Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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"This faith is not so frequently to be found either in Israel or
elsewhere," said Herr Wollnow.

"Will you go?"

"I am going already, my dear Madam."

"Oh, dear! now you are beginning too. I meant to say, will you really
go to Dollan?"

"I must do so now, even if I were not obliged to go on account of the
picture."

"Why?"

"To restore my faith in mankind, at least the part most important to
me, myself," replied Gotthold, with a smile, whose derision did not
escape Herr Wollnow.

"I am very much displeased with you," said the latter, as he re-entered
the dining-room, after accompanying Gotthold to the door.

"With me?"

"What must the man think of me? What a meddlesome awkward fellow he
must consider me. It is a real piece of good fortune that I went no
farther."

"But what have I done?"

"Why did you never tell me this famous narrative of your youth, from
which it is very evident that he loved and probably still loves your
friend Cecilia, as you call her, although I have never seen anything of
the friendship."

"Do you really think so?" exclaimed Fran Wollnow, starting up and
throwing her arms around her husband; "do you really think so? Did he
tell you so?"

In spite of his vexation, Herr Wollnow could not help laughing.

"I should probably be the last person whom he would choose for his
confidant, especially now, after I, stupid oaf, have been hammering
away upon this subject for the last hour."

"On this subject? I really don't understand you, Emil."

"Don't understand me! Gracious, you clever soul! How difficult it is
for women to see their way in matters they proudly condescend to
consider their own. Don't understand me? Well, I can assure you that
yonder enthusiast understood you perfectly, and will be on his way to
Dollan early to-morrow morning."

"Well, I can't see any particular harm in that," said Frau Wollnow.
"Why should not those two meet again, after so many years, even if they
really do still love each other? I will give poor Cecilia the pleasure
with all my heart - she needs consolation so much."

"As much as her worthy husband needs money. Day after to-morrow is the
last day of grace for his note of five thousand thalers which is
deposited with me. Perhaps he will help both: he has the means to do
so."

"Oh! Emil, your everlasting prose is unbearable."

"I never promised you that you would find me a poet."

"Heaven knows that."

"It would be better for me if you knew it."

"Emil!"

"I beg your pardon. I am really so much annoyed that I can't help being
spiteful. But that conies of meddling with other people's affairs. Let
the fools do as they please, and come to bed."




CHAPTER V.


When, after a night of torturing restlessness, Gotthold suddenly awoke
from his heavy morning sleep, the sun had already been shining through
the white lace curtains of his chamber for several hours. "Thank God,"
he said aloud, "morning has come, and with the morning everything will
doubtless look brighter."

He was soon dressed, and standing at the open window. How familiar the
scene was to him. There was the circular space, with its grass-grown
walks, and the little obelisk in the centre, surrounded by pleasant
white houses with pretty gardens; yonder the stately schoolhouse, from
whose open windows the singing of the boys rang out so distinctly upon
the quiet of the Sabbath morning, that he fancied he could distinguish
the words of the hymn. On the right hand, peering between the houses,
and rising above their roofs, appeared the dark green foliage of the
huge trees in the royal park, and far away on the left, between other
dwellings, gleamed a portion of the lake, and the tiny islet - just at
this moment sparkling in the sunlight - which lies before the large
island. He had seen the beautiful picture hundreds and hundreds of
times just as he saw it now, when, after the morning service was over,
he stood at the window of the school-house with Curt, his eyes
wandering towards the region where beloved Dollan lay; and even as now
it allured him from the narrow walls of the room out into the sunny
fields, the shady woods, and by the blue lake. These lights, these
shadow, this brilliant azure hue had kindled in the boy a pure desire
to reproduce, to counterfeit what lay so clearly, though in such
complicated lines before him, and so deeply stirred his heart with
strange forebodings. They had been his first teachers in the wonderful
language of lines and colors; and fluently as he had since learned to
speak it, he was still indebted to them for all that he had attained.
Had he not felt yesterday, when he drove through the familiar scenes,
heavy as was his heart, that all his toil and labor in beautiful Italy
had been more or less vain, and he had always painted only with his
eyes and hand, never with his heart; spoken a beautiful, musical, but
foreign tongue with difficulty, instead of his native language; and
that here, and here only, in his native country, and beneath his native
sky, could he become a true artist, who does not utter what others can
say as well or better, but what he alone can express, because he is
himself what he says.

But could home really still be home to him after all that had happened,
all he had experienced and suffered here? Why not, if he only saw it
with the eyes with which he endeavored to see the rest of the world; if
he wished to be nothing more than what, in his good hours, he believed
himself to be - a true artist, living only in his ideal creations,
behind whom everything that fetters other men lies like an
unsubstantial vision, and for whom, when in evil plight, there is a God
to whom he can tell what he suffers. Yes, his art, chaste and severe,
had been his guiding-star in the labyrinth of his early days, his
talisman in the misery and poverty of the years he had spent in
Munich, his refuge at all times; and she should and would continue to
be so - would cling loyally to him if he was faithful to her, and ever
throned her reverently on high as his protectress, his adored goddess.

The boys' song died away. Gotthold passed his hand over his eyes, and
turned back into the room just as there was a loud knock at the door.

"What, is it you, Jochen?"

"Yes, Herr Gotthold, it is I," replied Jochen Prebrow, after putting
the coffee-tray he had brought in as carefully on the table as if it
had been a soap-bubble, which would break at the slightest touch. "Clas
Classen, from Neuenkirchen, or, as they call him here, Louis, had just
gone down cellar when you rang, and I thought the coffee would taste
none the worse for my bringing it."

"Certainly not; I am very much obliged to you."

"And besides, I wanted to ask when I should harness the horses."

"I shall remain here a few days," replied Gotthold.

At these words a smile began to overspread Jochen's broad face, but it
instantly vanished again as Gotthold continued: "So you must drive on
alone, old friend."

"I should like to stay here a few days too," said Jochen.

"And you cannot unless I keep the carriage? Then I will, and, what is
of more value to me, you; and we will go on at once to Dollan, which I
suppose is what you want. Or do you think the horses ought not to be
left so long?"

Jochen had no anxiety on that score. His good friend, Clas Classen,
whom the people here had the strange custom of calling Louis, would
willingly undertake the care of them and see that they had all they
needed, but why did Herr Gotthold walk when they had horses and
carriage on the spot?

"But I should prefer to walk," said Gotthold.

"Well, what's one man's meat is another man's poison," said Jochen
rubbing his thick hair. "But there's still another difficulty in the
way: you will find the nest empty."

"What do you mean?"

"They passed through here an hour ago, both the gentleman and lady,"
replied Jochen. "I was sitting in the coffee-room and they stopped at
the door."

Gotthold stared steadily at Jochen. She had been there, so near him,
under the window at which he had just been standing, and he might have
seen the pure face again as Jochen saw it, who spoke of it as coolly as
if it were a thing that might happen every day.

"And did you speak to her, Jochen?" he said at last hesitatingly.

"The lady remained in the carriage," said Jochen; "but he came in to
drink a little rum, and as there was nobody else in the room, and I had
just got some out of the cupboard for myself, I helped him to it; and
then he asked where I came from, and I told him I was here with a
gentleman, but I thought we should go on to-day as soon as he was up.
He asked if I knew the gentleman; but of course I didn't; for, thought
I, the friendship between those two was never very great, and the less
one has to do with Herr Brandow the better. Wasn't I right? Well, and
so one word led to another, and he took out his watch and said he was
going to Pl├╝ggenhof and should probably stay there till to-morrow
evening, and then he drank his rum, which he will perhaps pay for when
he comes back, and away he went; he had a pair of splendid bays,
thorough-breds, especially the saddle-horse. You would have been
delighted with them, for you are a judge of horses; I saw that
yesterday."

Gotthold's eyes were still fixed steadily upon the floor. She would not
even know that he had been here.

Be it so! He had not intended, even for a moment, to cross her path;
and now the way was open, perfectly open; he could carry out
unhindered, and without any pain, the plan he had formed yesterday when
he returned from the Wollnows' through the park to the inn.

An hour afterwards the two men were walking along the road to Dollan,
at first upon the highway, then by side paths and short cuts, every
foot of which Gotthold knew.

He walked on, lost in dreams of the days that had fled and could never
return, while far above his head the larks sang unceasingly, the black
crows stalked over the quiet fields abandoned to Sabbath solitude, the
bright-plumaged jays fluttered over the moors, and above the border of
the distant woods an eagle wheeled in majestic circles. Jochen, who had
taken nothing except Gotthold's dressing-case and paint-box tied up
with his own little bundle in a gay cotton handkerchief, generally
loitered a little behind and did not disturb his silent companion by
any undue loquacity. Jochen had his own thoughts, which to be sure did
not dwell upon the past but the future, thoughts he would gladly have
uttered, only that he knew not how to guide the conversation in that
direction. But they were approaching nearer and nearer to the corner of
the woods, where he must part from Gotthold for the day, and if he
wished to hear his opinion at all, now was the time. So he took heart,
overtook his companion with a few long strides, walked on a few minutes
by his side in silence, and was not a little startled himself when he
suddenly uttered aloud the question he had mutely repeated a hundred
times: "What do you think about marrying, Herr Gotthold?"

Gotthold paused and looked in astonishment at the worthy Jochen, who
also stood still, and whose broad face, with its staring eyes and
half-open mouth, wore so singular an expression that he could not help
smiling.

"What put that into your head?"

"Because I want to get married."

"Then you must know about it far better than I, who do not."

Jochen closed his lips and swallowed several times, as if he had taken
too large a mouthful. Gotthold was now forced to laugh outright.

"Why, Jochen," he exclaimed, "why are you so mysterious to an old
friend? I will gladly give you my best advice, and if I can, and you
care about it, my blessing also, but I must first know what the matter
is really about. So you want to be married?"

"Yes, Herr Gotthold," said Jochen, taking off his cap and wiping the
drops of perspiration from his brown forehead; "at least I don't
exactly, but she says she has always wanted me."

"That is something, and who is she?"

"Stine Lachmund."

"But, Jochen, she is at least fifteen years older than you."

"She can't help that."

"No, certainly not."

"And then she is a capable woman, who has a good stout frame and strong
bones, only it is a little hard for her to move about because she has
rather too much flesh now, but she says that would probably go off if
she had more work to do than she has at the Wollnows', where life is
altogether too easy."

"Well, if she thinks so herself."

"Yes, and then she has put by a pretty sum of money at the Wollnows',
and her old father and mother at Thiessow, - you know, Herr Gotthold, we
sailed over there once with the young master, and there was a terribly
high sea outside, so that we got there as wet as cats, and old Lachmund
thought we must really have had a ducking."

"And then he made us a stiff glass of grog," said Gotthold.

"And our young master drank a little too much, and played all sorts
of pranks in the old man's long jacket, with his sou'wester on his
head - that was a jolly time, Herr Gotthold." Jochen had lost the thread
of his story, but Gotthold kindly prompted him, and he now went on to
relate that the old couple, rich people for their station in life, who
had kept a sort of inn in the large fishing village, at last wished to
resign the sceptre they had so long and obstinately held to their only
daughter, and give themselves up to repose for the rest of their days,
on condition that she should instantly marry some good man.

So Stine Lachmund, whom Jochen had visited in the kitchen at the same
time that Gotthold had been calling upon her master and mistress, had
reported, and asked Jochen whether he would be her husband.

"For you see, Herr Gotthold," continued Jochen, "she don't take to
everybody, and she has known me, as one might say, all my life, and
knows I am an orderly, sober man, who understands how to take care of
horses, knows enough about farming, and can even manage a boat, if it
doesn't blow too hard."

"Then so far everything would be perfectly suitable," said Gotthold,
"but now we come to the principal thing: do you really love her?"

"Yes, that's just it," replied Jochen thoughtfully. "She asked me
herself last night, and what was I to say?"

"The truth, Jochen, nothing but the truth."

"I did, Herr Gotthold, I did tell the truth. 'Not yet,' I said, and
then she laughed and said that would do no harm, all that would come
right if the woman and the man were well-behaved. I must ask you, you
would give me the right advice."

"I?"

"Yes, you would know about it; you had always been a good man,
and - and - "

"And?"

"And if you had married our young lady, she would have been a great
deal better off than she is now; yes, and, Herr Gotthold, I only saw
her side face this morning through the window, as she sat alone in the
carriage; but this I must say, she doesn't look over happy, and Stine
says she has not much reason to. Do you think so too, Herr Gotthold?"

"I don't know, I hope" - replied Gotthold, "people talk so much, - but we
were speaking about your offer."

"Yes, and what do you say now?"

"What is there to be said? If you feel inclined, marry Stine, who is
certainly a worthy, honest girl, and may you both be as happy and
prosperous as you deserve."

They had seated themselves in the shade at the edge of the wood, in
order to carry on this important conversation quietly, but now Gotthold
rose, hastily seized his travelling case and paint-box, which Jochen
had laid on the grass beside him, warmly shook the hard brown hand of
his companion, and entered the forest without casting another glance
behind. Jochen looked after his retreating figure, then took his own
little bundle on a stick over his shoulder, and began to ascend the
moor, above whose topmost crest the roof of his father's smithy was
just visible.




CHAPTER VI.


Gotthold hurried restlessly through the forest with hasty steps, as if
he had not a moment to lose. But it was only the tumult of sore,
sorrowful thoughts, that drove him on and would not leave him, any more
than the swarm of flies which had entered the woods with him and
hovered about his head, now rising, now falling, now lingering behind,
now flitting on before.

"To think that I must always hear it, everywhere, and from all
tongues," he murmured, "as if I were responsible for it; as if it were
a reproach to me that she is not happy! Happy! Who is? Perhaps the
infallible people who can recite, their moral multiplication table
forward and backward like this Wollnow, the wise, self-righteous
Pharisee; or like good Jochen, to whom fifteen years more or less in
his Stine is of no consequence, provided a good maintenance is
guaranteed him. But on the other hand - am I happy? Are thousands and
thousands of others, who have scarcely a greater fault than that they
are men, men with hearts that feel and sympathize, suffer and
compassionate? A curse upon compassion and sympathy! They make us the
pitiful creatures we are. What are you rustling, venerable beeches,
which for centuries have strewn your withered leaves each Autumn over
the soil of this forest, only to shine forth again in Spring in the
full beauty of your green foliage? What are you murmuring, little
brook, as you carry your clear brown water to the sea as busily to-day
as when I played upon your bank, a merry boy, and thought it a heroic
deed to leap across you from shore to shore? Alas! in the rustling, the
murmur, I hear the same song that the swallow sang yesterday, the song
of the eternal youth of Nature, which is ever the same, always equally
strong, equally beautiful; and of the transitoriness, the frailty of
men, who prolong a sorrowful, yet greedy existence by fear and hope,
eat this shadowy food until death, and yet are happiest while their
hearts can still hope and fear, their hearts which can never again be
filled if once emptied, or if they fill and throb once more, fill with
contempt, throb with indignation, that they could ever have been so
foolish as to beat anxiously in blended hope and fear. Well, I no
longer hope, so I need not fear even the view that awaits me yonder."

From the broader, but completely neglected road that had hitherto
followed the course of the forest stream, and, turning to the right,
still pursued its windings deeper into the woods to the sea, a
foot-path branched off to the left and led upward, at first between the
trunks of huge trees, but gradually through more and more stunted
underbrush, which finally dwindled into heather and broom that covered
the whole crest of the hill to its highest point, where the men of
ancient times, in memory of one of their princes, had reared a huge
monument of massive blocks of stone, now covered with thick moss, and
partly buried in the earth. It was the spot from which Gotthold, with
an unsteady hand, had made the colored sketch he afterwards used for
the painting that hung in Frau Wollnow's room.

And now he stood there again, after ten long years - in, the shadow of
one of the blocks of stone which protected him from the burning rays of
the sun, while before him stretched the landscape with whose wondrous
beauty the boy's eyes had never been satiated. Ah! Time had not
obliterated a single charm; nay, it seemed as if the hour was expressly
adapted to show him the Paradise of his youth in all its magic.

The hour of noon! The brilliant sunlight bathed the tops of the
beeches, over which his eyes wandered to emerald meadows and golden
cornfields - the meadows and fields of Dollan, which lay like a quiet
sunny Eden among the shaded, wood-covered hills that enclosed it on all
sides. Amid the meadows and fields, relieved against the darker foliage
of the trees in the garden, appeared the straw thatched roofs of the
farm buildings, and the tiled roof of the long, low mansion-house, in
whose red gable he could distinctly perceive the tiny window of the
little room he had occupied with Curt whenever he went to Dollan. What
memories that little window evoked! It seemed as if his eyes were fixed
upon it by some magic spell, and could scarcely turn away either to the
right, where the hills opened and afforded a view of the blue sea upon
which the distant white sails glittered like stars, or to the left, to
glance over the wide brown moorland, upon which the lonely smithy stood
under an ancient oak, the only tree in the shadeless waste, above whose
verge towered other wood-crowned heights which closed the view on the
land side.

The hour of noon, the hour of the great Pan! Not the faintest breath
stirred the shining air; motionless were the dazzling white clouds upon
the steel blue vault of the heavens; motionless the tops of the trees,
the blossoming bushes, even the long blades of grass. Not a sound
disturbed the profound stillness; even the locust, which had chirped
among the stones of the giant's monument, was silent, perhaps terrified
by the brown serpent, which, with its head upraised and its round
glittering eyes fixed steadily upon Gotthold, lay motionless upon one
of the masses of rock a few paces off, with the rest of its scaly body
buried in a dense mass of heather. He had not noticed it before, and
now perceived it with a sort of shudder. It seemed as if the torpor
into which Nature had sunk had been embodied; as if the spirit of
loneliness and desolation had assumed a material form. Woe betide you
when the loneliness of yonder mansion with its neglected garden, the
desolation of this remote valley, so far away from all human society,
stares at you with those cold, cruel eyes; when you listen in the
stillness for a beloved voice, and hear only the blood seething in your
temples, and the heavy, anxious throbbing of your heart.

Avaunt, fiend, avaunt!

He raised his staff; the serpent disappeared; when he reached the rock
upon which it must have been lying, he could see nothing but the
swaying of the flowers through whose closely interwoven roots it was
gliding away.

Or was it only an illusion of his excited fancy, and did the flowers
bend to the soft breeze that now breathed through the hot air, growing
constantly stronger and stronger, so that a rustling and murmuring
arose in the forest behind him, the treetops at his feet began to
whisper, and at last the cool fresh wind from the sea blew over the
panting earth.

The spell was broken; Gotthold again looked at the landscape; but now
with the eye of the artist, who is seeking to obtain the best view of
his subject.

"I chose the morning light then, if one can call it choice; it was a
mistake and I must arrange the atmospheric effect artistically, but the
sun should be at a moderate height above the horizon, almost directly
over the smithy; that will be about six o'clock, and I can have what I
need until eight. I think it will prove a picture which might satisfy
others as well as yonder talkative lady."




CHAPTER VII.


Gotthold collected his luggage; then it occurred to him that he might
just as well leave his colors there. So he placed the box on the rock
where the serpent had lain, in the dense shadow, and went down the
hill, along the woodland path, to the long ravine through which the
stream rippled to the sea, and at whose mouth, in the little inlet
between two steep overhanging cliffs, stood Cousin Boslaf's lonely
little house. In the old days at Dollan it had gone by the name of the
beach-house, nor was the title used only there; the name was in all
mouths, especially those of the ship-masters, to whom it was a welcome
landmark on that dangerous coast even by day, and still more at night,
when the warning light in Cousin Boslaf's window streamed through the
yawning night over the dreary waste of waters to the helpless mariner.
The brilliant glow extended a long distance, thanks to the huge arched
tin dish which the old man had fastened behind the lamp, and whose
spotless brightness rivalled polished silver. This light had now burned
seventy years, to the joy of shipmasters and fishermen and the honor of
the worthy man who kindled it night after night at no one's bidding,
but in simple obedience to the dictates of his own kind heart.

Seventy years, and probably more rather than less; no one had counted
them. Ever since the oldest man in that neighborhood could remember,
Cousin Boslaf had lived in the beach-house - was it strange that he
should be a half-mythical personage to the younger generations? He
almost seemed so to his own relatives in Dollan, among whom he lived;
in whose society, at least, he spent many hours; whose joys and sorrows



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