In this category:

Or see the index

All categories

  1. CINEMA, RADIO & TV
  2. DANCE
  3. DICTIONARY OF IDEAS
  4. EXHIBITION – art, art history, photos, paintings, drawings, sculpture, ready-mades, video, performing arts, collages, gallery, etc.
  5. FICTION & NON-FICTION – books, booklovers, lit. history, biography, essays, translations, short stories, columns, literature: celtic, beat, travesty, war, dada & de stijl, drugs, dead poets
  6. FLEURSDUMAL POETRY LIBRARY – classic, modern, experimental & visual & sound poetry, poetry in translation, city poets, poetry archive, pre-raphaelites, editor's choice, etc.
  7. LITERARY NEWS & EVENTS – art & literature news, in memoriam, festivals, city-poets, writers in Residence
  8. MONTAIGNE
  9. MUSEUM OF LOST CONCEPTS – invisible poetry, conceptual writing, spurensicherung
  10. MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY – department of ravens & crows, birds of prey, riding a zebra
  11. MUSEUM OF PUBLIC PROTEST- photos, texts, videos, street poetry
  12. MUSIC
  13. PRESS & PUBLISHING
  14. REPRESSION OF WRITERS, JOURNALISTS & ARTISTS
  15. STORY ARCHIVE – olv van de veestraat, reading room, tales for fellow citizens
  16. STREET POETRY
  17. THEATRE
  18. TOMBEAU DE LA JEUNESSE – early death: writers, poets & artists who died young
  19. ULTIMATE LIBRARY – danse macabre, ex libris, grimm and others, fairy tales, the art of reading, tales of mystery & imagination, sherlock holmes theatre, erotic poetry, the ideal woman
  20. ·




  1. Subscribe to new material:
    RSS     ATOM

FICTION: SHORT STORIES

· Frank STOCKTON: The Griffin and the Minor Canon · Arthur Conan DOYLE: The Los Amigos Fiasco (Round the Red Lamp #13) · Oscar WILDE: Les Silhouettes · James JOYCE: Nightpiece · Arthur Conan DOYLE: Lot No. 249 (Round the Red Lamp #12) · Arthur Conan DOYLE: A Medical Document (Round the Red Lamp #11) · Oscar WILDE: To My Wife · ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: A Question of Diplomacy (Round the Red Lamp #10) · Edgar Allan POE: The City in the Sea · James JOYCE: I Hear an Army · Franz KAFKA: Brief an den Vater · Arthur Conan DOYLE: The Case of Lady Sannox (Round the Red Lamp #09)

»» there is more...

Frank STOCKTON: The Griffin and the Minor Canon

stockton-frank-fdmThe Griffin and the Minor Canon
by Frank Stockton

Over the great door of an old, old church which stood in a quiet town of a faraway land there was carved in stone the figure of a large griffin. The old-time sculptor had done his work with great care, but the image he had made was not a pleasant one to look at. It had a large head, with enormous open mouth and savage teeth; from its back arose great wings, armed with sharp hooks and prongs; it had stout legs in front, with projecting claws, but there were no legs behind–the body running out into a long and powerful tail, finished off at the end with a barbed point. This tail was coiled up under him, the end sticking up just back of his wings.

The sculptor, or the people who had ordered this stone figure, had evidently been very much pleased with it, for little copies of it, also of stone, had been placed here and there along the sides of the church, not very far from the ground so that people could easily look at them, and ponder on their curious forms. There were a great many other sculptures on the outside of this church–saints, martyrs, grotesque heads of men, beasts, and birds, as well as those of other creatures which cannot be named, because nobody knows exactly what they were; but none were so curious and interesting as the great griffin over the door, and the little griffins on the sides of the church.
A long, long distance from the town, in the midst of dreadful wilds scarcely known to man, there dwelt the Griffin whose image had been put up over the church door. In some way or other, the old-time sculptor had seen him and afterward, to the best of his memory, had copied his figure in stone.

The Griffin had never known this, until, hundreds of years afterward, he heard from a bird, from a wild animal, or in some manner which it is not now easy to find out, that there was a likeness of him on the old church in the distant town.

Now, this Griffin had no idea how he looked. He had never seen a mirror, and the streams where he lived were so turbulent and violent that a quiet piece of water, which would reflect the image of anything looking into it, could not be found. Being, as far as could be ascertained, the very last of his race, he had never seen another griffin. Therefore it was that, when he heard of this stone image of himself, he became very anxious to know what he looked like, and at last he determined to go to the old church, and see for himself what manner of being he was.

So he started off from the dreadful wilds, and flew on and on until he came to the countries inhabited by men, where his appearance in the air created great consternation; but he alighted nowhere, keeping up a steady flight until he reached the suburbs of the town which had his image on its church. Here, late in the afternoon, he lighted in a green meadow by the side of a brook, and stretched himself on the grass to rest. His great wings were tired, for he had not made such a long flight in a century, or more.

The news of his coming spread quickly over the town, and the people, frightened nearly out of their wits by the arrival of so strange a visitor, fled into their houses, and shut themselves up. The Griffin called loudly for someone to come to him but the more he called, the more afraid the people were to show themselves. At length he saw two laborers hurrying to their homes through the fields, and in a terrible voice he commanded them to stop. Not daring to disobey, the men stood, trembling.

“What is the matter with you all?” cried the Griffin. “Is there not a man in your town who is brave enough to speak to me?”

“I think,” said one of the laborers, his voice shaking so that his words could hardly be understood, “that-perhaps–the Minor Canon–would come.”

“Go, call him, then” said the Griffin; “I want to see him.”

The Minor Canon, who was an assistant in the old church, had just finished the afternoon services, and was coming out of a side door, with three aged women who had formed the weekday congregation. He was a young man of a kind disposition, and very anxious to do good to the people of the town. Apart from his duties in the church, where he conducted services every weekday, he visited the sick and the poor, counseled and assisted persons who were in trouble, and taught a school composed entirely of the bad children in the town with whom nobody else would have anything to do. Whenever the people wanted something difficult done for them, they always went to the Minor Canon. Thus it was that the laborer thought of the young priest when he found that someone must come and speak to the Griffin.

The Minor Canon had not heard of the strange event, which was known to the whole town except himself and the three old women and when he was informed of it, and was told that the Griffin had asked to see him, he was greatly amazed and frightened.

“Me!” he exclaimed. “He has never heard of me! What should he want with me?”

“Oh! you must go instantly!” cried the two men. “He is very angry now because he has been kept waiting so long; and nobody knows what may happen if you don’t hurry to him.”

The poor Minor Canon would rather have had his hand cut off than go out to meet an angry Griffin but he felt that it was his duty to go for it would be a woeful thing if injury should come to the people of the town because he was not brave enough to obey the summons of the Griffin. So, pale and frightened, he started off.

‘Well,” said the Griffin, as soon as the young man came near, “I am glad to see that there is someone who has the courage to come to me.”

The Minor Canon did not feel very brave, but he bowed his head.

‘Is this the town,” said the Griffin, “where there is a church with a likeness of myself over one of the doors?”

The Minor Canon looked at the frightful creature before him and saw that it was, without doubt, exactly like the stone image on the church. “Yes,” he said, “you are right.”

“Well, then,” said the Griffin, “will you take me to it? I wish very much to see it.”

The Minor Canon instantly thought that if the Griffin entered the town without the people’s knowing what he came for, some of them would probably be frightened to death, and so he sought to gain time to prepare their minds.

‘It is growing dark, now,” he said, very much afraid, as he spoke, that his words might enrage the Griffin, “and objects on the front of the church cannot be seen clearly. It will be better to wait until morning, if you wish to get a good view of the stone image of yourself.”

“That will suit me very well,” said the Griffin. “I see you are a man of good sense. I am tired, and I will take a nap here on this soft grass, while I cool my tail in the little stream that runs near me. The end of my tail gets red-hot when I am angry or excited, and it is quite warm now. So you may go; but be sure and come early tomorrow morning, and show me the way to the church.”

The Minor Canon was glad enough to take his leave, and hurried into the town. In front of the church he found a great many people assembled to hear his report of his interview with the Griffin. When they found that he had not come to spread rum, but simply to see his stony likeness on the church, they showed neither relief nor gratification, but began to upbraid the Minor Canon for consenting to conduct the creature into the town.

‘What could I do?” cried the young man. “If I should not bring him he would come himself, and, perhaps, end by setting fire to the town with his red-hot tail.”

Still the people were not satisfied, and a great many plans were proposed to prevent the Griffin from coming into the town. Some elderly persons urged that the young men should go out and kill him; but the young men scoffed at such a ridiculous idea.

Then someone said that it would be a good thing to destroy the stone image, so that the Griffin would have no excuse for entering the town; and this plan was received with such favor that many of the people ran for hammers, chisels, and crowbars, with which to tear down and break up the stone griffin. But the Minor Canon resisted this plan with all the strength of his mind and body. He assured the people that this action would enrage the Griffin beyond measure, for it would be impossible to conceal from him that his image had been destroyed during the night. But the people were so determined to break up the stone griffin that the Minor Canon saw that there was nothing for him to do but to stay there and protect it. All night he walked up and down in front of the church door, keeping away the men who brought ladders, by which they might mount to the great stone griffin, and knock it to pieces with their hammers and crowbars. After many hours the people were obliged to give up their attempts, and went home to sleep; but the Minor Canon remained at his post till early morning, and then he hurried away to the field where he had left the Griffin.
The monster had just awakened, and rising to his forelegs and shaking himself he said that he was ready to go into the town. The Minor Canon, therefore, walked back, the Griffin flying slowly through the air, at a short distance above the head of his guide. Not a person was to be seen in the streets, and they went directly to the front of the church, where the Minor Canon pointed out the stone griffin.

The real Griffin settled down in the little square before the church and gazed earnestly at his sculptured likeness. For a long time he looked at it. First he put his head on one side, and then he put it on the other; then he shut his right eye and gazed with his left, after which he shut his left eye and gazed with his right. Then he moved a little to one side and looked at the image, then he moved the other way. After a while he said to the Minor Canon, who had been standing by all this time:

“It is, it must be, an excellent likeness! That breadth between the eyes, that expansive forehead, those massive jaws! I feel that it must resemble me. If there is any fault to find with it, it is that the neck seems a little stiff. But that is nothing. It is an admirable likeness–admirable!”

The Griffin sat looking at his image all the morning and all the afternoon. The Minor Canon had been afraid to go away and leave him, and had hoped all through the day that he would soon be satisfied with his inspection and fly away home. But by evening the poor young man was very tired, and felt that he must eat and sleep. He frankly said this to the Griffin, and asked him if he would not like something to eat. He said this because he felt obliged in politeness to do so, but as soon as he had spoken the words, he was seized with dread lest the monster should demand half a dozen babies, or some tempting repast of that kind.

“Oh, no,” said the Griffin; ‘I never eat between the equinoxes. At the vernal and at the autumnal equinox I take a good meal, and that lasts me for half a year. I am extremely regular in my habits, and do not think it healthful to eat at odd times. But if you need food, go and get it, and I will return to the soft grass where I slept last night and take another nap.”

The next day the Griffin came again to the little square before the church, and remained there until evening, steadfastly regarding the stone griffin over the door. The Minor Canon came out once or twice to look at him, and the Griffin seemed very glad to see him; but the young clergyman could not stay as he had done before, for he had many duties to perform. Nobody went to the church, but the people came to the Minor Canon’s house, and anxiously asked him how long the Griffin was going to stay.

“I do not know,” he answered, “but I think he will soon be satisfied with regarding his stone likeness, and then he will go away.”

But the Griffin did not go away. Morning after morning he came to the church; but after a time he did not stay there all day. He seemed to have taken a great fancy to the Minor Canon, and followed him about as he worked. He would wait for him at the side door of the church, for the Minor Canon held services every day, morning and evening, though nobody came now. “If anyone should come,” he said to himself, “I must be found at my post.” When the young man came out, the Griffin would accompany him in his visits to the sick and the poor, and would often look into the windows of the schoolhouse where the Minor Canon was teaching his unruly scholars. All the other schools were closed, but the parents of the Minor Canon’s scholars forced them to go to school, because they were so bad they could not endure them all day at home–Griffin or no Griffin. But it must be said they generally behaved very well when that great monster sat up on his tail and looked in at the schoolroom window.

When it was found that the Griffin showed no sign of going away, all the people who were able to do so left the town. The canons and the higher officers of the church had fled away during the first day of the Griffin’s visit, leaving behind only the Minor Canon and some of the men who opened the doors and swept the church. All the citizens who could afford it shut up their houses and traveled to distant parts, and only the working people and the poor were left behind. After some days these ventured to go about and attend to their business, for if they did not work they would starve. They were getting a little used to seeing the Griffin; and having been told that he did not eat between equinoxes, they did not feel so much afraid of him as before.

Day by day the Griffin became more and more attached to the Minor Canon. He kept near him a great part of the time, and often spent the night in front of the little house where the young clergyman lived alone. This strange companionship was often burdensome to the Minor Canon, but, on the other hand, he could not deny that he derived a great deal of benefit and instruction from it. The Griffin had lived for hundreds of years, and had seen much, and he told the Minor Canon many wonderful things.

“It is like reading an old book,” said the young clergyman to himself; “but how many books I would have had to read before I would have found out what the Griffin has told me about the earth, the air, the water, about minerals, and metals, and growing things, and all the wonders of the world!”

Thus the summer went on, and drew toward its close. And now the people of the town began to be very much troubled again.

“It will not be long,” they said, “before the autumnal equinox is here, and then that monster will want to eat. He will be dreadfully hungry, for he has taken so much exercise since his last meal. He will devour our children. Without doubt, he will eat them all. What is to be done?”

To this question no one could give an answer, but all agreed that the Griffin must not be allowed to remain until the approaching equinox. After talking over the matter a great deal, a crowd of the people went to the Minor Canon at a time when the Griffin was not with him.
‘It is all your fault,” they said, “that that monster is among us. You brought him here, and you ought to see that he goes away. It is only on your account that he stays here at all; for, although he visits his image every day, he is with you the greater part of the time. If you were not here, he would not stay. It is your duty to go away, and then he will follow you, and we shall be free from the dreadful danger which hangs over us.”

“Go away!” cried the Minor Canon, greatly grieved at being spoken to in such a way. “Where shall I go? If I go to some other town, shall I not take this trouble there? Have I a right to do that?”

“No,” said the people, “you must not go to any other town. There is no town far enough away. You must go to the dreadful wilds where the Griffin lives, and then he will follow you and stay there.”

They did not say whether or not they expected the Minor Canon to stay there also, and he did not ask them anything about it. He bowed his head, and went into his house to think. The more he thought, the more clear it became to his mind that it was his duty to go away, and thus free the town from the presence of the Griffin.

That evening he packed a leathern bag full of bread and meat, and early the next morning he set out or his journey to the dreadful wilds. It was a long, weary, and doleful journey, especially after he had gone beyond the habitations of men; but the Minor Canon kept on bravely, and never faltered.

The way was longer than he had expected, and his provisions soon grew so scanty that he was obliged to eat but a little every day; but he kept up his courage, and pressed on, and, after many days of toilsome travel, he reached the dreadful wilds.

When the Griffin found that the Minor Canon had left the town he seemed sorry, but showed no desire to go and look for him. After a few days had passed he became much annoyed, and asked some of the people where the Minor Canon had gone. But, although the citizens had been so anxious that the young clergyman should go to the dreadful wilds, thinking that the Griffin would immediately follow him, they were now afraid to mention the Minor Canon’s destination, for the monster seemed angry already, and if he should suspect their trick he would, doubtless, become very much enraged. So everyone said he did not know, and the Griffin wandered about disconsolate. One morning he looked into the Minor Canon’s schoolhouse, which was always empty now, and thought that it was a shame that everything should suffer on account of the young man’s absence.

“It does not matter so much about the church,” he said, “for nobody went there; but it is a pity about the school. I think I will teach it myself until he returns.”

It was the hour for opening the school, and the Griffin went inside and pulled the rope which rang the school bell. Some of the children who heard the bell ran in to see what was the matter, supposing it to be a joke of one of their companions; but when they saw the Griffin they stood astonished and scared.

“Go tell the other scholars,” said the monster, “that school is about to open, and that if they are not all here in ten minutes I shall come after them.”

In seven minutes every scholar was in place.

Never was seen such an orderly school. Not a boy or girl moved or uttered a whisper. The Griffin climbed into the master’s seat, his wide wings spread on each side of him, because he could not lean back in his chair while they stuck out behind, and his great tail coiled around, in front of the desk, the barbed end sticking up, ready to tap any boy or girl who might misbehave.

The Griffin now addressed the scholars, telling them that he intended to teach them while their master was away. In speaking he tried to imitate, as far as possible, the mild and gentle tones of the Minor Canon; but it must be admitted that in this he was not very successful. He had paid a good deal of attention to the studies of the school, and he determined not to try to teach them anything new, but to review them in what they had been studying; so he called up the various classes, and questioned them upon their previous lessons. The children racked their brains to remember what they had learned. They were so afraid of the Griffin’s displeasure that they recited as they had never recited before. One of the boys, far down in his class, answered so well that the Griffin was astonished.

‘I should think you would be at the head,” said he. “I am sure you have never been in the habit of reciting so well. Why is this?”

“Because I did not choose to take the trouble,” said the boy, trembling in his boots. He felt obliged to speak the truth, for all the children thought that the great eyes of the Griffin could see right through them, and that he would know when they told a falsehood.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” said the Griffin. “Go down to the very tail of the class; and if you are not at the head in two days, I shall know the reason why.”

The next afternoon this boy was Number One.

It was astonishing how much these children now learned of what they had been studying. It was as if they had been educated over again. The Griffin used no severity toward them, but there was a look about him which made them unwilling to go to bed until they were sure they knew their lessons for the next day.

The Griffin now thought that he ought to visit the sick and the poor; and he began to go about the town for this purpose. The effect upon the sick was miraculous. All, except those who were very ill indeed, jumped from their beds when they heard he was coming, and declared themselves quite well. To those who could not get up he gave herbs and roots, which none of them had ever before thought of as medicines, but which the Griffin had seen used in various parts of the world; and most of them recovered. But, for all that, they afterward said that, no matter what happened to them, they hoped that they should never again have such a doctor coming to their bedsides, feeling their pulses and looking at their tongues.

As for the poor, they seemed to have utterly disappeared. All those who had depended upon charity for their daily bread were now at work in some way or other; many of them offering to do odd jobs for their neighbors just for the sake of their meals–a thing which before had been seldom heard of in the town. The Griffin could find no one who needed his assistance.

The summer had now passed, and the autumnal equinox was rapidly approaching. The citizens were in a state of great alarm and anxiety. The Griffin showed no signs of going away, but seemed to have settled himself permanently among them. In a short time the day for his semiannual meal would arrive, and then what would happen? The monster would certainly be very hungry, and would devour all their children.

Now they greatly regretted and lamented that they had sent away the Minor Canon; he was the only one on whom they could have depended in this trouble, for he could talk freely with the Griffin, and so find out what could be done. But it would not do to be inactive. Some step must be taken immediately. A meeting of the citizens was called, and two old men were appointed to go and talk to the Griffin. They were instructed to offer to prepare a splendid dinner for him on equinox day-one which would entirely satisfy his hunger. They would offer him the fattest mutton, the most tender beef fish, and game of various sorts, and anything of the kind that he might fancy. If none of these suited, they were to mention that there was an orphan asylum in the next town.

“Anything would be better,” said the citizens, “than to have our dear children devoured.”

The old men went to the Griffin; but their propositions were not received with favor.

“From what I have seen of the people of this town,” said the monster, “I do not think I could relish anything which was prepared by them. They appear to be all cowards and, therefore, mean and selfish. As for eating one of them, old or young, I could not think of it for a moment. In fact, there was only one creature in the whole place for whom I could have had any appetite, and that is the Minor Canon, who has gone away. He was brave, and good, and honest, and I think I should have relished him.”

“Ah!” said one of the old men very politely, “in that case I wish we had not sent him to the dreadful wilds!”

“What!” cried the Griffin. “What do you mean? Explain instantly what you are talking about!”

The old man, terribly frightened at what he had said, was obliged to tell how the Minor Canon had been sent away by the people, in the hope that the Griffin might be induced to follow him.

When the monster heard this he became furiously angry. He dashed away from the old men, and, spreading his wings, flew backward and forward over the town. He was so much excited that his tail became red-hot, and glowed like a meteor against the evening sky. When at last he settled down in the little field where he usually rested, and thrust his tail into the brook, the steam arose like a cloud, and the water of the stream ran hot through the town. The citizens were greatly frightened, and bitterly blamed the old man for telling about the Minor Canon.

“It is plain,” they said, “that the Griffin intended at last to go and look for him, and we should have been saved. Now who can tell what misery you have brought upon us.”

The Griffin did not remain long in the little field. As soon as his tail was cool he flew to the town hall and rang the bell. The citizens knew that they were expected to come there; and although they were afraid to go, they were still more afraid to stay away; and they crowded into the hall. The Griffin was on the platform at one end, flapping his wings and walking up and down, and the end of his tail was still so warm that it slightly scorched the boards as he dragged it after him.

When everybody who was able to come was there, the Griffin stood still and addressed the meeting.

‘I have had a very low opinion of you,” he said, “ever since I discovered what cowards you are, but I had no idea that you were so ungrateful, selfish, and cruel as I now find you to be. Here was your Minor Canon, who labored day and night for your good, and thought of nothing else but how he might benefit you and make you happy; and as soon as you imagine yourselves threatened with a danger–for well I know you are dreadfully afraid of me–you send him off, caring not whether he returns or perishes, hoping thereby to save yourselves. Now, I had conceived a great liking for that young man, and had intended, in a day or two, to go and look him up. But I have changed my mind about him. I shall go and find him, but I shall send him back here to live among you, and I intend that he shall enjoy the reward of his labor and his sacrifices.

“Go, some of you, to the officers of the church, who so cowardly ran away when I first came here, and tell them never to return to this town under penalty of death. And if, when your Minor Canon comes back to you, you do not bow yourselves before him, put him in the highest place among you, and serve and honor him all his life, beware of my terrible vengeance! There were only two good things in this town: the Minor Canon and the stone image of myself over your church door. One of these you have sent away, and the other I shall carry away myself.”

With these words he dismissed the meeting, and it was time, for the end of his tail had become so hot that there was danger of it setting fire to the building.

The next morning the Griffin came to the church, and tearing the stone image of himself from its fastenings over the great door he grasped it with his powerful forelegs and flew up into the air. Then, after hovering over the town for a moment, he gave his tail an angry shake and took up his flight to the dreadful wilds. When he reached this desolate region, he set the stone griffin upon a ledge of a rock which rose in front of the dismal cave he called his home. There the image occupied a position somewhat similar to that it had had over the church door; and the Griffin, panting with the exertion of carrying such an enormous load to so great a distance, lay down upon the ground and regarded it with much satisfaction. When he felt somewhat rested he went to look for the Minor Canon. He found the young man, weak and half starved, lying under the shadow of a rock. After picking him up and carrying him to his cave, the Griffin flew away to a distant marsh, where he procured some roots and herbs which he well knew were strengthening and beneficial to man, though he had never tasted them himself. After eating these the Minor Canon was greatly revived, and sat up and listened while the Griffin told him what had happened in the town.

“Do you know,” said the monster, when he had finished, “that I have had, and still have, a great liking for you?”

“I am very glad to hear it,” said the Minor Canon, with his usual politeness.

“I am not at all sure that you would be,” said the Griffin, “if you thoroughly understood the state of the case; but we will not consider that now. If some things were different, other things would be otherwise. I have been so enraged by discovering the manner in which you have been treated that I have determined that you shall at last enjoy the rewards and honors to which you are entitled. Lie down and have a good sleep, and then I will take you back to the town.”

As he heard these words, a look of trouble came over the young man’s face.

“You need not give yourself any anxiety,” said the Griffin, “about my return to the town. I shall not remain there. Now that I have that admirable likeness of myself in front of my cave, where I can sit at my leisure, and gaze upon its noble features and magnificent proportions, I have no wish to see that abode of cowardly and selfish people.”

The Minor Canon, relieved from his fears, lay back, and dropped into a doze; and when he was sound asleep the Griffin took him up, and carried him back to the town. He arrived just before daybreak, and putting the young man gently on the grass in the little field where he himself used to rest, the monster, without having been seen by any of the people, flew back to his home.

When the Minor Canon made his appearance in the morning among the citizens, the enthusiasm and cordiality with which he was received were truly wonderful. He was taken to a house which had been occupied by one of the banished high officers of the place, and everyone was anxious to do all that could be done for his health and comfort. The people crowded into the church when he held services, so that the three old women who used to be his weekday congregation could not get to the best seats, which they had always been in the habit of taking; and the parents of the bad children determined to reform them at home, in order that he might be spared the trouble of keeping up his former school. The Minor Canon was appointed to the highest office of the old church, and before he died, he became a bishop.
During the first years after his return from the dreadful wilds, the people of the town looked up to him as a man to whom they were bound to do honor and reverence; but they often, also, looked up to the sky to see if there were any signs of the Griffin coming back. However, in the course of time, they learned to honor and reverence their former Minor Canon without the fear of being punished if they did not do so.

But they need never have been afraid of the Griffin. The autumnal equinox day came round, and the monster ate nothing. If he could not have the Minor Canon, he did not care for anything. So, lying down, with his eyes fixed upon the great stone griffin, he gradually declined, and died. It was a good thing for some of the people of the town that they did not know this.

If you should ever visit the old town, you would still see the little griffins on the sides of the church; but the great stone griffin that was over the door is gone.

Frank Stockton (1834-1902)
The Griffin and the Minor Canon
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: -Short Stories Archive, Archive S-T


Arthur Conan DOYLE: The Los Amigos Fiasco (Round the Red Lamp #13)

fdm-aconandoyle12The Los Amigos Fiasco
by Arthur Conan Doyle

I used to be the leading practitioner of Los Amigos. Of course, everyone has heard of the great electrical generating gear there. The town is wide spread, and there are dozens of little townlets and villages all round, which receive their supply from the same centre, so that the works are on a very large scale. The Los Amigos folk say that they are the largest upon earth, but then we claim that for everything in Los Amigos except the gaol and the death-rate. Those are said to be the smallest.

Now, with so fine an electrical supply, it seemed to be a sinful waste of hemp that the Los Amigos criminals should perish in the old-fashioned manner. And then came the news of the eleotrocutions in the East, and how the results had not after all been so instantaneous as had been hoped. The Western Engineers raised their eyebrows when they read of the puny shocks by which these men had perished, and they vowed in Los Amigos that when an irreclaimable came their way he should be dealt handsomely by, and have the run of all the big dynamos. There should be no reserve, said the engineers, but he should have all that they had got. And what the result of that would be none could predict, save that it must be absolutely blasting and deadly. Never before had a man been so charged with electricity as they would charge him. He was to be smitten by the essence of ten thunderbolts. Some prophesied combustion, and some disintegration and disappearance. They were waiting eagerly to settle the question by actual demonstration, and it was just at that moment that Duncan Warner came that way.

Warner had been wanted by the law, and by nobody else, for many years. Desperado, murderer, train robber and road agent, he was a man beyond the pale of human pity. He had deserved a dozen deaths, and the Los Amigos folk grudged him so gaudy a one as that. He seemed to feel himself to be unworthy of it, for he made two frenzied attempts at escape. He was a powerful, muscular man, with a lion head, tangled black locks, and a sweeping beard which covered his broad chest. When he was tried, there was no finer head in all the crowded court. It’s no new thing to find the best face looking from the dock. But his good looks could not balance his bad deeds. His advocate did all he knew, but the cards lay against him, and Duncan Warner was handed over to the mercy of the big Los Amigos dynamos.

I was there at the committee meeting when the matter was discussed. The town council had chosen four experts to look after the arrangements. Three of them were admirable. There was Joseph M’Conner, the very man who had designed the dynamos, and there was Joshua Westmacott, the chairman of the Los Amigos Electrical Supply Company, Limited. Then there was myself as the chief medical man, and lastly an old German of the name of Peter Stulpnagel. The Germans were a strong body at Los Amigos, and they all voted for their man. That was how he got on the committee. It was said that he had been a wonderful electrician at home, and he was eternally working with wires and insulators and Leyden jars; but, as he never seemed to get any further, or to have any results worth publishing he came at last to be regarded as a harmless crank, who had made science his hobby. We three practical men smiled when we heard that he had been elected as our colleague, and at the meeting we fixed it all up very nicely among ourselves without much thought of the old fellow who sat with his ears scooped forward in his hands, for he was a trifle hard of hearing, taking no more part in the proceedings than the gentlemen of the press who scribbled their notes on the back benches.

We did not take long to settle it all. In New York a strength of some two thousand volts had been used, and death had not been instantaneous. Evidently their shock had been too weak. Los Amigos should not fall into that error. The charge should be six times greater, and therefore, of course, it would be six times more effective. Nothing could possibly be more logical. The whole concentrated force of the great dynamos should be employed on Duncan Warner.

So we three settled it, and had already risen to break up the meeting, when our silent companion opened his month for the first time.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “you appear to me to show an extraordinary ignorance upon the subject of electricity. You have not mastered the first principles of its actions upon a human being.”

The committee was about to break into an angry reply to this brusque comment, but the chairman of the Electrical Company tapped his forehead to claim its indulgence for the crankiness of the speaker.

“Pray tell us, sir,” said he, with an ironical smile, “what is there in our conclusions with which you find fault?”

“With your assumption that a large dose of electricity will merely increase the effect of a small dose. Do you not think it possible that it might have an entirely different result? Do you know anything, by actual experiment, of the effect of such powerful shocks?”

“We know it by analogy,” said the chairman, pompously. “All drugs increase their effect when they increase their dose; for example—for example——”

“Whisky,” said Joseph M’Connor.

“Quite so. Whisky. You see it there.”

Peter Stulpnagel smiled and shook his head.

“Your argument is not very good,” said he. “When I used to take whisky, I used to find that one glass would excite me, but that six would send me to sleep, which is just the opposite. Now, suppose that electricity were to act in just the opposite way also, what then?”

We three practical men burst out laughing. We had known that our colleague was queer, but we never had thought that he would be as queer as this.

“What then?” repeated Philip Stulpnagel.

“We’ll take our chances,” said the chairman.

“Pray consider,” said Peter, “that workmen who have touched the wires, and who have received shocks of only a few hundred volts, have died instantly. The fact is well known. And yet when a much greater force was used upon a criminal at New York, the man struggled for some little time. Do you not clearly see that the smaller dose is the more deadly?”

“I think, gentlemen, that this discussion has been carried on quite long enough,” said the chairman, rising again. “The point, I take it, has already been decided by the majority of the committee, and Duncan Warner shall be electrocuted on Tuesday by the full strength of the Los Amigos dynamos. Is it not so?”

“I agree,” said Joseph M’Connor.

“I agree,” said I.

“And I protest,” said Peter Stulpnagel.

“Then the motion is carried, and your protest will be duly entered in the minutes,” said the chairman, and so the sitting was dissolved.

The attendance at the electrocution was a very small one. We four members of the committee were, of course, present with the executioner, who was to act under their orders. The others were the United States Marshal, the governor of the gaol, the chaplain, and three members of the press. The room was a small brick chamber, forming an outhouse to the Central Electrical station. It had been used as a laundry, and had an oven and copper at one side, but no other furniture save a single chair for the condemned man. A metal plate for his feet was placed in front of it, to which ran a thick, insulated wire. Above, another wire depended from the ceiling, which could be connected with a small metallic rod projecting from a cap which was to be placed upon his head. When this connection was established Duncan Warner’s hour was come.

There was a solemn hush as we waited for the coming of the prisoner. The practical engineers looked a little pale, and fidgeted nervously with the wires. Even the hardened Marshal was ill at ease, for a mere hanging was one thing, and this blasting of flesh and blood a very different one. As to the pressmen, their faces were whiter than the sheets which lay before them. The only man who appeared to feel none of the influence of these preparations was the little German crank, who strolled from one to the other with a smile on his lips and mischief in his eyes. More than once he even went so far as to burst into a shout of laughter, until the chaplain sternly rebuked him for his ill-timed levity.

“How can you so far forget yourself, Mr. Stulpnagel,” said he, “as to jest in the presence of death?”

But the German was quite unabashed.

“If I were in the presence of death I should not jest,” said he, “but since I am not I may do what I choose.”

This flippant reply was about to draw another and a sterner reproof from the chaplain, when the door was swung open and two warders entered leading Duncan Warner between them. He glanced round him with a set face, stepped resolutely forward, and seated himself upon the chair.

“Touch her off!” said he.

It was barbarous to keep him in suspense. The chaplain murmured a few words in his ear, the attendant placed the cap upon his head, and then, while we all held our breath, the wire and the metal were brought in contact.

“Great Scott!” shouted Duncan Warner.

He had bounded in his chair as the frightful shock crashed through his system. But he was not dead. On the contrary, his eyes gleamed far more brightly than they had done before. There was only one change, but it was a singular one. The black had passed from his hair and beard as the shadow passes from a landscape. They were both as white as snow. And yet there was no other sign of decay. His skin was smooth and plump and lustrous as a child’s.

The Marshal looked at the committee with a reproachful eye.

“There seems to be some hitch here, gentlemen,” said he.

We three practical men looked at each other.

Peter Stulpnagel smiled pensively.

“I think that another one should do it,” said I.

fdm-aconandoyle22Again the connection was made, and again Duncan Warner sprang in his chair and shouted, but, indeed, were it not that he still remained in the chair none of us would have recognised him. His hair and his beard had shredded off in an instant, and the room looked like a barber’s shop on a Saturday night. There he sat, his eyes still shining, his skin radiant with the glow of perfect health, but with a scalp as bald as a Dutch cheese, and a chin without so much as a trace of down. He began to revolve one of his arms, slowly and doubtfully at first, but with more confidence as he went on.

“That jint,” said he, “has puzzled half the doctors on the Pacific Slope. It’s as good as new, and as limber as a hickory twig.”

“You are feeling pretty well?” asked the old German.

“Never better in my life,” said Duncan Warner cheerily.

The situation was a painful one. The Marshal glared at the committee. Peter Stulpnagel grinned and rubbed his hands. The engineers scratched their heads. The bald-headed prisoner revolved his arm and looked pleased.

“I think that one more shock——” began the chairman.

“No, sir,” said the Marshal “we’ve had foolery enough for one morning. We are here for an execution, and a execution we’ll have.”

“What do you propose?”

“There’s a hook handy upon the ceiling. Fetch in a rope, and we’ll soon set this matter straight.”

There was another awkward delay while the warders departed for the cord. Peter Stulpnagel bent over Duncan Warner, and whispered something in his ear. The desperado started in surprise.

“You don’t say?” he asked.

The German nodded.

“What! Noways?”

Peter shook his head, and the two began to laugh as though they shared some huge joke between them.

The rope was brought, and the Marshal himself slipped the noose over the criminal’s neck. Then the two warders, the assistant and he swung their victim into the air. For half an hour he hung—a dreadful sight—from the ceiling. Then in solemn silence they lowered him down, and one of the warders went out to order the shell to be brought round. But as he touched ground again what was our amazement when Duncan Warner put his hands up to his neck, loosened the noose, and took a long, deep breath.

“Paul Jefferson’s sale is goin’ well,” he remarked, “I could see the crowd from up yonder,” and he nodded at the hook in the ceiling.

“Up with him again!” shouted the Marshal, “we’ll get the life out of him somehow.”

In an instant the victim was up at the hook once more.

They kept him there for an hour, but when he came down he was perfectly garrulous.

“Old man Plunket goes too much to the Arcady Saloon,” said he. “Three times he’s been there in an hour; and him with a family. Old man Plunket would do well to swear off.”

It was monstrous and incredible, but there it was. There was no getting round it. The man was there talking when he ought to have been dead. We all sat staring in amazement, but United States Marshal Carpenter was not a man to be euchred so easily. He motioned the others to one side, so that the prisoner was left standing alone.

“Duncan Warner,” said he, slowly, “you are here to play your part, and I am here to play mine. Your game is to live if you can, and my game is to carry out the sentence of the law. You’ve beat us on electricity. I’ll give you one there. And you’ve beat us on hanging, for you seem to thrive on it. But it’s my turn to beat you now, for my duty has to be done.”

He pulled a six-shooter from his coat as he spoke, and fired all the shots through the body of the prisoner. The room was so filled with smoke that we could see nothing, but when it cleared the prisoner was still standing there, looking down in disgust at the front of his coat.

“Coats must be cheap where you come from,” said he. “Thirty dollars it cost me, and look at it now. The six holes in front are bad enough, but four of the balls have passed out, and a pretty state the back must be in.”

The Marshal’s revolver fell from his hand, and he dropped his arms to his sides, a beaten man.

“Maybe some of you gentlemen can tell me what this means,” said he, looking helplessly at the committee.

Peter Stulpnagel took a step forward.

“I’ll tell you all about it,” said he.

“You seem to be the only person who knows anything.”

“I AM the only person who knows anything. I should have warned these gentlemen; but, as they would not listen to me, I have allowed them to learn by experience. What you have done with your electricity is that you have increased this man’s vitality until he can defy death for centuries.”

“Centuries!”

“Yes, it will take the wear of hundreds of years to exhaust the enormous nervous energy with which you have drenched him. Electricity is life, and you have charged him with it to the utmost. Perhaps in fifty years you might execute him, but I am not sanguine about it.”

“Great Scott! What shall I do with him?” cried the unhappy Marshal.

Peter Stulpnagel shrugged his shoulders.

“It seems to me that it does not much matter what you do with him now,” said he.

“Maybe we could drain the electricity out of him again. Suppose we hang him up by the heels?”

“No, no, it’s out of the question.”

“Well, well, he shall do no more mischief in Los Amigos, anyhow,” said the Marshal, with decision. “He shall go into the new gaol. The prison will wear him out.”

“On the contrary,” said Peter Stulpnagel, “I think that it is much more probable that he will wear out the prison.”

It was rather a fiasco and for years we didn’t talk more about it than we could help, but it’s no secret now and I thought you might like to jot down the facts in your case-book.

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)
Round the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life
The Los Amigos Fiasco (#13)
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Doyle, Arthur Conan, Doyle, Arthur Conan, DRUGS & MEDICINE & LITERATURE, Round the Red Lamp


Oscar WILDE: Les Silhouettes

fdm_oscarwilde2

Oscar Wilde
(1854 – 1900)

Les Silhouettes

The sea is flecked with bars of grey,
The dull dead wind is out of tune,
And like a withered leaf the moon
Is blown across the stormy bay.

Etched clear upon the pallid sand
Lies the black boat: a sailor boy
Clambers aboard in careless joy
With laughing face and gleaming hand.

And overhead the curlews cry,
Where through the dusky upland grass
The young brown-throated reapers pass,
Like silhouettes against the sky.

Oscar Wilde
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive W-X, Wilde, Oscar, Wilde, Oscar


James JOYCE: Nightpiece

James Joyce
Nightpiece

Gaunt in gloom,
The pale stars their torches,
Enshrouded, wave.
Ghostfires from heaven’s far verges faint illume,
Arches on soaring arches,
Night’s sindark nave.

Seraphim,
The lost hosts awaken
To service till
In moonless gloom each lapses muted, dim,
Raised when she has and shaken
Her thurible.

And long and loud,
To night’s nave upsoaring,
A starknell tolls
As the bleak incense surges, cloud on cloud,
Voidward from the adoring
Waste of souls.

James Joyce (1882 – 1941)
Nightpiece
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive I-J, Joyce, James, Joyce, James


Arthur Conan DOYLE: Lot No. 249 (Round the Red Lamp #12)

fdm-aconandoyle14Lot No. 249
by Arthur Conan Doyle

Of the dealings of Edward Bellingham with William Monkhouse Lee, and of the cause of the great terror of Abercrombie Smith, it may be that no absolute and final judgment will ever be delivered. It is true that we have the full and clear narrative of Smith himself, and such corroboration as he could look for from Thomas Styles the servant, from the Reverend Plumptree Peterson, Fellow of Old’s, and from such other people as chanced to gain some passing glance at this or that incident in a singular chain of events. Yet, in the main, the story must rest upon Smith alone, and the most will think that it is more likely that one brain, however outwardly sane, has some subtle warp in its texture, some strange flaw in its workings, than that the path of Nature has been overstepped in open day in so famed a centre of learning and light as the University of Oxford. Yet when we think how narrow and how devious this path of Nature is, how dimly we can trace it, for all our lamps of science, and how from the darkness which girds it round great and terrible possibilities loom ever shadowly upwards, it is a bold and confident man who will put a limit to the strange by-paths into which the human spirit may wander.

In a certain wing of what we will call Old College in Oxford there is a corner turret of an exceeding great age. The heavy arch which spans the open door has bent downwards in the centre under the weight of its years, and the grey, lichen-blotched blocks of stone are, bound and knitted together with withes and strands of ivy, as though the old mother had set herself to brace them up against wind and weather. From the door a stone stair curves upward spirally, passing two landings, and terminating in a third one, its steps all shapeless and hollowed by the tread of so many generations of the seekers after knowledge. Life has flowed like water down this winding stair, and, waterlike, has left these smooth-worn grooves behind it. From the long-gowned, pedantic scholars of Plantagenet days down to the young bloods of a later age, how full and strong had been that tide of young English life. And what was left now of all those hopes, those strivings, those fiery energies, save here and there in some old-world churchyard a few scratches upon a stone, and perchance a handful of dust in a mouldering coffin? Yet here were the silent stair and the grey old wall, with bend and saltire and many another heraldic device still to be read upon its surface, like grotesque shadows thrown back from the days that had passed.

In the month of May, in the year 1884, three young men occupied the sets of rooms which opened on to the separate landings of the old stair. Each set consisted simply of a sitting-room and of a bedroom, while the two corresponding rooms upon the ground-floor were used, the one as a coal-cellar, and the other as the living-room of the servant, or gyp, Thomas Styles, whose duty it was to wait upon the three men above him. To right and to left was a line of lecture-rooms and of offices, so that the dwellers in the old turret enjoyed a certain seclusion, which made the chambers popular among the more studious undergraduates. Such were the three who occupied them now—Abercrombie Smith above, Edward Bellingham beneath him, and William Monkhouse Lee upon the lowest storey.

It was ten o’clock on a bright spring night, and Abercrombie Smith lay back in his arm-chair, his feet upon the fender, and his briar-root pipe between his lips. In a similar chair, and equally at his ease, there lounged on the other side of the fireplace his old school friend Jephro Hastie. Both men were in flannels, for they had spent their evening upon the river, but apart from their dress no one could look at their hard-cut, alert faces without seeing that they were open-air men—men whose minds and tastes turned naturally to all that was manly and robust. Hastie, indeed, was stroke of his college boat, and Smith was an even better oar, but a coming examination had already cast its shadow over him and held him to his work, save for the few hours a week which health demanded. A litter of medical books upon the table, with scattered bones, models and anatomical plates, pointed to the extent as well as the nature of his studies, while a couple of single-sticks and a set of boxing-gloves above the mantelpiece hinted at the means by which, with Hastie’s help, he might take his exercise in its most compressed and least distant form. They knew each other very well—so well that they could sit now in that soothing silence which is the very highest development of companionship.

“Have some whisky,” said Abercrombie Smith at last between two cloudbursts. “Scotch in the jug and Irish in the bottle.”

“No, thanks. I’m in for the sculls. I don’t liquor when I’m training. How about you?”

“I’m reading hard. I think it best to leave it alone.”

Hastie nodded, and they relapsed into a contented silence.

“By-the-way, Smith,” asked Hastie, presently, “have you made the acquaintance of either of the fellows on your stair yet?”

“Just a nod when we pass. Nothing more.”

“Hum! I should be inclined to let it stand at that. I know something of them both. Not much, but as much as I want. I don’t think I should take them to my bosom if I were you. Not that there’s much amiss with Monkhouse Lee.”

“Meaning the thin one?”

“Precisely. He is a gentlemanly little fellow. I don’t think there is any vice in him. But then you can’t know him without knowing Bellingham.”

“Meaning the fat one?”

“Yes, the fat one. And he’s a man whom I, for one, would rather not know.”

Abercrombie Smith raised his eyebrows and glanced across at his companion.

“What’s up, then?” he asked. “Drink? Cards? Cad? You used not to be censorious.”

“Ah! you evidently don’t know the man, or you wouldn’t ask. There’s something damnable about him—something reptilian. My gorge always rises at him. I should put him down as a man with secret vices—an evil liver. He’s no fool, though. They say that he is one of the best men in his line that they have ever had in the college.”

“Medicine or classics?”

“Eastern languages. He’s a demon at them. Chillingworth met him somewhere above the second cataract last long, and he told me that he just prattled to the Arabs as if he had been born and nursed and weaned among them. He talked Coptic to the Copts, and Hebrew to the Jews, and Arabic to the Bedouins, and they were all ready to kiss the hem of his frock-coat. There are some old hermit Johnnies up in those parts who sit on rocks and scowl and spit at the casual stranger. Well, when they saw this chap Bellingham, before he had said five words they just lay down on their bellies and wriggled. Chillingworth said that he never saw anything like it. Bellingham seemed to take it as his right, too, and strutted about among them and talked down to them like a Dutch uncle. Pretty good for an undergrad. of Old’s, wasn’t it?”

“Why do you say you can’t know Lee without knowing Bellingham?”

“Because Bellingham is engaged to his sister Eveline. Such a bright little girl, Smith! I know the whole family well. It’s disgusting to see that brute with her. A toad and a dove, that’s what they always remind me of.”

Abercrombie Smith grinned and knocked his ashes out against the side of the grate.

“You show every card in your hand, old chap,” said he. “What a prejudiced, green-eyed, evil-thinking old man it is! You have really nothing against the fellow except that.”

“Well, I’ve known her ever since she was as long as that cherry-wood pipe, and I don’t like to see her taking risks. And it is a risk. He looks beastly. And he has a beastly temper, a venomous temper. You remember his row with Long Norton?”

“No; you always forget that I am a freshman.”

“Ah, it was last winter. Of course. Well, you know the towpath along by the river. There were several fellows going along it, Bellingham in front, when they came on an old market-woman coming the other way. It had been raining—you know what those fields are like when it has rained—and the path ran between the river and a great puddle that was nearly as broad. Well, what does this swine do but keep the path, and push the old girl into the mud, where she and her marketings came to terrible grief. It was a blackguard thing to do, and Long Norton, who is as gentle a fellow as ever stepped, told him what he thought of it. One word led to another, and it ended in Norton laying his stick across the fellow’s shoulders. There was the deuce of a fuss about it, and it’s a treat to see the way in which Bellingham looks at Norton when they meet now. By Jove, Smith, it’s nearly eleven o’clock!”

“No hurry. Light your pipe again.”

“Not I. I’m supposed to be in training. Here I’ve been sitting gossiping when I ought to have been safely tucked up. I’ll borrow your skull, if you can share it. Williams has had mine for a month. I’ll take the little bones of your ear, too, if you are sure you won’t need them. Thanks very much. Never mind a bag, I can carry them very well under my arm. Good-night, my son, and take my tip as to your neighbour.”

When Hastie, bearing his anatomical plunder, had clattered off down the winding stair, Abercrombie Smith hurled his pipe into the wastepaper basket, and drawing his chair nearer to the lamp, plunged into a formidable green-covered volume, adorned with great colored maps of that strange internal kingdom of which we are the hapless and helpless monarchs. Though a freshman at Oxford, the student was not so in medicine, for he had worked for four years at Glasgow and at Berlin, and this coming examination would place him finally as a member of his profession. With his firm mouth, broad forehead, and clear-cut, somewhat hard-featured face, he was a man who, if he had no brilliant talent, was yet so dogged, so patient, and so strong that he might in the end overtop a more showy genius. A man who can hold his own among Scotchmen and North Germans is not a man to be easily set back. Smith had left a name at Glasgow and at Berlin, and he was bent now upon doing as much at Oxford, if hard work and devotion could accomplish it.

He had sat reading for about an hour, and the hands of the noisy carriage clock upon the side table were rapidly closing together upon the twelve, when a sudden sound fell upon the student’s ear—a sharp, rather shrill sound, like the hissing intake of a man’s breath who gasps under some strong emotion. Smith laid down his book and slanted his ear to listen. There was no one on either side or above him, so that the interruption came certainly from the neighbour beneath—the same neighbour of whom Hastie had given so unsavoury an account. Smith knew him only as a flabby, pale-faced man of silent and studious habits, a man, whose lamp threw a golden bar from the old turret even after he had extinguished his own. This community in lateness had formed a certain silent bond between them. It was soothing to Smith when the hours stole on towards dawning to feel that there was another so close who set as small a value upon his sleep as he did. Even now, as his thoughts turned towards him, Smith’s feelings were kindly. Hastie was a good fellow, but he was rough, strong-fibred, with no imagination or sympathy. He could not tolerate departures from what he looked upon as the model type of manliness. If a man could not be measured by a public-school standard, then he was beyond the pale with Hastie. Like so many who are themselves robust, he was apt to confuse the constitution with the character, to ascribe to want of principle what was really a want of circulation. Smith, with his stronger mind, knew his friend’s habit, and made allowance for it now as his thoughts turned towards the man beneath him.

There was no return of the singular sound, and Smith was about to turn to his work once more, when suddenly there broke out in the silence of the night a hoarse cry, a positive scream—the call of a man who is moved and shaken beyond all control. Smith sprang out of his chair and dropped his book. He was a man of fairly firm fibre, but there was something in this sudden, uncontrollable shriek of horror which chilled his blood and pringled in his skin. Coming in such a place and at such an hour, it brought a thousand fantastic possibilities into his head. Should he rush down, or was it better to wait? He had all the national hatred of making a scene, and he knew so little of his neighbour that he would not lightly intrude upon his affairs. For a moment he stood in doubt and even as he balanced the matter there was a quick rattle of footsteps upon the stairs, and young Monkhouse Lee, half dressed and as white as ashes, burst into his room.

“Come down!” he gasped. “Bellingham’s ill.”

Abercrombie Smith followed him closely down stairs into the sitting-room which was beneath his own, and intent as he was upon the matter in hand, he could not but take an amazed glance around him as he crossed the threshold. It was such a chamber as he had never seen before—a museum rather than a study. Walls and ceiling were thickly covered with a thousand strange relics from Egypt and the East. Tall, angular figures bearing burdens or weapons stalked in an uncouth frieze round the apartments. Above were bull-headed, stork-headed, cat-headed, owl-headed statues, with viper-crowned, almond-eyed monarchs, and strange, beetle-like deities cut out of the blue Egyptian lapis lazuli. Horus and Isis and Osiris peeped down from every niche and shelf, while across the ceiling a true son of Old Nile, a great, hanging-jawed crocodile, was slung in a double noose.

In the centre of this singular chamber was a large, square table, littered with papers, bottles, and the dried leaves of some graceful, palm-like plant. These varied objects had all been heaped together in order to make room for a mummy case, which had been conveyed from the wall, as was evident from the gap there, and laid across the front of the table. The mummy itself, a horrid, black, withered thing, like a charred head on a gnarled bush, was lying half out of the case, with its clawlike hand and bony forearm resting upon the table. Propped up against the sarcophagus was an old yellow scroll of papyrus, and in front of it, in a wooden armchair, sat the owner of the room, his head thrown back, his widely-opened eyes directed in a horrified stare to the crocodile above him, and his blue, thick lips puffing loudly with every expiration.

“My God! he’s dying!” cried Monkhouse Lee distractedly.

He was a slim, handsome young fellow, olive-skinned and dark-eyed, of a Spanish rather than of an English type, with a Celtic intensity of manner which contrasted with the Saxon phlegm of Abercombie Smith.

“Only a faint, I think,” said the medical student. “Just give me a hand with him. You take his feet. Now on to the sofa. Can you kick all those little wooden devils off? What a litter it is! Now he will be all right if we undo his collar and give him some water. What has he been up to at all?”

“I don’t know. I heard him cry out. I ran up. I know him pretty well, you know. It is very good of you to come down.”

“His heart is going like a pair of castanets,” said Smith, laying his hand on the breast of the unconscious man. “He seems to me to be frightened all to pieces. Chuck the water over him! What a face he has got on him!”

It was indeed a strange and most repellent face, for colour and outline were equally unnatural. It was white, not with the ordinary pallor of fear but with an absolutely bloodless white, like the under side of a sole. He was very fat, but gave the impression of having at some time been considerably fatter, for his skin hung loosely in creases and folds, and was shot with a meshwork of wrinkles. Short, stubbly brown hair bristled up from his scalp, with a pair of thick, wrinkled ears protruding on either side. His light grey eyes were still open, the pupils dilated and the balls projecting in a fixed and horrid stare. It seemed to Smith as he looked down upon him that he had never seen nature’s danger signals flying so plainly upon a man’s countenance, and his thoughts turned more seriously to the warning which Hastie had given him an hour before.

“What the deuce can have frightened him so?” he asked.

“It’s the mummy.”

“The mummy? How, then?”

“I don’t know. It’s beastly and morbid. I wish he would drop it. It’s the second fright he has given me. It was the same last winter. I found him just like this, with that horrid thing in front of him.”

“What does he want with the mummy, then?”

“Oh, he’s a crank, you know. It’s his hobby. He knows more about these things than any man in England. But I wish he wouldn’t! Ah, he’s beginning to come to.”

A faint tinge of colour had begun to steal back into Bellingham’s ghastly cheeks, and his eyelids shivered like a sail after a calm. He clasped and unclasped his hands, drew a long, thin breath between his teeth, and suddenly jerking up his head, threw a glance of recognition around him. As his eyes fell upon the mummy, he sprang off the sofa, seized the roll of papyrus, thrust it into a drawer, turned the key, and then staggered back on to the sofa.

“What’s up?” he asked. “What do you chaps want?”

“You’ve been shrieking out and making no end of a fuss,” said Monkhouse Lee. “If our neighbour here from above hadn’t come down, I’m sure I don’t know what I should have done with you.”

“Ah, it’s Abercrombie Smith,” said Bellingham, glancing up at him. “How very good of you to come in! What a fool I am! Oh, my God, what a fool I am!”

He sunk his head on to his hands, and burst into peal after peal of hysterical laughter.

“Look here! Drop it!” cried Smith, shaking him roughly by the shoulder.

“Your nerves are all in a jangle. You must drop these little midnight games with mummies, or you’ll be going off your chump. You’re all on wires now.”

“I wonder,” said Bellingham, “whether you would be as cool as I am if you had seen——”

“What then?”

“Oh, nothing. I meant that I wonder if you could sit up at night with a mummy without trying your nerves. I have no doubt that you are quite right. I dare say that I have been taking it out of myself too much lately. But I am all right now. Please don’t go, though. Just wait for a few minutes until I am quite myself.”

“The room is very close,” remarked Lee, throwing open the window and letting in the cool night air.

“It’s balsamic resin,” said Bellingham. He lifted up one of the dried palmate leaves from the table and frizzled it over the chimney of the lamp. It broke away into heavy smoke wreaths, and a pungent, biting odour filled the chamber. “It’s the sacred plant—the plant of the priests,” he remarked. “Do you know anything of Eastern languages, Smith?”

“Nothing at all. Not a word.”

The answer seemed to lift a weight from the Egyptologist’s mind.

“By-the-way,” he continued, “how long was it from the time that you ran down, until I came to my senses?”

“Not long. Some four or five minutes.”

“I thought it could not be very long,” said he, drawing a long breath. “But what a strange thing unconsciousness is! There is no measurement to it. I could not tell from my own sensations if it were seconds or weeks. Now that gentleman on the table was packed up in the days of the eleventh dynasty, some forty centuries ago, and yet if he could find his tongue he would tell us that this lapse of time has been but a closing of the eyes and a reopening of them. He is a singularly fine mummy, Smith.”

Smith stepped over to the table and looked down with a professional eye at the black and twisted form in front of him. The features, though horribly discoloured, were perfect, and two little nut-like eyes still lurked in the depths of the black, hollow sockets. The blotched skin was drawn tightly from bone to bone, and a tangled wrap of black coarse hair fell over the ears. Two thin teeth, like those of a rat, overlay the shrivelled lower lip. In its crouching position, with bent joints and craned head, there was a suggestion of energy about the horrid thing which made Smith’s gorge rise. The gaunt ribs, with their parchment-like covering, were exposed, and the sunken, leaden-hued abdomen, with the long slit where the embalmer had left his mark; but the lower limbs were wrapt round with coarse yellow bandages. A number of little clove-like pieces of myrrh and of cassia were sprinkled over the body, and lay scattered on the inside of the case.

“I don’t know his name,” said Bellingham, passing his hand over the shrivelled head. “You see the outer sarcophagus with the inscriptions is missing. Lot 249 is all the title he has now. You see it printed on his case. That was his number in the auction at which I picked him up.”

“He has been a very pretty sort of fellow in his day,” remarked Abercrombie Smith.

“He has been a giant. His mummy is six feet seven in length, and that would be a giant over there, for they were never a very robust race. Feel these great knotted bones, too. He would be a nasty fellow to tackle.”

“Perhaps these very hands helped to build the stones into the pyramids,” suggested Monkhouse Lee, looking down with disgust in his eyes at the crooked, unclean talons.

“No fear. This fellow has been pickled in natron, and looked after in the most approved style. They did not serve hodsmen in that fashion. Salt or bitumen was enough for them. It has been calculated that this sort of thing cost about seven hundred and thirty pounds in our money. Our friend was a noble at the least. What do you make of that small inscription near his feet, Smith?”

“I told you that I know no Eastern tongue.”

“Ah, so you did. It is the name of the embalmer, I take it. A very conscientious worker he must have been. I wonder how many modern works will survive four thousand years?”

He kept on speaking lightly and rapidly, but it was evident to Abercrombie Smith that he was still palpitating with fear. His hands shook, his lower lip trembled, and look where he would, his eye always came sliding round to his gruesome companion. Through all his fear, however, there was a suspicion of triumph in his tone and manner. His eye shone, and his footstep, as he paced the room, was brisk and jaunty. He gave the impression of a man who has gone through an ordeal, the marks of which he still bears upon him, but which has helped him to his end.

“You’re not going yet?” he cried, as Smith rose from the sofa.

At the prospect of solitude, his fears seemed to crowd back upon him, and he stretched out a hand to detain him.

“Yes, I must go. I have my work to do. You are all right now. I think that with your nervous system you should take up some less morbid study.”

“Oh, I am not nervous as a rule; and I have unwrapped mummies before.”

“You fainted last time,” observed Monkhouse Lee.

“Ah, yes, so I did. Well, I must have a nerve tonic or a course of electricity. You are not going, Lee?”

“I’ll do whatever you wish, Ned.”

“Then I’ll come down with you and have a shake-down on your sofa. Good-night, Smith. I am so sorry to have disturbed you with my foolishness.”

They shook hands, and as the medical student stumbled up the spiral and irregular stair he heard a key turn in a door, and the steps of his two new acquaintances as they descended to the lower floor.

fdm-aconandoyle21In this strange way began the acquaintance between Edward Bellingham and Abercrombie Smith, an acquaintance which the latter, at least, had no desire to push further. Bellingham, however, appeared to have taken a fancy to his rough-spoken neighbour, and made his advances in such a way that he could hardly be repulsed without absolute brutality. Twice he called to thank Smith for his assistance, and many times afterwards he looked in with books, papers, and such other civilities as two bachelor neighbours can offer each other. He was, as Smith soon found, a man of wide reading, with catholic tastes and an extraordinary memory. His manner, too, was so pleasing and suave that one came, after a time, to overlook his repellent appearance. For a jaded and wearied man he was no unpleasant companion, and Smith found himself, after a time, looking forward to his visits, and even returning them.

Clever as he undoubtedly was, however, the medical student seemed to detect a dash of insanity in the man. He broke out at times into a high, inflated style of talk which was in contrast with the simplicity of his life.

“It is a wonderful thing,” he cried, “to feel that one can command powers of good and of evil—a ministering angel or a demon of vengeance.” And again, of Monkhouse Lee, he said,—“Lee is a good fellow, an honest fellow, but he is without strength or ambition. He would not make a fit partner for a man with a great enterprise. He would not make a fit partner for me.”

At such hints and innuendoes stolid Smith, puffing solemnly at his pipe, would simply raise his eyebrows and shake his head, with little interjections of medical wisdom as to earlier hours and fresher air.

One habit Bellingham had developed of late which Smith knew to be a frequent herald of a weakening mind. He appeared to be forever talking to himself. At late hours of the night, when there could be no visitor with him, Smith could still hear his voice beneath him in a low, muffled monologue, sunk almost to a whisper, and yet very audible in the silence. This solitary babbling annoyed and distracted the student, so that he spoke more than once to his neighbour about it. Bellingham, however, flushed up at the charge, and denied curtly that he had uttered a sound; indeed, he showed more annoyance over the matter than the occasion seemed to demand.

Had Abercrombie Smith had any doubt as to his own ears he had not to go far to find corroboration. Tom Styles, the little wrinkled man-servant who had attended to the wants of the lodgers in the turret for a longer time than any man’s memory could carry him, was sorely put to it over the same matter.

“If you please, sir,” said he, as he tidied down the top chamber one morning, “do you think Mr. Bellingham is all right, sir?”

“All right, Styles?”

“Yes sir. Right in his head, sir.”

“Why should he not be, then?”

“Well, I don’t know, sir. His habits has changed of late. He’s not the same man he used to be, though I make free to say that he was never quite one of my gentlemen, like Mr. Hastie or yourself, sir. He’s took to talkin’ to himself something awful. I wonder it don’t disturb you. I don’t know what to make of him, sir.”

“I don’t know what business it is of yours, Styles.”

“Well, I takes an interest, Mr. Smith. It may be forward of me, but I can’t help it. I feel sometimes as if I was mother and father to my young gentlemen. It all falls on me when things go wrong and the relations come. But Mr. Bellingham, sir. I want to know what it is that walks about his room sometimes when he’s out and when the door’s locked on the outside.”

“Eh! you’re talking nonsense, Styles.”

“Maybe so, sir; but I heard it more’n once with my own ears.”

“Rubbish, Styles.”

“Very good, sir. You’ll ring the bell if you want me.”

Abercrombie Smith gave little heed to the gossip of the old man-servant, but a small incident occurred a few days later which left an unpleasant effect upon his mind, and brought the words of Styles forcibly to his memory.

Bellingham had come up to see him late one night, and was entertaining him with an interesting account of the rock tombs of Beni Hassan in Upper Egypt, when Smith, whose hearing was remarkably acute, distinctly heard the sound of a door opening on the landing below.

“There’s some fellow gone in or out of your room,” he remarked.

Bellingham sprang up and stood helpless for a moment, with the expression of a man who is half incredulous and half afraid.

“I surely locked it. I am almost positive that I locked it,” he stammered. “No one could have opened it.”

“Why, I hear someone coming up the steps now,” said Smith.

Bellingham rushed out through the door, slammed it loudly behind him, and hurried down the stairs. About half-way down Smith heard him stop, and thought he caught the sound of whispering. A moment later the door beneath him shut, a key creaked in a lock, and Bellingham, with beads of moisture upon his pale face, ascended the stairs once more, and re-entered the room.

“It’s all right,” he said, throwing himself down in a chair. “It was that fool of a dog. He had pushed the door open. I don’t know how I came to forget to lock it.”

“I didn’t know you kept a dog,” said Smith, looking very thoughtfully at the disturbed face of his companion.

“Yes, I haven’t had him long. I must get rid of him. He’s a great nuisance.”

“He must be, if you find it so hard to shut him up. I should have thought that shutting the door would have been enough, without locking it.”

“I want to prevent old Styles from letting him out. He’s of some value, you know, and it would be awkward to lose him.”

“I am a bit of a dog-fancier myself,” said Smith, still gazing hard at his companion from the corner of his eyes. “Perhaps you’ll let me have a look at it.”

“Certainly. But I am afraid it cannot be to-night; I have an appointment. Is that clock right? Then I am a quarter of an hour late already. You’ll excuse me, I am sure.”

He picked up his cap and hurried from the room. In spite of his appointment, Smith heard him re-enter his own chamber and lock his door upon the inside.

This interview left a disagreeable impression upon the medical student’s mind. Bellingham had lied to him, and lied so clumsily that it looked as if he had desperate reasons for concealing the truth. Smith knew that his neighbour had no dog. He knew, also, that the step which he had heard upon the stairs was not the step of an animal. But if it were not, then what could it be? There was old Styles’s statement about the something which used to pace the room at times when the owner was absent. Could it be a woman? Smith rather inclined to the view. If so, it would mean disgrace and expulsion to Bellingham if it were discovered by the authorities, so that his anxiety and falsehoods might be accounted for. And yet it was inconceivable that an undergraduate could keep a woman in his rooms without being instantly detected. Be the explanation what it might, there was something ugly about it, and Smith determined, as he turned to his books, to discourage all further attempts at intimacy on the part of his soft-spoken and ill-favoured neighbour.

But his work was destined to interruption that night. He had hardly caught tip the broken threads when a firm, heavy footfall came three steps at a time from below, and Hastie, in blazer and flannels, burst into the room.

“Still at it!” said he, plumping down into his wonted arm-chair. “What a chap you are to stew! I believe an earthquake might come and knock Oxford into a cocked hat, and you would sit perfectly placid with your books among the rains. However, I won’t bore you long. Three whiffs of baccy, and I am off.”

“What’s the news, then?” asked Smith, cramming a plug of bird’s-eye into his briar with his forefinger.

“Nothing very much. Wilson made 70 for the freshmen against the eleven. They say that they will play him instead of Buddicomb, for Buddicomb is clean off colour. He used to be able to bowl a little, but it’s nothing but half-vollies and long hops now.”

“Medium right,” suggested Smith, with the intense gravity which comes upon a ‘varsity man when he speaks of athletics.

“Inclining to fast, with a work from leg. Comes with the arm about three inches or so. He used to be nasty on a wet wicket. Oh, by-the-way, have you heard about Long Norton?”

“What’s that?”

“He’s been attacked.”

“Attacked?”

“Yes, just as he was turning out of the High Street, and within a hundred yards of the gate of Old’s.”

“But who——”

“Ah, that’s the rub! If you said ‘what,’ you would be more grammatical. Norton swears that it was not human, and, indeed, from the scratches on his throat, I should be inclined to agree with him.”

“What, then? Have we come down to spooks?”

Abercrombie Smith puffed his scientific contempt.

“Well, no; I don’t think that is quite the idea, either. I am inclined to think that if any showman has lost a great ape lately, and the brute is in these parts, a jury would find a true bill against it. Norton passes that way every night, you know, about the same hour. There’s a tree that hangs low over the path—the big elm from Rainy’s garden. Norton thinks the thing dropped on him out of the tree. Anyhow, he was nearly strangled by two arms, which, he says, were as strong and as thin as steel bands. He saw nothing; only those beastly arms that tightened and tightened on him. He yelled his head nearly off, and a couple of chaps came running, and the thing went over the wall like a cat. He never got a fair sight of it the whole time. It gave Norton a shake up, I can tell you. I tell him it has been as good as a change at the sea-side for him.”

“A garrotter, most likely,” said Smith.

“Very possibly. Norton says not; but we don’t mind what he says. The garrotter had long nails, and was pretty smart at swinging himself over walls. By-the-way, your beautiful neighbour would be pleased if he heard about it. He had a grudge against Norton, and he’s not a man, from what I know of him, to forget his little debts. But hallo, old chap, what have you got in your noddle?”

“Nothing,” Smith answered curtly.

He had started in his chair, and the look had flashed over his face which comes upon a man who is struck suddenly by some unpleasant idea.

“You looked as if something I had said had taken you on the raw. By-the-way, you have made the acquaintance of Master B. since I looked in last, have you not? Young Monkhouse Lee told me something to that effect.”

“Yes; I know him slightly. He has been up here once or twice.”

“Well, you’re big enough and ugly enough to take care of yourself. He’s not what I should call exactly a healthy sort of Johnny, though, no doubt, he’s very clever, and all that. But you’ll soon find out for yourself. Lee is all right; he’s a very decent little fellow. Well, so long, old chap! I row Mullins for the Vice-Chancellor’s pot on Wednesday week, so mind you come down, in case I don’t see you before.”

Bovine Smith laid down his pipe and turned stolidly to his books once more. But with all the will in the world, he found it very hard to keep his mind upon his work. It would slip away to brood upon the man beneath him, and upon the little mystery which hung round his chambers. Then his thoughts turned to this singular attack of which Hastie had spoken, and to the grudge which Bellingham was said to owe the object of it. The two ideas would persist in rising together in his mind, as though there were some close and intimate connection between them. And yet the suspicion was so dim and vague that it could not be put down in words.

“Confound the chap!” cried Smith, as he shied his book on pathology across the room. “He has spoiled my night’s reading, and that’s reason enough, if there were no other, why I should steer clear of him in the future.”

For ten days the medical student confined himself so closely to his studies that he neither saw nor heard anything of either of the men beneath him. At the hours when Bellingham had been accustomed to visit him, he took care to sport his oak, and though he more than once heard a knocking at his outer door, he resolutely refused to answer it. One afternoon, however, he was descending the stairs when, just as he was passing it, Bellingham’s door flew open, and young Monkhouse Lee came out with his eyes sparkling and a dark flush of anger upon his olive cheeks. Close at his heels followed Bellingham, his fat, unhealthy face all quivering with malignant passion.

“You fool!” he hissed. “You’ll be sorry.”

“Very likely,” cried the other. “Mind what I say. It’s off! I won’t hear of it!”

“You’ve promised, anyhow.”

“Oh, I’ll keep that! I won’t speak. But I’d rather little Eva was in her grave. Once for all, it’s off. She’ll do what I say. We don’t want to see you again.”

So much Smith could not avoid hearing, but he hurried on, for he had no wish to be involved in their dispute. There had been a serious breach between them, that was clear enough, and Lee was going to cause the engagement with his sister to be broken off. Smith thought of Hastie’s comparison of the toad and the dove, and was glad to think that the matter was at an end. Bellingham’s face when he was in a passion was not pleasant to look upon. He was not a man to whom an innocent girl could be trusted for life. As he walked, Smith wondered languidly what could have caused the quarrel, and what the promise might be which Bellingham had been so anxious that Monkhouse Lee should keep.

It was the day of the sculling match between Hastie and Mullins, and a stream of men were making their way down to the banks of the Isis. A May sun was shining brightly, and the yellow path was barred with the black shadows of the tall elm-trees. On either side the grey colleges lay back from the road, the hoary old mothers of minds looking out from their high, mullioned windows at the tide of young life which swept so merrily past them. Black-clad tutors, prim officials, pale reading men, brown-faced, straw-hatted young athletes in white sweaters or many-coloured blazers, all were hurrying towards the blue winding river which curves through the Oxford meadows.

Abercrombie Smith, with the intuition of an old oarsman, chose his position at the point where he knew that the struggle, if there were a struggle, would come. Far off he heard the hum which announced the start, the gathering roar of the approach, the thunder of running feet, and the shouts of the men in the boats beneath him. A spray of half-clad, deep-breathing runners shot past him, and craning over their shoulders, he saw Hastie pulling a steady thirty-six, while his opponent, with a jerky forty, was a good boat’s length behind him. Smith gave a cheer for his friend, and pulling out his watch, was starting off again for his chambers, when he felt a touch upon his shoulder, and found that young Monkhouse Lee was beside him.

“I saw you there,” he said, in a timid, deprecating way. “I wanted to speak to you, if you could spare me a half-hour. This cottage is mine. I share it with Harrington of King’s. Come in and have a cup of tea.”

“I must be back presently,” said Smith. “I am hard on the grind at present. But I’ll come in for a few minutes with pleasure. I wouldn’t have come out only Hastie is a friend of mine.”

“So he is of mine. Hasn’t he a beautiful style? Mullins wasn’t in it. But come into the cottage. It’s a little den of a place, but it is pleasant to work in during the summer months.”

It was a small, square, white building, with green doors and shutters, and a rustic trellis-work porch, standing back some fifty yards from the river’s bank. Inside, the main room was roughly fitted up as a study—deal table, unpainted shelves with books, and a few cheap oleographs upon the wall. A kettle sang upon a spirit-stove, and there were tea things upon a tray on the table.

“Try that chair and have a cigarette,” said Lee. “Let me pour you out a cup of tea. It’s so good of you to come in, for I know that your time is a good deal taken up. I wanted to say to you that, if I were you, I should change my rooms at once.”

“Eh?”

Smith sat staring with a lighted match in one hand and his unlit cigarette in the other.

“Yes; it must seem very extraordinary, and the worst of it is that I cannot give my reasons, for I am under a solemn promise—a very solemn promise. But I may go so far as to say that I don’t think Bellingham is a very safe man to live near. I intend to camp out here as much as I can for a time.”

“Not safe! What do you mean?”

“Ah, that’s what I mustn’t say. But do take my advice, and move your rooms. We had a grand row to-day. You must have heard us, for you came down the stairs.”

“I saw that you had fallen out.”

“He’s a horrible chap, Smith. That is the only word for him. I have had doubts about him ever since that night when he fainted—you remember, when you came down. I taxed him to-day, and he told me things that made my hair rise, and wanted me to stand in with him. I’m not strait-laced, but I am a clergyman’s son, you know, and I think there are some things which are quite beyond the pale. I only thank God that I found him out before it was too late, for he was to have married into my family.”

“This is all very fine, Lee,” said Abercrombie Smith curtly. “But either you are saying a great deal too much or a great deal too little.”

“I give you a warning.”

“If there is real reason for warning, no promise can bind you. If I see a rascal about to blow a place up with dynamite no pledge will stand in my way of preventing him.”

“Ah, but I cannot prevent him, and I can do nothing but warn you.”

“Without saying what you warn me against.”

“Against Bellingham.”

“But that is childish. Why should I fear him, or any man?”

“I can’t tell you. I can only entreat you to change your rooms. You are in danger where you are. I don’t even say that Bellingham would wish to injure you. But it might happen, for he is a dangerous neighbour just now.”

“Perhaps I know more than you think,” said Smith, looking keenly at the young man’s boyish, earnest face. “Suppose I tell you that some one else shares Bellingham’s rooms.”

Monkhouse Lee sprang from his chair in uncontrollable excitement.

“You know, then?” he gasped.

“A woman.”

Lee dropped back again with a groan.

“My lips are sealed,” he said. “I must not speak.”

“Well, anyhow,” said Smith, rising, “it is not likely that I should allow myself to be frightened out of rooms which suit me very nicely. It would be a little too feeble for me to move out all my goods and chattels because you say that Bellingham might in some unexplained way do me an injury. I think that I’ll just take my chance, and stay where I am, and as I see that it’s nearly five o’clock, I must ask you to excuse me.”

He bade the young student adieu in a few curt words, and made his way homeward through the sweet spring evening feeling half-ruffled, half-amused, as any other strong, unimaginative man might who has been menaced by a vague and shadowy danger.

There was one little indulgence which Abercrombie Smith always allowed himself, however closely his work might press upon him. Twice a week, on the Tuesday and the Friday, it was his invariable custom to walk over to Farlingford, the residence of Dr. Plumptree Peterson, situated about a mile and a half out of Oxford. Peterson had been a close friend of Smith’s elder brother Francis, and as he was a bachelor, fairly well-to-do, with a good cellar and a better library, his house was a pleasant goal for a man who was in need of a brisk walk. Twice a week, then, the medical student would swing out there along the dark country roads, and spend a pleasant hour in Peterson’s comfortable study, discussing, over a glass of old port, the gossip of the ‘varsity or the latest developments of medicine or of surgery.

On the day which followed his interview with Monkhouse Lee, Smith shut up his books at a quarter past eight, the hour when he usually started for his friend’s house. As he was leaving his room, however, his eyes chanced to fall upon one of the books which Bellingham had lent him, and his conscience pricked him for not having returned it. However repellent the man might be, he should not be treated with discourtesy. Taking the book, he walked downstairs and knocked at his neighbour’s door. There was no answer; but on turning the handle he found that it was unlocked. Pleased at the thought of avoiding an interview, he stepped inside, and placed the book with his card upon the table.

The lamp was turned half down, but Smith could see the details of the room plainly enough. It was all much as he had seen it before—the frieze, the animal-headed gods, the banging crocodile, and the table littered over with papers and dried leaves. The mummy case stood upright against the wall, but the mummy itself was missing. There was no sign of any second occupant of the room, and he felt as he withdrew that he had probably done Bellingham an injustice. Had he a guilty secret to preserve, he would hardly leave his door open so that all the world might enter.

The spiral stair was as black as pitch, and Smith was slowly making his way down its irregular steps, when he was suddenly conscious that something had passed him in the darkness. There was a faint sound, a whiff of air, a light brushing past his elbow, but so slight that he could scarcely be certain of it. He stopped and listened, but the wind was rustling among the ivy outside, and he could hear nothing else.

“Is that you, Styles?” he shouted.

There was no answer, and all was still behind him. It must have been a sudden gust of air, for there were crannies and cracks in the old turret. And yet he could almost have sworn that he heard a footfall by his very side. He had emerged into the quadrangle, still turning the matter over in his head, when a man came running swiftly across the smooth-cropped lawn.

“Is that you, Smith?”

“Hullo, Hastie!”

“For God’s sake come at once! Young Lee is drowned! Here’s Harrington of King’s with the news. The doctor is out. You’ll do, but come along at once. There may be life in him.”

“Have you brandy?”

“No.”

“I’ll bring some. There’s a flask on my table.”

Smith bounded up the stairs, taking three at a time, seized the flask, and was rushing down with it, when, as he passed Bellingham’s room, his eyes fell upon something which left him gasping and staring upon the landing.

The door, which he had closed behind him, was now open, and right in front of him, with the lamp-light shining upon it, was the mummy case. Three minutes ago it had been empty. He could swear to that. Now it framed the lank body of its horrible occupant, who stood, grim and stark, with his black shrivelled face towards the door. The form was lifeless and inert, but it seemed to Smith as he gazed that there still lingered a lurid spark of vitality, some faint sign of consciousness in the little eyes which lurked in the depths of the hollow sockets. So astounded and shaken was he that he had forgotten his errand, and was still staring at the lean, sunken figure when the voice of his friend below recalled him to himself.

“Come on, Smith!” he shouted. “It’s life and death, you know. Hurry up! Now, then,” he added, as the medical student reappeared, “let us do a sprint. It is well under a mile, and we should do it in five minutes. A human life is better worth running for than a pot.”

Neck and neck they dashed through the darkness, and did not pull up until, panting and spent, they had reached the little cottage by the river. Young Lee, limp and dripping like a broken water-plant, was stretched upon the sofa, the green scum of the river upon his black hair, and a fringe of white foam upon his leaden-hued lips. Beside him knelt his fellow-student Harrington, endeavouring to chafe some warmth back into his rigid limbs.

“I think there’s life in him,” said Smith, with his hand to the lad’s side. “Put your watch glass to his lips. Yes, there’s dimming on it. You take one arm, Hastie. Now work it as I do, and we’ll soon pull him round.”

For ten minutes they worked in silence, inflating and depressing the chest of the unconscious man. At the end of that time a shiver ran through his body, his lips trembled, and he opened his eyes. The three students burst out into an irrepressible cheer.

“Wake up, old chap. You’ve frightened us quite enough.”

“Have some brandy. Take a sip from the flask.”

“He’s all right now,” said his companion Harrington. “Heavens, what a fright I got! I was reading here, and he had gone for a stroll as far as the river, when I heard a scream and a splash. Out I ran, and by the time that I could find him and fish him out, all life seemed to have gone. Then Simpson couldn’t get a doctor, for he has a game-leg, and I had to run, and I don’t know what I’d have done without you fellows. That’s right, old chap. Sit up.”

Monkhouse Lee had raised himself on his hands, and looked wildly about him.

“What’s up?” he asked. “I’ve been in the water. Ah, yes; I remember.”

A look of fear came into his eyes, and he sank his face into his hands.

“How did you fall in?”

“I didn’t fall in.”

“How, then?”

“I was thrown in. I was standing by the bank, and something from behind picked me up like a feather and hurled me in. I heard nothing, and I saw nothing. But I know what it was, for all that.”

“And so do I,” whispered Smith.

Lee looked up with a quick glance of surprise. “You’ve learned, then!” he said. “You remember the advice I gave you?”

“Yes, and I begin to think that I shall take it.”

“I don’t know what the deuce you fellows are talking about,” said Hastie, “but I think, if I were you, Harrington, I should get Lee to bed at once. It will be time enough to discuss the why and the wherefore when he is a little stronger. I think, Smith, you and I can leave him alone now. I am walking back to college; if you are coming in that direction, we can have a chat.”

But it was little chat that they had upon their homeward path. Smith’s mind was too full of the incidents of the evening, the absence of the mummy from his neighbour’s rooms, the step that passed him on the stair, the reappearance—the extraordinary, inexplicable reappearance of the grisly thing—and then this attack upon Lee, corresponding so closely to the previous outrage upon another man against whom Bellingham bore a grudge. All this settled in his thoughts, together with the many little incidents which had previously turned him against his neighbour, and the singular circumstances under which he was first called in to him. What had been a dim suspicion, a vague, fantastic conjecture, had suddenly taken form, and stood out in his mind as a grim fact, a thing not to be denied. And yet, how monstrous it was! how unheard of! how entirely beyond all bounds of human experience. An impartial judge, or even the friend who walked by his side, would simply tell him that his eyes had deceived him, that the mummy had been there all the time, that young Lee had tumbled into the river as any other man tumbles into a river, and that a blue pill was the best thing for a disordered liver. He felt that he would have said as much if the positions had been reversed. And yet he could swear that Bellingham was a murderer at heart, and that he wielded a weapon such as no man had ever used in all the grim history of crime.

Hastie had branched off to his rooms with a few crisp and emphatic comments upon his friend’s unsociability, and Abercrombie Smith crossed the quadrangle to his corner turret with a strong feeling of repulsion for his chambers and their associations. He would take Lee’s advice, and move his quarters as soon as possible, for how could a man study when his ear was ever straining for every murmur or footstep in the room below? He observed, as he crossed over the lawn, that the light was still shining in Bellingham’s window, and as he passed up the staircase the door opened, and the man himself looked out at him. With his fat, evil face he was like some bloated spider fresh from the weaving of his poisonous web.

“Good-evening,” said he. “Won’t you come in?”

“No,” cried Smith, fiercely.

“No? You are busy as ever? I wanted to ask you about Lee. I was sorry to hear that there was a rumour that something was amiss with him.”

His features were grave, but there was the gleam of a hidden laugh in his eyes as he spoke. Smith saw it, and he could have knocked him down for it.

“You’ll be sorrier still to hear that Monkhouse Lee is doing very well, and is out of all danger,” he answered. “Your hellish tricks have not come off this time. Oh, you needn’t try to brazen it out. I know all about it.”

Bellingham took a step back from the angry student, and half-closed the door as if to protect himself.

“You are mad,” he said. “What do you mean? Do you assert that I had anything to do with Lee’s accident?”

“Yes,” thundered Smith. “You and that bag of bones behind you; you worked it between you. I tell you what it is, Master B., they have given up burning folk like you, but we still keep a hangman, and, by George! if any man in this college meets his death while you are here, I’ll have you up, and if you don’t swing for it, it won’t be my fault. You’ll find that your filthy Egyptian tricks won’t answer in England.”

“You’re a raving lunatic,” said Bellingham.

“All right. You just remember what I say, for you’ll find that I’ll be better than my word.”

The door slammed, and Smith went fuming up to his chamber, where he locked the door upon the inside, and spent half the night in smoking his old briar and brooding over the strange events of the evening.

Next morning Abercrombie Smith heard nothing of his neighbour, but Harrington called upon him in the afternoon to say that Lee was almost himself again. All day Smith stuck fast to his work, but in the evening he determined to pay the visit to his friend Dr. Peterson upon which he had started upon the night before. A good walk and a friendly chat would be welcome to his jangled nerves.

Bellingham’s door was shut as he passed, but glancing back when he was some distance from the turret, he saw his neighbour’s head at the window outlined against the lamp-light, his face pressed apparently against the glass as he gazed out into the darkness. It was a blessing to be away from all contact with him, but if for a few hours, and Smith stepped out briskly, and breathed the soft spring air into his lungs. The half-moon lay in the west between two Gothic pinnacles, and threw upon the silvered street a dark tracery from the stone-work above. There was a brisk breeze, and light, fleecy clouds drifted swiftly across the sky. Old’s was on the very border of the town, and in five minutes Smith found himself beyond the houses and between the hedges of a May-scented Oxfordshire lane.

It was a lonely and little frequented road which led to his friend’s house. Early as it was, Smith did not meet a single soul upon his way. He walked briskly along until he came to the avenue gate, which opened into the long gravel drive leading up to Farlingford. In front of him he could see the cosy red light of the windows glimmering through the foliage. He stood with his hand upon the iron latch of the swinging gate, and he glanced back at the road along which he had come. Something was coming swiftly down it.

It moved in the shadow of the hedge, silently and furtively, a dark, crouching figure, dimly visible against the black background. Even as he gazed back at it, it had lessened its distance by twenty paces, and was fast closing upon him. Out of the darkness he had a glimpse of a scraggy neck, and of two eyes that will ever haunt him in his dreams. He turned, and with a cry of terror he ran for his life up the avenue. There were the red lights, the signals of safety, almost within a stone’s throw of him. He was a famous runner, but never had he run as he ran that night.

The heavy gate had swung into place behind him, but he heard it dash open again before his pursuer. As he rushed madly and wildly through the night, he could hear a swift, dry patter behind him, and could see, as he threw back a glance, that this horror was bounding like a tiger at his heels, with blazing eyes and one stringy arm outthrown. Thank God, the door was ajar. He could see the thin bar of light which shot from the lamp in the hall. Nearer yet sounded the clatter from behind. He heard a hoarse gurgling at his very shoulder. With a shriek he flung himself against the door, slammed and bolted it behind him, and sank half-fainting on to the hall chair.

“My goodness, Smith, what’s the matter?” asked Peterson, appearing at the door of his study.

“Give me some brandy!”

Peterson disappeared, and came rushing out again with a glass and a decanter.

“You need it,” he said, as his visitor drank off what he poured out for him. “Why, man, you are as white as a cheese.”

Smith laid down his glass, rose up, and took a deep breath.

“I am my own man again now,” said he. “I was never so unmanned before. But, with your leave, Peterson, I will sleep here to-night, for I don’t think I could face that road again except by daylight. It’s weak, I know, but I can’t help it.”

Peterson looked at his visitor with a very questioning eye.

“Of course you shall sleep here if you wish. I’ll tell Mrs. Burney to make up the spare bed. Where are you off to now?”

“Come up with me to the window that overlooks the door. I want you to see what I have seen.”

They went up to the window of the upper hall whence they could look down upon the approach to the house. The drive and the fields on either side lay quiet and still, bathed in the peaceful moonlight.

“Well, really, Smith,” remarked Peterson, “it is well that I know you to be an abstemious man. What in the world can have frightened you?”

“I’ll tell you presently. But where can it have gone? Ah, now look, look! See the curve of the road just beyond your gate.”

“Yes, I see; you needn’t pinch my arm off. I saw someone pass. I should say a man, rather thin, apparently, and tall, very tall. But what of him? And what of yourself? You are still shaking like an aspen leaf.”

“I have been within hand-grip of the devil, that’s all. But come down to your study, and I shall tell you the whole story.”

He did so. Under the cheery lamplight, with a glass of wine on the table beside him, and the portly form and florid face of his friend in front, he narrated, in their order, all the events, great and small, which had formed so singular a chain, from the night on which he had found Bellingham fainting in front of the mummy case until his horrid experience of an hour ago.

“There now,” he said as he concluded, “that’s the whole black business. It is monstrous and incredible, but it is true.”

Dr. Plumptree Peterson sat for some time in silence with a very puzzled expression upon his face.

“I never heard of such a thing in my life, never!” he said at last. “You have told me the facts. Now tell me your inferences.”

“You can draw your own.”

“But I should like to hear yours. You have thought over the matter, and I have not.”

“Well, it must be a little vague in detail, but the main points seem to me to be clear enough. This fellow Bellingham, in his Eastern studies, has got hold of some infernal secret by which a mummy—or possibly only this particular mummy—can be temporarily brought to life. He was trying this disgusting business on the night when he fainted. No doubt the sight of the creature moving had shaken his nerve, even though he had expected it. You remember that almost the first words he said were to call out upon himself as a fool. Well, he got more hardened afterwards, and carried the matter through without fainting. The vitality which he could put into it was evidently only a passing thing, for I have seen it continually in its case as dead as this table. He has some elaborate process, I fancy, by which he brings the thing to pass. Having done it, he naturally bethought him that he might use the creature as an agent. It has intelligence and it has strength. For some purpose he took Lee into his confidence; but Lee, like a decent Christian, would have nothing to do with such a business. Then they had a row, and Lee vowed that he would tell his sister of Bellingham’s true character. Bellingham’s game was to prevent him, and he nearly managed it, by setting this creature of his on his track. He had already tried its powers upon another man—Norton—towards whom he had a grudge. It is the merest chance that he has not two murders upon his soul. Then, when I taxed him with the matter, he had the strongest reasons for wishing to get me out of the way before I could convey my knowledge to anyone else. He got his chance when I went out, for he knew my habits, and where I was bound for. I have had a narrow shave, Peterson, and it is mere luck you didn’t find me on your doorstep in the morning. I’m not a nervous man as a rule, and I never thought to have the fear of death put upon me as it was to-night.”

“My dear boy, you take the matter too seriously,” said his companion. “Your nerves are out of order with your work, and you make too much of it. How could such a thing as this stride about the streets of Oxford, even at night, without being seen?”

“It has been seen. There is quite a scare in the town about an escaped ape, as they imagine the creature to be. It is the talk of the place.”

“Well, it’s a striking chain of events. And yet, my dear fellow, you must allow that each incident in itself is capable of a more natural explanation.”

“What! even my adventure of to-night?”

“Certainly. You come out with your nerves all unstrung, and your head full of this theory of yours. Some gaunt, half-famished tramp steals after you, and seeing you run, is emboldened to pursue you. Your fears and imagination do the rest.”

“It won’t do, Peterson; it won’t do.”

“And again, in the instance of your finding the mummy case empty, and then a few moments later with an occupant, you know that it was lamplight, that the lamp was half turned down, and that you had no special reason to look hard at the case. It is quite possible that you may have overlooked the creature in the first instance.”

“No, no; it is out of the question.”

“And then Lee may have fallen into the river, and Norton been garrotted. It is certainly a formidable indictment that you have against Bellingham; but if you were to place it before a police magistrate, he would simply laugh in your face.”

“I know he would. That is why I mean to take the matter into my own hands.”

“Eh?”

“Yes; I feel that a public duty rests upon me, and, besides, I must do it for my own safety, unless I choose to allow myself to be hunted by this beast out of the college, and that would be a little too feeble. I have quite made up my mind what I shall do. And first of all, may I use your paper and pens for an hour?”

“Most certainly. You will find all that you want upon that side table.”

Abercrombie Smith sat down before a sheet of foolscap, and for an hour, and then for a second hour his pen travelled swiftly over it. Page after page was finished and tossed aside while his friend leaned back in his arm-chair, looking across at him with patient curiosity. At last, with an exclamation of satisfaction, Smith sprang to his feet, gathered his papers up into order, and laid the last one upon Peterson’s desk.

“Kindly sign this as a witness,” he said.

“A witness? Of what?”

“Of my signature, and of the date. The date is the most important. Why, Peterson, my life might hang upon it.”

“My dear Smith, you are talking wildly. Let me beg you to go to bed.”

“On the contrary, I never spoke so deliberately in my life. And I will promise to go to bed the moment you have signed it.”

“But what is it?”

“It is a statement of all that I have been telling you to-night. I wish you to witness it.”

“Certainly,” said Peterson, signing his name under that of his companion. “There you are! But what is the idea?”

“You will kindly retain it, and produce it in case I am arrested.”

“Arrested? For what?”

“For murder. It is quite on the cards. I wish to be ready for every event. There is only one course open to me, and I am determined to take it.”

“For Heaven’s sake, don’t do anything rash!”

“Believe me, it would be far more rash to adopt any other course. I hope that we won’t need to bother you, but it will ease my mind to know that you have this statement of my motives. And now I am ready to take your advice and to go to roost, for I want to be at my best in the morning.”

Abercrombie Smith was not an entirely pleasant man to have as an enemy. Slow and easytempered, he was formidable when driven to action. He brought to every purpose in life the same deliberate resoluteness which had distinguished him as a scientific student. He had laid his studies aside for a day, but he intended that the day should not be wasted. Not a word did he say to his host as to his plans, but by nine o’clock he was well on his way to Oxford.

In the High Street he stopped at Clifford’s, the gun-maker’s, and bought a heavy revolver, with a box of central-fire cartridges. Six of them he slipped into the chambers, and half-cocking the weapon, placed it in the pocket of his coat. He then made his way to Hastie’s rooms, where the big oarsman was lounging over his breakfast, with the Sporting Times propped up against the coffeepot.

“Hullo! What’s up?” he asked. “Have some coffee?”

“No, thank you. I want you to come with me, Hastie, and do what I ask you.”

“Certainly, my boy.”

“And bring a heavy stick with you.”

“Hullo!” Hastie stared. “Here’s a hunting-crop that would fell an ox.”

“One other thing. You have a box of amputating knives. Give me the longest of them.”

“There you are. You seem to be fairly on the war trail. Anything else?”

“No; that will do.” Smith placed the knife inside his coat, and led the way to the quadrangle. “We are neither of us chickens, Hastie,” said he. “I think I can do this job alone, but I take you as a precaution. I am going to have a little talk with Bellingham. If I have only him to deal with, I won’t, of course, need you. If I shout, however, up you come, and lam out with your whip as hard as you can lick. Do you understand?”

“All right. I’ll come if I hear you bellow.”

“Stay here, then. It may be a little time, but don’t budge until I come down.”

“I’m a fixture.”

Smith ascended the stairs, opened Bellingham’s door and stepped in. Bellingham was seated behind his table, writing. Beside him, among his litter of strange possessions, towered the mummy case, with its sale number 249 still stuck upon its front, and its hideous occupant stiff and stark within it. Smith looked very deliberately round him, closed the door, locked it, took the key from the inside, and then stepping across to the fireplace, struck a match and set the fire alight. Bellingham sat staring, with amazement and rage upon his bloated face.

“Well, really now, you make yourself at home,” he gasped.

Smith sat himself deliberately down, placing his watch upon the table, drew out his pistol, cocked it, and laid it in his lap. Then he took the long amputating knife from his bosom, and threw it down in front of Bellingham.

“Now, then,” said he, “just get to work and cut up that mummy.”

“Oh, is that it?” said Bellingham with a sneer.

“Yes, that is it. They tell me that the law can’t touch you. But I have a law that will set matters straight. If in five minutes you have not set to work, I swear by the God who made me that I will put a bullet through your brain!”

“You would murder me?”

Bellingham had half risen, and his face was the colour of putty.

“Yes.”

“And for what?”

“To stop your mischief. One minute has gone.”

“But what have I done?”

“I know and you know.”

“This is mere bullying.”

“Two minutes are gone.”

“But you must give reasons. You are a madman—a dangerous madman. Why should I destroy my own property? It is a valuable mummy.”

“You must cut it up, and you must burn it.”

“I will do no such thing.”

“Four minutes are gone.”

Smith took up the pistol and he looked towards Bellingham with an inexorable face. As the second-hand stole round, he raised his hand, and the finger twitched upon the trigger.

“There! there! I’ll do it!” screamed Bellingham.

In frantic haste he caught up the knife and hacked at the figure of the mummy, ever glancing round to see the eye and the weapon of his terrible visitor bent upon him. The creature crackled and snapped under every stab of the keen blade. A thick yellow dust rose up from it. Spices and dried essences rained down upon the floor. Suddenly, with a rending crack, its backbone snapped asunder, and it fell, a brown heap of sprawling limbs, upon the floor.

“Now into the fire!” said Smith.

The flames leaped and roared as the dried and tinderlike debris was piled upon it. The little room was like the stoke-hole of a steamer and the sweat ran down the faces of the two men; but still the one stooped and worked, while the other sat watching him with a set face. A thick, fat smoke oozed out from the fire, and a heavy smell of burned rosin and singed hair filled the air. In a quarter of an hour a few charred and brittle sticks were all that was left of Lot No. 249.

“Perhaps that will satisfy you,” snarled Bellingham, with hate and fear in his little grey eyes as he glanced back at his tormenter.

“No; I must make a clean sweep of all your materials. We must have no more devil’s tricks. In with all these leaves! They may have something to do with it.”

“And what now?” asked Bellingham, when the leaves also had been added to the blaze.

“Now the roll of papyrus which you had on the table that night. It is in that drawer, I think.”

“No, no,” shouted Bellingham. “Don’t burn that! Why, man, you don’t know what you do. It is unique; it contains wisdom which is nowhere else to be found.”

“Out with it!”

“But look here, Smith, you can’t really mean it. I’ll share the knowledge with you. I’ll teach you all that is in it. Or, stay, let me only copy it before you burn it!”

Smith stepped forward and turned the key in the drawer. Taking out the yellow, curled roll of paper, he threw it into the fire, and pressed it down with his heel. Bellingham screamed, and grabbed at it; but Smith pushed him back, and stood over it until it was reduced to a formless grey ash.

“Now, Master B.,” said he, “I think I have pretty well drawn your teeth. You’ll hear from me again, if you return to your old tricks. And now good-morning, for I must go back to my studies.”

And such is the narrative of Abercrombie Smith as to the singular events which occurred in Old College, Oxford, in the spring of ‘84. As Bellingham left the university immediately afterwards, and was last heard of in the Soudan, there is no one who can contradict his statement. But the wisdom of men is small, and the ways of nature are strange, and who shall put a bound to the dark things which may be found by those who seek for them?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)
Round the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life
Lot No. 249 (#12)
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Doyle, Arthur Conan, Doyle, Arthur Conan, DRUGS & MEDICINE & LITERATURE, Round the Red Lamp


Arthur Conan DOYLE: A Medical Document (Round the Red Lamp #11)

A Medical Document
by Arthur Conan Doyle

Medical men are, as a class, very much too busy to take stock of singular situations or dramatic events. Thus it happens that the ablest chronicler of their experiences in our literature was a lawyer. A life spent in watching over death-beds — or over birth-beds which are infinitely more trying — takes something from a man’s sense of proportion, as constant strong waters might corrupt his palate. The overstimulated nerve ceases to respond. Ask the surgeon for his best experiences and he may reply that he has seen little that is remarkable, or break away into the technical. But catch him some night when the fire has spurted up and his pipe is reeking, with a few of his brother practitioners for company and an artful question or allusion to set him going. Then you will get some raw, green facts new plucked from the tree of life.

It is after one of the quarterly dinners of the Midland Branch of the British Medical Association. Twenty coffee cups, a dozer liqueur glasses, and a solid bank of blue smoke which swirls slowly along the high, gilded ceiling gives a hint of a successful gathering. But the members have shredded off to their homes. The line of heavy, bulge-pocketed overcoats and of stethoscope- bearing top hats is gone from the hotel corridor. Round the fire in the sitting- room three medicos are still lingering, however, all smoking and arguing, while a fourth, who is a mere layman and young at that, sits back at the table. Under cover of an open journal he is writing furiously with a stylographic pen, asking a question in an innocent voice from time to time and so flickering up the conversation whenever it shows a tendency to wane.

The three men are all of that staid middle age which begins early and lasts late in the profession. They are none of them famous, yet each is of good repute, and a fair type of his particular branch. The portly man with the authoritative manner and the white, vitriol splash upon his cheek is Charley Manson, chief of the Wormley Asylum, and author of the brilliant monograph—Obscure Nervous Lesions in the Unmarried. He always wears his collar high like that, since the half-successful attempt of a student of Revelations to cut his throat with a splinter of glass. The second, with the ruddy face and the merry brown eyes, is a general practitioner, a man of vast experience, who, with his three assistants and his five horses, takes twenty-five hundred a year in half-crown visits and shilling consultations out of the poorest quarter of a great city. That cheery face of Theodore Foster is seen at the side of a hundred sick-beds a day, and if he has one-third more names on his visiting list than in his cash book he always promises himself that he will get level some day when a millionaire with a chronic complaint—the ideal combination—shall seek his services. The third, sitting on the right with his dress shoes shining on the top of the fender, is Hargrave, the rising surgeon. His face has none of the broad humanity of Theodore Foster’s, the eye is stern and critical, the mouth straight and severe, but there is strength and decision in every line of it, and it is nerve rather than sympathy which the patient demands when he is bad enough to come to Hargrave’s door. He calls himself a jawman “a mere jawman” as he modestly puts it, but in point of fact he is too young and too poor to confine himself to a specialty, and there is nothing surgical which Hargrave has not the skill and the audacity to do.

“Before, after, and during,” murmurs the general practitioner in answer to some interpolation of the outsider’s. “I assure you, Manson, one sees all sorts of evanescent forms of madness.”

“Ah, puerperal!” throws in the other, knocking the curved grey ash from his cigar. “But you had some case in your mind, Foster.”

“Well, there was only one last week which was new to me. I had been engaged by some people of the name of Silcoe. When the trouble came round I went myself, for they would not hear of an assistant. The husband who was a policeman, was sitting at the head of the bed on the further side. ‘This won’t do,’ said I. ‘Oh yes, doctor, it must do,’ said she. ‘It’s quite irregular and he must go,’ said I. ‘It’s that or nothing,’ said she. ‘I won’t open my mouth or stir a finger the whole night,’ said he. So it ended by my allowing him to remain, and there he sat for eight hours on end. She was very good over the matter, but every now and again HE would fetch a hollow groan, and I noticed that he held his right hand just under the sheet all the time, where I had no doubt that it was clasped by her left. When it was all happily over, I looked at him and his face was the colour of this cigar ash, and his head had dropped on to the edge of the pillow. Of course I thought he had fainted with emotion, and I was just telling myself what I thought of myself for having been such a fool as to let him stay there, when suddenly I saw that the sheet over his hand was all soaked with blood; I whisked it down, and there was the fellow’s wrist half cut through. The woman had one bracelet of a policeman’s handcuff over her left wrist and the other round his right one. When she had been in pain she had twisted with all her strength and the iron had fairly eaten into the bone of the man’s arm. ‘Aye, doctor,’ said she, when she saw I had noticed it. ‘He’s got to take his share as well as me. Turn and turn,’ said she.”

“Don’t you find it a very wearing branch of the profession?” asks Foster after a pause.

“My dear fellow, it was the fear of it that drove me into lunacy work.”

“Aye, and it has driven men into asylums who never found their way on to the medical staff. I was a very shy fellow myself as a student, and I know what it means.”

“No joke that in general practice,” says the alienist.

“Well, you hear men talk about it as though it were, but I tell you it’s much nearer tragedy. Take some poor, raw, young fellow who has just put up his plate in a strange town. He has found it a trial all his life, perhaps, to talk to a woman about lawn tennis and church services. When a young man IS shy he is shyer than any girl. Then down comes an anxious mother and consults him upon the most intimate family matters. ‘I shall never go to that doctor again,’ says she afterwards. ‘His manner is so stiff and unsympathetic.’ Unsympathetic! Why, the poor lad was struck dumb and paralysed. I have known general practitioners who were so shy that they could not bring themselves to ask the way in the street. Fancy what sensitive men like that must endure before they get broken in to medical practice. And then they know that nothing is so catching as shyness, and that if they do not keep a face of stone, their patient will be covered with confusion. And so they keep their face of stone, and earn the reputation perhaps of having a heart to correspond. I suppose nothing would shake YOUR nerve, Manson.”

“Well, when a man lives year in year out among a thousand lunatics, with a fair sprinkling of homicidals among them, one’s nerves either get set or shattered. Mine are all right so far.”

“I was frightened once,” says the surgeon. “It was when I was doing dispensary work. One night I had a call from some very poor people, and gathered from the few words they said that their child was ill. When I entered the room I saw a small cradle in the corner. Raising the lamp I walked over and putting back the curtains I looked down at the baby. I tell you it was sheer Providence that I didn’t drop that lamp and set the whole place alight. The head on the pillow turned and I saw a face looking up at me which seemed to me to have more malignancy and wickedness than ever I had dreamed of in a nightmare. It was the flush of red over the cheekbones, and the brooding eyes full of loathing of me, and of everything else, that impressed me. I’ll never forget my start as, instead of the chubby face of an infant, my eyes fell upon this creature. I took the mother into the next room. ‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘A girl of sixteen,’ said she, and then throwing up her arms, ‘Oh, pray God she may be taken!’ The poor thing, though she spent her life in this little cradle, had great, long, thin limbs which she curled up under her. I lost sight of the case and don’t know what became of it, but I’ll never forget the look in her eyes.”

“That’s creepy,” says Dr. Foster. “But I think one of my experiences would run it close. Shortly after I put up my plate I had a visit from a little hunch-backed woman who wished me to come and attend to her sister in her trouble. When I reached the house, which was a very poor one, I found two other little hunched-backed women, exactly like the first, waiting for me in the sitting-room. Not one of them said a word, but my companion took the lamp and walked upstairs with her two sisters behind her, and me bringing up the rear. I can see those three queer shadows cast by the lamp upon the wall as clearly as I can see that tobacco pouch. In the room above was the fourth sister, a remarkably beautiful girl in evident need of my assistance. There was no wedding ring upon her finger. The three deformed sisters seated themselves round the room, like so many graven images, and all night not one of them opened her mouth. I’m not romancing, Hargrave; this is absolute fact. In the early morning a fearful thunderstorm broke out, one of the most violent I have ever known. The little garret burned blue with the lightning, and thunder roared and rattled as if it were on the very roof of the house. It wasn’t much of a lamp I had, and it was a queer thing when a spurt of lightning came to see those three twisted figures sitting round the walls, or to have the voice of my patient drowned by the booming of the thunder. By Jove! I don’t mind telling you that there was a time when I nearly bolted from the room. All came right in the end, but I never heard the true story of the unfortunate beauty and her three crippled sisters.”

“That’s the worst of these medical stories,” sighs the outsider. “They never seem to have an end.”

“When a man is up to his neck in practice, my boy, he has no time to gratify his private curiosity. Things shoot across him and he gets a glimpse of them, only to recall them, perhaps, at some quiet moment like this. But I’ve always felt, Manson, that your line had as much of the terrible in it as any other.”

“More,” groans the alienist. “A disease of the body is bad enough, but this seems to be a disease of the soul. Is it not a shocking thing—a thing to drive a reasoning man into absolute Materialism—to think that you may have a fine, noble fellow with every divine instinct and that some little vascular change, the dropping, we will say, of a minute spicule of bone from the inner table of his skull on to the surface of his brain may have the effect of changing him to a filthy and pitiable creature with every low and debasing tendency? What a satire an asylum is upon the majesty of man, and no less upon the ethereal nature of the soul.”

“Faith and hope,” murmurs the general practitioner.

“I have no faith, not much hope, and all the charity I can afford,” says the surgeon. “When theology squares itself with the facts of life I’ll read it up.”

“You were talking about cases,” says the outsider, jerking the ink down into his stylographic pen.

“Well, take a common complaint which kills many thousands every year, like G. P. for instance.”

“What’s G. P.?”

“General practitioner,” suggests the surgeon with a grin.

“The British public will have to know what G. P. is,” says the alienist gravely. “It’s increasing by leaps and bounds, and it has the distinction of being absolutely incurable. General paralysis is its full title, and I tell you it promises to be a perfect scourge. Here’s a fairly typical case now which I saw last Monday week. A young farmer, a splendid fellow, surprised his fellows by taking a very rosy view of things at a time when the whole country-side was grumbling. He was going to give up wheat, give up arable land, too, if it didn’t pay, plant two thousand acres of rhododendrons and get a monopoly of the supply for Covent Garden—there was no end to his schemes, all sane enough but just a bit inflated. I called at the farm, not to see him, but on an altogether different matter. Something about the man’s way of talking struck me and I watched him narrowly. His lip had a trick of quivering, his words slurred themselves together, and so did his handwriting when he had occasion to draw up a small agreement. A closer inspection showed me that one of his pupils was ever so little larger than the other. As I left the house his wife came after me. ‘Isn’t it splendid to see Job looking so well, doctor,’ said she; ‘he’s that full of energy he can hardly keep himself quiet.’ I did not say anything, for I had not the heart, but I knew that the fellow was as much condemned to death as though he were lying in the cell at Newgate. It was a characteristic case of incipient G. P.”

“Good heavens!” cries the outsider. “My own lips tremble. I often slur my words. I believe I’ve got it myself.”

Three little chuckles come from the front of the fire.

“There’s the danger of a little medical knowledge to the layman.”

“A great authority has said that every first year’s student is suffering in silent agony from four diseases,” remarks the surgeon. ” One is heart disease, of course; another is cancer of the parotid. I forget the two other.”

“Where does the parotid come in?”

“Oh, it’s the last wisdom tooth coming through!”

“And what would be the end of that young farmer?” asks the outsider.

“Paresis of all the muscles, ending in fits, coma, and death. It may be a few months, it may be a year or two. He was a very strong young man and would take some killing.”

“By-the-way,” says the alienist, “did I ever tell you about the first certificate I signed? I came as near ruin then as a man could go.”

“What was it, then?”

“I was in practice at the time. One morning a Mrs. Cooper called upon me and informed me that her husband had shown signs of delusions lately. They took the form of imagining that he had been in the army and had distinguished himself very much. As a matter of fact he was a lawyer and had never been out of England. Mrs. Cooper was of opinion that if I were to call it might alarm him, so it was agreed between us that she should send him up in the evening on some pretext to my consulting-room, which would give me the opportunity of having a chat with him and, if I were convinced of his insanity, of signing his certificate. Another doctor had already signed, so that it only needed my concurrence to have him placed under treatment. Well, Mr. Cooper arrived in the evening about half an hour before I had expected him, and consulted me as to some malarious symptoms from which he said that he suffered. According to his account he had just returned from the Abyssinian Campaign, and had been one of the first of the British forces to enter Magdala. No delusion could possibly be more marked, for he would talk of little else, so I filled in the papers without the slightest hesitation. When his wife arrived, after he had left, I put some questions to her to complete the form. ‘What is his age?’ I asked. ‘Fifty,’ said she. ‘Fifty!’ I cried. ‘Why, the man I examined could not have been more than thirty! And so it came out that the real Mr. Cooper had never called upon me at all, but that by one of those coincidences which take a man’s breath away another Cooper, who really was a very distinguished young officer of artillery, had come in to consult me. My pen was wet to sign the paper when I discovered it,” says Dr. Manson, mopping his forehead.

“We were talking about nerve just now,” observes the surgeon. “Just after my qualifying I served in the Navy for a time, as I think you know. I was on the flag-ship on the West African Station, and I remember a singular example of nerve which came to my notice at that time. One of our small gunboats had gone up the Calabar river, and while there the surgeon died of coast fever. On the same day a man’s leg was broken by a spar falling upon it, and it became quite obvious that it must be taken off above the knee if his life was to be saved. The young lieutenant who was in charge of the craft searched among the dead doctor’s effects and laid his hands upon some chloroform, a hip-joint knife, and a volume of Grey’s Anatomy. He had the man laid by the steward upon the cabin table, and with a picture of a cross section of the thigh in front of him he began to take off the limb. Every now and then, referring to the diagram, he would say: ‘Stand by with the lashings, steward. There’s blood on the chart about here.’ Then he would jab with his knife until he cut the artery, and he and his assistant would tie it up before they went any further. In this way they gradually whittled the leg off, and upon my word they made a very excellent job of it. The man is hopping about the Portsmouth Hard at this day.

“It’s no joke when the doctor of one of these isolated gunboats himself falls ill,” continues the surgeon after a pause. “You might think it easy for him to prescribe for himself, but this fever knocks you down like a club, and you haven’t strength left to brush a mosquito off your face. I had a touch of it at Lagos, and I know what I am telling you. But there was a chum of mine who really had a curious experience. The whole crew gave him up, and, as they had never had a funeral aboard the ship, they began rehearsing the forms so as to be ready. They thought that he was unconscious, but he swears he could hear every word that passed. ‘Corpse comin’ up the latchway!’ cried the Cockney sergeant of Marines. ‘Present harms!’ He was so amused, and so indignant too, that he just made up his mind that he wouldn’t be carried through that hatchway, and he wasn’t, either.”

“There’s no need for fiction in medicine,” remarks Foster, “for the facts will always beat anything you can fancy. But it has seemed to me sometimes that a curious paper might be read at some of these meetings about the uses of medicine in popular fiction.”

“How?”

fdm-aconandoyle26“Well, of what the folk die of, and what diseases are made most use of in novels. Some are worn to pieces, and others, which are equally common in real life, are never mentioned. Typhoid is fairly frequent, but scarlet fever is unknown. Heart disease is common, but then heart disease, as we know it, is usually the sequel of some foregoing disease, of which we never hear anything in the romance. Then there is the mysterious malady called brain fever, which always attacks the heroine after a crisis, but which is unknown under that name to the text books. People when they are over-excited in novels fall down in a fit. In a fairly large experience I have never known anyone do so in real life. The small complaints simply don’t exist. Nobody ever gets shingles or quinsy, or mumps in a novel. All the diseases, too, belong to the upper part of the body. The novelist never strikes below the belt.”

“I’ll tell you what, Foster,” says the alienist, there is a side of life which is too medical for the general public and too romantic for the professional journals, but which contains some of the richest human materials that a man could study. It’s not a pleasant side, I am afraid, but if it is good enough for Providence to create, it is good enough for us to try and understand. It would deal with strange outbursts of savagery and vice in the lives of the best men, curious momentary weaknesses in the record of the sweetest women, known but to one or two, and inconceivable to the world around. It would deal, too, with the singular phenomena of waxing and of waning manhood, and would throw a light upon those actions which have cut short many an honoured career and sent a man to a prison when he should have been hurried to a consulting-room. Of all evils that may come upon the sons of men, God shield us principally from that one!”

“I had a case some little time ago which was out of the ordinary,” says the surgeon. “There’s a famous beauty in London society—I mention no names—who used to be remarkable a few seasons ago for the very low dresses which she would wear. She had the whitest of skins and most beautiful of shoulders, so it was no wonder. Then gradually the frilling at her neck lapped upwards and upwards, until last year she astonished everyone by wearing quite a high collar at a time when it was completely out of fashion. Well, one day this very woman was shown into my consulting-room. When the footman was gone she suddenly tore off the upper part of her dress. ‘For Gods sake do something for me!’ she cried. Then I saw what the trouble was. A rodent ulcer was eating its way upwards, coiling on in its serpiginous fashion until the end of it was flush with her collar. The red streak of its trail was lost below the line of her bust. Year by year it had ascended and she had heightened her dress to hide it, until now it was about to invade her face. She had been too proud to confess her trouble, even to a medical man.”

“And did you stop it?”

“Well, with zinc chloride I did what I could. But it may break out again. She was one of those beautiful white-and-pink creatures who are rotten with struma. You may patch but you can’t mend.”

“Dear! dear! dear!” cries the general practitioner, with that kindly softening of the eyes which had endeared him to so many thousands. “I suppose we mustn’t think ourselves wiser than Providence, but there are times when one feels that something is wrong in the scheme of things. I’ve seen some sad things in my life. Did I ever tell you that case where Nature divorced a most loving couple? He was a fine young fellow, an athlete and a gentleman, but he overdid athletics. You know how the force that controls us gives us a little tweak to remind us when we get off the beaten track. It may be a pinch on the great toe if we drink too much and work too little. Or it may be a tug on our nerves if we dissipate energy too much. With the athlete, of course, it’s the heart or the lungs. He had bad phthisis and was sent to Davos. Well, as luck would have it, she developed rheumatic fever, which left her heart very much affected. Now, do you see the dreadful dilemma in which those poor people found themselves? When he came below four thousand feet or so, his symptoms became terrible. She could come up about twenty-five hundred and then her heart reached its limit. They had several interviews half way down the valley, which left them nearly dead, and at last, the doctors had to absolutely forbid it. And so for four years they lived within three miles of each other and never met. Every morning he would go to a place which overlooked the chalet in which she lived and would wave a great white cloth and she answer from below. They could see each other quite plainly with their field glasses, and they might have been in different planets for all their chance of meeting.”

“And one at last died,” says the outsider.

“No, sir. I’m sorry not to be able to clinch the story, but the man recovered and is now a successful stockbroker in Drapers Gardens. The woman, too, is the mother of a considerable family. But what are you doing there?”

“Only taking a note or two of your talk.”

The three medical men laugh as they walk towards their overcoats.

“Why, we’ve done nothing but talk shop,” says the general practitioner. “What possible interest can the public take in that?”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)
Round the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life
A Medical Document (#11)
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Doyle, Arthur Conan, Doyle, Arthur Conan, DRUGS & MEDICINE & LITERATURE, Round the Red Lamp


Oscar WILDE: To My Wife

Oscar Wilde
To My Wife
 
I can write no stately proem
As a prelude to my lay;
From a poet to a poem
I would dare to say.
For if of these fallen petals
One to you seem fair,
Love will waft it till it settles
On your hair.
And when wind and winter harden
All the loveless land,
It will whisper of the garden,
You will understand.
 
And there is nothing left to do
But to kiss once again, and part,
Nay, there is nothing we should rue,
I have my beauty,-you your Art,
Nay, do not start,
One world was not enough for two
Like me and you.
 
Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
To my wife
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive W-X, Wilde, Oscar, Wilde, Oscar


ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: A Question of Diplomacy (Round the Red Lamp #10)

fdm-aconandoyle13A Question of Diplomacy
by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Foreign Minister was down with the gout. For a week he had been confined to the house, and he had missed two Cabinet Councils at a time when the pressure upon his department was severe. It is true that he had an excellent undersecretary and an admirable staff, but the Minister was a man of such ripe experience and of such proven sagacity that things halted in his absence. When his firm hand was at the wheel the great ship of State rode easily and smoothly upon her way; when it was removed she yawed and staggered until twelve British editors rose up in their omniscience and traced out twelve several courses, each of which was the sole and only path to safety. Then it was that the Opposition said vain things, and that the harassed Prime Minister prayed for his absent colleague.

The Foreign Minister sat in his dressing-room in the great house in Cavendish Square. It was May, and the square garden shot up like a veil of green in front of his window, but, in spite of the sunshine, a fire crackled and sputtered in the grate of the sick-room. In a deep-red plush armchair sat the great statesman, his head leaning back upon a silken pillow, one foot stretched forward and supported upon a padded rest. His deeply-lined, finely-chiselled face and slow-moving, heavily-pouched eyes were turned upwards towards the carved and painted ceiling, with that inscrutable expression which had been the despair and the admiration of his Continental colleagues upon the occasion of the famous Congress when he had made his first appearance in the arena of European diplomacy. Yet at the present moment his capacity for hiding his emotions had for the instant failed him, for about the lines of his strong, straight mouth and the puckers of his broad, overhanging forehead, there were sufficient indications of the restlessness and impatience which consumed him.

And indeed there was enough to make a man chafe, for he had much to think of and yet was bereft of the power of thought. There was, for example, that question of the Dobrutscha and the navigation of the mouths of the Danube which was ripe for settlement. The Russian Chancellor had sent a masterly statement upon the subject, and it was the pet ambition of our Minister to answer it in a worthy fashion. Then there was the blockade of Crete, and the British fleet lying off Cape Matapan, waiting for instructions which might change the course of European history. And there were those three unfortunate Macedonian tourists, whose friends were momentarily expecting to receive their ears or their fingers in default of the exorbitant ransom which had been demanded. They must be plucked out of those mountains, by force or by diplomacy, or an outraged public would vent its wrath upon Downing Street. All these questions pressed for a solution, and yet here was the Foreign Minister of England, planted in an arm-chair, with his whole thoughts and attention riveted upon the ball of his right toe! It was humiliating—horribly humiliating! His reason revolted at it. He had been a respecter of himself, a respecter of his own will; but what sort of a machine was it which could be utterly thrown out of gear by a little piece of inflamed gristle? He groaned and writhed among his cushions.

But, after all, was it quite impossible that he should go down to the House? Perhaps the doctor was exaggerating the situation. There was a Cabinet Council that day. He glanced at his watch. It must be nearly over by now. But at least he might perhaps venture to drive down as far as Westminster. He pushed back the little round table with its bristle of medicine-bottles, and levering himself up with a hand upon either arm of the chair, he clutched a thick oak stick and hobbled slowly across the room. For a moment as he moved, his energy of mind and body seemed to return to him. The British fleet should sail from Matapan. Pressure should be brought to bear upon the Turks. The Greeks should be shown—Ow! In an instant the Mediterranean was blotted out, and nothing remained but that huge, undeniable, intrusive, red-hot toe. He staggered to the window and rested his left hand upon the ledge, while he propped himself upon his stick with his right. Outside lay the bright, cool, square garden, a few well-dressed passers-by, and a single, neatly-appointed carriage, which was driving away from his own door. His quick eye caught the coat-of-arms on the panel, and his lips set for a moment and his bushy eyebrows gathered ominously with a deep furrow between them. He hobbled back to his seat and struck the gong which stood upon the table.

“Your mistress!” said he as the serving-man entered.

It was clear that it was impossible to think of going to the House. The shooting up his leg warned him that his doctor had not overestimated the situation. But he had a little mental worry now which had for the moment eclipsed his physical ailments. He tapped the ground impatiently with his stick until the door of the dressing-room swung open, and a tall, elegant lady of rather more than middle age swept into the chamber. Her hair was touched with grey, but her calm, sweet face had all the freshness of youth, and her gown of green shot plush, with a sparkle of gold passementerie at her bosom and shoulders, showed off the lines of her fine figure to their best advantage.

“You sent for me, Charles?”

“Whose carriage was that which drove away just now?”

“Oh, you’ve been up!” she cried, shaking an admonitory forefinger. “What an old dear it is! How can you be so rash? What am I to say to Sir William when he comes? You know that he gives up his cases when they are insubordinate.”

“In this instance the case may give him up,” said the Minister, peevishly; “but I must beg, Clara, that you will answer my question.”

“Oh! the carriage! It must have been Lord Arthur Sibthorpe’s.”

“I saw the three chevrons upon the panel,” muttered the invalid.

His lady had pulled herself a little straighter and opened her large blue eyes.

“Then why ask?” she said. “One might almost think, Charles, that you were laying a trap! Did you expect that I should deceive you? You have not had your lithia powder.”

“For Heaven’s sake, leave it alone! I asked because I was surprised that Lord Arthur should call here. I should have fancied, Clara, that I had made myself sufficiently clear on that point. Who received him?”

“I did. That is, I and Ida.”

“I will not have him brought into contact with Ida. I do not approve of it. The matter has gone too far already.”

Lady Clara seated herself on a velvet-topped footstool, and bent her stately figure over the Minister’s hand, which she patted softly between her own.

“Now you have said it, Charles,” said she. “It has gone too far—I give you my word, dear, that I never suspected it until it was past all mending. I may be to blame—no doubt I am; but it was all so sudden. The tail end of the season and a week at Lord Donnythorne’s. That was all. But oh! Charlie, she loves him so, and she is our only one! How can we make her miserable?”

“Tut, tut!” cried the Minister impatiently, slapping on the plush arm of his chair. “This is too much. I tell you, Clara, I give you my word, that all my official duties, all the affairs of this great empire, do not give me the trouble that Ida does.”

“But she is our only one, Charles.”

“The more reason that she should not make a mesalliance.”

“Mesalliance, Charles! Lord Arthur Sibthorpe, son of the Duke of Tavistock, with a pedigree from the Heptarchy. Debrett takes them right back to Morcar, Earl of Northumberland.”

The Minister shrugged his shoulders.

“Lord Arthur is the fourth son of the poorest duke in England,” said he. “He has neither prospects nor profession.”

“But, oh! Charlie, you could find him both.”

“I do not like him. I do not care for the connection.”

“But consider Ida! You know how frail her health is. Her whole soul is set upon him. You would not have the heart, Charles, to separate them?”

There was a tap at the door. Lady Clara swept towards it and threw it open.

“Yes, Thomas?”

“If you please, my lady, the Prime Minister is below.”

“Show him up, Thomas.”

“Now, Charlie, you must not excite yourself over public matters. Be very good and cool and reasonable, like a darling. I am sure that I may trust you.”

She threw her light shawl round the invalid’s shoulders, and slipped away into the bed-room as the great man was ushered in at the door of the dressing-room.

“My dear Charles,” said he cordially, stepping into the room with all the boyish briskness for which he was famous, “I trust that you find yourself a little better. Almost ready for harness, eh? We miss you sadly, both in the House and in the Council. Quite a storm brewing over this Grecian business. The Times took a nasty line this morning.”

“So I saw,” said the invalid, smiling up at his chief. “Well, well, we must let them see that the country is not entirely ruled from Printing House Square yet. We must keep our own course without faltering.”

“Certainly, Charles, most undoubtedly,” assented the Prime Minister, with his hands in his pockets.

“It was so kind of you to call. I am all impatience to know what was done in the Council.”

“Pure formalities, nothing more. By-the-way, the Macedonian prisoners are all right.”

“Thank Goodness for that!”

“We adjourned all other business until we should have you with us next week. The question of a dissolution begins to press. The reports from the provinces are excellent.”

The Foreign Minister moved impatiently and groaned.

“We must really straighten up our foreign business a little,” said he. “I must get Novikoff’s Note answered. It is clever, but the fallacies are obvious. I wish, too, we could clear up the Afghan frontier. This illness is most exasperating. There is so much to be done, but my brain is clouded. Sometimes I think it is the gout, and sometimes I put it down to the colchicum.”

“What will our medical autocrat say?” laughed the Prime Minister. “You are so irreverent, Charles. With a bishop one may feel at one’s ease. They are not beyond the reach of argument. But a doctor with his stethoscope and thermometer is a thing apart. Your reading does not impinge upon him. He is serenely above you. And then, of course, he takes you at a disadvantage. With health and strength one might cope with him. Have you read Hahnemann? What are your views upon Hahnemann?”

The invalid knew his illustrious colleague too well to follow him down any of those by-paths of knowledge in which he delighted to wander. To his intensely shrewd and practical mind there was something repellent in the waste of energy involved in a discussion upon the Early Church or the twenty-seven principles of Mesmer. It was his custom to slip past such conversational openings with a quick step and an averted face.

“I have hardly glanced at his writings,” said he. “By-the-way, I suppose that there was no special departmental news?”

“Ah! I had almost forgotten. Yes, it was one of the things which I had called to tell you. Sir Algernon Jones has resigned at Tangier. There is a vacancy there.”

“It had better be filled at once. The longer delay the more applicants.”

“Ah, patronage, patronage!” sighed the Prime Minister. “Every vacancy makes one doubtful friend and a dozen very positive enemies. Who so bitter as the disappointed place-seeker? But you are right, Charles. Better fill it at once, especially as there is some little trouble in Morocco. I understand that the Duke of Tavistock would like the place for his fourth son, Lord Arthur Sibthorpe. We are under some obligation to the Duke.”

The Foreign Minister sat up eagerly.

“My dear friend,” he said, “it is the very appointment which I should have suggested. Lord Arthur would be very much better in Tangier at present than in—in——”

“Cavendish Square?” hazarded his chief, with a little arch query of his eyebrows.

“Well, let us say London. He has manner and tact. He was at Constantinople in Norton’s time.”

“Then he talks Arabic?”

“A smattering. But his French is good.”

“Speaking of Arabic, Charles, have you dipped into Averroes?”

“No, I have not. But the appointment would be an excellent one in every way. Would you have the great goodness to arrange the matter in my absence?”

“Certainly, Charles, certainly. Is there anything else that I can do?”

“No. I hope to be in the House by Monday.”

“I trust so. We miss you at every turn. The Times will try to make mischief over that Grecian business. A leader-writer is a terribly irresponsible thing, Charles. There is no method by which he may be confuted, however preposterous his assertions. Good-bye! Read Porson! Goodbye!”

He shook the invalid’s hand, gave a jaunty wave of his broad-brimmed hat, and darted out of the room with the same elasticity and energy with which he had entered it.

The footman had already opened the great folding door to usher the illustrious visitor to his carriage, when a lady stepped from the drawing-room and touched him on the sleeve. From behind the half-closed portiere of stamped velvet a little pale face peeped out, half-curious, half-frightened.

“May I have one word?”

“Surely, Lady Clara.”

“I hope it is not intrusive. I would not for the world overstep the limits——”

“My dear Lady Clara!” interrupted the Prime Minister, with a youthful bow and wave.

“Pray do not answer me if I go too far. But I know that Lord Arthur Sibthorpe has applied for Tangier. Would it be a liberty if I asked you what chance he has?”

“The post is filled up.”

“Oh!”

In the foreground and background there was a disappointed face.

“And Lord Arthur has it.”

The Prime Minister chuckled over his little piece of roguery.

“We have just decided it,” he continued.

“Lord Arthur must go in a week. I am delighted to perceive, Lady Clara, that the appointment has your approval. Tangier is a place of extraordinary interest. Catherine of Braganza and Colonel Kirke will occur to your memory. Burton has written well upon Northern Africa. I dine at Windsor, so I am sure that you will excuse my leaving you. I trust that Lord Charles will be better. He can hardly fail to be so with such a nurse.”

He bowed, waved, and was off down the steps to his brougham. As he drove away, Lady Clara could see that he was already deeply absorbed in a paper-covered novel.

She pushed back the velvet curtains, and returned into the drawing-room. Her daughter stood in the sunlight by the window, tall, fragile, and exquisite, her features and outline not unlike her mother’s, but frailer, softer, more delicate. The golden light struck one half of her high-bred, sensitive face, and glimmered upon her thickly-coiled flaxen hair, striking a pinkish tint from her closely-cut costume of fawn-coloured cloth with its dainty cinnamon ruchings. One little soft frill of chiffon nestled round her throat, from which the white, graceful neck and well-poised head shot up like a lily amid moss. Her thin white hands were pressed together, and her blue eyes turned beseechingly upon her mother.

“Silly girl! Silly girl!” said the matron, answering that imploring look. She put her hands upon her daughter’s sloping shoulders and drew her towards her. “It is a very nice place for a short time. It will be a stepping stone.”

“But oh! mamma, in a week! Poor Arthur!”

“He will be happy.”

“What! happy to part?”

“He need not part. You shall go with him.”

“Oh! mamma!”

“Yes, I say it.”

“Oh! mamma, in a week?”

“Yes indeed. A great deal may be done in a week. I shall order your trousseau to-day.”

“Oh! you dear, sweet angel! But I am so frightened! And papa? Oh! dear, I am so frightened!”

“Your papa is a diplomatist, dear.”

“Yes, ma.”

“But, between ourselves, he married a diplomatist too. If he can manage the British Empire, I think that I can manage him, Ida. How long have you been engaged, child?”

“Ten weeks, mamma.”

“Then it is quite time it came to a head. Lord Arthur cannot leave England without you. You must go to Tangier as the Minister’s wife. Now, you will sit there on the settee, dear, and let me manage entirely. There is Sir William’s carriage! I do think that I know how to manage Sir William. James, just ask the doctor to step in this way!”

A heavy, two-horsed carriage had drawn up at the door, and there came a single stately thud upon the knocker. An instant afterwards the drawing-room door flew open and the footman ushered in the famous physician. He was a small man, clean-shaven, with the old-fashioned black dress and white cravat with high-standing collar. He swung his golden pince-nez in his right hand as he walked, and bent forward with a peering, blinking expression, which was somehow suggestive of the dark and complex cases through which he had seen.

“Ah,” said he, as he entered. “My young patient! I am glad of the opportunity.”

“Yes, I wish to speak to you about her, Sir William. Pray take this arm-chair.”

“Thank you, I will sit beside her,” said he, taking his place upon the settee. “She is looking better, less anaemic unquestionably, and a fuller pulse. Quite a little tinge of colour, and yet not hectic.”

“I feel stronger, Sir William.”

“But she still has the pain in the side.”

“Ah, that pain!” He tapped lightly under the collar-bones, and then bent forward with his biaural stethoscope in either ear. “Still a trace of dulness—still a slight crepitation,” he murmured.

“You spoke of a change, doctor.”

“Yes, certainly a judicious change might be advisable.”

“You said a dry climate. I wish to do to the letter what you recommend.”

“You have always been model patients.”

“We wish to be. You said a dry climate.”

“Did I? I rather forget the particulars of our conversation. But a dry climate is certainly indicated.”

“Which one?”

“Well, I think really that a patient should be allowed some latitude. I must not exact too rigid discipline. There is room for individual choice—the Engadine, Central Europe, Egypt, Algiers, which you like.”

“I hear that Tangier is also recommended.”

“Oh, yes, certainly; it is very dry.”

“You hear, Ida? Sir William says that you are to go to Tangier.”

“Or any——”

“No, no, Sir William! We feel safest when we are most obedient. You have said Tangier, and we shall certainly try Tangier.”

“Really, Lady Clara, your implicit faith is most flattering. It is not everyone who would sacrifice their own plans and inclinations so readily.”

“We know your skill and your experience, Sir William. Ida shall try Tangier. I am convinced that she will be benefited.”

“I have no doubt of it.”

“But you know Lord Charles. He is just a little inclined to decide medical matters as he would an affair of State. I hope that you will be firm with him.”

“As long as Lord Charles honours me so far as to ask my advice I am sure that he would not place me in the false position of having that advice disregarded.”

The medical baronet whirled round the cord of his pince-nez and pushed out a protesting hand.

“No, no, but you must be firm on the point of Tangier.”

“Having deliberately formed the opinion that Tangier is the best place for our young patient, I do not think that I shall readily change my conviction.”

“Of course not.”

“I shall speak to Lord Charles upon the subject now when I go upstairs.”

“Pray do.”

“And meanwhile she will continue her present course of treatment. I trust that the warm African air may send her back in a few months with all her energy restored.”

He bowed in the courteous, sweeping, old-world fashion which had done so much to build up his ten thousand a year, and, with the stealthy gait of a man whose life is spent in sick-rooms, he followed the footman upstairs.

As the red velvet curtains swept back into position, the Lady Ida threw her arms round her mother’s neck and sank her face on to her bosom.

“Oh! mamma, you ARE a diplomatist!” she cried.

But her mother’s expression was rather that of the general who looked upon the first smoke of the guns than of one who had won the victory.

“All will be right, dear,” said she, glancing down at the fluffy yellow curls and tiny ear. “There is still much to be done, but I think we may venture to order the trousseau.”

“Oh I how brave you are!”

“Of course, it will in any case be a very quiet affair. Arthur must get the license. I do not approve of hole-and-corner marriages, but where the gentleman has to take up an official position some allowance must be made. We can have Lady Hilda Edgecombe, and the Trevors, and the Grevilles, and I am sure that the Prime Minister would run down if he could.”

“And papa?”

“Oh, yes; he will come too, if he is well enough. We must wait until Sir William goes, and, meanwhile, I shall write to Lord Arthur.”

Half an hour had passed, and quite a number of notes had been dashed off in the fine, bold, park-paling handwriting of the Lady Clara, when the door clashed, and the wheels of the doctor’s carriage were heard grating outside against the kerb. The Lady Clara laid down her pen, kissed her daughter, and started off for the sick-room. The Foreign Minister was lying back in his chair, with a red silk handkerchief over his forehead, and his bulbous, cotton-wadded foot still protruding upon its rest.

“I think it is almost liniment time,” said Lady Clara, shaking a blue crinkled bottle. “Shall I put on a little?”

“Oh! this pestilent toe!” groaned the sufferer. “Sir William won’t hear of my moving yet. I do think he is the most completely obstinate and pig-headed man that I have ever met. I tell him that he has mistaken his profession, and that I could find him a post at Constantinople. We need a mule out there.”

“Poor Sir William!” laughed Lady Clara. “But how has he roused your wrath?”

“He is so persistent-so dogmatic.”

“Upon what point?”

“Well, he has been laying down the law about Ida. He has decreed, it seems, that she is to go to Tangier.”

“He said something to that effect before he went up to you.”

“Oh, he did, did he?”

The slow-moving, inscrutable eye came sliding round to her.

fdm-aconandoyle23Lady Clara’s face had assumed an expression of transparent obvious innocence, an intrusive candour which is never seen in nature save when a woman is bent upon deception.

“He examined her lungs, Charles. He did not say much, but his expression was very grave.”

“Not to say owlish,” interrupted the Minister.

“No, no, Charles; it is no laughing matter. He said that she must have a change. I am sure that he thought more than he said. He spoke of dulness and crepitation, and the effects of the African air. Then the talk turned upon dry, bracing health resorts, and he agreed that Tangier was the place. He said that even a few months there would work a change.”

“And that was all?”

“Yes, that was all.”

Lord Charles shrugged his shoulders with the air of a man who is but half convinced.

“But of course,” said Lady Clara, serenely, “if you think it better that Ida should not go she shall not. The only thing is that if she should get worse we might feel a little uncomfortable afterwards. In a weakness of that sort a very short time may make a difference. Sir William evidently thought the matter critical. Still, there is no reason why he should influence you. It is a little responsibility, however. If you take it all upon yourself and free me from any of it, so that afterwards——”

“My dear Clara, how you do croak!”

“Oh! I don’t wish to do that, Charles. But you remember what happened to Lord Bellamy’s child. She was just Ida’s age. That was another case in which Sir William’s advice was disregarded.”

Lord Charles groaned impatiently.

“I have not disregarded it,” said he.

“No, no, of course not. I know your strong sense, and your good heart too well, dear. You were very wisely looking at both sides of the question. That is what we poor women cannot do. It is emotion against reason, as I have often heard you say. We are swayed this way and that, but you men are persistent, and so you gain your way with us. But I am so pleased that you have decided for Tangier.”

“Have I?”

“Well, dear, you said that you would not disregard Sir William.”

“Well, Clara, admitting that Ida is to go to Tangier, you will allow that it is impossible for me to escort her?

“Utterly.”

“And for you?

“While you are ill my place is by your side.”

“There is your sister?”

“She is going to Florida.”

“Lady Dumbarton, then?”

“She is nursing her father. It is out of the question.”

“Well, then, whom can we possibly ask? Especially just as the season is commencing. You see, Clara, the fates fight against Sir William.”

His wife rested her elbows against the back of the great red chair, and passed her fingers through the statesman’s grizzled curls, stooping down as she did so until her lips were close to his ear.

“There is Lord Arthur Sibthorpe,” said she softly.

Lord Charles bounded in his chair, and muttered a word or two such as were more frequently heard from Cabinet Ministers in Lord Melbourne’s time than now.

“Are you mad, Clara!” he cried. “What can have put such a thought into your head?”

“The Prime Minister.”

“Who? The Prime Minister?”

“Yes, dear. Now do, do be good! Or perhaps I had better not speak to you about it any more.”

“Well, I really think that you have gone rather too far to retreat.”

“It was the Prime Minister, then, who told me that Lord Arthur was going to Tangier.”

“It is a fact, though it had escaped my memory for the instant.”

“And then came Sir William with his advice about Ida. Oh! Charlie, it is surely more than a coincidence!”

“I am convinced,” said Lord Charles, with his shrewd, questioning gaze, “that it is very much more than a coincidence, Lady Clara. You are a very clever woman, my dear. A born manager and organiser.”

Lady Clara brushed past the compliment.

“Think of our own young days, Charlie,” she whispered, with her fingers still toying with his hair. “What were you then? A poor man, not even Ambassador at Tangier. But I loved you, and believed in you, and have I ever regretted it? Ida loves and believes in Lord Arthur, and why should she ever regret it either?”

Lord Charles was silent. His eyes were fixed upon the green branches which waved outside the window; but his mind had flashed back to a Devonshire country-house of thirty years ago, and to the one fateful evening when, between old yew hedges, he paced along beside a slender girl, and poured out to her his hopes, his fears, and his ambitious. He took the white, thin hand and pressed it to his lips.

“You, have been a good wife to me, Clara,” said he.

She said nothing. She did not attempt to improve upon her advantage. A less consummate general might have tried to do so, and ruined all. She stood silent and submissive, noting the quick play of thought which peeped from his eyes and lip. There was a sparkle in the one and a twitch of amusement in the other, as he at last glanced up at her.

“Clara,” said he, “deny it if you can! You have ordered the trousseau.”

She gave his ear a little pinch.

“Subject to your approval,” said she.

“You have written to the Archbishop.”

“It is not posted yet.”

“You have sent a note to Lord Arthur.”

“How could you tell that?”

“He is downstairs now.”

“No; but I think that is his brougham.”

Lord Charles sank back with a look of half-comical despair.

“Who is to fight against such a woman?” he cried. “Oh! if I could send you to Novikoff! He is too much for any of my men. But, Clara, I cannot have them up here.”

“Not for your blessing?”

“No, no!”

“It would make them so happy.”

“I cannot stand scenes.”

“Then I shall convey it to them.”

“And pray say no more about it—to-day, at any rate. I have been weak over the matter.”

“Oh! Charlie, you who are so strong!”

“You have outflanked me, Clara. It was very well done. I must congratulate you.”

“Well,” she murmured, as she kissed him, “you know I have been studying a very clever diplomatist for thirty years.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)
Round the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life
A Question of Diplomacy (#10)
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Doyle, Arthur Conan, Doyle, Arthur Conan, DRUGS & MEDICINE & LITERATURE, Round the Red Lamp


Edgar Allan POE: The City in the Sea

Edgar Allan Poe
The City in the Sea

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free
Up domes up spires up kingly halls
Up fanes up Babylon-like walls
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers
Up many and many a marvelous shrine
Whose wreathèd friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.

Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol’s diamond eye
Not the gaily-jeweled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Among that wilderness of glass
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow
The hours are breathing faint and low
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)
The City in the Sea
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Edgar Allan Poe, Poe, Edgar Allan, Poe, Edgar Allan


James JOYCE: I Hear an Army

James Joyce
I Hear an Army

I hear an army charging upon the land,
And the thunder of horses plunging; foam about their knees:
Arrogant, in black armour, behind them stand,
Disdaining the reins, with fluttering whips, the Charioteers.

They cry into the night their battle name:
I moan in sleep when I hear afar their whirling laughter.
They cleave the gloom of dreams, a blinding flame,
Clanging, clanging upon the heart as upon an anvil.

They come shaking in triumph their long grey hair:
They come out of the sea and run shouting by the shore.
My heart, have you no wisdom thus to despair?
My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?

James Joyce (1882 – 1941)
I Hear an Army
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive I-J, Joyce, James, Joyce, James


Franz KAFKA: Brief an den Vater

kafkafranz-fdm213Franz Kafka
Brief an den Vater

Liebster Vater,

Du hast mich letzthin einmal gefragt, warum ich behaupte, ich hätte Furcht vor Dir. Ich wußte Dir, wie gewöhnlich, nichts zu antworten, zum Teil eben aus der Furcht, die ich vor Dir habe, zum Teil deshalb, weil zur Begründung dieser Furcht zu viele Einzelheiten gehören, als daß ich sie im Reden halbwegs zusammenhalten könnte. Und wenn ich hier versuche, Dir schriftlich zu antworten, so wird es doch nur sehr unvollständig sein, weil auch im Schreiben die Furcht und ihre Folgen mich Dir gegenüber behindern und weil die Größe des Stoffs über mein Gedächtnis und meinen Verstand weit hinausgeht.

Dir hat sich die Sache immer sehr einfach dargestellt, wenigstens soweit Du vor mir und, ohne Auswahl, vor vielen andern davon gesprochen hast. Es schien Dir etwa so zu sein: Du hast Dein ganzes Leben lang schwer gearbeitet, alles für Deine Kinder, vor allem für mich geopfert, ich habe infolgedessen »in Saus und Braus« gelebt, habe vollständige Freiheit gehabt zu lernen was ich wollte, habe keinen Anlaß zu Nahrungssorgen, also zu Sorgen überhaupt gehabt; Du hast dafür keine Dankbarkeit verlangt, Du kennst »die Dankbarkeit der Kinder«, aber doch wenigstens irgendein Entgegenkommen, Zeichen eines Mitgefühls; statt dessen habe ich mich seit jeher vor Dir verkrochen, in mein Zimmer, zu Büchern, zu verrückten Freunden, zu überspannten Ideen; offen gesprochen habe ich mit Dir niemals, in den Tempel bin ich nicht zu Dir gekommen, in Franzensbad habe ich Dich nie besucht, auch sonst nie Familiensinn gehabt, um das Geschäft und Deine sonstigen Angelegenheiten habe ich mich nicht gekümmert, die Fabrik habe ich Dir aufgehalst und Dich dann verlassen, Ottla habe ich in ihrem Eigensinn unterstützt und während ich für Dich keinen Finger rühre (nicht einmal eine Theaterkarte bringe ich Dir), tue ich für Freunde alles. Faßt Du Dein Urteil über mich zusammen, so ergibt sich, daß Du mir zwar etwas geradezu Unanständiges oder Böses nicht vorwirfst (mit Ausnahme vielleicht meiner letzten Heiratsabsicht), aber Kälte, Fremdheit, Undankbarkeit. Und zwar wirfst Du es mir so vor, als wäre es meine Schuld, als hätte ich etwa mit einer Steuerdrehung das Ganze anders einrichten können, während Du nicht die geringste Schuld daran hast, es wäre denn die, daß Du zu gut zu mir gewesen bist.

Diese Deine übliche Darstellung halte ich nur so weit für richtig, daß auch ich glaube, Du seist gänzlich schuldlos an unserer Entfremdung. Aber ebenso gänzlich schuldlos bin auch ich. Könnte ich Dich dazu bringen, daß Du das anerkennst, dann wäre – nicht etwa ein neues Leben möglich, dazu sind wir beide viel zu alt, aber doch eine Art Friede, kein Aufhören, aber doch ein Mildern Deiner unaufhörlichen Vorwürfe.

Irgendeine Ahnung dessen, was ich sagen will, hast Du merkwürdigerweise. So hast Du mir zum Beispiel vor kurzem gesagt: »ich habe Dich immer gern gehabt, wenn ich auch äußerlich nicht so zu Dir war wie andere Väter zu sein pflegen, eben deshalb weil ich mich nicht verstellen kann wie andere«. Nun habe ich, Vater, im ganzen niemals an Deiner Güte mir gegenüber gezweifelt, aber diese Bemerkung halte ich für unrichtig. Du kannst Dich nicht verstellen, das ist richtig, aber nur aus diesem Grunde behaupten wollen, daß die andern Väter sich verstellen, ist entweder bloße, nicht weiter diskutierbare Rechthaberei oder aber – und das ist es meiner Meinung nach wirklich – der verhüllte Ausdruck dafür, daß zwischen uns etwas nicht in Ordnung ist und daß Du es mitverursacht hast, aber ohne Schuld. Meinst Du das wirklich, dann sind wir einig.

Ich sage ja natürlich nicht, daß ich das, was ich bin, nur durch Deine Einwirkung geworden bin. Das wäre sehr übertrieben (und ich neige sogar zu dieser Übertreibung). Es ist sehr leicht möglich, daß ich, selbst wenn ich ganz frei von Deinem Einfluß aufgewachsen wäre, doch kein Mensch nach Deinem Herzen hätte werden können. Ich wäre wahrscheinlich doch ein schwächlicher, ängstlicher, zögernder, unruhiger Mensch geworden, weder Robert Kafka noch Karl Hermann, aber doch ganz anders, als ich wirklich bin, und wir hätten uns ausgezeichnet miteinander vertragen können. Ich wäre glücklich gewesen, Dich als Freund, als Chef, als Onkel, als Großvater, ja selbst (wenn auch schon zögernder) als Schwiegervater zu haben. Nur eben als Vater warst Du zu stark für mich, besonders da meine Brüder klein starben, die Schwestern erst lange nachher kamen, ich also den ersten Stoß ganz allein aushalten mußte, dazu war ich viel zu schwach.

Vergleich uns beide: ich, um es sehr abgekürzt auszudrücken, ein Löwy mit einem gewissen Kafkaschen Fond, der aber eben nicht durch den Kafkaschen Lebens-, Geschäfts-, Eroberungswillen in Bewegung gesetzt wird, sondern durch einen Löwy’schen Stachel, der geheimer, scheuer, in anderer Richtung wirkt und oft überhaupt aussetzt. Du dagegen ein wirklicher Kafka an Stärke, Gesundheit, Appetit, Stimmkraft, Redebegabung, Selbstzufriedenheit, Weltüberlegenheit, Ausdauer, Geistesgegenwart, Menschenkenntnis, einer gewissen Großzügigkeit, natürlich auch mit allen zu diesen Vorzügen gehörigen Fehlern und Schwächen, in welche Dich Dein Temperament und manchmal Dein Jähzorn hineinhetzen. Nicht ganzer Kafka bist Du vielleicht in Deiner allgemeinen Weltansicht, soweit ich Dich mit Onkel Philipp, Ludwig, Heinrich vergleichen kann. Das ist merkwürdig, ich sehe hier auch nicht ganz klar. Sie waren doch alle fröhlicher, frischer, ungezwungener, leichtlebiger, weniger streng als Du. (Darin habe ich übrigens viel von Dir geerbt und das Erbe viel zu gut verwaltet, ohne allerdings die nötigen Gegengewichte in meinem Wesen zu haben, wie Du sie hast.) Doch hast auch andererseits Du in dieser Hinsicht verschiedene Zeiten durchgemacht, warst vielleicht fröhlicher, ehe Dich Deine Kinder, besonders ich, enttäuschten und zu Hause bedrückten (kamen Fremde, warst Du ja anders) und bist auch jetzt vielleicht wieder fröhlicher geworden, da Dir die Enkel und der Schwiegersohn wieder etwas von jener Wärme geben, die Dir die Kinder, bis auf Valli vielleicht, nicht geben konnten. Jedenfalls waren wir so verschieden und in dieser Verschiedenheit einander so gefährlich, daß, wenn man es hätte etwa im voraus ausrechnen wollen, wie ich, das langsam sich entwickelnde Kind, und Du, der fertige Mann, sich zueinander verhalten werden, man hätte annehmen können, daß Du mich einfach niederstampfen wirst, daß nichts von mir übrigbleibt. Das ist nun nicht geschehen, das Lebendige läßt sich nicht ausrechnen, aber vielleicht ist Ärgeres geschehen. Wobei ich Dich aber immerfort bitte, nicht zu vergessen, daß ich niemals im entferntesten an eine Schuld Deinerseits glaube. Du wirktest so auf mich, wie Du wirken mußtest, nur sollst Du aufhören, es für eine besondere Bosheit meinerseits zu halten, daß ich dieser Wirkung erlegen bin.

Ich war ein ängstliches Kind; trotzdem war ich gewiß auch störrisch, wie Kinder sind; gewiß verwöhnte mich die Mutter auch, aber ich kann nicht glauben, daß ich besonders schwer lenkbar war, ich kann nicht glauben, daß ein freundliches Wort, ein stilles Bei-der-Hand-Nehmen, ein guter Blick mir nicht alles hätten abfordern können, was man wollte. Nun bist Du ja im Grunde ein gütiger und weicher Mensch (das Folgende wird dem nicht widersprechen, ich rede ja nur von der Erscheinung, in der Du auf das Kind wirktest), aber nicht jedes Kind hat die Ausdauer und Unerschrockenheit, so lange zu suchen, bis es zu der Güte kommt. Du kannst ein Kind nur so behandeln, wie Du eben selbst geschaffen bist, mit Kraft, Lärm und Jähzorn, und in diesem Falle schien Dir das auch noch überdies deshalb sehr gut geeignet, weil Du einen kräftigen mutigen Jungen in mir aufziehen wolltest.

Deine Erziehungsmittel in den allerersten Jahren kann ich heute natürlich nicht unmittelbar beschreiben, aber ich kann sie mir etwa vorstellen durch Rückschluß aus den späteren Jahren und aus Deiner Behandlung des Felix. Hiebei kommt verschärfend in Betracht, daß Du damals jünger, daher frischer, wilder, ursprünglicher, noch unbekümmerter warst als heute und daß Du außerdem ganz an das Geschäft gebunden warst, kaum einmal des Tages Dich mir zeigen konntest und deshalb einen um so tieferen Eindruck auf mich machtest, der sich kaum je zur Gewöhnung verflachte.

Direkt erinnere ich mich nur an einen Vorfall aus den ersten Jahren. Du erinnerst Dich vielleicht auch daran. Ich winselte einmal in der Nacht immerfort um Wasser, gewiß nicht aus Durst, sondern wahrscheinlich teils um zu ärgern, teils um mich zu unterhalten. Nachdem einige starke Drohungen nicht geholfen hatten, nahmst Du mich aus dem Bett, trugst mich auf die Pawlatsche und ließest mich dort allein vor der geschlossenen Tür ein Weilchen im Hemd stehn. Ich will nicht sagen, daß das unrichtig war, vielleicht war damals die Nachtruhe auf andere Weise wirklich nicht zu verschaffen, ich will aber damit Deine Erziehungsmittel und ihre Wirkung auf mich charakterisieren. Ich war damals nachher wohl schon folgsam, aber ich hatte einen inneren Schaden davon. Das für mich Selbstverständliche des sinnlosen Ums-Wasser-Bittens und das außerordentlich Schreckliche des Hinausgetragenwerdens konnte ich meiner Natur nach niemals in die richtige Verbindung bringen. Noch nach Jahren litt ich unter der quälenden Vorstellung, daß der riesige Mann, mein Vater, die letzte Instanz, fast ohne Grund kommen und mich in der Nacht aus dem Bett auf die Pawlatsche tragen konnte und daß ich also ein solches Nichts für ihn war.

Das war damals ein kleiner Anfang nur, aber dieses mich oft beherrschende Gefühl der Nichtigkeit (ein in anderer Hinsicht allerdings auch edles und fruchtbares Gefühl) stammt vielfach von Deinem Einfluß. Ich hätte ein wenig Aufmunterung, ein wenig Freundlichkeit, ein wenig Offenhalten meines Wegs gebraucht, statt dessen verstelltest Du mir ihn, in der guten Absicht freilich, daß ich einen anderen Weg gehen sollte. Aber dazu taugte ich nicht. Du muntertest mich zum Beispiel auf, wenn ich gut salutierte und marschierte, aber ich war kein künftiger Soldat, oder Du muntertest mich auf, wenn ich kräftig essen oder sogar Bier dazu trinken konnte, oder wenn ich unverstandene Lieder nachsingen oder Deine Lieblingsredensarten Dir nachplappern konnte, aber nichts davon gehörte zu meiner Zukunft. Und es ist bezeichnend, daß Du selbst heute mich nur dann eigentlich in etwas aufmunterst, wenn Du selbst in Mitleidenschaft gezogen bist, wenn es sich um Dein Selbstgefühl handelt, das ich verletze (zum Beispiel durch meine Heiratsabsicht) oder das in mir verletzt wird (wenn zum Beispiel Pepa mich beschimpft). Dann werde ich aufgemuntert, an meinen Wert erinnert, auf die Partien hingewiesen, die ich zu machen berechtigt wäre und Pepa wird vollständig verurteilt. Aber abgesehen davon, daß ich für Aufmunterung in meinem jetzigen Alter schon fast unzugänglich bin, was würde sie mir auch helfen, wenn sie nur dann eintritt, wo es nicht in erster Reihe um mich geht.

Damals und damals überall hätte ich die Aufmunterung gebraucht. Ich war ja schon niedergedrückt durch Deine bloße Körperlichkeit. Ich erinnere mich zum Beispiel daran, wie wir uns öfters zusammen in einer Kabine auszogen. Ich mager, schwach, schmal, Du stark, groß, breit. Schon in der Kabine kam ich mir jämmerlich vor, und zwar nicht nur vor Dir, sondern vor der ganzen Welt, denn Du warst für mich das Maß aller Dinge. Traten wir dann aber aus der Kabine vor die Leute hinaus, ich an Deiner Hand, ein kleines Gerippe, unsicher, bloßfüßig auf den Planken, in Angst vor dem Wasser, unfähig Deine Schwimmbewegungen nachzumachen, die Du mir in guter Absicht, aber tatsächlich zu meiner tiefen Beschämung immerfort vormachtest, dann war ich sehr verzweifelt und alle meine schlimmen Erfahrungen auf allen Gebieten stimmten in solchen Augenblicken großartig zusammen. Am wohlsten war mir noch, wenn Du Dich manchmal zuerst auszogst und ich allein in der Kabine bleiben und die Schande des öffentlichen Auftretens so lange hinauszögern konnte, bis Du endlich nachschauen kamst und mich aus der Kabine triebst. Dankbar war ich Dir dafür, daß Du meine Not nicht zu bemerken schienest, auch war ich stolz auf den Körper meines Vaters. Übrigens besteht zwischen uns dieser Unterschied heute noch ähnlich.

Dem entsprach weiter Deine geistige Oberherrschaft. Du hattest Dich allein durch eigene Kraft so hoch hinaufgearbeitet, infolgedessen hattest Du unbeschränktes Vertrauen zu Deiner Meinung. Das war für mich als Kind nicht einmal so blendend wie später für den heranwachsenden jungen Menschen. In Deinem Lehnstuhl regiertest Du die Welt. Deine Meinung war richtig, jede andere war verrückt, überspannt, meschugge, nicht normal. Dabei war Dein Selbstvertrauen so groß, daß Du gar nicht konsequent sein mußtest und doch nicht aufhörtest recht zu haben. Es konnte auch vorkommen, daß Du in einer Sache gar keine Meinung hattest und infolgedessen alle Meinungen, die hinsichtlich der Sache überhaupt möglich waren, ohne Ausnahme falsch sein mußten. Du konntest zum Beispiel auf die Tschechen schimpfen, dann auf die Deutschen, dann auf die Juden, und zwar nicht nur in Auswahl, sondern in jeder Hinsicht, und schließlich blieb niemand mehr übrig außer Dir. Du bekamst für mich das Rätselhafte, das alle Tyrannen haben, deren Recht auf ihrer Person, nicht auf dem Denken begründet ist. Wenigstens schien es mir so.

Nun behieltest Du ja mir gegenüber tatsächlich erstaunlich oft recht, im Gespräch war das selbstverständlich, denn zum Gespräch kam es kaum, aber auch in Wirklichkeit. Doch war auch das nichts besonders Unbegreifliches: Ich stand ja in allem meinem Denken unter Deinem schweren Druck, auch in dem Denken, das nicht mit dem Deinen übereinstimmte und besonders in diesem. Alle diese von Dir scheinbar unabhängigen Gedanken waren von Anfang an belastet mit Deinem absprechenden Urteil; bis zur vollständigen und dauernden Ausführung des Gedankens das zu ertragen, war fast unmöglich. Ich rede hier nicht von irgendwelchen hohen Gedanken, sondern von jedem kleinen Unternehmen der Kinderzeit. Man mußte nur über irgendeine Sache glücklich sein, von ihr erfüllt sein, nach Hause kommen und es aussprechen und die Antwort war ein ironisches Seufzen, ein Kopfschütteln, ein Fingerklopfen auf den Tisch: »Hab auch schon etwas Schöneres gesehn« oder »Mir gesagt Deine Sorgen« oder »ich hab keinen so geruhten Kopf« oder »Kauf Dir was dafür!« oder »Auch ein Ereignis!« Natürlich konnte man nicht für jede Kinderkleinigkeit Begeisterung von Dir verlangen, wenn Du in Sorge und Plage lebtest. Darum handelte es sich auch nicht. Es handelte sich vielmehr darum, daß Du solche Enttäuschungen dem Kinde immer und grundsätzlich bereiten mußtest kraft Deines gegensätzlichen Wesens, weiter daß dieser Gegensatz durch Anhäufung des Materials sich unaufhörlich verstärkte, so daß er sich schließlich auch gewohnheitsmäßig geltend machte, wenn Du einmal der gleichen Meinung warst wie ich und daß endlich diese Enttäuschungen des Kindes nicht Enttäuschungen des gewöhnlichen Lebens waren, sondern, da es ja um Deine für alles maßgebende Person ging, im Kern trafen. Der Mut, die Entschlossenheit, die Zuversicht, die Freude an dem und jenem hielten nicht bis zum Ende aus, wenn Du dagegen warst oder schon wenn Deine Gegnerschaft bloß angenommen werden konnte; und angenommen konnte sie wohl bei fast allem werden, was ich tat.

Das bezog sich auf Gedanken so gut wie auf Menschen. Es genügte, daß ich an einem Menschen ein wenig Interesse hatte – es geschah ja infolge meines Wesens nicht sehr oft -, daß Du schon ohne jede Rücksicht auf mein Gefühl und ohne Achtung vor meinem Urteil mit Beschimpfung, Verleumdung, Entwürdigung dreinfuhrst. Unschuldige, kindliche Menschen wie zum Beispiel der jiddische Schauspieler Löwy mußten das büßen. Ohne ihn zu kennen, verglichst Du ihn in einer schrecklichen Weise, die ich schon vergessen habe, mit Ungeziefer, und wie so oft für Leute, die mir lieb waren, hattest Du automatisch das Sprichwort von den Hunden und Flöhen bei der Hand. An den Schauspieler erinnere ich mich hier besonders, weil ich Deine Aussprüche über ihn damals mir mit der Bemerkung notierte: »So spricht mein Vater über meinen Freund (den er gar nicht kennt) nur deshalb, weil er mein Freund ist. Das werde ich ihm immer entgegenhalten können, wenn er mir Mangel an kindlicher Liebe und Dankbarkeit vorwerfen wird.« Unverständlich war mir immer Deine vollständige Empfindungslosigkeit dafür, was für Leid und Schande Du mit Deinen Worten und Urteilen mir zufügen konntest, es war, als hättest Du keine Ahnung von Deiner Macht. Auch ich habe Dich sicher oft mit Worten gekränkt, aber dann wußte ich es immer, es schmerzte mich, aber ich konnte mich nicht beherrschen, das Wort nicht zurückhalten, ich bereute es schon, während ich es sagte. Du aber schlugst mit Deinen Worten ohneweiters los, niemand tat Dir leid, nicht währenddessen, nicht nachher, man war gegen Dich vollständig wehrlos.

Aber so war Deine ganze Erziehung. Du hast, glaube ich, ein Erziehungstalent; einem Menschen Deiner Art hättest Du durch Erziehung gewiß nützen können; er hätte die Vernünftigkeit dessen, was Du ihm sagtest, eingesehn, sich um nichts Weiteres gekümmert und die Sachen ruhig so ausgeführt. Für mich als Kind war aber alles, was Du mir zuriefst, geradezu Himmelsgebot, ich vergaß es nie, es blieb mir das wichtigste Mittel zur Beurteilung der Welt, vor allem zur Beurteilung Deiner selbst, und da versagtest Du vollständig. Da ich als Kind hauptsächlich beim Essen mit Dir beisammen war, war Dein Unterricht zum großen Teil Unterricht im richtigen Benehmen bei Tisch. Was auf den Tisch kam, mußte aufgegessen, über die Güte des Essens durfte nicht gesprochen werden – Du aber fandest das Essen oft ungenießbar; nanntest es »das Fressen« – das »Vieh« (die Köchin) hatte es verdorben. Weil Du entsprechend Deinem kräftigen Hunger und Deiner besonderen Vorliebe alles schnell, heiß und in großen Bissen gegessen hast, mußte sich das Kind beeilen, düstere Stille war bei Tisch, unterbrochen von Ermahnungen: »zuerst iß, dann sprich« oder »schneller, schneller, schneller« oder »siehst Du, ich habe schon längst aufgegessen«. Knochen durfte man nicht zerreißen, Du ja. Essig durfte man nicht schlürfen, Du ja. Die Hauptsache war, daß man das Brot gerade schnitt; daß Du das aber mit einem von Sauce triefenden Messer tatest, war gleichgültig. Man mußte achtgeben, daß keine Speisereste auf den Boden fielen, unter Dir lag schließlich am meisten. Bei Tisch durfte man sich nur mit Essen beschäftigen, Du aber putztest und schnittest Dir die Nägel, spitztest Bleistifte, reinigtest mit dem Zahnstocher die Ohren. Bitte, Vater, verstehe mich recht, das wären an sich vollständig unbedeutende Einzelheiten gewesen, niederdrückend wurden sie für mich erst dadurch, daß Du, der für mich so ungeheuer maßgebende Mensch, Dich selbst an die Gebote nicht hieltest, die Du mir auferlegtest. Dadurch wurde die Welt für mich in drei Teile geteilt, in einen, wo ich, der Sklave, lebte, unter Gesetzen, die nur für mich erfunden waren und denen ich überdies, ich wußte nicht warum, niemals völlig entsprechen konnte, dann in eine zweite Welt, die unendlich von meiner entfernt war, in der Du lebtest, beschäftigt mit der Regierung, mit dem Ausgeben der Befehle und mit dem Ärger wegen deren Nichtbefolgung, und schließlich in eine dritte Welt, wo die übrigen Leute glücklich und frei von Befehlen und Gehorchen lebten. Ich war immerfort in Schande, entweder befolgte ich Deine Befehle, das war Schande, denn sie galten ja nur für mich; oder ich war trotzig, das war auch Schande, denn wie durfte ich Dir gegenüber trotzig sein, oder ich konnte nicht folgen, weil ich zum Beispiel nicht Deine Kraft, nicht Deinen Appetit, nicht Deine Geschicklichkeit hatte, trotzdem Du es als etwas Selbstverständliches von mir verlangtest; das war allerdings die größte Schande. In dieser Weise bewegten sich nicht die Überlegungen, aber das Gefühl des Kindes.

Meine damalige Lage wird vielleicht deutlicher, wenn ich sie mit der von Felix vergleiche. Auch ihn behandelst Du ja ähnlich, ja wendest sogar ein besonders fürchterliches Erziehungsmittel gegen ihn an, indem Du, wenn er beim Essen etwas Deiner Meinung nach Unreines macht, Dich nicht damit begnügst, wie damals zu mir zu sagen: »Du bist ein großes Schwein«, sondern noch hinzufügst: »ein echter Hermann« oder »genau, wie Dein Vater«. Nun schadet das aber vielleicht – mehr als »vielleicht« kann man nicht sagen – dem Felix wirklich nicht wesentlich, denn für ihn bist Du eben nur ein allerdings besonders bedeutender Großvater, aber doch nicht alles, wie Du es für mich gewesen bist, außerdem ist Felix ein ruhiger, schon jetzt gewissermaßen männlicher Charakter, der sich durch eine Donnerstimme vielleicht verblüffen, aber nicht für die Dauer bestimmen läßt, vor allem aber ist er doch nur verhältnismäßig selten mit Dir beisammen, steht ja auch unter anderen Einflüssen, Du bist ihm mehr etwas liebes Kurioses, aus dem er auswählen kann, was er sich nehmen will. Mir warst Du nichts Kurioses, ich konnte nicht auswählen, ich mußte alles nehmen.

Und zwar ohne etwas dagegen vorbringen zu können, denn es ist Dir von vornherein nicht möglich, ruhig über eine Sache zu sprechen, mit der Du nicht einverstanden bist oder die bloß nicht von Dir ausgeht; Dein herrisches Temperament läßt das nicht zu. In den letzten Jahren erklärst Du das durch Deine Herznervosität, ich wüßte nicht, daß Du jemals wesentlich anders gewesen bist, höchstens ist Dir die Herznervosität ein Mittel zur strengeren Ausübung der Herrschaft, da der Gedanke daran die letzte Widerrede im anderen ersticken muß. Das ist natürlich kein Vorwurf, nur Feststellung einer Tatsache. Etwa bei Ottla: »Man kann ja mit ihr gar nicht sprechen, sie springt einem gleich ins Gesicht«, pflegst Du zu sagen, aber in Wirklichkeit springt sie ursprünglich gar nicht; Du verwechselst die Sache mit der Person; die Sache springt Dir ins Gesicht, und Du entscheidest sie sofort ohne Anhören der Person; was nachher noch vorgebracht wird, kann Dich nur weiter reizen, niemals überzeugen. Dann hört man von Dir nur noch: »Mach, was Du willst; von mir aus bist Du frei; Du bist großjährig; ich habe Dir keine Ratschläge zu geben«, und alles das mit dem fürchterlichen heiseren Unterton des Zornes und der vollständigen Verurteilung, vor dem ich heute nur deshalb weniger zittere als in der Kinderzeit, weil das ausschließliche Schuldgefühl des Kindes zum Teil ersetzt ist durch den Einblick in unser beider Hilflosigkeit.

Die Unmöglichkeit des ruhigen Verkehrs hatte noch eine weitere eigentlich sehr natürliche Folge: ich verlernte das Reden. Ich wäre ja wohl auch sonst kein großer Redner geworden, aber die gewöhnlich fließende menschliche Sprache hätte ich doch beherrscht. Du hast mir aber schon früh das Wort verboten. Deine Drohung: »kein Wort der Widerrede!« und die dazu erhobene Hand begleiten mich schon seit jeher. Ich bekam vor Dir – Du bist, sobald es um Deine Dinge geht, ein ausgezeichneter Redner – eine stockende, stotternde Art des Sprechens, auch das war Dir noch zu viel, schließlich schwieg ich, zuerst vielleicht aus Trotz, dann, weil ich vor Dir weder denken noch reden konnte. Und weil Du mein eigentlicher Erzieher warst, wirkte das überall in meinem Leben nach. Es ist überhaupt ein merkwürdiger Irrtum, wenn Du glaubst, ich hätte mich Dir nie gefügt. »Immer alles contra« ist wirklich nicht mein Lebensgrundsatz Dir gegenüber gewesen, wie Du glaubst und mir vorwirfst. Im Gegenteil: hätte ich Dir weniger gefolgt, Du wärest sicher viel zufriedener mit mir. Vielmehr haben alle Deine Erziehungsmaßnahmen genau getroffen; keinem Griff bin ich ausgewichen; so wie ich bin, bin ich (von den Grundlagen und der Einwirkung des Lebens natürlich abgesehen) das Ergebnis Deiner Erziehung und meiner Folgsamkeit. Daß dieses Ergebnis Dir trotzdem peinlich ist, ja daß Du Dich unbewußt weigerst, es als Dein Erziehungsergebnis anzuerkennen, liegt eben daran, daß Deine Hand und mein Material einander so fremd gewesen sind. Du sagtest: »Kein Wort der Widerrede!« und wolltest damit die Dir unangenehmen Gegenkräfte in mir zum Schweigen bringen, diese Einwirkung war aber für mich zu stark, ich war zu folgsam, ich verstummte gänzlich, verkroch mich vor Dir und wagte mich erst zu regen, wenn ich so weit von Dir entfernt war, daß Deine Macht, wenigstens direkt, nicht mehr hinreichte. Du aber standst davor, und alles schien Dir wieder »contra« zu sein, während es nur selbstverständliche Folge Deiner Stärke und meiner Schwäche war.

Deine äußerst wirkungsvollen, wenigstens mir gegenüber niemals versagenden rednerischen Mittel bei der Erziehung waren: Schimpfen, Drohen, Ironie, böses Lachen und – merkwürdigerweise – Selbstbeklagung.

Daß Du mich direkt und mit ausdrücklichen Schimpfwörtern beschimpft hättest, kann ich mich nicht erinnern. Es war auch nicht nötig, Du hattest so viele andere Mittel, auch flogen im Gespräch zu Hause und besonders im Geschäft die Schimpfwörter rings um mich in solchen Mengen auf andere nieder, daß ich als kleiner Junge manchmal davon fast betäubt war und keinen Grund hatte, sie nicht auch auf mich zu beziehen, denn die Leute, die Du beschimpftest, waren gewiß nicht schlechter als ich, und Du warst gewiß mit ihnen nicht unzufriedener als mit mir. Und auch hier war wieder Deine rätselhafte Unschuld und Unangreifbarkeit, Du schimpftest, ohne Dir irgendwelche Bedenken deshalb zu machen, ja Du verurteiltest das Schimpfen bei anderen und verbotest es.

Das Schimpfen verstärktest Du mit Drohen, und das galt nun auch schon mir. Schrecklich war mir zum Beispiel dieses: »ich zerreiße Dich wie einen Fisch«, trotzdem ich ja wußte, daß dem nichts Schlimmeres nachfolgte (als kleines Kind wußte ich das allerdings nicht), aber es entsprach fast meinen Vorstellungen von Deiner Macht, daß Du auch das imstande gewesen wärest. Schrecklich war es auch, wenn Du schreiend um den Tisch herumliefst, um einen zu fassen, offenbar gar nicht fassen wolltest, aber doch so tatest und die Mutter einen schließlich scheinbar rettete. Wieder hatte man einmal, so schien es dem Kind, das Leben durch Deine Gnade behalten und trug es als Dein unverdientes Geschenk weiter. Hierher gehören auch die Drohungen wegen der Folgen des Ungehorsams. Wenn ich etwas zu tun anfing, was Dir nicht gefiel, und Du drohtest mir mit dem Mißerfolg, so war die Ehrfurcht vor Deiner Meinung so groß, daß damit der Mißerfolg, wenn auch vielleicht erst für eine spätere Zeit, unaufhaltsam war. Ich verlor das Vertrauen zu eigenem Tun. Ich war unbeständig, zweifelhaft. Je älter ich wurde, desto größer war das Material, das Du mir zum Beweis meiner Wertlosigkeit entgegenhalten konntest; allmählich bekamst Du in gewisser Hinsicht wirklich recht. Wieder hüte ich mich zu behaupten, daß ich nur durch Dich so wurde; Du verstärktest nur, was war, aber Du verstärktest es sehr, weil Du eben mir gegenüber sehr mächtig warst und alle Macht dazu verwendetest.

Ein besonderes Vertrauen hattest Du zur Erziehung durch Ironie, sie entsprach auch am besten Deiner Überlegenheit über mich. Eine Ermahnung hatte bei Dir gewöhnlich diese Form: »Kannst Du das nicht so und so machen? Das ist Dir wohl schon zu viel? Dazu hast Du natürlich keine Zeit?« und ähnlich. Dabei jede solche Frage begleitet von bösem Lachen und bösem Gesicht. Man wurde gewissermaßen schon bestraft, ehe man noch wußte, daß man etwas Schlechtes getan hatte. Aufreizend waren auch jene Zurechtweisungen, wo man als dritte Person behandelt, also nicht einmal des bösen Ansprechens gewürdigt wurde; wo Du also etwa formell zur Mutter sprachst, aber eigentlich zu mir, der dabei saß, zum Beispiel: »Das kann man vom Herrn Sohn natürlich nicht haben« und dergleichen. (Das bekam dann sein Gegenspiel darin, daß ich zum Beispiel nicht wagte und später aus Gewohnheit gar nicht mehr daran dachte, Dich direkt zu fragen, wenn die Mutter dabei war. Es war dem Kind viel ungefährlicher, die neben Dir sitzende Mutter nach Dir auszufragen, man fragte dann die Mutter: »Wie geht es dem Vater?« und sicherte sich so vor Überraschungen.) Es gab natürlich auch Fälle, wo man mit der ärgsten Ironie sehr einverstanden war, nämlich wenn sie einen anderen betraf, zum Beispiel die Elli, mit der ich jahrelang böse war. Es war für mich ein Fest der Bosheit und Schadenfreude, wenn es von ihr fast bei jedem Essen etwa hieß: »Zehn Meter weit vom Tisch muß sie sitzen, die breite Mad« und wenn Du dann böse auf Deinem Sessel, ohne die leiseste Spur von Freundlichkeit oder Laune, sondern als erbitterter Feind übertrieben ihr nachzumachen suchtest, wie äußerst widerlich für Deinen Geschmack sie dasaß. Wie oft hat sich das und ähnliches wiederholen müssen, wie wenig hast Du im Tatsächlichen dadurch erreicht. Ich glaube, es lag daran, daß der Aufwand von Zorn und Bösesein zur Sache selbst in keinem richtigen Verhältnis zu sein schien, man hatte nicht das Gefühl, daß der Zorn durch diese Kleinigkeit des Weit-vom-Tische-Sitzens erzeugt sei, sondern daß er in seiner ganzen Größe von vornherein vorhanden war und nur zufällig gerade diese Sache als Anlaß zum Losbrechen genommen habe. Da man überzeugt war, daß sich ein Anlaß jedenfalls finden würde, nahm man sich nicht besonders zusammen, auch stumpfte man unter der fortwährenden Drohung ab; daß man nicht geprügelt wurde, dessen war man ja allmählich fast sicher. Man wurde ein mürrisches, unaufmerksames, ungehorsames Kind, immer auf eine Flucht, meist eine innere, bedacht. So littest Du, so litten wir. Du hattest von Deinem Standpunkt ganz recht, wenn Du mit zusammengebissenen Zähnen und dem gurgelnden Lachen, welches dem Kind zum erstenmal höllische Vorstellungen vermittelt hatte, bitter zu sagen pflegtest (wie erst letzthin wegen eines Konstantinopler Briefes): »Das ist eine Gesellschaft!«

Ganz unverträglich mit dieser Stellung zu Deinen Kindern schien es zu sein, wenn Du, was ja sehr oft geschah, öffentlich Dich beklagtest. Ich gestehe, daß ich als Kind (später wohl) dafür gar kein Gefühl hatte und nicht verstand, wie Du überhaupt erwarten konntest, Mitgefühl zu finden. Du warst so riesenhaft in jeder Hinsicht; was konnte Dir an unserem Mitleid liegen oder gar an unserer Hilfe? Die mußtest Du doch eigentlich verachten, wie uns selbst so oft. Ich glaubte daher den Klagen nicht und suchte irgendeine geheime Absicht hinter ihnen. Erst später begriff ich, daß Du wirklich durch die Kinder sehr littest, damals aber, wo die Klagen noch unter anderen Umständen einen kindlichen, offenen, bedenkenlosen, zu jeder Hilfe bereiten Sinn hätten antreffen können, mußten sie mir wieder nur überdeutliche Erziehungs- und Demütigungsmittel sein, als solche an sich nicht sehr stark, aber mit der schädlichen Nebenwirkung, daß das Kind sich gewöhnte, gerade Dinge nicht sehr ernst zu nehmen, die es ernst hätte nehmen sollen.

Es gab glücklicherweise davon allerdings auch Ausnahmen, meistens wenn Du schweigend littest und Liebe und Güte mit ihrer Kraft alles Entgegenstehende überwand und unmittelbar ergriff. Selten war das allerdings, aber es war wunderbar. Etwa wenn ich Dich früher in heißen Sommern mittags nach dem Essen im Geschäft müde ein wenig schlafen sah, den Ellbogen auf dem Pult, oder wenn Du sonntags abgehetzt zu uns in die Sommerfrische kamst; oder wenn Du bei einer schweren Krankheit der Mutter zitternd vom Weinen Dich am Bücherkasten festhieltest; oder wenn Du während meiner letzten Krankheit leise zu mir in Ottlas Zimmer kamst, auf der Schwelle bliebst, nur den Hals strecktest, um mich im Bett zu sehn, und aus Rücksicht nur mit der Hand grüßtest. Zu solchen Zeiten legte man sich hin und weinte vor Glück und weint jetzt wieder, während man es schreibt.

Du hast auch eine besonders schöne, sehr selten zu sehende Art eines stillen, zufriedenen, gutheißenden Lächelns, das den, dem es gilt, ganz glücklich machen kann. Ich kann mich nicht erinnern, daß es in meiner Kindheit ausdrücklich mir zuteil geworden wäre, aber es dürfte wohl geschehen sein, denn warum solltest Du es mir damals verweigert haben, da ich Dir noch unschuldig schien und Deine große Hoffnung war. Übrigens haben auch solche freundliche Eindrücke auf die Dauer nichts anderes erzielt, als mein Schuldbewußtsein vergrößert und die Welt mir noch unverständlicher gemacht.

Lieber hielt ich mich ans Tatsächliche und Fortwährende. Um mich Dir gegenüber nur ein wenig zu behaupten, zum Teil auch aus einer Art Rache, fing ich bald an, kleine Lächerlichkeiten, die ich an Dir bemerkte, zu beobachten, zu sammeln, zu übertreiben. Wie Du zum Beispiel leicht Dich von meist nur scheinbar höherstehenden Personen blenden ließest und davon immerfort erzählen konntest, etwa von irgendeinem kaiserlichen Rat oder dergleichen (andererseits tat mir etwas Derartiges auch weh, daß Du, mein Vater, solche nichtige Bestätigungen Deines Wertes zu brauchen glaubtest und mit ihnen großtätest). Oder ich beobachtete Deine Vorliebe für unanständige, möglichst laut herausgebrachte Redensarten, über die Du lachtest, als hättest Du etwas besonders Vortreffliches gesagt, während es eben nur eine platte, kleine Unanständigkeit war (gleichzeitig war es allerdings auch wieder eine mich beschämende Äußerung Deiner Lebenskraft). Solcher verschiedener Beobachtungen gab es natürlich eine Menge; ich war glücklich über sie, es gab für mich Anlaß zu Getuschel und Spaß, Du bemerktest es manchmal, ärgertest Dich darüber, hieltest es für Bosheit, Respektlosigkeit, aber glaube mir, es war nichts anderes für mich als ein übrigens untaugliches Mittel zur Selbsterhaltung, es waren Scherze, wie man sie über Götter und Könige verbreitet, Scherze, die mit dem tiefsten Respekt nicht nur sich verbinden lassen, sondern sogar zu ihm gehören.

Auch Du hast übrigens, entsprechend Deiner ähnlichen Lage mir gegenüber, eine Art Gegenwehr versucht. Du pflegtest darauf hinzuweisen, wie übertrieben gut es mir ging und wie gut ich eigentlich behandelt worden bin. Das ist richtig, ich glaube aber nicht, daß es mir unter den einmal vorhandenen Umständen im wesentlichen genützt hat.

Es ist wahr, daß die Mutter grenzenlos gut zu mir war, aber alles das stand für mich in Beziehung zu Dir, also in keiner guten Beziehung. Die Mutter hatte unbewußt die Rolle eines Treibers in der Jagd. Wenn schon Deine Erziehung in irgendeinem unwahrscheinlichen Fall mich durch Erzeugung von Trotz, Abneigung oder gar Haß auf eigene Füße hätte stellen können, so glich das die Mutter durch Gutsein, durch vernünftige Rede (sie war im Wirrwarr der Kindheit das Urbild der Vernunft), durch Fürbitte wieder aus, und ich war wieder in Deinen Kreis zurückgetrieben, aus dem ich sonst vielleicht, Dir und mir zum Vorteil, ausgebrochen wäre. Oder es war so, daß es zu keiner eigentlichen Versöhnung kam, daß die Mutter mich vor Dir bloß im Geheimen schützte, mir im Geheimen etwas gab, etwas erlaubte, dann war ich wieder vor Dir das lichtscheue Wesen, der Betrüger, der Schuldbewußte, der wegen seiner Nichtigkeit selbst zu dem, was er für sein Recht hielt, nur auf Schleichwegen kommen konnte. Natürlich gewöhnte ich mich dann, auf diesen Wegen auch das zu suchen, worauf ich, selbst meiner Meinung nach, kein Recht hatte. Das war wieder Vergrößerung des Schuldbewußtseins.

Es ist auch wahr, daß Du mich kaum einmal wirklich geschlagen hast. Aber das Schreien, das Rotwerden Deines Gesichts, das eilige Losmachen der Hosenträger, ihr Bereitliegen auf der Stuhllehne, war für mich fast ärger. Es ist, wie wenn einer gehängt werden soll. Wird er wirklich gehenkt, dann ist er tot und es ist alles vorüber. Wenn er aber alle Vorbereitungen zum Gehenktwerden miterleben muß und erst wenn ihm die Schlinge vor dem Gesicht hängt, von seiner Begnadigung erfährt, so kann er sein Leben lang daran zu leiden haben. Überdies sammelte sich aus diesen vielen Malen, wo ich Deiner deutlich gezeigten Meinung nach Prügel verdient hätte, ihnen aber aus Deiner Gnade noch knapp entgangen war, wieder nur ein großes Schuldbewußtsein an. Von allen Seiten her kam ich in Deine Schuld.

Seit jeher machtest Du mir zum Vorwurf (und zwar mir allein oder vor anderen, für das Demütigende des letzteren hattest Du kein Gefühl, die Angelegenheiten Deiner Kinder waren immer öffentliche), daß ich dank Deiner Arbeit ohne alle Entbehrungen in Ruhe, Wärme, Fülle lebte. Ich denke da an Bemerkungen, die in meinem Gehirn förmlich Furchen gezogen haben müssen, wie: »Schon mit sieben Jahren mußte ich mit dem Karren durch die Dörfer fahren.« »Wir mußten alle in einer Stube schlafen.« »Wir waren glücklich, wenn wir Erdäpfel hatten.« »Jahrelang hatte ich wegen ungenügender Winterkleidung offene Wunden an den Beinen.« »Als kleiner Junge mußte ich schon nach Pisek ins Geschäft.« »Von zuhause bekam ich gar nichts, nicht einmal beim Militär, ich schickte noch Geld nachhause.« »Aber trotzdem, trotzdem – der Vater war mir immer der Vater. Wer weiß das heute! Was wissen die Kinder! Das hat niemand gelitten! Versteht das heute ein Kind?« Solche Erzählungen hätten unter anderen Verhältnissen ein ausgezeichnetes Erziehungsmittel sein können, sie hätten zum Überstehen der gleichen Plagen und Entbehrungen, die der Vater durchgemacht hatte, aufmuntern und kräftigen können. Aber das wolltest Du doch gar nicht, die Lage war ja eben durch das Ergebnis Deiner Mühe eine andere geworden, Gelegenheit, sich in der Weise auszuzeichnen, wie Du es getan hattest, gab es nicht. Eine solche Gelegenheit hätte man erst durch Gewalt und Umsturz schaffen müssen, man hätte von zu Hause ausbrechen müssen (vorausgesetzt, daß man die Entschlußfähigkeit und Kraft dazu gehabt hätte und die Mutter nicht ihrerseits mit anderen Mitteln dagegen gearbeitet hätte). Aber das alles wolltest Du doch gar nicht, das bezeichnetest Du als Undankbarkeit, Überspanntheit, Ungehorsam, Verrat, Verrücktheit. Während Du also von einer Seite durch Beispiel, Erzählung und Beschämung dazu locktest, verbotest Du es auf der anderen Seite allerstrengstens. Sonst hättest Du zum Beispiel, von den Nebenumständen abgesehen, von Ottlas Zürauer Abenteuer eigentlich entzückt sein müssen. Sie wollte auf das Land, von dem Du gekommen warst, sie wollte Arbeit und Entbehrungen haben, wie Du sie gehabt hattest, sie wollte nicht Deine Arbeitserfolge genießen, wie auch Du von Deinem Vater unabhängig gewesen bist. Waren das so schreckliche Absichten? So fern Deinem Beispiel und Deiner Lehre? Gut, die Absichten Ottlas mißlangen schließlich im Ergebnis, wurden vielleicht etwas lächerlich, mit zuviel Lärm ausgeführt, sie nahm nicht genug Rücksicht auf ihre Eltern. War das aber ausschließlich ihre Schuld, nicht auch die Schuld der Verhältnisse und vor allem dessen, daß Du ihr so entfremdet warst? War sie Dir etwa (wie Du Dir später selbst einreden wolltest) im Geschäft weniger entfremdet, als nachher in Zürau? Und hättest Du nicht ganz gewiß die Macht gehabt (vorausgesetzt, daß Du Dich dazu hättest überwinden können), durch Aufmunterung, Rat und Aufsicht, vielleicht sogar nur durch Duldung aus diesem Abenteuer etwas sehr Gutes zu machen?

Anschließend an solche Erfahrungen pflegtest Du in bitterem Scherz zu sagen, daß es uns zu gut ging. Aber dieser Scherz ist in gewissem Sinn keiner. Das, was Du Dir erkämpfen mußtest, bekamen wir aus Deiner Hand, aber den Kampf um das äußere Leben, der Dir sofort zugänglich war und der natürlich auch uns nicht erspart bleibt, den müssen wir uns erst spät, mit Kinderkraft im Mannesalter erkämpfen. Ich sage nicht, daß unsere Lage deshalb unbedingt ungünstiger ist als es Deine war, sie ist jener vielmehr wahrscheinlich gleichwertig – (wobei allerdings die Grundanlagen nicht verglichen sind), nur darin sind wir im Nachteil, daß wir mit unserer Not uns nicht rühmen und niemanden mit ihr demütigen können, wie Du es mit Deiner Not getan hast. Ich leugne auch nicht, daß es möglich gewesen wäre, daß ich die Früchte Deiner großen und erfolgreichen Arbeit wirklich richtig hätte genießen, verwerten und mit ihnen zu Deiner Freude hätte weiterarbeiten können, dem aber stand eben unsere Entfremdung entgegen. Ich konnte, was Du gabst, genießen, aber nur in Beschämung, Müdigkeit, Schwäche, Schuldbewußtsein. Deshalb konnte ich Dir für alles nur bettlerhaft dankbar sein, durch die Tat nicht.

Das nächste äußere Ergebnis dieser ganzen Erziehung war, daß ich alles floh, was nur von der Ferne an Dich erinnerte. Zuerst das Geschäft. An und für sich besonders in der Kinderzeit, solange es ein Gassengeschäft war, hätte es mich sehr freuen müssen, es war so lebendig, abends beleuchtet, man sah, man hörte viel, konnte hie und da helfen, sich auszeichnen, vor allem aber Dich bewundern in Deinen großartigen kaufmännischen Talenten, wie Du verkauftest, Leute behandeltest, Späße machtest, unermüdlich warst, in Zweifelsfällen sofort die Entscheidung wußtest und so weiter; noch wie Du einpacktest oder eine Kiste aufmachtest, war ein sehenswertes Schauspiel und das Ganze alles in allem gewiß nicht die schlechteste Kinderschule. Aber da Du allmählich von allen Seiten mich erschrecktest und Geschäft und Du sich mir deckten, war mir auch das Geschäft nicht mehr behaglich. Dinge, die mir dort zuerst selbstverständlich gewesen waren, quälten, beschämten mich, besonders Deine Behandlung des Personals. Ich weiß nicht, vielleicht ist sie in den meisten Geschäften so gewesen (in der Assecurazioni Generali, zum Beispiel, war sie zu meiner Zeit wirklich ähnlich, ich erklärte dort dem Direktor, nicht ganz wahrheitsgemäß, aber auch nicht ganz erlogen, meine Kündigung damit, daß ich das Schimpfen, das übrigens mich direkt gar nicht betroffen hatte, nicht ertragen könne; ich war darin zu schmerzhaft empfindlich schon von Hause her), aber die anderen Geschäfte kümmerten mich in der Kinderzeit nicht. Dich aber hörte und sah ich im Geschäft schreien, schimpfen und wüten, wie es meiner damaligen Meinung nach in der ganzen Welt nicht wieder vorkam. Und nicht nur schimpfen, auch sonstige Tyrannei. Wie Du zum Beispiel Waren, die Du mit anderen nicht verwechselt haben wolltest, mit einem Ruck vom Pult hinunterwarfst – nur die Besinnungslosigkeit Deines Zorns entschuldigte Dich ein wenig – und der Kommis sie aufheben mußte. Oder Deine ständige Redensart hinsichtlich eines lungenkranken Kommis: »Er soll krepieren, der kranke Hund.« Du nanntest die Angestellten »bezahlte Feinde«, das waren sie auch, aber noch ehe sie es geworden waren, schienst Du mir ihr »zahlender Feind« zu sein. Dort bekam ich auch die große Lehre, daß Du ungerecht sein könntest; an mir selbst hätte ich es nicht sobald bemerkt, da hatte sich ja zuviel Schuldgefühl angesammelt, das Dir recht gab; aber dort waren nach meiner, später natürlich ein wenig, aber nicht allzusehr korrigierten Kindermeinung fremde Leute, die doch für uns arbeiteten und dafür in fortwährender Angst vor Dir leben mußten. Natürlich übertrieb ich da, und zwar deshalb, weil ich ohneweiters annahm, Du wirktest auf die Leute ebenso schrecklich wie auf mich. Wenn das so gewesen wäre, hätten sie wirklich nicht leben können; da sie aber erwachsene Leute mit meist ausgezeichneten Nerven waren, schüttelten sie das Schimpfen ohne Mühe von sich ab und es schadete Dir schließlich viel mehr als ihnen. Mir aber machte es das Geschäft unleidlich, es erinnerte mich allzusehr an mein Verhältnis zu Dir: Du warst, ganz abgesehen vom Unternehmerinteresse und abgesehen von Deiner Herrschsucht schon als Geschäftsmann allen, die jemals bei Dir gelernt haben, so sehr überlegen, daß Dich keine ihrer Leistungen befriedigen konnte, ähnlich ewig unbefriedigt mußtest Du auch von mir sein. Deshalb gehörte ich notwendig zur Partei des Personals, übrigens auch deshalb, weil ich schon aus Ängstlichkeit nicht begriff, wie man einen Fremden so beschimpfen konnte, und darum aus Ängstlichkeit das meiner Meinung nach fürchterlich aufgebrachte Personal irgendwie mit Dir, mit unserer Familie schon um meiner eigenen Sicherheit willen aussöhnen wollte. Dazu genügte nicht mehr gewöhnliches, anständiges Benehmen gegenüber dem Personal, nicht einmal mehr bescheidenes Benehmen, vielmehr mußte ich demütig sein, nicht nur zuerst grüßen, sondern womöglich auch noch den Gegengruß abwehren. Und hätte ich, die unbedeutende Person, ihnen unten die Füße geleckt, es wäre noch immer kein Ausgleich dafür gewesen, wie Du, der Herr, oben auf sie loshacktest. Dieses Verhältnis, in das ich hier zu Mitmenschen trat, wirkte über das Geschäft hinaus und in die Zukunft weiter (etwas Ähnliches, aber nicht so gefährlich und tiefgreifend wie bei mir, ist zum Beispiel auch Ottlas Vorliebe für den Verkehr mit armen Leuten, das Dich so ärgernde Zusammensitzen mit den Dienstmädchen und dergleichen). Schließlich fürchtete ich mich fast vor dem Geschäft, und jedenfalls war es schon längst nicht mehr meine Sache, ehe ich noch ins Gymnasium kam und dadurch noch weiter davon fortgeführt wurde. Auch schien es mir für meine Fähigkeiten ganz unerschwinglich, da es, wie Du sagtest, selbst die Deinigen verbrauchte. Du suchtest dann (für mich ist das heute rührend und beschämend) aus meiner Dich doch sehr schmerzenden Abneigung gegen das Geschäft, gegen Dein Werk, doch noch ein wenig Süßigkeit für Dich zu ziehen, indem Du behauptetest, mir fehle der Geschäftssinn, ich habe höhere Ideen im Kopf und dergleichen. Die Mutter freute sich natürlich über diese Erklärung, die Du Dir abzwangst, und auch ich in meiner Eitelkeit und Not ließ mich davon beeinflussen. Wären es aber wirklich nur oder hauptsächlich die »höheren Ideen« gewesen, die mich vom Geschäft (das ich jetzt, aber erst jetzt, ehrlich und tatsächlich hasse) abbrachten, sie hätten sich anders äußern müssen, als daß sie mich ruhig und ängstlich durchs Gymnasium und durch das Jusstudium schwimmen ließen, bis ich beim Beamtenschreibtisch endgültig landete.

Wollte ich vor Dir fliehn, mußte ich auch vor der Familie fliehn, selbst vor der Mutter. Man konnte bei ihr zwar immer Schutz finden, doch nur in Beziehung zu Dir. Zu sehr liebte sie Dich und war Dir zu sehr treu ergeben, als daß sie in dem Kampf des Kindes eine selbständige geistige Macht für die Dauer hätte sein können. Ein richtiger Instinkt des Kindes übrigens, denn die Mutter wurde Dir mit den Jahren immer noch enger verbunden; während sie immer, was sie selbst betraf, ihre Selbständigkeit in kleinsten Grenzen schön und zart und ohne Dich jemals wesentlich zu kränken, bewahrte, nahm sie doch mit den Jahren immer vollständiger, mehr im Gefühl als im Verstand, Deine Urteile und Verurteilungen hinsichtlich der Kinder blindlings über, besonders in dem allerdings schweren Fall der Ottla. Freilich muß man immer im Gedächtnis behalten, wie quälend und bis zum letzten aufreibend die Stellung der Mutter in der Familie war. Sie hat sich im Geschäft, im Haushalt geplagt, alle Krankheiten der Familie doppelt mitgelitten, aber die Krönung alles dessen war das, was sie in ihrer Zwischenstellung zwischen uns und Dir gelitten hat. Du bist immer liebend und rücksichtsvoll zu ihr gewesen, aber in dieser Hinsicht hast Du sie ganz genau so wenig geschont, wie wir sie geschont haben. Rücksichtslos haben wir auf sie eingehämmert, Du von Deiner Seite, wir von unserer. Es war eine Ablenkung, man dachte an nichts Böses, man dachte nur an den Kampf, den Du mit uns, den wir mit Dir führten, und auf der Mutter tobten wir uns aus. Es war auch kein guter Beitrag zur Kindererziehung, wie Du sie – ohne jede Schuld Deinerseits natürlich – unseretwegen quältest. Es rechtfertigte sogar scheinbar unser sonst nicht zu rechtfertigendes Benehmen ihr gegenüber. Was hat sie von uns Deinetwegen und von Dir unseretwegen gelitten, ganz ungerechnet jene Fälle, wo Du recht hattest, weil sie uns verzog, wenn auch selbst dieses »Verziehn« manchmal nur eine stille, unbewußte Gegendemonstration gegen Dein System gewesen sein mag. Natürlich hätte die Mutter das alles nicht ertragen können, wenn sie nicht aus der Liebe zu uns allen und aus dem Glück dieser Liebe die Kraft zum Ertragen genommen hätte.

Die Schwestern gingen nur zum Teil mit mir. Am glücklichsten in ihrer Stellung zu Dir war Valli. Am nächsten der Mutter stehend, fügte sie sich Dir auch ähnlich, ohne viel Mühe und Schaden. Du nahmst sie aber auch, eben in Erinnerung an die Mutter, freundlicher hin, trotzdem wenig Kafka’sches Material in ihr war. Aber vielleicht war Dir gerade das recht; wo nichts Kafka’sches war, konntest selbst Du nichts Derartiges verlangen; Du hattest auch nicht, wie bei uns andern, das Gefühl, daß hier etwas verlorenging, das mit Gewalt gerettet werden müßte. Übrigens magst Du das Kafka’sche, soweit es sich in Frauen geäußert hat, niemals besonders geliebt haben. Das Verhältnis Vallis zu Dir wäre sogar vielleicht noch freundlicher geworden, wenn wir anderen es nicht ein wenig gestört hätten.

Die Elli ist das einzige Beispiel für das fast vollständige Gelingen eines Durchbruches aus Deinem Kreis. Von ihr hätte ich es in ihrer Kindheit am wenigsten erwartet. Sie war doch ein so schwerfälliges, müdes, furchtsames, verdrossenes, schuldbewußtes, überdemütiges, boshaftes, faules, genäschiges, geiziges Kind, ich konnte sie kaum ansehn, gar nicht ansprechen, so sehr erinnerte sie mich an mich selbst, so sehr ähnlich stand sie unter dem gleichen Bann der Erziehung. Besonders ihr Geiz war mir abscheulich, da ich ihn womöglich noch stärker hatte. Geiz ist ja eines der verläßlichsten Anzeichen tiefen Unglücklichseins; ich war so unsicher aller Dinge, daß ich tatsächlich nur das besaß, was ich schon in den Händen oder im Mund hielt oder was wenigstens auf dem Wege dorthin war, und gerade das nahm sie, die in ähnlicher Lage war, mir am liebsten fort. Aber das alles änderte sich, als sie in jungen Jahren – das ist das Wichtigste – von zu Hause wegging, heiratete, Kinder bekam, sie wurde fröhlich, unbekümmert, mutig, freigebig, uneigennützig, hoffnungsvoll. Fast unglaublich ist es, wie Du eigentlich diese Veränderung gar nicht bemerkt und jedenfalls nicht nach Verdienst bewertet hast, so geblendet bist Du von dem Groll, den Du gegen Elli seit jeher hattest und im Grunde unverändert hast, nur daß dieser Groll jetzt viel weniger aktuell geworden ist, da Elli nicht mehr bei uns wohnt und außerdem Deine Liebe zu Felix und die Zuneigung zu Karl ihn unwichtiger gemacht haben. Nur Gerti muß ihn manchmal noch entgelten.

Von Ottla wage ich kaum zu schreiben – ich weiß, ich setze damit die ganze erhoffte Wirkung des Briefes aufs Spiel. Unter gewöhnlichen Umständen, also wenn sie nicht etwa in besondere Not oder Gefahr käme, hast Du für sie nur Haß; Du hast mir ja selbst zugestanden, daß sie Deiner Meinung nach mit Absicht Dir immerfort Leid und Ärger macht, und während Du ihretwegen leidest, ist sie befriedigt und freut sich. Also eine Art Teufel. Was für eine ungeheure Entfremdung, noch größer als zwischen Dir und mir, muß zwischen Dir und ihr eingetreten sein, damit eine so ungeheure Verkennung möglich wird. Sie ist so weit von Dir, daß Du sie kaum mehr siehst, sondern ein Gespenst an die Stelle setzt, wo Du sie vermutest. Ich gebe zu, daß Du es mit ihr besonders schwer hattest. Ich durchschaue ja den sehr komplizierten Fall nicht ganz, aber jedenfalls war hier etwas wie eine Art Löwy, ausgestattet mit den besten Kafka’schen Waffen. Zwischen uns war es kein eigentlicher Kampf; ich war bald erledigt; was übrigblieb war Flucht, Verbitterung, Trauer, innerer Kampf. Ihr zwei waret aber immer in Kampfstellung, immer frisch, immer bei Kräften. Ein ebenso großartiger wie trostloser Anblick. Zu allererst seid ihr Euch ja gewiß sehr nahe gewesen, denn noch heute ist von uns vier Ottla vielleicht die reinste Darstellung der Ehe zwischen Dir und der Mutter und der Kräfte, die sich da verbanden. Ich weiß nicht, was Euch um das Glück der Eintracht zwischen Vater und Kind gebracht hat, es liegt mir nur nahe zu glauben, daß die Entwicklung ähnlich war wie bei mir. Auf Deiner Seite die Tyrannei Deines Wesens, auf ihrer Seite Löwyscher Trotz, Empfindlichkeit, Gerechtigkeitsgefühl, Unruhe, und alles das gestützt durch das Bewußtsein Kafka’scher Kraft. Wohl habe auch ich sie beeinflußt, aber kaum aus eigenem Antrieb, sondern durch die bloße Tatsache meines Daseins. Übrigens kam sie doch als letzte in schon fertige Machtverhältnisse hinein und konnte sich aus dem vielen bereitliegenden Material ihr Urteil selbst bilden. Ich kann mir sogar denken, daß sie in ihrem Wesen eine Zeitlang geschwankt hat, ob sie sich Dir an die Brust werfen soll oder den Gegnern, offenbar hast Du damals etwas versäumt und sie zurückgestoßen, Ihr wäret aber, wenn es eben möglich gewesen wäre, ein prachtvolles Paar an Eintracht geworden. Ich hätte dadurch zwar einen Verbündeten verloren, aber der Anblick von Euch beiden hätte mich reich entschädigt, auch wärest ja Du durch das unabsehbare Glück, wenigstens in einem Kind volle Befriedigung zu finden, sehr zu meinen Gunsten verwandelt worden. Das alles ist heute allerdings nur ein Traum. Ottla hat keine Verbindung mit dem Vater, muß ihren Weg allein suchen, wie ich, und um das Mehr an Zuversicht, Selbstvertrauen, Gesundheit, Bedenkenlosigkeit, das sie im Vergleich mit mir hat, ist sie in Deinen Augen böser und verräterischer als ich. Ich verstehe das; von Dir aus gesehen kann sie nicht anders sein. Ja sie selbst ist imstande, mit Deinen Augen sich anzusehen, Dein Leid mitzufühlen und darüber – nicht verzweifelt zu sein, Verzweiflung ist meine Sache – aber sehr traurig zu sein. Du siehst uns zwar, in scheinbarem Widerspruch hiezu, oft beisammen, wir flüstern, lachen, hie und da hörst Du Dich erwähnen. Du hast den Eindruck von frechen Verschwörern. Merkwürdige Verschwörer. Du bist allerdings ein Hauptthema unserer Gespräche wie unseres Denkens seit jeher, aber wahrhaftig nicht, um etwas gegen Dich auszudenken, sitzen wir beisammen, sondern um mit aller Anstrengung, mit Spaß, mit Ernst, mit Liebe, Trotz, Zorn, Widerwille, Ergebung, Schuldbewußtsein, mit allen Kräften des Kopfes und Herzens diesen schrecklichen Prozeß, der zwischen uns und Dir schwebt, in allen Einzelheiten, von allen Seiten, bei allen Anlässen, von fern und nah gemeinsam durchzusprechen, diesen Prozeß, in dem Du immerfort Richter zu sein behauptest, während Du, wenigstens zum größten Teil (hier lasse ich die Tür allen Irrtümern offen, die mir natürlich begegnen können) ebenso schwache und verblendete Partei bist wie wir.

Ein im Zusammenhang des Ganzen lehrreiches Beispiel Deiner erzieherischen Wirkung war Irma. Einerseits war sie doch eine Fremde, kam schon erwachsen in Dein Geschäft, hatte mit Dir hauptsächlich als ihrem Chef zu tun, war also nur zum Teil und in einem schon widerstandsfähigen Alter Deinem Einfluß ausgesetzt; andererseits aber war sie doch auch eine Blutsverwandte, verehrte in Dir den Bruder ihres Vaters, und Du hattest über sie viel mehr als die bloße Macht eines Chefs. Und trotzdem ist sie, die in ihrem schwachen Körper so tüchtig, klug, fleißig, bescheiden, vertrauenswürdig, uneigennützig, treu war, die Dich als Onkel liebte und als Chef bewunderte, die in anderen Posten vorher und nachher sich bewährte, Dir keine sehr gute Beamtin gewesen. Sie war eben, natürlich auch von uns hingedrängt, Dir gegenüber nahe der Kinderstellung, und so groß war noch ihr gegenüber die umbiegende Macht Deines Wesens, daß sich bei ihr (allerdings nur Dir gegenüber und, hoffentlich, ohne das tiefere Leid des Kindes) Vergeßlichkeit, Nachlässigkeit, Galgenhumor, vielleicht sogar ein wenig Trotz, soweit sie dessen überhaupt fähig war, entwickelten, wobei ich gar nicht in Rechnung stelle, daß sie kränklich gewesen ist, auch sonst nicht sehr glücklich war und eine trostlose Häuslichkeit auf ihr lastete. Das für mich Beziehungsreiche Deines Verhältnisses zu ihr hast Du in einem für uns klassisch gewordenen, fast gotteslästerlichen, aber gerade für die Unschuld in Deiner Menschenbehandlung sehr beweisenden Satz zusammengefaßt: »Die Gottselige hat mir viel Schweinerei hinterlassen.«

Ich könnte noch weitere Kreise Deines Einflusses und des Kampfes gegen ihn beschreiben, doch käme ich hier schon ins Unsichere und müßte konstruieren, außerdem wirst Du ja, je weiter Du von Geschäft und Familie Dich entfernst, seit jeher desto freundlicher, nachgiebiger, höflicher, rücksichtsvoller, teilnehmender (ich meine auch äußerlich) ebenso wie ja zum Beispiel auch ein Selbstherrscher, wenn er einmal außerhalb der Grenzen seines Landes ist, keinen Grund hat, noch immer tyrannisch zu sein, und sich gutmütig auch mit den niedrigsten Leuten einlassen kann. Tatsächlich standest Du zum Beispiel auf den Gruppenbildern aus Franzensbad immer so groß und fröhlich zwischen den kleinen mürrischen Leuten, wie ein König auf Reisen. Davon hätten allerdings auch die Kinder ihren Vorteil haben können, nur hätten sie schon, was unmöglich war, in der Kinderzeit fähig sein müssen, das zu erkennen, und ich zum Beispiel hätte nicht immerfort gewissermaßen im innersten, strengsten, zuschnürenden Ring Deines Einflusses wohnen dürfen, wie ich es ja wirklich getan habe.

Ich verlor dadurch nicht nur den Familiensinn, wie Du sagst, im Gegenteil, eher hatte ich noch Sinn für die Familie, allerdings hauptsächlich negativ für die (natürlich nie zu beendigende) innere Ablösung von Dir. Die Beziehungen zu den Menschen außerhalb der Familie litten aber durch Deinen Einfluß womöglich noch mehr. Du bist durchaus im Irrtum, wenn Du glaubst, für die anderen Menschen tue ich aus Liebe und Treue alles, für Dich und die Familie aus Kälte und Verrat nichts. Ich wiederhole zum zehntenmal: ich wäre wahrscheinlich auch sonst ein menschenscheuer, ängstlicher Mensch geworden, aber von da ist noch ein langer, dunkler Weg dorthin, wohin ich wirklich gekommen bin. (Bisher habe ich in diesem Brief verhältnismäßig weniges absichtlich verschwiegen, jetzt und später werde ich aber einiges verschweigen müssen, was – vor Dir und mir – einzugestehen, mir noch zu schwer ist. Ich sage das deshalb, damit Du, wenn das Gesamtbild hie und da etwas undeutlich werden sollte, nicht glaubst, daß Mangel an Beweisen daran schuld ist, es sind vielmehr Beweise da, die das Bild unerträglich kraß machen könnten. Es ist nicht leicht, darin eine Mitte zu finden.) Hier genügt es übrigens, an Früheres zu erinnern: Ich hatte vor Dir das Selbstvertrauen verloren, dafür ein grenzenloses Schuldbewußtsein eingetauscht. (In Erinnerung an diese Grenzenlosigkeit schrieb ich von jemandem einmal richtig: »Er fürchtet, die Scham werde ihn noch überleben.«) Ich konnte mich nicht plötzlich verwandeln, wenn ich mit anderen Menschen zusammenkam, ich kam vielmehr ihnen gegenüber noch in tieferes Schuldbewußtsein, denn ich mußte ja, wie ich schon sagte, das an ihnen gutmachen, was Du unter meiner Mitverantwortung im Geschäft an ihnen verschuldet hattest. Außerdem hattest Du ja gegen jeden, mit dem ich verkehrte, offen oder im Geheimen etwas einzuwenden, auch das mußte ich ihm abbitten. Das Mißtrauen, das Du mir in Geschäft und Familie gegen die meisten Menschen beizubringen suchtest (nenne mir einen in der Kinderzeit irgendwie für mich bedeutenden Menschen, den Du nicht wenigstens einmal bis in den Grund hinunterkritisiert hättest) und das Dich merkwürdigerweise gar nicht besonders beschwerte (Du warst eben stark genug es zu ertragen, außerdem war es in Wirklichkeit vielleicht nur ein Emblem des Herrschers) – dieses Mißtrauen, das sich mir Kleinem für die eigenen Augen nirgends bestätigte, da ich überall nur unerreichbar ausgezeichnete Menschen sah, wurde in mir zu Mißtrauen zu mir selbst und zur fortwährenden Angst vor allem andern. Dort konnte ich mich also im allgemeinen vor Dir gewiß nicht retten. Daß Du Dich darüber täuschtest, lag vielleicht daran, daß Du ja von meinem Menschenverkehr eigentlich gar nichts erfuhrst, und mißtrauisch und eifersüchtig (leugne ich denn, daß Du mich lieb hast?) annahmst, daß ich mich für den Entgang an Familienleben anderswo entschädigen müsse, da es doch unmöglich wäre, daß ich draußen ebenso lebe. Übrigens hatte ich in dieser Hinsicht gerade in meiner Kinderzeit noch einen gewissen Trost eben im Mißtrauen zu meinem Urteil; ich sagte mir: »Du übertreibst doch, fühlst, wie das die Jugend immer tut, Kleinigkeiten zu sehr als große Ausnahmen.« Diesen Trost habe ich aber später bei steigender Weltübersicht fast verloren.

Ebensowenig Rettung vor Dir fand ich im Judentum. Hier wäre ja an sich Rettung denkbar gewesen, aber noch mehr, es wäre denkbar gewesen, daß wir uns beide im Judentum gefunden hätten oder daß wir gar von dort einig ausgegangen wären. Aber was war das für Judentum, das ich von Dir bekam! Ich habe im Laufe der Jahre etwa auf dreierlei Art mich dazu gestellt.

Als Kind machte ich mir, in Übereinstimmung mit Dir, Vorwürfe deshalb, weil ich nicht genügend in den Tempel ging, nicht fastete und so weiter. Ich glaubte nicht mir, sondern Dir ein Unrecht damit zu tun und Schuldbewußtsein, das ja immer bereit war, durchlief mich.

Später, als junger Mensch, verstand ich nicht, wie Du mit dem Nichts von Judentum, über das Du verfügtest, mir Vorwürfe deshalb machen konntest, daß ich (schon aus Pietät, wie Du Dich ausdrücktest) nicht ein ähnliches Nichts auszuführen mich anstrenge. Es war ja wirklich, soweit ich sehen konnte, ein Nichts, ein Spaß, nicht einmal ein Spaß. Du gingst an vier Tagen im Jahr in den Tempel, warst dort den Gleichgültigen zumindest näher als jenen, die es ernst nahmen, erledigtest geduldig die Gebete als Formalität, setztest mich manchmal dadurch in Erstaunen, daß Du mir im Gebetbuch die Stelle zeigen konntest, die gerade rezitiert wurde, im übrigen durfte ich, wenn ich nur (das war die Hauptsache) im Tempel war, mich herumdrücken, wo ich wollte. Ich durchgähnte und durchduselte also dort die vielen Stunden (so gelangweilt habe ich mich später, glaube ich, nur noch in der Tanzstunde) und suchte mich möglichst an den paar kleinen Abwechslungen zu freuen, die es dort gab, etwa wenn die Bundeslade aufgemacht wurde, was mich immer an die Schießbuden erinnerte, wo auch, wenn man in ein Schwarzes traf, eine Kastentür sich aufmachte, nur daß dort aber immer etwas Interessantes herauskam und hier nur immer wieder die alten Puppen ohne Köpfe. Übrigens habe ich dort auch viel Furcht gehabt, nicht nur, wie selbstverständlich, vor den vielen Leuten, mit denen man in nähere Berührung kam, sondern auch deshalb, weil Du einmal nebenbei erwähntest, daß auch ich zur Thora aufgerufen werden könne. Davor zitterte ich jahrelang. Sonst aber wurde ich in meiner Langweile nicht wesentlich gestört, höchstens durch die Barmizwe, die aber nur lächerliches Auswendiglernen verlangte, also nur zu einer lächerlichen Prüfungsleistung führte, und dann, was Dich betrifft, durch kleine, wenig bedeutende Vorfälle, etwa wenn Du zur Thora gerufen wurdest und dieses für mein Gefühl ausschließlich gesellschaftliche Ereignis gut überstandest oder wenn Du bei der Seelengedächtnisfeier im Tempel bliebst und ich weggeschickt wurde, was mir durch lange Zeit, offenbar wegen des Weggeschicktwerdens und mangels jeder tieferen Teilnahme, das kaum bewußt werdende Gefühl hervorrief, daß es sich hier um etwas Unanständiges handle. – So war es im Tempel, zu Hause war es womöglich noch ärmlicher und beschränkte sich auf den ersten Sederabend, der immer mehr zu einer Komödie mit Lachkrämpfen wurde, allerdings unter dem Einfluß der größer werdenden Kinder. (Warum mußtest Du Dich diesem Einfluß fügen? Weil Du ihn hervorgerufen hast.) Das war also das Glaubensmaterial, das mir überliefert wurde, dazu kam höchstens noch die ausgestreckte Hand, die auf »die Söhne des Millionärs Fuchs« hinwies, die an hohen Feiertagen mit ihrem Vater im Tempel waren. Wie man mit diesem Material etwas Besseres tun könnte, als es möglichst schnell loszuwerden, verstand ich nicht; gerade dieses Loswerden schien mir die pietätvollste Handlung zu sein.

Noch später sah ich es aber doch wieder anders an und begriff, warum Du glauben durftest, daß ich Dich auch in dieser Hinsicht böswillig verrate. Du hattest aus der kleinen ghettoartigen Dorfgemeinde wirklich noch etwas Judentum mitgebracht, es war nicht viel und verlor sich noch ein wenig in der Stadt und beim Militär, immerhin reichten noch die Eindrücke und Erinnerungen der Jugend knapp zu einer Art jüdischen Lebens aus, besonders da Du ja nicht viel derartige Hilfe brauchtest, sondern von einem sehr kräftigen Stamm warst und für Deine Person von religiösen Bedenken, wenn sie nicht mit gesellschaftlichen Bedenken sich sehr mischten, kaum erschüttert werden konntest. Im Grund bestand der Dein Leben führende Glaube darin, daß Du an die unbedingte Richtigkeit der Meinungen einer bestimmten jüdischen Gesellschaftsklasse glaubtest und eigentlich also, da diese Meinungen zu Deinem Wesen gehörten, Dir selbst glaubtest. Auch darin lag noch genug Judentum, aber zum Weiter-überliefert-werden war es gegenüber dem Kind zu wenig, es vertropfte zur Gänze, während Du es weitergabst. Zum Teil waren es unüberlieferbare Jugendeindrücke, zum Teil Dein gefürchtetes Wesen. Es war auch unmöglich, einem vor lauter Ängstlichkeit überscharf beobachtenden Kind begreiflich zu machen, daß die paar Nichtigkeiten, die Du im Namen des Judentums mit einer ihrer Nichtigkeit entsprechenden Gleichgültigkeit ausführtest, einen höheren Sinn haben konnten. Für Dich hatten sie Sinn als kleine Andenken aus früheren Zeiten, und deshalb wolltest Du sie mir vermitteln, konntest dies aber, da sie ja auch für Dich keinen Selbstwert mehr hatten, nur durch Überredung oder Drohung tun; das konnte einerseits nicht gelingen und mußte andererseits Dich, da Du Deine schwache Position hier gar nicht erkanntest, sehr zornig gegen mich wegen meiner scheinbaren Verstocktheit machen.

Das Ganze ist ja keine vereinzelte Erscheinung, ähnlich verhielt es sich bei einem großen Teil dieser jüdischen Übergangsgeneration, welche vom verhältnismäßig noch frommen Land in die Städte auswanderte; das ergab sich von selbst, nur fügte es eben unserem Verhältnis, das ja an Schärfen keinen Mangel hatte, noch eine genug schmerzliche hinzu. Dagegen sollst Du zwar auch in diesem Punkt, ebenso wie ich, an Deine Schuldlosigkeit glauben, diese Schuldlosigkeit aber durch Dein Wesen und durch die Zeitverhältnisse erklären, nicht aber bloß durch die äußeren Umstände, also nicht etwa sagen, Du hättest zu viel andere Arbeit und Sorgen gehabt, als daß Du Dich auch noch mit solchen Dingen hättest abgeben können. Auf diese Weise pflegst Du aus Deiner zweifellosen Schuldlosigkeit einen ungerechten Vorwurf gegen andere zu drehen. Das ist dann überall und auch hier sehr leicht zu widerlegen. Es hätte sich doch nicht etwa um irgendeinen Unterricht gehandelt, den Du Deinen Kindern hättest geben sollen, sondern um ein beispielhaftes Leben; wäre Dein Judentum stärker gewesen, wäre auch Dein Beispiel zwingender gewesen, das ist ja selbstverständlich und wieder gar kein Vorwurf, sondern nur eine Abwehr Deiner Vorwürfe. Du hast letzthin Franklins Jugenderinnerungen gelesen. Ich habe sie Dir wirklich absichtlich zum Lesen gegeben, aber nicht, wie Du ironisch bemerktest, wegen einer kleinen Stelle über Vegetarianismus, sondern wegen des Verhältnisses zwischen dem Verfasser und seinem Vater, wie es dort beschrieben ist, und des Verhältnisses zwischen dem Verfasser und seinem Sohn, wie es sich von selbst in diesen für den Sohn geschriebenen Erinnerungen ausdrückt. Ich will hier nicht Einzelheiten hervorheben.

Eine gewisse nachträgliche Bestätigung dieser Auffassung von Deinem Judentum bekam ich auch durch Dein Verhalten in den letzten Jahren, als es Dir schien, daß ich mich mit jüdischen Dingen mehr beschäftige. Da Du von vornherein gegen jede meiner Beschäftigungen und besonders gegen die Art meiner Interessennahme eine Abneigung hast, so hattest Du sie auch hier. Aber darüber hinaus hätte man doch erwarten können, daß Du hier eine kleine Ausnahme machst. Es war doch Judentum von Deinem Judentum, das sich hier regte, und damit also auch die Möglichkeit der Anknüpfung neuer Beziehungen zwischen uns. Ich leugne nicht, daß mir diese Dinge, wenn Du für sie Interesse gezeigt hättest, gerade dadurch hätten verdächtig werden können. Es fällt mir ja nicht ein, behaupten zu wollen, daß ich in dieser Hinsicht irgendwie besser bin als Du. Aber zu der Probe darauf kam es gar nicht. Durch meine Vermittlung wurde Dir das Judentum abscheulich, jüdische Schriften unlesbar, sie »ekelten Dich an«. Das konnte bedeuten, daß Du darauf bestandest, nur gerade das Judentum, wie Du es mir in meiner Kinderzeit gezeigt hattest, sei das einzig Richtige, darüber hinaus gebe es nichts. Aber daß Du darauf bestehen solltest, war doch kaum denkbar. Dann aber konnte der »Ekel« (abgesehen davon, daß er sich zunächst nicht gegen das Judentum, sondern gegen meine Person richtete) nur bedeuten, daß Du unbewußt die Schwäche Deines Judentums und meiner jüdischen Erziehung anerkanntest, auf keine Weise daran erinnert werden wolltest und auf alle Erinnerungen mit offenem Hasse antwortetest. Übrigens war Deine negative Hochschätzung meines neuen Judentums sehr übertrieben; erstens trug es ja Deinen Fluch in sich und zweitens war für seine Entwicklung das grundsätzliche Verhältnis zu den Mitmenschen entscheidend, in meinem Fall also tödlich.

Richtiger trafst Du mit Deiner Abneigung mein Schreiben und was, Dir unbekannt, damit zusammenhing. Hier war ich tatsächlich ein Stück selbständig von Dir weggekommen, wenn es auch ein wenig an den Wurm erinnerte, der, hinten von einem Fuß niedergetreten, sich mit dem Vorderteil losreißt und zur Seite schleppt. Einigermaßen in Sicherheit war ich, es gab ein Aufatmen; die Abneigung, die Du natürlich auch gleich gegen mein Schreiben hattest, war mir hier ausnahmsweise willkommen. Meine Eitelkeit, mein Ehrgeiz litten zwar unter Deiner für uns berühmt gewordenen Begrüßung meiner Bücher: »Legs auf den Nachttisch!« (meistens spieltest Du ja Karten, wenn ein Buch kam), aber im Grunde war mir dabei doch wohl, nicht nur aus aufbegehrender Bosheit, nicht nur aus Freude über eine neue Bestätigung meiner Auffassung unseres Verhältnisses, sondern ganz ursprünglich, weil jene Formel mir klang wie etwa: »Jetzt bist Du frei!« Natürlich war es eine Täuschung, ich war nicht oder allergünstigsten Falles noch nicht frei. Mein Schreiben handelte von Dir, ich klagte dort ja nur, was ich an Deiner Brust nicht klagen konnte. Es war ein absichtlich in die Länge gezogener Abschied von Dir, nur daß er zwar von Dir erzwungen war, aber in der von mir bestimmten Richtung verlief. Aber wie wenig war das alles! Es ist ja überhaupt nur deshalb der Rede wert, weil es sich in meinem Leben ereignet hat, anderswo wäre es gar nicht zu merken, und dann noch deshalb, weil es mir in der Kindheit als Ahnung, später als Hoffnung, noch später oft als Verzweiflung mein Leben beherrschte und mir – wenn man will, doch wieder in Deiner Gestalt – meine paar kleinen Entscheidungen diktierte.

Zum Beispiel die Berufswahl. Gewiß, Du gabst mir hier völlige Freiheit in Deiner großzügigen und in diesem Sinn sogar geduldigen Art. Allerdings folgtest Du hiebei auch der für Dich maßgebenden allgemeinen Söhnebehandlung des jüdischen Mittelstandes oder zumindest den Werturteilen dieses Standes. Schließlich wirkte hiebei auch eines Deiner Mißverständnisse hinsichtlich meiner Person mit. Du hältst mich nämlich seit jeher aus Vaterstolz, aus Unkenntnis meines eigentlichen Daseins, aus Rückschlüssen aus meiner Schwächlichkeit für besonders fleißig. Als Kind habe ich Deiner Meinung nach immerfort gelernt und später immerfort geschrieben. Das stimmt nun nicht im entferntesten. Eher kann man mit viel weniger Übertreibung sagen, daß ich wenig gelernt und nichts erlernt habe; daß etwas in den vielen Jahren bei einem mittleren Gedächtnis, bei nicht allerschlechtester Auffassungskraft hängengeblieben ist, ist ja nicht sehr merkwürdig, aber jedenfalls ist das Gesamtergebnis an Wissen, und besonders an Fundierung des Wissens, äußerst kläglich im Vergleich zu dem Aufwand an Zeit und Geld inmitten eines äußerlich sorglosen, ruhigen Lebens, besonders auch im Vergleich zu fast allen Leuten, die ich kenne. Es ist kläglich, aber für mich verständlich. Ich hatte, seitdem ich denken kann, solche tiefste Sorgen der geistigen Existenzbehauptung, daß mir alles andere gleichgültig war. Jüdische Gymnasiasten bei uns sind leicht merkwürdig, man findet da das Unwahrscheinlichste, aber meine kalte, kaum verhüllte, unzerstörbare, kindlich hilflose, bis ins Lächerliche gehende, tierisch selbstzufriedene Gleichgültigkeit eines für sich genug, aber kalt phantastischen Kindes habe ich sonst nirgends wieder gefunden, allerdings war sie hier auch der einzige Schutz gegen die Nervenzerstörung durch Angst und Schuldbewußtsein. Mich beschäftigte nur die Sorge um mich, diese aber in verschiedenster Weise. Etwa als Sorge um meine Gesundheit; es fing leicht an, hier und dort ergab sich eine kleine Befürchtung wegen der Verdauung, des Haarausfalls, einer Rückgratsverkrümmung und so weiter, das steigerte sich in unzählbaren Abstufungen, schließlich endete es mit einer wirklichen Krankheit. Aber da ich keines Dinges sicher war, von jedem Augenblick eine neue Bestätigung meines Daseins brauchte, nichts in meinem eigentlichen, unzweifelhaften, alleinigen, nur durch mich eindeutig bestimmten Besitz war, in Wahrheit ein enterbter Sohn, wurde mir natürlich auch das Nächste, der eigene Körper unsicher; ich wuchs lang in die Höhe, wußte damit aber nichts anzufangen, die Last war zu schwer, der Rücken wurde krumm; ich wagte mich kaum zu bewegen oder gar zu turnen, ich blieb schwach; staunte alles, worüber ich noch verfügte, als Wunder an, etwa meine gute Verdauung; das genügte, um sie zu verlieren, und damit war der Weg zu aller Hypochondrie frei, bis dann unter der übermenschlichen Anstrengung des Heiraten-Wollens (darüber spreche ich noch) das Blut aus der Lunge kam, woran ja die Wohnung im Schönbornpalais – die ich aber nur deshalb brauchte, weil ich sie für mein Schreiben zu brauchen glaubte, so daß auch das auf dieses Blatt gehört – genug Anteil haben kann. Also das alles stammte nicht von übergroßer Arbeit, wie Du Dir es immer vorstellst. Es gab Jahre, in denen ich bei voller Gesundheit mehr Zeit auf dem Kanapee verfaulenzt habe, als Du in Deinem ganzen Leben, alle Krankheiten eingerechnet. Wenn ich höchstbeschäftigt von Dir fortlief, war es meist, um mich in meinem Zimmer hinzulegen. Meine Gesamtarbeitsleistung sowohl im Büro (wo allerdings Faulheit nicht sehr auffällt und überdies durch meine Ängstlichkeit in Grenzen gehalten war) als auch zu Hause ist winzig; hättest Du darüber einen Überblick, würde es Dich entsetzen. Wahrscheinlich bin ich in meiner Anlage gar nicht faul, aber es gab für mich nichts zu tun. Dort, wo ich lebte, war ich verworfen, abgeurteilt, niedergekämpft, und anderswohin mich zu flüchten strengte mich zwar äußerst an, aber das war keine Arbeit, denn es handelte sich um Unmögliches, das für meine Kräfte bis auf kleine Ausnahmen unerreichbar war.

In diesem Zustand bekam ich also die Freiheit der Berufswahl. War ich aber überhaupt noch fähig, eine solche Freiheit eigentlich zu gebrauchen? Traute ich mir es denn noch zu, einen wirklichen Beruf erreichen zu können? Meine Selbstbewertung war von Dir viel abhängiger als von irgend etwas sonst, etwa von einem äußeren Erfolg. Der war die Stärkung eines Augenblicks, sonst nichts, aber auf der anderen Seite zog Dein Gewicht immer viel stärker hinunter. Niemals würde ich durch die erste Volksschulklasse kommen, dachte ich, aber es gelang, ich bekam sogar eine Prämie; aber die Aufnahmeprüfung ins Gymnasium würde ich gewiß nicht bestehn, aber es gelang; aber nun falle ich in der ersten Gymnasialklasse bestimmt durch, nein, ich fiel nicht durch und es gelang immer weiter und weiter. Daraus ergab sich aber keine Zuversicht, im Gegenteil, immer war ich überzeugt – und in Deiner abweisenden Miene halte ich förmlich den Beweis dafür – daß, je mehr mir gelingt, desto schlimmer es schließlich wird ausgehn müssen. Oft sah ich im Geist die schreckliche Versammlung der Professoren (das Gymnasium ist nur das einheitlichste Beispiel, überall um mich war es aber ähnlich), wie sie, wenn ich die Prima überstanden hatte, also in der Sekunda, wenn ich diese überstanden hatte, also in der Tertia und so weiter zusammenkommen würden, um diesen einzigartigen, himmelschreienden Fall zu untersuchen, wie es mir, dem Unfähigsten und jedenfalls Unwissendsten gelungen war, mich bis hinauf in diese Klasse zu schleichen, die mich, da nun die allgemeine Aufmerksamkeit auf mich gelenkt war, natürlich sofort ausspeien würde, zum Jubel aller von diesem Albdruck befreiten Gerechten. – Mit solchen Vorstellungen zu leben ist für ein Kind nicht leicht. Was kümmerte mich unter diesen Umständen der Unterricht. Wer war imstande, aus mir einen Funken von Anteilnahme herauszuschlagen? Mich interessierte der Unterricht – und nicht nur der Unterricht, sondern alles ringsherum in diesem entscheidenden Alter – etwa so wie einen Bankdefraudanten, der noch in Stellung ist und vor der Entdeckung zittert, das kleine laufende Bankgeschäft interessiert, das er noch immer als Beamter zu erledigen hat. So klein, so fern war alles neben der Hauptsache. Es ging dann weiter bis zur Matura, durch die ich wirklich schon zum Teil nur durch Schwindel kam, und dann stockte es, jetzt war ich frei. Hatte ich schon trotz dem Zwang des Gymnasiums mich nur um mich gekümmert, wie erst jetzt, da ich frei war. Also eigentliche Freiheit der Berufswahl gab es für mich nicht, ich wußte: alles wird mir gegenüber der Hauptsache genau so gleichgültig sein, wie alle Lehrgegenstände im Gymnasium, es handelt sich also darum, einen Beruf zu finden, der mir, ohne meine Eitelkeit allzusehr zu verletzen, diese Gleichgültigkeit am ehesten erlaubt. Also war Jus das Selbstverständliche. Kleine gegenteilige Versuche der Eitelkeit, der unsinnigen Hoffnung, wie vierzehntägiges Chemiestudium, halbjähriges Deutschstudium, verstärkten nur jene Grundüberzeugung. Ich studierte also Jus. Das bedeutete, daß ich mich in den paar Monaten vor den Prüfungen unter reichlicher Mitnahme der Nerven geistig förmlich von Holzmehl nährte, das mir überdies schon von tausenden Mäulern vorgekaut war. Aber in gewissem Sinn schmeckte mir das gerade, wie in gewissem Sinn früher auch das Gymnasium und später der Beamtenberuf, denn das alles entsprach vollkommen meiner Lage. Jedenfalls zeigte ich hier erstaunliche Voraussicht, schon als kleines Kind hatte ich hinsichtlich der Studien und des Berufes genug klare Vorahnungen. Von hier aus erwartete ich keine Rettung, hier hatte ich schon längst verzichtet.

Gar keine Voraussicht zeigte ich aber hinsichtlich der Bedeutung und Möglichkeit einer Ehe für mich; dieser bisher größte Schrecken meines Lebens ist fast vollständig unerwartet über mich gekommen. Das Kind hatte sich so langsam entwickelt, diese Dinge lagen ihm äußerlich gar zu abseits; hie und da ergab sich die Notwendigkeit, daran zu denken; daß sich hier aber eine dauernde, entscheidende und sogar die erbitterteste Prüfung vorbereite, war nicht zu erkennen. In Wirklichkeit aber wurden die Heiratsversuche der großartigste und hoffnungsreichste Rettungsversuch, entsprechend großartig war dann allerdings auch das Mißlingen.

Ich fürchte, weil mir in dieser Gegend alles mißlingt, daß es mir auch nicht gelingen wird, Dir diese Heiratsversuche verständlich zu machen. Und doch hängt das Gelingen des ganzen Briefes davon ab, denn in diesen Versuchen war einerseits alles versammelt, was ich an positiven Kräften zur Verfügung hatte, andererseits sammelten sich hier auch geradezu mit Wut alle negativen Kräfte, die ich als Mitergebnis Deiner Erziehung beschrieben habe, also die Schwäche, der Mangel an Selbstvertrauen, das Schuldbewußtsein, und zogen förmlich einen Kordon zwischen mir und der Heirat. Die Erklärung wird mir auch deshalb schwer werden, weil ich hier alles in so vielen Tagen und Nächten immer wieder durchdacht und durchgraben habe, daß selbst mich jetzt der Anblick schon verwirrt. Erleichtert wird mir die Erklärung nur durch Dein meiner Meinung nach vollständiges Mißverstehn der Sache; ein so vollständiges Mißverstehn ein wenig zu verbessern, scheint nicht übermäßig schwer.

Zunächst stellst du das Mißlingen der Heiraten in die Reihe meiner sonstigen Mißerfolge; dagegen hätte ich an sich nichts, vorausgesetzt, daß Du meine bisherige Erklärung des Mißerfolgs annimmst. Es steht tatsächlich in dieser Reihe, nur die Bedeutung der Sache unterschätzst Du und unterschätzst sie derartig, daß wir, wenn wir miteinander davon reden, eigentlich von ganz Verschiedenem sprechen. Ich wage zu sagen, daß Dir in Deinem ganzen Leben nichts geschehen ist, was für Dich eine solche Bedeutung gehabt hätte, wie für mich die Heiratsversuche. Damit meine ich nicht, daß Du an sich nichts so Bedeutendes erlebt hättest, im Gegenteil, Dein Leben war viel reicher und sorgenvoller und gedrängter als meines, aber eben deshalb ist Dir nichts Derartiges geschehen. Es ist so, wie wenn einer fünf niedrige Treppenstufen hinaufzusteigen hat und ein zweiter nur eine Treppenstufe, die aber, wenigstens für ihn, so hoch ist, wie jene fünf zusammen; der erste wird nicht nur die fünf bewältigen, sondern noch hunderte und tausende weitere, er wird ein großes und sehr anstrengendes Leben geführt haben, aber keine der Stufen, die er erstiegen hat, wird für ihn eine solche Bedeutung gehabt haben, wie für den zweiten jene eine, erste, hohe, für alle seine Kräfte unmöglich zu ersteigende Stufe, zu der er nicht hinauf- und über die er natürlich auch nicht hinauskommt.

Heiraten, eine Familie gründen, alle Kinder, welche kommen, hinnehmen, in dieser unsicheren Welt erhalten und gar noch ein wenig führen, ist meiner Überzeugung nach das Äußerste, das einem Menschen überhaupt gelingen kann. Daß es scheinbar so vielen leicht gelingt, ist kein Gegenbeweis, denn erstens gelingt es tatsächlich nicht vielen, und zweitens ›tun‹ es diese Nichtvielen meistens nicht, sondern es ›geschieht‹ bloß mit ihnen; das ist zwar nicht jenes Äußerste, aber doch noch sehr groß und sehr ehrenvoll (besonders da sich ›tun‹ und ›geschehn‹ nicht rein voneinander scheiden lassen). Und schließlich handelt es sich auch gar nicht um dieses Äußerste, sondern nur um irgendeine ferne, aber anständige Annäherung; es ist doch nicht notwendig, mitten in die Sonne hineinzufliegen, aber doch bis zu einem reinen Plätzchen auf der Erde hinzukriechen, wo manchmal die Sonne hinscheint und man sich ein wenig wärmen kann.

Wie war ich nun auf dieses vorbereitet? Möglichst schlecht. Das geht schon aus dem Bisherigen hervor. Soweit es aber dafür eine direkte Vorbereitung des Einzelnen und eine direkte Schaffung der allgemeinen Grundbedingungen gibt, hast Du äußerlich nicht viel eingegriffen. Es ist auch nicht anders möglich, hier entscheiden die allgemeinen geschlechtlichen Standes-, Volks- und Zeitsitten. Immerhin hast Du auch da eingegriffen, nicht viel, denn die Voraussetzung solchen Eingreifens kann nur starkes gegenseitiges Vertrauen sein, und daran fehlte es uns beiden schon längst zur entscheidenden Zeit, und nicht sehr glücklich, weil ja unsere Bedürfnisse ganz verschieden waren; was mich packt, muß Dich noch kaum berühren und umgekehrt, was bei Dir Unschuld ist, kann bei mir Schuld sein und umgekehrt, was bei Dir folgenlos bleibt, kann mein Sargdeckel sein.

Ich erinnere mich, ich ging einmal abends mit Dir und der Mutter spazieren, es war auf dem Josephsplatz in der Nähe der heutigen Länderbank, und fing dumm großtuerisch, überlegen, stolz, kühl (das war unwahr), kalt (das war echt) und stotternd, wie ich eben meistens mit Dir sprach, von den interessanten Sachen zu reden an, machte Euch Vorwürfe, daß ich unbelehrt gelassen worden bin, daß sich erst die Mitschüler meiner hatten annehmen müssen, daß ich in der Nähe großer Gefahren gewesen bin (hier log ich meiner Art nach unverschämt, um mich mutig zu zeigen, denn infolge meiner Ängstlichkeit hatte ich keine genauere Vorstellung von den ›großen Gefahren‹), deutete aber zum Schluß an, daß ich jetzt schon glücklicherweise alles wisse, keinen Rat mehr brauche und alles in Ordnung sei. Hauptsächlich hatte ich davon jedenfalls zu reden angefangen, weil es mir Lust machte, davon wenigstens zu reden, dann auch aus Neugierde und schließlich auch, um mich irgendwie für irgend etwas an Euch zu rächen. Du nahmst es entsprechend Deinem Wesen sehr einfach, Du sagtest nur etwa, Du könntest mir einen Rat geben, wie ich ohne Gefahr diese Dinge werde betreiben können. Vielleicht hatte ich gerade eine solche Antwort hervorlocken wollen, die entsprach ja der Lüsternheit des mit Fleisch und allen guten Dingen überfütterten, körperlich untätigen, mit sich ewig beschäftigten Kindes, aber doch war meine äußerliche Scham dadurch so verletzt oder ich glaubte, sie müsse so verletzt sein, daß ich gegen meinen Willen nicht mehr mit Dir darüber sprechen konnte und hochmütig frech das Gespräch abbrach.

Es ist nicht leicht, Deine damalige Antwort zu beurteilen. einerseits hat sie doch etwas niederwerfend Offenes, gewissermaßen Urzeitliches, andererseits ist sie allerdings, was die Lehre selbst betrifft, sehr neuzeitlich bedenkenlos. Ich weiß nicht, wie alt ich damals war, viel älter als sechzehn Jahre gewiß nicht. Für einen solchen Jungen war es aber doch eine sehr merkwürdige Antwort, und der Abstand zwischen uns beiden zeigt sich auch darin, daß das eigentlich die erste direkte, lebenumfassende Lehre war, die ich von Dir bekam. Ihr eigentlicher Sinn aber, der sich schon damals in mich einsenkte, mir aber erst viel später halb zu Bewußtsein kam, war folgender: Das, wozu Du mir rietest, war doch das Deiner Meinung nach und gar erst meiner damaligen Meinung nach Schmutzigste, was es gab. Daß Du dafür sorgen wolltest, daß ich körperlich von dem Schmutz nichts nach Hause bringe, war nebensächlich, dadurch schütztest Du ja nur Dich, Dein Haus. Die Hauptsache war vielmehr, daß Du außerhalb Deines Rates bliebst, ein Ehemann, ein reiner Mann, erhaben über diese Dinge; das verschärfte sich damals für mich wahrscheinlich noch dadurch, daß mir auch die Ehe schamlos vorkam und es mir daher unmöglich war, das, was ich Allgemeines über die Ehe gehört hatte, auf meine Eltern anzuwenden. Dadurch wurdest Du noch reiner, kamst noch höher. Der Gedanke, daß Du etwa vor der Ehe auch Dir einen ähnlichen Rat hättest geben können, war mir völlig undenkbar. So war also fast kein Restchen irdischen Schmutzes an Dir. Und eben Du stießest mich, so als wäre ich dazu bestimmt, mit ein paar offenen Worten in diesen Schmutz hinunter. Bestand die Welt also nur aus mir und Dir, eine Vorstellung, die mir sehr nahelag, dann endete also mit Dir diese Reinheit der Welt, und mit mir begann kraft Deines Rates der Schmutz. An sich war es ja unverständlich, daß Du mich so verurteiltest, nur alte Schuld und tiefste Verachtung Deinerseits konnten mir das erklären. Und damit war ich also wieder in meinem innersten Wesen angefaßt, und zwar sehr hart.

Hier wird vielleicht auch unser beider Schuldlosigkeit am deutlichsten. A gibt dem B einen offenen, seiner Lebensauffassung entsprechenden, nicht sehr schönen, aber doch auch heute in der Stadt durchaus üblichen, Gesundheitsschädigungen vielleicht verhindernden Rat. Dieser Rat ist für B moralisch nicht sehr stärkend, aber warum sollte er sich aus dem Schaden nicht im Laufe der Jahre herausarbeiten können, übrigens muß er ja dem Rat gar nicht folgen, und jedenfalls liegt in dem Rat allein kein Anlaß dafür, daß über B etwa seine ganze Zukunftswelt zusammenbricht. Und doch geschieht etwas in dieser Art, aber eben nur deshalb, weil A Du bist und B ich bin.

Diese beiderseitige Schuldlosigkeit kann ich auch deshalb besonders gut überblicken, weil sich ein ähnlicher Zusammenstoß zwischen uns unter ganz anderen Verhältnissen etwa zwanzig Jahre später wieder ereignet hat, als Tatsache grauenhaft, an und für sich allerdings viel unschädlicher, denn wo war da etwas an mir Sechsunddreißigjährigem, dem noch geschadet werden konnte. Ich meine damit eine kleine Aussprache an einem der paar aufgeregten Tage nach Mitteilung meiner letzten Heiratsabsicht. Du sagtest zu mir etwa: »Sie hat wahrscheinlich irgendeine ausgesuchte Bluse angezogen, wie das die Prager Jüdinnen verstehn, und daraufhin hast Du Dich natürlich entschlossen, sie zu heiraten. Und zwar möglichst rasch, in einer Woche, morgen, heute. Ich begreife Dich nicht, Du bist doch ein erwachsener Mensch, bist in der Stadt, und weißt Dir keinen andern Rat als gleich eine Beliebige zu heiraten. Gibt es da keine anderen Möglichkeiten? Wenn Du Dich davor fürchtest, werde ich selbst mit Dir hingehn.« Du sprachst ausführlicher und deutlicher, aber ich kann mich an die Einzelheiten nicht mehr erinnern, vielleicht wurde mir auch ein wenig nebelhaft vor den Augen, fast interessierte mich mehr die Mutter, wie sie, zwar vollständig mit Dir einverstanden, immerhin etwas vom Tisch nahm und damit aus dem Zimmer ging.

Tiefer gedemütigt hast Du mich mit Worten wohl kaum und deutlicher mir Deine Verachtung nie gezeigt. Als Du vor zwanzig Jahren ähnlich zu mir gesprochen hattest, hätte man darin mit Deinen Augen sogar etwas Respekt für den frühreifen Stadtjungen sehen können, der Deiner Meinung nach schon so ohne Umwege ins Leben eingeführt werden konnte. Heute könnte diese Rücksicht die Verachtung nur noch steigern, denn der Junge, der damals einen Anlauf nahm, ist in ihm steckengeblieben und scheint Dir heute um keine Erfahrung reicher, sondern nur um zwanzig Jahre jämmerlicher. Meine Entscheidung für ein Mädchen bedeutete Dir gar nichts. Du hattest meine Entscheidungskraft (unbewußt) immer niedergehalten und glaubtest jetzt (unbewußt) zu wissen, was sie wert war. Von meinen Rettungsversuchen in anderen Richtungen wußtest Du nichts, daher konntest Du auch von den Gedankengängen, die mich zu diesem Heiratsversuch geführt hatten, nichts wissen, mußtest sie zu erraten suchen und rietst entsprechend dem Gesamturteil, das Du über mich hattest, auf das Abscheulichste, Plumpste, Lächerlichste. Und zögertest keinen Augenblick, mir das auf ebensolche Weise zu sagen. Die Schande, die Du damit mir antatest, war Dir nichts im Vergleich zu der Schande, die ich Deiner Meinung nach Deinem Namen durch die Heirat machen würde.

Nun kannst Du ja hinsichtlich meiner Heiratsversuche manches mir antworten und hast es auch getan: Du könntest nicht viel Respekt vor meiner Entscheidung haben, wenn ich die Verlobung mit F. zweimal aufgelöst und zweimal wieder auf genommen habe, wenn ich dich und die Mutter nutzlos zu der Verlobung nach Berlin geschleppt habe und dergleichen. Das alles ist wahr, aber wie kam es dazu?

Der Grundgedanke beider Heiratsversuche war ganz korrekt: einen Hausstand gründen, selbständig werden. Ein Gedanke, der Dir ja sympathisch ist, nur daß es dann in Wirklichkeit so ausfällt wie das Kinderspiel, wo einer die Hand des anderen hält und sogar preßt und dabei ruft: »Ach geh doch, geh doch, warum gehst Du nicht?« Was sich allerdings in unserem Fall dadurch kompliziert hat, daß Du das »geh doch!« seit jeher ehrlich gemeint hast, da Du ebenso seit jeher, ohne es zu wissen, nur kraft Deines Wesens mich gehalten oder richtiger niedergehalten hast.

Beide Mädchen waren zwar durch den Zufall, aber außerordentlich gut gewählt. Wieder ein Zeichen Deines vollständigen Mißverstehns, daß Du glauben kannst, ich, der Ängstliche, Zögernde, Verdächtigende entschließe mich mit einem Ruck für eine Heirat, etwa aus Entzücken über eine Bluse. Beide Ehen wären vielmehr Vernunftehen geworden, soweit damit gesagt ist, daß Tag und Nacht, das erste Mal Jahre, das zweite Mal Monate, alle meine Denkkraft an den Plan gewendet worden ist.

Keines der Mädchen hat mich enttäuscht, nur ich sie beide. Mein Urteil über sie ist heute genau das gleiche wie damals, als ich sie heiraten wollte.

Es ist auch nicht so, daß ich beim zweiten Heiratsversuch die Erfahrungen des ersten Versuches mißachtet hätte, also leichtsinnig gewesen wäre. Die Fälle waren eben ganz verschieden, gerade die früheren Erfahrungen konnten mir im zweiten Fall, der überhaupt viel aussichtsreicher war, Hoffnung geben. Von Einzelheiten will ich hier nicht reden.

Warum also habe ich nicht geheiratet? Es gab einzelne Hindernisse wie überall, aber im Nehmen solcher Hindernisse besteht ja das Leben. Das wesentliche, vom einzelnen Fall leider unabhängige Hindernis war aber, daß ich offenbar geistig unfähig bin zu heiraten. Das äußert sich darin, daß ich von dem Augenblick an, in dem ich mich entschließe zu heiraten, nicht mehr schlafen kann, der Kopf glüht bei Tag und Nacht, es ist kein Leben mehr, ich schwanke verzweifelt herum. Es sind das nicht eigentlich Sorgen, die das verursachen, zwar laufen auch entsprechend meiner Schwerblütigkeit und Pedanterie unzählige Sorgen mit, aber sie sind nicht das Entscheidende, sie vollenden zwar wie Würmer die Arbeit am Leichnam, aber entscheidend getroffen bin ich von anderem. Es ist der allgemeine Druck der Angst, der Schwäche, der Selbstmißachtung.

Ich will es näher zu erklären versuchen: Hier beim Heiratsversuch trifft in meinen Beziehungen zu Dir zweierlei scheinbar Entgegengesetztes so stark wie nirgends sonst zusammen. Die Heirat ist gewiß die Bürgschaft für die schärfste Selbstbefreiung und Unabhängigkeit. Ich hätte eine Familie, das Höchste, was man meiner Meinung nach erreichen kann, also auch das Höchste, das Du erreicht hast, ich wäre Dir ebenbürtig, alle alte und ewig neue Schande und Tyrannei wäre bloß noch Geschichte. Das wäre allerdings märchenhaft, aber darin liegt eben schon das Fragwürdige. Es ist zu viel, so viel kann nicht erreicht werden. Es ist so, wie wenn einer gefangen wäre und er hätte nicht nur die Absicht zu fliehen, was vielleicht erreichbar wäre, sondern auch noch und zwar gleichzeitig die Absicht, das Gefängnis in ein Lustschloß für sich umzubauen. Wenn er aber flieht, kann er nicht umbauen, und wenn er umbaut, kann er nicht fliehen. Wenn ich in dem besonderen Unglücksverhältnis, in welchem ich zu Dir stehe, selbständig werden will, muß ich etwas tun, was möglichst gar keine Beziehung zu Dir hat – das Heiraten ist zwar das Größte und gibt die ehrenvollste Selbständigkeit, aber es ist auch gleichzeitig in engster Beziehung zu Dir. Hier hinauskommen zu wollen, hat deshalb etwas von Wahnsinn, und jeder Versuch wird fast damit gestraft.

Gerade diese enge Beziehung lockt mich ja teilweise auch zum Heiraten. Ich denke mir diese Ebenbürtigkeit, die dann zwischen uns entstehen würde und die Du verstehen könntest wie keine andere, eben deshalb so schön, weil ich dann ein freier, dankbarer, schuldloser, aufrechter Sohn sein, Du ein unbedrückter, untyrannischer, mitfühlender, zufriedener Vater sein könntest. Aber zu dem Zweck müßte eben alles Geschehene ungeschehen gemacht, das heißt wir selbst ausgestrichen werden.

So wie wir aber sind, ist mir das Heiraten dadurch verschlossen, daß es gerade Dein eigenstes Gebiet ist. Manchmal stelle ich mir die Erdkarte ausgespannt und Dich quer über sie hin ausgestreckt vor. Und es ist mir dann, als kämen für mein Leben nur die Gegenden in Betracht, die Du enLiebster Vater,tweder nicht bedeckst oder die nicht in Deiner Reichweite liegen. Und das sind entsprechend der Vorstellung, die ich von Deiner Größe habe, nicht viele und nicht sehr trostreiche Gegenden und besonders die Ehe ist nicht darunter.

Schon dieser Vergleich beweist, daß ich keineswegs sagen will, Du hättest mich durch Dein Beispiel aus der Ehe, so etwa wie aus dem Geschäft, verjagt. Im Gegenteil, trotz aller fernen Ähnlichkeit. Ich hatte in Eurer Ehe eine in vielem mustergültige Ehe vor mir, mustergültig in Treue, gegenseitiger Hilfe, Kinderzahl, und selbst als dann die Kinder groß wurden und immer mehr den Frieden störten, blieb die Ehe als solche davon unberührt. Gerade an diesem Beispiel bildete sich vielleicht auch mein hoher Begriff von der Ehe; daß das Verlangen nach der Ehe ohnmächtig war, hatte eben andere Gründe. Sie lagen in Deinem Verhältnis zu den Kindern, von dem ja der ganze Brief handelt.

Es gibt eine Meinung, nach der die Angst vor der Ehe manchmal davon herrührt, daß man fürchtet, die Kinder würden einem später das heimzahlen, was man selbst an den eigenen Eltern gesündigt hat. Das hat, glaube ich, in meinem Fall keine sehr große Bedeutung, denn mein Schuldbewußtsein stammt ja eigentlich von Dir und ist auch zu sehr von seiner Einzigartigkeit durchdrungen, ja dieses Gefühl der Einzigartigkeit gehört zu seinem quälenden Wesen, eine Wiederholung ist unausdenkbar. Immerhin muß ich sagen, daß mir ein solcher stummer, dumpfer, trockener, verfallener Sohn unerträglich wäre, ich würde wohl, wenn keine andere Möglichkeit wäre, vor ihm fliehen, auswandern, wie Du es erst wegen meiner Heirat machen wolltest. Also mitbeeinflußt mag ich bei meiner Heiratsunfähigkeit auch davon sein.

Viel wichtiger aber ist dabei die Angst um mich. Das ist so zu verstehn: Ich habe schon angedeutet, daß ich im Schreiben und in dem, was damit zusammenhängt, kleine Selbständigkeitsversuche, Fluchtversuche mit allerkleinstem Erfolg gemacht, sie werden kaum weiterführen, vieles bestätigt mir das. Trotzdem ist es meine Pflicht oder vielmehr es besteht mein Leben darin, über ihnen zu wachen, keine Gefahr, die ich abwehren kann, ja keine Möglichkeit einer solcher Gefahr an sie herankommen zu lassen. Die Ehe ist die Möglichkeit einer solchen Gefahr, allerdings auch die Möglichkeit der größten Förderung, mir aber genügt, daß es die Möglichkeit einer Gefahr ist. Was würde ich dann anfangen, wenn es doch eine Gefahr wäre! Wie könnte ich in der Ehe weiterleben in dem vielleicht unbeweisbaren, aber jedenfalls unwiderleglichen Gefühl dieser Gefahr! Demgegenüber kann ich zwar schwanken, aber der schließliche Ausgang ist gewiß, ich muß verzichten. Der Vergleich von dem Sperling in der Hand und der Taube auf dem Dach paßt hier nur sehr entfernt. In der Hand habe ich nichts, auf dem Dach ist alles und doch muß ich – so entscheiden es die Kampfverhältnisse und die Lebensnot – das Nichts wählen. Ähnlich habe ich ja auch bei der Berufswahl wählen müssen.

Das wichtigste Ehehindernis aber ist die schon unausrottbare Überzeugung, daß zur Familienerhaltung und gar zu ihrer Führung alles das notwendig gehört, was ich an Dir erkannt habe, und zwar alles zusammen, Gutes und Schlechtes, so wie es organisch in Dir vereinigt ist, also Stärke und Verhöhnung des anderen, Gesundheit und eine gewisse Maßlosigkeit, Redebegabung und Unzulänglichkeit, Selbstvertrauen und Unzufriedenheit mit jedem anderen, Weltüberlegenheit und Tyrannei, Menschenkenntnis und Mißtrauen gegenüber den meisten, dann auch Vorzüge ohne jeden Nachteil wie Fleiß, Ausdauer, Geistesgegenwart, Unerschrockenheit. Von alledem hatte ich vergleichsweise fast nichts oder nur sehr wenig und damit wollte ich zu heiraten wagen, während ich doch sah, daß selbst Du in der Ehe schwer zu kämpfen hattest und gegenüber den Kindern sogar versagtest? Diese Frage stellte ich mir natürlich nicht ausdrücklich und beantworte sie nicht ausdrücklich, sonst hätte sich ja das gewöhnliche Denken der Sache bemächtigt und mir andere Männer gezeigt, welche anders sind als Du (um in der Nähe einen von Dir sehr verschiedenen zu nennen: Onkel Richard) und doch geheiratet haben und wenigstens darunter nicht zusammengebrochen sind, was schon sehr viel ist und mir reichlich genügt hätte. Aber diese Frage stellte ich eben nicht, sondern erlebte sie von Kindheit an. Ich prüfte mich ja nicht erst gegenüber der Ehe, sondern gegenüber jeder Kleinigkeit; gegenüber jeder Kleinigkeit überzeugtest Du mich durch Dein Beispiel und durch Deine Erziehung, so wie ich es zu beschreiben versucht habe, von meiner Unfähigkeit, und was bei jeder Kleinigkeit stimmte und Dir recht gab, mußte natürlich ungeheuerlich stimmen vor dem Größten, also vor der Ehe. Bis zu den Heiratsversuchen bin ich aufgewachsen etwa wie ein Geschäftsmann, der zwar mit Sorgen und schlimmen Ahnungen, aber ohne genaue Buchführung in den Tag hineinlebt. Er hat ein paar kleine Gewinne, die er infolge ihrer Seltenheit in seiner Vorstellung immerfort hätschelt und übertreibt, und sonst nur tägliche Verluste. Alles wird eingetragen, aber niemals bilanziert. Jetzt kommt der Zwang zur Bilanz, das heißt der Heiratsversuch. Und es ist bei den großen Summen, mit denen hier zu rechnen ist, so, als ob niemals auch nur der kleinste Gewinn gewesen wäre, alles eine einzige große Schuld. Und jetzt heirate, ohne wahnsinnig zu werden!

So endet mein bisheriges Leben mit Dir, und solche Aussichten trägt es in sich für die Zukunft.

Du könntest, wenn Du meine Begründung der Furcht, die ich vor Dir habe, überblickst, antworten: »Du behauptest, ich mache es mir leicht, wenn ich mein Verhältnis zu Dir einfach durch Dein Verschulden erkläre, ich aber glaube, daß Du trotz äußerlicher Anstrengung es Dir zumindest nicht schwerer, aber viel einträglicher machst. Zuerst lehnst auch Du jede Schuld und Verantwortung von Dir ab, darin ist also unser Verfahren das gleiche. Während ich aber dann so offen, wie ich es auch meine, die alleinige Schuld Dir zuschreibe, willst Du gleichzeitig ›übergescheit‹ und ›überzärtlich‹ sein und auch mich von jeder Schuld freisprechen. Natürlich gelingt Dir das letztere nur scheinbar (mehr willst Du ja auch nicht), und es ergibt sich zwischen den Zeilen trotz aller ›Redensarten‹ von Wesen und Natur und Gegensatz und Hilflosigkeit, daß eigentlich ich der Angreifer gewesen bin, während alles, was Du getrieben hast, nur Selbstwehr war. Jetzt hättest Du also schon durch Deine Unaufrichtigkeit genug erreicht, denn Du hast dreierlei bewiesen, erstens daß Du unschuldig bist, zweitens daß ich schuldig bin und drittens daß Du aus lauter Großartigkeit bereit bist, nicht nur mir zu verzeihn, sondern, was mehr und weniger ist, auch noch zu beweisen und es selbst glauben zu wollen, daß ich, allerdings entgegen der Wahrheit, auch unschuldig bin. Das könnte Dir jetzt schon genügen, aber es genügt Dir noch nicht. Du hast es Dir nämlich in den Kopf gesetzt, ganz und gar von mir leben zu wollen. Ich gebe zu, daß wir miteinander kämpfen, aber es gibt zweierlei Kampf. Den ritterlichen Kampf, wo sich die Kräfte selbständiger Gegner messen, jeder bleibt für sich, verliert für sich, siegt für sich. Und den Kampf des Ungeziefers, welches nicht nur sticht, sondern gleich auch zu seiner Lebenserhaltung das Blut saugt. Das ist ja der eigentliche Berufssoldat und das bist Du. Lebensuntüchtig bist Du; um es Dir aber darin bequem, sorgenlos und ohne Selbstvorwürfe einrichten zu können, beweist Du, daß ich alle Deine Lebenstüchtigkeit Dir genommen und in meine Taschen gesteckt habe. Was kümmert es Dich jetzt, wenn Du lebensuntüchtig bist, ich habe ja die Verantwortung. Du aber streckst Dich ruhig aus und läßt Dich, körperlich und geistig, von mir durchs Leben schleifen. Ein Beispiel: Als Du letzthin heiraten wolltest, wolltest Du, das gibst Du ja in diesem Brief zu, gleichzeitig nicht heiraten, wolltest aber, um Dich nicht anstrengen zu müssen, daß ich Dir zum Nichtheiraten verhelfe, indem ich wegen der ›Schande‹, die die Verbindung meinem Namen machen würde, Dir diese Heirat verbiete. Das fiel mir nun aber gar nicht ein. Erstens wollte ich Dir hier wie auch sonst nie ›in Deinem Glück hinderlich sein‹, und zweitens will ich niemals einen derartigen Vorwurf von meinem Kind zu hören bekommen. Hat mir aber die Selbstüberwindung, mit der ich Dir die Heirat freistellte, etwas geholfen? Nicht das Geringste. Meine Abneigung gegen die Heirat hätte sie nicht verhindert, im Gegenteil, es wäre an sich noch ein Anreiz mehr für Dich gewesen, das Mädchen zu heiraten, denn der ›Fluchtversuch‹, wie Du Dich ausdrückst, wäre ja dadurch vollkommen geworden. Und meine Erlaubnis zur Heirat hat Deine Vorwürfe nicht verhindert, denn Du beweist ja, daß ich auf jeden Fall an Deinem Nichtheiraten schuld bin. Im Grunde aber hast Du hier und in allem anderen für mich nichts anderes bewiesen, als daß alle meine Vorwürfe berechtigt waren und daß unter ihnen noch ein besonders berechtigter Vorwurf gefehlt hat, nämlich der Vorwurf der Unaufrichtigkeit, der Liebedienerei, des Schmarotzertums. Wenn ich nicht sehr irre, schmarotzest Du an mir auch noch mit diesem Brief als solchem.«

Darauf antworte ich, daß zunächst dieser ganze Einwurf, der sich zum Teil auch gegen Dich kehren läßt, nicht von Dir stammt, sondern eben von mir. So groß ist ja nicht einmal Dein Mißtrauen gegen andere, wie mein Selbstmißtrauen, zu dem Du mich erzogen hast. Eine gewisse Berechtigung des Einwurfes, der ja auch noch an sich zur Charakterisierung unseres Verhältnisses Neues beiträgt, leugne ich nicht. So können natürlich die Dinge in Wirklichkeit nicht aneinanderpassen, wie die Beweise in meinem Brief, das Leben ist mehr als ein Geduldspiel; aber mit der Korrektur, die sich durch diesen Einwurf ergibt, einer Korrektur, die ich im einzelnen weder ausführen kann noch will, ist meiner Meinung nach doch etwas der Wahrheit so sehr Angenähertes erreicht, daß es uns beide ein wenig beruhigen und Leben und Sterben leichter machen kann.

Franz

Franz Kafka
(1883-1924)
Brief an den Vater
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Franz Kafka, Kafka, Franz, Kafka, Franz


Arthur Conan DOYLE: The Case of Lady Sannox (Round the Red Lamp #09)

fdm-aconandoyle11The Case of Lady Sannox
by Arthur Conan Doyle

The relations between Douglas Stone and the notorious Lady Sannox were very well known both among the fashionable circles of which she was a brilliant member, and the scientific bodies which numbered him among their most illustrious confreres. There was naturally, therefore, a very widespread interest when it was announced one morning that the lady had absolutely and for ever taken the veil, and that the world would see her no more. When, at the very tail of this rumour, there came the assurance that the celebrated operating surgeon, the man of steel nerves, had been found in the morning by his valet, seated on one side of his bed, smiling pleasantly upon the universe, with both legs jammed into one side of his breeches and his great brain about as valuable as a cap full of porridge, the matter was strong enough to give quite a little thrill of interest to folk who had never hoped that their jaded nerves were capable of such a sensation.

Douglas Stone in his prime was one of the most remarkable men in England. Indeed, he could hardly be said to have ever reached his prime, for he was but nine-and-thirty at the time of this little incident. Those who knew him best were aware that, famous as he was as a surgeon, he might have succeeded with even greater rapidity in any of a dozen lines of life. He could have cut his way to fame as a soldier, struggled to it as an explorer, bullied for it in the courts, or built it out of stone and iron as an engineer. He was born to be great, for he could plan what another man dare not do, and he could do what another man dare not plan. In surgery none could follow him. His nerve, his judgment, his intuition, were things apart. Again and again his knife cut away death, but grazed the very springs of life in doing it, until his assistants were as white as the patient. His energy, his audacity, his full-blooded self-confidence—does not the memory of them still linger to the south of Marylebone Road and the north of Oxford Street?

His vices were as magnificent as his virtues, and infinitely more picturesque. Large as was his income, and it was the third largest of all professional men in London, it was far beneath the luxury of his living. Deep in his complex nature lay a rich vein of sensualism, at the sport of which he placed all the prizes of his life. The eye, the ear, the touch, the palate—all were his masters. The bouquet of old vintages, the scent of rare exotics, the curves and tints of the daintiest potteries of Europe—it was to these that the quick-running stream of gold was transformed. And then there came his sudden mad passion for Lady Sannox, when a single interview with two challenging glances and a whispered word set him ablaze. She was the loveliest woman in London, and the only one to him. He was one of the handsomest men in London, but not the only one to her. She had a liking for new experiences, and was gracious to most men who wooed her. It may have been cause or it may have been effect that Lord Sannox looked fifty, though he was but six-and-thirty.

He was a quiet, silent, neutral-tinted man, this lord, with thin lips and heavy eyelids, much given to gardening, and full of home-like habits. He had at one time been fond of acting, had even rented a theatre in London, and on its boards had first seen Miss Marion Dawson, to whom he had offered his hand, his title, and the third of a county. Since his marriage this early hobby had become distasteful to him. Even in private theatricals it was no longer possible to persuade him to exercise the talent which he had often shown that he possessed. He was happier with a spud and a watering-can among his orchids and chrysanthemums.

It was quite an interesting problem whether he was absolutely devoid of sense, or miserably wanting in spirit. Did he know his lady’s ways and condone them, or was he a mere blind, doting fool? It was a point to be discussed over the teacups in snug little drawing-rooms, or with the aid of a cigar in the bow windows of clubs. Bitter and plain were the comments among men upon his conduct. There was but one who had a good word to say for him, and he was the most silent member in the smoking-room. He had seen him break in a horse at the university, and it seemed to have left an impression upon his mind.

But when Douglas Stone became the favourite, all doubts as to Lord Sannox’s knowledge or ignorance were set for ever at rest. There, was no subterfuge about Stone. In his high-handed, impetuous fashion, he set all caution and discretion at defiance. The scandal became notorious. A learned body intimated that his name had been struck from the list of its vice-presidents. Two friends implored him to consider his professional credit. He cursed them all three, and spent forty guineas on a bangle to take with him to the lady. He was at her house every evening, and she drove in his carriage in the afternoons. There was not an attempt on either side to conceal their relations; but there came at last a little incident to interrupt them.

It was a dismal winter’s night, very cold and gusty, with the wind whooping in the chimneys and blustering against the window-panes. A thin spatter of rain tinkled on the glass with each fresh sough of the gale, drowning for the instant the dull gurgle and drip from the eves. Douglas Stone had finished his dinner, and sat by his fire in the study, a glass of rich port upon the malachite table at his elbow. As he raised it to his lips, he held it up against the lamplight, and watched with the eye of a connoisseur the tiny scales of beeswing which floated in its rich ruby depths. The fire, as it spurted up, threw fitful lights upon his bold, clear-cut face, with its widely-opened grey eyes, its thick and yet firm lips, and the deep, square jaw, which had something Roman in its strength and its animalism. He smiled from time to time as he nestled back in his luxurious chair. Indeed, he had a right to feel well pleased, for, against the advice of six colleagues, he had performed an operation that day of which only two cases were on record, and the result had been brilliant beyond all expectation. No other man in London would have had the daring to plan, or the skill to execute, such a heroic measure.

But he had promised Lady Sannox to see her that evening and it was already half-past eight. His hand was outstretched to the bell to order the carriage when he heard the dull thud of the knocker. An instant later there was the shuffling of feet in the hall, and the sharp closing of a door.

“A patient to see you, sir, in the consulting-room, said the butler.

“About himself?”

“No, sir; I think he wants you to go out.”

“It is too late,” cried Douglas Stone peevishly. “I won’t go.”

“This is his card, sir.”

The butler presented it upon the gold salver which had been given to his master by the wife of a Prime Minister.

“‘Hamil Ali, Smyrna.’ Hum! The fellow is a Turk, I suppose.”

“Yes, sir. He seems as if he came from abroad, sir. And he’s in a terrible way.”

“Tut, tut! I have an engagement. I must go somewhere else. But I’ll see him. Show him in here, Pim.”

A few moments later the butler swung open the door and ushered in a small and decrepit man, who walked with a bent back and with the forward push of the face and blink of the eyes which goes with extreme short sight. His face was swarthy, and his hair and beard of the deepest black. In one hand he held a turban of white muslin striped with red, in the other a small chamois leather bag.

“Good-evening,” said Douglas Stone, when the butler had closed the door. “You speak English, I presume?”

“Yes, sir. I am from Asia Minor, but I speak English when I speak slow.”

“You wanted me to go out, I understand?”

“Yes, sir. I wanted very much that you should see my wife.”

“I could come in the morning, but I have an engagement which prevents me from seeing your wife to-night.”

The Turk’s answer was a singular one. He pulled the string which closed the mouth of the chamois leather bag, and poured a flood of gold on to the table.

“There are one hundred pounds there,” said he, “and I promise you that it will not take you an hour. I have a cab ready at the door.”

Douglas Stone glanced at his watch. An hour would not make it too late to visit Lady Sannox. He had been there later. And the fee was an extraordinarily high one. He had been pressed by his creditors lately, and he could not afford to let such a chance pass. He would go.

“What is the case?” he asked.

“Oh, it is so sad a one! So sad a one! You have not, perhaps, heard of the daggers of the Almohades?”

“Never.”

“Ah, they are Eastern daggers of a great age and of a singular shape, with the hilt like what you call a stirrup. I am a curiosity dealer, you understand, and that is why I have come to England from Smyrna, but next week I go back once more. Many things I brought with me, and I have a few things left, but among them, to my sorrow, is one of these daggers.”

“You will remember that I have an appointment, sir,” said the surgeon, with some irritation. “Pray confine yourself to the necessary details.”

“You will see that it is necessary. To-day my wife fell down in a faint in the room in which I keep my wares, and she cut her lower lip upon this cursed dagger of Almohades.”

“I see,” said Douglas Stone, rising. “And you wish me to dress the wound?”

“No, no, it is worse than that.”

“What then?”

“These daggers are poisoned.”

“Poisoned!”

“Yes, and there is no man, East or West, who can tell now what is the poison or what the cure. But all that is known I know, for my father was in this trade before me, and we have had much to do with these poisoned weapons.”

“What are the symptoms?”

“Deep sleep, and death in thirty hours.”

“And you say there is no cure. Why then should you pay me this considerable fee?”

“No drug can cure, but the knife may.”

“And how?”

“The poison is slow of absorption. It remains for hours in the wound.”

“Washing, then, might cleanse it?”

“No more than in a snake-bite. It is too subtle and too deadly.”

“Excision of the wound, then?”

“That is it. If it be on the finger, take the finger off. So said my father always. But think of where this wound is, and that it is my wife. It is dreadful!”

But familiarity with such grim matters may take the finer edge from a man’s sympathy. To Douglas Stone this was already an interesting case, and he brushed aside as irrelevant the feeble objections of the husband.

“It appears to be that or nothing,” said he brusquely. “It is better to lose a lip than a life.”

“Ah, yes, I know that you are right. Well, well, it is kismet, and must be faced. I have the cab, and you will come with me and do this thing.”

Douglas Stone took his case of bistouries from a drawer, and placed it with a roll of bandage and a compress of lint in his pocket. He must waste no more time if he were to see Lady Sannox.

“I am ready,” said he, pulling on his overcoat. “Will you take a glass of wine before you go out into this cold air?”

His visitor shrank away, with a protesting hand upraised.

“You forget that I am a Mussulman, and a true follower of the Prophet,” said he. “But tell me what is the bottle of green glass which you have placed in your pocket?”

“It is chloroform.”

“Ah, that also is forbidden to us. It is a spirit, and we make no use of such things.”

“What! You would allow your wife to go through an operation without an anaesthetic?”

“Ah! she will feel nothing, poor soul. The deep sleep has already come on, which is the first working of the poison. And then I have given her of our Smyrna opium. Come, sir, for already an hour has passed.”

As they stepped out into the darkness, a sheet of rain was driven in upon their faces, and the hall lamp, which dangled from the arm of a marble caryatid, went out with a fluff. Pim, the butler, pushed the heavy door to, straining hard with his shoulder against the wind, while the two men groped their way towards the yellow glare which showed where the cab was waiting. An instant later they were rattling upon their journey.

“Is it far?” asked Douglas Stone.

“Oh, no. We have a very little quiet place off the Euston Road.”

fdm-aconandoyle24The surgeon pressed the spring of his repeater and listened to the little tings which told him the hour. It was a quarter past nine. He calculated the distances, and the short time which it would take him to perform so trivial an operation. He ought to reach Lady Sannox by ten o’clock. Through the fogged windows he saw the blurred gas-lamps dancing past, with occasionally the broader glare of a shop front. The rain was pelting and rattling upon the leathern top of the carriage and the wheels swashed as they rolled through puddle and mud. Opposite to him the white headgear of his companion gleamed faintly through the obscurity. The surgeon felt in his pockets and arranged his needles, his ligatures and his safety-pins, that no time might be wasted when they arrived. He chafed with impatience and drummed his foot upon the floor.

But the cab slowed down at last and pulled up. In an instant Douglas Stone was out, and the Smyrna merchant’s toe was at his very heel.

“You can wait,” said he to the driver.

It was a mean-looking house in a narrow and sordid street. The surgeon, who knew his London well, cast a swift glance into the shadows, but there was nothing distinctive—no shop, no movement, nothing but a double line of dull, flat-faced houses, a double stretch of wet flagstones which gleamed in the lamplight, and a double rush of water in the gutters which swirled and gurgled towards the sewer gratings. The door which faced them was blotched and discoloured, and a faint light in the fan pane above it served to show the dust and the grime which covered it. Above, in one of the bedroom windows, there was a dull yellow glimmer. The merchant knocked loudly, and, as he turned his dark face towards the light, Douglas Stone could see that it was contracted with anxiety. A bolt was drawn, and an elderly woman with a taper stood in the doorway, shielding the thin flame with her gnarled hand.

“Is all well?” gasped the merchant.

“She is as you left her, sir.”

“She has not spoken?”

“No; she is in a deep sleep.”

The merchant closed the door, and Douglas Stone walked down the narrow passage, glancing about him in some surprise as he did so. There was no oilcloth, no mat, no hat-rack. Deep grey dust and heavy festoons of cobwebs met his eyes everywhere. Following the old woman up the winding stair, his firm footfall echoed harshly through the silent house. There was no carpet.

The bedroom was on the second landing. Douglas Stone followed the old nurse into it, with the merchant at his heels. Here, at least, there was furniture and to spare. The floor was littered and the corners piled with Turkish cabinets, inlaid tables, coats of chain mail, strange pipes, and grotesque weapons. A single small lamp stood upon a bracket on the wall. Douglas Stone took it down, and picking his way among the lumber, walked over to a couch in the corner, on which lay a woman dressed in the Turkish fashion, with yashmak and veil. The lower part of the face was exposed, and the surgeon saw a jagged cut which zigzagged along the border of the under lip.

“You will forgive the yashmak,” said the Turk. “You know our views about woman in the East.”

But the surgeon was not thinking about the yashmak. This was no longer a woman to him. It was a case. He stooped and examined the wound carefully.

“There are no signs of irritation,” said he. “We might delay the operation until local symptoms develop.”

The husband wrung his hands in incontrollable agitation.

“Oh! sir, sir!” he cried. “Do not trifle. You do not know. It is deadly. I know, and I give you my assurance that an operation is absolutely necessary. Only the knife can save her.”

“And yet I am inclined to wait,” said Douglas Stone.

“That is enough!” the Turk cried, angrily. “Every minute is of importance, and I cannot stand here and see my wife allowed to sink. It only remains for me to give you my thanks for having come, and to call in some other surgeon before it is too late.”

Douglas Stone hesitated. To refund that hundred pounds was no pleasant matter. But of course if he left the case he must return the money. And if the Turk were right and the woman died, his position before a coroner might be an embarrassing one.

“You have had personal experience of this poison?” he asked.

“I have.”

“And you assure me that an operation is needful.”

“I swear it by all that I hold sacred.”

“The disfigurement will be frightful.”

“I can understand that the mouth will not be a pretty one to kiss.”

Douglas Stone turned fiercely upon the man. The speech was a brutal one. But the Turk has his own fashion of talk and of thought, and there was no time for wrangling. Douglas Stone drew a bistoury from his case, opened it and felt the keen straight edge with his forefinger. Then he held the lamp closer to the bed. Two dark eyes were gazing up at him through the slit in the yashmak. They were all iris, and the pupil was hardly to be seen.

“You have given her a very heavy dose of opium.”

“Yes, she has had a good dose.”

He glanced again at the dark eyes which looked straight at his own. They were dull and lustreless, but, even as he gazed, a little shifting sparkle came into them, and the lips quivered.

“She is not absolutely unconscious,” said he.

“Would it not be well to use the knife while it would be painless?”

The same thought had crossed the surgeon’s mind. He grasped the wounded lip with his forceps, and with two swift cuts he took out a broad V-shaped piece. The woman sprang up on the couch with a dreadful gurgling scream. Her covering was torn from her face. It was a face that he knew. In spite of that protruding upper lip and that slobber of blood, it was a face that he knew. She kept on putting her hand up to the gap and screaming. Douglas Stone sat down at the foot of the couch with his knife and his forceps. The room was whirling round, and he had felt something go like a ripping seam behind his ear. A bystander would have said that his face was the more ghastly of the two. As in a dream, or as if he had been looking at something at the play, he was conscious that the Turk’s hair and beard lay upon the table, and that Lord Sannox was leaning against the wall with his hand to his side, laughing silently. The screams had died away now, and the dreadful head had dropped back again upon the pillow, but Douglas Stone still sat motionless, and Lord Sannox still chuckled quietly to himself.

“It was really very necessary for Marion, this operation,” said he, “not physically, but morally, you know, morally.”

Douglas Stone stooped forwards and began to play with the fringe of the coverlet. His knife tinkled down upon the ground, but he still held the forceps and something more.

“I had long intended to make a little example,” said Lord Sannox, suavely. “Your note of Wednesday miscarried, and I have it here in my pocket-book. I took some pains in carrying out my idea. The wound, by the way, was from nothing more dangerous than my signet ring.”

He glanced keenly at his silent companion, and cocked the small revolver which he held in his coat pocket. But Douglas Stone was still picking at the coverlet.

“You see you have kept your appointment after all,” said Lord Sannox.

And at that Douglas Stone began to laugh. He laughed long and loudly. But Lord Sannox did not laugh now. Something like fear sharpened and hardened his features. He walked from the room, and he walked on tiptoe. The old woman was waiting outside.

“Attend to your mistress when she awakes,” said Lord Sannox.

Then he went down to the street. The cab was at the door, and the driver raised his hand to his hat.

“John,” said Lord Sannox, “you will take the doctor home first. He will want leading downstairs, I think. Tell his butler that he has been taken ill at a case.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Then you can take Lady Sannox home.”

“And how about yourself, sir?”

“Oh, my address for the next few months will be Hotel di Roma, Venice. Just see that the letters are sent on. And tell Stevens to exhibit all the purple chrysanthemums next Monday and to wire me the result.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)
Round the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life
The Case of Lady Sannox (#09)
fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Doyle, Arthur Conan, Doyle, Arthur Conan, DRUGS & MEDICINE & LITERATURE, Round the Red Lamp


Older Entries »

Thank you for reading FLEURSDUMAL.NL - magazine for art & literature