Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

. (page 3 of 24)
Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 3 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"That was he," said Jochen, in a low tone; "he only needs to whistle
and they run straight within reach of his gun. Yes, yes, Herr Gotthold,
you said just now that there was nothing of the kind; but you'll make
an exception of old Boslaf. He can do more than one trick which no
honest Christian can imitate."

"So the old man is still alive?" asked Gotthold as they drove
cautiously on through the forest.

"Yes, why shouldn't he be?" replied Jochen, "they say he can live as
long as he likes. Well, I don't believe that; his end will probably
come some day, though I may not be here; but this I do know, that
people who knew him fifty years ago say that he looked just the same
then as he does now."

"And he still lives in the house on the beach?"

"Where else should he live?" asked Jochen. They had emerged from the
forest and moorland upon the beautiful smooth highway, which, lined
with huge poplars, announced to the weary traveller the vicinity of the
capital. It was still an hour's journey, but the road sloped gradually
downward, and the horses, well aware that their long day's work was
over and their cribs close at hand, collected all their strength and
trotted briskly onward. The crescent of an increasing moon floated in
the deep blue sky, shedding a pure radiance; here and there a
flickering reddish light in the dark landscape marked the situation of
some mansion house or lonely peasant hut. And now a brighter glow
shimmered from the hill up which the road led. Stately houses gleamed
forth from amid the dark foliage of the trees and bushes, the horses'
hoofs rang upon a stone pavement, and a few moments after the carriage
stopped before the "Fürstenhof," whose host welcomed the late arrival
with northern cordiality.


Gotthold had expected to reach P. at an early hour; it was now nearly
ten o'clock, too late to pay the visit he had promised Herr Wollnow by
letter, yet in spite of the time the gentleman might perhaps be
waiting, and what he had to settle with him could be despatched in a
few minutes. Then the minor object of his journey would be accomplished
and he could set out again early the next morning; he would have
preferred to go on that night.

The ground seemed to be burning under his feet. The events of the last
few hours, the meeting with the playmate of his youth, and his
communications, had roused the greatest agitation in his mind. As he
passed down the quiet street towards the house of his business
acquaintance, he paused several times under the dark trees, gasping for
breath, and made a defiant gesture, as if he could thus repel the
ghostly throng of memories that hovered around him.

"Thank God that now at least you are sure not to meet an old
acquaintance again," he said to himself, as he rang the bell at the
door of one of the handsomest houses upon the market-place.

"Herr Wollnow is at home," said the pretty young servant-maid, "and - "

"Bids you a most hearty welcome," interrupted Herr Wollnow, who at that
moment came out of his counting-room, and extended a broad, powerful
hand to his guest. "I am very glad to make your acquaintance at last,
though I deeply regret that the occasion should be so sorrowful. Have
you supped this evening? No? Why, that is capital; neither have I. To
be sure, you must be contented with my company, at least for the
present; my wife has a meeting of her great society to-day. She did not
want to go, for she is very anxious to renew her acquaintance with you,
or rather make it, as I say; for you will hardly remember her. She
promised to be back again at ten o'clock; but I know what that
means, - we shall have an hour to ourselves."

Gotthold apologized for his late arrival, but said that he had thought
it better to come late than not at all, especially as he intended to
set out again early the next morning, if possible.

"I think you will allow us to keep you with us a few days," replied
Herr Wollnow; "yet time is money, as Englishmen say, so we will devote
the time Stine needs to prepare supper to money matters. I have set
everything right." Herr Wollnow invited Gotthold to take a seat upon
the sofa in the little private office, and sat down beside him in a
leather-covered arm-chair at the round table, on which various papers
lay arranged in the most methodical order.

"Here are the documents that concern your late father's legacies," he
continued. "I have had wonderfully little trouble in executing the
orders you sent me from Milan. The ready money amounted only to a few
thalers, and as to furniture and other household appurtenances, the
hermits of the Theban wilderness could not have possessed much less
than satisfied your father during the latter years of his life. The
only really valuable portion of his property was the library, and here
I took the liberty of deviating a little from your commands. You had
intended that the whole profit derived from the sale should be given to
the poor of the parish, and also that your father's successor should be
permitted to set his own price upon the books that pleased him,
undoubtedly in the supposition that the gentleman would make a proper
use of this favor. But that was not the case with Pastor Semmel. He
believed in making hay while the sun shone; he not only wanted all the
best, but wished to take advantage of the opportunity, and if possible
get them for nothing. In a word, your two intentions could not be
reconciled, and as I doubtless rightly supposed that the poor people
would be nearer your heart than the Pastor, although he made a great
ado about the intimacy that had existed between you at the university,
and I believe even at school, I offered everything, with the exception
of a few insignificant trifles I was obliged to leave with him, to a
respectable firm which dealt in secondhand books, and after
considerable bargaining came to an understanding with them. We obtained
a large sum, as I wrote you, and if you are as well satisfied as the
poor people in Rammin, I need not be ashamed of the way in which I
carried out your command."

An amused smile flashed from Herr Wollnow's dark eyes as Gotthold
warmly pressed his hand.

"I repeat, it was very little trouble," said he, "and I would have
taken a hundred times as much with pleasure for a man to whom I am so
greatly indebted."

"You so greatly indebted? To me?"

"To you, certainly. If, when you entered into the possession of your
property five years ago, you had withdrawn the ten thousand thalers
invested in my business, as I earnestly advised you to do, I might not
now be in the pleasant situation of being able to return the money to
you with my warmest thanks."

"For Heaven's sake," cried Gotthold, pushing back Herr Wollnow's
hand, which was extended towards a larger package fastened with an
India-rubber band.

"I have put aside the money at any rate," replied Herr Wollnow, "in
cash and in good bonds."

"But I don't want it now, any more than I did then."

"Well," said Herr Wollnow, "I cannot persuade you to take it as
earnestly as I did five years ago. To-day - I may venture to say it
confidently - the money is perfectly safe, and I can give you the
highest rate of interest. Then, when I was establishing a new business
here under very peculiar circumstances, and in consequence of the
impossibility of relying upon my business associates, - I mean the
capitalists of this place - a crisis might occur at any moment, I only
did my duty when I advised you to intrust your money, if not to more
honest, to safer hands. Well, you would not hear of it; would have me
keep the money; nay, I even believe I might have had it without

"You will admit, Herr Wollnow, that in so doing I carried out my
uncle's views."

"I don't know," replied the merchant. "Your uncle had a personal
interest in leaving the money in my hands. The great profits which
accrued to the business in Stettin through the new connections I
formed, and I may say created here, were so important that they far
outweighed the risk of a possible loss. But when your uncle gave you
the free disposal of the property by will, he acknowledged that an
artist's interests are and must be different from those of a business

"Why yes, the interests of his art," replied Gotthold earnestly; "I
never had and never shall have any others. In this feeling, and this
alone, after I had recovered from my first astonishment, I joyfully
welcomed the rich inheritance that fell to my lot so unexpectedly."

"I know it," replied Herr Wollnow; "the assistance I have given from
your property to that poor deserving Brüggberg during the last three
years proves it, and he will not be your only pensioner."

"It has proved as fortunate for him as for me that help came in time,"
replied Gotthold.

He supported his head on his left hand, and mechanically drew
arabesques on a sheet of paper that lay before him, while he continued
in a lower tone:

"And it was also quite time for me. For two years in Munich I had
already devoted every hour and moment I could spare from the labor of
earning a livelihood, to art, beloved art, which is so infinitely
coy to a tyro, especially one who is compelled to begin after his
one-and-twentieth year. My strength was almost exhausted; I had seen
the last star of hope disappear; nothing bound me to life except a sort
of defiance of a fate which I thought I had not deserved, and the shame
of appearing to rush out of this world like a simpleton, in the eyes of
those who had aided me to live. How distinctly I remember the hour! I
had returned to my little attic room towards nightfall, from the studio
of a famous artist to which an acquaintance had procured me admittance,
with a soul filled to overflowing with the mighty impressions produced
by works of the greatest genius, and yet utterly exhausted, for I had
resolved a few days before to give up no more lessons, even if I
starved, and I was almost starving. I placed myself before my easel,
but the colors blended into one confused mass. The palette fell from my
hand; I staggered to the table to pour out a glass of water, and - there
lay the letter which informed me that I had been made the heir of a
relative whom I had never seen, and was the possessor of a fortune
which, at a casual estimation, amounted to more than a hundred thousand
thalers. What was more natural than that in this wonderful moment I
should make the vow: this shall belong to Art, and to you only so far
as you are an artist."

"Nothing is more natural and simple," said Herr Wollnow; "but that you
should have kept the oath, and I know you have done so, is - as we
children of Adam are now constituted - not quite so natural and simple.
But now, as the business matters are settled, we will, if agreeable to
you, talk more comfortably over a glass of wine."

Herr Wollnow opened the door of a spacious apartment handsomely
furnished as a half dining, half sitting room, and invited his guest to
take a seat at the table, which was covered with a snow-white cloth,
and furnished with all sorts of dainties served in valuable china, and
several bottles of wine. As Gotthold sat down, his eyes wandered over
several large and small oil paintings which were skilfuly arranged upon
the walls.

"Pardon an artist's curiosity," said he.

"I understand little or nothing of your beautiful art," replied Herr
Wollnow, as he fastened a napkin under his fat chin; "but my wife is a
great amateur, and, as she sometimes persuades herself, a connoisseur.
You must give her the pleasure of showing you her treasures. I am
afraid the little collection will not find much favor in your eyes,
with the exception of one picture, which I also consider a masterpiece,
and which is greatly admired by all who see it."

Gotthold would gladly have gone nearer to the paintings; one of them
which hung at some little distance, seemed strangely familiar, but Herr
Wollnow had already filled the green glasses with odorous Rhine wine,
and a robust elderly woman came noisily in with a platter of freshly
broiled fish in her red hands.

"Stine says that you were always particularly fond of flounders," said
Herr Wollnow, "and so she would not give up the pleasure of offering
you your favorite dish herself."

Gotthold looked up at the stout figure, and instantly recognized good
Stine Lachmund, who, during his boyhood, had almost kept the house at
Dollan in the place of its invalid mistress, and after her death
managed affairs entirely alone, yet had always maintained a good
understanding with the boys and all the world, in spite of the many
difficulties of her position.

He held out his hand to his old friend, who, after putting the platter
on the table, and wiping her red fingers on her apron in a most
unnecessary manner, grasped it eagerly.

"I was sure you would know me again," said she, her fat face beaming
with delight. "But goodness gracious, how you have altered! What a
handsome man you have grown! I should never have known you again!"

"So I used to be desperately ugly, Stine?" asked Gotthold, smiling.

"Why," replied Stine, with a grave, questioning glance, "you had
handsome blue eyes, it is true; but they always looked so large and
sorrowful that it made one feel badly, and then your little thin face
was divided by a scar from there to there - it looked terribly; such a
good boy, too, it was too outrageous - "

"All that has been forgotten long ago," said Gotthold.

"And a big beard has grown over it," added Stine.

"Yen can tell Line to bring in a bottle of the red seal," said Herr
Wollnow, who thought he perceived that his guest wished to cut short
this recognition scene. "You must pardon me," he continued, turning to
Gotthold, when Stine had gone out after again shaking hands, and the
pretty young maid-servant, who moved noiselessly to and fro, began to
wait upon the gentlemen, "you must pardon me for being unable to spare
you this little scene. The good woman was so delighted to hear of your
coming, and a man who returns home must make up his mind to meet
familiar faces at every step."

"I have experienced that to-day," replied Gotthold; "your wife, too,
you said - "

"Is proud of having known you when you were not a famous artist, but a
diffident boy about thirteen years old, who obstinately refused to take
part in a dance which some aristocratic mammas had arranged with
difficulty, and then joined it when he heard that no one else would
dance with little Ottilie Blaustein. She has never forgotten your

"And she - Fraulein Ottilie - "

"Has been my wife for six years," said Herr Wollnow. "You look at me
with discreet astonishment; you have quickly calculated that the little
dancer of those days cannot now be much more than twenty-five, and
you set me down very correctly at some years over fifty - we will say
fifty-six. But we Jews - "

"Are you a Jew?" asked Gotthold.

"Of the purest descent," replied Herr Wollnow; "didn't you perceive
that, when I locked your money up in my desk so quickly just now? Of
the purest Polish descent, although out of love for my wife, who
declared that she had suffered enough from Judaism, and also from
business motives, I have taken the step, a very easy one for me, from
one positive religion which was indifferent to me, to another that was
no less so. But I was going to say that we Jews, or we men who are
educated in the Jewish faith, are as unromantic in regard to marriage
as everything else, but we keep to the law; I mean by that the law of
nature, which is not at all romantic, but very sober, and consequently
all the more logical."

"Then you think that a great difference between the ages of the husband
and wife is one of the laws of nature which should be strictly

"By no means, only that under certain circumstances it is no

"Certainly not, but - "

"Allow me to explain my opinion by some statistics. I am descended from
a very long-lived family. My grandfather - he could not tell either the
place or time of his birth positively - must have been more than a
hundred years old when he died, blind and crippled, it is true, but
with his mental powers almost entirely unimpaired. My father was
ninety. I, who no longer needed to toil and moil for myself, was able
six years ago, when in my fiftieth year, to marry, and thus I have the
expectation of seeing my little family, even if an addition should be
bestowed upon us, grow up to maturity, supposing that I attain my
eightieth year, to which, as you will admit, I have on the father's
side the most well-founded title."

Herr Wollnow rested his broad shoulders comfortably against the back of
his chair, and passed his hands over his high forehead and thick black
hair, in which Gotthold could not yet perceive the smallest thread of
gray. "That is," said he, "if I understand you rightly, marriage ought
to be in the first place arranged for the welfare of the children, and
therefore it is only necessary to consider the signs of the times in
and for which the children are born."

"Certainly," replied Herr Wollnow; "in the first place, I might almost
say in the first and last."

"And the husband and wife?"

"Ought and will find their pleasure in their love for their children,
their joy in the new fresh world which surrounds them, as well as a
sufficient compensation for all lost illusions, and a reward for the
anxieties and deprivations which necessarily spring from this love and

"And their own love, the love which brought them together, which
induced them to make this particular choice out of the countless
multitude of possibilities - the love which ever increases and must
continue to increase until it finally illumines every thought,
heightens every feeling, warms every drop of blood - would you take this
from marriage, or consider it as something which may or may not exist?
Never! 'Love is everywhere, except in hell,' says Wolfram von
Eschenbach. I know not whether he is right, but I do know that a
marriage where there is no love, nay, where love does not exist as I
understand it, is in my eyes a hell."

Gotthold had spoken with a passion which, eagerly as he strove to
suppress it, had not escaped the keen ears of his host.

"Let us change the subject," he said kindly, "and try another upon
which we shall certainly find it easier to agree."

"No, let us keep to this," replied Gotthold; "upon so important a
subject I am anxious to hear the opinion of a man whose judgment and
character I prize so highly - the full opinion; for I am sure you have
still much to say."

"Certainly," replied Herr Wollnow hesitatingly; "a great deal, but I
fear very little that will please you, as you now think of marriage. I
say as you now think, and beg you not to misunderstand me; for you, who
have grown up among romantic traditions, and, as an artist, are perhaps
especially disposed to take an ideal view of human affairs, can
probably not be induced to give up your preconceived opinion except by
your own experience. But no matter; I should need to be far less firmly
convinced of the justice of my own opinion than I am, or to esteem my
opponent less than I do if I allowed your last proposition to pass
without contradiction. You said that without love, as you so eloquently
described it, marriage would be a hell; I assert that this very love,
or rather the unrealized dream of this love, makes a hell of many, far
too many marriages."

"Unrealized," said Gotthold; "oh! yes, that is just what causes the

"An unavoidable one, or at least in many cases not to be avoided. You
will admit that most marriages must commence with this illusion, which
is more or less vivid according to the nature and imaginative power of
the dreamer. There are so few persons who do not desire to be specially
rewarded for paying their debts to nature and society. When they
perceive that the question of marriage concerns a very different object
from the realization of their dreams, and that this object is the more
easily attained the less they give themselves up to fancies, the
majority, of course, will at first rub their eyes in some little
perplexity, but no longer take the affair tragically, but as it is; and
these are the marriages which I - with all due respect for humanity,
which certainly consists of average mortals - call average marriages,
and which in Germany, England, America, nay, even in France and Italy,
wherever I have wandered in the civilized world, I have always found as
much alike as two eggs. It is, take it all in all, very dry, but very
healthful prose; there is much modest quiet happiness, and of course
also much, very much sorrow; but none which would not befall a human
being as such. I mean the frail, easily injured creature at last doomed
to death - and very little which results from the marriage. But this
misery is found in overwhelming measure when people wish to realize,
nay to transform into a still more brilliant reality, the dream they
have enjoyed as lovers. How many heart-breaking conflicts, how many
vain struggles, how much strength wasted which was greatly needed for
far more important purposes, how much senseless and useless cruelty
towards one's self and others! You see I speak only of those who take
life earnestly, not of the multitudes of stupid people who are
incapable of any moral idea, nor of the, if possible, still greater
number of frivolous natures; who snap their fingers at all morality."

"I know it," replied Gotthold; "but why should not earnest, honorable
human beings, when they become conscious of their mistakes, seek to
cast out the errors that have crept into the score of their lives while
there is time?"

"In what way?"

"By restoring each other's freedom."

"Freedom? What freedom? The liberty of chaining themselves again as
soon as possible, of making another choice at once if, as is usually
the case, they have not previously done so; a new choice which will
probably prove no wiser, no more circumspect, than the first? Consider,
we are speaking of earnest, honorable human beings! Well, they
doubtless went earnestly and honorably to work in making their first
choice, and if, in spite of all their earnestness, they went astray
where they could choose freely and without embarrassment, they
certainly would the second time, when burdened by the weight of
self-created suffering, blinded by a treacherous passion. If a new
clerk begins the first calculation I allow him to make on an entirely
false principle, I may not send him away, but I never intrust any
important matter to him again without watching him. And - while there is
time - did you say? When is there time? Perhaps never, if two people
have belonged to each other body and soul - for earnest, honorable
people will give their souls to each other - perhaps never, and certainly
not after; and here I come back to the point from whence I started - after
the bond which thereby becomes a hallowed one has been blessed with
children. Believe me, I could make many other remarks upon this subject:
the chasm that severs the parents goes through the hearts of the
children; they will feel the gulf painfully sooner or later, and never
wholly cease to suffer from it, if - which to be sure is not always the
case - they have hearts."

"And will not a child's heart be torn," cried Gotthold, painfully
agitated, "will it not bleed at the thought of its parents who have
lived together in torment, and wasted away in this torture?"

"They would not have wasted away," replied Herr Wollnow, "if they had
come to an understanding with each other in my acceptation of the term;
if they had always said to each other, and kept faithfully in their
hearts the thought: for our children's sakes we must not despond, must
bear our sorrows, must sacredly keep the ledger of our lives, and, if
any error has actually crept in, calculate and calculate until we have
found it. Who in the world should be responsible for the result except
the person to whom the book was intrusted? And then there is also a
bankruptcy from which the unfortunate sufferer comes forth
impoverished, perhaps a beggar, with nothing to cover his nakedness
except the consciousness: you have done your duty, met your
obligations. Woe to him who cannot think this of his parents: well for
him who can think and say so; who by their graves can weep sorrowful
but sweet tears, and pass on in peace."

Gotthold's head was resting on his hand. Let us have peace, he had said
to his father's shade, and sorrowful but sweet tears had fallen from
his eyes upon his mother's grave. Would they have been less sweet if

Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 3 of 24)