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   Chapter 9 No.9

The Wisdom of Father Brown By G. K. Chesterton Characters: 10196

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:04

Gisela, who had been staring across the K?niginstrasse into the heavy branches that hung over the wall of the park, her mental vision too actively raking the past to spare a beam for the familiar picture, suddenly switched her searchlight away from those milestones in her historic progress and concentrated it upon a suspicious shadow opposite. Surely it had moved, and there was not a breath of wind. The night was mild and still.

She did not move a muscle but narrowed her gaze until it detached the figure of a man from the dark background of wall and trees. Always apprehensive of spies, although the Gott commandeered by the Kaiser seemed to have adjusted blinders to eyes strained west, east, and south, she leapt to the conclusion that she was under surveillance at last, and her heart beat thickly. She who had believed that the long strain, the constant danger, the incessant demand for resource and ever more resource, had transformed her nerves to pure steel, realized angrily that on this last night when she had permitted herself an hour's idle retrospect before commanding sleep, her nerves more nearly resembled the strings of a violin.

Her apartment was on the ground floor. She stood up, revealing herself disdainfully in the moonlight that now lay full on her window, then went out quickly into the vestibule and unlocked the house door. Her only fear was that the man would have gone, but if he were still there she was determined to walk boldly over to his skulking-place and pretend she believed him to be a burglar or a foreign spy. In these days she carried a small pistol and a dagger.

When she had stepped out on the pavement she glanced quickly up and down the street. Not even a polizeidiener was in sight, for this aristocratic quarter was, in peace and war, the quietest part of an always orderly town. It was evident that the man spied alone.

Holding her head very high, she started across the street; but she had not taken three steps when the shadow detached itself and walked rapidly out into the moonlight. She gave a sharp cry and shrank back. It was Franz von Nettelbeck.

"You-" she stammered. "They sent you-"

"They? And why should I alarm you? Am I so formidable?" He uttered his short harsh laugh and lifted his cap. His head was bandaged; there was a deep scar along the outer line of his right cheek. His face was gaunt and lined; and his shoulders sagged until he suddenly bethought himself and flung them back with a deathless instinct.

Gisela smiled and gave him her hand with a graceful spontaneity. "The sense of being watched always shakes the nerves a bit, and I have felt up to nothing myself for a long time. Why did not you come up to the window when you recognized me?"

"I was so sure of welcome! And yet as soon as I was fit to travel I came here to see you. I intended to send in my card to-morrow. But I could not help haunting your window to-night, and when I had the good fortune to see you sitting there-with the moon shining on your beautiful face-"

"My face is no longer beautiful, dear Franz-"

"You are a thousand times more beautiful than ever-"

Something else vibrated along those steel nerves, but she said briskly: "Standing so long must have tired you. Come in and rest. It is late; but if there are still conventions in this crashing world I have forgotten them."

Her rooms were always prepared for a sudden visit of the police. If a firing squad were her fate it would not have been invited through the usual channels. Even the arms to be worn on the morrow were in the cellars and attics of citizens so respectable as almost to be nameless.

He followed her through the common entrance of the apartment house into her Saal. It was a large comfortable room with many deep chairs, and on the gray walls were a few portraits of her scowling ancestors, contributed long since by her mother. A tall porcelain stove glowed softly. Gisela drew the curtains and lit several candles. She disliked the hard glare of electricity at any time, and she admitted with a curious thrill of satisfaction that those manifestly sincere words of her old lover had given her vanity a momentary resurrection. Her suspicions were by no means allayed, even when she met his eyes blazing with passionate admiration, but why not play the old game of the gods for an hour? What better preparation for the morrow than to relax and forget?

"Poor Franz!" Her voice was the same rich contralto whose promise had routed the Howland millions years ago. "Our poor gallant men! When will this terrible war finish?"

"Ask your United States of America!" And he cursed that superfluous nation roundly. "We had some chance before. Not so much, but still some. Now we shall be beaten to our knees, stamped into the dust, straight down to hell." He threw himself into a chair and pressed his hands against his face.

"But when?" Gisela watched him warily. If these were tactics they were admirable; but who more full of theatric devices than the Kaiser he adored?

"Years hence, no doubt-if we continue to hold the Social-

Democrats in hand and drug the people. We'll fight on until our enemies' might proves that they are right and we were fools. That is all there is to war."

Gisela sat down and let her hands fall into her lap with a little pathetic motion of weakness. "Sometimes I wish the Socialists were strong enough to win and end it all," she said plaintively.

"Oh, no, you don't. You are a junker, for all your independent notions, and trying to put some of your own nerve into the women. I read you with great amusement before the war. But no one knows better than yourself that the triumph of democracy in Germany would mean the end of us."

"I cannot see that we are enjoying many privileges at present-unless it be the privilege to lie rather than be lied to. And when our enemies do win we shall be pried out, root and branch. So, why not save our skins at all events? I do not mean mine, of course-nor, for that matter, am I thinking of our class; but of the hundreds of thousands of our dear young men who might be spared-"

"Better die and have done with it. And there is always hope-"


"Oh-in the separate peace, the ultimate submersible, some new invention-the miracle that has come to the rescue more than once in history. There are times when my faith in the destiny of Germany to dominate the world is so great that I cannot believe it possible for her to fail-in spite of everything, everything! And everything is against us! I never realized it until I lay there in the hospital. I was too busy before, and that was my first serious wound. Oh, God! what fools we were. What rotten diplomacy. Even I despised the United States; but as I lay there in Berlin their irresistible almighty power seemed to pass before me in a procession that nearly destroyed my reason. I knew the country well enough, but I would not see."

"They are a very soft-hearted people and would let us down agreeably if the Social-Democrats overturned the House of Hohenzollern and stretched out the imploring hand of a young Republic-"

"No! No! A thousand times rather die to the last man than be beaten within. That would be the one insupportable humiliation. Canaille!" He spat out the word. "I refuse to recognize their existence-"

He sprang to his feet and before her mind could flash to attention he had caught her from her chair and was straining her to him, his arms, his entire body, betraying no evidence whatever of depleted vitality. "Let us forget it all!" he muttered. "We are still young and I am free. I was a fool once and you will believe me when I tell you that I would beg you on my knees to marry me even if you were Gisela D?ring.... I have leave of absence for a month ... let us be happy once more...."

"It was a long while ago ... all that ... do you realize how long?"

Gisela stood rigid, her eyes expanded. To her terror and dismay she was thrilling and flaming from head to foot. This lover of her life might have released her from one of their immortal hours but yesterday. But although she had to brace her body from yielding, her mind (and it is the curse of intellectual women of individual powers that the mind never, in any circumstances, ceases to function) realized that while the human will may be strong enough to banish memories, and readjust the lonely soul, its most triumphant acts may be annihilated by the physical contact of its mate. Unless replaced. Fool that she had been merely to have buried the memory of this man by an act of will. She should have taken a commonplace lover, or husband, put out that flaming midnight torch with the standardizing light of day.

Her mind seemed to be darting from peak to peak in a swift and dazzling flight as he talked rapidly and brokenly, kissing her cheek, her neck, straining her so close to him that she could hardly breathe. Suddenly it poised above the memory of an old book of Renan's, "The Abbess Juarre," in which the eminent skeptic had somewhat clumsily attempted to demonstrate that if the world unmistakably announced its finish within three days the inhabitants would give themselves up to an orgy of love.

Well, her world might end to-morrow. Why should she not live to-night?

Her arrogant will demanded the happiness that this man, whom she had never ceased to love for a moment, to whom she had been unconsciously faithful, alone could give her. Moreover, her reason working side by side with her imperious desires, assured her that if he really were spying, and, whatever his passion, meant to remold her will to his and snatch the keystone from the arch, it were wise to keep him here. It was evident that he had no suspicion of the imminence of the revolution.

And it was years since she had felt all woman, not a mere intellect ignoring the tides in the depths of her being. The revelation that she was still young and that her will and all the proud achievements of her mind could dissolve at this man's touch in the crucible of her passion filled her with exultation.

She melted into his arms and lifted hers heavily to his neck.

"Franz! Franz!" she whispered.

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