Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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I loved you, Julia, it was only a feeble semblance of the passion I
once felt, as the pale East just gleamed with rosy light from the
reflection of the sunset glow in the western sky. I have parted from
you, and my heart did not quiver as it did just now when I read on her
children's gravestones the name of one now dead to me."

He extended his hands as if in benediction.

"Sing on your sweet sad song, innocent swallows! Go and return,
bringing Spring to the barren fields and empty human hearts! May Heaven
watch over you, my dear native meadows and beloved birthplace! In spite
of all, you are as sacred to me as the memories of my youth!"

The carriage was waiting at the door of the village-inn. The coachman
had merely loosened the curbs on the horses' necks, that they might eat
the bread chopped into little squares more easily. He now pushed aside
the movable crib, hastily gave them a drink from the half-emptied pail,
and when Gotthold came up was already standing with the reins in his
hand beside the door, which he opened with a friendly grin.

It was the first time he had shown his passenger such an attention.
They had passed over the long road across the island - Gotthold,
contrary to his usual custom, absorbed in gloomy thoughts, and by no
means dissatisfied with the taciturnity of the driver, who sat
motionless before him, hour after hour, his broad shoulders covered
with a blue linen coat, somewhat white in the seams, stooping
carelessly, and smoking a short pipe, which Gotthold did not forbid,
unpleasant as the sickly odor of the weed often was.

He might therefore have some reason to be surprised when, just after
they had left the village and were driving slowly along between the
cornfields, on the narrow by-way that led to the main road, the
broad-shouldered man suddenly turned, and showing his large white
teeth, said in his Platt Deutsch accent:

"Don't you know me, Herr Gotthold?"

"No," said Gotthold, laughing, as he looked into the smiling face of
the driver, "but you seem to be better acquainted with me."

"I've been thinking all the way whether it was you or not," said the
man; "sometimes I thought it was, and then again that it wasn't."

"You might have asked."

"Yes, you may well say so, but I didn't think of it; that would
certainly have been the simplest way. Well, it don't matter now; I know
you - by that!" said the driver, drawing the handle of his whip over his
face to mark the course of Gotthold's scar. "You ought to have been
known by it this morning, for one don't see such things every day; but
it's a long time ago, and such things often happen in war; besides,
with your thick beard and brown, face, you look just exactly as if you
had come from Spain, where no doubt they are fighting again; but when
you stopped just now in Rammin, and went up to the parsonage without
even asking a question, I said at once, 'Yes, it's certainly he.'"

"And you are - you are Jochen - Jochen Prebrow!" exclaimed Gotthold,
cordially extending his hand, which Jochen, turning half-round on his
seat, clasped no less heartily in his huge palm.

"To be sure," said he, "and you really didn't know me."

"How could I," replied Gotthold. "You have grown so tall and stout,
although indeed in this respect you have only fulfilled the promise of
your boyhood."

"Yes, that's so," replied Jochen, "but my sergeant in Berlin always
said it was no vice."

Jochen Prebrow turned back to his horses. He had established the
identity between his stately passenger and the slender playfellow of
his childhood, upon which he had been reflecting all day, and was
perfectly satisfied. Gotthold too was silent; it moved him deeply to
think he could have travelled nearly all day with worthy Jochen, as if
he had been a total stranger.

Jochen Prebrow, the son of the Dollan blacksmith! The pleasant days
again rose before him when he left P. with Curt Wenhof for the
holidays, which must always be spent in Dollan, and Jochen stood on the
moor where the road branched off from the highway, waiting for them,
and waving his cap; Jochen, who was well aware that his good times were
coming with the pair, times of catching fish and snaring birds under
the care of old Cousin Boslaf, to say nothing of a thousand wild,
thoughtless pranks on land and sea for which Curt always undertook to
be answerable to his good-natured father.

"And the young master is dead too," said Jochen Prebrow, again turning
half-round on his seat, in token that having settled the principal
matter, he was now ready to proceed to details.

Gotthold nodded.

"Drowned sailing on the Spree," continued Jochen, "and yet he was
skilful as any sailor, and could swim like a fish; it was very queer,
but he told me that he should come to such an end some day." He filled
his pipe afresh.

"When did he tell you so?"

"He had come from Gr. to his sister's wedding, and afterwards was to go
to Berlin and show whether he had learned his lessons, and he would
probably have come off badly, for our young master was never fond of
study. So he told me about it when we came back from P., where the
wedding took place. I drove the carriage because old Christian was
sick, and then we went at full speed to Dollan, where a great breakfast
was served, and our young master had probably been drinking a little
too much when he came out to the stable, threw himself down on the
straw, and began to sob pitifully.

"What's the matter, young master?" said I.

"Ah! Jochen," he answered, "it's all up. I begged my father to let me
be a farmer, for he would never make a lawyer of me; but he says we
have nothing, nothing at all; he can't even pay my sister's dowry."

"Well, young master," said I, "that's not so very bad; you have a rich
brother-in-law now who can certainly give you some money."

"But he started up, sprang upon me, seized me by the throat, and shook
me till I was afraid for my life, crying: If you ever say another
word about that, - well, it was an ugly word for a man to call his
brother-in-law, especially our young master, who had always been so
good-natured, but I said to myself, He's been drinking too much; for he
wanted me to upset them when I drove them to Dahlitz; you know the
place, Herr Gotthold, just before you get to the smithy, when the moor
lies below you on the left, as you come down the hill. It's very easy
to upset a carriage there so that the people inside will never get up
again; but it's pretty queer business to upset your master's daughter
on her wedding-day, and even if I'd wanted to do it I didn't drive
them, after all, for Herr Brandow had ordered his own carriage with
four horses; and Hinrich Scheel, who was his coachman then and is now,
wouldn't upset them, for nobody can deny that he knows how to drive and
ride."

Jochen Prebrow cracked his whip, and the horses, which had been
advancing along the narrow by-way at a walk, trotted rapidly over the
smooth broad high-road.

A short distance on the left appeared Dahlitz, the fine estate once the
property of the ancient noble family to which Cecilia's mother
belonged, but which had long since passed into the possession of the
plebeian Brandow, and was now Carl Brandow's inheritance.

The highway, as Gotthold remembered, led directly through the estate,
and for a considerable distance farther ran close by the wall of the
park. His heart began to beat violently; his eyes wandered timidly
towards the house, whose white front was already partially visible
between the out-buildings. To pass so near her home, to let the only
opportunity he might ever be offered escape thus, never, never to see
her more!

Gotthold leaned back in the corner of the carriage, drawing the broad
brim of his hat farther over his eyes; he would fain have ordered
Jochen to turn back again. Meantime Jochen was driving on at a slow
trot; it would soon be over. But just as they were passing the gates an
empty harvest wagon came out so rapidly that the horses almost struck
Jochen's. The latter swore, the farm hand swore, and some one standing
in the courtyard swore also, Gotthold could not understand whether at
his own man or the strange coachman - probably at both; but it was not
Carl Brandow's clear voice, and the coarse fat man in top boots, who
strode heavily forward to the gate, certainly bore no resemblance to
Carl Brandow's slight, elastic figure.

Then Jochen again had a free passage for his frightened horses, which
he reined in with considerable difficulty as they passed at full gallop
by the low park wall, over which now and then one could obtain through
the trees and shrubs a view of the pleasure-grounds, and even
distinguish a broad handsome lawn which lay on one side of the mansion.
On this piece of turf was a swing, in which two little girls were just
being carefully pushed to and fro by their nurse, while a half-dozen
other children of all ages gambolled upon the grass, their fresh voices
ringing merrily on the quiet evening air. A stately lady moved among
the group, with a little man dressed in black beside her, apparently
the boys' tutor.

The picture was only visible a few seconds, but Gotthold's keen eye had
seized it down to the smallest detail, and it was still in his mind
when the carriage moved more slowly along the broad highway. His heart
had trembled causelessly; she no longer lived here. Where was she now?
He had not heard a word from home for so long - was she dead? She was to
him, of course, and yet, and yet -

"That Redebas is a coarse fellow," said Jochen taking the reins in his
left hand, "but he understands his business; he'll come out all right."

"So Dahlitz does not belong to Herr Brandow?" said Gotthold.

"Well, I declare," replied Jochen, pointing back with the handle of his
whip into the gathering twilight, "didn't you hear anything yonder
about what has been happening in this neighborhood?"

"Nothing, nothing at all, my dear Jochen. Who was to tell me?"

"To be sure," said Jochen, "writing isn't everybody's business, not
mine for instance, and where you have been I suppose there were very
few mails, and not much opportunity. My sergeant - he was one of the old
soldiers - was in Spain too in 1807 and" -

"But I have never been in Spain," said Gotthold, "I was in Italy."

This objection was both unexpected and unwelcome to Jochen. He had
fully made up his mind during the long hours that he had been
reflecting whether his passenger was the son of the Pastor at Rammin or
not, that if so, he must at any rate have come straight from Spain; for
he had heard that Gotthold had given up "preaching" and was now living
in a foreign country, and Spain was the only foreign country of which
he had ever heard. So he sank into a profound revery, puffing huge
clouds of smoke from his short pipe, and Gotthold, difficult as it was
for him to do so, was compelled to repeat his question, as to where
Herr Brandow was now living, several times.

"Why, where should he live except in Dollan?" said Jochen at last. "He
has come down from a horse to a donkey, but that's always so when
people want to sit so high in their saddles."

"And - and - his wife?"

It must be asked; but Gotthold's lips quivered as he put the question.

"Our poor young lady," said Jochen; "yes, when I drove her with four
horses to P. for the wedding, she didn't dream the splendor would so
soon be over. Yes, she is now in the old place again, and our old
master and the young master are both dead, and her two oldest children
too; she has only one left."

So she still lived, and lived in Dollan again, dear Dollan, the
forest-girdled, sea-washed spot where he had spent the happiest and
most wretched hours of his youth, the sacred and yet accursed place to
which his dreams had so often led him in joy or sorrow, so that he woke
with a happy smile on his lips, and also so often with tears in his
eyes! For a moment it seemed as if she had been restored to him, as if
the old days had returned. He saw the slender figure gliding through
the shrubs in the garden at twilight, while he stood at the little
gable window with a throbbing heart, hearing Curt repeat "mi" till he
threw the grammar on the table, declaring that he should never
understand the stuff, and they had better go down to the garden with
Cecilia. Gotthold passed his hand over his brow and eyes. Had he spoken
the loved name aloud? Had Jochen, who had resumed his interrupted story
in the old monotonous tone, mentioned her name? Jochen did not know
exactly how it had all happened, for he had been in Berlin with the
army when Herr Wenhof died, and young Herr Brandow came in possession
of Dollan in addition to his own estate of Dahlitz: then when Jochen
was released from military duty, as his father and older brother were
enough to attend to the business of the smithy, he took service as a
groom with Peter the innkeeper at Altefähr, and only left the place
when he drove travellers to Stubbenkammer or some other part of the
island, which did not occur very often. Besides, it had never happened
that his way led to Dollan, or very near it, for what stranger would
want to travel so far away from the main road? He had not seen even the
smithy since, and if his brother had not come to Altefähr once or
twice, would have known nothing about how things were now going in
Dollan. True, now he came to think the matter over, his brother had not
told him much more than he had already learned from others; for Herr
Brandow was famous for having the finest horses in all Rugen and Upper
Pomerania, and came every autumn to the races at Str.; the noblemen
would have hard work to beat him if he was only a plain citizen; and he
would be sure to win the prize among all the gentlemen riders this
year; for Hinrich had trained a horse for him whose match could not be
found. One thing was certain, Hinrich knew more about horse-flesh than
all the English trainers who cost the other gentlemen so much money put
together, while others hinted that there was something not quite right
about the matter, and Hinrich's squint eyes could make horses do
anything he pleased. That there were such things, he being a
blacksmith's son, knew very well; but it made a great difference
whether they were honest arts, such as his father understood for
instance, or whether another person he would not mention more plainly
had a finger in the pie. People don't cross mountains with him; he
makes them pay too dear for his extra horses. It had already cost Herr
Brandow his fine estate, and they said he could not even keep Dollan
much longer, and that the devil's horses were eating the hair from his
head. Did Herr Gotthold believe in such things?

"No, no, no," said Gotthold, starting from his corner and sitting
erect.

Jochen was obliged to fill his pipe, in order to think over quietly an
answer so different from what he had expected. Gotthold did not disturb
his meditations, but sat in silence, absorbed in thought, dreaming of
what was, what might have been and never would be! Never? Yes, but not
because fate does not will it; it is because human beings bring on this
destiny, because they prepare it for themselves, because in dreams
which thicken into realities, in wishes which become acts, they mould
their own fate. Did she not, on the evening when she, her father, Curt,
and himself, had made an excursion from Dollan to Dahlitz, return home
with the wish to become mistress of the place her mother's family had
so long possessed; How silently she walked through the stately
apartments, while her large sparkling eyes wandered thoughtfully over
the dark pictures on walls hung with faded silken tapestry, and the
numerous carved ornaments on the chimney-piece, which seemed to her
unaccustomed eyes a marvel of costliness! How softly she passed her
hand over the damask curtains in the sleeping-rooms, how she buried her
glowing face again and again among the flowers in the hot-house, as if
intoxicated by the heavy perfume. With what interest she listened to
that squint-eyed Hinrich, as he expatiated upon the merits of the noble
horses whose light chain halters clanked against the marble cribs, and
said it was such a pity for the young master to waste his time at the
agricultural school, when he could employ it to so much better
advantage here! And how indignantly she looked at the friend who
fancied himself so dear to her, when with jealous malice he observed
that Carl Brandow might come back all the sooner, since from all
accounts he showed the same industry at the college as he had formerly
done at school! Afterwards she had haughtily bantered the two friends
as they stood on the lawn, but when she sat down in the large wooden
swing - the same one where he had just seen the children - resting her
beautiful head on one hand, while she carelessly played with the
scarlet ribbons on her white dress with the other, and Gotthold
approached to put it in motion, she started up and said, laughing, that
such an ignorant girl ought not to trouble so learned a gentleman. He
did not suspect what bitter earnest was concealed under the jest, and
the next morning, when he was obliged to return with Curt to their
institution of learning, he slipped under her chamber-door a bit of
paper, on which he had written a free translation of one of Anacreon's
odes: -


Skittish foal, I prithee why,
Flashing fear from thy large eye,
Cruel, dost thou mocking flee?
"Fool! he nothing is to me."

Know for thee I soon shall bring
And about thy proud neck fling
The bridle, and with firm, tight rein,
Swift-racing, spur thee o'er the plain.

Tarry now 'mid pasture-ground,
Gayly frolic, lightly bound;
But, my skittish foal, take heed!
Thy right rider comes with speed.


The right rider! Alas! ere six weeks had passed, the right rider came!

It was a dark evening late in Autumn, like the present one. Men, women,
boys and girls were all out of doors, for it was Saturday night, and
the great wheat-field must if possible be mowed, the sheaves bound up
and piled in heaps. They had paused to rest for half an hour, while
waiting for the rising moon to disperse the dense clouds of mist and
enable them to resume their interrupted task. Curt and he had busily
helped the laborers, and even Cecilia tied up a few sheaves; then they
carried the people the beer Cousin Boslaf had drawn from the huge cask.
There had been shouting, singing, and jesting among the youths and
maidens, but all had now become silent, and Herr Wenhof thought if they
did not begin again soon the whole company would fall asleep, and then
he should like to see the person who could get them on their feet
again. But Cousin Boslaf said they must wait ten minutes longer until
the moon shone clear, and Cousin Boslaf knew best. It grew more and
more quiet, so quiet that the partridges thought every one had gone,
and began to call loudly for their scattered families; so quiet that
Gotthold fancied he could hear the beating of his own heart, as his
eyes rested on the graceful figure that sat close beside him on a
sheaf, so near that his hand might have touched her light dress, gazing
up at the moon, whose white light made her face look strangely pale.
But the dark eyes often flashed brightly from the pallid countenance,
and a strange emotion thrilled the youth, as if a ray from the
spirit-world had fallen upon him. Yes, from the spirit-world, where he
hovered with his beloved, far above all earthly tumult, far as the pure
fancy of a youth whose heart is full of a great, sacred love can soar.
Oh! God, how immeasurably he loved her! How his whole being was bound
up in this affection! How all his thoughts, feelings, emotions were
merged into, carried away by, this passion! How every drop of blood
that flowed through his throbbing heart glowed with this love! How
every breath that passed over his fevered lips ever murmured: I love
you, I love you!

And at this moment, when the heavens opened before his enraptured eyes
and he gazed into the region of the blest - at this moment the blow was
to fall, which closed the gates of the Paradise of his youth forever,
and destroyed for years his faith in the sacred feeling that dwells
securely in the human breast. "Some one is coming on horseback," old
Boslaf said, approaching the group, and pointing towards the forest. No
one else perceived anything; but that proved nothing, for the old man
could hear the grass grow. Cecilia started up, went forward a few
steps, and paused to listen, and Gotthold saw her press her hand upon
her heart. His own stood still.

He and Curt had not been to Dollan during the weeks before the
examination, now successfully passed, and he had heard nothing of all
that had happened there except that one day Curt casually mentioned
that Carl Brandow had returned; but now he knew everything. The horse,
whose rapid hoof-beats he also distinguished, was not bearing Carl
Brandow over the miles that intervened between Dollan and Dahlitz for
the first time. Now he knew what the altered expression of her
features, which had attracted his attention that day, meant - the dreamy
softness that suddenly yielded to a strange excitement; he knew all,
all, - that his temple was ruined, his sanctuary profaned. He stood
apart, unable to move, while the others surrounded the rider, who had
swung himself from his horse, - the slender rider, who now disengaged
himself from the group - but not alone! They passed close by without
noticing him, he with his arm thrown around her waist, bending down and
whispering to her, she nestling to his side, every line in their
figures clearly relieved against the bright moonlight; then he saw and
heard nothing more, and afterwards could only remember that he lay long
in a dull, terrible despair, in a place far from that spot, on the edge
of the dark forest, and then started up and staggered through the
silent, sultry woods as if in a horrible dream, sometimes crying aloud
like a tortured animal, until he at last emerged from them upon the
shore of the sea, which stretched before him in a vast, boundless
expanse in the shimmering moonlight. Here he again threw himself down
on the sand, but now tears came to his relief - burning tears which,
however, flowed more and more gently, as if the lapping of the waves
was a lullaby to the poor quivering heart. At last he rose to his
knees, extended his arms, and in a long, fervent prayer, to which the
roaring of the sea murmured an accompaniment, told the universal
mother, who will never desert her child, that he would always love
her with boundless affection. Just then old Boslaf suddenly stood
beside him, - he had not heard his approach, nor did the old man say
anything, - and they walked silently along the strand until they reached
the old man's lonely little house among the downs. There he made him a
rude couch carefully and silently, and mutely smoothed his damp hair
with his hand, when he lay down to rest for an hour and looked at the
moonlight which shone through the low window on the wall and glimmered
upon the weapons, stuffed birds, nets, and fishing-rods, until the
rustling of the treetops on the shore and the low murmur of the sea
lulled him to sleep.

Gotthold awoke from his dream. The carriage was standing still, and the
horses were snorting as they looked into the forest, through which the
road led for a short distance. It was perfectly dark, save that here
and there a ray from the moon, which had just risen, trembled through
the dense foliage of the beeches.

"Why, what's the matter with the cursed jades?" said Jochen.

There was a rustling and crackling in the thick underbrush on the
right-hand side of the road; the noise grew louder, approached nearer
and nearer, until, like a hurricane, a dark, compact, moving mass burst
through the bushes and crashed into the undergrowth on the other side.
It was scarcely seen before it disappeared, while the horses, in
frantic terror, reared in the harness and swerved aside, so that it was
only by the most violent efforts that the two men, who had sprung from
the carriage, could control them.

"The confounded wretches," said Jochen, "the same thing happened to me
once before in this very spot. The Prince ought to do something about
it; but it gets worse every year, and if old Boslaf didn't often thin
them out a little it would be unbearable. There, hark!"

The report of a musket rang through the forest at some distance on
their left, whither the wolves had taken their flight.



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