Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

. (page 22 of 24)
Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 22 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


at least - and replaced the sum stolen. You will have a chance to do so
to-morrow. It is gambler's money, but that don't concern us."

"And if I don't win?"

"You will work. Dollan has been leased to you for five years more; you
can, if you choose - and you will be compelled to choose - pay back in
less than half the time the ten thousand thalers I shall advance to
you - it is almost the last remnant of my fortune. At any rate the
package will be found on Dollan moor to-morrow evening, and day after
to-morrow be in the coffers of the convent."

"How well you have provided for yourself!"

"And you too. If we drove you from your home, as you deserve - for you
are not worthy to have German laborers call you master - you would go to
ruin in the shortest possible time, and that, for your child's sake, I
do not desire."

Brandow essayed a scornful laugh, but Gotthold's last words, and the
tone in which he uttered them, closed his lips.

"You said just now, Brandow, that you loved your child: it was a lie;
if you had done so even a little, for her sake you would at least have
kept yourself innocent of crime. You have never loved any one except
yourself, and that with a coarse, vain, egotistical love, which had no
trace of respect for the sacredness of that which even the roughest men
reverence. Yet - although this is my honest opinion - I am a man, and may
be mistaken; perhaps it will touch your heart, when you hear that your
child is ill, very ill - that we shall possibly only be able to prolong
her innocent young life a few days. It is terrible to say it, but I
cannot lighten the burden you have laid upon your conscience: if it
dies, you have killed it."

"I?" faltered Brandow; "I?"

"Yes, you! You who made life worthless to her mother," replied
Gotthold, turning to Brandow. "Or did you think the blow you dealt the
mother would not strike the child, too? That the latter would not drink
death from the poisoned cup of life you gave the former? You cannot
have thought so, for you had based your whole plan upon this mutual
love between the mother and child; you thought the bond that united
their souls strong enough to bear your whole shameful web of falsehood
and deceit, treachery and violence. I say once more: if it dies, you
have killed it. Understand this clearly, man, if you can. It is so
horrible that everything else you have done is innocent in comparison;
it is so fearful that you must realize it."

Gotthold walked several paces, and then paused before his enemy, who
sat cowering in his chair with his head resting on his hands.

"Brandow, they say that years ago, when, struck down by your sword, I
lay on the ground before you, you dealt me a second blow. It has always
been impossible for me to believe it, even now it is difficult; but
however that may be, I cannot give a death-blow to any one lying on the
ground, no matter who he is, or what he may have done; but neither can
I hold out my hand to a worthless man, even if he extends his
imploringly to me. Remember this, Brandow. Perhaps the moment will come
sooner than you believe possible."

Gotthold left the room; Brandow still sat in the same attitude into
which he had first sunk, staring steadily at the carpet. A dreary smile
flitted over his pale face.

"That was a fine sermon," he muttered; "highly edifying! He got that
from his father, the parson! And I sit here, and let myself be made out
a villain by the miserable babbler, the cursed hypocrite, and don't
hurl all he says back into his canting face. Bah!"

He started up and wandered about the room.

"Folly, folly, folly! Her love for this dauber is not a thing of to-day
or yesterday; she has always loved him; she has never been able to
forgive herself for stooping to wed me, the haughty Princess! I knew it
from the first! And was I to pocket the insult quietly, act as if I did
not notice it, be satisfied with the crumbs thrown to me? I should have
been a fool! Nobody would have done so in my place, and I've only done
what any one else would, what thousands do who have not even my excuse.
Alma would have run away from her silly husband long ago, if I had
wanted her, if I had not always dissuaded her. But that would have been
just the right grist for their mill; their only regret is that I have
not made it easier for them. And I've made it easy enough now. Fool,
fool! How I might have made them writhe, how I might make them writhe,
if it were not for the accursed money. They put a stone in my path for
me to stumble over, and I did them the favor, and now they stand and
triumph!"

He strode up and down the room like a caged tiger.

"But it is not always night. A little more, and I should have wept over
that sentimental speech, as if it had been the truth, as if she had not
taught the child to hate me, as if it had the slightest trace of
resemblance to me, and might not just as well have been his, which it
probably would, if he had then been the noble family friend for which
he passes now. I have let myself be caught in the snare like a stupid
boy. It came too suddenly; I was not calm enough; and Hinrich's
reappearance was a shameful blow. Who would have thought it, after the
fellow had once been so foolish as to draw all the suspicion upon
himself, and I had made things so hot for him here! He shall pay for
it, if he ever crosses my path again - the scoundrel; he shall pay for
it. He and the daubing parson's son, and the old vagabond, and the
damned Jew, and she - she - "

He paused before one of the large mirrors which covered the walls of
the room between the windows from floor to ceiling.

"So I wasn't good enough for her. Other people think differently in
this respect. The fact is, I sold myself too cheap. A fellow like me
might have made very different pretensions; nay, can still at any
moment, though I look now as Don Juan did last night when the devil was
chasing him. But it's only the green glass and the dim light."

A knock at the door interrupted his gloomy soliloquy. It was a servant,
who came to ask whether Herr Brandow was not coming back to the
dining-room soon.

"At once," said Brandow.

He cast another glance at the mirror. "I'm rather deplorable-looking
still. No matter! Or so much the better. They will think I am anxious
about to-morrow, and fall into the snare all the easier, the
blockheads! And to-morrow noon I shall have my thirty or forty thousand
in my purse, and - all the rest is nonsense."




CHAPTER XXXIV.


The clearest September morning shone upon the old Hanse city, whose
narrow winding streets were remarkably quiet to-day, so quiet that the
servant-girls who stood idly at the open doors of the houses could
bewail their piteous fate to each other across them undisturbed. Was it
not too shameful that the second day - the great day, when everybody,
even the little apprentices from the cobblers' benches, had gone to see
the show - they were obliged to stay and take care of the houses? And
Kopp's carriage had just come back empty for the sixth time, and was
now stopping at the apothecary's round the corner; but the young ladies
always made such a parade, and were never ready; it was a sin and a
shame, when one thought that other honest girls, who certainly wouldn't
keep the carriage waiting, were not allowed to set foot outside of the
door; but when the cat was away the mice would play.

The merry girls, who had approached nearer and nearer each other,
joined hands and began to whirl around on the rough pavement, out of
the sunlight into the shadow of the houses, and out of the shadow back
into the sunlight, and then with a scream scattered and fled, each into
her own door, as the strange gentleman came out of a large, silent
house near by.

Gotthold had watched all night beside Gretchen's bed with Cecilia and
old Boslaf, and good Stine had gone in and out. Several times they
thought the last moment had come; but the little heaving breast, which
Cecilia had pressed to her own, rose and fell more easily again, and
she laid the sweet little creature back upon the pillows, which were
scarcely whiter than her delicate pale face. After midnight the fever
became a little less violent, and the Doctor, who came early in the
morning, said that the danger, unfortunately, was not yet over, but a
few quieter hours might be expected, and he urgently entreated them to
use this interval in gaining fresh strength, which they certainly
greatly needed.

He had looked at old Boslaf as he spoke, but the old man smiled
pleasantly, and said that the Doctor must not be anxious about him; he
was used to night-watching, and should soon have plenty of time to
sleep. But Cecilia, who was full of tender solicitude for the old man,
whom she now always called father, insisted that he should lie down,
and sent Gotthold away also. She would keep watch with Ottilie until
noon; if Gretchen's condition should change for the worse, he should be
notified at once.

And so he now walked through the silent street towards his lodgings,
gazed at the girls dancing merrily, the sunlight shining so brightly on
the gray old gables, and the flock of white doves wheeling in airy
circles under the bright blue sky. How beautiful the world was! How
pure and balmy the soft warm air he eagerly inhaled! How lightly he
strode along, in spite of the long night of anxious watching! How the
blood bounded in his veins! And yet darkness and death might conquer!
If the child died - Gotthold paused with a shudder - he had seen, the
little dark mound so distinctly. But it was only a trick of his
imagination; Gretchen was still alive; she would recover; the delicate
little creature had struggled through this terrible night, and he might
even be permitted to say that it was he who had saved her life once
more. So she must live for him; her pure soft hands must fit the
keystone of the building of his happiness. Had he not hitherto
succeeded in everything far beyond his expectation! Had not even chance
showed him her most gracious aspect! A few days ago, how could he even
have ventured to hope that his rival would be so soon and so entirely
delivered into his hands, and he should be able to say, "This shall be
done, and it shall be done so and so, without any outcry, without the
knowledge of any person unconcerned?" This very evening the unfortunate
man was to return to Dollan to find the money he had stolen, and the
following day restore it to the treasury of the convent, through
Wollnow; and this evening also, the vessel which took his accomplice
would sail for England, the latter having declared of his own free will
that he could no longer stay here, and would rather go at once to
America, especially if the gentlemen would provide him with money as
generously as they had promised, and he knew they would keep their
word. So within twenty-four hours at latest everything would be settled
and levelled to a foundation on which another structure might be
erected.

A quick, heavy step, which came towards him through the deserted street
near his lodgings, made Gotthold look up.

"What is the matter, Jochen?"

"He's gone," said Jochen, panting for breath. "I was just on my way to
tell you."

"Since when?"

"It must have been an-hour or two ago; he said he was tired and would
take a little nap, while Clas and I went down to Frau Müller's, who had
invited us to breakfast. Well, Herr Gotthold, there we sat quietly; she
had a nice pork sausage, and we never thought of any mischief, and
meantime the fellow jumped out of a second-story window into the
garden, which joins the city wall, and the gate is never locked, and we
really are not to blame. Even if one don't exactly like a man, how is
one to suppose he has such tricks in his head?"

"An hour, you said?"

Jochen nodded.

"Where is Clas?"

"Gone down to the harbor; it's just possible he may have gone on board
the ship to look about him a little."

Gotthold shook his head. "That is extremely improbable, after, as he
knows, everything is arranged."

"What shall we do, Herr Gotthold?"

"Run to Herr Wollnow and tell him what has happened, and that I have
gone out to the races; and follow me as fast as you can."

Jochen looked amazed. "Yes, to be sure, Herr Gotthold, that's possible;
he talked of nothing but the races all last evening."

Gotthold had already taken several steps, when Jochen followed him.

"You're not angry with me and my brother Clas, Herr Gotthold?"

"You good, stupid fellows!"

Jochen looked very much moved, and doubtless wished to say more; but
Gotthold pressed his hard, honest hand, and hurried down the street to
the gate, beyond which, at no very great distance from the city, was
the race-course.

He knew the way only from description; but it could not be missed
to-day. The nearer he approached the gate, the more numerous became the
people, who were all moving in the same direction; the suburban street
through which they were obliged to pass had assumed a holiday garb. The
modest little villas, half concealed behind the trees in their garden,
were to-day adorned with garlands and tapestry; here and there, under
the shade of the boughs, stood an old gentleman, or a gardener, or a
nurse with a baby in her arms, looking pityingly or mischievously over
the dusty hedges at the throng hurrying by in the summer heat. Often
one of the long Holstein wagons, furnished with five or six seats
placed one behind the other, rattled by, empty if going towards the
city, crowded with people if driving away from it; and it rarely
happened that the usual jokes failed to be exchanged between the lucky
occupants and the dust-covered foot-passengers.

Gotthold had already passed many of the pedestrians, and was still
hurrying anxiously on. To be sure, it was scarcely to be hoped that
either he or Jochen would find the man in such a crowd of people,
especially as he evidently did not wish to be found; but that the
race-course was the place to seek him, he did not doubt for a moment,
and as he now hastened on the fugitive's track his heart grew heavier
and heavier, the more clearly he perceived the bad results that
threatened to ensue. If Hinrich had fled not to return, to become once
more the master of his own fate, and Brandow learned it in time, he
would retract all he had yielded; the battle must begin anew, and with
an enemy who could not again be surprised; if Hinrich was only seeking
an opportunity to revenge himself, Brandow's life was not safe a moment
from the brutal violence of the man, and even admitting that Brandow
was a person who could defend himself - everything which had seemed won
was once more doubtful, even the secrecy in which the pitiful fate of
the woman he loved had hitherto been veiled from an insolent, curious
world.

Gotthold hurried on still faster, hoping he should now soon reach
his goal, but he turned out of one street lined with gardens into
another - the suburbs seemed to have no end. It was still half an hour's
walk to the racecourse, was the reply to his question.

A light open carriage, drawn by two superb horses, overtook and dashed
past him; he thought he had seen the face of the elegant young man who
occupied the seat behind the driver before. The young man turned
towards him, and instantly tapped his coachman eagerly on the shoulder;
the carriage stopped; its occupant sprang out and hastily approached
Gotthold, waving his hand, and calling: "Do I meet you at last?"

A moment after, Gotthold was seated beside young Prince Prora, the
horses dashed onward, and dusty pedestrians, hedges, gardens, villas,
and barns flitted by them on either side.

"You don't know how glad I am," said the Prince, pressing Gotthold's
hand again; "but you will when I tell you that I came from Berlin,
where I was engaged in a most important consultation with Schinkel
about my castle, solely on your account. Count Ingenheim wrote that you
had left Rome, and I heard from Prora that you were staying in this
neighborhood, so I came to seek, see, talk, persuade, obtain - enfin:
you must paint my castle in fresco. I have set my heart upon it, and
you, I suppose, have no reason to say no: Schinkel desires it too, so
you must consent. He wants you, you and nobody else; I know no one by
whom I can be so sure of being understood, he said, and was delighted
when I told him that I had had the honor of a personal acquaintance
with you for a long time, and had spent the most delightful winter in
Rome in your society. Ah! that divine Rome! But you conjurers shall
restore it to me on the walls of my northern castle; I want nothing but
Roman, or at least Italian, landscapes in the dining-room; all bright
and sunny as you can paint so marvellously, grave as you are; and as
for the landscapes of my native country, which we intend to have in the
hall where the weapons are hung, I won't interfere with you at all. It
shall be left entirely to you; and you can revel in melancholy, like
the Danish Prince, but first of all you must say yes - will you?"

The eager young man held out his hand, and a shadow crossed his
delicate, winning face as Gotthold hesitated to clasp it. How
willingly, how joyfully he would have accepted a commission so
delightful, so complimentary, and so important; a commission which
promised to fulfil all that his artist heart could only desire; but
now, to-day -

"You don't wish to undertake it?" said the young Prince, sadly.

"I do wish it, certainly I do," replied Gotthold, pressing the
outstretched hand with deep emotion, "but whether I can is the question
I am asking myself, and which at this moment I can scarcely answer with
a yes. Forgive me if I speak in riddles, Your Highness, but there are
hours and times when we do not belong to ourselves, when we are under
the spell of a fate whose course we can neither hasten nor retard, and
whose decision we must await ere we can feel free to make any
resolution ourselves."

"I certainly do not fully understand you," replied the Prince, "but I
believe I understand that something, which is certainly no trifle, is
weighing upon your mind; that you have either met with or fear some
great misfortune, and in that case the question comes so naturally that
you will forgive my asking: can any one help you, and can I be the
person?"

"I thank you, Your Highness; but I shall probably have to fight my way
through it alone."

"Then I will press you no farther; but I am ready to serve you at any
time, don't forget that."

Meantime they had emerged from between the houses; before them on the
boundless expanse of meadow-land was the race-course, with its tall
stands, its little city of booths and tents, its long rows of carriages
drawn up side by side, its dark crowd of curious spectators. A party of
horsemen dashed past them at a furious gallop; one of them, not without
difficulty, checked his foaming racer and came to the carriage door.

"What, Plüggen, are you not with the others?" cried the Prince.

"Paid the forfeit at the last minute, Your Highness, at the last
minute - too certain it would turn out to-day as it did at the Derby,
four years ago. Once in - ah! Gotthold, _bon jour, bon jour!_ Your
friend Brandow's doing a splendid business to-day, an infernally
splendid business."

"How far away are they, then? Am I too late?"

"God forbid, your Highness! That is, they must be here in ten minutes.
Just up to the last obstacle but one; everybody there - intense
excitement. Exactly as it was at the Derby four years ago, when
Hurry-Harry by Robin Hood out of Drury Lane - "

"Then we won't detain you, Plüggen. _Au revoir_ until this evening;
drive on."

Gustav von Plüggen, with rather a long face, touched his hat, turned
his horse, and dashed after his companions.

"So you know this Brandow?" asked the Prince. "It's a pity about that
man; he would have had, I think, the material for a splendid general of
cavalry; a clear head, a keen eye, never at a loss, and withal brave
even to foolhardiness; but amid these tame plebeian surroundings he
will make, I fear, nothing better than a _mauvais sujet_. But it is
shameful that they took the piece of bog into the course on purpose to
injure him. I hear it was only done to give the other horses a chance,
since it is generally believed that a horse of Brownlock's weight
cannot cross a swamp."

"He will cross it, Your Highness," said Gotthold, "you can bet a
million on it."

"How comes Saul among the prophets?" cried the Prince, laughing. "Since
when have you become such a connoisseur in horse-flesh? You must keep
beside me, and act as prompter, if I, a notorious dilettante in these
noble arts, run any risk of distinguishing myself by my blunders."

"I am sure that Your Highness - "

"You want to get rid of me, I understand. Well, I am very well content,
now that I have seen and spoken to you. I shall stay three days longer
in Sundin, and then remain a week in Prora, where you must be my guest,
even in case - with which idea, however, I won't destroy my present good
humor - you will not paint a stroke for my castle. Here we are; you will
surely come up with me. One can get a better view from above, and you
must at least allow me to secure you a good place."

The carriage stopped. The Prince sprang out, and, without waiting for
Gotthold's answer, began to ascend the steps of the stand. The latter
was obliged to follow his friend, who fully expected him to do so; when
once at the top, he could easily find an opportunity of taking leave of
him without incivility.

The steps and stand were crowded, but every one was eager to make way
for the Prince, who was very popular, that he might reach the first
bench, on which several seats had been reserved for him and his
attendants. "I think your best course will be to follow me," cried the
Prince, laughing, and looking over his shoulder at Gotthold, "you see
here as elsewhere: everything is given away!" But Gotthold could not do
otherwise than make use of the permission. The narrow space which had
been opened between the rows of seats for the Prince had long since
closed; nay, those behind were pressing forward to get as near him as
possible, and Gotthold soon found himself surrounded by a brilliant
assembly of the older and younger ladies of the country aristocracy, in
magnificent attire; white-haired old noblemen, civil dignitaries
adorned with orders, and distinguished soldiers, all smiling brightly
and bowing to the young Prince, who, bowing in every direction,
graciously accepted the offered homage.

"Your Highness has come just at the right moment; we shall see the
first horse appear from behind yonder hill directly; may I offer Your
Highness my glass?" cried old Count Grieben, in his shrill voice.

"Thanks, thanks; I should not like to rob you; you are more nearly
interested in the matter than I; I suppose the goal is here in front of
the stands, as it has been every year?"

"Yes, Your Highness, there they come!"

The Prince had now taken the glass from the old gentleman; there was a
loud whispering and rustling on the stand. "There they come - pray sit
down," echoed on all sides, and all eyes, whether furnished with
glasses or not, sought the long hill Count Grieben had pointed out to
the Prince, and on which in fact three moving specks now became
visible, which with great speed, considering the distance, glided down
the hill, and had already disappeared in a hollow, when four or five
other moving dots appeared in precisely the same spot, likewise glided
down the hill, and vanished. But the interest of the public was almost
exclusively fixed upon the three foremost dots. From the interval of
time between the appearance of the first three specks and the four
following - to say nothing of the stragglers - it was now evident that
the victor must be one of their number; and although even the best
glass could only distinguish that the three moving clots were horsemen
racing at the top of their speed, two names were already mentioned with
positive certainty; there was a doubt about the third rider; some
thought it was Baron Kummerrow on Hengist, while others bet upon Count
Zarrentin's Rebecca, ridden by the younger Baron Breesen.

"But the two others, Your Highness - the two others are my Curt and Carl
Brandow," shrieked old Count Grieben, crimson with excitement and
gesticulating furiously, in a tone so loud that it could be heard over
the whole stand.

Count Grieben! Carl Brandow! Like an alarm of fire the names flew from
lip to lip along the stand, down the steps, and through the dense
throng of men below, who were standing on tiptoe and stretching their


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 22 24

Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 22 of 24)