Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

. (page 20 of 24)
Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 20 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of death."

"I will keep you, save you, and tear you from the arms of death," cried
Gotthold, clasping Cecilia's hands, "you and your child, whom you would
kill, if, while ill and feverish, you exposed it to the dangers of a
journey, which, under any circumstances, would be a useless cruelty,
for he would know how to find you there or anywhere if he wants to do
so - there as well as here, and therefore you must not stay here. You
can remain nowhere, except under my protection, I repeat it. I will
guard you. Cecilia, have you then no faith in me, my courage, my
strength, my judgment? And I too cannot tell you all, how I intend to
save you, will save you; I must beg you to let me take my own way,
without explanation. Is not what is fair for women, right for men? May
not cases occur for us also, in which we act as duty and honor command,
and which we can confide only to a man? And, Cecilia, when I tell you
that I have trusted to a man, to whom from childhood you have looked up
with deep reverence, without suspecting that you owed him the respect
so freely paid - and this man approves of my plan and resolution, and
will himself do all in his power that the plan may not remain a plan,
that the resolution may be executed - and this man will assure you of
the fact with his own lips - Cecilia, I will bring this old man, your
ancestor, to you, and when kneeling before him with his hand resting
upon your head, the past, which seems as brazen and immutable as fate,
reels and totters, you will perhaps believe that the present is not
unalterably fixed for those who live and love!"

Gotthold hurried out of the room. Cecilia, trembling with a strange
foreboding, gazed steadily at the door through which he had
disappeared. It opened again: the tall form that entered was compelled
to bend its head, and thus, with drooping head and downcast eyes,
approached her. A strange conviction shot through her mind: even so had
her father looked when he called her to his bedside an hour before he
died, and at that moment he had resembled the picture of his
grandfather, which hung in the sitting-room beside the old clock. Her
knees trembled, and almost refused to support her, as he held out his

Gotthold closed the door. The words spoken between the two must ever
remain a secret.


The last rays of the setting sun trembled on the heaving water in
crimson light, and crimson light glittered on the nodding grass of the
broad swamp that stretched from the western shore to the downs, and
bathed the figures of Gotthold and Jochen Prebrow, who, coming up from
the narrower strip of ground that rose from the eastern beach, had just
reached the highest point of ground. Gotthold, shading his eyes with
his hand, was already gazing into the fiery sea, while Jochen kept
pushing the spy-glass in and out of its case. At last he found the
narrow mark on the glittering brass. "Here," said he, handing the glass
to his companion, and then added as if to apologize: "One can see a
devilish long ways with it."

"My good fellow!" replied Gotthold smiling.

Jochen showed his white teeth, and then both suddenly grew very grave
again. Gotthold looked through the glass as eagerly as if he were
actually trying to see the boat, which had sailed four hours before
with a fair wind, and must now surely be off Sundin, if not already in
the harbor, and Jochen was as downcast as if he had seen the round
cheeks of his Stine, who positively insisted upon accompanying Frau
Brandow for the last time.

But the worthy fellow was not thinking of himself. He could do without
his Stine for a few days or weeks, if necessary, and things generally
went so pleasantly with him that he had more than once doubted whether
he was not too well off; but his poor, poor Herr Gotthold! O Heavens!
how they looked at each other when she was going to get into the
boat, and they shook hands on the bridge once more; with such large,
wide-open eyes, which were full of tears! And then when she reached the
boat, she instantly rushed down into the cabin, where Stine had carried
the child, and then, as the wind took the sails and the boat began to
move, came out again, and stood leaning on the old gentleman's arm,
waving her handkerchief, with her big wide eyes looking steadily
towards him, though she certainly could see nothing through her tears.

"But the boat is as good as any that can be found," said Jochen, "and
as for my father-in-law, he was glad to get something to do again, and
my brother Clas is a wonderfully clever fellow, and has often been in
Sundin. He can take good care of them all; he said he knew where
Wollnow lived, too, and one can depend upon the old gentleman, and
nobody can do more than he can; and when one has done everything within
the bounds of human possibility, he has done all he can."

Jochen drew a long breath; he was astonished himself to find how he
could talk to-day - even his Stine would have done no better - and Herr
Gotthold had said nothing at all - what could he say against it? Jochen
continued in a still more persuasive tone: "And so you mustn't be so
sad, Herr Gotthold, for the night doesn't last all the time, and
unexpected things often happen, and when a horse once gets the bit
between its teeth, a man may pull his arms off, but it will run away
for all that; and what a horse can do, a man can too."

"I shall not fail, Jochen," replied Gotthold, "and I am no longer
wretched, for I know I shall fight my way through, although it is a
difficult matter so long as we don't have Scheel. But I think we shall
get the fellow yet; at least he isn't dead, and that is the main

Jochen Prebrow shook his great head. "It's a damned, miserable
business, Herr Gotthold," said he. "Old Arent in Goritz saw him a week
ago, - well, he certainly knows him, for the old man was at Dahlitz till
Hinrich Scheel drove him away, but at night all cats are gray, and
besides - there are so many chances of getting away from here by sea to
Sweden or Mechlenburg or elsewhere. Therefore, it is very probable that
he came here; but that he could be here still - no, that I don't

The crimson glow which blazed in the western horizon had faded, and as
they turned towards the east in descending from the summit of the down,
the sea from the shore to the farthest horizon spread before them in a
deep blue expanse, against which the white sand of the beach was
relieved with singular distinctness. The chain of downs, upon whose
highest point they had just been standing, stretched towards the north
in a vast confused mass, which in the twilight seemed endless, here
overgrown with coarse grass and broom, yonder in dreary baldness,
rounded, lengthened, flattened, with sharp overhanging edges, like a
sea which, while lashed by a tempest, had suddenly been converted into
sand. Yonder, where the western shore projected farthest - Wiessow Point
they called the narrow tongue of land - a roof, just visible to the eye,
appeared above the downs, and Jochen Prebrow pointed towards it with
his spy-glass.

"Do you see that house?"

"A part of it."

"That's where the Rahnkes live; I shouldn't like to be in their skins

"Why, what is going on there?" asked Gotthold.

"Another of the good chances," continued Jochen, involuntarily lowering
his voice, although, as far as the eye could reach, no living creature
was to be seen except the sea-gulls hovering over the waves. "They
pretend to be fishermen, and when we were under Swedish rule also had
the right to sell liquor, and say they have it still. But that is
probably only a rumor in order to have a reason why every moment boats
run in full of people, who, like the Rahnkes, call themselves
fishermen, and have just as little right to the name. There must often
be a half-dozen there at once, the custom-house officers say, and when
they come - either by land or water - all are away, just run out to sea.
They have kept watch here on the downs, and cruised in the offing for
days together; but then no boat has ever arrived except some innocent
fishing-smack, and the Rahnkes have stood and laughed when the officers
were disappointed again. But they'll get paid for it to-night."

"What, this evening?"

"I really ought not to tell, but it's different with you, and besides
they must certainly be there already. Do you see the three sails
standing towards the north? Those are Uselin fishing-boats, and this is
the right time and the right course; but they have no fishermen in
them, but custom-house officers in peajackets and southwesters, and
when they are near enough they will heave to and stop close by Wiessow
Point, and the moment they heave to, a dozen custom-house officers and
gendarmes will come marching, marching up from the land-side. I have it
all from Herr Inspector from Sundin, who has already spent two days in
Wiessow, and I'm an old acquaintance of his, because I've often driven
him to different places; so he told me about it. Look! Herr Gotthold,
look! there it begins."

Jochen, with an eagerness most unusual to him, pointed towards the
three vessels, which, in fact, after holding their course in line
directly towards the north, suddenly tacked and stood towards the land.
At the same moment, two boats that must hitherto have lain concealed
behind Wiessow Point appeared, and it was soon evident that they wished
to escape between the coast and the three vessels, while the foremost
was trying to cut them off. But it was already doubtful whether it
would succeed, as it had a longer distance to run before reaching the
point where the two courses crossed, and the smugglers sailed quite as
fast, besides laying closer to the wind. In fact, at the end of ten
minutes, a small gray cloud that rose from the pursuing boat, followed
at shorter and shorter intervals by other little gray clouds, showed
that the custom-house officers were beginning to despair of the success
of the chase, and soon the cessation of the firing proved it had
failed. The smugglers already looked like a mere speck on the horizon,
the pursuing boat had tacked, and was standing back towards Wiessow
Point, where the two others had arrived long before, "probably, with
the men who now came hurrying up from the land-side, to find the nest
empty once more," Gotthold said to himself.

"The damned rascals!" cried Jochen Prebrow.

They had been standing at the top of one of the higher downs, eagerly
watching the exciting spectacle, every separate phase of which was as
distinct to the two sons of the coast as if they had been in the midst
of the action. In this the excellent spy-glass had done them essential
service; it had been passed from hand to hand, and Gotthold had just
taken it. He thought, if Jochen's information was correct, they must at
least see some of the custom-house officers on the farthest downs, and
slowly turning from hillock to hillock was searching the ground before
him, already growing dim in the mists of evening, when he heard a low
exclamation. At the same moment, however, he dropped the spy-glass, and
pulled Jochen away from the crest of the down, so that their heads were
concealed by the long waving grass.

"What is it?"

"Hinrich Scheel! I saw him distinctly. He was standing about a thousand
paces away on the top of yonder down, with his back towards us."

"How is that possible?"

"I don't know; but it was he; I should know him among a thousand: there
he is again."

But it was not on the same down, but farther to the right, and, as it
seemed to Gotthold, nearer than before; besides, the man, in whom
through the spy-glass Jochen also thought he recognized Hinrich Scheel,
was no longer standing erect, but crouching behind the crest of the
down, like the two companions, gazing in the direction of the Rahnkes'
house, from which he had come. At least Gotthold did not doubt it. The
whole situation instantly grew plain to him. Hinrich Scheel, in some
way or other, had been delayed in his flight, and found in the Rahnkes'
house, which, according to Jochen's description, was nothing more than
a den of thieves, a shelter, from which the attack of the custom-house
officers had just driven him. He had now fled before them to the downs,
and had every prospect of making his escape even if pursued, since the
approaching darkness and extreme inequality of the soil greatly favored
his designs.

Jochen was entirely of Gotthold's opinion, but what should they do now?
Wait to see whether Hinrich, who was still lying motionless in the same
spot, would continue his flight in the same direction, and so come
nearer and nearer to them, or make the attempt to crawl up to him, as
he evidently expected no danger from this quarter? Both plans were
almost equally uncertain. The darkness was now increasing very rapidly:
at his present great distance the man would soon look like a mere dark
spot on the light sand, and must disappear entirely in a short time; on
the other hand, he need only glance around, if they were not wholly
concealed, and then the next instant would surely slide from the down
on which he lay, and of course overtaking him could not be thought of.

Gotthold's heart throbbed as if it would burst, as he thought of all
this, and discussed it with Jochen in a whisper. In all probability,
his fate and hers depended upon his getting yonder man into his power.
A few moments before, he had had scarcely the shadow of a hope that he
would ever succeed in doing so; now an almost miraculous chance seemed
to desire to aid him. There was the man, and here he himself with his
faithful Jochen, the space that separated them so short that it could
be crossed in a few minutes, and yet the turning of an eye, a breath of
wind, a nothing, might tear his prey from him, as if he had only
dreamed all this, as if it were but a delirium of his excited fancy,
and he need only rub his eyes, and the dark spot yonder, which seemed
to be a man, would disappear.

He had disappeared. Had he seen the pursuers approaching from that
side, and continued his flight, or had he thought the way was now open
and he could begin his retreat? The place where he had just lain was
empty. A mistake was impossible, in spite of the dim twilight the crest
of the down was still sharply relieved against the sky. Would he appear
again? And would it be nearer or farther?

A few seconds elapsed, during which the two men did not venture to
breathe. There! There he was again, and nearer - considerably nearer; he
seemed to be coming directly towards them, and there could no longer be
a doubt of it. Within a few minutes the distance had lessened at least
one-half; they scarcely dared to look through the waving sedges,
necessary as it was to watch the movements of the man, who even at the
last moment might take another direction. And now he glided down the
slope of the next hillock in the chain, and came straight up the down
behind whose crest they lay. It was the highest of them all, and he
probably wished to look around him a short time, in order to assure
himself that no danger was threatening from any quarter.

They had slipped down a few feet, and crouched as closely as possible
among the sedges. In a few moments Hinrich Scheel's head must appear
before them; they distinctly heard him toiling up the tolerably steep
slope on the other side, and muttering curses when the sand gave way
under his feet.


They started up, and darted to the summit. With a lightning-like
movement Hinrich glided from under Gotthold's hands, but as he turned
to the left ran directly into Jochen's arms, and the two in one
indistinguishable ball, slipped, rolled, and tumbled down the hillock
faster than Gotthold could follow them. Jochen had taken a firm hold,
but in the last turn he fell underneath; with a desperate effort
Hinrich released himself, and was dealing a furious blow with a large
clasp-knife he had drawn from his pocket, when Gotthold seized his arm
and turned the weapon aside. Jochen had already started up again, and
the next instant Hinrich Scheel, in his turn, was lying on the sand,
face downwards, and Jochen, kneeling on his shoulders, was in the act
of tying his elbows behind him with a small rope, which, after the
manner of old coachmen, he always carried about with him.

"If you tie me, you'll crush me at the same time," gasped Hinrich
Scheel. "I won't get up."

"Release him," said Gotthold.

"But we'll take care of this ourselves," said Jochen as he drew a
pistol from the pocket of the prostrate man, and handed it to Gotthold.

Hinrich Scheel stood erect. His squinting eyes stared horribly at his
assailant from a face distorted with rage. Suddenly he started back.

"You," he cried, "you! What do you want of me?"


There was a wild terror in Hinrich's look and gesture, and the rattling
tone of his harsh voice.

"What is the matter?" cried Gotthold, shaking the man, who still stood
before him as if petrified, rudely by the shoulder.

The powerful grasp produced a strange, mysterious effect upon the man.
He stretched his long arms towards the dark sky, shook them wildly,
waved them up and down, and then threw himself on his knees, bracing
his left hand against the sand, and striking several furious blows with
the right, as if he wished to murder some one he held by the throat;
then he rose and shrieked, in answer to Gotthold's question: -

"What's the matter? I wish I had him!"


"He lied; he said you were dead, and they wanted to arrest me, and
imprisonment for life would be the least punishment; and did I wish to
bring misfortune upon him, who had always been such a good master to
me, and would give me money enough to last all my life? But when he
came that night to the giant's grave, where I had concealed myself, he
only gave me five hundred thalers; he had no more, not another
shilling; he was obliged to give the rest to the lawyer, as bail for
his appearing at any moment if he was summoned. And all that was a lie,
wasn't it, sir, all a lie, every word?"

"All," said Gotthold, "all, every word."

"All, every word," repeated Hinrich, as if he could not yet understand
it. "Why did he need to lie? I should certainly have gone if it had
been necessary - for him. I did it for him, and as for the money, I had
it in my hand. I could have done what I chose with it, and I gave it to
him. Not a thaler was lacking; it was the whole package, just as I took
it out of the Assessor's pocket."

"You did it for him," said Gotthold; "did you also do it by his

"By his orders?" replied Hinrich, "what need was there of orders? I did
it because - because - I don't know why; but he rode on my back until he
got his pony, and then I taught him to ride; he learned all, all he
knows from me; and if Brownlock wins and brings him in a pile of money,
whom has he to thank for it but Hinrich Scheel?"

While speaking in this manner, they walked on over the downs, Gotthold
and Hinrich leading the way, while Jochen Prebrow followed behind,
though not so far that he could not overtake them in a few bounds if
necessary. It had grown very dark, so dark that they could scarcely see
the wild rabbits which glided through the coarse grass at their feet,
and a large owl soaring towards them fluttered aside in terror, as
Hinrich, after a pause, continued with a savage imprecation: -

"I did it, because I knew how hard up he was. He had five thousand
thalers to pay Herr Redebas the following noon, and if he did not pay
them he might be refused a place in the races. I knew that - I have been
at them often enough, and know as much about the rules as any of the
gentlemen - and I knew that he would make no fuss afterwards, although
he had said nothing about it, and I believe had not even thought of the
money the Herr Assessor carried in his pocket. But I had thought of it
all day long, and even looked out the place as we drove to Dollan. It
had long overhung the morass, and the rain had made long cracks in it,
so I said to myself: 'If they drive back to-night, and the carriage is
turned out of the road here, the earth will break off, and the whole
thing will slide down, and that's an accident which might happen to the
best driver, on a stormy night such as this will be.'"

"Only you might easily have gone down with the rest," said Gotthold.

"You mean, if I hadn't jumped out of the carriage at the right time?
Bah, sir! It's no harder than to get off a horse that is running away,
when one sees it is going to fall. I jumped out at the right time, and
then the ground broke away, and slid down with a thundering, crashing
sound, and then all was perfectly still, except that one or two small
pieces cracked off and rattled down the slope, and the tempest swept
howling and moaning over the morass; but that was nothing new to me,
and it was perfectly still below.

"I stood up and looked down, wondering how far the land-slide had
probably gone. If the marl had held together well, it had doubtless
fallen into the bog, and with its speed and weight had been buried
nobody knows how deep; but it had jolted violently on the way, and I
had heard it; the whole carriage must have broken to pieces, and in
that case everything might still be lying on the edge. I must know how
matters were, so I made up my mind to climb down.

"But it was hard work; I could not find the right place in the dark,
and nearly fell myself; at last, however, I reached the bottom of the


"Well, then I groped around there; the moon had also broken through the
clouds a little, and I soon found the carriage, or what was left of it;
it was smashed into small pieces, and one horse was lying among them;
it had broken its neck and was dead as a door-nail. Close beside the
horse lay the Herr Assessor, but he was still breathing, and when I
turned him on his back he groaned heavily, and then twitched several
times; he would die without my help, and I had already taken the money
out of his pocket, and buttoned up the coat again so that it might look
as if he were lying just as he fell."

"Did you not look for me?"

"I looked, but I didn't find you; he told me afterwards that you
were lying half-way down the slope, and besides the time I was
crawling about in the dark seemed very long, and there was a rustling
among the reeds, and then the other horse, which had broken loose
from the carriage and run out into the morass with the pole - stupid
beast! - began to scream, and it is a pitiful sound to hear a dying
animal shriek in its agony, and so I came up again on dry land."

"And was Herr Brandow already there?"

"How do you know that?" asked Hinrich in astonishment.

"I only imagined so."

"No, he wasn't there then, but he came directly after, and I was
furious because he had taken Brownlock; besides, what business had he
there? I told him so too, and said he must go back at once; but he
wouldn't; people had seen him ride away, and where should he say he had
been when this story came out? I had offered him the package, but he
knocked it out of my hand, and it lay on the ground between us, and I
said it might stay there. 'So it can for aught I care,' said he; 'I
didn't do it for the money;' and then he asked what had become of you?
I gave him a short answer, for I was angry, and then he said I must
turn back at once, and - and - 'Do it alone, sir,' said I, 'I'll have
nothing more to do with it.' He begged my pardon, but I wouldn't make
up, out of pure ill-temper, and now he again grew anxious about what
account he could give of his whereabouts during this time, till I said
to him: 'As you have Brownlock under you, sir, you can just as well
ride across the bog, and then you will get to Neuenhof as soon as if
you had ridden away from Dollan directly after the gentlemen: I mean,
of course, over the road.' He saw this too, but his courage failed,
although he generally had plenty for such things, and I myself had
ridden across the bog a week before under his own eyes; so I said to
him: 'Then do what you choose, I must go and knock up the Prebrows now,
or I shall come in for all the blame,' and then he rode away, and it
was a splendid sight - I could see it distinctly, for the moon had come
out - and the water dashed up under the hoofs - yes, it was a splendid
sight to see how he rode."

Hinrich walked on a few steps in silence; suddenly he stopped short.

"And the way he has treated me is a sin and a shame; may God punish me
if I don't pay him for it. He promised me ten per cent, of all
Brownlock won, and he had ten thousand in his book then; but it may

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24

Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 20 of 24)