G. B. (Gladys Bronwyn) Stern.

Debatable ground online

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This book has been published and
copyrighted in England under the
title "Children of No Man's Land"

Published, January, 1921
Second Printing, April, 1921






1 What is love of one's land? . . .

I don't know very well.

It is something that sleeps for a year, for a day,
For a month, something that keeps
Very hidden and quiet and still,

And then takes
The quiet heart like a wave,
The quiet brain like a spell,

The quiet will

Like a tornado, and that shakes
The whole being and soul . . .

Aye, the whole of the soul."




uT ET her go," said Ferdinand Marcus. " I want my

daughter to have a good time."

J Aunt Stella assented. "Why shouldn't she go?
Anything for a change, when one is twenty-three. Anything
for excitement. And she can come to no harm. Besides, Rich-
ard is invited too."

" No harm," chirruped her brother. " Liberty for the
young! We have missed enough, Stella, you and I, through
old-fashioned prejudices."

Old Hermann Marcus did not join in the conversation. He
sat heavy and immovable; his faded blue eyes, under their
fierce ridges, travelling contemptuously from his son to his
daughter. Weaklings ! short-sighted weaklings, with their fool-
ish chatter of " Liberty for the young." Was this the way to
bring up one's children, with authority trailing like a slack
rope along the floor? What was to become of the old, if the
young were allowed to live for their own pleasure? Where
would he be now, he, Hermann Marcus, crippled with rheu-
matism, financially insolvent, approaching his eightieth birth-
day, if Ferdinand and Stella had not been trained, very care-
fully trained, to unquestioning obedience and duty?

He was impotent where Ferdinand's children were concerned.
His day of authority was over. But " a good time," he mut-
tered. " They will see. . . ." He called loudly to Stella to
bring him at once the English papers, which would not arrive at
the Swiss hotel for fully an hour yet. Hermann Marcus was
perfectly aware of this.




" But every one knows for a positive fact that Shakespeare is
the greatest writer of all. Why, who has ever heard of your
Goethe, outside Germany? "

"And who has ever read your Shakespeare, inside Eng-
land? " Lothar retorted, with the horrid glee of a person who
has made a remark with an unpleasant amount of truth in it.
His spectacles gleamed, two round, triumphant dazzles in the
sunset which streamed through the closed windows of his study.

Richard repeated stubbornly, but without conviction:
** Every one knows Shakespeare is the greatest writer." His
defence of Shakespeare was strictly impersonal; he had no
vehement sentiments on the subject; the whole argument bored
him. But on principle, when a German boy asserts that
Goethe is greater than Shakespeare, the English boy can have
no option but to make reply that Shakespeare is greater than

" It shall be decided one day," Lothar grimaced ominously.

And Richard had an inspiration. " Shakespeare has been
translated into German, because you jolly well couldn't get on
without him. I've never seen Goethe properly put into Eng-
lish. That about proves I'm right."

"There was no Englander great enough to translate a man
so great. I do not say," Lothar explained conscientiously,
" that I have not of the works of your Shakespeare also with
much benefit an exhaustive study made. Let us converse on
them. Do you then prefer Macbess or Otello? "

" Macbeth," Richard muttered at a venture, and walked rest-
lessly to the window; fidgeted with the beaded blind-cord, to
signify that he expected better entertainment from his host
than this irritating controversy. He wished his sister had not
been so quick to accept Mrs. Koch's invitation to visit her at
Dorzheim. To be dragged away in the middle of the extra July
of summer holiday which an epidemic of scarlet fever at school
had procured him; dragged away from a jolly hotel in Switzer-
land, to this stupid, little, dead-and-alive German town ; finally,


to be expected to chum up with Lothar von Relling, merely be-
cause they were " of the same age " it was a bit thick!

Deb could quite well have come alone, if this was her idea of

He wondered why Lothar was crossing and uncrossing his
legs in their bright striped stockings, and breathing heavily as
though about to unburden himself of a confidence.

" Have you a heart's dearest, you? "

Richard Marcus was fifteen. A normal boy, muscular, pug-
nacious, taciturn. The question drew from him a shout of

" What should I do with one, if I had it? "

" You English boys are babies all," Lothar said, unexpect-
edly scornful. "You play always your stupid games, rather
than write verses to the loved one. Ach, but she . . ." he
whirled his hearer along an incoherent tide of description: " a
wonder, a dream, a night of scented dusk," that mysterious god-
dess who seemed but recently to have emerged from the nebu-
lous glamour which encircles all womanhood for the Teuton yet
in his teens.

"Are you engaged to her? " yawned Richard, who by the
merest fraction preferred these confidences to the Goethe-
Shakespeare debate.

"Betrothed? But not possible. I am already betrothed to
Frieda-Marie. Our peoples betrothed us a great many years

ago. It is wearisome, but " Lothar shrugged his plump

shoulders " it is suitable. We are of one faith. Her father,
the Herr Sanitats-Rath Hauffe, will withdraw his sanction if he
outfinds anything of my faithlessness."

Richard swung round and surveyed with disfavour Lothar's
vague features under their bush of upstanding tow. " Do you
mean there's really anything for him to find out about you
and the other girl, or are you swanking? "

" Only that I schwarm I swarm with love for her. I
watch in the streets, and once I drop at her feet a fair rose cost-
ing fifty pfennig. She knows nothing of my passion. But
what goes me that on? It is more beautiful, more ideal, so."


Suddenly he slid from lofty altitudes. " One has also one's
emotions away from these. One is flesh. One is not altogether
air. . . ." He spattered a few inky hints regarding the de-
mands of his adolescence. From a pink, chubby face his spec-
tacles glittered knowingly, inviting his companion to betrayal
of like perplexities. But Richard preserved that admirable
stolidity for which his looks were so well adapted: powerful
jaw, big nose, dark head well thrust forward from the short
neck and broad shoulders; and, rather obscured by all these
pugnacities, a pair of pleasant, humorous light-grey eyes, from
which now, however, he had chased all expression save of blank
idiocy. Not likely he would give himself away to Master
Lothar! Richard wondered if there were a German boy good
form enough to know that Lothar was bad form, and to ostra-
cize him as such. Unlikely; the fellow would hardly be as
cocksure if he had once been put in his place. All this blither
about Goethe and girls. ..." Do you mean to marry this per-
son? " interrupting the other's critical appraisement of a lady
professionally well-known in Dorzheim, appraisement to which
Lothar had essayed to impart the personal note.

" I have explained," patiently, " I am plighted to Frieda-
Marie. She is a good Christian maiden. She learns cooking.
She has a respectable gift-along. Why do you smile? "

" Your English is so funny."

" I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing your German,"
politely sarcastic. For Richard had felt in honour bound not
to reveal to Dorzheim that his knowledge of their tongue,
though faulty, was fluent enough, as was natural in a grandson
of Hermann Marcus of Munich.

" I will take me a wife when I am twenty-seven. First must
I be through with my examinations. Then do I perform my
military service. You also? No? "

" Oh, we don't have to fag with that sort of thing in Eng-

" It is for the Fatherland. Also one is attractive in uniform.
One dashes. One lives. Me, I must betray a several of maid-
ens before I can afford one to keep."


Richard scowled discouragement. " You're not sixteen yet,
are you? "

"At sixteen one is no longer a child. One cannot go
mad . . ." To Richard's horror, Lothar suddenly buried his
head in his arms, shuddering violently. ..." That I were
dead ! that I were dead ! " he moaned.

The English boy stared at him. These outbursts of con-
fidence, alternately sentimental and morbid, seemed to empha-
size his growing sense of having been brought into a world
completely alien. He sent a swift thought to his chum, Gre-
ville Dunne, now on board a training-ship; wished old Greville
were here. Foreign kids were unbalanced, hysterical; they
read too much; brooded too much; talked too much. . . .
Lothar had no right to unburden himself to a stranger, of differ-
ent nationality and hostile outlook. Richard began to be
afraid he had given an impression of too ready sympathy.

Lothar raised his head and announced solemnly: " Swine-
hound that I am, believe that I preserve a reverence supreme
for my Loved One! " His eyes were swamped in facile tears.
" I have no father," he added, after an uncomfortable pause;
" and you, you have no mother, I hear."

" Oh, that's all right, thanks," Richard's shoulders were ex-
pressive of sullen embarrassment. " Got a stamp collection? "

" I will show you my botany-box." And Lothar littered the
blue and red check table-cloth with his specimens of pressed
leaves and flowers, neatly labelled. Presently he reverted to
the subject of Frieda-Marie. It appeared as though he were
trying unsuccessfully to tell Richard something. . . .

" Pity that she should be so blonde. The Ideal One is a bru-
nette. She is a witch; a black velvet pansy. Hark, I will de-
scribe her to you."

A full five minutes elapsed, however, before Richard awoke
to the fact that the concrete sum of Lothar's lyrical ecstasies
made up a personality closely resembling that of his sister.

"Good Lord! Deb!"

" But at last ! Since an hour have I tried to reach your un-


" Couldn't you say straight out that you meant Deb, instead
of making an inventory of her? "

This was too great a strain on Lothar's English. " She was
mine from the first moment I saw her feet on the pavement my
window outside press," he breathed.

"Look here d'you want to marry Deb? "

" You come me always with that ! " peevishly. " I tell you
I am betrothed to Frieda-Marie. I cannot marry your sister.
She is only a Jewess."

" I like your cheek! Then what's the good of you? "

" I can worship her."


" You also, you admire her? "

" She's not so dusty."

Again Lothar had to confess himself vanquished. He lugged
down an English-German dictionary from the shelf, and con-
scientiously looked up " dusty."

" Nicht so staubig ach ! . . . Hark, there is Mamma who
calls us. Doubtless you are fetched to go home."

They ran down the polished stairs, Richard grinning at the
notion of being " fetched."

In the drawing-room Felix Koch was apologizing profusely
for his wife's absence, while Frau von Relling plied him with
coffee and cream cakes and delicatessen sandwiches.

" You will be welcome whenever you come again to play with
my Lothar," she condescended to Richard. Then sighed heav-
ily : " My big boy ! " and took Lothar's hand and fondled it.
Lothar received the caress with an expression which was decor-
ously demure. "Smug little humbug! " reflected Richard.

" Indeed, Herr Koch, it is well that the dear Marianna did
not call to-day, as it is possible that your honoured Frau
Mamma might be drinking coffee with me presently."

" So? " Koch nodded gloomily. His wife and his mother
were not on speaking terms; and all the town knew why. He
had committed an unprecedented folly in marrying the pretty
daughter of a shopkeeper in Bingen.

Frau von Relling continued : " Doubtless the dear Marianna


is busy with the entertainment of the little English Miss."
Then eagerly: " Has she received any offers yet? "

" She has only been with us three days," Koch replied. And
added with a mysterious inflection, " But Salzmann has sent to
Frankfurt for his brother."

" And how many bouquets? "

"Eleven. And two chocolate-boxes."

"Has Herr Sigismund Koch shown her a little attention? "

The man bent upon his questioner a look of displeasure.
" Sigismund knows well he has no concern with any young Miss
who is my guest! "

For, though partners in the same bank, he and his younger
brother were not on speaking terms. They had quarrelled vio-
lently a little while before the death of their father, Emil Koch,
founder of the bank, who, with more sense of humour than
can usually be accredited to his nation, had left it to them as a
joint and firmly-knit inheritance.

Frau von Rolling hastened to cover up her intentional piece
of malice. " Of course not, of course not. And the dear Mari-
anna will be arranging a Klatsch to introduce the beautiful Miss
to Dorzheim? "

" Next Thursday; you will honour us ? "

" Will Wanda be present? " Frau von Relling played nerv-
ously with her son's fingers, which she still retained.

" I believe your Fraulein sister-in-law has been invited,
but "

" In that case " Frau von Relling rose with dignity.

She was not on speaking terms with her sister-in-law : a question
of a funeral-wreath. . . . Amid such complications did the
society of Dorzheim walk precariously.

Felix gave a murmur which placed his sympathies definitely
on the side of Frau von Relling, and at the same time deplored
these needless feuds in an otherwise attached family. Then
with Richard he took formal leave.

" We are the only Jews in Dorzheim with whom the von
Rellings have traffic," he remarked, as they walked home
through the little manufacturing town. " But you will count


now how many hats are raised to me. The Kochs have ever
been deeply respected even among the Christians who bank
with us." He beamed with nai've pleasure at each salutation;
and looked sharply at Richard to see if the latter were indeed
taking note.

Twilight in the streets; and the sky was a dark, thick blue.
Crowds of men were already jostling out of the workshops
where the cutting, polishing and setting of precious stones
formed the principal industry of Dorzheim. Swarthy giants
from some legend of forest and charcoal and red-glowing cav-
ern, they did not immediately disperse, but stood about mutter-
ing on the pavements, with a scowl for the passer-by who
brushed their group too closely. Somewhere a great brazen
bell was clanging. It was all rather unreal. . . .

"We shall shortly have trouble with these fellows," re-
marked the banker to Richard. " Those infernal socialists with
their talk "

Richard was again attacked by a melancholy sense of com-
plete isolation from his surroundings. What was he doing
here? He, Marcus, of the Winborough fifth in this gabled,
German burgher town, grotesque to him as an old steel-en-
graving in a musty folio. Ring of sombre fir-shaggy hills
tipped against the sky; ornamental bridges like toys across the
river, which ran alongside the one broad street; warm aroma of
coifee from the shops, blending with a mournful resinous
fragrance that drifted down with the wind from the woods;
clusters of people round the small iron tables dotted outside
the restaurants; and behind the large open windows of these,
dim groups sprawling through a dense smoke-heavy atmos-
phere; chatter and bellow and screech; gibberish which was
yet disconcertingly comprehensive to Richard. He revolted
against his very understanding of their language. They were
not his people; Lothar, with his flaxen hair and his botany-box
and his repellant morbidity; this trotting little man, counting
the hats that were raised ah, there was another ! . . . and
another! . . . like clockwork, up went the hand to the brim.


. . . Three elongated boys in capes, whistling " Die Wacht am
Rhein "

"Lieb Vaterland, kannst ruhig sein,
Still steht und treu "

No, these were not his people; this was not his land. Richard
stiffened himself against any insidious process of adaptation
to circumstances. Daisybanks, Lansdowne Terrace, London,
England that was his address, when he was not at Winbor-
ough. Good enough for him. Switzerland was all right, of
course . . . the hotel was under English management, and one
just went about with one's own set, and behaved much as usual,
except that there were mountains. His spirit approved of a
Continent moulded on sternly British lines.

And then Deb had dragged him into this !

A question stirred in his mind ! Nationality was it a fact
of any importance, then, to make so much difference when put
to the test? ... He shoved the question away again. Why
fuss? This sort of misery for it was misery would not
pursue him further than across the map of Germany. Let him
get back to his own folk; he was homesick, that was all. Eng-
land became above all desirable as a place where you were jolly
and ordinary; took things for granted; no need to think;
there was a quality of purposeful concentration about these
German people that oppressed Richard uneasily; why were
they so absorbed and ponderous over the minutest detail?

Again Herr Koch jerked off his hat. " Did you see who
saluted me? No other than Sanitats-Rath Maximilian Hauffe.
He could quite well have pretended not to see me; there was
no lamp where he passed us. But I tell you the Kochs are es-
teemed in Dorzheim. That was his daughter Frieda-Marie
along with him."

Richard looked back, interested to catch a glimpse of Lo-
thar's betrothed. She looked back at the same time. ... A
plump rosy face; swing and dangle of two golden plaits.

Outside the door of their house they were joined by Mrs.


Koch and Deborah. Felix inserted his latchkey and preceded
them into the hall.

"Na, was Frau Ladenberg amiable? Did you like her? "
he inquired of Deb.

" Not not very much."

"Not? But she is English; she is your countrywoman."

With infinite pains and pride had this sole Englishwoman in
Dorzheim been excavated for the girl's benefit. Deb felt
acutely the reproach in his tones. The meeting ought to have
been at least as momentous as that of Stanley and Livingstone
in the desert. Deb herself, after only three days spent in
thickly Teutonic company, had been quite excited at the pros-
pect of drinking coffee with Herr Ladenberg's wife from Man-
chester. She recognized now how unreasonable she had been
to have expected instant affinity merely on the negative grounds
that neither she nor Elly Ladenberg happened to be German.

At the same moment, Marianna was enquiring of Richard:
" Well, and have you made a great friendship with Lothar von
Relling? "

" No," said Richard, who invariably curtailed speech to its
utmost brevity.

" No? But you are almost of the same age! "

Richard grunted, and escaped to his room to dress for that
meal which, neither dinner, tea, nor supper, mingled the rich-
ness and biliousness of all three.

Felix went into the sitting-room and flung himself on the
sofa. Deb and his wife followed him in. The girl went
straight to the window, and with some difficulty succeeded in
opening it; the decent German window protesting loudly, as it
had every right to do. She leant out, cooling her hot cheeks.
She had behaved disgracefully that afternoon. . . .

Marianna Koch glanced at her. Then at Felix. An elusive
meanness flickered from her narrow light-brown eyes; at the
corners of her pretty, fretful mouth. She was very unlike the
accepted Saxon type of large blonde beauty. There had been a
scandalous babble of tongues in Dorzheim when Felix Koch
had first brought her back from a brief holiday he had spent


in Bingen. Little worldling that she was, she had yet contrived
to trap him in manner incongruously reminiscent of a Grimm's
fairy-tale. The broad window above the iron-monger's shop;
the wistful maiden, youngest of three sisters, who daily sta-
tioned herself there, hairbrush held in her hand, a light-brown,
feathery cloud surrounding her pale face. . . . He was cured
of his infatuation now, after two years' subjection, but could
still recall it with painful vividness at a thought flung back-
wards to that window and the magic it had framed for him.
Marianna! . . . but she was common and petty, and snobbish
and quarrelsome; she had married him solely because he was
a banker, a fine gentleman. He had a suspicion lately that
she would like to be rid of him; yes, now, when he had barely
placated a bitterly offended mother; when, with his reputation
for sobriety and prudence, he had made a fool of himself in
sight of all Dorzheim. If it had been Sigismund! ... It was
a constant smart to the vanity of Felix that Sigismund was still
highly eligible, whereas he

He was not even sure that his wife was not deceiving him.

In which case Sigismund would laugh. And Herr Sanitats-
Rath Hauffe would perhaps omit to raise his hat as punctil-

Koch's eyes wandered to Deb, in her bluish lilac crepe dress;
harem skirt that clung as though in well-cut adoration . . .
the nape of her neck showed astoundingly bare; in Dorzheim
it was considered smart to wear something called a jabot, and
to prop the chin and ears with a high erection of lace and
whalebone; in Dorzheim the dressmakers were commissioned
to destroy line, not create it as in the case of a harem skirt.
She was obviously not quite " good class " this girl; probably
some sort of an artist, though he had gathered her people were
wealthy. "These English!" one could account for every-
thing by that contemptuous phrase. . . . And Deb had im-
mensely gratified him that morning at breakfast by remarking:
" One might easily mistake you for an Englishman, Herr
Koch! "... Yes, he liked the girl; was quite glad that Mari-
anna had taken a fancy to her recently in Switzerland, and had


insisted on bringing her back for a visit. It relieved the ten-
sion of their constant bickering; and it gave him a hearer on
whom to impress his status in Dorzheim. Then, too, one ac-
quired importance in the little town, when one had guests from
England. Relations from Frankfurt, yes but guests from
England were almost unheard of.

And nobody need know that Marianna had practically run
away from him to Montreux. She was anaemic, needed a holi-
day; that sufficed for public explanation. He had recalled her
with a promise of a fur coat. He had not yet given her the
fur coat.

" I can smell Rindbraten," remarked Felix appreciatively,
from the sofa. " Do we have it for evening-eating ? Stuffed?
There was some left over from mid-day, was there not? I
trust, Marianchen, that you made it clear to Emma it was not
for her? "

He was smitten with gloom at the thought of the servant
browsing over his Rindbraten. His wife reassured him. And
she added, with slow emphasis : " I tried on some sable coats at
Elly Ladenberg's. Her husband had sent for sample styles
from Koln. There was one four thousand marks. It hung
well on me. The Ladenberg has already chosen another with
a fox collar. Mine has a brocade lining."

" Yours? " Felix chaffed her. " Ei, ei, how quickly we go.
It is now summer."

" That is the time for a good bargain in fur."

" Four thousand marks is too much."

"Not for the best."

" My mother says "

"Your mother hates me. She would like to see me wear
cotton in a snowstorm. She would die of spite if she saw the
Frau Sanitats-Rath Maximilian Hauffe envying me my beauti-
ful sables."

She paused to see if her last artful thrust at his besetting
weakness had at all moved her husband. He thundered, to
hide his uneasiness : " I tell you, four thousand marks is too
much. You are beggaring me. You! "


The woman's eyes grew larger and brighter. She smiled
at Deb, who was trying to slip from the room unperceived.
" But where are you going? Felix, the child is running away
because she thinks we are quarrelling."

Felix laughed unroariously at the notion.

" I was going to lie down before supper," Deb explained
quickly. " I'm rather tired."

" There is no couch in your room. Here, you had better

Online LibraryG. B. (Gladys Bronwyn) SternDebatable ground → online text (page 1 of 32)