Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

. (page 17 of 24)
Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 17 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

that the groom had said just now about the remarkable speed of the
horse Brandow had ridden that night? And the spectral rider had dashed
in the direction of Neuenhof, from whence Brandow had come! - Brandow,
who strangely enough had worn a tall hat that night, and the tall hat
was splashed with marshy water.

Wollnow turned to Gotthold again: "Do you think it impossible for any
one, I mean any one of flesh and blood, to cross Dollan marsh, even on
the best and fastest horse?"

"What put that into your head?" asked Gotthold in amazement.

"Oh! nothing, except that Brandow has been telling everywhere that one
of the horses which broke away from the carriage and tried to make its
escape across the morass was drowned in the attempt."

"Then that is surely the best proof of the impossibility."

"Certainly," replied Wollnow; "and now you must have perfect quiet, or
Lauterbach will be very angry. I will come back again in two hours;
until then you must sleep undisturbed."

Wollnow spent the two hours in a restless, impatient mood, of which the
calm, self-possessed man would not have believed himself capable. He
was expecting the young lawyer, who had promised to stop in Prora on
his return from Dollan and tell him the result of his investigations.
Herr von Pahlen had left B. two hours before him, and might surely have
executed his commission by this time. The expected visitor arrived at
last, but without the gendarme Herr von Zadenig had ordered to attend
him to give a suitable coloring to the affair.

"This is a very strange business," said Herr von Pahlen. "You know I
went ostensibly to take the deposition of the man who drove the
gentlemen, Hinrich Scheel; at least he was the principal person, and
now would you believe it - "

"The man had disappeared," said Wollnow.

"How did you know?"

"I only thought so; but go on."

"Had actually disappeared," continued Herr von Pahlen, "although half
an hour before our arrival he had been seen by the laborers on the
estate, and also by Herr Brandow, who had just returned home. He had
disappeared and could not be found, although Herr Brandow was kind
enough to send men in every direction, who as Herr Brandow himself
said, must have found him if - "

"The man had wanted to be found."

"Exactly, but how stupid in the fellow, who, after all, is not to
blame, except for having taken for the journey the two worst beasts
among the many good ones, in order to spare the carriage-horses. It is
from this cause Brandow says, as he now looks at the matter, that the
whole misfortune arose. To be sure, if the fellow has really fled - I
have left Rüterbusch there for the present, who will arrest him if he
makes his appearance - the case assumes a very different aspect. The
fellow will suggest the inference that he either found the money, God
knows how, or took it out of the Assessor's pocket while he was
senseless, and now, being conscious of his guilt, fled when he saw us
coming - and one can see a long distance over the moor. Brandow, who was
very much astonished, said that he should have attributed such a crime
to any one rather than this man, who had always been highly esteemed by
his father, and since his death had served him faithfully and honestly,
but admitted that the sudden disappearance was very mysterious; and
after all everything was possible; at any rate, the possibility could
not now be denied that the poor devil might have yielded to the great
temptation of becoming a rich man at one stroke."

"A devil always feels tempted to do evil, even if he is not poor," said

"So you think he has stolen it," asked the lawyer eagerly.

"I have nothing to do with the matter," replied Wollnow evasively,
while his dark eyes flashed with an expression that seemed to say that
for all that he did have an opinion in regard to the affair, and a very
decided one.


Gotthold had left Prora for Sundin as soon as his health permitted,
although Ottilie declared that the Prora air was infinitely better for
a convalescent, and he could complete the promised picture just as well
here as there. Nay, she had even announced herself ready to give up the
present entirely, if their friend could not be induced to stay on any
other terms; but her husband had again differed from her in opinion.

"We ought not to try to detain one who wants to go," said he, "or we
must be responsible for all the results that may proceed from his stay,
and that I have no inclination to do in this case. I am sincerely
attached to the young man, as he deserves, and wish him from my heart
all the happiness he deserves; but I don't exactly see how he could
obtain it upon this path. And in this I have not clung to the views you
know I hold regarding marriage. I would be reconciled to all possible
concessions, if Gotthold could be helped. But that cannot be done yet.
The only way to remove the obstacles from his path is such a terrible
one, that, from my knowledge of his nature, he will shudder to use it
if matters ever go far enough. At present they have not reached that

"I shall take care not to rack my brains over this mystery," cried
Ottilie; "only let me ask one question, to which I beg you to give me a
plain, straightforward answer: Does Gotthold know of this expedient?"

"I have not mentioned it to him, but it is possible that, with his
penetration, he has hit upon it himself."

However little satisfaction Ottilie had derived from this very vague
information, she had not been able to doubt that Gotthold really wished
to go away, and even her husband's persuasion would hardly have
detained him.

Gotthold had hurried off with the impetuosity of one who fancies some
magic spell has been cast over him, and strives to break it, cost what
it may. And had not an enchanted ring been woven around him from the
moment he had entered his native island, and been driven by the
companion of his boyhood, without recognizing him, through his native
fields? Good Jochen Prebrow! He certainly bore very little resemblance
to a Mercury, and yet with him had commenced the succession of marvels
which had taken place during the last few days, which had now shown him
a heavenly face and now a fiendish grin; now refreshed him with nectar
and ambrosia, and anon strewn ashes on his tongue.

"I should be the most miserable creature on earth if you did not
understand me!"

The words constantly rang in his ears - the words and the anxious tone
in which she had uttered them, as if from the depths of the
wretchedness into which she would sink without hope of deliverance, if
he did not understand her. She and he! Was not doubt misunderstanding,
and were not doubt and despair one and the same thing in this case?

Had he understood her?

It was in the middle of the night, when Gotthold started from a
troubled sleep, that the meaning of the mystery had appeared before his
soul, as if born of the darkness: there was one thing, and only one,
which she could not, dared not do: go while her child remained,
remained in the power of this fiend; and by this one thing the fiend
had forced her to obey his will. And force her to go he can and will,
will apply for the dissolution of a marriage bond she has broken - or
would she, the proud woman, deny it? Deny upon oath, in a court of
justice, that she had ever rested in the arms of her friend? Repeat in
the court-room, before the world, the yes which in his presence she had
long since changed to an inflexible no? Very well, then the breach of
faith was proved, the marriage dissolved, the child would be taken from
the guilty parent, and given to the one who was innocent of blame!

Then, with a sneering laugh, he had repeated to her the shameful
formula, with which the next morning, in the presence of her lover, she
was to degrade herself to a level with the lowest - must do so if he did
not see through the fiendish plot, if he did not understand her!

Thank God, he understood her now! But how she must have suffered! How
she must suffer still!

And was this state of things to continue? Never, never. Now that he had
at last penetrated his enemy's base game, he must win the victory. If
he had allowed himself to be paid with money for the shame of knowing
that his wife's heart belonged to another, how far would not his
venality extend? But he would sell everything - honor, wife, and child.
Why had he not disposed of all at once, since he knew any price would
be paid that came within the means of the buyer? Did he wish to
increase the value of his wares by selling them separately? Or was
there, even for him, a limit which he could not pass? Inconceivable. Or
was his hatred towards his rival greater than his avarice? Did he carry
the refinement of cruelty so far as only to mutilate his victim, in
order to exult in her agony?

It was certainly very probable from such a man, but how long would this
spendthrift and gambler remain in a situation to be able to afford
himself so costly a luxury? How soon would necessity compel him to sell
off his wares? What had the purchaser to do, except practise a little
patience and keep the money ready?

The property which Gotthold had hitherto considered of so little
importance, suddenly acquired a priceless value in his eyes, and he
felt sorely troubled by the thought that he had entrusted the greater
part of it to persons whose honesty was by no means beyond question;
at least Wollnow, even when their intercourse had been limited to
letter-writing, had repeatedly made such hints, and finally in plain
words warned him against the house in Stettin; but Gotthold, out of
indifference towards the property, and respect for the name of his dead
relative, which had been retained by the firm, had not heeded the
warning until Wollnow had recently spoken on this point even more
urgently, and said that he must withdraw his money, and there was
danger in delay. The banker in Sundin who discounted Wollnow's notes
had confirmed the statement of his business acquaintance, and offered
him his services, but said it would be better to withdraw it to-day
than to-morrow.

Gotthold had intended to do so, but his next visit had been to his
protégé, the young artist Bruggberg, whom he found dying, and in the
duties of friendship he had forgotten everything else. Then days and
weeks of the most sorrowful emotions had followed, during which he
could form no resolution. Now he did not need to form any; now he was
eager to make up for the delay; but it was too late.

When he entered the banker's office, the latter came to meet him with a
very grave face. News had just come from Stettin that Lenz & Co. had
failed, in a most unprecedented, scandalous manner; the creditors would
not receive five per cent. "I am sincerely sorry," said Herr Nathanson;
"I lose a small sum myself, if one can be said to lose what one has
given up all hopes of getting long ago; but you are very heavily
involved, if I understand you rightly. Did you not have fifty thousand
thalers invested there?"

A short time before Gotthold would merely have shrugged his shoulders
at such news, and gone back to his work. Now it came upon him like a
thunder-clap. By the sum recently borrowed of Wollnow and his present
loss, his property was reduced to about one-fourth of its original
amount, and even this, strictly speaking, no longer belonged to him.
Nay, he need not even be overstrict; it was only necessary not to be
faithless to the obligations into which he had entered - obligations to
struggling young artists, who had based their hopes of the future on
his friendship, to widows and children of his deceased companions in
art, who but for him would sink into poverty. What was left him if he
paid these debts, as his honor, his heart bade him? Nothing! Nothing
except the income from his labor. It was enough and more than enough
for himself - but for the insatiate avarice of that spendthrift! He
would not be put off with promises, nor accept payments on account, not

Gotthold stood helpless before a barrier that towered before him in
impassable height, and which neither his anger nor his despair could
remove. Of what crime could she be charged, except that young,
generous, and confiding, she had allowed herself to be deceived by a
villain, and then after long years of terrible, silent agony, had once
more breathed freely at the sight of the friend of her youth, and fled
to his arms for deliverance? And now she was the guilty one, and this
scoundrel, asserting his rights, could mock, torture, kill her

Thus anger and love drove him restlessly around in the terrible circle,
from which no escape seemed possible unless some means could be found
to fasten the crime, before the eyes of all the world, upon the person
who was really guilty.

But how could such crimes be proved?

Gotthold started in horror when, while racking his brains over the
possibility, he surprised himself in the act of producing this proof.
Should he sully his own and Cecilia's honor by revealing the dark
secrets, which, under cover of the night, extended from the master's
room at Dollan to the little attic chamber of the maid-servant? Never!

And that the spendthrift and gambler would ever venture out of the dark
mole-tracks of vice to the comparatively open road of crime was a
thought that had also occurred to him; but there were too many
probabilities against it. He did not give the scoundrel credit for the
courage that always belongs to crime; besides, in that case, Wollnow
would probably have expressed some suspicion; Wollnow, who, apparently
out of sympathy for the Assessor, and perhaps also from the impulse of
his own nature, which every dark problem irritated, had entered into
the affair so eagerly, followed with so much care even the smallest
clew that might lead to the discovery of the lost or stolen money. And,
after all, was it not a psychological impossibility, that even a
Brandow - if he had been directly or indirectly concerned in the
robbery - could quietly clasp the hand of the man he had wronged, as he
had done just now, when Gotthold met him engaged in a most animated
conversation with the convalescent and his wife. True, the matter had
been settled by the trustees of the convent of St. Jürgen, in a manner
particularly favorable to Sellien. Under the direction of Alma's
father, who presided at the meeting, they decided that the Assessor was
not in the least to blame, since, as the agent of the convent, he was
authorized, nay obliged, to receive the money, and certainly could not
be held responsible for what happened to him on Dollan moor, during and
after the fall. So the convent merely set down the ten thousand thalers
as lost, "and," Sellien's father-in-law said, "if we were requested to
withdraw the warrant for the apprehension of Hinrich Scheel, I, for
one, should make no objection. The fellow has escaped long ago, and it
is neither for our interest, gentlemen, nor that of my son-in-law, to
have the stupid story constantly kept before the people."

Brandow laughed heartily when Sellien, in the most amusing manner, gave
an account of the last meeting of the trustees, but was unfortunately
obliged to take his leave immediately, as he wanted to go away directly
after he had attended another consultation of the racing committee: the
seventh within a fortnight! He could not get away from the city at all;
but what was he to do? It was everything to him to get the resolution
to include a piece of marshy ground in the race-course withdrawn. His
Brownlock, which had compared very favorably with the other horses
yesterday, was as good a steeple-chaser as could be found; but for the
very reason that he had so much power in leaping, required firm ground.
"It would be a sin and shame to treat him so; even young Prince Prora
has declared it 'indigne.' But I'll pay no forfeit for non-performance
of my contract. I'd rather be left sticking in the bog and if necessary

"He is a hero!" Alma Sellien exclaimed, ere Brandow had closed the door
behind him, opening her eyes very wide to express her enthusiasm.

"He is a fool," Gotthold muttered to himself, as he walked through the
wet, silent streets towards his lodgings; "at least as much fool as
knave, and certainly incapable of a deed which, in any sense, requires
a man."

On reaching his room, Gotthold found a letter in the firm, even bold
hand of Wollnow, now so familiar to him.

The epistle was a lengthy one. Gotthold expected to find news of the
Stettin affair, about which a great deal of correspondence had passed
between him and his friend during the last few weeks. He was mistaken.
His eyes sparkled as, still standing, he glanced rapidly over the
pages; then he threw himself into a chair, but instantly started up
again, for his resolution was already formed. He hurried to the house
where the racing committee met. Herr Brandow, after a violent
altercation with one of the gentlemen on the committee, had left the
house half an hour before. He went to the hotel where he knew Brandow
usually lodged. This time Herr Brandow had not done the hotel the
honor; perhaps he had taken a room at the "Golden Lion." The "Golden
Lion" knew nothing of Herr Brandow; perhaps the gentleman might be at
the "White Rose." Brandow had left the "White Rose" about fifteen
minutes before, for home, the head waiter thought, at least he had
ordered his luggage to be carried to the ferry-boat.

The next boat left in half an hour. Gotthold had just time to hurry
home and put clothing enough to last for a few days into a travelling
bag. "It is possible that I may not return for several days," he called
to the landlady, and added in an under-tone: "It is possible I may not
return at all."


The passage to the island was unusually long that day. A strong
head-wind had sprung up; the boat was overloaded with passengers and
horses, and they were obliged to tack, cautiously. Conversation among
the passengers, most of whom were land-owners and farmers on the
island, turned almost exclusively upon the races which were to take
place in a few days, and would be the most brilliant ones that had ever
been seen. Horses were to come from Silesia, and even Hungary; Prince
Prora would probably have taken part in them himself, if he had been
admitted. The great public prize was increased to a thousand thalers,
but the principal race would be the one between the gentlemen riders.
It had at first been supposed that not three of the twenty-four horses
registered would appear, since even in May, six, from fear of Herr
Brandow's Brownlock, had already paid the forfeit for failing to fulfil
their contract; but now the tables were turned, now all wanted to be
allowed a place, for it was notorious that Brownlock could not cross
the marsh, and then he would be obliged to give up the lead to go round
it, and could not recover it again, since there was only one very
slight impediment between the bog and the winning-post, and on a free
course the other horses could easily cope with him.

So the men, putting their heads together, talked eagerly among
themselves, while rain and spray dashed over their broad shoulders, and
Gotthold pondered over the letter he carried in his pocket. "Brownlock
can't cross the bog, Brandow says so himself;" he had another motive
for saying so besides that of stimulating his opponent's desire to bet,
as one of the speakers had suggested.

At last the boat reached the opposite shore. Gotthold hurried to the
inn to get a carriage to take him to Prora. Herr Peter's three
carriages were all away, but one would soon return, nay, ought to have
been back now; but he could not depend upon the grooms; the only
reliable one he had ever had got married about three weeks ago, one
Jochen Prebrow from Dollan, that is, not the estate, but the smithy,
near which the accident had lately happened of which the gentleman had
probably heard.

"Why, good gracious!" exclaimed Herr Peters, "it's you yourself. I
should hardly have known you. You look much paler and thinner than you
did three weeks ago, when you passed through here with the Herr
Assessor and Herr Wollnow. I was talking the matter over with Herr
Brandow a few hours ago. It's a pity you missed the twelve o'clock
boat, or you might have gone on with Herr Brandow, who always has his
own horses here to meet him. There is no trace of Hinrich Scheel yet;
no doubt the fellow has been on his way to America for the last three

Herr Peters was now obliged to attend to his other guests, whose tall,
broad figures crowded the large coffee-room. Gotthold had already seen
curious glances directed towards him; probably Herr Peters had pointed
him out as the hero of the accident on Dollan moor, which had caused a
great deal of talk on, its own account, and now that Brandow's name was
in every mouth, was more discussed than ever. So he left the room,
which reeked with tobacco-smoke, and wandered about in the pouring
rain, until at last, after an hour of impatient waiting, the promised
carriage arrived - an old rickety chaise, to which fortunately a pair of
fresh horses was harnessed. Herr Peters came out to take leave of him,
and say that in consequence of the great demand, he could not have the
carriage at the usual price. Gotthold consented to the shameless
extortion, and would have given even more to get on.

"I saw what was in the wind at once," said Herr Peters to his guests;
"Brandow two hours ago, and now he. Mark my words; they are after

"Nonsense," said a fat farmer; "he's gone where the pepper grows long

"I think he has taken his life," observed another.

"Or had it taken," growled a third.

They again put their heads together, even more eagerly than before.
That Hinrich Scheel had not reaped the fruits of his crime alone, nay,
possibly, had been wholly cheated out of them, was an opinion which had
obtained a firm hold upon the public mind, although the rumor had not
assumed a definite form. This time also people either could not or
would not mention any names; on the contrary, the affair grew darker
and darker the longer they talked it over, and the more frequently the
thick little glasses filled with a greenish liquid were emptied. Herr
Peters looked on well satisfied; it might be doubtful which of the
disputants would first call for a bowl of his famous mulled wine; but
that the call would be made within the next five minutes was perfectly
certain. Herr Peters had already made a signal through the little
window that opened into the kitchen to his daughter, who was standing
by the hearth.

Meantime Gotthold drove on through the pouring rain, which shrouded the
whole landscape in a gray veil that grew denser and denser hour by
hour. The wind whistled through the chinks in the leathern curtains,
which had been buttoned down to protect the occupants of the chaise
from the storm; the crazy old vehicle creaked and groaned
whenever - which happened only too often - the wheels on the right or
left slipped into the holes of the rough road; but the horses were
powerful, and the driver, who expected a liberal fee, was willing, so
it rolled forward with tolerable speed, although by no means rapidly
enough to suit Gotthold's increasing impatience.

Yet he was compelled to acknowledge to himself, and did so again and
again, that there was no sensible reason for his haste, that nothing
depended upon one hour more or less, nay, that another hour, which
might perhaps mature some definite resolution in his mind, would be
welcome. Yet, even while he said so, he leaned forward to shout to the
driver that the road was perfectly smooth here, and he might drive

Then he leaned back again into the corner of his little damp prison,
drew out Wollnow's letter and gazed at it as if he could not believe
any one could write such words as those in a hand so firm, characters
so large and clear. And for the second time he read:

"What I have to tell you to-day, my dear friend, is so bad that the
most skilful preamble would not make it better. So without any
introduction: the upsetting of the carriage on the moor was no unlucky
accident, but a shameful crime, of which Brandow was the instigator.
Secondly, the money was stolen. The originator of the theft, which
might be termed murder, was Brandow again; he was probably present at
the time, or else appeared on the scene directly after; at any rate,
the fruits of the robbery fell into his hands. Whether the two crimes
may to a certain extent be considered one - I mean whether the first was

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 17 of 24)