Friedrich Spielhagen.

What the Swallow Sang: A Novel online

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are at all anxious - "

"I anxious? God forbid! It would be the first time in my life. I leave
all that to my wife, who, if the child is in question - oh! here you
are! Gotthold says we need not send for Lauterbach immediately, and
besides it would be of very little use; he is never to be found on
Sundays. I shall be obliged to drive over early to-morrow morning and
then I can bring him back with me. Don't you think that will do?"

"Will you look at Gretchen again?" said Cecilia. She did not glance at
her husband, but addressed Gotthold, who followed her, leaving the door
open behind him, in the expectation that Brandow would go with them;
but he had paused half way. Gnawing his under lip, he looked through
the open door at the pair, who were now standing one on each side of
the child's little bed, bending over it, so that in the dusk their
faces seemed to touch. Were they not whispering: "he has deceived us,"
or something of the kind? No, it was Rieke who had spoken. "The girl
shall keep a sharp watch for me. So far everything has gone better than
I could expect."

He went slowly into the room; involuntarily pausing a moment upon the
threshold, which he had not crossed for a long time, and shrinking from
a bluish light that suddenly filled the apartment, now almost dark. But
it was nothing - only the first flash of lightning from a thunder-storm
which had risen at the close of the sultry day. Thunder rolled in the
distance, the trees in the garden swayed to and fro, and a few heavy
drops of rain plashed against the window-panes.

The storm had long subsided and the night was far advanced when
Gotthold, treading softly and carefully, shielding his light with his
hand, crossed the wide garretlike entry, lumbered with all sorts of
articles, towards the gable-room, which had been assigned him as his
sleeping apartment. Brandow, with whom he had been sitting until this
time over a bottle of wine in the room on the right-hand side of the
entry, which had always been appropriated by the master of the house,
had wished to accompany him, but Gotthold declined: he could find the
way; two pairs of boots made more noise than one, and he remembered
that footsteps on the upper floor sounded remarkably loud at night.
"Well then, go alone, you stickler for everybody's comfort," said
Brandow laughing, "and remember, sleep off all thoughts of going away
to-morrow; I tell you once for all I won't hear of it. I'll stop for
Jochen Prebrow as I pass the smithy to-morrow; he can sit on the box
with my Fritz, and I'll bring your luggage out to you. I shan't let you
leave under a week, and if I had my way you should stay here always.
But you'll take good care not to do that; such a life would be
unendurable to a man of the world. Well, I have complained of my fate
more than is seemly; but in the presence of a man of your stamp, one is
too painfully reminded of what he might perhaps have made himself, and
what he has finally become. Good night, old fellow, and pleasant

And now Gotthold stood at the open window in the cosy old gable-room.
But eagerly as he inhaled the night breeze, which blew fresh and cool
through the trees, still dripping with rain-drops, it did not lighten
his heart, which throbbed heavily and painfully in his panting breast,
like a sleeper whose brain is oppressed by some painful dream. Was it
not all a mad dream that he was standing in Dollan in the gable-room,
gazing at the dim light which fell upon the dark shrubbery from the
window below him, the window of the room where she had slept when a
girl, and in which she now watched beside the bed of her child, her
child and his -

Gotthold sank into a chair beside the window, and pressed his hands
upon his burning brow.

A gust of wind which sighed through the rustling trees roused him
from his painful reverie. He started up with a shiver. His limbs
trembled as if in a fever. He shut the window, and threw himself in
the darkness - the light he had brought with him had gone out long
before - upon the bed. It was the very same one in which he had so often
slept when a boy and a youth, and it stood in the same place. He had
noticed that when he entered the room. Now he thought of it again, and
remembered the last time he had lain here - ten years ago, in the early
morning after the night, the first part of which he had spent in the
beach-house with Cousin Boslaf, and a few hours after, when they were
awake below, he was to go down and bid them farewell forever - then too
he; had turned his burning head first on one side and then the other
upon the pillows, and had been unable to find rest anywhere.

"After wandering through the wide world so long to be whirled back to
this little room, the same as I was then! No, not the same! Poorer,
much poorer!

When I wandered away, away, away,
Coffers and chests were heavy;
As homeward I turn my steps to-day,
Everything is empty.

"Empty, empty!" he murmured, as if his burning, wakeful eyes could read
the cheerless words from the white wall opposite to him, on whose bare
surface the first gray light of dawn was struggling with the darkness
of night.


A succession of quiet days had passed over quiet Dollan, and each one
was to have been the last Gotthold spent upon the estate, but there was
always some reason why another was added. Once it was the unfinished
sketch, which must be more nearly completed; then Gretchen wept so
bitterly because Uncle Gotthold was going that morning, when it was her
birthday; on Thursday the rye was cut, the farm hands had a little
festival in the evening, and had arranged all sorts of amusing sports
in which, through old Statthalter Möller, they begged Gotthold to help
them a little; on Friday a young architect arrived, who wanted to show
a plan for the new house, and Brandow was very anxious to have
Gotthold's opinion about it; the next day his departure could not be
thought of, because Brandow would be absent on business all day long,
and the day after the Herr Assessor Sellien had promised to come with
his wife, and Otto and Gustav Plüggen, Herr Redebas, from Dahlitz, and
several other neighbors would arrive; there was to be quite a little
company; Brandow had written to everybody that Gotthold would be there,
everybody was anticipating the pleasure of meeting him, and, in a word,
nothing could be said about going away before Monday, and on Monday
they would discuss the subject again.

It was Saturday afternoon; Brandow had ridden away in the morning and
told Gotthold that he should not return before evening. The business
must have been very urgent which could call the master away from his
estate on such a day. Brandow was very much behindhand in getting in
his rye, and moreover did not even have an inspector, though he had
repeatedly complained to Gotthold of the stupid old Statthalter Möller,
on whom he could not depend at all, so the crowd of laborers who were
to-day employed in the fields and barn were left entirely to
themselves. Gotthold had offered to take control of them, if Brandow
was obliged to go away; but the latter, although he knew that Gotthold
really understood the business, and that the people were fond of him
and would have willingly obeyed him, most positively declined the

"It's bad enough for me to be compelled to commit the rudeness of
leaving you alone all day; more than that you must not require. So long
as it is possible to avoid it, you know I am not accustomed to
incommode my friends."

With these words he had ridden away, and Gotthold had taken his
painting utensils, in order to have an excuse for leaving the house and
wandering through the woods and along the sea-shore; he strolled
restlessly on without any definite purpose, until he recollected that
he had heard from the old fisherman, Carl Peters, of Ralow, that Cousin
Boslaf would return from his expedition to Sundin this very evening.
Carl Peters must know, for the old man had given him the key of the
beach-house, that he might light the lamp in the evening and keep watch
at night; besides, Carl Peters' son had accompanied Cousin Boslaf on
his expedition. So Gotthold went to the beach-house and sat down to
wait on the bluff in the shadow of the beeches; but the sea broke upon
the shore with such a melancholy, monotonous cadence, the sunny hours
dragged along so slowly, and besides, if he wanted to tell her that he
had decided to leave Dollan to-morrow instead of Monday, this was the
right time.

"The mistress is in the garden with Gretchen," said pretty Rieke; "you
know her favorite seat."

Gotthold looked quietly at the girl, who hastily averted her face. The
last remark was at least superfluous, for the garden was not so large
that any one could not easily find the person he sought; but moreover
Rieke had spoken in a tone which jarred upon Gotthold's ear. He had
often thought the girl's merry gray eyes wandered from him to Cecilia,
and from Cecilia back to him, with a watchful glance, and she had
several times entered the room quickly, or approached them elsewhere,
always with the question whether they had called her. He had remembered
Cecilia's words on the first evening of their meeting, "She repeats
everything," and mentally added: "She shall have nothing to tell."

"Well, her amusement will be over to-morrow," he thought to himself, as
he went slowly up the walk, bordered on each side with hedges, towards
a small spot, also surrounded with hedges and adorned with beds of
flowers, where Cecilia usually remained at this hour with her child.

Gretchen came running to meet him as soon as she caught sight of him.

"Where have you been, Uncle Gotthold? What have you brought me?"

He was always in the habit of bringing the child some rare flower,
oddly shaped pebble, or other curiosity on his return from his rambles;
but to-day, for the first time, he had not thought of it. Gretchen was
very indignant "I don't love you any more," she said, running back to
her mother; "and mamma shan't love you either!" she exclaimed, raising
her little head from her mother's lap.

Gotthold, after greeting Cecilia, had seated himself at a short
distance from her on another bench, as he always did if she did not
invite him to take his place beside her. She had not done so to-day,
and scarcely looked up from her work when she silently gave him her
hand. It had made a painful impression upon him, but as he watched her
quietly, he thought he noticed that her eyelids were red. Had she
wished to conceal the traces of recent tears, to hide the fact that she
could still weep, that the cold expressionless glance with which she
now seemed to look beyond him towards the child, who was playing at the
other end of the glade, was not the only expression of which the eyes
which had formerly beamed with such a gentle light were now capable?

"I can bear it no longer," the young man murmured to himself.

He had risen and approached Cecilia, who, as he came up, drew her dress
away, although there was plenty of room on the large seat.

"Cecilia," he said, "I have given a half-promise to stay until Monday,
but it occurred to me that the Selliens, if they come to-morrow, will
probably spend the night here, and perhaps some of your other guests,
and as your accommodations are somewhat limited; - "

"You wish to go!" interrupted Cecilia; "why not say so plainly?"

She had looked up from her work, as Gotthold began to speak, with a
quick, pained glance that cut him to the heart; but when she answered,
her voice sounded perfectly calm, though a little hollow, and she even
smiled as she took up her sewing again.

"When do you wish to go?" she added after a pause, as Gotthold, unable
to reply, was still silent.

"I thought of leaving early to-morrow morning," he answered, and it
seemed as if some one else had uttered the words. "Carl told me that he
should send a carriage to town then."

"Early to-morrow morning!"

She had dropped her work in her lap again, and for a moment covered her
eyes and forehead with her left hand, while the fingers of her right,
which rested on the work, trembled slightly; then her hand fell
heavily, and she stared fixedly at the ground with a frowning brow, as
she said in the same hollow tone: "What reason should I have to keep

"Perhaps because you might be glad to see me here," answered Gotthold.

He thought she had not heard the words, but they had been distinctly
audible; the pause only lasted until she was sure that she could speak
again without bursting into tears. She would not, dared not weep, and
now regained her self-control.

"You know I am," she replied; "but that is no reason for wishing to
keep you. I feel too well how unpleasant life is here, how monotonous,
how tiresome to all who are not accustomed to it, and one cannot become
accustomed to things in a few days, it requires years, long years. So I
invite no one - I cannot believe anybody takes pleasure in coming; and I
detain no one - I can easily imagine that a guest is glad to go. Why
should I treat you differently from others?"

"There is no reason, if I am no more to you than others."

"More? What does that imply? Oh! you mean because we knew each other so
early in life, because we were friends when we were both young? But
what does that signify? What is youthful friendship? And do we remain
the same? You have done so perhaps, at least in the principal thing,
but I certainly have not; I resemble the Cecilia of those days as
little as - as reality resembles our dreams; and besides - I am married;
a wife needs no friend, has no friend, if she loves her husband, and if
she does not - "

"Let us suppose the latter case," said Gotthold, as Cecilia suddenly

"The case is not so simple as it seems," she answered, examining the
stitches in her sewing; "yes, many cases may be imagined. For instance,
it is very probable that he loves her, and even a woman of very little
nobility of character is rarely insensible to and ungrateful for true
love; but granted that he does not love her, loves her no longer,
perhaps never has loved her - well, then everything will depend upon how
the wife is constituted. Perhaps she is not proud, and therefore not
ashamed to confess her unhappiness to a friend, who might then venture
to become her lover; or if she is proud, she will do - I know not what,
but certainly she would conceal herself in the deepest chasm in the
earth, rather than give way and say, no matter to whom, I am unhappy!"

"And if that is not necessary, if her misery is written on her brow,
looks from her eyes, speaks in every tone of her voice?"

Something flitted over Cecilia's face like the shadow of a cloud; but
she smoothed her work with special care, as she answered in a
passionless, almost monotonous voice:

"Who can say that? Who is so wise that he can read upon the brow of any
human being the thoughts that are passing within, without ever
deceiving himself or making another's face the mirror of his own
beloved vanity? But we have fallen into a very disagreeable
conversation. Tell me, instead, where you are going when you leave
here, and where you expect to live in future? You will not return to
Italy? It seems to me you told me so a short time ago."

"Thanks for your interest in me," replied Gotthold, with trembling
lips; "but I have made no definite plans as yet. When I left Rome, it
was certainly with the desire to remain here in the North, at least for
some time, and try whether home could ever become home again to me; but
the attempt will probably not succeed, nay, I think has already

"It seems to me that this is rather too soon to decide such a
question," said Cecilia; "but the matter is probably of importance only
to us; you fortunate artists have your home in your art, and you take
that with you wherever you turn your steps."

"And yet, I think, we can have our art only at home," replied Gotthold.

"That is?"

"That is, that only in his home can the artist reach the highest point
his talents will enable him to attain. I have formed this conclusion
from the history of all arts, which have only prospered when the
artists had the good fortune to be supplied with subjects furnished by
the country of which they were citizens and the time in which they
lived-for in this sense, time is also the artist's home: I mean: when
they had the good fortune, and of course the power also, to be able to
freely develop their talents on their native soil, and upon subjects
furnished by their home. I have also drawn this inference from my own
observation, which has taught me that those who were unable to find any
materials for their art at home - subjects identified with the place and
time - were no true artists, but either dilettanti and imitators, or
positive charlatans, who deceived with their artificial productions,
destitute alike of life and merit, only the great multitude - the
beggarly crowd - to which they, in the inmost depths of their natures,
certainly belonged."

When Gotthold first began to speak upon this subject, which at that
moment was very far from his thoughts, he had only wished to soothe the
tumult of his soul, or at least to conceal it from the pale woman by
his side; then, carried away by the theme, he had spoken with a certain
earnestness, and at last with a freedom of which, a moment before, he
would not have believed himself capable. And so, at first absently, but
gradually with more eagerness, Cecilia had listened; a ray of the old
fire flashed from her dark eye as she asked,

"And does this apply to you?"

"It does; that is, it was a misfortune that through my unhappy quarrel
with my father, and in consequence of several sorrowful memories upon
which it is not worth while to enter here, - it was a misfortune that I
was, in a certain measure, banished from my home at the moment when I
could least dispense with it: the flowers I had sought for in the
meadows when a child; the trees under which the boy played, through
whose tops he saw the sunbeams glide and heard the rain patter; the
skies which at one time could laugh so brightly and anon look so
unspeakably gloomy, so infinitely dreary; the sea, over whose smooth
surface, gleaming in the sunset, or billows black with storm, the fancy
of the youth had hovered, sailed out to the regions of the Blest, and
the mournful, misty realms of his dreams of battle and conflict and
early heroic death: all this - I mean the things and the dreams - I might
have been able to paint, to the pleasure and delight of others, in
whom, by my pictures, I might have awakened memories of their own
childhood, boyhood, and youth; what I paint now I have not drawn from
my own soul, have not painted, cannot paint with my whole heart, so how
can it, at best, be anything more than sounding brass?"

"Then why are you artists so eager to go to foreign lands?" asked

She seemed once more the intelligent young girl, whose radiant dark
eyes reflected the restless ardor of her mind, from whose lips fell
silvery laughter, and then grave, earnest words.

"I think this eagerness is often blind and foolish," replied Gotthold,
"and, at any rate, I would always advise a young artist not to go to
Rome until his own ideas are firmly fixed, or he will be a mere
plaything of the winds and clouds. Goethe had written his works on
German art, and long been a master of it, when he went to Italy; so he
could quietly compose his Faust beneath the pines in the garden of the
Villa Borghese, and return laden with the rich treasures of his
observations of the country, the people, and the events which for
centuries had taken place beneath its glorious skies, and yet remain to
the very depths of his artist soul precisely the same as he was before.
It is just the same in the republic of the arts as in the state,
Cecilia. What citizen could understand the great relations of the
government who had not first practised his powers of vision upon the
smaller affairs of the parish; who could render any valuable service to
the parish, who had not learned to rule his own household; who could
manage his house, direct and govern his family, who did not know how to
rule and guide himself?"

Gertrude had come up while Gotthold was speaking; Cecilia lifted her
into her lap, and the child sat there silently, as if she knew she must
not interrupt. Now, as Gotthold paused, she said, "Mamma, I want Uncle
Gotthold to be my papa!"

A deep flush crimsoned Cecilia's face, and she hastily tried to put
Gretchen down, but the child would not give up the point so easily. She
threw her right arm around her mother's neck, and said, coaxingly,
"Can't he, mamma; he has such pretty blue eyes, and is always kind to
you, and papa is often so horrid; can't he, mamma?"

Cecilia hastily rose with the child in her arms, and took a few paces
forward, as if she wished to fly from the place. But her knees
trembled, she could go no farther, and was obliged to put Gretchen
down, who, alarmed by her mother's impetuosity, ran away crying, but
the next moment forgot her grief at the sight of some bright-hued
butterflies which fluttered before her over the flower-beds. Cecilia
still stood motionless with her face averted.

"Cecilia!" said Gotthold.

He had approached her, and tried to take the hand that hung by her
side. She turned, and the face of Medusa confronted him.

"Cecilia!" exclaimed Gotthold, again extending his hands.

She did not draw back, she did not stir; the rigid features were
motionless, except for the quivering of the half-parted lips, and then
the words came slowly, like the last drops of blood from a mortal

"I do not need your sympathy, do you hear? I have given you no right to
pity me, neither you nor any one else. Why do you torture me?"

"I shall not torture you long, Cecilia; I have told you I am going."

"Why don't you go then? Why do you speak to me of such things? To me?
You will drive me mad, and - I won't go mad."

"This is madness, Cecilia," cried Gotthold passionately. "If you do not
love him - and you do not, you cannot - no divine, and certainly no human
law, compels you to remain, to pine, to die in nameless misery. And he
loves you no better than you do him."

"Did he tell you so?"

"Is it necessary?"

"On your honor, Gotthold, did he tell you so?"

"No, but - "

"And suppose he did love me, for all that, and - I loved him? How can
you dare speak to me as you have spoken? How can you dare give me the
lie by your silence, humiliate me so deeply in my own eyes! Is this
your boasted friendship?"

Gotthold bent his head and turned away. Gretchen came to meet him.

"Where are you going, Uncle Gotthold?"

He raised the child in his arms, kissed her, put her on the ground, and
went on.

"Why is Uncle Gotthold crying, mamma?" asked Gretchen, pulling her
mother's dress. "Papa can't cry, can he, mamma?"

Cecilia made no reply; her wide tearless eyes were fixed on the spot
where Gotthold had disappeared between the beeches.

"Forever," she murmured, "forever!"


When Gotthold reached the little wooden gate, which, shaded by a
half-decayed linden-tree, afforded egress through the rough hedge on
this side of the garden, he paused and glanced cautiously over the
sunny fields towards the forest. He could not have endured to meet any
one just now, perhaps be obliged to stop and answer a greeting or
question. But he saw no one; all were in the great rye-field, where
they had been toiling all day; the path to the forest was open.

The sun shone with a fierce burning glow, and the heated air quivered
over the wheat, which was already beginning to ripen, and whose stout
stalks were unstirred by the faintest breeze; countless cicadas chirped
and buzzed noisily on both sides of the narrow path that wound through
the fields; a large flock of wild pigeons circled at no very great
height in the air, and as they wheeled with lightning-like speed, the
moving cloud glittered in the rays of the setting sun against the clear
blue sky like a shield of polished steel.

Gotthold saw all this, because he was accustomed to live with nature,
and even felt the electricity that pervaded the atmosphere, but only as
being perfectly in harmony with the conflict that oppressed his heart.
Shame had long since dried the burning tears grief had forced from his
eyes; shame for having, by his want of self-control, produced this
scene, in which, after eight long days of torture, he had finally

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