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The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. IX by Various

Part 13 out of 13

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for whom she had suffered weeks of death-agony; everything whirled
about her in a circle, the walls, the floor, the ceiling, the trees,
the sky and the green earth; it was as if the whole world would sink
from under her and drag her into its vortex if she did not hold fast
to him. She felt herself fall to the ground, and then she knew nothing

Apollonius caught her as she fell. He stood and held in his arms the
beautiful woman whom he loved, who loved him. She was pale and seemed
dead. He did not carry her into the room, he did not let her fall to
the ground, he did nothing to revive her. He stood bewildered; he did
not know what had happened to him, he had to collect himself.
Valentine had not yet spoken with him, he had only heard from the
journeyman who was hastening to St. George's that Apollonius was
following him and would soon be there. Apollonius had been detained at
the gate for a moment by the nail-smith. He had then made haste to
obey his father's command which he, however, found surprising, as he
could discover no reason for it. He had heard of the slater's death in
Tambach; but he did not know that rumor had confused the names of the
two places, and that it was possible for anybody to believe that the
accident had occurred to him. Absolutely unprepared for that which was
to happen in the next moment, he came through the shed. He had meant
to go straight to his father in his room, when, seeing Christiane fall
fainting to the ground, he hastened toward her. Now he held her in his
arms. Slowly her deep blue eyes opened. She looked at him and
recognized him. She did not know how she had come into his arms, she
did not know that she lay there, she knew only that he lived. She wept
and laughed at the same time, and put both arms around him to be sure
that he was there. She asked in yearning, anxious eagerness: "Is it
you? Are you really here? Are you still alive? You didn't fall? I
didn't kill you? You are you, and I am I? But he--he may come." She
gazed about wildly. "He will kill you. He will not rest till he has
killed you." She clasped him to her as if she wanted to cover him with
her body from the enemy, then she forgot all fears in the certainty
that he still lived, and she laughed and wept and asked him again if
it were really he, and if he were alive. But she must warn him. She
must tell him everything that the other had done--and what he had
threatened to do to him. She must do it quickly; any minute he might
come. Warning, sweet unconscious love-words, weeping, laughter,
blessed gladness, fear, anguish over lost happiness, bride-like
embarrassment, forgetfulness of the world in the one moment which was
life to her--all this trembled through each quivering word she
uttered. "He lied to you and to me. He told me that you jeered at me
and that you had offered my flower to the highest bidder. You know, at
the Whitsun feast, the little blue-bell that I laid there. And you
sent it to him. I saw it. I did not know why I was sorry for you. Then
he told me during the dance that you had laughed at me. You went away,
and he told me you made fun of me in your letters. That hurt me. You
don't know how it hurt, even though I did not know why. Father wanted
me to marry him. And when you came I was afraid of you, but I was
still sorry for you and I loved you though I did not know it. It was
he who first told me so. Then I avoided you--I didn't want to become a
bad woman--and I still don't want to. Then he compelled me to lie. And
he made threats of what he would do to you. He would see to it that
you fell and were killed. It was only a joke, he said, but if I told
you, then he would do it in earnest. Since then I have not slept a
night, I have sat up in my bed and been full of deadly fear. I saw you
in danger and could not tell you and could not help you. And he made
slits in the rope with the ax the night before you went to Brambach.
Valentine told me that our neighbor had seen him creeping into the
shed. I thought you were dead, and I wanted to die too. For I was the
cause of your death, when I would die a thousand times to save you.
And now you are alive and I cannot grasp it. Everything is just as it
was, the trees, the shed, the sky, and you are not dead. And I wanted
to die because you were dead. And now you are alive, and I don't know
whether it is true or whether I am dreaming. Is it true? Tell me, is
it true? I will believe anything you say. And if you tell me that I
must die, I will die. But he may be coming! Perhaps he has been
listening! Tell Valentine to go to the court and have him taken away,
so that he can do you no more harm."

Thus the feverish woman went on raving, laughing and weeping in his
arms. Forgetting everything, like a child playing on the edge of an
abyss of which it knows nothing, she unconsciously called into life a
danger more deadly than the one which had just been averted, more
threatening than the one from which she wanted to guard the man with
her body. She did not realize what her passionate movements, the
sweetness of her reckless abandon, her caresses, her warm, throbbing
embraces must arouse in the man who loved her; that she was doing
everything that could make the man whose uprightness and honor she
trusted so blindly, forget uprightness and honor in the tumult of his
blood. She had no idea what a conflict she was kindling in him, and
how hard, if not impossible she was making the victory. Now he knew
that the woman in his arms was his, that his brother had defrauded him
of her and her of him. Now he knew it, while the woman in his arms
revealed to him the greatness of the happiness of which his brother
had robbed him. The brother had stolen her and had ill-treated her;
and for all that he had suffered and done for his brother's sake, he
now persecuted him and sought his life. Did the woman belong to him
who had stolen and ill-treated her, to him whom she hated--or to him
from whom she had been infamously stolen, who loved her and whom she
loved? These were not clearly defined thoughts, but countless detached
sensations which, borne along in a stream of deep, wild feeling,
rushed through his veins and made taut the muscles in his arms--to
clasp to his heart that which was his! But a vague, dark fear rose
counter to this current and stiffened his muscles in a convulsive
cramp--the feeling that he wanted to do something and did not know
what it was or where it might lead him, a far-off recollection that he
had made a vow and would break it if he now let himself be carried
away. He struggled for a long time beneath the flow of intoxicating
sounds before he realized that he was struggling and that the thing
for which he struggled was clearness, the fundamental requirement of
his nature. At last this clearness came to him and said: "The vow that
you have made is to uphold the honor of your house, and what you want
to do now will destroy it forever." He was the man, and must answer
for himself and for her. The treachery of which he with a touch, with
a glance, might be guilty toward this woman whose trust in him was so
unbounded, stood before him in all its blackness. There still stood,
protectingly, a holy reserve between him and her, which a single
touch, a single glance might dispel forever. He looked anxiously about
for a helper. If only Valentine would come! Then he would have to let
her go from his arms. Valentine did not come. But shame at his
weakness that sought help from without, became his helper. He gently
laid the defenseless woman down. Not until he felt the soft limbs slip
from his grasp did he lose her. He had to turn away and could not
choke back a loud sob. Just then the youngest boy peeped curiously
into the yard. He hastened to him, took him in his arms, pressed him
to his heart and placed him between him and her. It was strange; the
pressure with which he clasped the child to his heart relieved his
wild yearning and his tense muscles relaxed. In the child he had
clasped her to his heart in the only way he dared hold her close to

She saw him place the child between him and her and understood him. A
burning flush rose to the roots of her brown, unruly locks. She knew
now for the first time that she had lain in his arms, had embraced
him, had talked to him as only unforbidden love may talk. She saw now
for the first time the abyssmal danger in which she had placed him and
herself. She raised herself up on her knees, as if she wanted to
beseech him not to despise her. Then it occurred to her that her
husband might have been listening and might still carry out his
threat. Through her joy over his escape she might still be his
destruction. He saw all this and suffered with her. He had gained the
conflict with himself not to show her what was going on within him,
but he had not yet fought the inward struggle to its end. He leaned
toward her and said "Above us and your husband is God. Go in now,
sister, my dear, good sister." She dared not look up but through her
closed lids she saw the benevolence, the deep, inexhaustible
kindliness, the indelible respect for man which shone in his eyes and
played about his gentle mouth. And as he was her conscious and
unconscious standard, so now she knew that she was not bad, could not
become so, he would carry her in his strong arms, protected, as a
mother carries her child. Herr Nettenmair came from the shed toward
them accompanied by the journey-man. Fritz Nettenmair who followed
them saw Apollonius lead Christiane to the house door.

When Herr Nettenmair came home, nothing was to be read in his crusty
face of all that he had suffered and planned that day. The young wife
and Valentine had to listen to a sermon on unfounded imaginings, for
the story had proved to be as it was, not as Valentine had imagined it
in his fear. He spoke of Fritz Nettenmair's trip as one which his son
had had in contemplation for a long time but to which he had not
consented until today. Apollonius was told to bring the account books
into the old gentleman's room at once.

He had to read them aloud to the old gentleman; a curiously
purposeless task, for neither of them had his mind on the figures. And
moreover the old gentleman behaved as if he knew all about everything
already. Valentine came and received various instructions relative to
the departure of the elder son. An hour later he returned, having
performed his duties. He told how Fritz Nettenmair was looking forward
to his new life in America. They would be astonished when they saw him
again. He could hardly await the time. The old gentleman's courage
revived. Grimly he commanded Apollonius to go to bed; the work they
had begun could be continued another time.

Disquieted, like a tortured spirit, now wringing his hands, now
clenching his fists, Fritz Nettenmair wandered from the shed to the
house and from the house again to the shed. With each round he made,
his soul rose up in the wildest defiance and sank again into
despairing helplessness. His heart cried out for a word of love. His
arms stretched out convulsively to press something to his heart which
was his, that he might know he was not lost. For nobody is lost who
has somebody in the world to love. Endowed of a sudden with renewed
strength, he hastened through the house door into the room where his
children lay. A night-light protected by a shade shone brightly enough
for the father to see his children. He sank on his knees before the
nearest little bed. A long forgotten sound rose to his lips and he
whispered it, yearningly as never before. "Fritz!" He only wanted to
clasp his children to his heart once, to see their love and then to
go; to go and become another man, a better one, a happier one. The
little fellow awakened: he thought his mother had called. Smilingly he
opened his eyes and--shivered with fright. He feared the man standing
at his bedside; one he knew so well, and yet more strange than a
stranger to him. It was the man who had given him such angry glances,
the man from whom his mother had locked him in his room that he might
not see what the man did to her. But he had got up trembling and
listened at the door; and clenched his little fists in powerless rage.

"Fritz," said the father anxiously, "I am going away and I shall not
come back. But I will send you beautiful apples and picture-books, and
think of you a thousand times a minute."

"I don't want them," replied the boy, frightened but defiant. "Uncle
'Lonius gives me apples. I don't want yours."

"Don't you love me either?" asked the father in a breaking voice at
the second little bed. George took flight into his brother's bed.
There the children clung to each other in fright. Scorn and repugnance
were reflected in George's face. "I love mother and I love Uncle
'Lonius, but I don't like you. Let me alone; I'll tell Uncle 'Lonius."

Fritz Nettenmair laughed in wild mockery, and at the same time sobbed
in impotent pain. The children were no longer his. He was no longer
their father. Yet they were his children! And he had to go away and
leave them; and those whom he hated, who had ruined everything for
him, would be happy through his going. He became even more miserable
than he had already been. He saw his wife lying before him in her
beauty, and the desire entered his mind to destroy this beauty. But
his recollection of the moment when he lay stretched before his
father, prepared for death, was mightier than the desire and banished
it. The picture of that moment lived strong within him, only there was
an exchange of persons. He painted it with more and more vivid colors.
And now it was a fierce joy that drove him again from the house to the
shed and from the shed to the house. His arms moved in violent
gesticulation. The moon rose. The house with the green shutters lay
there so peaceful in its shimmer. No passer-by would have divined the
unrest concealed behind its walls; none would have suspected the
thought that hell was brewing there in a ruined vessel.

* * * * *
Apollonius was exhausted from watching and struggling. He needed
rest. The next morning he had to complete the garlanding of the
tower-roof, and then take down his swinging-seat, block and pulley,
iron ring and ladder. His step must be firm, his eye clear. For the
single hour that remained before work was to begin, he did not wish to
undress and go to bed. He sat down in his wooden chair. There sleep
came to him sooner than he expected--but it was not the kind of sleep
he needed; it was an uninterrupted disturbing dream. Christiane lay in
his arms as she had lain the day before; he struggled again, but this
time he did not conquer, he clasped her to him. When he opened his
eyes, it was day and time to go to work. He was in a more excited
state of mind than when he had left his father. He hoped that the
visions of his dream which had intensified his old desires and his
pangs of conscience concerning them would retreat before the fresh
morning air and the sobering effect of a cold water rub. But this did
not happen; they stayed with him and would not let go of him, not even
during his work. The breath of her warm lips lingered on his cheek, he
felt himself always in her throbbing embrace; passionate upbraidings
of his brother rose again and again in his heart. He did not know
himself any longer. In addition to the reproaches he made himself for
his evil thoughts, came dissatisfaction because he knew he was not
putting his whole mind on his work. Usually he worked his cheerful,
industrious self into each task he performed, and it was bound to be
good and lasting. But today it seemed to him that he was hammering
unrighteous thoughts into his work, that he was forging out of them an
evil charm, and that the result could not be good nor enduring.

The slater must work thoughtfully. The man who undertakes repairs today
must rely upon the faithfulness of him who stood decades, perhaps
centuries ago where he stands now. The lack of conscientiousness that
rivets a roof-hook slovenly today may be the cause of a good man's death
fifty years hence when he hangs his ladder on that hook. Behind the
struggle of his conscience against the visions of his sinful dream
lurked, like a dark cloud, the fear that in his distraction he might be
forging a future disaster for somebody.

His work was done. The new tin decoration gleamed in the sun around
the dark surface of the slate roof. Ring, tackle, swinging-seat and
ladder had been removed; the workmen who had assisted at the removal
had gone again. Apollonius had taken down the "flying" scaffold and
the poles on which it rested; he stood alone on the narrow board which
formed the path from the cross-beam to the roof-door. He stood
thinking. He felt as if he had forgotten to drive in nails somewhere.
He looked in the slate and nail boxes of his swinging-seat which hung
near him on a beam. The sound of a mysterious hurrying step came to
his ears from the tower stairs. He paid no attention to it, for just
then he found a sheet of lead lying among his things. He had brought
with him the exact number of sheets that he needed. So this was
evidently one that he had forgotten; in his distracted state of mind
he had overlooked one of the riveting points. From the door he looked
up and down the surface of the roof. If the mistake had happened on
this side of the tower he could perhaps rectify it without his seat.
Perhaps the ladder would suffice to reach the required point. And so
it proved to be. About six feet above him, near the roof-hook he had
taken out a slate and had neglected to replace it with a sheet of lead
and to fasten the garland to it. In the meantime the mysterious steps
were coming ever nearer; the man in such haste had now reached the end
of the stone stairs and was climbing the ladder to the roof. The clock
below rumbled. It was almost two. Apollonius had not yet had dinner,
but when there was a flaw of any kind in his work he could not rest
until he had rectified it. He had gone back to fetch the ladder. It
lay on the beam near the swinging-seat. As he stooped to get it he
felt himself seized and pushed with wild violence toward the door.
Instinctively he caught hold of the lower edge of a beam with his
right hand while with his left he sought in vain for support. This
movement brought him face to face with his assailant. Horrified he saw
the distorted, wild features of his brother.

"You shall have her all to yourself, or down you go with me."

"Away!" cried Apollonius. In his angry pain all his reproaches against
his brother mounted into his face. Exerting all his strength he pushed
him back with his free hand.

"So you show your true face, at last?" mocked Fritz Nettenmair in
still greater rage. "You have dislodged me from every place that I
possessed; now it is my turn. You shall have me on your conscience,
you fluff-picker. Throw me over, or down you go with me!"

Apollonius saw no deliverance. The hand with which he held desperately
to the sharp edge of the beam was well-nigh exhausted. With all his
strength he would have to seize his brother by the arms, turn him
round and push him over if he did not want to be dragged down with
him. And yet he cried: "I will not!"

"Very well," groaned Fritz. "You want to put the blame of this too on
me; you want to make me do this too. Your sanctimoniousness shall now
have an end." Apollonius would have sought a new hold, but he knew
that his brother would take advantage of the instant when he let go
his present one. Fritz was already just on the point of making a
violent dash at him. Apollonius' hand was slipping from the edge of
the beam. He would be lost if he did not find some new hold. He could
perhaps make a jump and catch the beam with both hands; but then his
brother, by the force of his own onset, would certainly fall through
the door. A vision of his honest, proud, old father, of the young wife
and her children, rose before him, and he remembered the vow that he
had made to himself; he was their only support--he must live. One
spring and he had caught the beam in his arms; at the same moment his
brother rushed headlong past him. The weights below rattled, and the
clock struck two. The jackdaws, disturbed in their rest by the
struggle, swooped wildly down to the roof-door and fluttered about in
a croaking cloud. There was the sound of a heavy body striking on the
street pavement far below. A cry went up from all sides. Pale living
faces looked on a paler dead one which lay all bloody on the pavement.
Ghastly haste, screams, a clasping of hands, a running hither and
thither, spread like a whirlwind from the church-yard to the farthest
corner of the town. But the clouds high above in the sky heeded it not
and continued on their vast course unmoved. They see so much
self-created misery below them that a single instance cannot touch

Everything in the world has its use, if not in itself or for him who
does it or who has it, then at least for others. So that which had
brought disgrace on the house of Nettenmair was now a guard against
greater disgrace. Fritz Nettenmair's love of drink was known
everywhere; everybody had seen him drunk; it was no wonder that all
who learned of his death attributed it to this vice. It was well that
nobody outside of the Nettenmair household knew that he had intended
to go to America; it was also well that, to avoid attracting attention
upon his return, he had worn his ordinary workman's clothes in the
mail coach with only his overcoat thrown over them. The coat had got
lost on the way and those who had a right to its restitution naturally
put in no claim for it. It did not occur to anybody to attach much
importance to this scarcely-noticed incident, as it was not necessary
to piece a story together when a complete one was already at hand.
Moreover, before the deed he had gone to his usual place of
recreation, had drunk heavily, and, after boasting in his foolhardy
way that he would now perform his master-piece, had left the tavern
for St. George's much intoxicated. All these outward circumstances
served to confirm the generally accepted opinion. By a fortunate
chance there had been no workmen at St. George's; of the struggle that
had taken place before the fall nobody knew anything except Apollonius
and the jackdaws who lived there. As soon as the inspector learned of
Fritz's death he looked up Apollonius, whom he found sitting exhausted
at the foot of the tower, and told him the story that was going the
rounds. It entered nobody's head to question Apollonius. They all told
him about it instead of letting him tell. He therefore kept silence
about that which nobody questioned. The courts found no reason to make
an investigation, and the danger which had menaced the honor of the
family passed quietly over.

One evening a black bier was seen before the house with the green
shutters. At a distance stood groups of women and children, now
whispering softly to one another, now peering eagerly in one direction
with a curiosity that at times became impatient. Here and there a long
black coat and a three-cornered hat came down the street in solemn
gloom and vanished behind the bier into the house. At last the door
opened. The coffin stood on the bier, the pall covered both; gently,
in rhythmical motion, there appeared a black moving mass; now they
were in their places; the pall-bearers adjusted their hats. The
procession moved, rippling, wavering. On top gleamed bright the hammer
which Valentine had polished, and told that what they were now
surrendering to earth had worked honestly between heaven and earth.
The sweet tears of the old women washed away whatever stains clung to
his memory. Inwardly they made a vow that none who belonged to them
should ever become a slater. The slater's calling is a dangerous one,
between heaven and earth; the man who lay beneath the black pall,
between the boards, silent as he was, preached that with poignant
eloquence. They turned their eyes toward the old gentleman who was led
by two mourners. He seemed to embody the very spirit of honest burial.
But when their gaze fell upon Apollonius they forgot the mildness with
which they had just judged; they unburied the dead man from the cool
funeral flowers that covered his human nakedness. The hammer lying
above him would have been covered with the dark rust of shame had it
not been for Apollonius. Then they looked at the young wife, and,
according to the way of their sex, the mourners became match-makers.
And indeed they had right on their side; a bonnier couple or one
better suited could scarce have been found in the whole town. The
procession passed by the Red Eagle, where a ball was in progress at
which Fritz Nettenmair was missing--surely a dull affair! The
procession went the same way that Fritz Nettenmair had gone after he
had talked with the workman. He had then seen in spirit his brother
lying beneath the black fluttering pall and himself following as a
mourner. The procession went on, still keeping to the streets that
Fritz Nettenmair had trodden on that occasion. Outside the town-gate
the willows melted again into mist or the mist into willows. Here and
there mist-men carried mist-coffins near the real one. At the
cross-ways, where Fritz Nettenmair had seen the journeyman disappear
in the mist, he himself disappeared. In Tambach they were bearing the
journeyman to burial. The two must have had much to say to each other.
Fritz Nettenmair could have told the workman how carefully he had
carried out the thought sown by him, even to the cutting of the rope;
and the workman could have told his former master how he became a
victim to the cuts thus made. The pastor who preached the sermon over
Fritz Nettenmair's grave, who was buried with all the honors due to
his standing or to be bought with money, did not know what an
awe-inspiring theme had eluded him.

The last word of the funeral sermon had died away, the last spadeful
of earth had fallen on the coffin, the mourners had gone home; it
became night, and again day, and again night, and again and again day
and night; other things drove Fritz Nettenmair's unfortunate death
from the minds of the townsmen--and still other things these things. A
stone was erected over his grave, and his honest death was vouched for
by a sculptor and impressed with chisel-strokes upon forgetful
posterity. One might think that the dark cloud that had hovered over
the house with the green shutters would have burst in the storm that
dashed the older son from the tower-roof of St. George's to the
pavement below, and that life would now be bright there, as its outer
aspect promised. One might indeed think so if one saw only the young
widow and her children. The three strong young beings raised their
drooping heads as soon as the burden which had oppressed them was
lifted. The young widow did not look as if she had been a wife, still
less an unhappy wife; from day to day she seemed more like a bridal
maiden or a maidenly bride. And why should she not? Did she not know
that he loved her? Did she not love him? Did not the teasing words of
others, even if she did not think of it herself, remind her that her
love was no longer a forbidden one? The marriage was so natural, so
necessary according to traditional ideas that those who were too old
or too dignified to jest took it as a matter of course without
mentioning it, and did not mention it merely because they took it as a
matter of course.

In his diplomatic fashion the old gentleman made various intimations
that if he had remained at the head of things all would have happened
differently. What Apollonius had spoiled, he would now carry out to
the best possible end. Necessity had placed him at the helm again, and
he would remain there. He forgot that he had twice been forced to the
acknowledgment that when one becomes old, control in the business is
only possible when one need not see through strange eyes. He was to
experience this now for a third time. Since the night before his older
son met a violent death, Herr Nettenmair had resumed his position as
manager of the business. Apollonius reported to him daily concerning
the progress of current work and received orders. When a piece of work
has once been fairly started it can go on by itself and requires from
the superintendent nothing but inspection and an occasional stimulus.
If, however, something new is to be undertaken, a groove must be
sought in which it can run, and the groove must be the shortest,
surest, and most profitable. Clear-seeing eyes are needed, with a
quick power to grasp. That Apollonius possessed these the old
gentleman perceived on the first occasion. It pertained to a
particularly difficult piece of work. Apollonius put it before him
with such clearness that the old gentleman believed he saw it with his
bodily eyes. It was a case, however, in which his experience failed
him. To Apollonius it presented no difficulties. He pointed out three
or four different ways in which it could be done and reduced the old
gentleman to such a state of confusion that he could scarcely conceal
it. A curious, wild train of contradictory sensations rushed through
his brain--joy and pride in his son, then pain that he was nothing and
never could be any more, then shame and wrath that his son knew this
and triumphed over him; the desire to curb him and show him that he
still was lord and master. But even if he wanted to carry his point,
would his son obey? There was no way to preserve even the appearance
of leadership save through his diplomatic art. In a grim voice he gave
commands which were utterly unnecessary, because they pertained to
things which would have been done as a matter of course without
command. In new matters he angrily disapproved of all suggestions made
by Apollonius; but the commands which he finally gave were always in
general accordance with that which Apollonius had suggested as most
expedient. Afterward he made excuses to himself and found something
that would have been much better than Apollonius' suggestion. He was
convinced that if he only had his eyesight everything would be
different. Sometimes he gave himself up unreservedly to his joy and
pride in his son's efficiency; but this feeling was soon replaced by
the wrathful necessity to exert his diplomatic art. Apollonius
realized the restraint that he was imposing upon his father quite as
little as he did his father's pride in him. He was glad that he had
nothing more to conceal from the old gentleman concerning the
business, and that obedience to him did not interfere with the
fulfilment of his vow. The sky above the house with the green shutters
took on a brighter, bluer hue. But the spirit of the house still
wandered about wringing its hands. When the clock struck two in the
morning it stood in the arbor before the door to Apollonius' room and
raised its pallid arms pleadingly toward heaven.

The business increased under Apollonius' diligent hand; the orders
were twice as many as they had formerly been. The postman brought
great piles of letters into the house. Apollonius accepted an
advantageous offer made by the owner and leased the slate quarry. He
understood the management of the works from his stay in Cologne, and
he employed a former acquaintance from that city whom he knew to be an
expert in the business and reliable in his dealings. His choice was a
good one; the man was energetic, but in spite of this fact much
additional work fell on Apollonius. The councilman shook his head
sometimes doubtfully, fearing that Apollonius had over-estimated his
strength. It did not strike the young widow how seldom Apollonius came
into the living-room. The children, whom he often called to him to
perform little services whereby they might learn, kept up the
intercourse. They could testify that Apollonius had very little time.
She went to his room frequently, but always when he was not at home.
She adorned the doors and walls with everything she had which she knew
he loved, and she spent many hours there at work. She noticed the
pallor of his face, which seemed to become greater each time she saw
him. As she was but a mirror of his feelings, his pallor reflected
itself in her. She would have liked to cheer him up, but she did not
seek to be near him; her presence seemed to have the opposite effect
upon him from what she desired. He was always friendly and full of
chivalrous respect toward her. This at least comforted her to a
certain extent. She had endowed him with all the virtues that she
knew; among these she had not forgotten truthfulness, the first of
them all to her. Therefore she knew that he would not compel himself
to show respect to her if he did not feel it. He made merry sometimes,
especially when he saw her eyes fixed anxiously upon his pale face,
but she noticed that her society did not make him healthier or more
cheerful. She would have liked to ask him what was the matter. When he
stood before her she did not dare. When she was alone she asked him.
Many nights through she thought of ways to entice the confession from
him and talked with him. Surely if he had heard her weep, had heard
how sweetly and tenderly she cajoled and pleaded, had heard the dear
names she gave him, he would have told her what ailed him. Her whole
life was between heart and mouth; and when her heart whispered in her
ear what she had said, she flushed rosily and hid her blushes deep
beneath the covers from herself and the listening night.

She confided her fears to the old inspector. "Is it a wonder?" he
asked, "when a person sits all day long for a year and a half over his
business and all night long over books and letters? And then all the
anxiety he had about his--God forgive him, he is dead and one should
not speak ill of the dead--about his brother; and then the fright,
which made me ill for three days, over--and when his widow is there
too--I never did like him much, least of all toward the end. But youth
is so! I warned him a hundred times, the brave fellow! And now the
confounded quarry! Such conscientiousness! He is one who would never
consider his own health." The councilman gave the young widow a long
lecture which was not in the least meant for her. Then they agreed
that Apollonius ought to have a doctor whether he wanted him or not;
and the councilman immediately went to the best physician in town. The
physician promised to do all that was possible. He called on
Apollonius, who put up with him because those whom he loved desired
it. The doctor felt his pulse, came again and again, prescribed and
re-prescribed; Apollonius became ever paler and gloomier. At last the
good man declared that here was a malady against which all art was
useless. So deep-seated was the trouble that no remedy of his could
reach it.

Apollonius knew that no physician could cure his illness. The
councilman had only partly divined the cause. Overwork had merely
watered the soil for the parasite growth which was gnawing at
Apollonius' inmost being. The first symptoms seemed of a physical
nature. As his brother had plunged to death before him, the clock
below had struck the hour of two. Since then every sound of a bell
frightened him. What aroused more serious apprehension was an attack
of dizziness. All the horrors of that day did not obliterate the
feeling of uneasiness which had taken possession of him when he
discovered the inexactitude in his work. Every time a bell sounded it
seemed to him a warning. Early the next morning he went to the
roof-door with his ladder in his hand. He had already noticed how
insecure his step was as he climbed the tower stairs; now, when
through the open door the distant mountains began to nod so curiously
to him and the firm tower to rock beneath him, he became frightened.
That was dizziness, the slater's worst, most malicious enemy when it
takes sudden hold of him on a swaying ladder between heaven and earth.
In vain Apollonius strove to overcome it; he had to give up his
purpose for the day. No way had ever been so hard for Apollonius as
the tower stairs down from St. George's. What would happen? How could
he fulfil his vow if this dizziness did not leave him? On the same day
he had some work to do on the tower of St. Nicholas. There he had to
venture into more dangerous places than at St. George's; the bells
rang at the most critical instant; he felt no trace of dizziness.
Joyfully he hastened back to St. George's, but again the ladder
trembled under his feet, the mountains nodded, the tower rocked. He
was on the lowest rung of the ladder when the clock began to strike
the hour. The sound penetrated every nerve of his body; he had to hold
fast to the railing until the last echo had died away. He made attempt
after attempt, and climbed all ladders and towers with his old
sureness of foot; only at St. George's did dizziness return. There he
had hammered his sinful thoughts into his work; he had felt at the
time that he was forging an evil charm, a coming disaster. Day and
night the picture followed him of the place where he had forgotten to
insert the sheet of lead and to rivet the decoration. The flaw was
like an evil spot, a spot where a crime had been begun or completed
and where no grass grows, no shadow falls; like an open wound which
does not heal until it has been avenged, like an empty grave which
does not close until it has received its denizen. If only the gap were
closed the charm would lose its potency. He might authorize a workman
to do the job, but the thought of leaving his neglected work to
another brought a flush of shame to his pale cheeks. The sheet of lead
nailed by another would be certain to fall; the gap cried out for him,
and he alone could close it. Or the destruction which he had forged
there would seize hold of the workman, dizziness would overtake him
and he would plunge into the depths.

Since his brother's wife had lain in his arms he had lived a double
life. During the day he worked outside and at night he sat in his room
among his books, all that went on mechanically; in spite of his
efforts his heart was only half in his work; the other half lived its
own life, hovering with the jackdaws about the flaw in the tower-roof
and brooding over the coming disaster which he had forged that
morning. His soul fought ever anew the battle with his brother. Was it
his brother's fall that he had forged? Perhaps it would have been
possible to save the madman. Anxiously he sought for possibilities,
and shrank with horror from the thought that he might find one. All
his good qualities became overwrought--his loyalty, his
conscientiousness, his scrupulousness. He did not try to put his
shortcomings upon his brother; with loving hand he took his brother's
guilt and placed it on his own shoulders. It became ever clearer in
his mind that he might have saved his brother. He could have found
some way if his heart and head had not been full of wild, forbidden
desires, if he had not been full of wrath against the madman instead
of feeling pity for him. With his evil thoughts he had forged disaster
for his brother. Without those thoughts his work would have been
finished and his brother would not have found him in the tower, would
have come too late and would have repented of his resolve. Or, if he
had still been there, he was the stronger, cooler headed, and he
should have found a way to prevent the calamity.

It was natural that people should chaff him about the marriage that
seemed a necessity to them. He had to confess to himself that they
were right and that his desires were no longer forbidden ones. But the
fact that they had once been so cast its shadow over the blameless
present. His love seemed sullied to him. Reason and love might say
what they would, he felt that there would be guilt in the marriage.
And so it came that Christiane's presence brought him no cheer. There
were moments when his gloom struck him as a sort of illness and he
hoped that it would pass over. But even then he drew no nearer to
Christiane, much as his heart yearned for her. He continued the same
as on that day when he placed the child between him and her. She
remained pure and holy to him.

To the old gentleman with his external sense of honor, a life like
Apollonius' and Christiane's, without the consecration of the church,
was a grave offense. Only under the name of her husband could
Apollonius, without disgrace, be the protector and supporter of the
beautiful young widow and her children. According to his way he
pronounced the ultimatum. He fixed the time for the wedding. The
indispensable half-year of mourning was over; in a week the betrothal
should be announced, three weeks later the marriage should take place.

Life in the house with the green shutters grew more and more sultry.
The new clouds which had gathered invisibly about it threatened a
storm severer than that in which the old ones had been dispelled. The
young widow had no choice but to play the part of the affianced; she
was rallied about her wedding garment, and, adjusting herself to the
situation, she began preparations. Tears fell upon her work, and joy
had an ever smaller and smaller part in it. She saw the condition of
the man she loved become hourly worse; and she could not fail to know
that the approaching marriage was to blame. The paler and more fragile
he became, the gentler and more full of respect was his conduct toward
her. There was something in it that seemed like pitying pain and an
unexpressed prayer for forgiveness of a wrong, an insult of which he
felt himself guilty toward her.

Apollonius was compelled to come to a decision. He could not. The
yawning discord in his soul became ever greater. If he resolved to
renounce happiness, the phantom of guilt disappeared and happiness
stretched out alluring arms toward him. She loved him and had always
loved him, only him; all the world approved, in fact demanded it of
him. He saw her before she had been stolen from him, how she had laid
the little blue-bell down for him, all rosy beneath the brown curling
locks which struggled to be free; then, pale under the ill-treatment
of the brother who had stolen her from him, pale for him; then
trembling before his brother's threats, trembling for him; then
laughing, weeping, full of anguish and full of happiness in his arms.
His brother's fall had made this woman free. He had known that when he
let his brother fall. If he should wed his brother's wife, who had
become free through the fall, he would make himself guilty of this
fall. If he received the reward of the deed, the deed was also his. If
he took her, the feeling would never leave him; he would be unhappy
and would make her unhappy with him. For her sake and for his he must
refrain. When he came to this decision, he realized how unsubstantial
his conclusions were, viewed with the clear eye of the spirit; and
yet, if he tried to reach out for happiness, the dark feeling of guilt
hovered over him like an icy frost about a flower, and his soul could
do nothing against its annihilating power. And the bells of St.
George's continued to ring their warning. What made Apollonius'
agitation even more feverish was the knowledge that the flaw in his
work had not been corrected. It rained incessantly, the gap yawned
wide, the boarding greedily drank in the water, the wood was bound to
rot. If the winter cold increased, the water would freeze in the wood
and injure the slate. The town, which trusted to his sense of duty,
would suffer harm through him. Each night the stroke of two awakened
him from sleep. Shadows mingled with his fever-dreams. The reproaches
of his inward and outward yearning for purity blended. The open wound
cried aloud for justice, the open grave for him who would close it.
And it was he whom the bells called to justice, he who must close the
grave before the disaster he had forged should descend upon an
innocent head. He must climb to the tower and correct the flaw. But
when he got there, it struck two, dizziness seized hold of him and
dragged him down after his brother. From day to day, from hour to
hour, the beautiful young widow saw him grow paler and became pale
with him. Only the old gentleman in his blindness did not see the
cloud which was lowering so threateningly. The air was very sultry in
the house with the green shutters. No one who looks at the little
house now would suspect how sultry it once was there.

It was on the night before the appointed betrothal day. Snow had
fallen, and then great cold had suddenly set in. For several nights
the so-called St. Elmo's fire had been seen darting tongues of flame
from the tops of the towers to the gleaming stars of heaven. In spite
of the dry cold, the inhabitants of the district felt a curious
heaviness in their limbs. There was no air stirring. The people looked
at one another as if each were asking the other if he too felt the
same uneasiness. Odd prophecies of war, sickness and famine went from
mouth to mouth. The more intelligent smiled, but were themselves
unable to refrain from clothing their inward gloom in corresponding
pictures of some impending disaster. All day long dark clouds, of
different form and color from what the wintry sky is accustomed to
display, had been gathering. Their blackness would have been in
unbearably glaring contrast to the snow which covered mountains and
valley and hung like candied sugar on the leafless boughs, if their
dark reflection had not somewhat deadened the dazzling splendor. Here
and there the firm outline of the cloud-castles softened and seemed to
hang down over earth like drooping breasts. These bore more nearly the
aspect of ordinary snow-clouds, and their dull reddish gray served to
unite the leaden blackness of the higher plane with earth's drab
whiteness and dingy appearance. The whole mass hung motionless over
the town. The blackness increased. Two hours after midday it was
already night in the streets. Dwellers on the ground floor drew down
their blinds; in the windows of the upper stories appeared one light
after another. In the public squares of the town, where a greater
portion of the sky could be seen, groups of people stood, looking now
upward into the heavens, now into the long, doubtful faces around
them. They told of the ravens that had come in great flocks into the
suburbs, they pointed to the deep, restless, uneven fluttering of the
jackdaws around St. George's and St. Nicholas', they spoke of
earthquakes, of land-slides and even of the Judgment Day. The more
courageous thought it was only a violent thunder-storm. But even that
seemed serious enough. The river and the so-called fire-pond, the
waters of which could, at a moment's notice, be let into any part of
the town by means of subterranean channels, were both frozen. Some
hoped the danger would pass by. But each time they looked up at the
sky they saw that the dark cloud-mass had not changed its position.
Two hours after midday it had stood there; toward midnight it still
stood there unmoved. Only it seemed to have become heavier and had
sunk lower. How could it move when there was not a breath of air in
motion, and to scatter and dispel such a mass as this a hurricane
would have been required!

It struck twelve from St. George's tower. The last stroke seemed
unable to die away. But the deep trembling murmur that hung on so long
was no longer the dying tone of the bell. For now it began to grow; as
if on a thousand wings it came rushing and surging and pushed angrily
against the houses that would retard it; whistling and shrieking, it
drove through every crevice that it met, and blustered about the house
until it found another rift to drive out of again; it tore shutters
open and slammed them furiously, it squeezed its way groaningly
between adjacent walls, whistled madly round street corners, lost
itself in a thousand currents, found itself again and rushed headlong
into a raging stream, careered up and down with savage joy, jolted
everything that stood fast, trilled with wild-playing fingers on the
rusty vanes and weather-cocks and laughed shrilly at their groans; it
blew the snow from one roof to another, swept it from the street,
chased it onto steep walls where it crouched with fear in all the
window chinks, and whirled great, dancing fir-trees of snow before it
in its mad course.

Seeing that a storm was imminent, no one had taken off his clothes.
The town and county storm night-watch, as well as the fire company,
had been gathered together for hours. Herr Nettenmair had sent his son
to the main guard-room in the town hall to represent him there as the
master-slater of the town. The two journeymen sat with the tower
watchman, one at St. George's, one at St. Nicholas'. The other
municipal workmen entertained one another in the guard-room as well as
they could. The building inspector looked anxiously at Apollonius,
who, feeling his friend's eye fixed upon him, rose, to conceal from
him if possible his brooding state of mind. At this very moment the
storm broke forth with renewed violence. From the town-hall tower it
struck one. The sound of the bell whimpered in the grip of the storm
which dragged it along in its wild chase. Apollonius stepped to the
window as if to see what was happening outside. A gigantic,
sulphur-blue tongue leaped into the room, sprang twice trembling upon
stove, wall and people, and then, leaving no trace, was swallowed up
in itself again. The tempest raged on: but, even as the storm had
seemed born out of the last sound of St. George's bell, there now
arose a something out of the raging which exceeded it in force as far
as the raging had exceeded the sound of the bell. An invisible world
seemed to tear it to pieces in the air. The storm raged and panted
with the fury of the tiger which cannot destroy what it holds in its
grasp; the deep, majestic rolling that outsounded it was the roar of
the lion which has his foot on the enemy--the triumphant expression of
struggle satisfied by action.

"That struck somewhere!" said one. Apollonius thought: "If it should
strike St. George's tower, where the gap is, and I should have to
climb up, and the clock should strike two, and"--he could think no
further. A cry for help, a cry of fire resounded through storm and
thunder. "The lightning has struck!" was the cry on the street. "It
has struck St. George's tower! Quick to St. George's! Fire! Help!
Fire! St. George's! Fire in the tower of St. George's!" Horns blew,
drums beat. And always the storm and peal after peal of thunder! Then
the cry came: "Where is Nettenmair? If anybody can help it is
Nettenmair. Fire! Fire! At St. George's! Nettenmair! Where is
Nettenmair? The tower of St. George's is on fire!"

The councilman saw Apollonius turn pale, his form sink more deeply
into itself than before. "Where is Nettenmair?" was again the cry from
the street. Then came a dark flush over his pale cheeks and his
slender figure rose to its full height. He buttoned his coat quickly,
and drew the strap of his cap firmly under his chin. "If I stay," he
said to the councilman, as he turned to go, "remember my father, my
brother's wife and the children." The councilman was taken aback. The
young man's "if I stay" sounded like "I shall stay." A presentiment
came over the friend that here was something that had to do with the
salvation of Apollonius' soul. But the expression on Apollonius' face
was no longer one of suffering; nor was it anxious or wild. In spite
of apprehension and alarm, the stout-hearted man felt something like
joyful hope. It was indeed the old Apollonius again who stood before
him, with the same quiet, modest resoluteness that had won his heart
at the first sight of the young man. "If he would only remain so!"
thought the inspector. He had no time to reply. He pressed his hand.
Apollonius felt all that this hand-pressure wanted to say. Compassion
crept over him for the good old man, and something like regret for the
anxiety he had caused him and would still cause him. He said with his
old-time smile: "For such cases I am always prepared. But there is no
time to spare. Good-by for a while!" Apollonius, who moved more
quickly than the councilman, was soon out of sight. All the way to St.
George's, amid the cries, the horns, drums, storm and thunder, the
councilman kept repeating to himself: "Either I shall never see the
good fellow again, or he will be well when he returns." He did not try
to explain to himself how he had come to this conclusion. There was no
time. His duty as municipal inspector demanded his entire attention.

The cry "Nettenmair! Where is Nettenmair?" greeted Apollonius on all
sides and echoed in the distance. The confidence of his
fellow-citizens awakened in him a renewed sense of his own worth.
When, upon returning from afar, he had seen his native town stretched
out before him, he had dedicated himself to her and her service. The
opportunity now presented itself to show whether he had meant this vow
in earnest. He reviewed in his mind all the possible forms of danger
and how they could best be met. A fire-sprinkler lay ready in the
roof-truss, and cloths were at hand to dip into water and protect the
places most in danger. The journeyman had been instructed to have hot
water ready. The beams were connected everywhere by ladders. For the
first time since his return from Brambach he threw his whole soul into
his work. Before real necessity and its demands the visions of his
brooding fancy receded like dissolving shadows. All his old elasticity
and buoyancy were [Illustration: The Prophet Jeremiah] [Blank Page]
called into being again, intensified by the feeling of relief which
had taken possession of him. Thoughts can be refuted by thoughts,
against feelings they are a very weak weapon. In vain had his spirit
seen the way of salvation; he had fallen a victim to the general
apathy about him. Now a strong, healthful feeling sprang up in
opposition to the strong, morbid ones and devoured them in the ardor
of its flame. He knew, without any special thought on the subject,
that he had found the solution which brings redemption, and that this
was the cause of his renewed being. He knew that dizziness would not
overcome him, but if he should remain it would be a sacrifice made to
duty, not to guilt, and God and the gratitude of the town would assume
in his stead the responsibility for his loved ones.

St. George's Square was thronged with people who gazed in troubled
fear at the roof of the tower. The ancient building stood like a rock
in the fierce battle which the brightness of lightning and the old
night waged untiringly about it. A thousand glowing arms embraced the
tower with such ardor that it seemed as if it would be consumed in
their glow; like a great surging sea the light broke upon its walls,
only to fall back again before the power of night which engulfed all
in its dark flood. The mass of pale faces, pressed close together at
the foot of the tower, flashed into view during momentary gleams of
light but were soon lost again in dreary blackness. The storm tore at
their hats and coats, blew hair into their faces, struck them with
flapping garments and pelted them with glistening drops of snow, as if
it wanted to make them atone for the wounds it received when it beat
as rain on the rocky ribs of the tower. And as the people now
appeared, now disappeared in alternating light and darkness, so also
their confused attempts at conversation were drowned at every turn by
storm and thunder.

Somebody called out in self-consolation: "It was a harmless flash;
though it struck, nothing caught fire." Somebody else thought that the
flame might still break out. A third became angry; he took this
suggestion as a wish that the flame might break out. He had been
comforted by the first thought; he had to avenge himself for the
uneasiness which the suggestion created in his mind. Trembling with
cold and anxiety, many stared up stupidly with blinded eyes into space
and knew not even why. A hundred voices explained what misfortune
would befall the town, must befall it, if the lightning had really
struck and the tower had caught fire. Some told of the nature of
slate, how it melts in fire and is carried as slack through the air,
often setting fire to a whole city at the same time. Others lamented
that the storm would further a possible fire, and that there would be
no water with which to extinguish it. Still others said that if there
were any water it would freeze in the engines and be of no avail. Most
of them depicted with fearful eloquence the course that the fire would
take. If the burning truss should fall the storm would blow it right
where there was a thick cluster of houses, quite near the tower. This
was the most dangerous place in the whole town in case of fire, for
there were numberless frame verandas in narrow courts, boarded gable
roofs and shingle-covered sheds, all crowded so closely together that
it would be impossible for a fire-engine to be squeezed in among them
or for the firemen to get at their work. If the burning truss should
fall on this side, as it most certainly would, the entire portion of
the town that lay before the wind would be irretrievably lost. These
reflections reduced the timid to such a state of mind that every new
flash seemed to them the inevitable fire. That nobody could see more
than one side of the tower at a time tended to increase the
misapprehension. It was curious, but from all sides the cry was heard:
"Where? Where?" Storm and thunder prevented mutual understanding.
Everybody wanted to see for himself. Wild excitement prevailed.

"Where did it strike?" asked Apollonius, who had just arrived. "On the
side toward Brambach," answered many voices. Apollonius pushed his way
through the crowd. With long strides he hastened toward the tower
steps. He had come considerably in advance of his more deliberate
associates. In the tower his questions were to no purpose. The people
in the tower thought that though the lightning had struck it had not
set fire to anything; still they were on the point of gathering
together their best things to flee from the danger. Only the
journeyman, whom he found occupied at the stove, remained
self-possessed. Apollonius hastened with lanterns to the truss, to
hang them there. The ladder steps did not tremble beneath his feet; he
was in too great haste to notice it. There seemed to be no trace of
incipient fire in the truss. Neither the odor of sulphur, which
denotes fire by lightning, nor ordinary smoke was perceptible.
Apollonius heard his associates on the steps. He called to them that
he was there. Just at that moment a blue light flashed through all the
tower-windows followed immediately by a tremendous crash of thunder.
Apollonius stood for an instant, stunned. If he had not unconsciously
caught hold of a beam, he would have fallen to the ground from the
shock. A thick fume of sulphur took his breath away. He sprang to the
nearest window to obtain fresh air. The workmen farther from where it
had struck had not been stunned, but stood motionless with fright on
the topmost flight of steps. "Come!" cried Apollonius. "Quick! the
water! The sprinkler! It must have struck on this side--that's where
the pressure and the smell of sulphur came from. Quick, water and the
sprinkler at the door!" The master-carpenter, standing on the ladder
steps, called, coughing, "But the smoke!" "Quick!" replied Apollonius,
"the door will give more air than we want." The mason and the
chimney-sweep followed the carpenter, who carried the hose with the
sprinkler, as quickly as he could, up the ladder steps. The others
brought buckets of cold water, the journeyman a pail of hot water to
pour over the cold to prevent its freezing.

At such moments he who remains calm inspires confidence; to the
self-possessed man of action others defer without question. The wooden
passage-way to the door was narrow, but through Apollonius'
intelligent directions room was immediately found for all. Next to
Apollonius stood the carpenter, then the sprinkler, then the mason.
The sprinkler was so turned that the two men had the levers before
them. Two strong men could work it. Behind the mason stood the
journeyman who was to pour hot water on the cold as often as was
necessary. Others performed the journeyman's previous duty; they
melted snow and ice and kept the water thus obtained in the watchman's
warm room so that it should not freeze again. Still others were ready
to serve as carriers and formed a sort of double line between roof and
watchman's room. While Apollonius was explaining to the carpenter and
mason, in rapid words and signs, his plan of action which they then
carried into effect, he had taken hold of the roof-ladder with his
right hand and was reaching out with his left toward the bolt of the
door. The workmen were all full of hope, but when the storm whistled
in through the opened door, tore the carpenter's cap from his head,
blew masses of fine snow against the beams, howled, rattled, and
blustered against the ridge of the roof, while flash after flash of
lightning broke through the dark opening, the bravest among them
wanted to withdraw his hand from the futile work. Apollonius had to
stand with his back to the door to get his breath. Then gripping the
lath-work above the door, with both hands, he bent his head back in
order to get a look at the roof from the outside. "It can still be
saved," he cried with an effort so that he could be heard above the
storm and the uninterrupted rolling of the thunder. He seized the tube
of the shorter hose, the lower end of which the carpenter had screwed
onto the sprinkler, and wound the upper part around his body. "When I
pull twice on the hose start the sprinkler; we'll save the church and
perhaps the town." With his right hand propped against the lath-work
he swung himself out of the door; in his left hand he held the light
roof-ladder which he wanted to hang on the next hook above the door.
This seemed impossible to the workmen. The storm would certainly tear
the ladder down, and all too possibly the man with it. It came in well
for Apollonius that the wind pressed the ladder against the surface of
the roof. There was plenty of light by which to find the hook; but the
fine snow which flurried about and, rolling down from the roof, struck
him in the eyes, was a hindrance. He could feel, however, that the
ladder hung securely. There was no time to lose; he swung himself up
on it. He had to trust more to the strength and sureness of his arms
and hands than to a secure footing as he climbed upward, for the storm
swayed man and ladder to and fro like a bell. Above, to one side of
the topmost rung of the ladder, blue flames with yellow points leaped
forth from under the gap and licked the edges of the slate roof. The
lightning had struck two feet below the point where the sheet of lead
was lacking. A short hour ago he had been frightened by the thought of
the mere possibility that the lightning could strike there and that he
would have to climb up--a series of dark, deadly fever visions had
risen before him: now, all had happened as he had pictured it--but the
gap was like any other part of the tower-roof and he stood on the
ladder, free from all dizziness, pervaded only by a keen, strong
desire to avert impending danger from church and town. Yes, something
that had enhanced his vague fears now proved to be of distinct
advantage to him. The water which had been pouring into the hole for
weeks, and which was now frozen in the wood, prevented the flame from
obtaining the upper hand as quickly as it would otherwise have done.
The area taken possession of by the fire up to the present time was
small. The frost in the boarding had stubbornly beat back the leaping,
ever-returning flames and it would take time before they could
permanently strike root and from their vantage point do further
destruction. If they had united in one big flame and overstepped the
space below the hole protected by the frost, the fire would soon have
grown to gigantic proportions and the church, perhaps the town, have
succumbed to the combined force of fire and storm. He saw that there
was still time to save, and he needed the strength that this thought
gave. The ladder not only swung backward and forward, it moved up and
down. What could be the cause of that? If the beams of the roof were
loose--but he knew that that was not the case--this movement would be
impossible. But the trouble was that the ladder was not hanging on the
hook; he had hung it on a projecting tin oak-leaf which formed part of
the roof's decoration, near one of the rivets, and he had neglected to
fasten the other end of the garland on which the ladder hung. His
weight was pulling on it now and dragging it and the ladder gradually
down. An inch more and the leaf would be horizontal, the ladder would
slide off it and he and the ladder together would fall into the
tremendous depth below. His newly-acquired courage was to be put to
the test. Six inches from the leaf was the hook. He took three
cautious steps up the tottering ladder; then, seizing hold of the hook
with his left hand and holding fast, he raised the ladder with his
right hand from the leaf to the hook. It hung securely. He let go the
hook and, holding fast to a rung of the ladder with both hands,
stepped back onto it again. And now the slates below the hole began to
glow; it would not be long before the burning particles carried
destruction far and near. Apollonius drew his claw-hammer from his
belt; a few strokes with the tool and the slate fell, splintering
below. Now he could see clearly the very small area of burning
surface; his confidence increased. He pressed twice on the hose and
the sprinkler began to work. First he held the nozzle toward the hole
so that the lath-work above might be the better protected from the
flame. The sprinkler proved to be powerful; the water that penetrated
beneath the edge of the slate shivered it into small bits. The flames
cracked and leaped angrily under the gushing water; only when the jet
was turned directly upon them, and then more by means of its
smothering power than its inherent qualities, did it finally vanquish

The surface of the fire lay black before him; there was no hissing in
response to the jet from the hose. Far below him the works of the
clock rattled. It struck two! Two strokes! Two! And he stood and did
not plunge headlong into space. How different in reality from what his
feverish forebodings had threatened! In his brooding, waking dreams he
had stood at the top of the tower, it had struck two, a great
dizziness had come over him and dragged him down, to expiate a dark
crime. But now he stood there in reality, the ladder swayed in the
storm, snowdust flurried about him, lightning darted around him, the
sheet of snow on roofs, mountains and valley shimmered bright with
each gleaming flash, it struck two below him, the tone of the bells,
rent by the storm, wailed in the tumult, and he stood, stood free from
all dizziness and did not fall. He knew that no guilt was attached to
him, he had done his duty where thousands would have failed, he had
saved the town which he loved with all his soul, from a terrible
danger. But there was no vainglory in his heart, only a prayer of
thanksgiving. His thoughts were not of the people who would praise
him, but of those who would breathe freely again, of the misery that
had been prevented, of the happiness that would be preserved. For the
first time in many months he felt what it means to breathe freely.
This night had brought gladness to him. With joy he looked back on the
vow that he had made. To men like Apollonius, the highest blessing of
a good deed is that it gives courage for new good deeds.

The throng below still cried: "Where? Where?" and crowded close
together when the second stroke occurred. They stood for a moment
paralyzed with fear. "Thank the Lord! It was harmless this time too!"
exclaimed one voice. "No! No! It is burning. God have mercy!" replied
others; sharp eyes saw in the darkness that appeared between the
flashes little blue flames leaping like candles over the slate. These
flames sought one another and when they found one another they blazed
up convulsively into a larger flame, then fled dancingly away and
shivered into pieces. The storm bent and blew them here and there;
sometimes they seemed to die out, but suddenly they leaped up brighter
than ever. They were growing, one could see that, but their growth was
not rapid. Much more rapid and vehement was the new cry of fire that
swelled through the town. In anxious suspense the gaze of all was
riveted on the one small spot. "Help! Now! It can still be put out!"
And again through storm and thunder sounded the agonized cry:
"Nettenmair! Where is Nettenmair?" A voice called, "He is in the
tower." All hearts felt relief when they heard that. And most of them
did not know him, even among those who called out for him, and those
who did not know him cried out loudest. In moments of general
helplessness the crowd clings to a name, to a mere word. Some thus
thrust from themselves the calls of conscience which demanded personal
effort, personal risk, and these are they who are most merciless in
their judgment of the helper if he is unable to help. The rest are
happy if they can delude themselves for the moment. "What could he
do?" cried one. "Help! Rescue!" cried others. "Even if one had wings,
he would not dare the ascent in such a storm." "Nettenmair surely
would." In the depths of their hearts, however, even the most
confident knew that he would not. The thought that the flame could be
extinguished if it were only accessible aggravated the general spirit
of uneasiness. It prevented that dull submission which the inevitable
with gentle severity compels. When the door opened and the suspended
ladder became visible, and it seemed as if somebody were going to dare
the deed, the effect on the crowd was as terrifying as the stroke
itself had been. And the ladder hung and swayed in the air with the
man who was climbing upward, enveloped in snow, encircled by
lightning; the ladder that seemed cut from a splinter swinging with
the man like a bell in the awful heights. Every one held his breath.
The same expression of horror stared from hundreds of unlike faces at
the man on high. None believed in the daring feat--and yet they saw
the man who dared. It was like something that was at the same time
dream and reality. Nobody believed in it, and yet each one stood
himself on the ladder while under him swung the light splinter in
storm and lightning and thunder, high between heaven and earth. And
again they stood below on the firm earth and looked upward; and yet if
the man should fall it would be they who fell. The people on the firm
ground held convulsively to their own hands, to their canes, to their
clothes, that they might not fall from the terrible height. They stood
secure, and yet at the same time they hung over the abyss of death,
for years, for a lifetime; the past had never been; and yet they had
only been hanging on high for a moment. They forgot the peril to the
town and their own, in the peril of the man above them whose peril was
their own. They saw that the fire was quenched, the danger to the town
was over; they knew it as in a dream when one knows that he dreams; it
was a mere thought without a living meaning. Only when the man had
climbed down the ladder, had disappeared into the door and drawn the
ladder after him, only when the people no longer clung to their own
hands, canes, and clothes, only then did admiration battle with
anxiety, only then did the exultant cry: "Hurrah! Brave fellow!"
become smothered in the lament: "He is lost!" A trembling old voice
began to sing: "Now thank we all our God!" When the aged man came to
the line: "Who has protected us," a great consciousness seemed to
sweep over the people of what might have been lost and what had been
rescued for them. Absolute strangers fell into one another's arms,
each embraced in his neighbor the loved ones whom he might have lost
and who had been saved. All united in the singing of the hymn; the
sounds of thanksgiving swelled through the whole town, soared over the
streets and squares where the people stood who had feared to go
closer, entered the houses, penetrated into the innermost chambers,
rose to the remotest garrets. The sick man in his lonely bed, the old
man in the chair where weakness had bound him, little children who did
not know the meaning of the hymn or of the danger that had been
averted, all joined in the song of praise. The town was one great
church, and storm and thunder the giant organ. Again the cry was
heard: "Nettenmair! Where is Nettenmair? Where is our helper? Where is
our rescuer? Where is the brave fellow? Where is the noble man?" Wind
and storm were forgotten. Everybody pushed forward, looking for the
man who was being called on all sides. The tower of St. George's was
besieged. The carpenter appeared, saying that Nettenmair had lain down
in the watchman's room to rest for a few moments. The carpenter was
beset with questions. Had he been injured at all? Would his health
suffer? The carpenter could tell nothing except that Nettenmair had
done more than a man is capable of doing in the ordinary course of
events. In such supreme moments man is a different being; later he
marvels himself at the power he displayed. But everything must be paid
for. It would not surprise the carpenter if, after the tremendous
exertion, Nettenmair should sleep for three days and nights at a
stretch. The people seemed prepared to wait on the steps for that
length of time, in order to see the brave man as soon as he waked. In
the meantime a prominent man had begun to take up a collection in the
market-place. Money, of course, could not reward such a deed as had
been performed that day; but at least they could show their gratitude
to the courageous doer. Carried away by the impulse of the moment,
acknowledged misers hastened home to fetch their contribution,
regardless of the fact that in an hour they would regret having done
so. Not many of the well-to-do refused to contribute, all the poor
gave their share. The collector was astonished at the rich success of
his efforts.

Apollonius rested for half an hour. Before he lay down he saw that the
lanterns were carefully put out. He closed the door, and had the
sprinkler emptied and the hose brought into the watchman's room so
that the frost could do no harm to them. He was able to stand no
longer. The councilman, who had come to him in the meantime, had to
compel him almost with force, to go down to the watchman's room. His
friend then bolted the door, made Apollonius take off his frozen
clothes, and sat down like a mother at his bedside. Apollonius could
not sleep, but the old man did not allow him to speak. He had brought
rum and sugar with him, and there was hot water enough; but
Apollonius, who had never drunk anything strong, declined the grog
with thanks. In the meantime the workman had brought clothes.
Apollonius assured them that he felt perfectly himself again but that
he felt a hesitancy about getting out of bed. Laughingly the old man
gave him his clothes. Apollonius had undressed under the bedclothes
and in the same way he now dressed beneath them. The councilman turned
his back to him and looked laughingly out of the window at storm and
lightning; whether his smiles were over Apollonius' bashfulness or
from pure joy at having his favorite again he did not know. He had
often regretted having remained a bachelor, now he was almost glad. He
had a son at any rate, and as good a one as a father could wish.

Trouble now began for Apollonius. He was torn from arm to arm; even
women of prominence kissed and embraced him. His hands were so shaken
and squeezed that for three days he had no feeling in them. He did not
lose, however, his naturally noble bearing. His modest, blushing
embarrassment in the face of so much enthusiastic thanks and admiring
praise, became him as well as his brave, determined conduct in time of
danger. Those who did not already know him were amazed; they had
formed a very different conception of him: dark, bold-eyed, audacious,
overflowing with spirits, in fact almost wild. Still they had to
acknowledge that his appearance was not at variance with his deed. His
maidenly blushes lent an added charm to the tall manly figure, and the
modest embarrassment of his honest face, which seemed in no way to
realize what he had done, was very winning; his gentle thoughtfulness
and quiet simplicity placed his achievement in a still more pleasing
light, for it was plainly to be seen that vanity and ambition had
played no part in it.

* * * * *

We pass now in spirit over a period of three decades and return to the
man with whom we were occupied at the beginning of our tale. We left
him in the arbor of his little garden. The bells of St. George's
called the dwellers of the town to morning service; they sounded also
in the garden behind the house with the green shutters. There he sits
every Sunday at this time. When the bells call to afternoon service he
is seen wending his way to church with his silver-headed cane in his
hand. Nobody sees the old gentleman without greeting him with
reverence. It has been nearly thirty years, but there are still people
who lived through that remarkable night. They can tell those who do
not know what the man with the silver-headed cane did for the town on
that night. And to what he set on foot the next day the stones
themselves bear witness. Just outside of the town, on the road to
Brambach, not far from the rifle-range there rises a stately building
with a pleasant garden. It is the new town hospital. Every stranger
who goes to it learns that its conception originated with Herr
Nettenmair. He also has to listen to the entire story of that night,
and of Herr Nettenmair's brave deed, who was then a young man; and how
a collection was taken up for him, and how he gave this money to the
town as a nucleus for the hospital, and how rich citizens, inspired by
his example, donated and bequeathed until, after a number of years, an
additional contribution from the town completed the sum necessary for
the erection of the building.

When Herr Nettenmair returns from church he spends the rest of Sunday
in his little room where he still lives; or he takes a walk to the
slate quarry, which now belongs to him, or rather to his nephews. The
fulfilment of the vow which he made to himself has continued to be the
aim of his life. Everything that he has done he has done for his
brother's family, he has considered himself only the administrator. If
he happens to see a pretty little girl anywhere, he thinks of dear
little dead Annie. His memory is as conscientious as he himself, for
he always calls the child to him, strokes her hair, and it would be
strange indeed if he did not find in the pocket of his blue coat
something or other wrapped up in nice clean paper which he produces to
bring forth a word of thanks from the little mouth. The child,
however, cannot enjoy herself to the full until he has gone, for, in
spite of his friendliness, his tall figure has something so grave and
solemn about it that her joy is usually swallowed up in respect.
During the week Herr Nettenmair sits over his books and letters, or
superintends the packing and unpacking, the chipping and sorting of
the slate. Punctually at twelve o'clock he has his dinner in his room,
punctually at six his evening meal; this takes a quarter of an hour.
Then, rubbing his hand gently over the old sofa, he rises and, if it
is summer time, exercises for three-quarters of an hour in his garden.
On the stroke of a quarter to one and a quarter to seven he latches
the door behind him. On Sunday it is different; then he sits for a
whole hour in the arbor and gazes up at the church roof of St.
George's. There is little for us to tell; the reader knows all that
goes on in Nettenmair's soul, and what he reads from the church tower.
The reader also knows to whom the aged but still beautiful face
belongs that sometimes peers through the trellised arbor at the old
man. The lock which is now white was dark brown and full, falling over
an unwrinkled forehead, the cheeks glowed with youthful strength, the
lips were red and smiling and the blue eyes gleamed when she hastened
to meet the man who had rescued the town. He kissed her gently on the
brow and called her "Sister." She understood what he meant. Even at
that time she looked up to the man with the submission, nay, the
devotion with which she now hangs on his every word; but at that time
there was another feeling as well that showed itself in her open

The old gentleman flew into a rage when Apollonius told him of his
determination not to marry. He gave his son his choice between
considering the honor of the family or returning to Cologne.
Apollonius' heart found it harder than his head to convince his father
that it devolved upon him alone to uphold the honor of the family and
that he must remain. He knew that he could keep his word only by
remaining true to his determination. But he could not tell his father
this, for if the old man should discover the true relation existing
between the two young people he would insist upon the marriage more
strongly than ever. Then he would also have to tell him how his
brother had met his death, and that would cause his father unnecessary
pain. He did not realize that his father in his heart was convinced
that his brother had taken his own life. The two men, so closely
related, did not understand each other. Apollonius assumed that his
father had the same inward sense of honor which he himself possessed;
and the father saw in his son's refusal and in his argument of having
to maintain the position of the family, nothing but the old obstinacy
contending that his presence was indispensable and not even taking the
trouble to conceal itself--he thought that in his son's eyes he was
nothing but a blind, helpless old man. And what caused and furthered
their misunderstanding was reserve, that family trait which they held
in common. On the same morning a delegation had tendered Apollonius
the thanks of the town and its most prominent citizens had vied with
each other in giving tokens of esteem and respect. This was cause
enough to arouse arrogance in an ambitious soul, and cause enough for
the old gentleman, who considered that Apollonius had such a soul, to
believe in this arrogance. The old gentleman had to admit that his son
was indispensable and dared assert neither right nor might against
him. The emotion and mental exertion on the day before the death of
his eldest son had undermined his strength; he collapsed entirely now
and became each day queerer and more sensitive. He no longer demanded
subserviency from Apollonius; he found a certain self-tormenting
pleasure in reproaching his son with unfilial conduct, and in
continually giving expression to his bitter regret that such an
industrious son should have to put up with so much from an overbearing
old father who was not, and never could be, anything any more. At the
same time he rejoiced in his eccentric fashion over the industry of
his son, the growing honor and increasing fortunes of his house. He
lived to see the purchase of the slate quarry which Apollonius had
previously leased. The son endured his father's eccentricities with
the same loving, untiring patience which he had exhibited toward his
brother. He lived only in the thought of fulfilling as completely as
lay within his power the vow that he had made to himself, and in this
vow he had included his father. The success of his work gave him
strength to bear all little annoyances with cheerfulness.

On the day after the winter night's storm he had told the old building
inspector the whole story of his inner life. The councilman, who till
the day of his death clung to Apollonius with all his soul, remained
the latter's only companion, as he was the only person with whom he
could hold intimate intercourse without being untrue to his own

For several days after the storm Apollonius had to lie in bed. A
burning fever had taken hold of him. At first the physician pronounced
his illness a very serious one, but in reality it was only the body
fighting triumphant battle against the general suffering which had
found mental absolution in the resolve of that night. The sympathy of
the town manifested itself in various touching ways. The old
councilman and Valentine were his nurses. The one whom nature through
love and gratitude had determined upon as the best nurse for the sick
man, Apollonius did not call to his bed, and she dared not go
uncalled. Throughout his illness, however, she took up her abode in
the little trellised arbor and remained there so as to be as near to
him as possible. When he slept the old councilman beckoned to her to
enter. Then she stood with folded hands behind the screen at the foot
of his bed and accompanied his every breath with anxiety and hope.
Unconsciously her gentle breathing regulated itself by his. For hours
she stood looking through a crack in the screen at the sick man. He
knew nothing of her presence, and yet the inspector could see how his
sleep became easier, his face more smiling. There was no bottle from
which he took his medicine which, without his knowing it, he did not
receive from her hand, no plaster, no application which she had not
prepared; no cloth, no cover touched him which she had not warmed on
her breast, kissed with her loving lips. When he talked with the
councilman about her, she saw that he was more anxious concerning her
than himself; when he sent friendly, comforting messages to her she
trembled behind the screen with joy. She rested but little; and when
the cold night wind blew flakes of snow through the loose blinds onto
her warm face, when her own breath, frozen on the pillow, touched
icily throat, chin and bosom, she was happy in the thought that she
was allowed to suffer something for him who had suffered all for her.
In those nights sacred love conquered earthly love in her; out of the
pain of sweet, disappointed desire which yearned to possess, arose his
image surrounded once more by that halo of unattainable glory in which
she had known him of yore.

Apollonius recovered quickly. And now began the joint life of these
two people. They saw each other but seldom. He lived in his little
room by himself. Valentine brought him his meals, as always. The
children were often with him. If the two happened to meet, he greeted
her with friendly reserve and she returned his greeting. If they had
anything to discuss together it happened each time as if by chance
that either the maid was present or the children and Valentine. But no
day passed without some silent token of courteous respect. On Sundays,
when he came in from his garden, he brought a bouquet of flowers with
him which Valentine then presented to her. He could have made a
brilliant marriage, gallant lovers sued for her hand; but he repelled
all offers and she all suitors. So passed days, weeks, months, years,
decades. The old gentleman died and was buried. The good councilman
followed, and then Valentine. The children grew to be youths. The
unruly lock over the widow's brow, Apollonius' corkscrew-curl, turned
gray; the children became men, strong and gentle like their teacher
and master; lock and curl were silver white; the life of the two
remained the same.

Now the reader knows all the past which the old man, sitting in his
arbor, reads from St. George's tower when the bells call for Sunday
morning service. Today he looks forward into the future, rather than
backward into the past. For his older nephew is soon to lead Anna
Wohlig's daughter to the altar of St. George's, and then home; not to
the house with the green shutters, however, but to the big house close
by. The pink-tinted house is too small for the growing business--and
besides the new household would not find room there; Herr Nettenmair
has bought the big house across the way. The youngest nephew is going
to Cologne. The old cousin who did so much for Apollonius has been
dead for many years; also the son has died, leaving his large business
to his only child who is the betrothed of Fritz Nettenmair's younger
son. There will be a double wedding at St. George's. The two old
people will then live alone in the house with the green shutters. For
a long time the old gentleman has wanted to hand over the business to
his nephews, but the young men have steadfastly refused till now. The
older nephew insists that his uncle shall remain at the head; the old
gentleman does not wish to do so. A part of the councilman's estate,
which he inherited, he has reserved for himself for his lifetime;
everything else, and that is by no means little, for Herr Nettenmair
is considered a rich man, he will give over to his nephews; what he
has reserved for himself will go at his death to the new town
hospital. He has made good his word; he will go down to his grave with
unsullied name.

The future bride protests against accepting all that her mother-in-law
wants to give her. There is but one thing that the old lady wishes to
keep for herself; it is a little tin box with a withered flower, and
it lies with her Bible and hymn-book, as sacred to the owner as these.

The bells still call. The roses on the tall bushes are fragrant as of
yore; a white-throat sits on the bush beneath the old pear-tree and
sings; a gentle breeze steals through the garden and even the box
around the circular beds rustles its dark leaves. The old gentleman
looks musingly at the tower of St. George's; the beautiful matron's
face peers through the trellis at him. The bells call it, the
white-throat sings it, the roses breathe it, the gentle breeze
whispers it, the beautiful aged faces speak it, from the tower roof of
St. George's you may read it: "Men tell of the happiness and
unhappiness that heaven brings them! What men call happiness and
unhappiness is but the raw material. It lies within man himself to
mold that material as he will. It is not heaven that brings happiness;
man prepares happiness for himself, and raises heaven in his own
breast. Man need take no care to go to heaven, if heaven but comes to
him. Who carries not heaven within himself may search in vain for it
through all the universe. Be guided by reason, but encroach not upon
the sacred bounds of feeling. Turn not disapprovingly from the world
as it is, but seek to be just to it, and it will be just to thee. In
this sense let thy path be


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