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The Indian Lily and Other Stories by Hermann Sudermann

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From the housekeeper's rooms floats an odour of fresh baked breads.
They are having a feast there. Perhaps they mean to prepare one for
the master, too.

A new book that has come a great distance to-day is in my hand.

I read. Another one has made the great discovery that the world begins
with him.

Ah, did it not once begin with me, too?

To be young, to be young! Ah, even if one suffers need--only to be
young!

But who, after all, would care to retrace the difficult road?

Perhaps you, O woman at my side?

I would wager that even you would not.

And I raise a questioning glance though I know her to be far ... and
who stands behind the kettle, framed by the rising of the
bluish steam?

Ah child, have I not seen you often--you with the brownish locks and
the dark lashes over blue eyes ... you with the bird-like twitter in
the throbbing whiteness of your throat, and the light-hearted step?

And yet, did I ever see you? Did I ever see that look which surrounds
me with its ripe wisdom and guesses the secrets of my heart? Did I
ever see that mouth so rich and firm at once which smiles upon me full
of reticent consolation and alluring comprehension?

Who are you, child, that you dare to look me through and through, as
though I had laid my confidence at your feet? Who are you that you
dare to descend wingless into the abysms of my soul, that you can
smile away my torture and my suffocation?

Why did you not come earlier in your authentic form? Why did you not
come as all that which you are to me and will be from this hour on?

Why do you hide yourself in the mist which renders my recognition
turbid and shadows your outlines?

Come to me, for you are she whom I seek, for whom my heart's blood
yearns in order to flow as sacrifice and triumph!

You are the faery who clarifies my eye and steels my will, who brings
to me upon her young hands my own youth! Come to me and do not leave
me again as you have so often left me!

I start up to stretch out my arms to her and see how her glance
becomes estranged and her smile as of stone. As one who is asleep with
open eyes, thus she stands there and stares past me.

I try to find her, to clasp her, to force her spirit to see me.
Without repulsing me she glides softly from me.... The walls open. ...
The stones of the stairs break.... We flee out into the wintry
silence....

She glides before me over the pallid velvet of the road ... over the
tinkling glass of the frozen heath ... through the glittering boughs.
She smiles--for whom?

The hilly fields, hardened by the frost, the bushes scattering
ice--everything obstructs my way. I break through and follow her.

But she glides on before me, scarcely a foot above the ground, but
farther, farther ... over the broken earth, down the precipice ... to
the lake whose bluish surface of new ice melts in the distance into
the afterglow.

Now she hangs over the bank like a cloud of smoke, and the wind that
blows upon my back, raises the edges of her dress like triangular
pennants. "Stay, Thea.... I cannot follow you across the lake! ...
The water will not upbear a mortal."...

But the rising wind pushes her irresistibly on.

Now I stand as the edge of the lake. The thin ice forces upward great
hollow bubbles....

Will it suffer my groping feet? Will it break and whelm me in brackish
water and morass?

There is no room for hesitation. For already the wind is sweeping her
afar.

And I venture out upon the glassy floor which is no floor at all, but
which a brief frost threw as a deceptive mirror across the deep.

It bears me up for five paces, for six, for ten. Then suddenly the cry
of harps is in my ear and something like an earthquake quivers through
my limbs. And this sound grows into a mighty crunching and waxes into
thunder which sounds afar and returns from the distance in echoing
detonation.

But at my left hand glitters a cleft which furrows the ice with
manicoloured splinters and runs from me into the invisible.

What is to be done? On... on...!

And again the harps cry out and a great rattling flies forth and
returns as thunder. And again a great cleft opens its brilliant hues
at my side. On, on ... to seek her smiling, even though the smile is
not for me. It will be for me if only I can grasp the hem of
her garment.

A third cleft opens; a fourth crosses it, uniting it to the first.

I must cross. But I dare not jump, for the ice must not crumble lest
an abysm open at my feet.

It is no longer a sheet of ice upon which I travel--it is a net-work
of clefts. Between them lies something blue and all but invisible that
bears me by the merest chance. I can see the tangled water grasses
wind about and the polished fishes dart whom my body will feed unless
a miracle happens.

Lit by the gathering afterglow a plain of fire stretches out before
me, and far on the horizon the saving shore looms dark.

Farther ... farther!

Sinister and deceptive springs arise to my right and left and hurl
their waters across my path.... A soft gurgling is heard and at last
drowns the resonant sound of thunder.

Farther, farther.... Mere life is at stake.

There in the distance a cloud dislimns which but now lured me to death
with its girlish smile. What do I care now?

The struggle endures for eternities. The wind drives me on. I avoid
the clefts, wade through the springs; I measure the distances, for now
I have to jump.... The depths are yawning about me.

The ice under my feet begins to rock. It rocks like a cradle, heaving
and falling at every step ... It would be a charming game were it not
a game with death.

My breath comes flying ... my heart-beats throttle me ... sparks
quiver before my eyes.

Let me rock ... rock ... rock back to the dark sources of being.

A springing fountain, higher than all the others, hisses up before
me.... Edges and clods rise into points.

One spring ... the last of all ... hopeless ... inspired by the
desperate will to live.

Ah, what is that?

Is that not the goodly earth beneath my feet--the black, hard, stable
earth?

It is but a tiny islet formed of frozen mud and roots; it is scarcely
two paces across, but large enough to give security to my
sinking body.

I am ashore, saved, for only a few arm lengths from me arises the
reedy line of the shore.

A drove of wild ducks rises in diagonal flight. ... Purple radiance
pours through the twigs of trees.... From nocturnal heavens the first
stars shine upon me.

The ghostly game is over! The faery hunt is as an end.

One truth I realise: He who has firm ground under his feet needs no
faeries.

And serenely I stride into the sunset world.

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