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Archive for August, 2014

Frank Braun asked, “And was no attempt made to cure her?”

“No attempt?” laughed Drenker. “We did everything we could, Raimondi and I! When we carried her back to her native village, her old man was drunk as usual. He shouted and scolded and would have liked to beat her in his blind rage. So Ussolo’s mother took her in. Later we drove her to the city, but the physician said that he could not help her, and that she would have to be taken to Innsbruck. There she lay in the hospital for years. They tormented her thoroughly with all kinds of methods and experimented around with her. But there was nothing to be done, and finally they sent her back home again—as crooked and stiff as ever. In the meantime her father died—drowned in the lake when he was thoroughly drunk again; her inheritance consisted of debts.

She continued to live with Ussolo’s mother, and still clings to the ruined hut, although the old woman has been dead a long time. She doesn’t need much, of course, and she gets a few kreuzers by begging on the road when the stage passes. She has become a crippled, ugly old beggar woman, but as long as Aloys Drenker lives he will be kind to her.”

Teresa said, “Father is good to her too. He always sends her milk and all the remnants of food.”

But the guard was indignant.

“Nonsense!” he cried. “It’s you who do it and not your father. And he wouldn’t even let you, if he weren’t ashamed before me. I know that very well. Your father has become a miser in his old age, as all peasants do in these lousy Italian villages!”

Raimondi spat thoughtfully, but he did not answer. He pointed to the empty bottle, and when Frank Braun nodded, he got up quietly to fetch new ones.

The girl asked quickly, “Are you going to stay overnight, Herr Drenker? Shall I make up a bed for you?”

“No,” said the guard. “I must start again for the city at once. Only my horse must be fed and have a rest.”

He turned to Frank Braun.

“Doctor, shall I take Don Vincenzo an answer from you?”

The German considered for a moment. Then he sent the girl up for paper. He sat down at a table by the window and wrote to the priest:

“Dear Don Vincenzo:—

I thank you very much for your friendly letter, which gives me the certain proof that you are what the world calls a truly good man. But then I really knew that long ago. And I regret all the more my inability to accede to your wish. Forgive me if your uncertain presentiment seems to be clearer to me even than to yourself. You fear that I may, here in Val di Scodra, play Providence in a manner that seems to you thoroughly out of harmony with the best interests of your native village. You are no longer content, Don Vincenzo, to place whatever happens calmly into the hands of God, but you fear that I may irreverently interfere with the trade of the Almighty. Isn’t it so, your Reverence? Very well, I will not deny that I have some such impulse, especially now since you have called my attention to it again in so kind a way. God is something that heathens and unbelievers call fate—when a man plays with fate, they play God. Perhaps this game is impious and not very Christian, but you must agree with me that it is most certainly the greatest game a man can play!

And if here—though I am not certain that it will, such an opportunity for this noble activity does present itself, for what reason should I reject it? Life is not so rich that we dare despise such small good opportunities as chance sends us.

And so I will stay here for the present, and I am tempted to wish, your Reverence, that your presentiments may prove correct! My vision, to be sure, is less optimistic—or pessimistic, if you prefer—than yours, Don Vincenzo: I believe that, unfortunately, anything that is likely to happen will be very insignificant, humble and absurd, and not at all terrible in its nature! Such is my honest conviction—which may calm you a little. I will certainly do my very best to produce a highly effective performance—but that is far from easy on the stage of life. I am, alas, no master magician, as you seem to believe, but only a poor apprentice of the sorcerer’s art! And so you will probably have occasion to laugh and not to weep!

I am, dear Don Vincenzo,

Yours very faithfully,

Frank Braun”

He beckoned Teresa to the table. Then he folded the letter, gave her a feather quill and showed her the fourth page which was still blank.

“It’s to your father confessor!” he said. “Don’t you want to send him a greeting?”

Her face beamed. She took the sheet and wrote on it in large letters:

“I am very happy!

Teresa”

The guard had long since ridden away; Frank Braun stood in his room and stared out into the night. A storm had come up and the waters of the circular lake seethed as in a kettle. The waters beat against the walls of rock in long waves, and rose high as if they wanted to get out of this hole, in which they were imprisoned for all eternity. But there was no escape; the cliffs held them in that hard ring and laughed aloud over the powerless rebels.

Frank Braun closed the window and sat down at his table. It was late enough and he felt that he would not be able to work anymore that night. But he was in no mood to go to bed; so he sat there idly, gazing absent-mindedly at his books and listening to the howling and the roaring of the rain—its clatter and hiss and resonant thunder. He took the priest’s letter and read it once more. Softly he murmured to himself:

“Something will happen, terrible for Val di Scodra, terrible for Teresa—terrible likewise for you.”

He repeated the words, twice, three times. He spoke them slowly, thoughtfully, almost caressingly. Then he held the letter over the lamp; the flame caught it at once. He strewed the ashes into the waste paper basket. Suddenly it seemed to him as if he heard someone at the door knob.

He listened and asked, “Teresa?”

But there was no answer. The wind raved and tugged at the shutters and the windows, whistled through the room and rattled the door. Frank Braun had the feeling that something stood outside that wanted to get in.

“Let it come,” he thought. “I am ready.”

Then he shook off the thought and laughed. He opened a book and turned the pages. But again, and now quite clearly, he heard a noise from the direction of the door. Once again he called the girl’s name, and then went into the middle of the room. No, no, that was not the storm—someone was fumbling with the lock. He went to the door and opened it quickly: no one stood outside.

But then he heard the noise come from the other door, that of the bedroom, which was latched from within. He heard quite clearly the latch being turned, softly and carefully, and always in vain. He stepped out into the hall and saw the hand on the knob, and a white figure. Instinctively he stepped back and slammed the door behind him. He had not been able to see much in the dark hall which was only lit by the weak light of the lamp. It was certainly not Teresa; she knew that that door was locked. Perhaps her father? Or the farmhand? What did they want in his bedroom at this hour? He went to the desk and took his Browning revolver out of the drawer. He convinced himself that the barrel was full, and released the safety catch. Then he turned to the door again. But before he had taken a step, the knob moved, and the door opened wide. Full light fell upon the intruder: it was Peter Nosclere. He had on a dirty shirt, soaked through by the rain; a white nightcap hung askew upon his black hair. His bare feet dripped with mud; his legs, bare to the knees, were black with a long, thick growth of hair to which the dirt adhered.

“A strange way to dress for a visit,” thought Frank Braun.

He called, but Pietro did not hear him. His eyes were wide open and stared fixedly ahead. But they saw nothing. Frank Braun took the lamp and held it near his face—not even his lids twitched. He groped along as if in deepest darkness, touched the wall and groped farther.

Suddenly he stood still. He seemed to be thinking, and his forehead became furrowed. Then he turned around, felt his way slowly back to the door and went out. The German followed him, his lamp in his left hand, and his revolver in his right. He saw how Pietro crept to the stairs, groped his way down and stepped into the guest room below. Swiftly he went after him and entered at the same time. The American crept past the long bench and felt the chimney mantle; obviously he was looking for something.

Finally he found the cupboard of household utensils, stirred around in it and drew forth a long, pointed butcher’s knife. He tested the blade with his thumb and a broad grin slid over his face. He grasped the handle firmly in his right hand and carefully re-ascended the stairs. This time he went directly through the open door of the sitting room. Frank Braun stood beside him, two paces away, and observed every movement, constantly ready, if necessary, to use his weapon first.

But the somnambulist didn’t give him the slightest cause to lift his hand; it was entirely clear that he saw and heard absolutely nothing. He stood at the door that joined the two rooms and opened it with a soft, careful pressure; then he went into the bedroom. Frank Braun followed him and watched. Pietro strode straight up to the bed that stood by the window, held the knife between his teeth, and with both hands felt carefully for the head of the bed. The bright gleam of the lamp fell into his face and Frank Braun saw how contorted it was with immeasurable rage.

Finally he seemed sure of himself; he grasped the pillow with his left hand, took the knife, and thrust out with the strength of madness. Once again he lifted the knife high, and once again he gave a thrust, then he wiped his eyes with his hand as if blood had spurted into his face.

And again and again he buried the knife in the pillow up to the hilt. A smile of profound inner satisfaction settled on his lips. He took a few deep breaths, and then let the knife fall. With quiet, almost firm steps he went toward the door. Frank Braun let him pass and followed him again through the room and down the stairs. He saw the somnambulist open the house door and carefully close it again behind him. The rain beat in his face but he did not notice it, slowly he strode through the soaked lanes toward his house.

The German went back into his room, approached his bed and regarded it. The coverlet and the pillows had been transfixed; the thrusts had gone deep into the mattress.

“It is probably better for both of us that I was not lying there,” he said.

And only then a silent fear grasped him. His hand trembled and he quickly had to set the lamp down again. Slowly he undressed and went to bed.

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So it came about that Sibylla hated the wine which Ussolo drank even more than that which flowed down her father’s throat. The Saturday night on which we started—it was dark and there was not a star in the sky—Sibylla arranged it so that I walked with her, while Ussolo and the sergeant-major preceded us by a few paces. Raimondi and Sibylla carried lanterns; her betrothed dragged a heavy basket, in which he had laid upon fresh foliage the fishes which he had caught in the lake that evening and wanted to take to his uncle in Cimego. I carried the knapsack, which Ussolo had packed too; there was bread in it, ham and sausage, and in addition, five bottles of good wine.

When we came to a spring at the end of half an hour, she stopped and asked me to give her the knapsack. She waited a little, until she thought the other two were far enough away, and then took out the bottles and opened them. She asked me whether I wanted to drink once more, and I took a few hearty draughts. Then she poured out the wine, one bottle after another. I wanted to prevent her but she laughed and said that for this one night I might easily do without wine, since there would be enough of it tomorrow at Cimego. She filled the bottles to the top with water and carefully corked them again. We were both amused at the thought of Ussolo’s expression when he would discover that his wine had turned into water.

We went ahead vigorously and soon caught up with the others. We shouted our soldier songs and between them the lovely Sibylla sang. So the hours passed. Several times Ussolo proposed that we should drink a glass of wine; but I would not hand out the wine, and told him he must wait till we reached our resting place in the charcoal burner’s cottage.

We had marched off at nine o’clock and could have comfortably reached the cottage by three o’clock in the morning. We wanted to take some refreshments there and lie down for a while; we had our great-coats, and for Sibylla there was a warm cover which Raimondi carried. Then we intended to climb down for a couple of hours the last bit of the way into the Cimego valley. It was cold enough on the road and Ussolo put his great-coat around the girl. But we were all merry and in high spirits and as we marched along thus, either one behind the other or arm in arm wherever the path grew broader, it seemed to us as if this lovely rose did not belong to Ussolo alone, but was the common property of us three comrades of the Emperor’s Rifles.

One o’clock had passed when we went through the ravine of the Boazol. Raimondi walked ahead with the lantern, I behind him. Then came Sibylla, and Ussolo brought up the rear. Suddenly I heard him curse; he had slipped and lay on the stones. But he jumped up again at once. I turned and looked toward him; Sibylla’s lantern shed sufficient light on him.

‘The damned beast!’ he cried.

And I saw by the light of the lantern that he was holding a little snake in his hand. He grasped it by the tail and shattered its head against the rock.

‘Did it bite you?’ the girl asked anxiously.

He laughed and said that in all events he had noticed nothing. We had all stepped up to him and saw that in falling he had scraped both his face and his hands a little. Sibylla dusted him with her kerchief. Then he took up his basket again and we went on; this time he walked behind Raimondi and I came later.

“But scarcely five minutes had passed when Ussolo stopped with chattering teeth; he was shaking with cold and begged Raimondi to lend him his great-coat. He put it on and in addition wrapped the cover, which was meant for Sibylla, around his shoulders, but he was still freezing cold. I called out to him to walk ahead vigorously and he did so. After a while I saw how he was supporting himself with his hand against the rock; it was as if he were drunk. But he said nothing, and so I was silent too in order not to frighten the girl. We walked that way for a space; then dizziness came over him again; he stumbled and would have fallen flat had not Raimondi supported him. He put down the basket and stood up with difficulty, clinging to the wall of the cliff.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ cried Sibylla.

He shook his head and tried to laugh.

‘Nothing,’ he said.

‘I don’t know—’

The sergeant-major held the lantern to his face. Then he grasped his left hand and looked at it closely on both sides.

‘There, you donkey,’ he cried, ‘of course it’s bitten you!’

We pressed around him and I noticed a tiny wound in his wrist; a little drop of blood came out, scarcely larger than a pinhead. The hand and joint were swollen, and continued to swell swiftly and almost visibly. Raimondi, who had taken the hospital assistant’s course, at once put his hand in his pocket and took out a cloth. Then his glance fell on the knapsack. He put back the cloth and ordered me to cut off the cords. We made a tourniquet above the wound, and pulled the cord as tight as possible, so that it cut deep into his skin. In the meantime Ussolo reeled to and fro and we had to lay him flat on the ground.

Raimondi said:

‘That is the first thing necessary. Now we must suck out the wound.’

Sibylla at once threw herself over her betrothed, but Raimondi pulled her back. He threw the light into her face, and then pushed her away: she had a little break in her lip, he said, and might easily poison herself too. Then he pulled me up, bade me open my mouth and examined it with his lantern.

‘You can do it!’ he cried.

I took Ussolo’s hand and sucked with all my might. The saliva ran in my mouth and when I spat it out, it seemed as if I tasted the poison on my tongue. But it was probably only my imagination. I continued until Raimondi tore me away.

‘Now he must drink,’ he said. ‘And the more the better. All we have. That keeps up the activity of the heart.’

He reached into the knapsack and uncorked the first bottle. I heard Sibylla give a low cry as she clung tightly to my arm.

She stammered softly, ‘O Madonna—Madonna!’

And I understood and I realized that she was praying to the Mother of God and beseeching her to perform a miracle. I was so frightened and confused that I prayed with her, and even today I know that, at that moment, I really entertained the hope of the water changing back into wine. But, unhappily, miracles no longer happen nowadays, as in the time of the marriage feast at Canaan!’

Ussolo put the bottle to his lips and drank greedily—but at once spat it all out again.

‘Water!’ he groaned.

Raimondi himself took a swallow, shook his head and threw the bottle down the ravine. He believed it was a chance error and opened the next bottle. Sibylla trembled but dared to say no word in her awful dread; and I, too, was so depressed by my share of the guilt that I couldn’t utter a syllable.

Again Ussolo took a swallow and again spat it out. Raimondi took the next bottle, struck off its neck, saw that it held water too, and threw it away. Then I took hold of my heart and told him what had happened. But I said that it had been a poor joke of my own and spoke no word of Sibylla—and I am glad to this day that I acted so. Raimondi cried out that I was a criminal; but Ussulo said weakly that he knew well that I had meant no evil. He stretched out his other hand to me in a sign of forgiveness, and said that it wasn’t so bad and that he would probably be better presently. I talked too and tried to console him, but Raimondi pulled me away and exclaimed that this was no time for chatter. He took his pocket-knife, held the sharpest blade into the flame of the lantern and ordered me to take mine and do the same. When his knife was red-hot he cut into the wound and enlarged it. Then he took my knife and I had to hold the other into the flame; in this way he changed off and cut and cauterized the wound.

Poor Ussolo suffered frightfully. But, like a good soldier, he strove to give no evidence of it. It was pitiable how we tormented him—and all in vain. Sibylla kneeled beside him and held his head and he moaned and gnashed his teeth.

At last the sergeant-major was done. We realized that we could not go one step further with Ussolo and that it would be best for one of us to hurry to Cimego and get help. I didn’t know the way, and so Raimondi went; he hoped that the priest would have caustic potash and spirits of ammonia. He took his lantern and strode rapidly ahead; in a little while he had vanished.

The place where we lay was an unfortunate one. To the right of us rose a wall of rock; to the left fell the ravine, not very steeply, and yet uncomfortably enough in the darkness. The path between was very narrow. I rolled up one coat and made a pillow for Ussolo; he lay on the second one. I spread the cover and the third coat over him. In spite of all he froze; one fit of cold fever shook him after another. After a while he began to fight for breath; he gasped, and it seemed as if his lungs could work only with difficulty. He said nothing, only groaned softly from time to time.

Sibylla knelt beside him; she, too, didn’t say a word, but seemed utterly petrified. So I chattered on, and told him that the torment was over now, and that the sergeant-major would soon be back with proper help. I could think of nothing else that was appropriate and said the same thing over again—I must have said it a hundred times in the course of that God-forsaken night. But indeed, it didn’t matter at all what I said, since neither of the others listened. Sometimes he would be less stifled, but then an attack would come again; the dizziness recurred regularly.

Hour followed hour. The night faded and the mists crept in from the mountains. Day came, and the cold damp wind of the morning swept through the ravine. At times, when he lay quietly, we thought that he was getting better, but soon a violent trembling would overtake him again; at moments, too, he was unconscious. He had sharp and violent pains at the base of his hand; the hand was terribly swollen and the wound was a deep bluish red. Toward six o’clock in the morning he had convulsions; he raised his body up high and let it fall back heavily. Then he began to twitch in his muscles, the fingers of his well hand curved convulsively and his legs pushed forward in violent spasms. We had trouble holding him, but he became quieter again; soon, however, the smothering would begin again and with it the cold fever.

Eight o’clock came; Raimondi should have been back long ago according to my calculation. Ussolo had grown a little quieter by this time and seemed to be asleep; so I thought it would be best if I were to start out and look for the sergeant- major. I jumped up and ran along the path that led to Cimego as fast as my legs would carry me. After about an hour I met Raimondi, and with him were the priest and three young men from Cimego.

‘Is he still alive?’ cried the sergeant-major.

I nodded and went back with them. Raimondi looked like a wild man, his handsome uniform was covered all over with dirt; his hands and face were smeared with blood and sweat. He had taken a wrong step, had fallen down and broken his lantern. Then he had sought his way in the darkness, had lost it, and only noticed at the break of day that he had wandered into a wrong valley. Thus he had had to go back, and only through the help of a goat-herd whom he met on the way had he found the way to Cimego. There he had immediately fetched the priest from the very celebration of the mass, and had then run back with the others.

While he was still telling me this, we suddenly heard a wild and fearful cry. We recognized Sibylla’s voice and ran on like mad. Raimondi was far ahead, behind him leaped the priest of Cimego holding up his black robe with both hands. He was an excellent man; if he could not arrive in time to use his medicine he still hoped not to be too late to administer the last consolation of the church to the dying man.

But he was too late for either. When we emerged from the ravine we saw a dead man lying before us. His face was hideously distorted, the eyes protruded far out from their sockets. His right hand held his coat in a convulsive grasp; his legs were drawn far up. Before him stood Sibylla, erect, but with her body bent forward—just the way she goes and stands now. We paid little attention to her at first and busied ourselves with Ussolo, rubbed him, poured wine between his open lips and held the spirits of ammonia to his nose. But we soon realized that it was too late, and that all was over with him. We covered him with a coat and turned to his betrothed.

We asked her in what manner he had died, but she gave us no answer. We urged her and saw clearly that she understood us—her lips moved, but her mouth was dumb; she had lost her power of speech. Her eyes were dry, no tears fell, and not once in all these years—not even at his grave—has she been able to weep. The priest took her in his arms and tried to straighten her; he failed and he asked me to help him. We all helped—but she remained as stiff as she was—her trunk bent straight forward. We didn’t want to believe it, grasped her roughly and used force: nothing availed.

To this day I don’t know what happened in those last two hours of Ussolo’s life. I have often asked Sibylla in later years and begged her to write it down for me. But she has covered her face with her hands, shuddered and shaken her head. So I finally gave up the attempt. It must have been terrible—one could read that in her face! Her features were distorted and fixed as if she had seen hell open. And this expression of terror did not disappear, but remained, and only as the years passed, as her face became wrinkled and dark, and as she aged before her time, did this expression gradually fade. Today there is little trace of it left.

But the terrible convulsive cramp that crippled her did not yield, nor did she ever speak again. We made litters and carried her and Ussolo to Cimego. He lies buried there.

That is the story of the beautiful Sibylla and her poor betrothed.”

The guard took a deep breath and drank three large glassfuls of wine to conceal his emotion.

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“No,” Frank Braun agreed. “There is absolutely neither sense nor reason to it. But now drink, Drenker, and tell us about the three lovers of the young Sibylla Madruzzo.”

The guard cleared his throat and lit his pipe. He raised the glass to his lips, drank, and clicked his tongue in praise of the wine. Then he began. He told his story loudly, hastily, and in disjointed sentences. Constantly he turned, shouting to the landlord:

“Wasn’t it so, Raimondi?”

The latter nodded silently or muttered a “Yes” between his teeth.

“I suppose it was thirty years ago,” said Aloys Drenker. “We were all stationed at Bozen, and were the best friends in the world. Ussolo, he was from Val di Scodra, too; over there where the path leads up to the promontory with the crosses, stood the house of his people. It has long fallen into ruin. Poor Ussolo lies in the churchyard and all his relatives are over in the Argentine. No one is left of his kith and kin! Well, we three belonged to the Emperor’s Rifles in Bozen; Ussolo and I were sergeants—but Raimondi had just been promoted to be sergeant-major, eh, old man?

Very well, when those two were on furlough they went home, and I went with them a couple of times. For, you know, I had no home; my poor mother delivered me in a ditch along the road and the shock of my birth killed her. So I was pushed around and beaten among strangers, and I felt contented only when I joined the company. The Emperor’s Rifles—they were my family—and a smart family, too, weren’t they, Raimondi? The devil take me if there’s a better regiment in the whole world!

As I told you, I came several times with my friends down to Val di Scodra—once with Raimondi and twice with Ussolo. Well, you can imagine how the people stared when we arrived! The whole village was in love with us. And we three—were in love with Sibylla, and each did our best to please her.

But none of us said anything, either to the others, or to the girl. Each one considered, and each one determined upon a plan, but no one would out with it. We all wrote her letters and she wrote to us, too, but, I must tell you, to all three together. And so, one evening in winter as we were sitting together in the canteen, Ussolo said that he would resign and not re-enlist. I thought he had had a stroke, and I asked him whether the devil had gone after him?

Then it came out! He said that he was in love with Sibylla and wanted to marry her and live with her and cultivate his land in Val di Scodra. He had already written his mother—for his father was dead—and she had agreed that he should take over the farm. Now at his next furlough he intended to talk to the girl. Then Raimondi broke loose!—You needn’t be ashamed old man, it was so—For remember that in those days he hadn’t yet met the beautiful Maria, the daughter of the schoolmaster in Brixen, who later became his wife and Teresa’s mother. In those days his one thought was Sibylla and always Sibylla! Well, wasn’t it so, old fellow?. . .Therefore he went for Ussolo and said he shouldn’t dare to think of the girl. It was he who must have her and no one else! And he was the older and a sergeant-major. But I couldn’t restrain myself any longer either. It didn’t matter a bit, I said, whether one was older or younger, a sergeant-major or not. I loved Sibylla too, and wanted her, and didn’t give a damn about these Italian fools. I cried out and Raimondi roared and Ussolo howled, and before we had time to think we were pulling each other’s hair and beating each other so that it was great fun.

A lieutenant intervened and disturbed our amusement; then in medium hard confinement we all three had time to think over our love and our folly. When we came out our excitement had cooled noticeably, and we realized that it was mighty stupid to quarrel about a girl that only one of us could have. So we determined to leave the choice to Sibylla herself and, to arrange this, we would travel together to Val di Scodra during our September furlough.

In the meantime, it was agreed that no one was to write to her separately; so we always wrote to her together and sent her a common present at Christmas and Easter. It wasn’t much, to be sure, a silk scarf and a silver buckle—but Sibylla has kept them to this day and the letters, too. Very well. Spring came and then summer, and none of us felt very happy. Each distrusted the other two and every few days one of us had to swear to the others that he had quite certainly not written a letter behind their back. Finally the fall maneuvers came, and then the day on which we received our leave of absence.

It was hard enough for the three of us to get off at the same time, since Raimondi and I were in the same company. But finally it was accomplished. I’ll never forget the journey in all my days. No one spoke a word and each looked as if he wanted to devour the others alive. I believe it was only the uniform which still kept us together; otherwise we would have gone for each other as we did that evening in the canteen.

In those days no stagecoach came to the valley, but if one had come we would not have waited for it. We marched along and arrived late at night. Raimondi went to his parents; I went home with Ussolo. I didn’t sleep a wink all night; I was constantly afraid one of my comrades might get up and go to the Madruzzo house. They fared no better. It was scarcely light when we started to go for Raimondi, out of fear that he might get ahead of us. We had scarcely reached the house when he came out too—evidently with the same idea as ourselves. Now we realized that it was far too early to go to Sibylla, especially as it was Sunday. We went back again into Raimondi’s house, cooked our coffee, and breakfasted.

Then Ussolo stepped up to the mirror. We had been in such a hurry to get up that we had scarcely combed our hair! He dressed his hair and made himself handsome—and then it came out that we had remained very good friends and comrades after all. Raimondi fetched all he had: shoe polish, brushes, combs, even wax for our mustaches, and we helped one another get ourselves up as finely as possible. An Emperor’s Rifle must be sharp, mustn’t he, Raimondi? So the time passed more quickly than we thought. Then Raimondi’s parents came and we had to drink coffee once more with them.

Finally we started, stopped in the garden to cut a few roses for our caps, and then went on to the Madruzzo house. And before we even got there Ussolo cried:

‘Here she comes!’

And there, as a matter of fact, she stood before us in the garden of olives and laughed. She was in her Sunday best and she was so neat and pretty that my very heart was glad. And yet it kept thumping so, and I felt so afraid, that I scarcely dared to approach a step. But my two comrades fared no better and stopped short too.

Raimondi said, ‘Friends, I am the oldest!’

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘You are that indeed—and yet—’

But he whispered, ‘Keep still and listen to what I say! We have agreed that she is to have the one that she wants. But the other two are not to be his enemies on that account, but good friends as before!’

‘Are you so sure of yourself?’ I thought.

But I was sure of myself too, for I believed with assurance that her laugh had been meant for me and not for the others.

Therefore I said, ‘Your hand on it!’ and agreed.

Ussolo said nothing at all, but he, too, gave his hand in pledge.

‘Very well, then,’ said Raimondi. ‘Forward march!—and I’m going to speak first because I’m the oldest and a sergeant-major!’

That didn’t please me the least bit, but there was no more time for discussion, for he went ahead with long strides, and we had to keep up with him. We saluted with our hands to our caps and Raimondi was about to begin a speech, but nothing came out. We stood silently before her and stared at her. Then the dark Sibylla laughed and stretched out her hands and asked how we were, and said how pleasant it was that we had all three come here on leave. She thanked us for the letters and the present and said that she had plaited a watch-fob for each one of us out of her own hair. So we talked, but we really said nothing and only Sibylla laughed and chattered and we stood there like three country oafs and stared at her.

I realized that all this was shameful for the Emperor’s Rifles and nudged Raimondi that he should speak to her. But he acted as if he hadn’t noticed anything.

Then I whispered to Ussolo: ‘You talk then!’

Ussolo did talk—but what! He told her, stammering, where we had been at our maneuvers. Then I was going to speak, but that didn’t work either. If only the others hadn’t been there, I could have spoken easily enough; I felt that.

On this fact I founded my plan. I told Sibylla that we three wanted to speak to each other privately for a moment. She laughed and was about to go home again at once, but I begged her to wait a little while; so she stepped aside into the olive grove. Then I said to the other two that they were asses and I another: that we were asses all three! And that we couldn’t proceed in this way.

I took three blades of grass and held them in my hand: whoever drew the longest—he was to be permitted to speak to her first and alone. To this the others agreed: The sergeant-major tried first, then Ussolo; he drew the longest blade; I had the shortest of all, and so my turn came last. Well, I consoled myself, for I was convinced that the two Italians would get a refusal and that she would wait for me. In the meantime, Ussolo went to Sibylla and we two sat down in the grass, turned our backs to them and waited.

A soldier, you see, is accustomed to waiting; one learns that on sentry duty. But although there were two of us, never did waiting seem as long as this time.

‘Aren’t they done yet?’ I thought.

Neither of us spoke a word; I saw how Raimondi stared straight ahead of him.

Suddenly he said, ‘Well, I can’t bear it any longer. Ussolo ought to have been through long ago!’

We turned around, but the two had disappeared. We got up and went a little further into the olive grove, looked to the right and to the left, but saw no one. I called, softly at first, and then louder:

‘Ussolo! ’

But no one answered. Then Raimondi roared as if he were commanding three regiments:

‘Ussolo! Ussolo!’

Then the fellow answered:

‘Yes! Yes! We are coming now!’

And immediately after that they came running up to us. Ussolo’s entire brown face laughed and he stretched out both of his hands.

‘Forgive me, comrades, but we had both really quite forgotten you!’

Then, when he saw our vexed and confused expression, he stood at attention, put his hand to his cap and said:

‘Sergeant-major, I respectfully beg to announce the betrothal of Sergeant Ussolo and Sibylla Madruzzo! And the girl made a very serious face and a deep courtesy. Later I asked Sibylla which of us had had the most stupid expression, Raimondi or I. But unfortunately she hadn’t observed, and so we’ll never be able to ascertain. But we both looked very foolish, you may be sure!

Raimondi recovered himself first. He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a pretty purse, set with silver, which he gave to Sibylla, and congratulated them both. Then I, too, took out the earrings that I had bought for her, and gave them to her as a bridal gift. Ussolo struck his forehead and cried:

‘Good heavens, and I entirely forgot to give her my present!’

At that he pulled out a pretty little watch. So we had all three secretly brought something for her, but it now profited Ussolo alone. Poor fellow, if he had only known how brief his happiness would be!

Then we left those two alone and I went home with Raimondi. We were both a good bit cast down, and yet we both felt eased that, at least, the intolerable uncertainty was at an end. We determined to be very brotherly to both of them, as became genuine comrades who had been true friends for so many years. But it wasn’t as easy as we thought, each time we saw Ussolo and Sibylla in their great happiness we grew jealous, and it was easy to see how at the bottom we grudged it to them. So we thought that perhaps it would be best to travel back to Bozen even before our furlough expired.

If only we had done that! But Ussolo pressed and urged us to stay at least until the following Sunday. There was to be a church festival in the neighboring village—in Cimego, you know, seven hours distant across the hills toward the border. There is a headquarters of border guards there now, and it’s my home.

Ussolo had invited us to go there; he had relatives there, and he wanted to show them his lovely betrothed—and us, too, his friends from the regiment. We cared very little about it; our minds were not in the mood for merrymaking and festival. But Ussolo would not desist and Sibylla joined her prayers to his, so we permitted ourselves to be persuaded. We planned, then, to have our parting feast at Cimego and then to return to the regiment. We determined to start at night, and to rest at a charcoal burner’s hut on the way, in order to arrive in the village early in the morning.

Now I must tell you that Ussolo was fond of drinking. Not that he was a drunkard, but he could tolerate very little, and even after a few glasses he grew very merry and sometimes unruly. And now in his delight as a man about to be married, and at home on leave among his old acquaintances and friends who invited him to take a glass with them, he was merry every evening and noisy and rowdy in the street. Sibylla didn’t like that in the least; she had known the evil of drink from her childhood on. For her father, old Carlo Madruzzo, had the most seasoned gullet in the village, and scarcely a day passed in which she didn’t feel the drunken weight of his fists. So it was no wonder that she should hate to see her betrothed’s fondness for the bottle. She reproached him and he promised her not to touch another glass—but in the evening he was drunk again.

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Chapter Seven

 

“She was a Rose of Sharon and a Lilly of the valley.”

THE SONG OF SONGS

 

The rough, blustering voice of the border guard called out in front of the house; Frank Braun stepped to the window. He saw Aloys Drenker, who led a vigorous horse by the bridle, push his broad body ahead. The old beggar woman, Sibylla Madruzzo, lay across the saddle, like two old sacks on top of one another.

“Hello!” he called down. “What’s happened to her?”

Drenker waved his arm in greeting.

“Nothing!” he answered. “What should have happened to her? She is an old friend of mine and I always lift her onto my horse, up there on the road, when I come to the village in the evening. She can get down more comfortably that way with her stiff bones.”

The farmhand and Teresa helped the old woman down from the horse; she nodded her head in thanks. Drenker invited her to come in to eat and to drink a drop of wine. But she declined with a gesture and, leaning on her short staff, crept painfully onward into the village.

“Sibylla won’t drink any longer,” Teresa declared. “She, too, has now found the salvation which the American preaches.”

“Her too?” the guard looked after her. “Poor woman!”

Then he called up to Frank Braun’s window:

“I’ve brought something along for you, Doctor! No man shall be able to say that Aloys Drenker does not keep his word!”

Teresa came to his room and brought him the well packed up brightly polished helmet.

“There is something else for you here,” she said hesitatingly. “A letter from the priest—he sent it by Herr Drenker!”

“Is that so?” he laughed. “For me—not for you?”

She lowered her eyes.

“No, your name is on it.”

He took the letter.

“Didn’t you write to him again?”

She shook her head.

“No.”

Her voice sounded a little ashamed. Then she went out. He opened the letter and read it.

 

“My dear Sir:—

“I am disquieted because I hear nothing from Val di Scodra; Teresa Raimondi has not written to me since she confessed to me the last time. The girl has undoubtedly told you that she confessed to me; therefore you know that I am a sharer of your secret. I cannot, of course, my dear sir, speak to you as a priest or as I do to my penitents; but let me speak to your heart as an old man, one who has nothing more to do in this world than to try, as far as his poor powers go, to lighten a little misery and to cause a little good.

In spite of everything, I would gladly travel to my native village myself to set things right, because I have a vague feeling that something evil is brewing there. But, the Bishop, to whom I expressed my wish once more, expressly forbade me to go; I am not to go there again until the congregation itself is ready to recall its shepherd. You know his principles.

Now Teresa was my only faithful lamb in that valley of devil hunters—pray God that Satan, whom they want to drive out, does not reverse the role and turn the hunters into his helpless prey! But Teresa has been taken from me by you. Nothing is further from my thoughts than to address reproaches to you; after all, you would only laugh at them. I have placed the whole matter into God’s kindly hands, and you may believe me that my prayers rise to Heaven as warmly for you as for my poor penitent.

My fervent wish—and I have not had a more fervent one for many years—is this, that the Highest may turn everything unto good! It was I, you see, who sent you to Val di Scodra—and so my guilt is scarcely a lesser one, if—anything were to happen . . .

I really do not know what could happen, and I reproach myself and call myself a fool, because I am so troubled with anxiety about nothing. It is only this gray, dim presentiment, which does not release me and follows me day and night. And, as you probably know, my dear sir, I am even more burdened by my share in the misfortune which, I trust, the merciful kindness of Heaven will see fit to moderate.

When I saw my poor penitent in such extreme torment at my feet, when I saw how her young soul was consuming itself in this fervent love for you, my dear sir, how everything in her cried out not to be deflected from that path, which seemed to her the highest blessedness on earth—at that moment, as you well know, I did not thrust her back.

When I calmly reflect today on what I did in that fateful moment—and I think of it a hundred times a day—it would seem to me that I committed a heavy wrong against the poor child. Now she is free to lie in your arms and it is I myself who gave her a blessing. And yet, when I recall that moment as it was, when I reconstruct it imaginatively, I am forced to believe that I would act over again as I did then. In this way my feelings toss me to and fro and there seems no end to it all.

I recall, too, my dear sir, our conversation when I talked to you of Val di Scodra. Perhaps I took the remark which you threw out then far too seriously—or, rather, it appears much more serious now that my thoughts are involuntarily busy with it, than it was ever meant to be. I brood and reflect in vain as to what I really fear, what evil is there, after all, that you could institute in my native village! But it is in vain that I tell myself of the groundlessness of my fears, and that you will surely not play some trick on these poor, deluded people of Val di Scodra.

I cannot become liberated from this baleful foreboding. And I have quite the same experience when I think of my penitent. To be quite sure, your relations to Teresa are not permissible and are a horror before the Lord—you will forgive an old priest for falling into this manner of speaking at times. I know the world quite a little and I know very well that one cannot use the same comb on every sheep, must not apply the same standard to all souls. Teresa loves you and this love is the happiness of her life, perhaps the only one she will ever know. Do I have I the right to rob her of this brief happiness? What was there for her to expect in that remote valley, among the rough peasants of her home? A slow withering, and then death, such as overtook her poor mother. And the accident that took you into the valley gave her a happiness which she will never forget, brief as it may be, and old as she may grow.

No one, you may believe me, grudges her this happiness as little as her Father confessor. This is so true that I, a priest, have disregarded the demands of both religion and worldly morals in this matter! And I would consider myself rewarded, if only for a moment I could have the assurance that it really is her happiness!

But you see, my dear sir, the more I think and brood, the more I give myself up to this thought, the more this dim foreboding grows. I fight against it as well as I can; but the thought fastens itself ever more firmly in my brain that your presence in the valley will bring some evil to Teresa and to the village. Nothing has happened yet, but something frightful may, indeed will happen! And it is I who, in the last analysis, bear the guilt.

Call me an old simpleton, if you will; say that I am growing childish in my old age—perhaps you are right. Perhaps it is my years that suddenly affect me so and cause me to see ghosts in the light of day. But whatever it may be, I want you to believe that I suffer under it. I have done everything to shake off these morbid thoughts. But I cannot, cannot! They revive within me with ever renewed violence.

And so I turn to you as to the only one who can help. I beg of you; pack your trunk and leave Val di Scodra! Senseless as my request may seem to you—I beseech you to grant it. Even while I write this the conviction seizes me with inescapable assurance: something will happen, terrible for Val di Scodra, terrible for Teresa—terrible, likewise, for you.

I beg of you, on my knees I beg of you, my dear sir, go! Then everything will be well—but start at once, at this very hour—”

 

Frank Braun read no further.

“So you too, are clairvoyant, Don Vincenzo?” he thought. “But really, your prophecy is a bit cheap! A great misfortune—that sounds like the oracle of a fortune-teller:

‘You are going on a journey, you will receive money.’”

“Priest, priest,” he continued slowly, “you don’t know what you’re doing. Your letter is kind and very touching and ever so decent. But the time is long past when I am to be impressed by what is touching and decent and kind!”

He put the letter in his pocket; then he went downstairs. The guard received him loudly; he sat at the table with the landlord, while Teresa served the food. Proudly he showed his new helmet and said that he would never in his life forget the night on which he had lost the old one. He looked admiringly at Frank Braun. Yes, there was a fellow for you!

Frank Braun was not in a mood to sing and drink. Drenker’s praises annoyed him, so he changed the subject.

“I didn’t know the old beggar-woman was a friend of yours?”

The guard said, “Assuredly she is a friend. She’s not as old as you think: a couple of years younger than me, and at least ten years younger than Raimondi. He repeated this three times, three times, so that the landlord could understand him.

The latter nodded affirmatively, “She only looks old.”

Drenker laughed, “Sibylla looks as if she were eighty or a hundred or a hundred and twenty! It’s all the same. And it’s true, nevertheless, that we were all three in love with her.”

Frank Braun was glad that the affair of the wines and the helmet was settled. He held the other fast.

“Three? Who was in love with the old woman?” he asked.

“Oh, we were in love with the young Sibylla—not with the old one!”

Drenker corrected him.

“We were all three in love with her: Raimondi, Ussolo and myself—three gallant men of the Emperor’s Rifles! Never did a girl in Val di Scodra have better lovers—eh, Raimondi? But it came to an evil end, and poor Sibylla is dragging her cross around to this day. For in those days, sir, she was as straight and slender as a young fir tree and there was no prettier girl in all the Tyrol.  But when poor Ussolo came to such a wretched end, it was then that something gave way inside her.”

“Do tell me about it,” Frank Braun urged him.

“Tell about it—yes, but it’s quite a long story!” cried Drenker. “And without anything to drink?”

He poured the last drop from the bottle into his glass. Frank Braun bade the landlord fetch a few bottles of the Vino Santo from the valley of Toblin. He stood them up close in front of the guard. Drenker wanted to pour some for him, but he warded him off.

“No, thank you, I don’t care to drink today.”

Drenker shook his head.

“You learned gentlemen are queer! One time you’ll drink like ten old skippers, and then again not a drop! There’s neither sense nor reason to it.”

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Father Achatius, a pious Capuchin of the monastery at Diiren, calls out to us:

‘Man is incapable of governing the desires of the flesh. But even if his body sins, yet his soul may serve the Lord. The soul belongs to God and the body to the world. God speaks to man from above, and the world speaks to him from below; each demands a share.  But through the castigation of the body that sin, which the world bids man to do, is washed away and forgiven!’

But do not believe, Pietro Nosclere, that only holy men humiliated and castigated their bodies! Weak women did just as much, and often heaven opened to the sight of their wounds.

Saint Teresa, the foundress of the Carmelite order, was the first who carried her scourge together with her missal. When she was seven years old she read the lives of the saints which you, Pietro, do not even know today. Together with her little brother she determined to go among the heathen, in order to suffer a martyr’s death. Her parents restrained her and the pious child then lived the life of a hermit. When she was scarcely grown up she entered a convent; there the garment of haircloth, the rod and the scourge were her friends! She felt but one rapture; to beat herself and to be beaten, she would have given her very life to be able to scourge the whole world or to be scourged by the whole world! And her magnificent example found wide imitation among all the monks and the nuns of the cloister; they all emulated each other in using the scourge and thus attaining to the Kingdom of the Lord. They all castigated themselves daily, and some twice and three times daily.

The pious Sister Maria, to whom the scourge did not suffice, beat herself with a poker; Brother Alexander, even beat her with red hot iron.

Still more pious was Sister Caterina of Cardona. She wore a garment of haircloth, and iron chains which cut deep into her flesh. She lived like a hermit in the lowest cellar and slept on the damp ground with a stone for a pillow. She had many instruments for castigation, and lashed herself uninterruptedly for three hours. She wounded herself with needles and thorns and singed her flesh; even at night she scarcely slept, but continued in her holy work. At the very mention of her name the pious Bishop Eulogius of Biserta wept with profound reverence.

Another sister among the Carmelites was Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi of Florence. She began to castigate herself at the age of ten. In the convent she scourged herself four times a day and slept with a crown of thorns around her head and a girdle of thorns around her body. When the bishop asked the pious nun to express some wish, she begged to be tied naked to the altar on Sunday and to be scourged. And God regarded her humility graciously and was pleased with the sacrifice of her blood. Visions were often granted to her; she saw heaven open wide and beheld its splendor.

Mother Pasidea of Siena, who belonged to the Cistercian order, was no less strict. She beat herself with fragments of iron, slept in the snow in winter and among nettles and thorns in summer. When the scourge ripped her skin in shreds, she caused salt and vinegar to be poured on her wounds. She lashed her body with thorny branches and lay upon stones and hard beans. To her, too, by virtue of the scourge, it was vouchsafed to see the Lord Jesus with her own eyes, as it was to the pious sister, Elizabeth of Genton.

Clara Seifo was the devout friend of Saint Francis of Assissi and when he granted her the favor of striking her naked body with rods, she scourged the body of the saint. They prayed together, they whipped each other, and as a reward the Madonna with the Child appeared to them in a vision.

Isabella, the daughter of King Louis the XIIIth of France, founded the order of Saint Urban; she herself and her sisters received the bread of the scourge daily.

Maria Laurentia Longa founded the Capuchin order at Naples, and it is said that there was no spot upon her body or that of her sisters that was not covered with blood. Her holy example was followed by Louise of Lorraine in Marseilles, Jeanne of Valois at Paris, Angelina of Kortain at Foligny, and Beatrice de Portalegre at Madrid.

Never did the scourges know rest in these pious hands. Saint Benedict has told us that only the scourge can make our hearing more acute for the words which the Lord God would speak to us. Among his followers was counted Queen Anne of Austria, who often caused herself to be scourged by pious men.

Shall I name more names to you, Pietro?

The history of the saints is full of pious men and women, who knew well the grace of God that lie in their blows and wounds. For He remembers how the Jews tore away His son, Jesus, from the proconsul Pilate’s, house; remembers how the men at arms bound Him and stripped Him, pressed a crown of thorns upon His Head, spat upon Him and struck Him. And it is pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, if the pious voluntarily endure the shame and the torture which His beloved Son suffered for the sake of the world.

That is the path which leads to the Lamb, and except for it there is no other.

All the saints went this path and to all the Lord showed Himself and gave to all of them the grace of miracles.

Did not, upon a gesture of Saint Benedict, the temple of the heathen god, Apollo, of Monte Cassino fall into ruins? Did not Saint Ignatius alone perform over two hundred miracles? And who shall number the miracles of Saint Francis?

Therefore take up the scourge and lash your body, Pietro Nosclere, for you are Elijah, the prophet!”

Frank Braun stopped. The American stared at him; his lips and his tongue moved without speaking; it seemed as if he had lost the power of speech. Stammering and with pain, the words wrung themselves from him:

“Sir—sir—who are you?”

“You animal!” the German burst out at him.

Then he poured a glassful of wine and pressed it to the other’s lips.

“There—drink!—that’s it—it’s no business of yours, you fool, who I am! You think over what I’ve told you; that’s enough for your brain.”

He got up and turned to go.

“One other thing I wanted to tell you, Pietro, and mark it well! It is true, as your brothers in Pennsylvania taught you, that alcohol is a poison and that the devil dwells in it. And you did right when you preached, as they do, that one should flee from the wine and drink not a drop. But you forgot one thing: that in the hand of the anointed, when he stands before the congregation, at the feet of the Lord, the wine changes into blood which the Savior shed for the sake of mankind. You have forgotten what you yourself saw so often when you went to holy mass. And you have misled everyone here, all your brothers and sisters, and they have forgotten the great mystery of transubstantiation.

Well, Pietro, within you dwells the highest servant of the Lord, and you are a chosen and anointed one, and in your hands the devil’s juice must turn into the Redeemer’s Blood. Not here, to be sure, nor now, when you drink what I give you! Now you drink Satan’s unclean poison! But when you stand before the congregation, then, in your hand, as in any priest’s, the wine undergoes the mystic transformation. And then you are to drink and you are to cause your brothers and sisters to drink, in order that their bodies, too, may have a share in the mysterious grace of the Blood of the Lamb.”

He took the glass, filled it anew and sipped. Then he continued:

“Remember this well, Pietro! But now, my prophet, take from my hand the glowing poison of Satan! There, set your lips here where my lips have been, and drain this glass!”

The American jumped up and thrust him back. He tried to run from the room, but Frank Braun barred his passage. Frightened, Pietro stood huddled in a corner of the room behind a bench.

“No, no, I don’t want to! Go away! Let me be!”

Frank Braun approached him, the glass in his hand.

“I know you don’t want to, Pietro,” he said, “but you must! Do you hear? You must!”

He gave him the glass and the trembling Nosclere put it to his lips. He took a mouthful and spat it out again, for his mouth burned as if from the fires of hell.

“You must drink,” the German insisted.

And Mr. Peter drank. His legs shook. His eyes turned upward. It seemed like molten lead that ran down his throat.

“That is well,” Frank Braun said. “Good—night.”

Then he went. Pietro Nosclere crouched in his corner. His legs trembled and refused their service; he collapsed like a bag.

“He has poisoned me!” he moaned.

He crept to the table on all fours, raised himself with difficulty, took the bottle and shattered it against the edge. His entrails burned. He pressed his hands to his abdomen in the belief that he was being consumed from within outward. It was the devil who was in him and tormented him. His abdomen swelled up to a mighty sphere and within it Satan sat grinning, laughed a neighing laugh and turned somersaults. He was a black giant and his claws were long and hard as steel. He grasped his intestines, thrust into them with his pointed horns and exhaled smoke and fire. Pietro felt the poisonous fumes come up in his throat, felt the red-hot breath issue from his mouth. He howled and rolled about on the floor, as if he could in this way quench the fire that was consuming his body.

But Satan stretched out his arm and, from below, thrust the pointed nail of his thumb into his head, and then Pietro swung about on his own pivot, like a mad ram. He felt as if the devil were drawing him together from within, pressing his head down and pulling up his knees to his shoulders. He lay there like a knot, like a round ball, like this the arch-enemy now desired to roll him forward—down the stairs and to the lake, deeper, ever deeper, into the hellish fire. Then he would burst with a loud report, and Beelzebub would leap forth from him with hellish laughter into the midst of his black companions. With his last strength Pietro threw himself upon his knees.

“Lord, God in Heaven, help your servant, Elijah!”

Then it came to pass that the fiend went forth from him. It threw him forward and down; it rose in his throat like a thick ball. It choked and gagged him; it forced his mouth wide open. And through his teeth, with stench and vomit, Satan sprang, driven forth by the name of the Lord . . . Pietro spewed—

When Frank Braun closed the door of the American’s house he saw a figure in the shadow of the trees; he recognized Teresa. He whistled to her as to a dog. She flew to him and behind her in great bounds came the goat, Marfa.

“Have you two been waiting for me?” he asked. “Has it been long?”

“Yes,” said the girl.

“Forgive me.”

He caressed her cheeks. He put one arm around her neck, his other hand rested on the head of the goat. And he knew that they were both happy. They went home.

 

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Frank Braun was silent. Everything that the American did at his meetings was a senseless imitation of his Pennsylvania sect. This singing and preaching, this praying and confessing and making of music could have only one purpose: to awaken belief. That might serve very well for the Protestant masses, who had lost their belief, and might, with its noise, lure dull crowds back to the Cross for a while; even as the trumpet of the crier attracts people to the booths of a fair! But could it avail here? All these beasts in Val di Scodra stood as firm in their faith as their own mountains; there had never arisen in them a single doubt of all that which they had once drawn in from the tits of their mothers.

To bring faith to this valley! Why, it grew in every fissure, bloomed and spread rankly from the walls and throttled the valley. No, this people needed something else. If it had a yearning for anything at all, if it harbored an unconscious desire for some event to interrupt the empty sloth of the monotonous years, it could be only one thing—a miracle. He laid his hand on the American’s shoulder, his voice was soft, and yet of a strangely penetrating quality.

“Listen, Pietro Nosclere! The Lord demands a miracle of you!”

Mr. Peter stared at him horrified.

“I am to perform a miracle? I? Men don’t perform miracles.”

“Don’t blaspheme!” answered Frank Braun. “Read the history of the saints. You know very well that men perform miracles. You must perform a miracle and you can, Pietro. You are Elijah!”

Pietro stared at him without moving, incapable of answering. The German continued:

“Yes, you are Elijah-Elijah, the prophet. Don’t you know that the souls of the saints can slip into new bodies if the Lord commands it? You harbor the soul of Elijah!”

His words came slowly, with assurance, permitting no doubt.

“It is not in vain that the Lord has blessed you so strangely upon the road of life. He led you across the great sea, caused you to toil bitterly, through long years, for your daily bread. Then He guided your steps to the congregation of your brethren, in order that the light of His spirit might enlighten you. And in His infinite goodness He gave you a great gift and made a rich man of you.”

Mr. Peter nodded silently. Each word penetrated him, dug itself deep into the convolutions of his brain. The other continued:

“But the Lord has a greater thing in mind concerning you. Therefore He drove you away from the strange land: you were to proclaim His Kingdom in the valley of your old home! And the Savior’s grace. And here, while you slept, He breathed into your body the soul of His pious servant, Elijah.”

Pietro staggered like a drunken man and steadied himself by the edge of the table.

“It is true,” he whispered, “I dream of the Blood of the Lamb every night. And my wife says that I get up and walk in my sleep.”

“Yes,” Frank Braun nodded. “But it is not yourself; it is Elijah, the prophet, who dwells in you. He arises and praises the Lord in his sleep. And he considers how he may best proclaim the Kingdom and the Glory and spread them abroad on earth.”

He inclined his head and looked at the man fixedly.

“Pietro Nosclere, you are the chosen one!”

The American could hardly hold himself erect. His arms twitched in brief convulsions, a thin stream of saliva dropped from his half-opened lips. But his glance glowed with a proud intoxication, and lost itself in confused imaginings concerning the exalted master whose mantle had descended upon him.   He no longer heard what the other said; his fixed eyes beheld the glories of the Kingdom. Frank Braun shook him angrily.

“Come to yourself, Pietro, I am speaking to you!”

Snatched from his dream and confused, he directed a distrustful side glance at the German. What did this stranger, this unbeliever want of him? How he sat there, cold, smiling and blowing cigarette smoke into his face? He—who was Elijah, the prophet!

Frank Braun tapped him lightly on the knee.

“You are to hear me Pietro, do you understand?”

Oh, yes, he would have to listen, he saw that clearly. He felt that the stranger was tearing away the fog that lay before his eyes, and was showing him the path upon which he was to go. But for that very reason he hated him. He believed every word—that the other spoke and there grew in him the monstrous reverence which he himself, like all the world, must have for himself. Himself! —Elijah the prophet, the chosen of the Lord.

But there sat this doctor from heaven knows where, who had failed miserably to cure the sick woman whom he had healed; this unbelieving dog, who had laughed aloud in the meeting when his farmhand, Scuro, had confessed his soul. There he sat, and with every look, with every gesture, he showed his boundless contempt.

He ground his teeth. Just why had this man been sent? . . . Then he considered.

“The ways of the Lord are past finding out,” he murmured.

He bowed and said in a toneless voice, “Speak, Doctor. What am I to do?”

Frank Braun looked at the other’s distorted face and interpreted his thoughts clearly.  Something tempted him to insult him, his foot twitched as if itching to kick him.

“Bring wine!” he commanded.

The American looked up; he felt the lash.

“Sir,” he stammered, “I have no wine. There was never a drop in my house.”

“Wasn’t there?” said Frank Braun lightly. “Then go to Raimondi’s inn. If he sleeps, wake him up: he’ll be well pleased to sell you some wine.”

Pietro arose with difficulty. His fists clenched and he crept like a beaten cur toward the door. Frank Braun laughed after him—laughed lightly, briefly, as he had done when the farmhand confessed his soul. He lit a fresh cigarette and thought about what he should tell the American. He nodded and said half aloud:

“Yes, that will work.”

Mr. Peter brought the wine. Silently he put the bottle on the table and went to fetch a glass.

“Two!” cried Frank Braun.

The other obeyed and the German forced him to touch glasses with him. He had to empty his glass and to fill it again immediately.

“So, Pietro, now you’ll understand me better!”

The American bit his lips and pressed his hands together. One could see what pains he took to follow the words of the stranger, to understand every thought and impress it firmly upon his mind. The unaccustomed wine heated him, and caused everything that was said to him to appear even clearer and more natural.

But before Frank Braun began, he asked him:

“Pietro, do you love me?”

As the other did not answer, he continued; “Surely you know that one should love one’s neighbor as one’s self.”

The American looked toward the floor, and squirmed like a schoolboy. But the German would not let him off.

“You are to tell me the truth, Pietro! This very moment. Do you love me?”

The man stammered, “No, sir—I believe not.”

Frank Braun laughed.

“Well, it isn’t really necessary—if only you obey! And you must obey me, for no one will show you the way if I don’t.”

Mr. Peter sighed; he felt clearly that it was so.

“Then listen, Pietro,” Frank Braun continued. “What have you done in your native village? You have preached faith to the people—yet there was no one who was without faith. You have spoken of repentance—and they were all ready to repent long before you came. You persuaded them to confess their sins publicly, before the congregation, but do you think that that is enough in the eyes of the Lord? Furthermore, you have made them to renounce wine.

No one can deny that is a meritorious deed! But believe me, Pietro, the Lord demands more. And even those who are your followers will soon enough be satiated with your teaching. They, too, demand something greater of you! You have summoned them to fight the devil and you have promised them to drive him out. But what are your weapons? Song and prayer—weapons of wood! But I tell you, Pietro, the devil cares little for singing and praying; he laughs all the while and remains quietly crouching behind the stove. If you want to go after him in earnest, you need better weapons!

“But where is the armory that can give you weapons strong enough to avail against the might of Satan? Note well, Pietro Nosclere, and I will make it plain to you, I, who know the world and all its depths. Behold, I will lead you to the lives of the saints. What says Paul, the apostle?

‘Castigate my body, and bring it into submission: lest that by any means, after I have preached to others, I should be a castaway.’

You preach also, Pietro, but when have you ever castigated your body? I will tell you a story, which Saint Vincent records.

In the monastery of Saint Sylvester, near Urbino, a certain monk died there seven hundred years ago. As always, the brothers sang the lamentations for the dead, songs and psalms; but when they came to the Agnus Dei, the dead man arose. They all thronged around him in order to hear what he might say; but he cursed and blasphemed God, the Cross and the Holy Virgin. The torments of hell, he said, were exceedingly cruel, and no amount of praying and singing would help him.

They adjured him to repent; but out of his mouth issued forth more and more ghastly curses. Then the monks determined to pray for his soul; finally, however, when all this availed nothing, they stripped themselves of their garments, grasped their scourges and beat themselves.

Then, at last, reason returned to the desperate dead man, he repented of his error and prayed for forgiveness, and thus he lived and praised God, the Lord, until the next day.

Do you understand the meaning of this story, Pietro? What song and prayer were powerless to do was brought about by scourging: it was that which drove the evil fiend out of the body of the poor monastic brothers. That is the path which the saints show us.

Saint Francis of Assisi knew it well, and his scourge tore deep wounds into his own flesh and into that of his brothers and sisters. Saint Dominic of Guzman flagellated himself until he fell down unconscious; but the Mother of God herself tended his wounds. Whenever he castigated himself the air was full of evil spirits, who howled and cursed because the deeds of this man snatched so many thousands of souls from out of the eternal fire.

Johannes Tauler was his pupil and the ornament of his order; he swung the whip no less vigorously than his master. And so too, did Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and raised the scourge against the sinful body.

Listen, O Pietro, to this teaching which Saint John of Nitria gives us.

‘The blood,’ he said, ‘which the scourge draws from you, is mixed with the blood of the Savior shed on the Cross to redeem you. Self-castigation renders all confession superfluous, and is more meritorious than even the martyr’s death, for the former is voluntary, but the latter is enforced. It is a new baptism and a baptism in the Blood of the Lamb: Every true Christian should be baptized in His own blood. Self-castigation effects the forgiveness of all former and all future sins, it is better than all good works.’

Such was the teaching of this holy man.

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Chapter Six

 

“The Lamb is the light of the city of never ending happiness.”

-Petrus Damianus, Archbishop of Ostia.

 

“Climb, climb that Ladder!”

-Alfred de Musset

 

His day began in this way: He jumped from his bed, whistled, and slipped into his bathrobe; then he ran down the steps out of the house and to the lake.  With one leap he was in the water. Each time he came up he said:

“The devil! It’s hellish cold!”

Nevertheless he bathed and swam far out into the lake. Later he breakfasted and soon sat at his work. He wrote:

“In the beginning was Emotion. And when it ruled the world, it subjected all things to itself, and none ruled beside it. Then something new came, Reason. Step by step it fought against the old power and yet it could never win that mighty autocratic rule which the other had once had. Then, long before it could conquer Emotion, a new, greater power appeared, which pressed hard upon the two older ones.

With strong blows Experience defeated Reason, but could not so easily prevail against the more ancient ruler, Emotion. And that is how it stands now, with poor Reason weakly defending small strongholds. Blind Emotional Instinct still holds great territories with tough tenacity. But unconquerable Experience with ever new weapons continues to rob the others of their lands.

Emotion expressed itself in the rule of theology. Reason stepped forth against it as Philosophy. But then man learned by Experience and found that neither Reason nor Emotion could reveal the laws of this world to him. To be sure, he needed them both and they may lead him well: but he can gain knowledge only by burrowing to the ultimate reality of things and stripping them of all mere phenomenalism. Thus, stands the triune God: Emotion, Reason and Experience.

With them one can conquer the world.

Emotion asks, ‘Where does man come from?’

And gives its answer, which applies to everything:

‘God created him.’

Then Reason comes and says, ‘No—there is no God.’

But it does not really answer the great question at all. Finally Experience comes and teaches us the truth concerning man’s origin. It gives us a long chain and shows his descent, link by link.

Reason puffs itself up and cries, ‘There are missing links!’

But Experience finds these missing links, one today and another again tomorrow. Emotion is cunning, it says nothing. It is blind, and puts its fingers to its ears.

Emotion preaches its ancient little speech: ‘All men are descended from Adam and Eve!’

But Reason proceeds and builds systems and deems itself very wise indeed. One man says there are three races of men in the world, and another that there are five, and a third that there are seven, and a fourth that there are twelve. A hundred wise men build a hundred systems and each calls the other a fool. And in this point they are all right.

But one should not reproach them. We seek and we dig and it avails us nothing, if chance does not come to our help. There! You happen to find an old bone and suddenly know more than all the learned men before you. Don’t be arrogant—because you had good luck. For Experience alone can scarcely lead to any ultimate knowledge. Emotion must point the way and Reason must help, lest one lose one’s way in all the gardens of error.”

He looked over his table, over the great pile of books and manuscripts.

“There lies my experience!” he thought. “Emotion revealed the way to me. I know that it is the right way. So may reason help me now!”

He brooded, closed his eyes, and supported his head with both hands. Slowly, fragment by fragment, he grasped all that he had gathered, and formed once more the same great image. He reflected searchingly after every detail, stubbornly looking for some error here and there. And he found none; so probably his account was straight. Again and again he sought to locate a point that offered some weakness to attack. But he consistently found that the point was firm.

No, he was not mistaken: The Cro-Magnon race had disappeared from Europe.

“It’s a pity,” he thought. “It was surely the best of all!”

They were giants, these Cro-Magnon folk; when erect, they were over two meters tall. Their skull was larger by one-fourth than that of the other races of their time. Their nose and chin protruded, and, in the age of the mammoth, they already resembled the Europeans of our day. They were great hunters and excellent artists; even today we admire their delineations of animals on the cliff sides of the valley of Vezere, which they carved there toward the end of the ice age. We have traces of them in Spain, in France and in Moravia—but their race is extinct and they are not our ancestors.

There remain the men of Grimaldi, of Galley Hill, and of Neanderthal. In the caverns of the Rousse, the red cliffs of Mentone, were found, among a number of Cro-Magnon men, two skeletons of another type. This Grimaldi race reminded one of the Zulus of today in its jaw formation, and showed Negroid characteristics in other respects too. Now it is certain, however, that at that time the separation between Europe and Africa was a much smaller one than it is today. Therefore it is not surprising that the animals and men of the two continents stood in much closer relation. And even today Negroid traces are found among the inhabitants of the Mediterranean countries.

But the race of Grimaldi bears no relation to the Galley Hill folk. The latter are found exclusively in the north, as the former are in the south. And they were as different from them as from the Neanderthal race in the middle. The top of their skull was very long and narrow, vaulted higher and showed no protuberances over the eye. The lower jaw, however, showed the chin projection like that of the noble race of Cro-Magnon.

Then, in the middle, along a broad belt dwelt the race of Neanderthal. They must have spread out far to the north and to the south in their time, which was the glacial period of the Alps. In this way one finds the remains of these mountain folk always at the extreme end of the highlands: in the Ardennes, in the Duchy of Berg, on the shores of the Neckar, among the last foothills of the Carso, the Carpathians, and of the western Alps. And this much was certain: the Neanderthal man and the man of Spy, the man of Krapina and the man of Corréze—they all belonged to the same race, as did the boy of Moustier and the woman of Kerkuelen. They were a great folk, then, stretching from the spurs of the Carpathians to the very cliffs of Brittany, a folk of the hills—even as they are today.

Frank Braun pondered. Was the difference between then and now such an enormous one? One estimated the space of time at three and a half millions of years. And for such a space the development seemed exceedingly small to him. Did not Pietro Nosclere and the short, neck less Venier disturbingly remind one of those prehistoric men? Did not the thick-haired, long-armed serving-man of the American, with his huge dewlap and his frightful jaw, look exactly like some strong-boned contemporary of the mammoth?

He might have bent forward in the same manner as he followed his harrow today, crept into a cavern with a dull cry to throw himself upon a bear, the clumsy stone hatchet in his hand! He could imagine him, how he might have sat, crouching, huddled together, tearing at raw flesh, splintering the hard bones against the rock and sucking their marrow. Yes, that’s what that man with the goiter ought to do; it would be more seemly for him than talking about his soul. The whole valley of Scodra seemed to him to be a cage, full of wild beasts. The fathers of that prehistoric time had climbed all around the lake in the hollows and caverns. And their brood still crept there, even today. Animals! Animals! He lifted his arm as if he were swinging a whip. They should jump through hoops for him!

On that same day he went to see Mr. Peter. The sun had set and the peasants were creeping into their houses.

“Like chickens,” he thought.

He went through the village, and climbed up to the American’s house. He met the American’s small, stout and chubby wife in the garden. She bowed to him and pointed to the barn.

“My husband is in the meeting-hall,” she said. “He will be here in a moment.”

She led him into the house, and offered him a chair. He spoke to her in praise of the shining copper ewers and jugs that hung above the hearth.

“How they gleam and shine!”

She nodded sullenly.

“I’m accustomed to having them that way. But my husband says that I waste too much time on earthly things and look up too little to our Lord Jesus.”

She went on talking, and she kept on saying:

“My husband!” and “My husband!”

These words issued continually from her mouth like white flour from a mill. Frank Braun interrupted her.

“Do tell me; is your husband so pious during the night, too? Surely he sleeps then?”

The Bergamese woman shook her head:

“Yes, but even in his sleep my husband does not forget the Lord. Suddenly he will get up out of his bed, kneel down and pray. My husband is as pious as that. Sometimes, too, my husband will walk over to the meeting-hall or even into the village in the middle of the night. And then he comes back and goes to bed and in the morning remembers nothing about it. My husband —”

Suddenly she got up, frightened.

“Here he comes,” she whispered.

She opened the door for him.

“The Doctor is here!”

Then she put a candle on the table and slipped out softly. Pietro greeted him morosely and reservedly, then lowered his head and squinted at him timidly and acidly.

Frank Braun thought:

“Just wait, my good animal, I’ll teach you how to dance.”

He cried out to him, “How is business?”

Mr. Peter started, and ducked as if under the lash of a whip.

Then, with a sweet and sour smile he said, “Thank you.”

He didn’t even dare to pretend that he had not understood the stranger’s calling his sacred activity a business.

“Thank you, everything rests in the hands of the Lord. I pray to Him, that he may bless my work.”

Frank Braun said, “The Lord will not bless your work. He demands more than singing and praying.”

Doubting himself, half convinced by the decided tone of the stranger, Pietro lifted his glance.

“What does He demand?” he asked timidly.

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