Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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asked the Statthalter whether Herr Wenhofs old carriage was still
there, and capable of being used. The carriage was there, and might be
made fit for use. Then Clas Prebrow should repair it, put in a pair of
fresh horses, and follow them. Gotthold looked at the old man
inquiringly.

"I shall seek till I find her," said Cousin Boslaf, pushing the rifle
farther over his shoulder, "and I shall find her - alive or dead; in
either case we shall need the carriage."

They reached the forest; the men had already spread out to the right
and left, and now pressed eagerly into its depths.

"I shall keep to the road," said Cousin Boslaf as they walked on side
by side. "I can trust my old eyes, and I almost believe she has taken
this way. She would reach the forest sooner, and directly behind the
woods, in a ploughed field on the right, is the great marl-pit. When
she was a child, a poor girl who had killed her new-born babe drowned
herself there."

The old man did not change his long, regular stride as he spoke, and
his keen eyes searched the deep furrows of the rough road, or glanced
over the bashes and tree trunks on either side, between which, here in
the depths of the forest, the darkness already brooded gloomily. The
men within the woods shouted to each other, in order to keep together:
oftentimes one of the dogs they had taken with them barked loudly, then
for a moment all was silent again, save the wind sighing through the
treetops, and shaking the rain-drops from the leaves. Then the old man
paused, listened, and went on again, after convincing himself that the
men still kept to their track, and nothing remarkable had happened.

So they came to the end of the forest, whose dark edge stretched out
into the twilight on either side as far as the eye could reach. Nothing
was to be seen of the men, who had been obliged to make their way
through the underbrush more slowly. Cousin Boslaf pointed towards the
right, where a short distance from the road, in the ploughed field, a
round spot was relieved against the darker earth; it was the marl-pit,
which the continual rain of the last few days had filled nearly to the
brim.

They crossed the edge of the road to the field; the old man again took
the lead, but more slowly than before, and his head was bowed lower, as
if he wished to count every separate blade of the short wet grass.
Suddenly he paused: "Here!"

He pointed to the wet ground, upon which, as Gotthold now also
perceived, were the marks of footprints, a large one, with a smaller
one beside it. The footprints came from the road they had just left,
but had emerged from the forest sooner, and gone towards the marl-pit,
and they had come upon it farther down at a right angle. The old hunter
and the young man looked at each other; neither spoke - they knew the
decisive moment had come.

Slowly and cautiously they followed the clew, which ran straight before
them towards the marl-pit, on whose surface they already saw the
rippling of the water, as the strong breeze blew it against the edges.
Only about fifty paces more, and all would be decided.

Gotthold's eyes rested fixedly upon the horrible water, which glittered
spectrally in the last feeble glimmer of twilight; he saw her standing
on the edge holding the child by the hand, gazing -

One of the old man's hands rested on his shoulder, the other pointed
downwards. "She took the child in her arms here."

There was only one footprint, the larger one, and the mark was
deeper - five, ten, fifteen steps -

"Stay!"

The old man had uttered the word, and waving Gotthold back with his
hand at the same moment, he fell upon his knees. The footprints were
confused, as if she had taken a few steps irresolutely to and fro, and
then the trail became distinct again, going straight on, but parallel
with the edge of the marl-pit, and then they turned back in the
direction of the road, and remained in that course to the bank, from
whose sharp edge a small piece of turf had been torn as she stepped
upon the path with her burden.

The two men stood in the road once more; Gotthold felt as if the solid
earth were reeling under him; he threw himself into the arms of the old
man, who clasped him in a warm embrace.

"We may hope now, my dear son; but we are not yet at the end."

"I will bear and risk everything, so long as I can still hope," cried
Gotthold.

The dark figures of men now emerged singly and in pairs from the gloomy
forest, and approached the place where they stood. They had found
nothing; and Statthalter Möller asked whether they should now search
the marl-pit; they could probably do no more than that today; it had
grown too dark, and the people were completely worn out.

"But if Herr Wenhof wants us to do anything, we will, won't we, men?"
asked Statthalter Möller.

"Ay, that we will," they replied in chorus.

"I thank you," said Cousin Boslaf, "you can help me no more now; I will
go on alone with this gentleman, as soon as Clas Prebrow comes with the
carriage, and I now have a hope that I may find my great-grandchild
alive."

The old man's voice trembled as he pronounced the last words, and the
people looked at him in astonishment.

"Yes, my great-grandchild," the old man began again, and his voice was
now strong, and had acquired a strangely deep, solemn tone, "for that
she is - my great-grandchild, and the great-grandchild of Ulrica, the
wife of Adolf Wenhof. You have aided me so faithfully to-day that I
cannot help telling you the truth. There is no one living whom it can
harm, but it may do you good to know that the truth must always be
spoken, that an old man of ninety must speak it, for no other reason
than that it is the truth. And now go home, children, and don't allow
yourselves to be tempted to take vengeance on him who has driven my
child from house and home - don't vent your anger on the house and farm.
Better men have lived there before him, and better ones will dwell
there after him; and now once more I thank you, children."

The men had listened in silence; one after another removed his
cap - they did not exactly know why; and when the old man and Gotthold
entered the carriage, which meantime had quietly driven up, all stood
around it with bared heads, and even after the coach had gone on, and
they had set out on their way home, it was long ere any one ventured to
speak aloud.

But the coach drove on through the darkness towards the fishing village
of Ralow. It was a delightful road on a summer evening, and Cecilia had
been fond of walking here with the child. Gotthold thought she would
follow this direction, and the old man had assented. "It is your turn
now," said he. "We were seeking a dead body, and an old man is well
suited for that; now that we are in search of a living woman, young
blood may be better."




CHAPTER XXVIII.


Two days after, Jochen Prebrow was standing before the door of his
house, just after his second breakfast, looking out to sea through a
long spy-glass, which with his left hand he rested against the tall
flag-staff that stood before the house. Worthy Jochen might often be
found in the same spot, engaged in the same occupation It was not that
he sought or hoped to find anything unusual out at sea; but in leisure
moments the spy-glass, which usually rested on two crooked bars close
beside the door under the shelter of the projecting roof, afforded an
excellent amusement, even if, as at this moment, there was nothing to
be seen on the sea except the waves, here and there crested with foam,
dancing merrily in the morning breeze.

But to-day the worthy Jochen did not even see the foam-crested waves;
he saw absolutely nothing at all; yet when, at the end of five minutes,
he put down and closed the spy-glass, his broad face wore an expression
as anxious as if he had perceived a large ship, driven by a north-east
storm on the Wiessow cliffs, and his neighbor Pilot Bonsak had said she
could not be saved.

And the same anxious expression rested upon the plump face of his
Stine, who had just appeared in the doorway, and with both hands,
usually so busy, idly folded under her apron, began to gaze at the blue
morning sky and shining white clouds scattered over it, without even
noticing her Jochen, who was standing scarcely six paces away.

"No, no," sighed Stine.

"Yes, yes," said Jochen.

"Jochen, how you frightened me!"

"And it is frightful, when one thinks of it," said Jochen.

He had opened the spy-glass again, and was evidently about to resume
his former occupation; but Stine took it out of his hands, put it in
its place, and said in a somewhat irritated tone, "You do nothing but
look through the old thing, and I so worried that I hardly know whether
I'm on my head or my heels."

"Oh! but if you don't know, Stine" -

"How am I to know? Why are you my husband, if I, poor creature, am
expected to know everything? And she has just asked me again whether
the Swede is not yet here. Poor girl! To go all that long way in such a
nutshell of a boat! And who knows whether the people over yonder will
want her. They are only fourth or fifth cousins."

Stine had spoken with great emotion, but in a suppressed tone, and had
drawn her Jochen out to the blackthorn hedge that divided the sandy
little garden from the sandy village-street. Jochen had a vague
perception that as a man and a husband, and moreover sole innkeeper of
Wiessow, he must say something, so he replied: "You'll see, Stine, we
sha'n't carry it through."

"Jochen, I wouldn't have believed you were so bad," exclaimed Stine,
as, sobbing violently and pressing both red hands over her eyes, she
turned away from her husband and went back to the house.

Jochen was left standing by the hedge, and raised his arms; but the
spy-glass was resting quietly in its place, and, in consideration of
his wickedness, he did not venture to take down the care-dispeller. So
he let his arms fall again and thrust his hands into his pockets. Thank
God, here was his pipe! It now had many idle hours, for Stine could not
bear smoking, and if she should see him now when she was so angry, she
probably would not make friends again.

Jochen let the pipe slide back into his pocket, and gazed at the
sparkling sea like one who, without any optical instrument, still sees
only too distinctly the spot where just now a majestic ship went down
with all on board.

"Good-morning, Prebrow," said a voice close beside him.

Jochen slowly turned his blue eyes from the distant horizon towards the
gentleman who, with the collar of his coat turned up over his ears, had
just passed along by the hedge with hasty strides.

"Good-morning, Herr In - "

"St - " said the gentleman, stopping and putting his finger on his lips.

Jochen nodded.

"To-night!" continued the gentleman; "I tell you, because, after
everything has gone on well, until now, somebody might at the last
moment get some suspicion, and inquire of you. Of course you don't know
me."

"Heaven forbid!" replied Jochen.

The gentleman nodded and was about to continue his walk, but paused
again as if struck by the troubled expression of Jochen's face, and
added: "You needn't take it to heart, Prebrow; it serves the Rahnk
right; their conduct is a disgrace to Wiessow and the whole region, and
after all there is no one who would not be glad to have you get rid of
the rascals. And when I come back next time, Prebrow, I shall of course
lodge with you; this time I must keep out of the way."

The gentleman nodded, walked lightly away, and after casting a rapid
glance around him, entered the pilot's house.

"A damned miserable business," muttered Jochen, without exactly knowing
which of the two he meant, the one going on in his own house, or the
other of which the Herr steuer-inspector had just spoken. It was
probably the former; the second certainly did not concern him at all,
but it was a secret the more, and he already had far too much trouble
with one.

"Good-morning, Jochen."

This time Jochen was actually frightened. There was his brother Clas in
the very spot where the Herr inspector had just been standing.

"Why, good Heavens, Clas, what brings you here?" he exclaimed.

"Ah! you may well say that, Jochen," answered Clas.

"Is the smithy burned?"

"Why, Jochen, how can you ask such stupid questions?"

The bridge of understanding seemed broken. The feeling that the whole
world was one dark secret, and he the unhappy man who had to guard it,
overpowered Jochen still more.

"Won't you come in, Clas?" said he.

He could not help saying that; he could not leave his only brother, who
moreover was the elder of the two, standing in the street.

Clas Prebrow instantly accepted his brother's invitation,
notwithstanding the unbrotherly tone in which it was given, shook hands
with Jochen, and said, glancing towards the house, "You're very well
off here, Jochen."

Jochen nodded.

"And probably have a great many guests."

"What business is it of yours?" cried Jochen violently, as if he had
been bitterly insulted.

"Why, I only asked the question," said Clas.

"There is no one here at all," cried Jochen, "no one at all;" and he
stepped before the other as he was making his way towards the house.

"That happens just right," said Clas; "then I can turn back and tell
old Herr Wenhorf and Herr Gotthold that they can get lodgings in your
house."

Jochen was perfectly horrified. What should he do? He had promised to
keep silence, but what could silence avail if Herr Gotthold came
straight into the house, and the old gentleman too, for whom he had
such a wholesome respect. If the latter fixed his clear old eyes upon
him, he must certainly tell everything, and - "Stine, Stine," shouted
Jochen, as if the only inn in Wiessow were in flames from top to
bottom.

"Jochen, have you gone perfectly crazy? Don't you think at all of - "

Stine, who had come running out of the house at her husband's loud
outcry, suddenly slopped short and stared at her brother-in-law with
open mouth.

"You see," said Jochen with great satisfaction.

"Where is he?" asked Stine.

Clas Prebrow felt that his diplomatic reserve would not answer with the
clever Stine, and at this stage of his mission he must drop the mask.
So he rubbed his large, hard, blackened hands contentedly, and showed
his white teeth, but suddenly grew grave again, and said, while his
glance wandered over the row of windows in the upper story, "Wouldn't
it be better for us to go in?"

They went in and entered the little sitting-room directly behind the
large coffee-room, which Stine only left for a moment to get from the
cupboard a bottle of rum and two glasses, that the brothers might drink
to each other's health, and Clas's tongue should not get dry in case he
had a great deal to tell.

Clas probably would have had a very long story, but remembering that
the gentlemen were awaiting his return, he cut it short.

They had come upon the right clew the very first evening, but lost it
again the following day because the lady left the carriage she had
taken at Ralow, in Gulnitz, and went on on foot, to conceal her route.
She succeeded so well in this, that they spent a whole day and night in
searching, and only recovered the lost trail late yesterday evening in
Trentow. To be sure, it would now scarcely have been doubtful what
direction she had taken; but they had left the carriage at noon at Herr
von Schoritz of Schoritz, who was a friend of Gotthold's, in order to
proceed on their journey on foot to mislead Herr Brandow, in case he
was behind them, and therefore they had been obliged to rest a few
hours in Trentow, and to-day they were coming from Trentow, and he ran
on before, less to inquire whether the lady was here than to beg his
sister-in-law to prepare her, that she might not be too much
frightened.

"Oh! goodness gracious," said Stine, "poor, poor child! we were obliged
to promise solemnly that we would not betray her."

"Stine, we sha'n't be able to carry it through," said Jochen.

In her heart Stine had never expected to do so; nay, she had always
prayed that Heaven would interpose and send Herr Gotthold to them
before it was too late. To be sure, she could not acknowledge this
openly, but neither did she wish to be actually unfaithful to the
promise she had given Cecilia, and in her perplexity began to weep
bitterly.

Jochen nodded assent, as if he wanted to show his Stine that she had
now taken the right course. Clas emptied his glass and said, rising,
"So we shall be here in fifteen minutes. You're so clever, Stine, you
can easily settle matters, and you can come with me, Jochen."

Jochen started up and went out of the room so hastily that he left his
glass half full. Stine intended to pour the liquor back into the bottle
again, but in her absence of mind drank it herself. Tears fell from her
eyes: "We poor women!" she murmured.




CHAPTER XXIX.


After Stine had left the room, Cecilia still remained sitting by her
child's little bed. Gretchen had fallen asleep, and it now seemed to
the mother that the innocent little face looked paler, and the white,
delicate hands often twitched convulsively. Suppose she should be
seriously ill? Suppose she should die, and all the horror and grief of
these hours had been endured in vain?

She pressed her hands to her throbbing temples. There was no one - no
one who could counsel and help her. And yet she was with friends, with
her good old Stine, who had received her yesterday with a flood of
joyful tears, who was nearly beside herself with grief and joy at the
unexpected visit, and with worthy Jochen, whose honest face mingled
pleasantly with the happy memories of her girlish days - how deserted
she would feel in yonder foreign land! Would they not look upon her,
treat her as an adventuress? And could she blame them for it? Could she
tell her pitiful story to all the world - nay, even to one human being?

The harassing anxiety drove her from her seat to the window of the next
room. A broad expanse of blue sea flashed between the gable-roofs of
the neighbors' houses and the white downs; a sail gleamed on the
distant horizon. It was a fresh, bright scene that was framed in by the
low window, and she gazed at it with the eyes with which he had taught
her to behold nature; then she remembered that the empty waste of
waters, with the lonely ship pursuing its solitary way into the unknown
distance, was to her and her child a cruel, pitiless reality. Her head
drooped; she did not notice the slight noise outside the door, and only
looked up when it opened, and Stine, an expression of mingled timidity
and joy on her face, which was swollen and red with weeping, entered,
and then looked back towards some one who was standing behind her. A
sudden foreboding, which drove every drop of blood to her heart,
thrilled Cecilia's frame. Who could the dark figure in the entry be
except the one person for whom she had so eagerly longed, for whose
coming she had waited and hoped as the devotee waits and hopes for a
miracle? Now he was here, because he loved her - and yet, and yet it
could not, must not be; and her half-extended arms fell, her trembling
hands did not return the clasp of his.

"Where is Gretchen?"

They went to the child's bed, where good Stine had already preceded
them. The little pale cheeks were now deeply flushed, the hands
twitched more violently; Cecilia's anxious eyes said, what did not
cross her trembling lips until they had again entered the next room,
"If she dies, I have killed her."

"She will not die," replied Gotthold, "but you must not decide upon
anything hastily; you must no longer struggle on alone, must not
disdain my aid as you have done till now."

"That I may drag you, who are guiltless of this misery, down to ruin
with me? I have already involved you too far, but more - never."

"What do you call more, Cecilia? I love you; in those words all is
said, in those words our lives are woven into one circle. What could
you suffer that I would not suffer with you? Nay, has not even your
past life become mine and always belonged to me? Has not all this ever
brooded over my soul as a vague, anxious foreboding, drawing a veil
over my brightest hours? Yes, Cecilia, when I consider this, I cannot
help saying: 'Thank God! thank God that the veil is rent, that life
lies before me as it is, although obstacles and difficulties of all
kinds threaten to bar our way. We will conquer them. If I ever
despaired, I shall do so no longer, now that you are restored to me."

He had bent his lips to her ear as he sat behind her; his deep voice
grew so low as to become almost inaudible, but she caught every
syllable, and each word pierced her to the heart.

"Ah! Cecilia, Cecilia! you would not have killed yourself and your
child only - you would have slain me too. Well, since a voice you must
ever hold sacred, of whose veracity you must never, never have the
smallest doubt, has cried, live! live for me, Cecilia, for - you cannot
live without me."

"Nor with you," cried Cecilia, wringing her hands. "No, do not turn
your honest eyes upon me with such a questioning, reproachful look, my
own dear love! I would fain tell you all, but I cannot; perhaps I might
to a woman, yet to her, if she were a true woman, I should not need to
do so, for she would understand me without words."

"You do not love me as you must love the man from whom you could and
would accept every sacrifice, because love, the true love which bears
and suffers all things, perceives no sacrifices, and yours is not the
true love!"

He spoke without the slightest tinge of bitterness; but his chest
heaved painfully, and his lips quivered.

"Am I not right in saying that no man, even the best, the most delicate
in feeling, can rightly understand us?" replied Cecilia, bending
towards Gotthold, and pushing his hair back from his burning brow. For
a moment the old sweet smile played around her delicate lips and
sparkled in her eyes, the smile of which Gotthold had often dreamed,
and then spent the whole day absorbed in reverie, as if under the
influence of some magic spell. But it was only for a moment; then it
disappeared, and sorrowful earnestness was again expressed in every
feature of the beautiful face, again echoed in the tones of her voice.

"True love! Dare a woman who has experienced what I have, even take the
word on her lips? True love! Would you have called it so, when I - "

She paused suddenly, rose, went to the window, came back again, and
standing before Gotthold with her arms folded across her breast, said:
"When I procured still larger supplies for his avarice, when I would
have suffered myself and my child to be sold, though you would have
been compelled to sacrifice the last penny of your fortune to buy our
freedom - "

"You might have done so, and did not!" exclaimed Gotthold, in the most
painful agitation.

"I might, and did not," replied Cecilia, "but certainly not because I
doubted, for an instant, that you would, without hesitation, sacrifice
all, all; such a doubt is inconceivable to a woman who knows herself
beloved, nay, she would, under similar circumstances, go begging for
her lover; but - it is useless, Gotthold, I shall never find words. Ah!
the misery that is even denied the relief of expressing its agony,
which must consume away in silent torture."

She wandered up and down the room, wringing her hands. Gotthold's
mournful eyes followed her as she paced to and fro, and a feeling of
intense bitterness welled up in his heart. There had been a
possibility, but she had not seized it, and now it was too late.

He told her so, and why it was now too late, and that even if, by the
income from his labor, he could satisfy the claims which others already
had upon the small remnant of property that now remained, it would be a
mere nothing to her husband's avarice, a sum which, if any one offered
him, he would hurl back into his face with a scornful laugh.

Cecilia, pausing in the centre of the room, had listened eagerly,
gasping for breath. "My poor Gotthold," said she; "but for me - it is
better so, even the temptation cannot assail me now, and the matter is
decided. Yes, Gotthold, it is decided; besides, perhaps it was only a
momentary thirst for money, which the deadly hatred he bore you has
long since swallowed up. He will not release me; I have not chosen,
will not choose death as long as the last possibility of deliverance,
flight, remains. Let me fly, Gotthold, before it is too late; do not
detain me. You wish to save me, and are only driving me into the arms


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Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 19 of 24)