Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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pride to-day for the first time. I was proud of you when, with
sparkling eyes, you could talk so brilliantly of gods and heroes, and
say the heroic man might boldly compare himself with the gods
themselves; and when I heard, years after, you had forced your way
through obstacles, by which others would have been crushed a thousand
times, and, with a speed that seemed wonderful to those who did not
know your strength and talent, raised yourself to the highest rank in
your art, and the name of the young painter was mentioned only among
the best artists - yes, Gotthold, I was proud then, so proud and
thankful - for I thought, now I can bear everything easier, since my
crime was not visited on you, since I alone had to atone for the sin I
alone had committed."

They had left the fields, over which scattered threads of gossamer
floated in the red light of the setting sun, and entered the dark,
silent forest. No sound was heard except the rustling of the withered
leaves at their feet, and, as Cecilia paused, the mournful song of a
solitary bird.

But Gotthold heard no interruption; it seemed to him as if the piteous
notes of the bird only prolonged the wail of the human voice.

"Alone, alone," he said, "always alone, and so you wish to remain, poor
love! Can a human being be alone? And are you quite alone? Granted that
I am - which I am not - the strong hero who can by constant labor
struggle along his solitary path to the golden table of the father, is
there not your child, from whom you must shut out the bright, sunny
world? You, who turn away from life with veiled head in mute despair!
what virtues will you teach it when you are yourself so wholly
destitute of the cheerfulness, in which alone the virtues thrive; nay,
when you no longer believe in that which is the best and highest of
all, which makes us what we are, makes us human beings - love? Who
pities yonder little bird, which, concealed amid the autumnal foliage,
perhaps wounded and maimed, is left behind to perish miserably? None of
its brothers and sisters, its husband or its children; they have all
flown away, unheeding, and left it behind - alone, alone! They obey the
immutable law that governs their coming and going, their life and
death, and so they do not, cannot sin; but we can and do, if we do
not obey the law that governs us, if we do not obey love. It is the
all-powerful tie that has bound and will bind together all races of
men, from the beginning to the end; the all-powerful sun beneath whose
pure light spring must return to the darkest, saddest hearts: and so
with my love I will hold you, dearest, however you may struggle; will
open your heart, however you may try to close it against me: for I am
more powerful than you, can lend you my strength, and yet have enough
for myself, and you, and your child - our child, Cecilia!"

She had paused, trembling in every limb; pale as death, and with her
dark eyes dim with tears, she extended her hands imploringly.

"Have mercy, Gotthold, have mercy! I can bear no more; I can bear no

A hasty step came down the narrow path that led to the giant's grave.

"Thank God! I was coming to meet you, dear madam - I think - I know you
are not like other ladies - "

"He is dead!" cried Cecilia.

"I fear we shall not find him alive, though he had strength enough to
send me back. I did not like to leave him, but he was so very, very
anxious to see you, to see you both."

They ran up the path through the underbrush, over the hill, to the
giant's grave, whose huge mass stood forth in dark relief against the
bright western sky.

The old man was sitting on a moss-covered stone, with his back resting
against one of the larger blocks, his hands lying in his lap, and an
expression of the most profound peace on his pale, venerable face,
gazing silently towards the west, from whence brilliant sunset hues
streamed over fields, forest, moorland, and sea. Cecilia sank upon the
broom at his feet, pressing her lips to his cold hand.

At the touch, a slight shiver ran through the limbs of the dying man.
His glance turned slowly away from the distant sky, and rested upon the
beautiful, pale, tear-wet face before him. A happy smile gleamed over
his features. "Ulrica," he whispered. The name fell from the white lips
softly, almost inaudibly, and then lips and eyelids closed.

Cecilia's head sank upon Gotthold's breast; the Prince, who during the
whole scene had discreetly remained at a distance, turned away, and
gazed steadily at the golden sunset.

And the golden hues of sunset glowed upon fields and woods, and the
churchyard of Rammin, in which the old man had just been laid to rest
with his children and children's children. Only a small, very small
company had stood around the grave when the coffin was lowered, and
they had needed no priest to consecrate the place which would
henceforth be sacred to them. Then Frau Wollnow embraced Cecilia,
and whispered: "Don't allow yourself to be disconcerted by any
narrow-minded creature you may meet," and Cecilia answered: "Have no
fear, I know what I am doing." Then Ottilie kissed Gretchen; the Prince
and Herr Wollnow took leave of Cecilia with a few cordial words, and
the Prince's light carriage rolled towards his castle, and the
Wollnow's heavy equipage along the road to Prora.

At the other end of the village, where the road leads to Neuenfähr and
Sundin, stood a travelling carriage, and they now walked silently
through the little hamlet, arm-in-arm; while the child ran before them,
and snatched at the swallows when they came too near.

Otherwise the swallows had a free course. Up and down they darted in
their arrowy flight, now grazing the earth, now rising in graceful
curves, anon flying in a straight line and then zigzag, chirping,
twittering, and fluttering their long wings unweariedly.

For them, too, it was probably the last evening, and to-morrow they
would fly towards the South, and not return till spring.

Gotthold thought of this, and then of the evening when he had walked
through the deserted village-street, and the swallows' song brought
tears of sorrow to his eyes, and how empty his home and the whole
beautiful world had been to him, and how the whole beautiful world now
seemed to him like home; and as he gazed into the dark eyes of his
beloved wife, and pressed the little warm hand of the child, now his,
he knew "what the swallow sang."


[Footnote 1: Dumpling.]

[Footnote 2: The second person singular is used throughout this
conversation, but I have thought it better to adopt the English mode of
address. - Tr.]


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