Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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she had left the father who could not make her happy, if she had sought
and perhaps found joy in another's arms?

Herr Wollnow's dark eyes rested upon his guest's noble features, now
shadowed by gloom and doubt, with an expression of mingled compassion
and severity. Had he said too much, or not enough? Should he be silent,
or ought he to say more, and tell the young man who so closely
resembled his mother, and yet had so much of his father's character,
the history of his parents?

Just then the door-bell rang, and at the same moment his wife's voice
sounded from the entry. She was a woman to quickly inspire other and
gayer thoughts in men's minds, even if the conversation had taken a
grave and critical turn.




CHAPTER IV.


"I beg you to excuse me a thousand, thousand times," cried Fran Wollnow
from the threshold of the door.

"That makes two thousand," said her husband, who with his guest had
risen to meet her.

"You shan't always reckon up everything, you bad man."

"But take no notice of anything - "

"And you shan't always interrupt me and spoil my prettiest speeches. I
had thought of the most charming things to say to our guest."

"Perhaps they begin with good evening?"

"Why, of course; good evening, and welcome, you are most heartily
welcome," said Frau Wollnow, extending two plump little hands to
Gotthold, and looking up into his face with the most eager curiosity in
her brown eyes. "Dear me, how you have grown, and how much you have
improved!"

Gotthold could not return the compliment. Ottilie Blaustein seemed to
him to have grown much stouter, but neither taller nor handsomer than
when he last saw her. Nevertheless the plump, somewhat flushed face
beamed with mirth and good-nature, and it was by no means difficult for
him to respond to the cordial greeting of his old acquaintance with no
less warmth. She begged the gentlemen to sit down again; she would,
with their permission, take a seat with them, and beg for a glass of
wine, for she had been obliged to talk so much that evening that she
was very thirsty. Then she instantly started up again, and asked her
husband in a half whisper whether he had already showed it to him, in
reply to which mysterious question Herr Wollnow smilingly shook his
stately head. "I would not spoil your pleasure," said he.

"You good Emil!" she exclaimed, hastily kissing her husband on the
forehead, and then turned to Gotthold. "Come, I must give you a proof
that you obliged no ungrateful person when you enabled the little
Jewish girl to join the dance. See, I bought this in remembrance of
you, and would have purchased it if it had been as worthless as it is
valuable, and as dear as the price for which I obtained my treasure was
nominal."

She had seized a candle, and now led Gotthold to the landscape which
had already attracted his attention, even across the room. The latter
started, and with difficulty suppressed an exclamation of surprise and
pain.

"It is Dollan, isn't it?" said Ottilie.

Gotthold made no reply; he took the candle from the lady's hand, and
held it so that the light fell upon the picture, which was hung rather
too high. Yes, it was the very one into which he had painted his love
and anguish, the picture of which he had just spoken to Herr Wollnow,
that had been upon his easel on the evening which had made such a
wonderful change in his life. To prove to himself that he had
irrevocably broken all ties with his past, and must now begin a new
phase of his life and struggles, he gave away the sketch and did not
destroy the picture, but very prosaically presented it to an
exhibition, from which it went to another, then to a third and fourth,
and was finally sold, he did not know where or to whom, nor did he wish
to know; it should disappear to him. And yet during all this time he
had been unable to shake off the recollection of this picture. He could
have painted it again from memory, but it would not have been the one
hallowed by so much suffering. And he must find it again, here and now,
when his soul was already so full of the magic fragrance which
everything he saw and heard bore to him from the days when every breath
that swept across »his brow or fanned his cheek, exhaled the odor of
pine trees, of the ocean, and of love.

"And how do you suppose I obtained it?" said Frau Wollnow; "and
especially how do you suppose I found out it was yours; for you know
we do not judge from the style, or at least I did not at that time.
But when people are to have a piece of good fortune! So I said to
Cecilia Brandow, whom I - it is now six years ago, and I had just been
married - met at the wool market in Sundin, I had almost said; but of
course only the gentlemen went there, and we drove in with them on
account of the exhibition, where I met her. We had so much to say,
like any two friends who had not seen each other since they left
boarding-school - you perhaps do not remember that Cecilia and I were in
the same boarding-school at Sundin - or at least I had a great deal to
say, for I found Cecilia very quiet. I believe she had lost her second
child only a short time before. We were separated by the crowd, and I
at last found her again in one of the most out-of-the-way rooms,
standing alone before this picture with her eyes full of tears, which,
as I came up, she tried to conceal."

"Good Heavens!" said I; "isn't that - "

"Yes," she replied; "and it is by him."

"By whom?"

"In a word, she had recognized it instantly, and would not admit that
she was mistaken when I told her the 'G. W.' in the corner might be
Heaven knows whom. You see I didn't understand much about pictures
then - now when I - but your hand trembles, you cannot hold the
candlestick any longer."

"Let me have the picture," said Gotthold; then perceiving that the
husband and wife were looking at him in surprise, he added calmly,
replacing the candlestick upon the table: "The painting is really not
worthy to be hung among your other pictures, which are excellent. It is
the work of a pupil, and moreover was painted from memory after a very
hasty sketch, I will promise you another and better one of the same
place, which I will make on the spot if you will - "

"Oh! that would be delightful, that would be splendid," exclaimed Frau
Wollnow. "I will hold you to your promise: another, not a better one,
you can't make it better, that is impossible; but to have a picture
painted on the spot by the most celebrated landscape painter of the day
will be a triumph of which I can boast all the rest of my life. Give me
your hand upon it!" She held out both hands to Gotthold.

"Well," said Herr Wollnow, "the bargain is made, and now according to
the good old custom we will seal it with a drink. You see, Herr
Gotthold Weber, woman's wit surpasses priestly cunning. I might have
preached a long time to induce you to remain here; my wife comes, and
the timid bird is caught. Well, I am glad of it, heartily glad."

"And how delighted Cecilia will be," cried Frau Wollnow. "My poor
Cecilia! she really needs something to divert her thoughts a little,
and this will be so pleasant." Gotthold turned pale. When he made his
over-hasty promise, the thought of thus creating a convenient pretext
for seeing Cecilia again had certainly been farthest from his mind.

"I think we can spare our friend the trouble of the journey," said Herr
Wollnow, "and you will be perfectly well satisfied with a copy."

"You certainly know that we are not talking about a copy, but a new,
entirely new picture," exclaimed Ottilie. "But you understand nothing
about it, my dear Emil, or he doesn't want to understand."

"I only do not want to send our friend away again immediately, but to
keep him with us."

"Tell the truth, Emil, tell the truth," said Frau Wollnow, shaking her
finger at him. "The fact, Herr Weber, is simply that he can't bear
Brandow, Heaven knows why. To be sure I can't either, and have no
reason for it except that he always teased me at the dancing lessons in
his malicious way. But I care nothing about him, only his angelic
wife."

"And since husband and wife are one - "

"If everybody thought as you do, dear Emil - and I too, of course; but
there is no rule without an exception, and the Brandow marriage is one
so thoroughly bad and unfortunate that I really do not see why we - "

"Should talk so much about it," said Herr Wollnow; "and it is all the
more unnecessary, as our guest can probably take no special interest in
the subject."

"No interest," cried Ottilie, clasping her hands; "no interest. Pray,
Herr Gotthold - how I keep falling into the old habit - excuse me - but
do tell this man, who thinks Goethe's 'Elective Affinities' in bad
taste - "

"Pardon me, I said immoral - "

"No, in bad taste; the evening of the day before yesterday, when we
were talking about it at the Herr Conrector's, and you made the
unprecedented assertion that Goethe had committed a perfidy - yes, you
said perfidy - when he made the only person in the whole novel who
uttered anything truthful about marriage-the mediator - a half
simpleton."

"But what do you want with your elective affinities!" exclaimed Wollnow
almost angrily.

"He don't believe in them," said Ottilie triumphantly, "and says that,
like ghosts, they only haunt the brains of fools. But the fact is, he
only pretends to think so, and secretly believes in them more than many
other people; and now he is troubled, as a child is afraid of ghosts,
at the thought that you will go to Dollan and see your old friend
again."

"How absurdly you talk," said Herr Wollnow, scarcely concealing his
painful embarrassment by a forced smile.

"Why, we have talked of nothing else all the evening in our little
society," cried Ottilie. "You must know, Herr Gotthold, that there are
three members of our dancing class here besides myself - all married
now: Pauline Ellis - well, she perhaps will not interest you; Louise
Palm, the girl with the brown eyes - we always called her Zingarella;
and Hermine Sandberg - you know, that handsome girl, it is a pity that
she was a little cross-eyed and stammered. We knew everything,
everything down to the smallest particulars, especially your duel with
Carl Brandow - "

"At which, however, so far as I can remember, none of the ladies you
have mentioned were present," said Gotthold.

"Good!" exclaimed Herr Wollnow.

"No, it isn't good," said Ottilie pouting; "it isn't at all good or
kind in Herr Gotthold to make fun of the faithful friendship people
have kept for him for so many years."

"That was very far from my intention," replied Gotthold. "On the
contrary, I feel highly honored and greatly flattered that my humble
self furnished such charming ladies with a subject for conversation,
even for a few moments."

"Go on with your jibes."

"I assure you once more that I am perfectly sincere."

"Will you give me a proof of it?"

"Certainly, if I can."

"Well then," said Ottilie with a deep blush, "tell me how the duel
chanced to take place, for I will confess that one said one thing, and
another another, and at last we found out that nobody knew. Will you?"

"Very willingly," said Gotthold.

He had noticed Herr Wollnow's repeated attempts to give the
conversation another turn, and thought he could perceive that his
host's former remarks had not been so entirely unpremeditated as they
had at first seemed. Had Frau Wollnow told her husband a romance to
suit her own fancy, and made him play Heaven knows what ridiculous
part? He must try to put an end to such rumors, and believed that the
very best way of doing so would be to fulfil Frau Wollnow's wish, and
tell the story with the utmost possible frankness, as if it concerned a
third person.

These thoughts passed rapidly through his mind as he slowly raised the
glass of wine to his lips. He sipped a little of it, and then said,
turning to Frau Wollnow with a smile: -

"How gladly, honored lady, would I begin my story with the words of
Schiller: 'Oh! queen, you wake the unspeakably torturing smart of the
old wound, but it won't do, it won't do. True, when there is any sudden
change of weather I have a twinge in the wound, but it is by no means
unspeakably painful; and at all events at this moment I feel nothing at
all, except the profound truth of the old saying, that young people
will be young people, and will play youthful pranks, oftentimes very
foolish ones. To this latter category undoubtedly belongs my combat
with Carl Brandow, which did not, however, as you suppose, originate in
the dancing lessons, but was only brought to a decisive issue there,
after it had long been glowing under the ashes, and even threatened
once before to break out into light flames. The first cause was this.
In our fifth form it was an old custom, most sacredly observed, that an
open space should be reserved between the first bench and the
lecturer's chair for the 'old boys,' which no 'new boy' was permitted
to enter before the close of the first term, on pain of a severe
thrashing. Carl Brandow, it is true, belonged to the 'old boys,' indeed
the very old boys; for he had been in the fifth form three years, but
was still on the last bench, although if I remember rightly, he had
already passed his eighteenth birthday. I was one of the 'new boys,'
one of the latest comers indeed; for I had just entered at Michaelmas,
a lad of fourteen, to the no small annoyance of my father, who had
prepared me himself, and expected I should be at once enrolled among
the first classes. It was not without reason, for when at the end of
the first week, according to custom, the rank of the different scholars
was assigned from the result of certain exercises we called
extemporalia, mine proved to be without fault, and I was transferred to
my well-earned dignity of _Primus omnium_ with a certain degree of
ceremony. And yet I was not even now to be permitted to cross the space
before the first bench! From the first moment I had felt this
prohibition as an outrage; now I openly declared it to be one, and said
that I would never submit to it, but on the contrary demanded the
abolition of the brutal rule, not only for myself but all the new boys,
whose champion I considered myself.

"In thus wording my demand I had really been guided only by my own
intuitive sense of justice, without being actuated by any other motive;
but the result proved that I could not have done better if I had been
the most crafty demagogue. Standing alone, I should have had no chance
of accomplishing my bold innovation; but now my cause was the cause of
all, that is of all the 'new boys,' and chance willed that our numbers
were exactly the same as those of the other party. Even in regard to
bodily strength, which boys so well know how to rate according to age,
we might probably have compared tolerably with them, and the little
that was wanting would have been well supplied by the enthusiasm for
the good cause which I unceasingly labored to arouse - if it had not
been for Carl Brandow. Who could withstand this eighteen-years-old
hero, slender and strong as a young pine? He would rage among us like
Achilles among the Trojans, and strew the field - a retired open space
in a little wood behind the school-house - with the bodies of the
enemies he had hurled to the ground; for it was agreed that whoever in
struggling should touch the earth with his back was to be considered
conquered, and desist from the battle, which was to be decided in this
manner before the eyes of six honorable members of the first class, who
accepted the office of umpires with a readiness deserving of
acknowledgment.

"Yet there was no retreat, even if we, which was not the case, had
thought of making one. The hour arrived - one Saturday afternoon, on
which we had contrived to evade the watchfulness of the teacher - and I
do not believe that soldiers ordered to assault a battery vomiting
death and destruction can feel more solemn and earnest than did we. I
may say, especially I. I had caused the struggle; I had involved all
the brave boys in it; I felt responsible for the result, and for the
disgrace in case of defeat - an event which seemed more probable every
moment. That I was determined to do my utmost and strain every nerve is
a matter of course. I hoped and prayed the gods that Carl Brandow might
fall to me - for the antagonists were to be drawn by lot, and only he
who had conquered his opponent was permitted to choose from among those
who had vanquished theirs until all was decided. I do not remember
whether the senior boys, who devised these ingenious rules, had copied
from Sir Walter Scott; I only know I have never read the famous
description of the tournament at Ashby, in Ivanhoe, without being
reminded of that Saturday afternoon - the shady forest glade, and the
boyish faces glowing with courage and ardor for the combat.

"And, as in the tournament of Ashby, a wholly unforeseen accident in
the person of the Black Knight, the _Noir Fainéant_, saved the hero's
otherwise hopelessly lost cause, so it was here.

"Among the new boys was a lad of sixteen, with a frank honest face,
which would have been handsome if it had possessed a little more
animation, and the large earnest blue eyes had been a shade less
dreamy. Although not tall, he was powerfully built, and we should
perhaps have reckoned upon his assistance had not his indolence seemed
to us to be very much greater than the strength he might possess, for
he had never given any proof of it; and in reply to our eager questions
about how he rated himself, merely shrugged his broad shoulders in
silence."

"Curt Wenhof!" exclaimed Frau Wollnow.

"Yes, Curt Wenhof, my poor dear Curt," continued Gotthold, whose voice
trembled at the recollection of the beloved friend of his youth. "I can
see him now, as, after throwing his adversary to the ground as easily
as a binder casts the sheaf behind him, he stood there as idly as if he
had nothing more to do with the affair. I had also hurled my antagonist
down and was just rising, gasping for breath, when Carl Brandow, who
meantime had disposed of two or three, rushed upon me. 'Now,' I thought
to myself, 'you must make it as hard for him as possible.' I did not
dream of victory. But at the same instant Curt sprang before me; the
next moment the two opponents had seized each other, and at the first
grip Carl Brandow perceived that he had to deal with an adversary who
was at least his equal in strength and courage, and, as the result
proved, greatly his superior in coolness and endurance. It was a
beautiful spectacle to see the two young athletes wrestling together - a
spectacle we all enjoyed, umpires, victors, vanquished, and combatants;
for by a silent agreement we had all formed a wide circle around them
and watched every phase of the conflict with hope, fear, and loud
cheers, according to the side to which we belonged, until at last a
wild shout of exultation rang from my party, as Curt Wenhof raised his
opponent, whose strength was utterly exhausted, and hurled him upon the
turf with such violence that the poor fellow lay half senseless, unable
to move.

"The conflict was decided, so said the seniors, and in truth it was;
who would have ventured to cope with Carl Brandow's conqueror? In the
joy of my heart I embraced the good Curt, vowed an eternal friendship
with him, and then turned to Carl Brandow, who meantime had risen from
the ground, and, as the leader of one party to the representative of
the other, offered him my hand, expressing the wish and hope that an
honorable peace might follow the honorable struggle. He took my hand,
and I believe even laughed, and said he was not a fool to grieve over a
thing that could not be helped."

"That's just like him," cried Frau Wollnow eagerly, "friendly and
agreeable to your face, and malicious and cruel behind your back."

"You see my wife has already taken sides," said Herr Wollnow.

"Already!" exclaimed Fran Wollnow. "Why, I never thought or felt
otherwise; I have always been against him, and certainly had good
reason for it; I should like to know what would have become of me at
those dancing lessons, if you had not come to my assistance so kindly.
I shall never forget it, and it was all the more noble in you, because
you cared nothing about me, but were in love with the beautiful
Cecilia, which I never suspected."

"I fear it would be useless to contradict you."

"Entirely useless. I can see you now starting from the chair beside me,
pale with anger and trembling in every limb, when Carl Brandow kissed
Cecilia, and she burst into tears."

"And had I not reason to be angry!" exclaimed Gotthold. "It was an
agreement among us young people that the kisses which were ordered in
the games of forfeits were to consist in pressing the lips upon the
hand. All were bound by it, even Carl Brandow; and until then the
compact had been inviolably kept. I had a right not to suffer this
insolent breach of the bargain, or permit it to pass unpunished, - a
double right, since during the last year I had been to Dollan with Curt
so often, and was on such friendly terms with the brother and sister,
especially as Curt, as you may remember, in his indolent way, would not
share the dancing lessons, and I might therefore be permitted to
consider myself the legitimate protector of my friend. Moreover, Curt,
whom I had with great difficulty pulled through the examination for the
senior class, was not in favor with the teachers; a flagrant breach of
the peace such as would now be necessary, would undoubtedly have caused
him to be suspended; and finally I will confess I thought Carl Brandow
intended to vex and insult me by his impertinence, and resolved to take
up the gauntlet and fight out the battle for Curt as he had appeared
for me. It was all youthful folly, my honored friends; I blush even now
when I think of it, and so I will relate what remains to be told in as
few words as possible.

"The preparations for the duel - for us proud seniors it must of course
be a genuine duel" - continued Gotthold, "were conducted with all
possible secrecy. Only those immediately concerned, - that is, the
principals and seconds, to use this classic expression, - knew the place
and hour. It was not difficult to procure weapons, for in spite of the
strictest commands, there were at least half a dozen pairs of rapiers
among us. Carl Brandow had one, and his particular friends told
wonderful stories of his skill; but Curt was also the fortunate
possessor of two good swords, with whose terrible clatter we had often,
when at Dollan, startled the quiet woods from their repose. I had a
quick eye, and, spite of my fifteen years, a firm hand, and Carl
Braudow was probably no little surprised when, at the decisive moment,
he found his despised opponent so well prepared; at least, he grew more
restless and violent every moment, and thus made it possible for me,
although he was really greatly my superior in skill, not only to hold
my ground but even to change my posture to one of attack, and deal him
a blow on the shoulder so deep that the blood flowed through the
sleeve. The seconds shouted to us to stop. I instantly lowered my
rapier, but in his frenzy of rage at his mischance he heard the shout
and saw my gesture no more than I saw and heard anything of what
happened to me during the next four weeks."

"He is said to have struck twice," observed Frau Wollnow; "the last
time when you were lying on the ground."

"I do not believe it and never shall," replied Gotthold; "our seconds
had certainly lost their heads and could not afterwards say positively
how the affair had happened. But now, my clear Madam and Herr Wollnow,
I fear I must have, exhausted your patience and will take my leave.
Good Heavens! Twelve o'clock already! It is unpardonable!"

"I could have listened all night," said Frau Wollnow, with a deep sigh,
as she also, but very slowly, rose from her chair. "Ah! youth, youth!
people are never young but once."

"Thank God," said Gotthold gayly; "otherwise people would be compelled
to play their foolish pranks twice."

"Who is so old as to be safe from folly," said Herr Wollnow, with a
grave smile.

"You!" exclaimed his wife, embracing him. "You are much too old and far
too wicked. People must not only be young, but also good, like our
friend here, in order to be so badly rewarded for all his goodness. I
can imagine how it went to your heart when Cecilia, married this
Brandow. That sweet innocent girl of seventeen wedded to him! Ah! when
we see such things it is enough to make us lose faith in mankind
forever."



Online LibraryFriedrich SpielhagenWhat the Swallow Sang: A Novel → online text (page 4 of 24)