Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

. (page 18 of 24)
Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 18 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

committed that the second might be executed, or whether the second was
perpetrated on the spur of the moment, after the first had been
performed - I do not know, and probably no one ever will, since it is to
be feared that a third terrible crime has resulted from the first two.

"Who betrayed this horror to me? That which is so often the betrayer of
crimes - chance.

"A chance than which nothing could be more accidental.

"The money in the packet consisted of hundred, fifty, and twenty-five
thaler notes. I had myself, as you know, counted and put up the amount;
but of course that would not enable me to positively swear to the
identity of any one of the bills, even if it came back to me again.
With one, however, I am in a position to do so; the note is once more
in my hands, and I can prove in whose possession it has been in the
mean time.

"I was obliged to pay out this bill ten years ago at a very critical
time - it was the last money I possessed, and in a humorous freak I
marked on it the words, 'a lucky journey,' and the date in small,
almost microscopical characters, on the upper right-hand corner of its
face. Four years ago this same note came back to me. I honored my old
friend with the word 'welcome,' which, together with the date, I
wrote on the left-hand upper corner of the back, and gave it, as a
luck-penny, a place in my pocket-book, where it remained until three
weeks ago. You will remember that ready money was rather scarce with
me, and I took advantage of the opportunity to punish myself for my
superstitious feelings by adding this note to the rest.

"Now, this bill, to whose identity I can swear, Herr Redebas received
from Brandow on the day after the accident, as a part of the gambling
debt due that afternoon; he left the money in his desk without touching
it, until he made me a payment yesterday in which was this very note. I
asked Herr Redebas - without telling him my reasons - whether he could
swear to this statement if necessary; he answered in some little
astonishment, but very positively, that he was ready to do so at any

"Brandow, as is well known, had related here and there, that is, had
intentionally spread the report, that the five thousand thalers he paid
Herr Redebas at noon had been received in the morning from Jacob
Demminer, a produce dealer in this place, as part payment on account of
the seven thousand for which he had sold his wheat to him. This
statement had nothing improbable in and of itself, and as Jacob
Demminer bears the reputation of doing any business by which money can
be made, even that of a receiver of stolen goods, there was certainly
the shadow of a possibility that the master had received in the
morning, in payment for his wheat, the very money of which the man had
robbed our friend the night before, and thought he had placed in safety
with the worthy Jacob, with whom he had perhaps had business dealings
for a long time. I say, there is the shadow of a possibility, for the
time was rather short; still, we do not yet know where and how Hinrich
Scheel spent the rest of the night, so it might have been.

"The worthy Jacob, however, had not this affair at least on his
conscience, but the business Brandow wished to transact with him did
not take place either. To be sure Brandow was here that morning, and
also in the dark hole Jacob calls his counting-room; he took money away
with him, too, but only two thousand thalers, and not for this year's
wheat, which he had sold to Jacob months before, but for the next
year's harvest. He was obliged to sell at any price, in order to be
able to show the money at this time, and he could name any sum without
fearing that the worthy Jacob would contradict a customer with whom he
did such profitable business. The discovery of this trick was also
effected by chance, in the person of a poor young Jew, who had worked
several years for the worthy Jacob, and gained his confidence, until
now his conscience, or I know not what, suddenly urged him to pour out
his heart to me, and implore me to save him from this den of crime.

"Let us recapitulate. Brandow, who on the day of the accident was known
to be destitute of money, and received only two thousand thalers the
following morning, pays Herr Redebas, at noon, five thousand at one
stroke; and among this money is the hundred-thaler note which was in
the package that disappeared at the time of the accident.

"Disappeared! Why not lost, found, but not restored to its owner?

"Then it would still have been stolen. But from the beginning it was
both a theft and robbery.

"Remember that you felt the package in the Assessor's coat-pocket after
you left Dollan; that you no longer felt it at the smithy, and yet the
coat you had buttoned was still fastened. This, to be sure, is no
positive proof - nay, the latter circumstance at first even seems to be
against my supposition. Why, it might be said, should a thief so
cunning in all other respects intentionally incur an additional risk?
But people may try to be too cunning; and it certainly was not known
that you had kept your eye on the package all the evening, and
afterwards, when you buttoned the Assessor's coat, even had it under
your hand. The defender of the accused will, of course, doubt the
correctness of this statement, will - but we are not in a court of
justice. To me the fact is plain: the Assessor had the money with him
at the time of the fall; afterwards, when the two Prebrows raised the
poor fellow, while Henrich Scheel stood by with the lantern, he no
longer had it - that is, it had been stolen during the interval.

"By whom?

"Undoubtedly by this very Hinrich Scheel, but very, very probably not
by him alone.

"Can Brandow have been present at the time?

"He has taken no little trouble to prove his alibi, even before any
proof was asked, and evidently began the affair cunningly enough. He
rode here by the way of Neuenhof, Lankenitz, and Faschwitz - that is a
fact; the people in the villages heard him dash through; he even took
time to talk to several persons he met. If he rode the whole way he
cannot have been present at the time the deed was committed; even the
best rider on the fastest horse could not do that. But suppose he did
not ride the whole way - suppose he turned into the road just above
Neuenhof - suppose the spectral horseman whom you saw in your vision
dashing across the morass had been a veritable rider of flesh and
blood, and this rider had been Carl Brandow.

"You say that is impossible. What is impossible to a man pursued by the
furies, if he has a horse under him like the much-praised Brownlock?

"Brandow rode Brownlock that night; the groom at the Fürstenhof swore
it, after he saw the racer, day before yesterday, on his way to Sundin.
And when a man like Brandow rides a horse which in itself represents a
small fortune, and on which, moreover, he has bet thousands, on such a
night, over such roads, at such a pace, he must have been in a great

"He must have been in a very great hurry, or, my dear friend, you would
not have escaped with your life; you certainly would not have been
spared. A man whom people dash headlong over a precipice sixty feet
high they silence entirely, if they are not in too great a hurry.

"Yet, as I said before, this will probably remain a mystery, even to a
wiser judge than Justizrath von Zadenig. One of those who were there
will never betray it, and the other can no longer do so.

"As I returned from B. I met Brandow; he may easily have learned from
my coachman that I had been talking to the Justizrath for an hour. He
rode towards home at full gallop; an hour after the lawyer arrived with
the gendarme, but did not find Hinrich Scheel, although people had seen
him about all the forenoon; and he even took his master's horse when he
came home. The master was very, very anxious that the missing man
should be found; he even directed the search himself; he - "

"I will not protract this horrible supposition farther; it is the only
one which occurs in my story, all the others are facts - facts which cry
aloud to heaven - which ought not, must not remain unpunished. I know,
my dearest friend, you'll think as I do, though every fibre of your
heart must quiver at the thought that you - you -

"I shall come to Sundin with my wife day after to-morrow. We will then
discuss, not what is to be done - there can be no doubt about that; but
the how is certainly to be considered."

Gotthold put the letter back in his pocket, and gazed out into the
cheerless, rain-blurred landscape so fixedly, that he scarcely heard a
carriage, which, coming from Prora, passed by on the other side of the
road. It was still a half hour's ride to Prora, but it seemed an
eternity to the impatient traveller. At last the carriage stopped
before Wollnow's house.


"I am so sorry to have you go," said Ottilie; "my husband must
certainly return before evening. He will be very angry with me for not
keeping you. And then, confess it frankly, my dear friend, you are
going without any definite plan - any fixed purpose - and in this way
intend to meet a man like Brandow - that is, to lose the game before it
is begun."

Ottilie had seized Gotthold's hands as if to draw him back from the
door into the room. Gotthold shook his head.

"You are right," said he, "but there are cases where the one who is not
right, or at least cannot prove that he is, must act according to his
own opinions. That is my case. I cannot put Brandow in prison or drag
him to the scaffold; I can't - "

"Even if he must otherwise still remain Cecilia's husband? You cannot
permit that either."

"Certainly not, and therefore a third plan must be found."

"Which never can be. Dear, dear Gotthold, let me say to you what my
husband would have said if he were here: Never! He will never yield if
you go to him so, alone and helpless, without the bailiff and myrmidons
of the law; you must be able to prove that you have him completely in
your power, and that is not the case now. My husband said yesterday
evening: 'If we could only confront him with Scheel. There is really
nothing to be done without him; but where is Scheel? Perhaps at the
bottom of the Dollan morass.' Ah! my dear friend, stay away from this
den of murderers."

"And ought I to leave her there?" exclaimed Gotthold. "Woe betide me
for having done so until now, for not having risked everything to take
her away with me, her and her child, for it was only the child that
detained her, and he would have sold the child too if I had had head
and heart enough to offer him the right price. Now I can offer nothing
except a mortal struggle; but I am sure, and he knows very well, that I
shall not be conquered this time. Forgive me, my dear friend, for using
so many words where acts would beseem me better, and - farewell."

Ottilie burst into tears. "And you," she exclaimed, "my dear, dear
friend. Ah! yes, you must go, you must risk all if you love Cecilia,
and that you did love her - I knew long ago, and my good Emil knew it,
and - and - Emil would not act otherwise in your place, believe me,
whatever he may have said before, and may say after! He knows what
passionate love is, nay, he would make no objections if he were eight
and twenty, and in your place! But I can't help it if I am not as
beautiful and intellectual as your dear dead mother was; and besides, I
was not even in existence thirty years ago, and there are much more
unhappy married couples than we, and, and - may you and your Cecilia be
as happy!"

She embraced and kissed Gotthold very warmly, and then stood at the
open window letting the rain drip upon her tear-stained face as she
waved her handkerchief while his carriage jolted over the rough

In spite of all the delays, it was still nearly an hour before sunset
when Gotthold left Prora, and the horses stepped out bravely; he must
surely reach Dollan before dark. He repeated this to himself several
times in the course of the next hour, and then reflected why he
constantly recurred to this calculation over and over again, and what
difference it made whether he reached Dollan before or after dark. He
could find no answer, and even as he sought for one, said to himself
once more: "Thank God, I shall get there before dark!" Were his
thoughts beginning to get confused? That would be bad; his head would
probably have much to bear to-day, then his anxious eyes wandered to
the heavy clouds, wet stubble, and black fields, and he murmured: "It
will grow dark earlier than I expected," and as if the obstinacy of the
idea required a corresponding idea, even if it were a mild one, he
added: "I shall not find her."

And now he could not shake off the new idea: he would not find her. As
if she would hide herself from him, and he would be obliged to seek her
in vain because it was too dark.

Or was all this only nonsense, such as arises in the confused brain of
a man who for hours has jolted alone in a damp chaise, over rough
country roads, staring out into the murky atmosphere, which grew grayer
and denser every minute. Was it the terrible type of a terrible
possibility. Hinrich Scheel had taken Brandow's horse when he came
home, and two hours after Hinrich Scheel had disappeared. Now he had
been at home at least four hours; so he had had twice as much time.

Gotthold tore away the curtain which was still fastened on one side; it
seemed as if he was suffocating. At last! there was the smithy close
before him; he would see and speak to the worthy Prebrows; they lived
so near that they could surely tell him they had seen and spoken to her
a short time before.

The smithy was lonely and deserted; several hours must have passed
since the bellows, had been used: a thick covering of ashes lay over
the dead coals. It seemed as if the father and son, who lived alone in
the old-fashioned little house, had just run away from their work. The
piece of iron they had last been forging still lay on the anvil, the
pincers and hammer were close beside it on the ground, as if they had
been suddenly thrown down to rush out of the door, which stood wide
open. The driver was very indignant; one of the springs of the chaise
was almost broken. He had depended upon getting the injury repaired
here so that it should go no farther. Gotthold told the lad to follow
him slowly, he would go forward on foot.

He could not have waited a moment longer; the sight of the deserted
smithy had infinitely increased the terrible anxiety which had tortured
him all the way. He hurried up the ascending road over the moor,
without heeding the rain that the wind drove into his face with
redoubled violence as he walked hastily on, his eyes always fixed upon
the nearest hillock which lay before him, and seemed inaccessible. Then
he stood panting for breath on the top of the slope, but his view on
the right was no clearer; a gray mist from the morass floated nearer
and nearer, was so near already that the rugged side of the next
hillock gleamed very dimly through the drizzling vapor, and he scarcely
recognized the scene of the accident. On reaching the bottom he
remembered that by keeping close to the edge one might pass between the
hill and morass, so he left the height on the left, and took that

But as he turned towards the marsh he entered farther and farther into
the fog that had now spread over the bog like a heaving gray sea, and
whirled against the steep acclivity like surges dashed by a violent
wind against the cliffs.

While the height on the left obstructed his view, and on the right he
gazed into the gray mist, which scarcely permitted him to see where to
set his feet, the terrible dread increased at every step; it seemed as
if every moment the misty curtain must rise to reveal the horrible
picture it now concealed, and the height against which it pressed was
only there that he might not escape the scene. And there it was!

Gotthold stood trembling and staring into the mist with eyes fairly
starting from their sockets. It could have been nothing but a trick of
his over-excited fancy, for he now saw nothing, nothing at all, and yet
he had seen it with perfect distinctness: four or five figures standing
in a circle, thrusting long poles into the morass - misty spectres!

No, no; no spectres! Or else ghosts could speak with human voices,
which he clearly distinguished, although he could not understand the
words, and now he even caught a few.

"Could it possibly be here?"

"No, it was not possible - it was certain; he now knew why he had been
so alarmed."

The next moment, with a single bound, he had dashed through the tall
sedges which, at this spot, enclosed the morass with a broad girdle;
the thin covering of turf rose and fell under him - he did not notice
it; again and again the water dashed up under his flying feet - he did
not heed it; his eyes pierced the mist in the direction from which he
had heard the voices, and now heard them again still nearer; and now
the figures, which a rift in the mist had just revealed to him,
appeared again; he reached them.

"Cousin Boslaf!"

"Stand farther away, and you others, too! There are too many of us
here; the ground won't bear, and I can do it alone."

They stepped back; again and again the old man let the long pole,
furnished with an iron hook, slide cautiously down into the water which
had here formed a small dark pool amid the rushes and nodding grass.
Then he drew it out and gave it to one of the men. "There is nothing
here. This was the last place, we will go back; keep close behind me;
and you too, Gotthold. Tread in my footsteps."

The old man, holding his gun on his shoulder, walked forward with the
long, regular stride of a huntsman, till the others, among whom was
Clas Prebrow, Jochen's brother, found it difficult to keep up with him.
He paused several times, and seemed to be trying the ground; but it was
only for a few moments, then he moved on into the mist. The men
followed without hesitation; they knew they could go on calmly if
Cousin Boslaf led the way; and now the ground became firmer and firmer;
they were on the very spot from which they had started an hour ago.
Cousin Boslaf called Gotthold to his side.

"Since when?" asked Gotthold.

"At two o'clock this morning; the dogs have been keen on her track; I
knew it first three hours ago."

"And you still have hope?"

The old man gazed into the mist.

"We have not found her," said he, "so the others may not either, and in
that case there would still be hope, although it is not probable that
she could have gone far with the child in the darkness."

"With the child?" cried Gotthold, "with Gretchen! then all is well; she
would do the child no injury."

"Injury!" said the old man, "injury! there are greater injuries than

Gotthold shuddered. She had not been willing to part from the child;
she had thought herself obliged to bear - able to bear - anything for its
sake. Now matters had become unendurable, and she was compelled to cast
the burden aside. What would become of Gretchen? There are worse
injuries than death.


They walked rapidly towards the house, old Boslaf still leading the way
with his long, regular strides, his eyes now bent upon the ground, and
anon gazing keenly into the gloom of the gathering twilight; but he did
not speak, and Gotthold asked no questions. Yet before he reached the
court-yard, he knew - from various remarks made by the other men - that
when, towards noon, the rumor spread abroad among the laborers that the
mistress had disappeared with her child, it was said at once that they
were dead. No one had been the first to utter the words; every one had
spoken them at the same time, and suggested that somebody should
go to Cousin Boslaf. Cousin Boslaf had come instantly - with his old
long-barrelled gun over his shoulder - and divided the men into parties.
Statthalter Möller, with one band, was to cross the fields and search
the forest near the seashore. Prebrow, the blacksmith, who had been
sent for, was to head another company and go to the upper part of the
moor, towards the Schanzenbergen; and Cousin Boslaf himself, with the
remainder, down to the morass; then they would all meet at the house
again. Two hours before - they were then still farther out in the
morass, and there was some little fog, though it was by no means so
thick - they had seen Herr Brandow come home, and very soon after ride
away again. He had taken a wise course, for the men had resolved that
the murderer should not leave the estate alive again; it was no matter
about Hinrich Scheel, who was as bad as his master; but his wife and
child - it was too much, and they had always said it would happen some

They had all said so and had let it happen! True, they had been unable
to prevent it; but he! Gotthold thought his heart would burst with
shame and horror.

They reached the house almost at the same moment as the two other
parties, who had carefully searched the region assigned to them, and
found nothing, not the smallest trace.

What was to be done now?

Very little more could be done. True, the fog had dispersed, but
twilight had already closed in; in half an hour, or an hour at latest,
it would be perfectly dark. Besides, the men, who ever since noon had
been constantly on their feet, searching bushes and woods, fields and
morass, were evidently fatigued and exhausted, though quite ready to
search the forest in the direction of Dahlitz, as soon as they had
eaten the supper Cousin Boslaf had ordered to be brought out from the
house. The old man himself neither eat nor drank; he stood with folded
arms, leaning against the trunk of one of the huge old lindens, waiting
patiently until the men should once more be ready to help him seek
his great-granddaughter, the last of his race, at the bottom of the
marl-pit, the depths of some forest ravine, or wherever she had fled
with her child to die.

Gotthold had entered the house to look for Mine, a good young
servant-girl whom he had often seen playing with Gretchen, and who
appeared to be very devoted to Cecilia; perhaps he might learn from her
something that would give a clew. He found her in the kitchen, where
with eyes swollen with weeping, she was helping the housekeeper prepare
bread and butter for the men's supper. When she caught sight of
Gotthold she dropped the knife with a cry of joy, and came running
towards him.

Gotthold told her to leave the room with him.

At first the good child's tears almost choked her words. The mistress
had been very sad the last few weeks, much more sorrowful than usual;
she had scarcely spoken except to Gretchen, whom she would never trust
out of her sight, and even to her only when it was absolutely
necessary. Yesterday she had remained out of doors alone until very
late in the evening, and when she came in looked so pale and exhausted,
and stared straight before her with such a fixed expression; she would
not go to bed, however, but insisted that she should go to her mother
in Neuenhof, who was very sick, and added that she need not come back
before noon, and then the mistress had already been gone, no one knows
how long. Rieke had certainly known it long before, but said nothing
from fear of the other servants, and hid herself up stairs until the
master came home. At first he scolded her furiously, and struck at her
with his riding-whip, but Rieke cried and screamed that she would
charge the master with it, and made such evil speeches that at last he
took her away with him in the carriage; and her dear kind mistress had
been obliged to go out of the house in the middle of the night, and
dear sweet little Gretchen had not even had her new boots, for they
were locked up in the closet, and she had the key in her pocket.

The girl began to cry again; Gotthold said a few words which were
intended to be consoling, and was then obliged to turn away, for his
own grief threatened to overpower him. The sobbing girl had reminded
him of the sunny days when he sought out Cecilia in the garden, and
played with Gretchen among the flower-beds.

When he came out of the house again, the men had finished their meals
and were ready to set out. Prebrow, the blacksmith, was to search the
forest on the left, and the Statthalter on the right of the road to
Dahlitz. Cousin Boslaf would keep to the road itself. They were just
going when Gotthold's chaise jolted into the courtyard; the spring was
now entirely broken, and the tire was off of one wheel. Cousin Boslaf

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 18 of 24)