't it?"

"Intended for Dollan!" exclaimed Ottilie, "why, Herr Brandow, you
wanted to buy it yourself. Don't you remember the time when your wife
and I were standing before the picture and you came up?"

"Oh! certainly, certainly," said Brandow.

"I would like to bet that the gentlemen are on that brown moor now,"
said Alma.

"Certainly; to be sure," replied Brandow.

"Impossible!" exclaimed Ottilie, "unless some accident has happened to
the carriage, which we do not want to fear."

"Certainly, oh! certainly not," said Brandow, wiping the cold
perspiration from his forehead with his handkerchief.

"You are faint, Herr Brandow; let me offer you some refreshments,"
said Ottilie, ringing the bell, and rising to give her orders to the
maid-servant, who instantly entered.

At the same moment Alma leaned forward, and holding out her hand to
Brandow, whispered, "My dear friend, how glad I am to see you! What
have you done to Hugo? I should think it would be for the interest of
us all that you should remain good friends."

Brandow took the little white hand, and hastily raised it to his lips.

"Oh! certainly, certainly, my beautiful friend," he replied, "that is
the very reason I am here; it is really nothing at all. I was a little
excited by - I - oh! my dear madam, why do you trouble yourself? A glass
of wine, if you insist upon it, but nothing else, I beg of you, nothing
else."

He had turned towards Ottilie. Alma - threw herself back into the sofa
corner, pouting. Brandow's manner was certainly very strange to-day, so
cold, not in the least like his usual one. Alma determined to punish
him for it when Gotthold came, and to render the pain more severe,
resolved to be particularly charming during the few minutes that would
intervene.

But the minutes passed, the clock struck eleven, half-past eleven - an
hour had elapsed since Brandow's arrival, and still no sound of
carriage wheels was heard, nothing but the rustling of the tall poplars
in the little square before the house, and the plashing of the rain
against the window-panes whenever a pause in the conversation occurred.
And it seemed as if the later it grew, the more frequent such pauses
became; for Ottilie, contrary to her custom, spoke very little. Alma,
as usual, thought it enough to give people, by a gracious smile,
permission to amuse her, and Brandow, this evening, was by no means the
entertaining companion he was generally considered. The restlessness
with which he darted from one subject to another had a feverish haste,
his laugh sounded forced, at times he did not seem to notice that not a
word had been uttered for some minutes, but sat staring at the picture,
until he suddenly started and began to talk again in an extremely loud
voice, whose harsh tones jarred upon Ottilie's nerves. Her anxiety
increased every moment. She had already risen several times, gone to
the window, and pushing aside the curtain, gazed out in the night,
which was made, if possible, darker still by the feeble gleam of the
tiny flames in the street-lamps.

"I am very anxious," she exclaimed at last, turning from the window.

"It is certainly strange," said Brandow, "it is now ten minutes of
twelve; they ought to have been here an hour ago."

"And my husband does not come either," said Ottilie.

"Be glad that he is having a good time," replied Alma. "Are you going
already, my dear friend?"

"I will try to obtain some news of them," answered Brandow, who had
hastily risen and taken his hat.

"You won't venture out into this darkness again?" cried Alma.

"Why, Alma!" exclaimed Ottilie.

Brandow was in the act of taking leave, when the doorbell rang, a heavy
step passed through the counting-room, and Herr Wollnow entered.
Ottilie hurried towards him, and in a few words told him how matters
stood. Herr Wollnow greeted the late guest with cold politeness. He saw
no special reason for being anxious as yet, if Herr Brandow was not.

"But he is," cried Ottilie.

"In that case Herr Brandow would have gone in search of information
long ago," replied Wollnow.

"I am anxious, and I am not," said Brandow. "It is certainly a very
dark night, and the road is not particularly good in one or two places,
but Hinrich Scheel is a remarkably good driver, and - yes, it has just
occurred to me - Gustav von Plüggen drove over the same road only a few
minutes before our friends."

"Which does not prove that some mischance may not have befallen one or
the other party, or perhaps both," answered Wollnow. "I say mischance,
ladies, not misfortune, but even a trifling mischance - the breaking of
a wheel, or anything of that sort - is no joke on such a night as this;
and I am most decidedly in favor of going to meet our friends. I will
accompany you, Herr Brandow, if agreeable to you."

"Certainly, of course, but I came on horseback," replied Brandow.

"Then we will take a carriage at the Fürstenhof; if anything has
happened, a carriage may be useful to them."

Alma thought it very uncivil in the gentlemen to leave the ladies alone
at such a moment, while Ottilie gave her husband a shawl, and whispered
with a most affectionate kiss, "That's my own good Emil!"

Wollnow had requested the ladies to stay in the room. When the door was
closed, he said, "I am sure some misfortune has happened to them; and
so are you, are you not?"

His black eyes flashed so strangely, and looked so keen and piercing in
the light of the lamp he carried in his hand, that Brandow shrank as if
a question on which the result of the whole matter depended had been
put to him in a court-room.

"Oh! certainly not, by no means," he faltered; "that is, I really don't
know what to think."

"Nor I either," replied Wollnow curtly, putting the lamp on a table
near the hall-door, and drawing back the bolt.

The light fell brightly upon the door, and as Wollnow opened it
darkness yawned outside. Suddenly against the black background appeared
a figure at the sight of which even the calm Wollnow trembled, while
Brandow, who was directly behind him, staggered back with a low
cry - the figure of a man, whose clothing was drenched with water and
besmeared with sand and clay as if he had just risen from the earth,
and whose pale face, framed in its dark beard and shaded by a
broad-brimmed hat, was terribly disfigured by a narrow stream of blood
which ran from his temple across his cheek.

"In Heaven's name, Gotthold, what has happened?" exclaimed Wollnow,
holding out both hands to his friend, and drawing him into the house.

"Where are the ladies?" asked Gotthold in a low tone.

Wollnow motioned towards the sitting-room.

"Then keep them away. Sellien is in the Fürstenhof, we have just
bandaged his wounds, he is still unconscious; Lauterbach despairs of
his recovery. I thought it would be better for me to bring the news.
You here, Brandow?"

Brandow had recovered his composure; it was absurd that he should have
been so unnecessarily anxious. The scoundrel had as many lives as a
cat, and what did he care for the other?

"I have been waiting here for you almost two hours," said he. "But how
could such an accident have happened? Poor Gotthold, and that good
fellow Sellien! I must see how he is. You will probably remain here
now, and you also, Herr Wollnow."

Without waiting for a reply, he rushed out and disappeared in the
darkness.

Wollnow's eyes flashed as he looked after him, but he repressed the
words that seemed trembling on his lips.

"And you, my dear Gotthold?"

"I have got off so," said Gotthold. "But what is to be done now? How
shall we tell his wife?"

"I should like to see him myself first. They know I was going to meet
you, and will not miss me."

"Then come."

The two friends went out. Wollnow gave Gotthold his arm. "Lean on me,"
said he; "lean firmly, and don't speak."

"Only one thing. The ten thousand thalers Sellien had with him are
lost. We did not notice it until we were cutting off his coat here."

"How can they be lost if you were obliged to cut off his coat?"

Gotthold made no reply; the faintness which he had already several
times scarcely been able to conquer, once more stole over him, and he
was obliged to lean very heavily on Wollnow's arm.

Thus, not without considerable difficulty, they reached the Fürstenhof,
where everything was in the greatest confusion, but did not see Brandow
again. The host said that he had ordered his horse to be saddled as
soon as he heard of the news of the loss of the money, and then rode
away without seeing the Assessor. He could do no good here, he said;
but the money would scarcely be found without him.

"Nor with him perhaps," muttered Wollnow.

There had been no change in the Assessor's condition.

"If he does not recover his senses soon, we have no hope of saving the
patient," said Doctor Lauterbach.

The physician soon had two patients. Gotthold fell fainting upon
Sellien's bed.

"I said so," observed the Doctor; "it's a miracle that he has held out
so long. It is really a bad accident."

"If it is an accident," muttered Wollnow.




CHAPTER XXIII.


Herr Wollnow and his wife now spent days and nights of ceaseless care.
It had proved possible to move the Assessor, in spite of his serious
injuries, to their house, where he was much more comfortably situated
in every respect, while Gotthold, who in comparison was scarcely
considered wounded, they were obliged to leave at the Fürstenhof. He
had lain for hours, either unconscious or tossing in the wildest
delirium, a prey to violent fever; the doctor shook his head gravely,
and spoke of a concussion of the brain, which was not impossible, or
some internal injury, which was extremely probable. Herr Wollnow was
very anxious, and spent every moment he could spare by the bedside of
the invalid.

"The Assessor's case is really very simple," said he; "he has broken
his left leg, and put his right arm out of joint; the arm has been set,
and the leg is going on admirably. I'm not anxious about the Assessor,
whom you ladies will soon set to rights; but with Gotthold it is
different; we don't yet know exactly where we are; I can't be spared
there."

Ottilie thought he would have believed it impossible for him to be
spared from Gotthold's side, under any circumstances, but she had
nothing to say against a preference she herself shared; Gotthold
already seemed like her own son.

Herr Wollnow received this remarkable confession with a smile, and the
same rather melancholy smile flitted over his grave face again and
again, as he sat beside the sick man's bed, stroked the soft wavy hair
from his burning brow, and compared the delicate features, now deadly
pale and anon flushed with fever, with those of another face, which had
once seemed to him the type and expression of all beauty, and whose
memory his faithful heart had kept so loyally.

And many strange thoughts, evoked by this recollection, passed
through his mind as he sat in the quiet room through the long silent
hours, - thoughts which approached caressingly, and he repelled because
they sought to remove him from the firm ground on which he had placed
himself and his house, and where he must stand resolutely if he did not
wish to become the sport of the winds and the waves, with all that had


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Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 15 of 24)