Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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necks; Count Grieben! Carl Brandow on Brownlock!

Carl Brandow! A strange emotion thrilled Gotthold's frame. That was the
name which, like the spell of some evil magician, had desolated and
ruined his life; the name with which so many unpleasant thoughts had
been connected from his youth, and which in early and later times, and
even during the last few days, had been to him the incarnation of the
principle that in every human breast strives and rebels against the God
of light. And here the name rang on his ears from every lip. Carl
Brandow! Carl Brandow! like a man from whose approach streams happiness
and blessing; and beautiful eyes sparkled, and aristocratic hands
impatiently fluttered the lace-edged handkerchiefs with which they
wished to wave a welcome to the victor. Was the man whom a whole people
thus awaited in breathless suspense, perhaps right when he ventured all
and anything to gain his shining goal; wealth, and honor, and woman's
favor? Could one who took every obstacle so boldly, be expected to turn
aside from his path for a pious scruple? Could one who unhesitatingly
risked his life when the victory could not be obtained at a lesser
price, be blamed if he was not so punctilious about the weal and woe or
even the lives of others, as may be expected and demanded from the
quiet citizen?

Such were the strange thoughts that passed through Gotthold's brain,
while his eyes, like those of the assembled thousands, were fixed upon
the spot pointed out by the experts near him as the one where the
riders must again appear. And there they were already - now recognizable
as horsemen, even by the naked eye - and "Count Grieben and Carl
Brandow" burst forth anew. For only two emerged at the same time, while
the third had already lost so much ground that he appeared full thirty
seconds later. Nothing more was to be expected from him. At the speed
with which the horses were running a lost second could not be regained,
let alone the eternity of thirty! The result now depended upon
Brownlock and Bessy, the two horses that had been the object of public
attention from the first moment and on which immense sums had been
staked up to the last. Would Brownlock win? Would Bessy carry off the
prize? No one dared to decide, no one offered or accepted a bet; they
scarcely ventured to speak, to stir; suspense had chained every tongue.
The scales were still exactly poised, without bending in the least
towards either side. If Bessy, as was universally asserted, was the
faster animal, Brandow's well-known skill in horsemanship made up for
the difference; head to head - the winding course to the stand could be
as distinctly followed as the lines on a map - the horses leaped over
the last hurdle but three, the last but two, the last but one; side by
side the riders took the last obstacle, a wall six feet high, while a
cry of admiration buzzed through the surging crowd. Then followed a
breathless silence. The race must be decided within the next minute.
After the last hurdle was a tract of perfectly level ground about five
hundred paces long; then came several hundred acres of bog, marked by
little flags affixed to poles. If Brownlock did not get a very
considerable lead on the level ground, the race was lost to him; for
Bessy - every one knew - could cross a marsh as lightly as a roe, and
Brownlock would either stick fast or must take a round-about way, which
would cost him his advantage and the victory.

But Brownlock obtained no advantage, not a foot, not an inch; head to
head they dashed across half the distance, and now Bessy took the lead,
a half, a whole length, two, three, a half-dozen lengths. Those who had
bet on Brownlock turned pale, but a hundred times as much was staked on
Bessy; the betters exchanged triumphant glances; no one had time to
speak; Bessy was already approaching the edge of the bog; her rider was
seen to turn in his saddle to note the distance between him and his
rival, and now he turned to the left towards the edge of the swamp.
"Clever fellow," cried old Count Grieben; "it's wider, Your Highness,
it's wider there, but the ground is firmer, and he has plenty of time.
Brownlock can't come up with her, hurrah!" cried the enthusiastic old
gentleman, waving his hat. "Hurrah, hurrah!" echoed from the fickle
crowd, which had just cheered Brownlock; "Bessy wins, Brownlock loses.
Hurrah!"

Suddenly a deep silence followed, as if a thunderbolt had fallen before
the eyes of all. Brandow reached the spot from which, a few seconds
before, Count Grieben, rendered secure of the victory by his opponent's
delay, had turned aside; and with a powerful bound Brownlock dashed
upon the bog, without turning a hair's breadth from the straight
course, flying directly over the deepest but narrowest part, with a
speed which seemed to increase every moment, while his rider, as if
going over the smoothest meadow-land, used neither whip nor spur, and
waved his hand to his rival, as he darted by him with such speed that
the water dashed into the air in a bright shower of spray.

And now he had already reached the edge on the side nearest the stand,
and came up the broad straight course which led to the goal - no longer
at full speed, but in a long stretching gallop, as if to jeer at his
opponent, who after reaching the firm ground, despairing of victory,
had stopped; it seemed as if he wished to give the crowd an opportunity
to offer their homage.

And "Hurrah Brownlock! hurrah Brandow!" they shouted, waving their hats
and caps, and the cry increased and swelled to a deafening, thundering
roar as the victor now rode past the stands to the goal, in the same
long stretching gallop. Everybody stood on tiptoe, the gentlemen
cheering, the ladies waving their handkerchiefs - and now all crowded
down the broad steps to the level ground, to see the victor and the
beautiful horse still nearer, when he, as was customary, returned and
again passed before the stands, but this time at a walk.

"No privileges are recognized here, strength conquers," said the
Prince, who as well as Gotthold was pushed down the steps by the
swaying crowd; "the strength of enthusiasm, which is powerful even in
the weak. Just see how heroically that delicate lady struggles through
the throng - Is it Frau Brandow? I should like to offer her my arm."

The lady's blue veil brushed against Gotthold's face, and he recognized
Alma Sellien. She did not see him, though she stood directly beside
him. The delicate, wan face was strangely beautified by the proud smile
that hovered on the lips; a joyous light sparkled in the blue eyes,
usually so dull and heavy; heeding nothing around her, she looked and
waited for the coming of the man she loved, whose uncovered head was
just visible above the surging crowd. And now a pair of bay shoulders
appeared, vanished, and appeared again, then the beautiful head of a
horse, and then the whole figure of the red-coated rider. Those
standing in the foremost row, recognizing the Prince, made way, and he,
with several other ladies and gentlemen, among them Alma Sellien, were
pressed forward, while the ranks closed before Gotthold, who willingly
drew back. Brandow, who, hat in hand, was bowing to the right and left,
and talking to a few friends that surrounded him, had come very near
them, when he saw the Prince, with Alma Sellien leaning on his arm. An
amazed smile flitted over his face; he hastily turned Brownlock till he
faced the pair, and bowed low over the racer's slender neck. The noble
animal stood snorting, champing its bit, and pawing impatiently.
Suddenly it sprang aside in wild alarm, and then, as its rider tried to
force it back to the spot, reared. "Back!" shouted the Prince to the
crowd, who, pressing forward from every direction, had collected in a
dense mass. But those farther away, whom no immediate danger
threatened, remained motionless. "Back, back!" cried the Prince again;
the ladies screamed. "Jump down, Brandow!" exclaimed the gentlemen. But
Brandow seemed to have forgotten his universally admired horsemanship.
Some said afterwards that he had been stunned from the first moment by
the violence with which, as the horse threw back its head in rearing,
it struck him on the forehead. As he vainly struggled with the animal
in an inconceivably preposterous manner, his eyes were fixed intently
upon a man in the crowd, who in some way - all were pressing upon each
other in wild confusion - had reached the foremost rank, and now, with
upraised arms, sprang directly before, nay under the rearing horse; it
was supposed he wanted to pull the furious animal down by the bridle.

"Let me pass, for God's sake!" cried Gotthold.

He had recognized Hinrich Scheel, although he had only seen the square
head, covered with gray curling hair, from which the cap had been
knocked in pressing through the crowd; not the brutal face with the
squinting green eyes, under whose fiendish power the frightened animal
reared higher and higher, pawing the air with its steel-shod hoofs as
if it would fain destroy its tormentor. And now one of the hoofs struck
the head of the mysterious man, who fell as if a bullet had pierced his
brain; but at the same moment the horse, again rearing, fell backwards,
burying his rider under him. The crowd parted with shrieks of horror.

"A doctor, a doctor, is there no doctor here?"

There was none, but no physician could have been of any avail. The man
who had tried to seize the horse's bridle, and in whom others also now
recognized Brandow's former trainer, Hinrich Scheel, for whose arrest a
warrant had been issued, lay dead on his back with crushed skull and
horribly distorted face, from which the dim eyes glared frightfully;
his master still lived, but Gotthold, who was supporting him in his
arms, saw that his end was fast approaching. A deathlike pallor rested
on the delicate, clear-cut features, and the white teeth gleamed with a
strange, frightful expression from between livid lips. A shudder
convulsed the whole body, and the head fell on Gotthold's breast.

"Here comes a doctor," cried several voices.

"He will find nothing to do," murmured Gotthold; "help me to carry him
away."

As they raised the body, a lady in a blue veil, who had been standing
near with her hands clenched convulsively, shrieked aloud, and sank
fainting on the ground. No particular notice was taken of it. Several
ladies had fainted.




CHAPTER XXXV.


A wondrously beautiful autumn, with mild golden days, and clear starry
nights, brooded over the country. Everywhere summer roses bloomed in
the gardens beside the asters, and the forests were very slow in
decking themselves in brilliant hues. The air was so still that the
floating threads of gossamer scarcely stirred, and when a leaf fell it
remained just where it touched the ground. The birds of passage had
paused in their migration, and chirped and - twittered among the fields
and hedges with their merry little voices, while in the evening the
wild swans, which usually, long ere this time, had soared away on their
strong white wings, called to each other along the shore.

It was a wondrously beautiful autumn, which seemed marvellously like
summer; "but it is only an illusion," said Cecilia, "the summer is
over, winter is close at hand, and I must prepare for it."

She had been six weeks in Dollan, which she had never expected to
enter, never hoped to see again. But the physicians had urgently
desired that, to secure perfect recovery from her severe illness, if a
winter's residence in the South was impracticable, Gretchen should at
least spend the beautiful days of autumn on the sea-shore, in a sunny
spot, sheltered from the cold winds; and what place could have
fulfilled these requirements better than quiet, sunny Dollan? And, even
if it were a sacrifice for her to return here, she made it
unhesitatingly for the sake of her child and her old father.

He had so longed for Dollan when, contrary to the doctor's expectation,
he recovered his consciousness after a fainting fit which, a few days
after the accident on the race-course, suddenly attacked him as he sat
surrounded by his friends. "Gratify the old man's wish," said the
physician, "and do so quickly; he will not have many more. His days are
numbered, and it is our duty to procure for him, during the few that
remain, all the sunshine he misses so keenly here in the narrow crowded
streets."

And with deep thankfulness the old man greeted the sunlight on his
native fields. Not that he expressed his gratitude in words. He usually
talked very little; but on his pale, quiet face rested an expression of
the deepest peace, his mild eyes often sparkled as if with joyful
memories, and a happy smile played around his lips, as he walked slowly
through the sunny fields by Cecilia's side, leaning on her arm. Often
too - especially in the early morning - he went out alone, and Cecilia
had been anxious about him, and at last ventured to beg him to take her
with him, no hour was too early for her. But the old man stroked her
cheeks, and said, "Let me alone; you don't know yet."

Cecilia pondered over these strange words, and understood them for the
first time when, one morning at early dawn, she looked out of her
window, and saw the old man stand a long time in the garden beside one
of the oldest trees - a linden, under whose shade, so the story ran,
Charles the Twelfth of Sweden had sat - and then bend his white head and
wave his hand, as people do when they take leave of any one. Yes, the
old man was taking his leave, when he wandered alone through garden and
field, forest and meadow - leave of the friends and acquaintances of his
youth: here a tree, under whose branches he had dreamed of the woman he
loved; yonder a rock, against whose hard breast he had once pressed his
tortured young heart; the meadow where he had broken the wild steed
with which he had hoped to win the beautiful Ulrica von Dahlitz; the
forest whose echoes he had so often waked by the report of his good
rifle. He never carried it now: the trusty gun that had formerly
accompanied him in all his walks, rested quietly in the corner; he had
taken leave of his faithful companion forever.

Neither did he ever turn his steps in the direction of the beach-house,
and once when he had wandered through the forest by Cecilia's side, and
they unexpectedly emerged from the trees upon the cliffs, he seemed
almost terrified, and then shook his venerable head and muttered: "That
has cost me many years, many, many years!" So saying, he made a gesture
as if to imply that those years were effaced from the tablet of his
memory.

Perhaps they were; he never said a word about the weary time he had
lived in the beach-house, but often began to relate stories of his
young days - ancient tales, which no living person knew except himself,
and over which he could laugh merrily, while at other times the tears
ran down his pale, withered cheeks.

Ancient tales, of which he knew every detail, every name, and Christian
name, the day and hour, and even whether the weather was pleasant or
rainy; but he remembered nothing of what had lately happened, or made
the strangest mistakes. Thus he repeatedly called Cecilia by the name
of his early love, Ulrica, and it had been a bitter grief to his
great-granddaughter, that he sometimes spoke of her husband, Gretchen's
father, as a man he loved and eagerly longed to see again, although he
had been there very recently, until she understood that he meant
Gotthold.

It had moved her strangely at first, and then when the old man recurred
to it again as quietly as if it never had been and never could be
otherwise, and brought her name into such close connection with that of
her lover, she had accepted it like a dream, which comes between waking
and sleeping, until she started in terror at the danger that lay in the
vision. It must not, could not be. Why trifle with a reality which was
impossible, a future that could never come to pass!

She said it with passionate vehemence, and a flood of tears, more to
herself than the old man, when he again spoke of Gotthold, who stayed
away too long, who left her who longed to see him, and the child who
was so fond of playing with him, too much and too long alone. She told
him that she dared not think of such a thing; too much, too much had
happened, which separated them forever, and that though she would give
her blood for him drop by drop, if it did not belong to her child and
her father, she could never, never be his wife.

They were in the garden on one of the beautiful summer-like evenings of
this month of October, and as she spoke the old man gazed earnestly
towards the saffron-hued eastern sky, that gleamed through the
brilliant foliage of the trees, which was unstirred even by the
faintest breath of wind. "Yes, yes," he said, "you have suffered
keenly, keenly: but" - he added after a short pause - "that is so long,
so very long ago. Time heals much, much!"

He seemed to be absorbed in dreams of the days, which to him alone were
no nonentity, which to him alone emerged from the river Lethe; but as
his glance fell upon the tear-stained face at his side, he passed his
hand over his brow and eyes, and said hastily, as if he feared he might
forget it again:

"Not everything, or slowly, very slowly; sixty, seventy, I know not how
many years passed by; and it is never quite right till we take courage
and tell some human being; I told him the evening I saved him from the
sea, and so many good things followed it, so many good things; my heart
has been so light ever since. You must tell some one, too, but not me;
I forget so much, and might forget that too. You must tell him."

And when the next evening they again walked up and down the same
garden-path, and the dim light again shimmered through the trees, he
suddenly stopped and asked: "Have you told him?" and on the third and
fourth day he repeated the question, always shaking his white head
anxiously, when she answered with burning cheeks: "No, father, I have
not told him yet," and mentally added: "And shall not tell him if he
comes to-morrow, shall never tell him."

Gotthold came, but not alone. Prince Prora, at whose castle he had
again spent several days to show him the sketches for the armory, and
decide upon the order of the Italian landscapes for the dining-hall,
wished to accompany him on his way back to Prora, and when he heard
that Gotthold must stop at Dollan to take leave of the family before
setting out on his journey to Italy, begged permission to accompany him
there also.

"For we are neighbors, madame," said the young man, "whether I live at
Prora or the castle, and I ought to have waited upon you long ago; but
I will confess that a special interest brings me here to-day. Our
friend has told me about the giant's grave you have in your forest,
and that it is perhaps in the best preservation of any on the whole
island. Now we need a landscape with one of these mounds for my armory,
and when I reminded him of the one at Dollan, the obstinate fellow
declares it won't do. I naturally insist it is the very one, since
Dollan - before it came into the possession of your - I mean the Wenhof
family - which, to be sure, if we include the Swedish branch, as is only
just, was two hundred years ago - belonged to Prora, like all the rest
of the island; nay, in Pagan times, a Castle Prora, surrounded with a
lofty wall and deep moat, stood on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Its
ruins are still mentioned in old histories, so it is very possible and
even probable that the grave covers the bones of my ancestors. And am I
to lose such a reminiscence for the sake of an artist's obstinacy?
Never! We have an hour to spare, and I hear I can walk there and back
in half an hour - pray don't trouble yourself, my dear friend! You are
the very last person I will take with me, to spoil my temper by your
objections."

"I will accompany you with pleasure," said old Boslaf. "I have often
been up there deer-hunting with your Highness' great-grandfather. I
have not walked that way for a long, long time, and should like to go
once more."

The Prince looked at the old man in astonishment; he had greeted him
with marked respect, in consequence of the many things Gotthold had
told him about him; but it seemed like a fairy tale that any one now in
existence could have gone hunting with Malte von Prora, who had lived
in the times of Frederick the Great, and been sent to Berlin on a
diplomatic mission by the Swedish government before the Seven Years'
War.

"It is impossible for me to give you so much trouble," said he, "quite
impossible."

But the old man did not seem to notice the polite refusal; he had
already taken his staff, and with long regular strides led the way out
of the garden, where this conversation had taken place. The Prince,
with a smile, hurried after him.

"At least your Highness will allow us to follow you," said Gotthold.

"I beg you to do so," replied the Prince, "for the sake of the old man,
who might not be satisfied with my company for any length of time," and
then drawing Gotthold a few steps aside, he continued: "We have an
hour, don't let it be passed unused. Since I have seen this lady, I
understand all you have not told me, you most silent of men. May God
take these mute lovers under His gracious protection!"

Gotthold walked slowly back to the spot where he had left Cecilia, and
saw her still sitting in the same thoughtful attitude. Would she speak
to-day, or would she keep silence as she had done hitherto - let him go
in silence?

He went up and took the hand that hung by her side. "Cecilia?"

She slowly raised her dark lashes, and looked at him with an expression
of touching entreaty.

"I am not to bid you speak, I am to leave you in silence, Cecilia! And
yet it must be uttered; so let me say it for you. You could tell the
secret only to a woman, and to a woman you would not need to do so; she
would understand you without words. Was it not so? Should love be less
clear-sighted than the eyes of a sympathizing friend? I do not know, I
can only tell you what I read in your heart. And it is this, Cecilia:
you love me, but dare not yield to your feelings; nay, you shrink from
the thought of becoming my wife, as if it were a sin - against whom? It
sounds cruel, Cecilia, and yet I must say it: against your pride. That
is what you fear - yourself, not me. You know as well as that the sun is
setting yonder to rise again to-morrow, that no day, no hour will come
when I shall reproach you by word or look for having been - so unhappy,
so unspeakably wretched; you know that I - as I think - have nothing to
forgive you. But you, Cecilia, think you can never forgive yourself;
you think, because when you were an inexperienced girl of sixteen you
made a mistake, repentance and shame must follow you all your future
life; repentance and shame would frighten you from my arms if you ever
obeyed the impulse of your heart and threw yourself into them."

"And should I not do right to think, to feel so?" cried Cecilia, while
the tears streamed down her burning cheeks; "could I ever forgive
myself for having become the wife of this man? An inexperienced
girl of sixteen, do you say? I was not so very inexperienced; I was
worldly - wise enough to understand that life in the beautiful castle
and shady park of Dahlitz would be more brilliant than in a gloomy
country parsonage. And so I trod the poor student's heart under foot,
although a voice which, since that hour, has never been silenced,
whispered, he is the better man. Should I forgive myself for that, and
for letting him go away with an almost broken heart, without a word of
sympathy, of consolation, glad that his honest eyes no longer rested
upon me, no longer read my vain soul? And now, when my arrogant dream
has produced its natural result, now that I am as utterly wretched as I
deserve to be, and he returns and stands before me, a pure, noble man,
who can look with just pride upon his honest, industrious past, and
with joyful composure towards his future, which must develop still more
gloriously - is he now to stay his victorious step to raise one so
deeply fallen; - nay, what am I saying? Is she to chain him to herself
for all the future, bind the strong industrious hands, constrain the
proud mind, which ought always to be occupied with the highest things,
to perpetual consideration, daily, hourly sympathy for a wretched,
self-marred fate? Did you say pride prevented my doing that? Be it so!
But it was pride for you, in you! Ah! Gotthold, I do not feel this


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Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 23 of 24)