MoboReader > Literature > Withered Leaves. Vol. III.(of III)

   Chapter 4 IN THE FOREST OF JUDITENKIRCHEN.

Withered Leaves. Vol. III.(of III) By Rudolf von Gottschall Characters: 9789

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Early in the morning the carriage stopped before the village inn. Blanden, Kuhl, and two other gentlemen sprang oat; the pistol cases were left in the carriage.

"We have come too early; there is still half an hour's time," said Kuhl, "a morsel to eat cannot hurt us."

"The morning is as hard as iron; the roads sparkle as if they were armour clad," said the Doctor.

Blanden drummed his fingers upon the table. Kuhl sat down beside him.

"I cannot, indeed, understand why you plunged yourself into this danger?"

"It is to revenge Giulia's honour upon a miscreant."

"Well, you know my opinion about duels; it is a special act of friendship that I second you. I have, it is true, several times, used a human body as a target, and marked it there when I intended to do, because I set to work conscientiously, and did not swerve an iota from my intentions. I wish you had my eye and hand to-day!"

"I prefer to leave it to chance," said Blanden, "then I shall have a clearer conscience."

"But now," continued Kuhl, "no one would easily inveigle me into such a duel. I do not hold Falstaff's views about honour, but I think that all which does but exist in the opinion of mankind, enjoys a very shadowy existence, and that it is not worth while, for the sake of such dissolving views, for such opinions which fade into mist, and from day to day assume a different form, to let a bullet be driven into one's body."

"But we are dependent upon the opinions of mankind, especially of those human beings with whom we must live."

"Those are the so-called class prejudices; for a citizen of the world like you they should not exist. You know best that in Honolulu upon such matters people think quite differently from what they do in the Fiji Islands, or even in Japan, where they simply rip up their own persons. It would be too cheap a mode of regaining one's lost honour if it were only necessary to burn powder in the pan."

"We often long to punish an enemy," said Blanden, "and there is no other suitable method than that of standing before him with sword or pistol in one's hand. Hatred and enmity cannot be eradicated, and such silently nourished ill-will, such Platonic hatred, as people might term it, gnaws at one's vitals, just as does Platonic love. Every passion must obtain satisfaction, therefore the world has produced swords and pistols."

"You are right," said Kuhl, "the world, once for all, belongs to cannibals, and the religion of love and peace, despite more than a thousand years' reign, has not been able to eradicate manslaughter. And so long as it is prosecuted on a large scale for the sake of a morsel of land, or questions of lofty etiquette and political politeness, one can really not object, when, on a small scale, people go to war with one another for considerations of honour; at least, it is a cheaper pleasure, and does not cost the blood of nations."

"In my duel, dear Kuhl," said Blanden, "in the first place a woman's honour is concerned, and it is much more easily injured. As some birds in Hindoostan, according to the opinions of the people, only live upon the drops of rain which fall from the clouds, so do women only live upon that heavenly refreshment which lies in the delicate sense of their honour."

"Nonsense," said Kuhl, "people scorn the world's opinion."

"Then one must live upon a desert island, like Robinson Crusoe."

"Every truly free man is a Robinson who does not require mankind. A robinsonade in society, it is that which is right, therein lies the guarantee of happiness."

"Women must not have that wish; through it they would fool away the happiness of their life."

"Who can deprive them of the happiness that they conquer boldly?"

"True! Listen to me; at such moments a man thinks more seriously upon many things. I am about to fight for a woman's honour, you make game of it."

"Blanden," cried Kuhl, jumping up. "My voice has more weight now, for that which I say to you may be my last testament. You deprive two girls of their good name, the sole guarantee which they possess for the peace of a later life. Now they may play and joke, some day earnestness and loneliness will come."

"Well, the one has already retired from me; Olga threatens to become untrue to me."

"Possibly, then, all the more grave is your duty to the other, who now defies the world's opinion; be it from folly, be it from passion, later, however, she will lament that she did so, when, after a short intoxication, she must lead a long, joyless, poverty-stricken life. You have no duties; one day you will forsake her entirely, and she will be left to gaze into long, lasting misery. She has rejected one honest wooer."

"You speak of your friend Wegen!"

"I speak of what my heart feels. I am, perhaps, about to sacrifice my life to one woman, therefore you can surely sacrifice your theories to anot

her. A man may become a martyr to his faith, but he may not make others so."

Kuhl was silent, it was a disagreeable conversation on a disagreeable morning; he must allow that Blanden was right, it was the way of the world. He shivered; the narrowness of a subject's life seemed to oppress him.

"One thing more," said Blanden, "take care of Giulia if I fall. The world will condemn her as being the cause of my death. Perhaps her artistic career may be endangered. She has no support, no friend! Everything seems to be double-faced that moves around her. Be you her friend; will you promise it me?"

"With all my heart," said Kuhl.

"I have made my will; the legacy I leave to her is considerable enough to ensure her a life free from care, even if she retire from the stage. Help her with good advice, but do not forget that she is almost my widow, too sacred for frivolous games, and veiled for you by this my last solemn word."

Kuhl thought to himself, "Jealous beyond the grave," but he did not venture to smile, he only squeezed his friend's hand in silence.

Blanden looked at the clock--it was time. All entered the carriage again, which rolled along upon creaking wheels through the snow-laden forest.

On the edge of the pine wood another carriage was standing; the opponents had just arrived.

The scene of conflict was a little snow-covered glade; distances were measured, and the weapons examined. Blanden knew no fear, not even fear of death, but the full consciousness of the nonentity of existence overcame him. There was nothing appalling for him in death, but something almost humiliating. It was miserable, full of thoughts which grasp a world to be hurled to the ground by a piece of rattling metal, which pierces one in rapid flight, which even an old decayed tree stem can defy; it was too wretched to lie here bedded in the snow like any crow shot down from the grey wintry sky by the sportsman's gun, so that the wings of the mind hang down paralysed and dead for evermore, like the wings of the hideous bird which just now croaked so loudly for prey and food.

Lifeless lead--and instead of the agitated spirit's notes of exclamation and interrogation, that one great line which ends this chapter of life, and perhaps the whole book.

And, yet, it is easy to die on a frosty, winter's day, when all life cowers, when the trees stretch their bare summits into the misty grey atmosphere, and the shroud of snow lies upon all the forests and meadows. All nature shudders, as if renouncing every happiness.

But, no! One heart there is that beats anxiously for you; two eyes which already dedicate scalding tears to the dark possibility that menaces you; there, indeed, is life and happiness, and from these it is that you must part.

As is the case in all moments of most supreme tension, Blanden's mind saw such pictures and thoughts pass before him with a certain rigidity, and only awoke again as Kuhl pressed the pistols into his hand.

Attempts at reconciliation had not been made, the bitterness of the opponents was too great, those polite ceremonies, which had been made for form's sake, were dropped again immediately, as being perfectly futile.

As in a dream, Blanden saw the colossal officer step before him. He hated the man until that moment, then he was seized as with pity for such a sensual life, and then, again, with a change of thought, quick as lightning, his mind flew to recollections of his school days, and he thought of Homer and the Bible, which tell so accurately how many feet of earth such a mighty man covered in his fall.

Then in the midst of these dreamy thoughts, rang the call of the seconds, the fatal counting began, the shots fell, and behind the clouds of powder, each glance sought the falling opponent, but only Buschmann had the satisfaction of rejoicing in that spectacle.

Blanden sank to the ground, the officer's bullet had struck his breast.

Kuhl and the surgeon knelt beside him. Buschmann did not trouble himself about his victim, did not even vouchsafe a casual enquiry; with a hasty greeting, he left the scene of the conflict.

The surgeon gave hopes; the ball had penetrated the chest, but it appeared to him to be one of those rare cases in which no serious injury of a vital organ had taken place. Kuhl also shared that opinion.

After adjusting the bandages, Blanden was lifted into the carriage, and driven home. The drive was very exhausting, and as the carriage rattled over the stone pavement, Blanden lost consciousness.

When he awoke out of the dull web of a confused world of dreams, with its shadows melting into one another, he saw a pale form seated by his bed.

It was Giulia.

Her gaze rested anxiously upon him; she kissed his unclosing eyes, she kissed his hands amidst scalding tears.

He had fought for his betrothed, from henceforth she would be his.

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