Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

. (page 16 of 24)
Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 16 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

been entrusted to his care. No, no; it beseems not only God to
pronounce what He has created good, but man must also be permitted to
say so of his works, must be able to say so, if he is to preserve the
strength and courage needed to guard what he has made. He had chosen
his own part; no matter whether he had taken the worse or better, he
had chosen it, and in those words all was said. Those are not the best,
but the worst men, who wish to decide for themselves what has been
settled long ago.

But for him, who, according to the number of his years, might be his
son - whom he would so gladly - no no! not that, not that; but he loved
him because he was so good and noble, loved him as an older man can and
may love a younger whom he sees tottering along the same intricate
mazes of the path of life, which once drank his own heart's blood - for
him nothing was yet decided. Could not the determination be made so
that the heart need not pour forth its best blood, ere it was calm
enough to understand the lessons of wisdom? How gladly would he have
procured him a happiness of which he had himself been deprived! It
could no longer be a perfect happiness, under any circumstances - too
much had already happened which would cast its shadow athwart the
fairest future - but perhaps to him it was the only one possible. After
all, there was something in the race, in the old habits of thought and
feeling transmitted to their descendants by those ancient Germans, who
did not try to improve their wretched homes, but simply gave the matter
up, who knew of no other stratagem in battle except that of binding
themselves together with chains, and in gambling preferred to be
ruined, rather than make any concession to ill-luck. And now he too!
the son of such a father, such a mother, who both had been destroyed by
this excess of feeling, which will suffer no bargaining and trading.
Here also the case was essentially different; a force was involved here
which was entirely lacking then, a force which almost seemed to make
what he would otherwise condemn as a crime against society, an act of
philanthropy - a necessity, and yet in his eyes a sad one.

To be sure, almost everything in regard to this question was still and
must remain mere conjecture, at least so long as those who had been the
victims of this - accident on the moor were unable to tell what they
knew, or what observations they had made before and after. True, at
best it was probable that very little weight could be given to the
Assessor's statement, since from the little Gotthold had communicated
on that first evening, it was evident enough that the former had been
incapable of judging of anything; and even now, when he could think and
speak clearly again, he persisted in the assertion that he knew
nothing, and must have slept until the catastrophe happened. But
Gotthold, who, with the delicate perceptions of an artist, must have
seen, heard, and noticed everything, could undoubtedly supply materials
which a clever investigator would know how to prize.

To be sure, Justizrath von Zadenig, in the neighboring capital of the
island, to whose district the case belonged, could hardly be included
in this category. The Herr Justizrath saw nothing at all unusual in the
event. That carriages might be upset in more or less dangerous places,
and pocket-books or such things lost, everybody must admit; and that
the road across Dollan moor contained such places was well known, at
least to him, Justizrath von Zadenig, who knew the story of the two
Wenhof cousins, part of which was connected with Dollan moor, very
well, as everybody else did, who, like him, was descended from one of
the old island families. The Brandows were not an old family, and the
way in which they had got possession of Dahlitz was not exactly
justifiable; but they no longer owned it, and Carl Brandow ought not to
be called to account for the condition of the Dollan roads, over which
three or four generations of Wenhofs had passed to and fro unmolested.
That was a thing he, Justizrath von Zadenig, considered quite
inadmissible, the more so as the brunt of the trouble would not come
upon Brandow, but on his own brother-in-law, the Herr Landrath von
Swantenit, of Swantenit, who at the last session of the court had been
made responsible for the condition of the high-roads and by-ways. If,
however, Herr Wollnow, of whose wisdom and judgment he held the highest
opinion, thought that the matter ought to be thoroughly investigated,
he would send at once for the Herr Referendar von Pahlen, and even
despatch a gensdarme with him, which, always looked particularly
official and serious. Surely Herr Wollnow would be satisfied with that.

Herr Wollnow was satisfied, because he had obtained all he could get
from the indolent, but in other respects worthy old gentleman; and
after he had settled a few other business matters, returned to Prora,
where, at the door of the F├╝rstenhof, he met Carl Brandow, who had
ridden in to-day, as usual, to inquire in person about the condition of
the invalids.

"Things are going on admirably," he cried, as he saw Herr Wollnow. "His
head has been perfectly clear for the last hour. I have not tried to
see him, because I thought all excitement ought still to be avoided;
but I spoke to Lauterbach, who looks very solemn. He had made up his
mind to an inflammation of the brain, and now sees that he'll pull
through. Sellien, too, is getting along as well as can be expected; so
I can ride home today with a lighter heart than usual. How delighted my
wife will be! Perhaps I shall bring her in with me tomorrow. I have
Frau Wollnow's permission to do so. Good-by until to-morrow, Herr
Wollnow, good by."

"That chestnut gelding's a fine horse," said the groom, looking after
him as he galloped away; "but it's nothing at all in comparison to the
one he rode Sunday night. That was a splendid animal."

Wollnow's glance had also followed the slight figure, whose seat in the
saddle was so firm and graceful. "If he is really the scoundrel I think
him, it will be difficult to outwit him at all events. And I must not
let Gotthold notice anything; it would excite him terribly, and, for
the present, without due cause; at least I must have firmer ground. It
would certainly be no child's play: the snare which could catch the
knave would need very small meshes."

As his friend entered, Gotthold extended his hand, which, though very
white, was entirely free from fever.

"There," said he, "feel it yourself; and now with this clasp let me
thank you for your kindness, your affection. I have not been so
entirely out of my mind as not to see your face distinctly from time to
time, amid all the delirious fancies that oppressed me, and always with
the grave pitying expression, which I shall gratefully remember as long
as I live."

Gotthold's voice trembled, and tears glittered in his eyes - "It is not
the weakness of sickness," said he: "I will frankly confess the truth:
it is the power of an emotion which is entirely new to me. I have had
so little opportunity to be grateful for the services of love. The
person who to others, during their whole lives, stands forth as the
image of unselfish, self-sacrificing devotion - my mother - died so
early, I scarcely knew her; I was separated from my father by an - as I
must believe - impassable gulf, and for ten years have wandered about
the world amid a thousand events, a thousand relations, ever in the
bustle of society, constantly among, and often even the centre of a
large circle of friends, and yet in the inmost depths of my soul
alone - alone, and longing for a love which so late in life has been
given me by a man whom I saw a few days ago for the first time, and
between whom and myself no relations had previously existed save those
of the most ordinary business transactions."

The merchant's grave dark face expressed keen emotion, and his deep
voice sounded strangely low and gentle as he said after a short pause:

"And suppose that we did not meet a few days ago for the first time;
suppose I had held you in my arms when you were a boy four or five
years old; suppose the interest I took in you sprang from a much deeper
source than our business relations, was connected with all the poetry
and beauty of my life: what then, my dear young friend, what then?"

"Did you know my mother?" asked Gotthold, with a sudden presentiment;
"you must have known her."

"I knew and - loved her. To know and love her was in those days the same
thing to me, nay, even at this moment they still seem to belong
together, like light and warmth."

"And my mother - loved you. Speak frankly, and explain the mystery that
has always rested upon the relations between my parents."

Wollnow shook his head. "No, no," said he, "that is not it; even if it
seemed so for a moment, it was only seeming, and it is the sorrowful
pride of my life that I did not allow myself to be dazzled by this
semblance; that through it I perceived the rugged path duty and honor
commanded me to tread."

"You increase the mystery instead of dispelling it," said Gotthold.

"So many things in this drama have remained mysterious, even to me,"
replied Wollnow, covering his eyes with his hand; "but one fact is
plain, that a man of your father's stamp, so highly gifted, so glowing
with the holy passion of truth, could not fail to arouse an
overmastering love in the heart of your no less gifted, no less
enthusiastic mother. I assure you, my friend, if ever there was a love
such as you described a short time ago, it was that which impelled
these two rare, beautiful natures towards each other, like two flames
which rush together into one. Any one who witnessed the spectacle stood
in silent admiration, saying: No other conclusion is possible. My poor
dear friend said so, though it was a death sentence to him; I said so
too, and thought my heart would break; but it was stronger than I
believed, and then - I was determined to live! With that determination
one can do so, my friend, although it is at first a very wretched,
pitiful fragment of life."

Wollnow paused, for he felt that he could not go on calmly. After a
short time he continued:

"I am not now in a condition to judge whether I have erred in allowing
myself to be led on to make this confession to you, but I should
certainly wrong the memory of your parents, you, my dear young friend,
nay, myself, if I did not now tell you all, although the all is but
little, and this little terribly significant of the sad uncertainty of
human destiny.

"The handsome young couple came here. I saw them again by accident a
few years after, when business chanced to bring me into this
neighborhood, for I would have gone out of my way to avoid a meeting
which could only cause me pain. But as I drove through Rammin, one of
the wheels of my carriage broke directly in front of the parsonage. I
was thrown out so violently that I dislocated my arm, and was compelled
to claim your parents' hospitality for several weeks. You cannot
remember me, but I can still see the curly-haired, large-eyed little
boy, who played so happily at his mother's side among the beds of
asters in the garden in the autumn sunlight, and, thank God, had no
suspicion of the meaning of the mournful expression with which the
beautiful young mother often gazed over the child's head into vacancy.
Alas! for her the flowers did not bloom, the sun did not shine;
everything around her was dark, and darkness was within her, in her
warm young heart. And it was the same in the ardent heart of the man
whom she had once so passionately loved, and who had loved her with
equal fervor, who, I am perfectly sure, loved her with no less devotion
at that moment, when they already seemed to hate each other, perhaps
fancied they did. Oh! my dear friend, I won't preach - I won't begin our
late dispute again; but how can I help touching the wound, and saying:
'Here again it was - and in a fatal manner - the want of moderation,
which will not be satisfied with things as they are, will not try to
make the best of circumstances, but releasing itself from commonplace
conditions, strives to realize an ideal vision'? These two beautiful
natures, which could offer so much, be so much to each other,
considered it nothing because it was not all. She expected him to be
not only the champion of the Church before whom she had at first knelt
in admiration, but also to possess every virtue the intelligent,
much-courted young girl had ever admired in any man. He expected her to
wear, in addition to all the charms with which nature had so lavishly
endowed her - I know not what mystic crown, without which all earthly
beauty was valueless in the eyes of the enthusiastic apostle. And
instead of trying to lessen the necessary differences between their
natures as much as possible by gentleness and patience, and overlook
the remnant which would still be left, out of respect for the Great
Power of which we are only an infinitesimal part, both with fatal
defiance increased their special gifts; he wanted to do nothing but see
and read obscure writings by a glass; she, who had always been far too
proud to be vain, declared that the glass told her nothing except that
she was young and beautiful, as the world was, in spite of all fanatics
and devotees. And now this strange conflict went on in the quiet
parsonage of a little village, on an island which in those days was
almost entirely secluded from all intercourse with the outside
world - what marvel was it that the two unhappy combatants bled from
painful wounds - and must bleed to death if they are not separated in
time, the world thinks and says in such cases. I am well aware of it,
but I did not think so. I said to myself: 'These two cannot forget or
lose each other, even if they should place a world between them, and
next to themselves the person would suffer most who might be mad enough
to aid this separation.' I said this also to the young wife, who could
not or would not conceal her misery from me. I spoke to her - as I
thought my duty required me to do - with earnest entreaty, and I must
confess that in so speaking I drowned, not the voice of my conviction,
but of my own heart, which during this strange scene seemed as if it
would burst my laboring breast. Now, for the first time, I learned that
before the right man came I had been dearer to the beautiful girl than
I had ever ventured to hope or suspect - learned it in broken words and
hints which rose from her glowing, passionate heart like sparks from a
blazing fire. How can I deny that I was touched by this fire, that it
became inexpressibly difficult for me to withstand it? Yes, my friend,
I struggled like the patriarch of old on that wondrous night, and from
my heaving breast, like his, the magic words were gasped forth, 'I will
not let thee go, except Thou bless me.'

"And was it no blessing that some trace of the repose I had won by so
fierce a conflict seemed to calm the soul of the despairing young wife,
that she - which in such a situation is everything - found time to regain
her self-control, to remember what she had once possessed, to ask
herself whether she might not possess it again if she desired. I can
still see the look with which she extended her hand as she bade me
farewell, the earnest, expressive glance in which a gleam of hope still
sparkled. I can still hear her sweet voice utter the words which were
the richest reward to me for all I had done and suffered, the words: 'I
thank you, my friend.'"

"And I thank you," said Gotthold, seizing the hand of the
deeply-agitated man, and pressing it warmly, "thank you with all my
heart, for you have acted according to your sincere conviction, and
what can a man do more? But you did not save my poor mother from dying
of a broken heart."

Wollnow looked gloomily at the floor. Gotthold, smiling sadly,

"To be sure, it is better to die so, to die young, than to live on with
a broken heart, to the torment instead of the joy of one's self and
others, as was the fate of my poor father. And he cannot have become
reconciled to my mother's shade. Else why, when he pushed me from him
in anger, did his pale lips murmur: 'You are just like your mother'?
No, no, my friend, I honor your wisdom, but I think one must be born
wise - it is not to be learned."

"At least in one lesson," said Wollnow, with grave kindness, "and this
has lasted long enough - too long, when I consider the condition of the

Gotthold protested against this decision; he felt perfectly well, and
strong enough to continue the argument a long time; besides, the
subject had a demoniacal charm for him.

"And for that very reason we will drop it," replied Wollnow, "and
instead, if you are really strong enough, I will request you to answer
a few questions in relation to your unlucky drive. I will confess that
I put them partly at the desire of a prominent magistrate. At least,
Justizrath von Zadenig declares that no farther steps can be taken in
this disagreeable matter without your deposition, and has begged me to
take it down in a legal form."

Gotthold looked up in astonishment - "What is the point in question?"

"It concerns, in the first place, the lost money, which must, if
possible, be recovered," replied Wollnow.

"Poor Sellien! I am sorry for him," said Gotthold; "but I don't see how
your questions and my answers can aid in its recovery."

"Let us see. Do you know that Sellien had the money with him when you
left Dollan?"

"I am sure of it; as he did not suspect it came from me, he told me in
a walk we took after dinner that Brandow had paid him, and showed me
the packet, which he took out of the breast-pocket of his coat. I also
saw it there during the whole evening - not without some little anxiety.
I feared he might be tempted to stake the money. Fortunately he always

"So he was gambling. Who was the loser?"


"Did he lose much?"

"I think he lost five thousand thalers to Redebas, who was the only
person that had the courage to make a stand against so rash an

"Of course he did not pay him on the spot."

"Certainly not; and from that very circumstance arose the quarrel which
ended in the others leaving the house in a rage."

"Did you take any part in the dispute?"

"Oh, no; Sellien perhaps was a little mixed up with it; at least
Brandow made it the pretext for the rudeness that drove us also from
the house."

"Drove you out of the house! Very good," said Wollnow, when he had made
a written record of the words. "And Sellien still had the money when
you went away?"

"I felt the packet when I buttoned his overcoat; he was then partially

"And the overcoat was still buttoned when Lauterbach wanted to bandage
his injuries here. So you said a short time ago, and Lauterbach
confirms it. Did you make no attempt to remove his clothes at the

"No. Old Prebrow wanted to do so, but Sellien, who came to his senses
for a moment, begged so earnestly to be let alone, that we desisted,
and contented ourselves with making him as comfortable a bed as we
could on some straw and hay in the bottom of the wagon the Prebrows had
already prepared."

"And did you feel the pocket-book there too?"

Gotthold reflected a moment. "No," said he, "he did not have it there.
I remember now, because first the old man and then I myself felt his
breast, as he complained of severe pain in his left ribs. I could not
have helped feeling the packet. That is certainly strange."

"It is indeed," replied Wollnow, "since neither of the worthy Prebrows,
father and son, who carried him from the place where the accident
occurred to the smithy, can have taken it out of his pocket."

"Impossible!" exclaimed Gotthold.

"And it is almost equally impossible, though in another sense,
that during his fall he can have lost it out of the pocket of a
closely-buttoned coat, over which another was buttoned."

"Yet there is no other supposition."

"So it seems. But let us go back a few steps. You had the impression
throughout, that Brandow was driving you from the house. Did not that
seem strange?"

"No and yes."

"We will suppose that the no refers to your relations with Brandow, and
the yes to the Assessor's, whose favor he certainly had the most urgent
motives to keep. I confess it is incomprehensible to me. And on such a
night too - as King Lear says, 'In storm and rain and darkness' - to
drive you out of the house and give you a carriage with no lamps to
convey you over such notoriously bad roads."

"All that is true," said Gotthold in an embarrassed tone; "but
recurring to Brandow's unfriendliness - which, moreover, he instantly
regretted, and tried to make amends for the same evening - will scarcely
help us to the recovery of the money."

"You see what an unskilful inquisitor I am," replied Wollnow, passing
his hand over his brow. "Let us leave the master, and without regard
for the old adage, turn to the man. Was he not the same one who drove
you out in the morning?"

"The same. Brandow's trainer, and as you see, occasional coachman,
steward also, in a word, factotum."

"Factotum, very good," said Wollnow. "A do-everything, in contrast to
always doing right, for this Signer Do-everything seems to fear nothing
and no one, at least that was the impression he made upon me. What do
you think of the man?"

"That he is a remarkable fellow, so far as this, that any one who had
seen him once would hardly forget him. I remember him perfectly from
the time I first knew him, years ago, till now: the square flat head,
and low retreating forehead of the large animals of the cat tribe, to
which his green squinting eyes also bear a resemblance, while his broad
shoulders, short, thick-set figure, and clumsy bow legs are more like
the dog tribe - a cross between the terrier and bull-dog, whose tenacity
and faithfulness he also possesses. I believe he would go through fire
and water for his master."

"And water," said Wollnow. "What wonderful eyes you artists have! How
dear that description is! And now we have this estimable monster, this
faithful Caliban, on the front seat of the carriage, driving through
the darkness. What about the ride?"

"I have frankly confessed that, until just before the accident, I
noticed little or nothing of what was passing around me. But I remember
now that we ascended the hill with difficulty, probably because the
wind was directly against us, and Hinrich Scheel, with his usual
cruelty, violently lashed the poor horses, which seemed to have a
presentiment of their fate, and would not move from the spot until
Hinrich at last jumped out of the carriage."

"Jumped out of the carriage," repeated Wollnow; "that was very wise,
very apropos; for the fall occurred directly after, didn't it?"

"It must have taken place at that very moment."

"Let us say a few moments after, otherwise the faithful Caliban would
have been obliged to join the party. The fall you have already
described to me, so far as you were conscious of the precise
moment - and it is astonishing how far an artist's observation extends
to the gates, nay, I might say across the very threshold of death. And
how long did this terrible moment, when you were so near your end,

"I can hardly say; I became unconscious without pain or struggle, as
quickly and imperceptibly as the lid falls over the eye; and in the
same manner, without the slightest struggle, my senses returned, and I
lay with my eyes fixed upon the moon, watching the yellowish brown
clouds over her face grow thinner and thinner - as if I had nothing else
to do - until her rays suddenly pierced the last transparent veil, and
shone in their full brilliancy. At the same moment the consciousness of
my situation returned, and I knew as well as if some one had told me
that I had remained lying on a ledge about half way down the slope,
while the carriage and horses, sliding down the precipice to the edge
of the morass, were lying in one confused, terrible heap, amid which I
could distinguish nothing. After this, I must have again fallen, not
into an unconscious condition, but a sort of delirious state. I had a
distinct vision of a horseman, who, with a speed that only occurs in
dreams, dashed away from me across the marsh in the direction of
Neuenhof. Like the traditional ghostly rider, he had his head bent far
over the long thin neck of his flying steed, and wore a tall hat. A
ghost in a tall hat, isn't it ridiculous?"

"Very ridiculous!" said Wollnow. He had risen from his seat again, and
gone to the window to conceal his agitation from Gotthold. What was

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 16 of 24)