The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. IX
Part 12 out of 13
him with the same weapons. Even in the face of his experience he would
have persuaded himself that he was mistaken.
"I think, Fritz," he, began cordially, "we should have been different
toward each other from what we have been." He good-naturedly took half
the blame on himself. In his own mind his brother put the whole of it
on him, and was about to assure him jovially of the contrary when
Apollonius continued. "Things have not been the same as they used to
be between us, nor as they should be. The reason for this, as far as I
know, is only your wife's dislike of me. Or do you know of any other?"
"I know of none," said his brother shrugging his shoulders
regretfully; but he thought of Apollonius' return against his advice,
of the ball, of the conference in the church loft, of his being pushed
aside in the matter of the repairs, of his brother's whole plan, of
that part of it that had been and of that part which was still to be
carried out. He thought that Apollonius was occupied only in trying to
put it into execution, and of how much depended on his guessing
Apollonius' next intention and bringing it to naught.
While he was thinking this, Apollonius went on speaking, with no idea
of what was passing in his brother's mind. "I do not know what it can
be that has made your wife dislike me. I only know that it cannot be
anything that I have done intentionally. Can you tell me what it is? I
do not want to accuse her; it is possible that there is something
about me that displeases her. And if so, then it is certainly nothing
that should be praised or spared. And I should be the very last to
spare myself if I only knew what it is. If you know, please tell me.
If it is anything bad you must not spare me, even if it should cause
you pain to tell me. If you know it and don't tell me, that can be the
only reason. But you would not offend me by telling me, really,
Fritz Nettenmair did what Apollonius had just done; in his own mind he
measured his brother by himself. The result was bound to be to
Apollonius' disadvantage. Apollonius took his thoughtful silence for
"If you do not know," he went on, "let us go to her together and ask
her. I must know what I ought to do. Our life cannot go on like this.
What would father say if he knew? I reproach myself day and night that
he does not know. It is better for us all, Fritz. Come, let us not put
Fritz Nettenmair heard only his brother's presumptuous demand that he
should take him to her! That he should take him to her now! Did
Apollonius already know of her state and want to take advantage of it?
The question was superfluous; if they saw each other now they could
not fail to understand each other. And then it would be there, the
thing that for weeks he had not allowed himself an hour's rest in
trying to prevent. Then it would come to pass, the thing of which he
knew that it must come and the coming of which he had yet made
desperate efforts to hinder. They must not see each other face to face
now; they must not see each other now until he had built a new
dividing wall between them. Of what? He had no leisure to think of
that now. He must have some pretext on which to prevent the meeting,
must have time to find an excuse. And merely to gain time he said
"Of course! Ask her freely and cheerfully. Whoever asks is told. But
how do you come to think of that just now? Just now?" A thought that
flashed overwhelmingly into his mind involuntarily expressed itself in
this question. Apollonius was already at the door. He turned back to
his brother, and answered with a gladness that seemed fiendish to the
latter because he did not look into the other's honest face. If he
had, Apollonius would have caught something of the devilish fear that
disfigured his brother's countenance. And still, perhaps he would not.
He might have thought his brother ill, so entirely was he without the
slightest suspicion of anything in his proposal that could inspire his
brother with fear. In fact he thought that what pleased him must
please his brother also.
"Before," replied Apollonius, "I was obliged to fear that I should
make her still more angry. And that would have been even more
disagreeable for you than for me."
His brother laughed and nodded in his jovial way with his head and
shoulders merely for the sake of doing something. And his: "And now?"
sounded as if it were half stifled with laughter, not with anything
"Your wife has been different for some time," went on Apollonius
"She is"--answered Fritz Nettenmair's start against his will and
wanted to say what he considered her to be. It was an evil word. But
would he himself who had made her that tell him so? No, it has not yet
come to pass, what he fears. And even if it is bound to come; he can
still delay it. He forces himself not to give utterance to his
excitement. He would like to ask: "And how do you know that she--is
different?" But he knows that his voice would tremble and betray him.
He must know who has told his brother. Has he already spoken to her?
Has he read it in her eyes at a distance? Or is there a third person
involved--an enemy whom he already hates before he knows whether he
Apollonius seems to have caught something of his brother's unfortunate
gift of reading another's thoughts. His brother does not ask; his face
is turned away; he is seeking like a desperate man and cannot find;
and yet Apollonius answers him. "Your little Annie told me," he said,
and laughed as he thought of the child. "'Uncle,' said the odd little
thing, 'mother is not so cross with you any more; go to her and say
you won't do it any more; then she'll be kind again and will give you
sugar.' That's how she put the idea into my head. It's wonderful how
it sometimes seems as if an angel were speaking out of a child's
mouth. Your little Annie may have been an angel to us all."
Fritz Nettenmair laughed so boisterously at the child that Apollonius'
laughter caught fire again from his. But Fritz knew that it was a
devil that had spoken out of the child's mouth. Yet he laughed--so
hard that it did not strike Apollonius how forced and disconnected his
reply was. "Well then, tomorrow, as far as I'm concerned, or even this
afternoon; now I can't possibly spare the time. Now I'll go down with
you to St. George's. I have a necessary errand to do tomorrow! Oh, the
Apollonius had no suspicion how seriously the laughing "confounded"
was meant. He said, still laughing at the child himself, "Good. We'll
ask tomorrow then. And then everything will be different. I am looking
forward to it as gladly as the child, and you are too, I know, Fritz.
We'll make it a very different life from what we have been leading."
Kindhearted Apollonius rejoiced so heartily at his brother's joy! He
continued to do so even after he was up again on his swinging seat,
flying round the church roof.
Just as restlessly hovered about his brother's fear the sinister
something that hung above him and threatened to engulf him; still more
industriously did his heart hammer away at the crumbling plans to
hinder the fall: but the ship of his thoughts did not hang between
heaven and earth, held by the light of heaven. It pitched deeper and
ever deeper between earth and hell, and hell branded him ever darker
with its fire.
Toward evening Christiane was suddenly aroused from her dreaming by
two men's voices. She was sitting in the grass not far from the closed
door of the shed. Fritz and his brother had just entered the shed from
the street at the back. She heard him teasing his brother about Anne
Wohlig. Anne was the best match in the whole town--and Apollonius was
a rascal who knew the world and the species that wore long hair and
aprons. Anne was already sewing away at her outfit, and her cousins
were carrying the news of her approaching marriage to Apollonius from
house to house. Christiane heard her husband ask when the wedding was
to be. She had been about to move away; now she forgot to go, she
forgot to breathe. And then she almost gave a jubilant shout:
Apollonius had said that he was not going to marry at all, either Anne
or any one else.
His brother laughed. "Then that's why the evening you came back you
didn't dance with any one but Anne and took her home afterward?"
"I would have danced with your wife," replied Apollonius. "You warned
me that she would turn me down because she was so set against me. Then
I didn't want to dance at all. You brought Anne up to me, and when you
went you asked her if I might see her home. I couldn't do anything
else under the circumstances. I have never thought of Anne in
"Marriage?" interrupted his brother laughing. "Well, she's pretty
enough to--amuse yourself with too, and it's worth the trouble to make
her perfectly mad about you.
"Fritz!" exclaimed Apollonius, displeased. "But you're not in
earnest," he added to soothe himself. "I know you know me better; but
even in fun it isn't right to jest lightly about a respectable girl."
"Pshaw," said his brother, "if she behaves like that herself! What
does she come to the house for and throw herself at your head?"
"She hasn't done that," answered Apollonius hotly. "She is a good
girl, and comes here without any thought of wrong."
"Yes, or you would have put her right," laughed Fritz, and there was
mockery in his voice.
"Did I know what she thought?" said Apollonius. "You've teased her
about me and me about her. I have done nothing that could have
awakened any such thoughts in her. I should have thought it a sin."
The men went back the way they had come. It did not occur to
Christiane that they might have come along the path where she stood.
All that was open and true in her rose in indignation against her
husband. It was not other people who had lied to him; he himself was
false. He had lied to her and to Apollonius and she had erred and had
hurt Apollonius, Apollonius who was so good that he could not bear to
hear Anne made fun of, who had certainly never made fun of her.
Everything had been a lie from the beginning. Her husband was
persecuting Apollonius because he was false and Apollonius was good.
Her inmost heart turned away from the persecutor and toward the
persecuted. Out of the rebellion of all her emotions a new and sacred
feeling rose triumphant, and she gave herself up to it with the
complete abandon of innocence. She did not know it. Oh, that she might
never learn to know it! As soon as she learnt to know it would
become a sin.--And already the steps were rustling through the grass
that were to bring her the bitter knowledge.
Fritz Nettenmair had to erect a new dividing wall before he could
bring his brother to his wife. He came for this purpose. His gait was
uneven. He was still choosing and could not decide. He became even
more uncertain when he stood before her. He read what she felt in her
face; it was too honest to conceal anything; it knew too little of
what it spoke to think it must hide this feeling. He felt that he
could do nothing more with her by repeating the old slanders. He knew
that petty absurdities are better fitted to destroy a growing interest
than are gross faults. He imitated Apollonius going back along a way
along which he had already passed with a light, for fear that he might
have let a spark fall; he showed how his brother could not rest at
night for thinking that perhaps a workman had not deserved the harsh
word that he had spoken to him in the heat of the moment, how he
sprang up out of bed to straighten the position of a ruler that he had
left lying crooked on the table. At the same time Fritz kept on
blowing imaginary fluff from his sleeves. He saw indeed that his
efforts were having an opposite effect to what he wished. Irritated by
this he went on to stronger measures. He pitied poor Anne whom
Apollonius had made fall in love with him by hypocrisy, and told how
coarsely he made fun of her in public.
A dark red had come into his young wife's cheeks. Frank, simple
natures have a deep hatred of all duplicity, perhaps because they feel
instinctively how defenseless they stand before such an enemy. She was
trembling with emotion as she rose and said: "_You_ might do that; he
Fritz Nettenmair was startled. In the sight of the figure that stood
before him full of contempt there was something that disarmed him. It
was the power of truth, the loftiness of innocence confronting the
sinner. He pulled himself together with an effort. "Did he tell you
so? Have you got so far already?" he said, forcing the words out
between his teeth. Christiane wanted to go into the house; he stopped
her. She wanted to tear herself away.
"You have lied about everything," she said. "You have lied to him. You
have lied to me. I heard what you said to him just now in the shed."
Fritz Nettenmair drew a breath of relief. So she did not know
everything. "Was I not obliged to?" he said, his eye scarcely able to
stand the purity of her gaze. "Was I not obliged to in order to
prevent your disgrace? Do you want the fluff-picker to despise you?"
Now her eyes made him drop his. "Do you know what you are? Ask him
what a woman is who forgets her honor and her duty. Of whom do you
think as you should think only of your husband? When you creep about
like a wench in love wherever you think you will see him? And you
think that people are blind. Ask him what he calls that kind of a
woman? Oh, people have fine names for a woman of that sort."
He saw how she started, shocked. Her arm quivered in his hand. He saw
she was beginning to understand him, was beginning to understand
herself. He had feared her obstinacy--and behold, she was breaking
down! The angry red faded in her cheek and a blush of shame flushed
wildly over its pallor. He saw her eyes seek the ground as if she felt
the gaze of all men fixed upon her, as if the shed, the fence, the
trees all had eyes and they were all staring into hers. He saw how in
the suddenness of her perception she called herself one of the women
for whom people have such fine names.
The pain poured its rain over her burning cheeks that bled with shame
and her tears were like oil; the fire grew when a voice sounded from
the shed and his tread was heard. She tried to tear herself violently
away and looked up with a half wild, half imploring glance that,
dying, sank again to the ground before the thousand eyes that were
fixed upon her. He saw that the eye of the man who was coming through
the shed was the most terrible of all to her. He was again in
possession of all his courage.
"Tell him,"--he forced the words out softly--"what you want of him. If
he is as you think he is he must despise you."
Fritz Nettenmair held the struggling woman fast with the strength of
the victor until he had beckoned to Apollonius, who stepped
questioningly out of the shed, to come over to him. He let her go and
she fled into the house. Apollonius, shocked, stopped halfway up to
"You see how she is," Fritz said to him. "I told her you wanted to ask
her. If you like we will go after her, and she must confess to us.
I'll see whether my wife can safely insult my brother, who is so
Apollonius had to restrain him. Fritz would not consent at first.
Finally he said: "Well, now you see, at least, that it is not my
fault. Oh, I am so sorry!"
There was an involuntary dismay in the last words which Apollonius
connected with the failure at a reconciliation. Fritz Nettenmair
repeated them softly, and this time they sounded like a mockery of
Apollonius, like mocking regret at the failure of a sly trick.
Christiane had rushed into the living-room and bolted the door behind
her. She was not thinking of Fritz; but Apollonius might come in. She
turned over and over the feverish thought of fleeing out into the
world. But wherever she thought of herself, on the steepest mountain,
in the deepest valley, he met her and saw what it was that she wanted
and he had to despise her. Little Annie was in the room; she had not
noticed the child. All the mother's life was engaged in her inward
struggle; Annie could not tell from her mother's look what was going
on within her. She drew her mother onto a chair, threw her arms round
her in her usual fashion and looked up into her face. Her gaze struck
her mother as if it came from Apollonius' eyes. Little Annie said:
"Do you know, Mother, Uncle 'Lonius"--the mother jumped up and pushed
the child away from her as if it had been he himself. "Don't tell me
anything more about--don't tell me anything more about him!" she said
with such angry fear that the little girl stopped speaking and began
to cry. Little Annie did not see the fear, she saw only the anger in
her mother's action. It was anger at herself. The little girl lied
when she told her uncle of her mother's anger at him. He did not need
to be told. Had he not seen her red cheek himself, when she fled from
his and his brother's question; the same red of angry dislike with
which she had received him when he came home? Oh, from then on life
was curiously sultry in the house with the green shutters for days and
Fritz Nettenmair was very little at home. From early in the morning
till late at night he sat in a public house from which the door in the
church roof and the hanging seat on the tower could be seen. He was
more jovial than ever, and treated everybody in order to forget
himself in their insincere admiration.
In the shed and in the slate quarry the disagreeable-looking workman
took his place. Until he came home late at night, the workman wandered
back and forth in the passage leading from the living-room to the
shed. There had been some cases of theft in the neighborhood, and the
workman stood watch; Fritz Nettenmair had become a very anxious man
about his home. Other people wondered at Fritz Nettenmair's confidence
in the workman. Apollonius warned him repeatedly. Of course! He had
good reason not to desire any watch kept, least of all by this workman
who did not like him. And that was just why Fritz Nettenmair trusted
the workman and would not listen to warnings. When Fritz Nettenmair
said to his brother: "I am so sorry," he had just caught sight of the
workman. The latter's grin showed him that the workman saw through him
and knew what it was that he feared. He ground his teeth; half an hour
later he intrusted him with the watch and his place in the shed and
the quarry. It needed but few words. The workman understood what Fritz
told him that he must do; he also understood what Fritz did not tell
him and what he must do nevertheless. Fritz Nettenmair had as little
confidence in the fellow's honesty in the business as had Apollonius;
but the man's dishonesty there secured him his honesty where he needed
The old gentleman in the blue coat had worse dreams than ever; he
listened more anxiously than ever to every fleeting sound, heard more
in it, and added ever greater loads to what lay on his breast. But he
did not ask.
It was late one evening. From the tavern window Fritz Nettenmair had
seen Apollonius leave his hanging seat and tie it to the scaffold.
According to his custom, he hurried out of the restaurant so as to get
home before Apollonius. He found his wife in the living-room, busy
about her household work. The workman came in and made his customary
report. Then he whispered something to his master and went.
Fritz Nettenmair sat down at the table with his wife. He usually sat
there until the sound of the workman's shuffling tread in the hall
told him that Apollonius had gone to bed. Then he went back again to
his tavern; he knew that the house was safe from thieves, the workman
was on the watch.
The feeling that he had his wife in his hand and that she resigned
herself to the situation with suffering had until now aided the wine
to cast over him a faint reflection of the jovial condescension which
formerly had shone like the sun from every button of his clothes.
Today the reflection was unusually faint--perhaps because her eye had
not sought the ground when it met his glance. He put a few indifferent
questions, and then said: "You have been merry today." He wanted her
to feel that he knew everything that went on in the house even when he
was not there. "You were singing."
She looked at him calmly and said: "Yes, and tomorrow I'll sing again.
I don't know why I shouldn't."
He got up noisily from his chair and walked up and down with heavy
steps. He wanted to intimidate her. She rose quietly, and stood there
as if expecting an attack that she did not fear. He stepped close to
her, laughed hoarsely and made a gesture which he intended to frighten
her into stepping back. She did not do so. But the crimson of hurt
feelings spread over her cheeks. She had grown keen-sighted,
distrustful of her husband. She knew that he had her and Apollonius
"And did he tell you nothing more?" she asked. "Who?" shouted Fritz.
He raised his shoulders and thought he looked like the old man in the
blue coat. His wife did not answer.
Presently she said softly, "I have come to be at peace with myself,"
and this was written so brightly in her eyes that the man began to
walk up and down again in order not to have to look at them. "I am at
peace with myself. The thoughts came to me; I was not to blame for
that, and I did not call them into my mind. I did not know they were
evil. Then I fought with them and I will not tire as long as I live.
In my soul I went to my dear mother's bed where she died, and I saw
her lying there and laid three fingers on her heart. I promised her
that I will do and suffer nothing dishonorable and I begged her with
tears to help me not to do or suffer anything dishonorable. I promised
and begged until all my fear had gone away, and I knew that I was an
honorable woman and would remain an honorable woman. And no one may
despise me. Whatever you may do to me, I am not afraid and will not
defend myself. But you shall not do anything to the child. You do not
know how strong I am and what I can do. I will not have it; that I
His glance passed fearfully by the slender figure without touching her
pale, beautiful countenance; he knew that an angel stood there and
threatened him. Oh, he realized, he felt how strong she was; he felt
how powerfully the resolution of an honest heart protects. But only
against him! His weakness made him feel that. He felt that no one who
had the power of belief could fail to believe her. He had gambled away
this right in the crooked game. He would have had to believe her, if
he had not known that what must come, would come. Not she nor any one
could prevent it. He had fallen into the hands of the spirit of his
guilt, the thought of retribution, which drove him irresistibly to
bring about what he wished to prevent; the long steady habit of
thinking this thought had buried him too deep. Hope and trust were
alien to the thought; hate was more akin to it. And it was hate that
he called to his aid.--Outside the workman's feet shuffled on the
sanded floor of the hall. The house was safe from thieves: he could
leave it again.
Fritz Nettenmair was as jovial in the tavern that night as he could
possibly be. His flatterers were thirsty, and pleased with his
condescension. He drank, pushed the guests' hats down over their ears,
performed many another tender caress with his stick and his hand, and
laughed admiringly at them as brilliant jokes. He did everything to
forget himself; but he did not succeed.
If he could only have changed with his wife, who during this time was
sitting solitary at home! The thing for which he longed--to forget
himself--was the very thing against which she must be on her guard.
What he must do, what he could not avert by any effort, was the thing
for which she strove unavailingly--to remember herself. All her
thoughts spoke to her of Apollonius. She thought she was avoiding him,
and now she saw that he had fled from her. She ought to be glad, and
it hurt her. Her cheeks burned again. It was peculiar that she herself
regarded her position more sternly or more mildly according to whether
Apollonius in her thoughts judged it more sternly or more mildly. He
had become to her the involuntary standard by which to measure things.
Did he know what she was, and despise her? He was so gentle and
indulgent; he did not ridicule Anne, did not despise her. Even before
he came, did she already have thoughts that she should not have had
and did he guess them? And he was sorry for her, and that was why he
looked after her with such a sad glance when she went? Yes! Of course!
And now he fled from her in order to spare her: the sight of him
should not arouse thoughts in her that had better sleep till she
herself slept in her coffin. Perhaps he himself had said so to her
husband, or written; and the latter had chosen dislike as a means of
Was it chance that at this moment she glanced at her husband's desk?
She saw that he had forgotten to take the key out of the lock. She
remembered that he had never been so careless before. Usually she
would have taken no notice of it; now she remembered that if he knew
her to be there he had never left the room even for a moment without
locking the desk and taking the key with him. Apollonius' letters lay
in the top right-hand drawer; usually her glance avoided the spot. Now
she opened the desk and drew out the drawer. Her hands trembled, her
whole form quivered--not for fear that her husband might surprise her
in what she was doing. She must know how it stood between her,
Apollonius, and her husband; she would have asked the latter, she
would not have come to her own aid if she could have trusted him. She
trembled in expectation of what she should find. Had she any
premonition of what it would be?
There were many letters in the drawer; all of them lay open and
unfolded. She touched them all, one after another, before she read
them. With each one that she touched a fresh flush spread over her
cheeks, as if she touched Apollonius himself, and involuntarily she
drew back her hand. Now a little metal box fell from one of the
letters back into the drawer; the box flew open and out of it fell a
small, dry blossom--a little bluebell. It was just such a one that she
had once laid on the bench that he might find it. She was startled.
That one, Apollonius had auctioned off the same evening with ridicule
and mockery among his comrades, asking them what they would give and
finally, amid the general laughter, solemnly knocked it down to his
brother. He had brought it to her and told her about it while they
were dancing and Apollonius had looked in at the hall window,
mockingly, as his brother had said. That one she had pulled to pieces;
all the young people had danced over the ruins. The blossom in the box
was another one. The letter must tell from whom it was or to whom
Apollonius sent it.
And yet it was the same flower. She read it. What feelings took
possession of her as she read that it was the same one. Tear after
tear fell on the paper and out of them mounted a rosy haze and veiled
the narrow walls of the little room. Oh, it was a world of happiness,
of laughing and crying with happiness that rose from the tears; every
one shone more like a rainbow, every one cried: "She was yours!" And
the last one lamented: "And she has been stolen from you!" The flower
was from her; he carried it on his breast in yearning, hope, and fear,
until she of whom he thought when he touched it had become his
brother's. He was so good that he had thought it a sin to keep the
poor blossom away from the man who had stolen the giver from him. And
she might have clung to such a man, might have enfolded him in the
arms of her yearning and never let him go! She could have done it,
might have done it, should have done it! It would not have been a sin;
it would have been a sin if she had not done so. And now it was a sin
because the other had defrauded him and her, the other who now
tormented her about what he himself had made sinful, who forced her to
sin--for be forced her to hate him, and that too was a sin and his
fault. With terribly sweet fear she thought of the nearness of the man
who should be a stranger to her, who was not a stranger to her, from
whom in the dread of her weakness she saw no escape. She fled from
him, from herself, into the room where her children slept, where her
mother had died. There, where such peace had come to her, she heard
the slight movement of the innocent little slumberers whose guardian
God had made her, heard their quiet breathing whispering into the
still, dark night. She went from bed to bed, sank motionless on her
knees before each, and pressed her forehead against the sharp edges of
From the tower of St. George's the bells rang as the step of time
passed over her; and he did not cease his march. She lay, her hot
hands clasped, a long, long time. Then from the gentle web of her
feelings there rose, silvery as the sound of Easter morning bells, the
thought: why are you afraid of him? And she saw all her angels
kneeling About her and he was one of her angels, the most beautiful
and the strongest and the gentlest. And she might look up to him as
one looks up to his angels. She rose and went back into the other
room. She spread the letters out on the table and then laid herself to
rest. She meant their possessor to know, when he came home and found
the letters, that she had read them. It was hard for her to part with
them; but they did not belong to her. She took away only the little
box with the withered flower, and meant to tell him in the morning
that she had done so.
Fritz Nettenmair still sat on all alone in the wine-tavern. His head
hung wearily down on his breast. He justified to himself his hatred
and his course of action. His brother and she were false; his brother
and she were guilty, not he who sat here squandering what belonged to
his children. He who had stolen her heart away from him might look
after them. Just at the moment when he had succeeded in convincing
himself, the door of the bedroom at home opened. His wife had got up
out of bed again and put back the box containing the flower with the
letters. Apollonius had not kept it, neither might she. Her husband
had not yet thought of going home when she once more pulled the covers
over her chaste limbs. In the thought that thence-forward Apollonius
should be her lode-star, and that if she acted as he did she would
remain pure and safe from evil, she fell asleep and smiled in her
slumber like a carefree child.
Apollonius knew little of his brother's mode of life. Fritz Nettenmair
hid it from him through the involuntary restraint that Apollonius'
efficient personality laid upon him, though he would not have
acknowledged it to any one, least of all to himself. And the workmen
knew that they might not go to Apollonius with anything that looked
like tale-bearing, least of all where his brother was concerned, whom
he would have liked to see respected by them all more than himself.
But he had noticed that Fritz looked on him as an intruder on his
rights who robbed him of all pleasure in his business and occupation.
From the day of his return Apollonius had not felt happy at home. He
was a burden to those whom he loved most; he often thought of Cologne,
where he knew himself to be welcome. Until now the moral obligation
had held him which he had taken upon himself in respect to the
repairs. These were nearing completion with rapid strides. Thus his
thought was at liberty to demand realization; and he imparted it to
It was difficult for Apollonius at first to convince his brother that
he was in earnest in his intention to return to Cologne. Fritz took it
for a sly pretext meant to reassure him. Man gives up a fear with as
much difficulty as he does a hope. And he would have had to confess to
himself that he had done wrong to the two whom he had become so
accustomed to accusing of having done wrong to him that he felt a kind
of satisfaction in so doing. He would have had to forgive his brother
for a second wrong which the latter had suffered from him. He did not
become reconciled until he had succeeded in seeing again in his
brother the dreamer of old and in his intention a piece of
foolishness, until he saw in it an involuntary confession that his
brother had recognized in him a superior opponent and was leaving in
despair of ever being able to carry out his evil plan. Then at once
all his old jovial condescension waked as from a winter sleep. His
boots creaked again: "There he is!" and his dangling seal once more
voiced the triumphant shout: "Now the fun will begin!" His boots
drowned what his head said to him of the unavoidable consequences of
his extravagance, of his descent in the general esteem. It seemed to
him that everything would be just as it had been, once his brother was
away. Looking ahead, he even believed in his extraordinary magnanimity
in forgiving his brother for having been there. He stood before his
brother in all his old greatness, in which he confronted the intruder
as the sole head of the business; with his most condescending laugh he
waved to his brother the assurance that he would manage to get the old
man in the blue coat to consent; he himself must send Apollonius away.
The young wife felt as if her angel were about to leave her. She felt
that she was safer from him when near him than when he was at a
distance; for all the charm that forbade her desires to be sinful fell
upon her from his honest eyes.
Apollonius had also told the councilman of his decision. It hurt him
that the good man--who usually approved of everything that Apollonius
wanted to do, in advance, as if the latter could not do anything that
he would not be obliged to approve--received his news with odd,
wondering, monosyllabic coldness. He pressed him to tell him the
reason for this change. The two good men understood each other easily.
After recovering from his surprise at finding Apollonius in ignorance
of it, the councilman told him what he knew of his brother's mode of
life and expressed the opinion that his father's house and business
could not exist without Apollonius' aid. He promised to make further
inquiries about the matter, and was soon able to enlighten Apollonius
as to the details. Here and there in the town his brother owed not
inconsiderable sums; the slate business, particularly of late, had
been so carelessly and unconscientiously carried on that some
customers of many years' standing had already withdrawn their
patronage, and others were about to do so. Apollonius was frightened.
He thought of his father, of his sister-in-law and of her children. He
thought of himself too, but it was just his own strong sense of honor
that made him first imagine what the proud, upright, blind old man
would have to suffer under the disgrace of a possible bankruptcy. He
would be able to earn his bread; but his brother's wife and children?
And they were not accustomed to hardship. He had heard that
Christiane's inheritance from her parents had been considerable. He
took heart. Perhaps the situation could still be saved. And he wanted
to save it. He would not stop at any sacrifice of time and strength
and property. If he could not hinder the decline, at least those who
were dear to him should not want.
The staunch councilman rejoiced at his favorite's view of the matter,
on which indeed he had reckoned; he had thought it odd that Apollonius
had not shown it before. He offered him his aid, saying that he had
neither wife nor child and that God had permitted him to acquire
something so that he might help a friend with it. Apollonius did not
as yet accept his offer. He wanted first to see how matters stood and
to feel sure that he could remain an honest man if he took his friend
at his word.
Hard days came for Apollonius. His old father must as yet know
nothing, and, if it were possible to uphold his honor, should never
learn that it had tottered. In his treatment of his brother Apollonius
required all his firmness and all his gentleness.
After having found out who the creditors were and what the various
sums amounted to, Apollonius examined the condition of the business
and found it even more confused than he had feared. The books were in
disorder; for some time no more entries had been made at all. Letters
from customers were found complaining of the poor quality of the
material delivered and of carelessness in the execution of their
orders; others, with bills inclosed, were from the owner of the quarry
who did not want to take any new orders on credit until the old ones
were paid. The greater part of Christiane's fortune was gone;
Apollonius had to force his brother to produce the remains of it. He
was obliged to threaten him with court proceedings. What did not
Apollonius, with his punctilious love of order, suffer in the midst of
such confusion! What did he not go through, with his intense love of
his family, in having to act thus toward his brother! And yet the
latter saw in every utterance, every act of this man who was suffering
so, only badly concealed triumph. After infinite pains Apollonius
succeeded in getting a comprehensive survey of the state of affairs.
If the creditors could be persuaded to have patience and the customers
who had transferred their business could be won back again, it would
be possible, with strict economy, industry and conscientiousness, to
save the honor of the house; and, by untiring effort, he might succeed
in assuring to his brother's children at least an unincumbered
business as their inheritance.
Apollonius wrote at once to the customers and then went to his
brother's creditors. The former agreed to give the house another
trial. Among the latter he had the pleasure of learning what
confidence he had already won in his home town. In every case if he
would stand security the creditor was willing to allow the sum owing
to remain as a loan, at low interest, to be gradually paid off. Some
of them even wanted to intrust him with cash in addition. He did not
attempt to test the sincerity of these offers by accepting them, and
thus only added to the confidence that those who made them felt in
him. Then he modestly and gently explained to his brother what he had
done and still wanted to do. Reproaches could not do any good, and he
thought that admonitions were superfluous where the necessity was so
plain. If from now on Apollonius, acting alone and independently, took
over the management of the whole, of the business and of the
household, his brother surely could not see in his conduct any
voluntary derogation. In a matter in which he had staked his honor he
must have a free hand.
Above all things the selling end of the business must once more be
brought up to its former standing. The quality of the material
delivered by the owner of the quarry had steadily deteriorated, and
his brother had been obliged to accept it in order to get any material
at all. The other creditors' offers, to let the money owing them stand
as loans, he accepted, in order to settle the quarry owner's old
account with what could at once be liquidated of the remnant of
Christiane's fortune, and to pay cash at once for a new order. Thus it
was possible to obtain good material again at a reasonable price and
to satisfy his purchasers. The owner of the quarry, who on this
occasion made Apollonius' acquaintance and saw something of his
knowledge of the material and of its treatment, made him an offer, as
he himself was old and tired of work, to lease him the quarry. The
conditions under which he was willing to do this would have allowed
Apollonius to reckon on large profits; but as long as he had only
himself to depend upon in his difficult situation, he could not divide
his strength among several enterprises.
Apollonius made his plan for the first year and fixed a certain sum
which his brother was to receive from him weekly for his household
expenses. He dismissed as many of the hands as he could possibly
spare. He put the faithful Valentine in charge during the time that he
himself was obliged to be busy about affairs outside. There was a
well-founded suspicion that the disagreeable-looking workman had been
guilty of various dishonest acts. Fritz Nettenmair, who clung to the
guardian of his honor as to its last bulwark, did everything he could
to justify him and thus to keep him in the house. He explained that he
had given the man express orders to do all the things of which he was
accused. Apollonius would have liked to have made a legal complaint
against the fellow, but he was obliged to be content with paying him
off and forbidding him the house. Apollonius was inexorable, gentle
though he was in putting his reasons before his brother. Any
unprejudiced person would have to admit that he could not do
otherwise, that the fellow must go. And with a savage laugh Fritz
Nettenmair, too, thought, when he was alone, "Of course he must go!"
Whatever Apollonius showed him, strictness and gentleness merely
strengthened him in the belief that relaxed its hold upon him the less
the longer he nourished it and that grew the thirstier for his heart's
blood the longer he fed it from that fount. He saw no further obstacle
to prevent his brother's criminal intention from succeeding.
From now on his state of mind alternated between despairing
resignation to what could no longer be prevented, what had already
probably taken place, and feverish endeavors to prevent it
notwithstanding. In accordance with these two moods his behavior
toward Apollonius took the form of unconcealed obstinacy or of
cringing and vigilant dissimulation. When the first mood governed him
he sought forgetfulness day and night. Unfortunately the discharged
workman had found employment in a quarry near by and was his companion
on many a night. The important people turned away from him, and
revenged themselves on him with unconcealed contempt for the desire
that he had awakened in them and could no longer satisfy. He avoided
them, and followed the workman into places where the latter was at
home. There he sounded his jovial condescension an octave lower. The
gin-shops now rang with his jokes; and they took on more and more the
character of the surroundings.
Roofs that are covered with metal or tiles usually require repairing
only after a number of years have elapsed; it is different with slate
roofs. While the roof is being covered damage to the slates from the
scaffolds and the workmen's feet cannot be avoided. And such damage
often does not become apparent until afterward. Often more
considerable repairs are required during the three years immediately
following the covering of the roof than for fifty years afterward. The
roof of St. George's added its testimony to the truth of this old
experience. The slate roof of the tower, on the contrary, which
Apollonius had attended to alone, bore gratifying witness to its
maker's obstinate conscientiousness. The jackdaws who inhabited it
would have been left in peace by his swinging seat for a long time if
an old master-tinsmith had not chosen to show his ecclesiastical
leanings by donating a tin ornament. This wreath of tin flowers which
Apollonius was to lay around the tower roof was now the cause of his
once more fastening his ladder to the broach-post. A little more than
six months had elapsed since he had taken it down.
In the meantime his strenuous efforts had not been without success. He
had kept his old customers and won new ones in addition. His creditors
had their interest and a small payment on the principal for the first
year; confidence in Apollonius and respect for him grew from day to
day and with them grew his hope and his strength, for which he paid by
redoubled exertions. If only the same thing could have been said of
his brother, of the understanding between him and his wife!
It was fortunate for Apollonius that he had to put his whole soul into
his purpose, that he had no time to follow his brother with his eye
and heart, to see how the man whom he was trying to save sank deeper
and deeper. When he rejoiced in his success, he did so from a feeling
of loyalty to his brother and his brother's family; Fritz saw
something quite different in his rejoicing and thought of nothing but
of how to destroy it.
In the beginning he had given his wife the greater part of the money
that he received weekly for his household expenses. Then he began to
keep back more and more and finally he carried the whole of it into
the places where the need of buying flatterers by treating them had
followed him more faithfully than had the respect of the town. The
experience he had had with the "important" people had not converted
him. His wife had been obliged to get on with less and less. Old
Valentine saw her distress, and from now on the house money went
through his, instead of her husband's, hands. Finally Valentine became
her treasurer, and never gave her more than she needed at the moment
because money was no longer safe from her husband in her hands.
She used what time she had from her housekeeping and her children in
doing different pieces of work which Valentine, as her agent, sold for
her. The money that she thus received she used partly--she herself
would rather go hungry even though she could not see her children do
so--to adorn the living-room with all kinds of things that she knew
that Apollonius loved. And yet she knew that Apollonius never came in
there, that he never saw it. But then, she would not have done it if
she had known that he would see it. Her husband saw it as often as he
came into the room. Nothing escaped his eyes that might act as an
excuse for his anger and his hatred. Then he began to abuse
Apollonius, and in such terms as if he too must now show how much it
is possible to acquire of another person's manner.
If the children were present it was his wife's first care to send them
away. They must not witness his roughness and learn to despise their
father--not for his sake but for their own. He did not betray how glad
he was to be rid of the "spies." He feared that the children would
complain of him to Apollonius. He did not think that his wife would
complain herself, although he assumed that she and Apollonius met each
other. Everything that he saw in the room was to him a fresh proof of
his shame. How could he believe that it was for any other purpose than
to be noticed by Apollonius? Then, when she told him that he might
abuse her, only not Apollonius, the keen eye of jealousy showed him
what pleasure she took in suffering for Apollonius. He reproached her
with it, and she did not deny it. She said to him: "Because he suffers
for me and for my children. He gives what he has been at great pains
to save to take the place of the weekly sum of which the father has
robbed his children."
"And he tells you that? He tells you that!" said the man, laughing
with savage joy at having trapped her into a confession that she met
"Not he," returned his wife angrily, because the man she despised was
judging Apollonius by himself. "Old Valentine told me." She went on to
tell him that Valentine had sold as his own the watch that Apollonius
had brought with him from Cologne. Apollonius had forbidden him to
"And also to tell you that he forbade him?" laughed her husband. And
there was something of contempt in his laugh. Such things might indeed
be believed of the dreamer; but now he would not believe it of him.
"Of course!" he laughed still more wildly. "Even a stupider fellow
than that dreamer knows that no woman will do it for nothing. The
worst of them thinks herself worth something. One with such hair and
such eyes and such a body!" He seized her by the hair and gazed into
her eyes with a glance before which purity must blush; only depravity
could meet it and laugh. He took her blush for a confession and
laughed still more wildly. "You want to say that I am worse than he.
Ha, Ha! You're right; I married such a woman. He wouldn't have done
that. He isn't bad enough for that!"
Old Valentine must have failed to keep his word, or else Apollonius
passed the door by chance when his brother believed him far away. He
heard his brother's savage outbreak of anger, he heard the clear tone
of the wife's voice, still clear and melodious in spite of her
excitement. He heard them both without understanding what they were
saying. He was shocked. He had not imagined that the breach between
them had gone so far. And he was the cause of this breach. He must do
what he could to improve matters.
His brother stood in his threatening attitude as if turned to stone
when he caught sight of Apollonius entering. He had the feeling of a
man suddenly surprised while doing a wrong. If Apollonius had turned
on him as he deserved he would have groveled before him. But
Apollonius wanted to reconcile them, and said so calmly and from his
heart. He might indeed have known, for he had experienced it often
enough, that his gentleness only gave his brother the courage to be
sneeringly obstinate. It was the same this time. Fritz sneered at him,
laughing savagely, and said that he was making an excuse where he was
master. Was that the reason he had made himself master of the house?
He knew that in Apollonius' place he would have behaved quite
differently. He would have let the woman feel it whom he knew to be in
his power. He was an honest fellow, and did not need to pretend to be
so sweet. It occurred to him, moreover, how often he had sneaked about
the door in vain, hoping to surprise Apollonius in the room. Now he
was in the room. He had come in because he had not expected to find
him. It was Apollonius who must be startled, Apollonius was the person
caught, not he. The reconciliation was merely the first excuse on
which Apollonius had seized. That was why he was so meek. That was why
his wife was frightened--she had been trying to make him believe that
Apollonius never came into the room. That was why she looked up at him
so pleadingly. The contemptuous gaze with which she had just measured
him had suddenly been torn from her consciously guilty face with the
mask of pretended innocence. Now he knew with certainty: there was no
longer anything to prevent; nothing remained to him but retribution.
Now he could show his brother that he knew him, had always known him.
He pointed to his wife. "She's begging me to go. Why should I? I'll
look out of the window. That will do just as well. I shan't see what
you are doing."
Apollonius did not understand him. Christiane knew that he did not,
without looking at him. She tried to leave the room. She could not
endure to be humiliated in Apollonius' presence till she was nothing
but dirt under his feet. Her husband held her with a savage grip. He
seized her with the swoop of a bird of prey. She would have had to
scream aloud if her mental torture had not deadened her physical pain.
"Don't mind her wanting to go away," gasped Fritz Nettenmair, stifled
with unnatural laughter, and held his brother with his eye as he held
his wife with his hand. "You needn't be afraid. Just as soon as I turn
my back she will be here again. Go on, talk to each other. Go on, tell
him that you can't bear him; I believe it of course; what won't a man
believe if a woman like you tells him so? And you, give her some of
your teachings from Cologne, where you learnt everything, how to drive
your brother out of his house and business so as to--hm--well--Ha, ha!
Why don't you tell her? A woman ought to be willing. Oh, such a
willing woman is--go on, tell her what that kind of a woman is. She
doesn't know it yet, innocent as she is! Ha, ha!"
Apollonius understood nothing of what he heard and saw; but the abuse
of a man's strength on a helpless woman filled him with indignation.
Involuntarily this feeling carried him away. It doubled his strength,
which was far superior to his brother's at all times, when he gripped
him by the arm that held his wife so that it let go its prey and
dropped as if paralyzed. Christiane tried to leave the room, but she
collapsed helplessly. Apollonius caught her and laid her on the sofa,
supported against its back. Then he stood before his brother like a
"I have tried to win you by gentleness, but you are not worthy of it.
I have endured much at your hands and will continue to endure," said
Apollonius; "you are my brother. You blame me for having driven you
into misfortune; God is my witness that I have done everything that I
knew to hold you back. For whom have I done what you reproach me with
doing, if not for you, and for the sake of your honor and to save your
wife and your children? Who compelled me to be hard on you? For whom
do I work? For whom am I doing all that I do? If you knew how it hurts
me to have you force me to tell you what I am doing for you! God
knows, you force me to it; I have never done it yet, not with others,
nor with myself. You know that you are only seeking an excuse to be
unbrotherly toward me. I know it, and will continue to endure you as I
have done till now. But that you should make an excuse of your wife's
dislike of me to torture her too, and to treat her as no good man
treats a good woman, that I will not stand."
Fritz Nettenmair burst into a horrible laugh. His brother had put him
to shame in every way, and now still wanted to play the virtuous hero
to him, the innocently offended, the chivalrous protector of the
innocently offended woman. "A good woman! Such a good woman! Oh yes
indeed! Is she not? You say so--and you are a good man. Ha, ha! Who
should know better whether a woman is good or not than such a good
man? You have not robbed me of everything? You have still to rob me of
my reason so that I shall believe your fairy-tale. She dislikes you?
She can't bear you? Oh, you don't know yet how much she dislikes you.
I need only be away, then she will tell you. Then it will be bad for
you! She will strangle you to make you believe her. When I am present
she won't tell you. A woman won't tell a thing like that when her
husband is there--a good woman, as she is. Why don't you say that you
can't bear her either? Oh, I have no longer any sense! I'll believe
anything that you two tell me!"
Forgetting everything but his passion, Fritz Nettenmair was convinced
that Christiane and Apollonius had invented the fairy-tale of her
Apollonius stood shocked. He was obliged to say to himself what he did
not want to believe. His brother read in his face terror at the light
that was breaking in on him, dismay and pain at the misconstruction
put upon his conduct. And everything that he saw was so genuine that
even he was obliged to believe it. He was silenced by the thoughts
that pierced his brain like strokes of lightning. So it might still
have been prevented after all; what must come might still have been
hindered! And again it was he, himself--But Apollonius--he saw that in
spite of his confusion--still doubted and could not believe. So he
might still destroy the effects of his madness, might still perhaps
prevent, still hinder what must come, even if it were only for today
and tomorrow. But how? Should he make a wild joke out of the whole
scene? Such jokes were not unusual with him, and in his mind
Apollonius once more became the dreamer of old who believed everything
that was told him. He broke into a laugh, a fearful caricature of the
jovial laugh with which he had formerly been accustomed to reward his
own sallies. That was a confounded joke, that Apollonius could be made
to believe that Fritz Nettenmair was jealous! Jovial Fritz Nettenmair
jealous! Jovial Fritz Nettenmair! And, better still, of him. He had
never heard a more confounded joke than that! He read in his wife's
face how relieved she was at the turn he had given to the scene. He
dared to appeal to her to confirm the fact that it was a confounded
joke. Her "yes" made him still bolder. Now he laughed at his wife who
could be "confounded" enough to reproach him angrily with having made
her dependent on the favor of the man she hated, and explained
laughingly that it was such things that gave rise to little quarrels
in married life. He laughed at Apollonius for taking such a little
dispute so seriously. He asked to be shown the married people who
didn't have such disagreements now and then. It was easy to see that
Apollonius was still a bachelor!
Apollonius heard the councilman's voice in the hall, asking for him;
he went out quickly so that the councilman should not come in and be a
witness to the scene. His brother heard them going away together. He
was far from being reassured yet. When he went out Apollonius' face
had shown that he was still struggling with the thought that had
dawned on him.
Two passions were fighting against each other in Fritz Nettenmair's
soul. The dissolute habit of forgetting himself in drink drew him out
of the house by a hundred chains; jealous fear held him at home with a
thousand talons. If his brother had not yet thought of what he might
have if he liked, he himself had now introduced the thought into his
mind. All day long he turned his fear over and over and did not let
his wife out of his sight. Not until it had all grown quiet around
him, till his wife had put the children to bed and laid herself to
rest, till he no longer saw any light in Apollonius' windows, did the
talons relax their hold and the chains draw the stronger. He locked
the back door which separated Apollonius from the rest of the house,
he even bolted it as well, and locked the door of the stairs leading
to the piazza and finally the door at which he went out. He had cause
for haste without knowing it. The disagreeable-looking workman could
not stay much longer. Fritz Nettenmair did not yet know that
Apollonius had been to the quarry owner and succeeded in having the
workman dismissed, had talked to the police and brought it about that
the workman might no longer let himself be seen in the neighborhood on
the morrow. The workman was ready for his departure; from the public
house he was going straight out into the wide world. He only wanted to
take leave of his former master and tell him something more before he
There was little left in the world to which Fritz Nettenmair was
attached. The road that he had been traveling led farther and farther
down from what he loved most; it was irretrievably lost to him. He
would never again be the centre of admiration and flattery. All that
still bound him to his wife was the searing chain of jealousy. He
never had been fond of his father; he hated his brother. He knew
himself to be hated or, in his madness, believed himself to be hated.
Little Annie would have clung to him with all the strength of a
child's heart longing to be loved, but he drove her away from him with
hatred; to him she was "the spy." To one man alone did his heart
cling, to the one who least deserved it. He knew that the man had
cheated him, had helped to ruin him, and still he clung to him. The
man hated Apollonius, he was the only person besides himself who hated
Apollonius and therefore Apollonius' brother clung to him!
Fritz Nettenmair accompanied the workman a part of his way. The
workman wanted to walk faster, so he thanked him for his company,
intending to proceed alone. When others part their last words are of
what they both love; Fritz Nettenmair's and the workman's last words
were of their hatred. The workman knew that Apollonius would have
liked to have put him in the penitentiary, if he could. As the two now
stood facing each other at parting, the workman measured the other
with his eye. It was an evil, lurking glance, a grimly surreptitious
glance that asked Fritz Nettenmair, without intending to be heard,
whether he was ready for something which the workman did not name.
Then he said, in a hoarse voice which would have struck the other but
that Fritz Nettenmair was accustomed to it: "What was it I wanted to
say? Oh, yes, you will soon be in mourning. I saw him the other day."
He did not need to mention any name, Fritz Nettenmair knew whom he
meant. "There are people who see more than others," the workman
continued, "there are people who can see in a slater's face if he is
doomed to fall that year, who see him being carried home, and see him
lying there, only he is not there any more. An old slater told me the
secret of how to see with the 'second sight.' I have it. And now
farewell. Meet it with resignation when they carry him home."
The workman had left him; his steps were already growing faint in the
distance. Fritz Nettenmair still stood and gazed into the white-gray
fog into which the workman had disappeared. The layers of fog hung
horizontally above the meadows by the street spread out like a cloth.
They rose and melted together, forming strange shapes, they curled,
floated apart and sank down again only to rear themselves once more.
They hung on the branches of the willows by the way, now veiling them,
now leaving them free, till it seemed uncertain whether the fog was
dissolving into trees or the trees into fog. It was a dreamlike
activity, untiring movement without aim or purpose. It was a picture
of what was going on in Fritz Nettenmair's soul, such a true picture
that he did not know whether he was looking at something outside or
something within himself. There came a hazy bending down and wringing
of hands about a pale figure on the ground, then a slowly moving
funeral procession, and now it was his enemy, his brother who lay
there, whom they carried. Now malicious joy flamed up sharply, died
down and pity took its place, now both were mixed and one tried to
hide the other. The figure lying there, whom they carried, Fritz
forgave everything. He wept over him; for in the intervals of the
funeral song the merry dance-tune sounded softly which the future
struck up: "There he comes! Now the fun will begin!" And beside the
dead lay a second corpse, invisible, his fear of what must come if his
poor brother did not lie dead. And in the coffin, Fritz Nettenmair's
old jovial happiness put forth new buds. Fritz Nettenmair felt himself
to be an angel; he wished that his brother need not die, because--he
knew that his brother must die.
He was still walking in the fog when the pavement of the town sounded
again under his feet. He had forgotten a past, he forgot the present,
for the future was his again. And he was one who--as he turned into
his street the old words rang as jovially as they ever did.
It gave him a curious feeling to think that through the door which he
had just opened a coffin was going to be carried out. Involuntarily he
stood aside as if to let the procession pass him. "We must submit," he
said softly, as if repeating to himself what he would have to answer
some one offering him consolation when once the time had come, "We
must submit to what is unalterable." And as he raised his shoulders in
accompaniment to the words, he perceived a faint glimmer of light. He
looked up; the light came through the crack between the lower part of
the shutter and the window ledge. There was a light in there, in the
living-room. "So late?" He gasped; the load lies again on his breast.
His brother was still alive; and what must come if he were not to die,
might still come before he died, or--it was already here! How swiftly
his hands moved--and yet the door was locked again quietly in an
instant! Just as softly and just as quickly he went to the back door.
It was not open, but the key was only turned once in the lock, and
Fritz Nettenmair could swear to it that he turned it twice before he
went. He felt his way to the door of the room; he found the latch and
gently pressed it; the door opened; a faint glimmer shone out into the
hall. It came from a covered light on the table; beside the table a
small bed stood in the shadow. It was little Annie's bed, and her
mother was sitting beside it.
Christiane did not notice the opening of the door. Her head was bent
low down over the bed; she was singing softly and did not know what
she was singing; she was listening full of fear, but not to her song;
she would cry if the tears did not dim her eyes. But now the color
might come back to the child's cheek again, the strange expression
about the child's eyes and mouth might disappear, and she might fail
to see it and might fear in vain. It seemed to her as if the color
must come and the expression change if she only tried hard enough to
notice this coming and going. And at the same time she was able to
think how suddenly this thing had come that had made her so afraid;
how little Annie in the bed beside her own, suddenly cried out in a
strange voice and then could not speak any more; how she jumped up and
dressed; how she waked Valentine in her distress, and he, without her
knowledge, waked Apollonius. The old fellow had tried all the keys in
the house until he found that the key of the shed opened the back
door; she did not know that. So much the more vividly did she picture
how Apollonius came in, how she felt at his unexpected appearance,
full of terror and shame and yet wonderfully tranquillized. Apollonius
had fetched the doctor at once and medicines. He had stood by the bed
and bent over little Annie as she did now. He had looked at her full
of pain and said that little Annie's illness was owing to the discord
between herself and her husband, and that she would not get well
unless this ceased. He had told her of the miracles that are possible
to a mother and of how men and women can and must conquer themselves.
Then he had given Valentine a few more orders relating to little Annie
and had left, fearing that his brother, in his error, might otherwise
believe that he wanted to drive him away from the sick-bed of his
children. Apollonius had said that little Annie would not get well
again if the discord did not cease. He had said that people can and
must conquer themselves; Christiane determined to conquer herself
because he had said so. A mother could do miracles for her child; if
she thought of Apollonius' face when he spoke thus, the greatest
miracle must become possible to her.
Fritz Nettenmair entered. He thought of nothing but that Apollonius
must have been there, even if he were not there any longer. Everything
danced before his eyes he was in such a fury. He would have flown at
his wife if he had not seen old Valentine sitting at the door of the
bedroom. He meant to wait till the old man had left the room, and
crept to the chair at the window where he had always sat formerly,
when he was such a different man. His wife heard his soft tread; she
could not see his face. It seemed to her that he knew of little
Annie's condition and walked so softly on that account. She looked at
little Annie with a glance that said, that what she was about to do
now she would do for the sake of her sick child; a glance at the door
by which he had gone out added: "And because he said I should."
"Here is father, Annie," she said. In reality she was talking to her
husband who sat at the window, but she could not turn her face toward
him, could not address her words directly to him. "You always asked
for him, you know. You thought that when he came he would be as he
used to be before you were sick. Mother wants him to be like that
too--for your sake."
Her voice came from so deep down in her chest that the man had to
force himself to control his rage. He thought: "She is speaking so
sweetly so as to deceive me. They planned that when he was here." And
the soft tones in which she continued only caused his anger to swell
"And you won't go to Heaven yet, will you Annie? You're such a good
little girl and you'll stay with father and mother. If only--you
mustn't be afraid of father, you silly little Annie, because he speaks
so loud. He doesn't mean to be cross."
She stopped; she expected an answer from the father, not from the
child. She expected that he would come to the bed and speak to the
child as she had done, and through the child with her. Whatever she
might think of him, the child was his child, after all, and it was
The man remained silent and sat on quietly in his chair. For the
length of time that it takes to say half the Lord's Prayer there was
no sound but the ticking of the clock; and that grew faster and faster
like the beating of a human heart that feels misfortune approaching.
The flame of the light flickered as with fear.
Valentine rose from his chair to attend to the light.
There was a sound of wheezing in the child's chest; she wanted to
speak and could not. She wanted to stretch out her hands toward her
father, and she could not. She could do nothing but hold out the arms
of her soul to her father. But her father's soul did not see the
beseeching arms; it held its wrath convulsively in its hands and had
no hand free for the child. Valentine stepped away from the light and
went out to give vent to his feelings in tears. The man rose and
approached his wife softly without her noticing him. He wanted to
surprise her, and he succeeded. She started, frightened, as she
suddenly saw facing her across the bed a distorted human countenance.
She started, and he said through his teeth: "You are frightened? Do
you know why?"
She meant to tell him herself that Apollonius had been there, but she
had not yet had an opportunity; she did not dare to do so at the sick
child's bedside, because she knew that he would fly into a rage;
whenever she could she had spared the child the sight of his roughness
while she was still well; now it might frighten the little girl to
death. She did not answer him, but looked at him beseechingly,
indicating the child by a glance.
"He was here! Wasn't he here?" he asked, not for information but to
show that he did not need any. He raised his clenched fist; little
Annie struggled to sit up. He did not see it; but his wife saw it, and
her terror grew. She clasped her hands, she looked at him with a
glance in which there was everything that a woman can promise, that a
woman can threaten. He saw only her terror at his knowing what had
happened--and his fist descended on her forehead.
There was a shriek. The child writhed in convulsions; the mother, who
had fallen upon her, wept loudly. Valentine hurried in, Fritz
Nettenmair went into the bedroom. He did not know which was uppermost
in him, gratified revenge or fright at what he had done. He sank down
on the bed as if the blow that he struck had stunned himself. He only
half heard Valentine running for the doctor. In the same state he
heard the latter come and go, and in the same state he listened to see
if he could hear Apollonius' voice whispering and his soft tread. He
did not dare to show himself; shame restrained him. He justified his
behavior and called little Annie's illness just a desire to be
coddled. "Children think they're dying one day, and the next they're
more lively than ever," he said to himself.
His feverish listening and efforts to reassure himself turned into
feverish dreaming. Between waking and sleeping he heard quiet steps in
the next room, quiet voices, quiet weeping, and at intervals silence.
The quiet weeping that grows loud and is controlled again as if a
sleeper were near whom it will not wake, that breaks out again as if
it could not wake the sleeper, and again grows soft as if it were
frightened at itself for being so loud when every one is quiet: who
does not know such weeping? Who does not guess what it means, even if
he does not know it?
Fritz Nettenmair knew it, half asleep; there was a dead person in the
next room. They had brought him home. "We must submit to what is
For the first time for many months he slept quietly again.
And why should he not? The quiet weeping turned into a merry waltz.
"There he is! Now the fun will begin"--the words rang triumphantly
from the "Red Eagle Tavern" in the distance, into his sleep.
But the quiet steps and the quiet voices were real, and they
continued; and there was a dead body in the next room, the beautiful,
dead body of a child. The breach between the parents had made the
child ill; pain at her father's savage attack on her mother had broken
her little heart.
When the new day sent its first glimmer of light through his window,
Apollonius rose from the chair on which he had sat ever since his
return to his room. There was something solemn in the manner in which
he stood upright. He seemed to say to himself: "If it is as I fear, I
must act for us both; it is for that that I am a man. I have sworn to
uphold my father's house and his honor, and I will do what I have
sworn to do, in every sense."
Fritz Nettenmair woke at last. He knew nothing more of the
dream-scenes of the night. He only knew that his wife had magnified
the "spy's" desire to be coddled into an illness so that she might
have an excuse for being together with "him." He began to think of how
he should put an end to this coddling. With this idea in his mind he
stepped through the door and stood--before a dead body. A shudder ran
over him. The dead child lay there before him like a sign to warn him:
"You shall not go farther on the way that you have taken!" There the
child lay, his child, and she was dead. The child stood before him, an
accuser and a witness. She bore witness for her mother. The mother had
known that she was dying; and at the deathbed of her child not even
the lowest creature would do what he had thought her capable of doing.
The child accused him. He had struck a mother at the side of her
child's deathbed. No man can do that, not even if the woman were
guilty. And she was not; the child testified to that. Now he knew that
the pale, dumb countenance of the mother had cried: "You will kill the
child; don't strike!" And he had struck nevertheless. He had killed
the child. That thought fell on him like a thunder-bolt, so that he
collapsed before the child's bed, across which he had struck her
mother, before the bed in which his child had died because he struck
There he lay a long time. The bolt that struck him down had lighted
the past with cruel distinctness: he had seen them both innocent whom
he persecuted. And there was no guilt but his. He alone had built up
the misery that lay crushingly upon him, load on load, guilt on guilt.
But after all it was not yet too late! He heard his wife's quiet step
in the hall coming toward the door of the room. He heard the door
open. If little Annie had been standing in the door of the bedroom
then, she would have smiled. He meant to be kind, he meant to be again
as he had been before little Annie had been taken sick. He held out
his hand to the woman as she entered. She saw him and started. She was
as white as little Annie's body, even her lips, usually so crimson,
were white. Her neck, her beautiful arms, her soft hands were white,
her eyes that were always so shining, were dull. All the life in her
had withdrawn to the deepest recesses of her heart and there wept for
her dead child. When she saw him her whole body began to tremble. In
two steps she stood between him and the body; as if she still wanted
to protect the child from him. And yet it was not that. Neither fear
nor dread quivered about her little mouth; it was firmly closed. It
was a different feeling that drew her beautifully arched eyebrows
together and flamed in her usually so gentle eyes. He saw: this was no
longer the woman who had spoken melting words of peace; she had died
with her child in the terrible night just past. The woman who stood
before him was no longer the mother who looked at him with hope, whose
child he could save; it was the mother whose child he had killed. It
was a mother who drove the murderer away from the holy place where her
child lay. He spoke--Oh, if he had but spoken yesterday! Yesterday she
had yearned for the words; today she did not hear them.
"Give me your hand, Christiane," he said. She drew her hand back
convulsively, as if he had already touched her. "I have been
mistaken," he continued; "I will believe you, I see myself; I will not
do it again! You are better than I."
"The child is dead," she said, and even her voice sounded pale. "Don't
leave me without comfort in my terrible fear. If I can become
different I can only do so now, and if you give me your hand and raise
me up," said the man. She looked at the child, not at him.
"The child is dead," she repeated. Did that mean it was indifferent to
her what became of him now that his improvement could no longer save
the child? The man half raised himself; he gripped her hand with a
strength full of fear and held it fast.
"Christiane," he sobbed wildly, "Here I lie like a worm. Don't tread
on me! Don't tread on me! For God's sake, have mercy. I could never
forget it, if I had lain here like a worm in vain. Think of it! For
God's sake, think of it; you have me in your hand now. You can make of
me what you will. I hold you responsible. You will be to blame for
anything that may come after this."--She had finally succeeded in
withdrawing her hand from his grasp; she held it away from herself as
if she looked at it with loathing because he had touched it.
"The child is dead," she said. He understood that she said: "Between
me and the murderer of my child there can never be anything more in
common, neither on earth nor in heaven."
He rose. A word of forgiveness might perhaps have saved him! Perhaps!
Who knows! He staggered back into the bedroom. Christiane did not see
him go, but she felt that his presence no longer profaned the place in
which lay the sacred image of her maternal sorrow. Weeping softly, she
sank down over her dead child.
In the meantime Apollonius had begun the decorating of the tower-roof
of St. George's. He had built a scaffold, fastened his ladder to the
broach-post, put a hempen ring on it, attached his tackle to the ring
and hung his swinging-seat on the pulley. The tin ornamentation, which
consisted of single long pieces, was intended to represent two
garlands festooned around the spire.
Apollonius was industrious at his work. The mastertinsmith, who was
anxious to see his decorations completed as soon as possible, had less
ground to complain of Apollonius than the latter had to be
dissatisfied with him. At first the master urged Apollonius; soon
Apollonius had to drive the master on. A part of the top garland which
was to hang in a festoon over the door in the roof was lacking.
Apollonius could not finish his work until he had the material for it.
A neighboring village required his services for minor repairs. Leaving
his tackle hanging from the tower of St. George's he went to Brambach.
The next day old Valentine knocked at the living-room door. He had
already been there several times and gone away again. His entire being
expressed uneasiness. He was so preoccupied with something that he had
on his mind that he thought he must have failed to hear the answer to
his knock and laid his ear to the key-hole as if he assumed that it
must still be there to hear if he only listened hard enough. His
anxiety aroused him from his absent-mindedness. He knocked a second
and a third time and, still receiving no answer, plucked up courage to
open the door and go in. The young wife had avoided him for some time.
She did so now, too, but today he had to speak to her. She
intentionally sat at some distance from the windows, near the bedroom
door. The old man did not perceive that she was as uneasy as he, and
that his presence made her even more so. He apologized for his
intrusion. When she made a movement to leave the room, he assured her
that he would not remain long and that he would not have forced
himself upon her had he not been impelled to do so by something which
was perhaps very important. He hoped that it was not so, but still, it
might be. She listened and looked more and more anxiously now at the
windows, now at the door. Her demeanor showed plainly that she hoped
if he had anything to say to her he would say it as quickly as he
Valentine began: "Master Fritz is on the roof of St. George's. I saw
him just now in the church-yard."
"And did he look this way? Did he see you coming into the house?"
asked Christiane breathlessly.
"God forbid!" replied the old man. "He is working like the devil
today, not even thinking of anything to eat and drink. When a man
works like that--" Valentine stopped and completed the sentence to
himself--"he has some end in view." Christiane was silent. She was
struggling with the desire to confide her whole anxiety to the
faithful old soul. He saw nothing of this. "Our neighbor, over there,"
he continued, "has times, you know, when he cannot sleep at all. The
night before Master Apollonius went to Brambach he was at his kitchen
window and saw somebody sneaking from the back of our house into the
shed." He did not say whom the neighbor had seen, he probably expected
the young wife to ask. But she had not even heard his story. "The
previous evening," he went on, "before Master Apollonius left for
Brambach, he tried to get together the things he wanted to take with
him; he examined everything, as he always does, but he could not make
up his mind what to take. And it is so strange that Master Fritz has
become so industrious all of a sudden."
Apollonius' name roused Christiane; she listened as the old man
continued: "It occurred to me for the first time, just now, when our
neighbor told me that somebody had crept into the shed. I wondered
what he could be wanting there, and at night too. And when I looked up
and saw Master Fritz working so hard, an uneasy feeling came over me
and drove me into the shed as if I were being chased with a stick.
There, I imagined what any one who had sneaked in there might have
done. First I saw the ax that belongs with the other tools lying near
the door. I thought to myself: did he do anything with the ax? And
again I imagined what any one who had crept in there at night might
have done with it. It occurred to me that he might have done something
to the ladders. But I found nothing wrong there. Nor was there
anything wrong with the swinging-seat that still lay there. Then I
began to look at the pulleys and last of all at the tackle. It seemed
as if one of the ropes had been worn a little by rubbing against
something hard. I thought to myself: 'that often happens,' and was
about to lay it down again, but then I thought: 'there is nothing else
wrong, and if somebody crept in here at night he meant to do
something, and if he had the ax then he did something with that.' I
looked a little closer and--merciful Heavens!--the rope had been cut
into in several different places. I threw it over the beam and hung on
it; the cuts gaped open. I believe if the seat were hung on it the
rope would break." The old man had become quite pale. Christiane hung
breathlessly on his every word; she had fallen back in her chair and
could scarcely speak.
"It was not so the evening before," he continued. "Master Apollonius
has an eye for every detail. He would have discovered it. I think the
person who cut the rope watched Master Apollonius as he examined
everything, and thought he would not look them over again before he
used them. That is the reason why he crept in at night."
"Valentine!" cried the young wife, seizing him by the shoulders, half
as if she wanted to compel him to tell the truth, half as if to
support herself, "he did not take it with him? Valentine, tell me!"
"No, not that one," said Valentine. "But the other seat that was
there, and the tackle belonging to it."
"And was that cut too?" she asked with ever increasing fear. He
replied: "I do not know. But the man who did it had no idea which one
Master Apollonius would take with him."
The woman trembled so violently that the old man forgot his fears
concerning Apollonius in his fear concerning her. He had to support
her to prevent her from falling. She pushed him away and half
imploringly, half threateningly, cried: "Oh, save him, Valentine, save
him. Oh God, it is I who have done it!" She prayed to God to save him,
and then moaned that he was dead and that it was her fault. She called
Apollonius by the tenderest names and entreated him not to die.
Valentine, in his distress, sought for words to comfort her and in so
doing found comfort for himself; or if there were no real comfort, at
least there was the hope that Apollonius was already on his way home.
He had certainly examined the tackle again. If he had met with an
accident they would have heard of it by now. He had to repeat this a
dozen times before she understood what he meant. And now she began to
expect the bearer of the terrible tidings, and started at every sound.
She even imagined her own sobbing to be his voice. Finally Valentine,
infected by her desperate terror and not knowing what else to do, ran
to fetch the old gentleman, thinking that he might know how to save
Apollonius, if it were still possible.
The old gentleman sat in his little room. As he withdrew deeper and
deeper into the clouds that separated him from the outer world, even
his little garden finally became strange to him. Especially the
eternal question: "How are you, Herr Nettenmair?" had driven him to
the house. He felt that people no longer believed his: "I am somewhat
troubled with my eyes, but it is a matter of no consequence," and in
every question he heard only a mockery. Much as Apollonius suffered
with him, his father's isolation and increasing unsociability were not
altogether unwelcome to him; for the deeper his brother sank, the more
difficult it had become to conceal from the old gentleman the
condition of the house; and to exclude busybodies from the garden was
impossible. Apollonius did not know that his father suffered tortures
in his room equal to those from which he wanted to protect him. Here
the old gentleman sat the livelong day, crouched down in his leather
chair behind the table, and brooded over all the possibilities of
dishonor that might come to his house; or he strode up and down with
hasty step, the flush in his sunken cheeks and the vehement gestures
of his arms betraying all too plainly how in his thoughts he did his
utmost to avert impending calamity. His was a condition which would
eventually lead to complete insanity, if the external world did not
throw a bridge across to him and force him to leave his isolation.
This was what happened on that day. Force of habit compelled old
Valentine, without his being conscious of the fact, to open the door
gently, and gently to step in; but the old gentleman, with his
morbidly acute perception, discerned at once the unusual. His
anticipation naturally took the same course which all his thoughts
pursued. Some disgrace must be threatening the house so to alter
Valentine's usual manner; and it must be a terrible one indeed thus to
upset the old fellow and break through his assumed composure. The old
gentleman trembled as he arose from his chair. He struggled with
himself as to whether he should ask. It was not necessary. The old
fellow confessed, unasked. With nervous haste he related his fears and
his reasons for them. The old gentleman was startled, in spite of the
fact that his imagination had prepared him for the truth; but
Valentine observed none of this in his exterior, he listened to him as
always, as if he were relating matters of the utmost indifference.
When Valentine had finished, the sharpest eye could no longer have
perceived the slightest tremor in the tall, stately figure. The old
gentleman had the firm ground of reality under his feet once more; he
was again the old gentleman in the blue coat. He stood as austere as
of yore before his servant; so austere and so quiet was he that his
bearing inspired Valentine with courage. "Imagination!" he exclaimed
in his old grim manner. "Are none of the journeymen around?" Valentine
called one who was just about to fetch slate. The old gentleman
despatched him to Brambach to bid Apollonius return home at once. "If
you think he won't go quickly enough for you, you fussy old woman,
tell him to hurry so that you may soon learn that you've worked
yourself into a state about nothing. But no word of this to anybody
and lock up the wife so that she can't do anything silly." Valentine
obeyed. The old gentleman's assurance, and the fact that something had
really been done, had a more powerful effect upon him than a hundred
good arguments. He imparted his encouragement to Christiane. He was in
too great haste to tell her upon what grounds it was based. If he had
had time for that he would probably have left her less reassured.
Nothing was further from himself than the suspicion that the old
gentleman, while characterizing his fears as idle fancies, and
pretending to send the messenger only to reassure him and the young
wife, was inwardly convinced of the guilt of his elder son and of the
danger, if not actual death, of his younger son.
"Now," said Herr Nettenmair, when Valentine had returned to him, "the
old fool has of course told our neighbor the fairy-tale that he spun
out of thin air, and the young wife has confided it to all the gossips
Valentine noticed nothing of the feverish suspense with which the old
gentleman awaited an answer to the question which he had disguised as
an exclamation. "I've done nothing of the kind," he replied earnestly.
The old gentleman's supposition had wounded him. "In the first place I
didn't really think myself that anything was very wrong yet; and Frau
Nettenmair has not spoken to a soul since then."
The old gentleman took hope anew. During Valentine's absence he had
given way for a moment to all the anguish that a father cannot but
feel under such circumstances; but then he reasoned with himself that
there was no use in wasting time in idle complaint as long as
something might still be done. Even if Valentine and Christiane had
told nobody what they knew, other things of the same sort might have
become known. Such a criminal thought does not originate by chance; it
is the blossom of a poisonous tree with trunk and branches. Valentine
had to tell him all that had happened since Apollonius' return home.
It was the story of a wanton, inordinate, pleasure-seeking spendthrift
who in spite of the efforts of his better brother had sunk to the
level of an ordinary libertine and drunkard; of a faithful brother
who, compelled by the necessity of rescuing the honor of business and
home, had shouldered the care of everything and as a reward was being
persecuted unto death by the degraded prodigal.
The old gentleman sat motionless. Only the blush that burned ever
warmer on his thin cheeks betrayed what he suffered for the honor of
his house. Otherwise he seemed to know it all, already. That was his
old manner, which he perhaps made use of now because he thought that
Valentine would then be less likely to conceal or alter facts against
his better knowledge. His inward agitation prevented him from
perceiving in what strong contradiction this semblance of calm stood
to his morbid sense of honor. Valentine did not endeavor to deepen the
shadows which fell upon Fritz Nettenmair's conduct, but, knowing the
old gentleman as he thought he did, he deemed it necessary to place
Apollonius' actions in the brightest possible light. But he only half
knew the old gentleman after all. He miscalculated the effect that he
would produce when he praised the filial tenderness with which
Apollonius had withheld all news of danger from his father's ears.
Thus he undid what a simple tale, describing the son's efforts to save
that which the old gentleman held most dear, had accomplished. The
father saw only a realization of the fear which Apollonius' diligence
had awakened in him. In unfilial fashion Apollonius had concealed the
danger from him in order to be able to take the whole credit for the
rescue to himself. Or he looked upon his father as a helpless, blind
old man who was not, and could not be anything but an incumbrance.
This latter feeling the old gentleman could forgive him less than the
former, even in face of his grief over his son's death, which he now
deemed a certainty. The more he thought of it, the more convinced he
became that things would never have come to such a pass if he had
known about it and taken the matter in hand, and that Apollonius in
fact had only his own ambitious desires to thank for his death. These
thoughts, however, had to give way before immediate necessity. What he
knew concerning Fritz was enough to strengthen suspicion once it was
aroused, but not to create it in the first place unless there were
some additional reason of which he knew nothing. He must learn from
his guilty son himself if such existed. He had made up his mind what
to do in any case. He called for his hat and cane. At any other time
Valentine would have been astonished at this command, perhaps even
frightened. But when one is wrought up over something unusual, only
the usual seems unexpected, only that which calls to mind the old
quiet state of affairs. As the old gentleman made ready to depart, he
pointed out to Valentine once more how foolish and groundless his
fears were. "Who knows," he said grimly, "what our neighbor saw? How
could he recognize anybody at night, so far off? And you with your ax
story! If the rope should break by chance or any other accident happen
to the boy in Brambach, of course you would be sure and certain that
it was your imaginary ax-slashes that had done it, and that the man
whom our neighbor pretends to have seen sneaking into the shed, had
made them. And if you say a word or make mysterious hints about all
that you imagine in your silly pate, the whole town will be full of it
in no time. Not because what you have invented is probable enough for
any sensible man to believe, but just because people are glad to speak
ill of anybody. God will take care that nothing happens to the boy.
But of course it might happen, and maybe it has already happened. How
easy it is for an accident to happen to anybody, specially to a slater
who hovers between heaven and earth like a bird, and yet has not the
wings of a bird. That is why the slater's calling is such a noble
calling; the slater is the most manifest picture of how Providence
holds the man who works at an honest profession safe in its hands. But
if Providence lets him fall, there is a reason for it, and nobody has
a right to go around spinning yarns which will bring unhappiness and
even disgrace on somebody else. I am sure this affair will soon show
itself as it really is and not as your fears have led you to imagine.
The old gentleman had reached this point in his speech when some one
was heard outside setting down a load. He stood for a moment dumb,
petrified. Valentine looked through the window and saw that it was the
journeyman tinner unloading.
"It's Joerg," said he, "who is bringing the tin garlands."
"And you get frightened and think they are bringing, goodness knows
whom. Where is Fritz?"
"On the church roof," replied Valentine.
"Good," said Herr Nettenmair. "Tell the tinner to come in when he has
done--." Valentine did so. Until he came Herr Nettenmair continued his
lecture in a somewhat lower tone. Then he turned to where the
workman's respect made itself audible in a quiet clearing of the
throat and asked him if he had time to accompany him to the church
roof of St. George's where his elder son was at work. The tinner
assented. Valentine ventured the suggestion that it would be better to
send for Fritz. The old gentleman said grimly: "I must speak to him up
there. It is about the repairs." He turned again to the tinner and
said with condescending grimness: "I shall take your arm. I am having
a little trouble with my eyes, but it is a matter of no consequence."
The appearance of the old gentleman on the street was calculated to
create a sensation. He would certainly have been stopped by a hundred
hand-shakers and interrogators if something had not diverted public
attention. A hurried, whispered rumor ran through the streets. Two or
three stood together in little groups awaiting the approach of a third
or fourth, who would give them to understand that he knew what it was
that was responsible for the formation of the ten or twelve similar
groups standing around. Then somebody would whisper it as he passed
rapidly by, beginning always with a: "Haven't you heard?" which was
generally brought forth by a: "What has happened?" Herr Nettenmair did
not need to ask; he knew without being told what had happened, but he
did not dare to appear as if he knew. The journeyman thought Herr
Nettenmair was going to sink down beside him, but the old gentleman
had only struck his foot: "it was of no consequence." The journeyman
questioned a hurrying passer-by. "A slater has been killed in
Brambach." "How?" asked the journeyman. "A rope broke; nothing further
is known." Herr Nettenmair felt that the journeyman was frightened,
and that he was frightened at the thought that it was the son of the
man he was leading who had been killed. He said: "It was probably in
Tambach. They have made a mistake. It is of no consequence." The
journeyman did not know what to think of Herr Nettenmair's
indifference. The latter kept repeating to himself, as a burning flush
came into his cheeks: "Yes, it must be. It must be." He thought of a
way in which one can escape all courts, all investigations. It must
have been a hard way of which he thought, for he clenched his teeth,
as he shook his head and said: "It must be, now it must be." As if in
a dream the journeyman led the old gentleman up the tower steps of St.
George's. The people were right, Herr Nettenmair was certainly a queer
The old gentleman had said he had to speak to his son on the
church-roof--about some repairs. He had spoken unconsciously in his
It had to be on the church-roof, and it was about some repairs--but
not about those of the church-roof.
Between heaven and earth is the slater's realm. Between heaven and
earth, high up on the roof of St. George's Fritz Nettenmair was at
work when the old gentleman was led up the steps to him. He had fled
here to escape the eyes of men which he imagined riveted upon him; he
had fled here to escape his own thoughts in a fury of diligence. But
he had brought with him all the demons of hell, and, industriously as
he toiled, the moisture that stood on his brow was not the warm sweat
of honest labor, but the cold sweat born of a guilty conscience. In
agonized haste he hammered and nailed slate together as if he were
nailing fast the universe which otherwise would crumble to pieces in a
quarter of an hour. But his soul was not where he hammered; it was
where ropes were constantly breaking and luckless slaters plunging
headlong to certain death. Now he heard voices, and the sound of one
of them struck like the blow of a hammer on his tortured heart. It was
the only voice which he did not expect to hear. Would he to whom it
belonged ask, "Where is thy brother Abel?" No. He wanted to tell his
son that his brother had met with disaster, that it was a day of
misfortune and that he must not work any more. And if he should ask,
the answer was almost as old as the human race; "Am I my brother's
keeper?" It seemed like a relief to him when he remembered that his
father was blind. For he knew that he could not endure his father's
seeing eyes. He hammered and nailed more and more hurriedly. He would
elude his father if he could, but the roof-truss was small, and the
old gentleman's voice was already at the roof door. He would not
notice him until he was compelled. He heard him say: "This is far
enough. My compliments to your master, and here is something for you.
Drink my health with it." Fritz Nettenmair, listening, heard his
father sit down on the empty board in the dormer window and knew that
his tall figure filled the entire opening. He heard the journeyman's
thanks and his footsteps as they gradually receded.
"Beautiful weather," said Herr Nettenmair. The son realized that the
father wanted to know if anybody else were near by. There came no
answer, the words died in Fritz Nettenmair's breast, he hammered
always louder and more vehemently. He wished the hour, the day, his
life were at an end. "Fritz!" called the old gentleman. He called
again and yet again. At last Fritz Nettenmair was compelled to answer.
He thought of the call, "Cain, where art thou?" and responded "Here,
father," and hammered on.
"The slate is solid," said the old man, indifferently; "I can tell by
the sound; it does not split."
"Yes," replied Fritz with chattering teeth, "it will let no water
"It is better than it used to be," continued his father, "they have
got deeper into the quarry. You seem to be alone." A "Yes" died on the
son's lips. "The deeper it lies, the stronger the slate is. Is there
no other scaffold near?"
"Good. Come here. Here in front of me!"--
"What do you want me to do?"
"To come here. What has to be said must be said softly."
Fritz Nettenmair went and stood before his father, shaking all over.
He knew that he was blind and yet he sought to avoid his glance. The
old man struggled for composure but not a line of his withered face
betrayed the struggle, only the length of his silence and his
breathing, which sounded like the tired echo of the creaking swing of
the pendulum on the tower clock near-by, might have suggested it.
These preparations awoke in Fritz Nettenmair a premonition of what was
to come. He strove for defiance. "If he in his distrust has surmised
it, who can prove it? And if he could prove it, he would never tell,
of that I am sure. Otherwise why does he speak so softly? He may say
what he will--I know nothing, it was not I. I have done nothing." The
muscles of his face quivered; an expression of wild defiance played
upon his features. The old gentleman said no word. The sound of
traffic in the streets rose muffled to the heights, violet shadows lay
on all below, about Apollonius' swinging seat trembled the sun's last
"Where is your brother?" came at last from between the father's teeth.
"I do not know. How should I know?" answered the son defiantly.
"You do not know?" It was only a whisper but every word struck like
thunder in the soul of the son. "I will tell you. Yonder in Brambach
he lies dead. The rope broke with him, and you had made slits in it
with the ax. Our neighbor saw you sneaking into the shed. You
threatened before your wife that you would do it. The whole town knows
it, they are carrying it now to the courts. The first person who comes
up these steps will be the bailiff to lead you before the judge."
Fritz Nettenmair broke down completely; the scaffolding creaked
beneath him. The old gentleman listened. If the miserable wretch
should fall over the edge of the scaffolding, he would be plunged into
the depths and all would be over. All that had to be, would be! A lark
soared above them scattering its merry _Tirili_ over trees and houses.
Happier mortals heard the song from afar; workmen let their spades
rest, children their whips and tops; with eyes turned heavenward all
sought the soaring, singing bird and hearkened with bated breath. Herr
Nettenmair did not hear the lark; he also held his breath, but he was
listening to what was happening below, not above. It was nothing that
sounded like the song of a lark which he wanted to hear. There was a
rumbling, and a broken cry of anguish. At first he listened full of
hope, then filled with despair. On the boards of the scaffolding
before him he heard the rattle of heavy breathing. Fate, which might
have stretched out a sympathizing, helping hand, had not done so. He
must do it, for it must be done. If he did not, people would point
their finger at the children and say: "It was their father who slew
his brother and died on the gallows" or "in the penitentiary." And
when it was long forgotten the children would only need to appear and
it would be called into life again; people would point with their
fingers and turn from them in horror. The confidence of the world
which one inherits from one's parents is the capital with which one
begins life. Confidence must be placed in man before he deserves it,
in order that he may learn to deserve it. Who would place confidence
in children branded with a father's guilt? The flush on his thin
cheeks burned brighter, his sunken breast panted heavily.
Involuntarily he pointed forward with his arm. Fritz Nettenmair
divined his meaning, tried to pull himself together, and would have
sunk helplessly down again if he had not supported himself with both
hands. Lying thus on his hands and knees before the old gentleman he
cried out in an agony of fear, "What do you want, father? What have
you in mind?"
"I want to see," said the old gentleman in a shrill whisper, "whether
I must do it or whether you will do what must be done. For it must be
done. Nobody knows anything as yet which could lead to an
investigation before the courts except me, your wife and Valentine.
For myself I can answer, but not for them; they may betray what they
know. If you should fall now from the scaffolding, so that people
could think it was an accident, the great disgrace would be prevented.
The slater who meets his death through accident stands before the
world as an honest man--honest as the soldier who dies on the
battle-field. You are not worthy of such a death, you bankrupt soul.
The hangman should drag you on a cowhide to the gallows, you villain,
who have murdered your brother and have tried to poison the future of
your innocent children and my past life which has been always full of
honor. You have brought down disgrace enough on your house, you shall
not bring more. They shall never say of me, that my son, or of my
grandchildren, that their father, died on the gallows or in the
penitentiary. Say the Lord's Prayer, now, if you can still pray. Then
turn as if you were going back to your work and step with your right
foot over the scaffolding. If I say the shock of your brother's death
made you dizzy, the courts and the town will believe me. That is the
return for a life that has been different from yours. If you will not
do it of your own accord, I shall go with you and you will have me too
on your conscience. People know that I have trouble with my eyes; they
will say that I stumbled and tried to hold on to you and dragged you
down with me. My life is of no value after what I have heard today,
but your children's is just beginning. And no disgrace shall be
attached to them, as truly as my name is Nettenmair. Make up your mind
now what is to be done. I shall count thirty--by the pendulum there."
Fritz Nettenmair had listened to his father's words with growing
horror. That his deed had not yet become generally known, gave him
hope. Fear of impending death aroused his energies. He took refuge
again in defiance. Vehemently he declared: "I do not know what you
want. I am innocent. I do not know what you mean by an ax." He
expected his father to enter into his protest, even if sceptically at
first. But the old gentleman began calmly to count--"one--two--"
"Father!" he cried with increasing fear, and his mocking defiance
broke into a wail. "Only listen to me. The courts would listen and you
will not. I will throw myself over because you want me to be dead; I
will die, though I am innocent. But at least listen to me." The old
gentleman gave no answer; he counted on. The miserable man saw that
sentence had been pronounced. His father would not believe him no
matter what he said, and he knew that what the stubborn old man
undertook, he always carried out, unrelentingly. First he decided to
acquiesce in his fate; then the thought came to him that he would
plead again; and then it occurred to him that he could push the old
man aside and make his escape; then that he could hang on to something
in some way when the old man caught hold of him and not fall with him.
Nobody could blame him for this. Through all these thoughts he saw
shudderingly what awaited him if he escaped and the courts should
seize him. It was better to die now. But on the other side of death
something still more terrible awaited him. He looked back and lived
his whole life through in a moment to see if the eternal Judge would
find pardon for him. His thoughts became confused, he was now here,
now there, and had forgotten why. He saw the mist gathering in which
the workman had disappeared and at the same time he looked into the
bright windows of the Red Eagle inn where he heard voices: "There he
comes--now the fun will begin." He stood on the street corners and
counted, and the boards beneath Apollonius would not break, nor the
ropes above him; he stood before his wife and, leaning over little
Annie's dying bedside, said, "Do you know why you are frightened?" and
reached out his hand to give the fatal blow; also he lay as if in a
fever dream before his father and brooded in anxious, terrible fear.
Then it was as if he had come to himself again and unending time had
elapsed between the moment when his father began to count and the
present. Everything must be all right by now, only he must try to
recall whether he had pushed his father aside and thus made his escape
or whether he had held back when his father attempted to drag him down
with him. But there he still lay, and there his father still sat. He
heard him count "nine" and stop. Consciousness forsook him completely.
The old gentleman had in truth ceased to count. His sharp ear heard a
hurrying footstep on the stairs. He seized hold of his son and held
fast as if to be sure that he did not escape him. So cold and lifeless
was the son's body that the father knew it was not necessary to hold
him; he must be unconscious. A new uneasiness awoke in him. If the son
had lost consciousness, he must be hidden from strange eyes, for this
unconsciousness might in some way arouse suspicion. He arose and
turned away from the window in the direction of the newcomer. He was
undecided whether he would stand before the window covering it with
his body or go forward to meet the intruder.
[Illustration: SCHNORR VON CAROLSFELD JOSIAH HEARS THE LAW]
The journeyman whom he had sent to Brambach, for it was he who was
approaching in such haste, coughed as he came up the stairs. He could
keep him back from the scaffolding and most likely prevent him from
seeing that somebody was lying there if he went to meet him; if he
stood in front of the window it was probable that he would not be able
to cover the whole space. The old gentleman felt now for the first
time how his strength had been broken by what he had gone through that
day. The journeyman, however, observed nothing unusual as Herr
Nettenmair, leaning on the rafters of the stairs, barred the way.
"Shall I tell him to come to you here, Herr Nettenmair?" asked the
"Tell whom?" Herr Nettenmair had difficulty in retaining his
"He will be home by this time," responded the journeyman. The old
gentleman did not repeat his question; he held fast to the rafter on
which he was leaning. "He was already on his way home," continued the
journeyman. "I came with him as far as the gate. Then he sent me to
the tinner's to see if the tin was ready at last. Joerg told me that he
had already brought it to the house and had just come from the roof of
St. George's where he had led you and I thought because you were in
such a hurry to see Herr Apollonius, I would ask you if I must tell
him to come up here."
Herr Nettenmair ran his hand up and down the rafter as if he had only
taken hold of it to examine it. But, feeling that his hands trembled,
he gave up the examination. As grimly as he could, he replied, "I
shall come down myself." Wait at the landing until I call you. The
journeyman obeyed. Herr Nettenmair drew a deep breath when he knew he
was no longer observed. This breath became a sob. The terrible strain
which he had undergone was beginning to find an end, and the agony of
the father which had been swallowed up till now in passionate fear for
the honor of the house, asserted itself. But he knew that his good
son's life would hang in the same danger as long as the wicked son
lived near him. He had foreseen this contingency and had mapped out a
plan of action. He felt his way back to the window. Fritz Nettenmair
in the meanwhile had recovered consciousness and been able to rise.
The old gentleman bade him come in from the scaffolding and said:
"Tomorrow before sunrise you will no longer be here. See if you can
become another man in America. Here you are in disgrace, and can only
bring disgrace. You will follow me home. I will give you money, you
will make ready for the trip. You have done nothing for your wife and
children for years. I will take care of them. Do you hear?"
Fritz Nettenmair reeled. He had just looked inevitable death in the
face and now he might live! Live where nobody knew what he done, where
every chance sound would not frighten him with the vision of the
"Apollonius did not fall," continued the old gentleman, and Fritz
Nettenmair's bright, new heaven sank into nothingness. The old spectre
held him again in its grasp. He loved again the woman from whom he had
just wanted to flee. The old gentleman had awaited his son's assent.
"You will go," he said, when the son remained silent. "You will go.
Tomorrow before day-break you will be on your way to America, or I
shall be on my way to the court. If disgrace must be, it is better to
have disgrace alone and not disgrace combined with murder. Remember, I
have sworn it. Take your choice."
The old gentleman called to the journeyman to come up to him and lead
* * * * *
The rumor which the old gentleman had heard on his way to St.
George's, had penetrated to the street where the house with the green
shutters stands. One passer-by said to another: "Have you heard the
news? A slater has been killed in Brambach." The young wife sprang
from her chair but sank fainting to the floor. A second time Valentine
forgot his fears for Apollonius in his anxiety about her. He sat near
her as she lay on the floor and held her head in his trembling hands.
At last she made a slight movement. He helped her raise the upper part
of her body and supported her. She brushed her disheveled hair from
her face and looked about her. Her gaze was such a strange tense one
that Valentine's fear increased. She nodded her head and said in a low
voice, "Yes!" Valentine knew that she was saying to herself that she
had really heard the terrible news and had not dreamed it. She sat for
a long time motionless, hearing no word of all that Valentine spoke to
her--not even when he tried to prove that Apollonius could not be
dead, that he was too careful and too good for an accident to happen
to him. He would have given his life to help her, but he knew not how.
So he talked on and on, hoping by ceaseless chatter to help her and
himself over the anguish of the moment.
At last she found tears. Valentine lived again; he saw that she was
saved. He read it in her face, which, open as she herself, could
conceal nothing. He sat and listened with joyful attention to her
weeping, as if it were a beautiful song she was singing him. He
listened to the pure melody of her voice as she wept, the melody which
she had not lost when, leaning over little Anne's dying bed, she had
uttered the twofold cry of pain and horror. She wept her heart out and
arose without help from Valentine. Then she prepared to go out. There
was something solemn and resolute in her bearing. Valentine perceived
it with astonishment and dread. He asked anxiously if she were going
anywhere. She nodded her head. "But I must not let you," he said. "The
old gentleman made me solemnly vow."
"I must," she replied. "I must go to the court. I must say that I am
guilty. I must suffer my punishment. Their grandfather will take care
of my children. I would like to tell them to lay him by little Anne's
side, he loved her so. I should like to lie there too, but they won't
allow that. No, I won't say anything to them about that."
"Won't you stay until the old gentleman comes back? Then I shall be
free of my responsibility." He hoped that Herr Nettenmair would find
some way to dissuade her from her purpose.
The young wife nodded assent. "I will wait that long," she said.
Anxiety and hope drove Valentine out of the house to see if Herr
Nettenmair were anywhere in sight. Christine took her hymn-book from
the desk and sat down at the table.
When Valentine returned he was no longer the same man who had gone
out. He was confused and embarrassed, but in a very different way from
what he had been before. He appeared constantly on the point of doing
or saying something, became suddenly frightened and did and said
something entirely different, and then seemed uncertain whether he
should not be frightened at that too. At first the young wife did not
notice the change in him, but soon she began to watch him curiously
and with increasing apprehension. Gradually she became infected by his
behavior. When he laughed involuntarily she glowed with hope, and when
he put on a long face she clasped her hands convulsively together and
turned pale; sometimes she pressed her hands to her beating heart,
sometimes to her burning, hammering temples. At last Valentine
considered her sufficiently prepared, to abandon the weather topic.
"It is a day," said he, "when men might rise from the dead, and who
knows--but please, for my sake, don't be frightened." She became
frightened, however. She said to herself, "But it isn't possible." And
she was all the more frightened because it was not only possible but
certain. "Look toward the back of the house," sobbed Valentine,
attempting to laugh. She had looked before he told her to do so. She
held fast to the door post as she heard footsteps in the shed. But
even the door post no longer stood firmly, she herself stood no longer
on firm ground; she rocked dizzily between heaven and earth. When she
saw him coming, there was nothing in the world for her except the man
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