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Archive for September, 2014

—He brought back a writing quill and paper and began to write again. It was a game, like all of science, and as pointless as any game. One required patience and the other the ability to decipher cuneiform writing. One constructed a logical system of his world view and the other calculated how many “A’s” there were in the Bible. God, you could entertain yourself that way!

Then, too, another element entered into it. He recognized now that his work, like all work, was purposeless and childish. But it had been begun: a chord had been struck, and it had to be resolved. Wasn’t it Zelter that had the little incident with the cobbler’s apprentice?

The boy sang the song from the Freischütz continuously:

“We are winding thee the virgin’s wreath.”

And he sang it over and over and over again, just this one line and no more. Zelter went behind him and cried out in a rage:

“Of silk that’s violet blue! Of silk that’s violet blue!”

At which the boy called out to him, “If you want to sing the song about the virgin’s wreath why in hell don’t you begin it yourself?”

He laughed. God knows, the cobbler’s apprentice seemed more congenial to him than Goethe’s friend! He was satisfied with his single line and had no further ambition; he did as he pleased and was a free man. But poor Zelter was ridden by his particular Satan; he had to spin the violet blue silk and was a wretched slave to his art. And Frank Braun knew very well that it was quite useless to resist. One had to finish, one had to, and no stubbornness availed.

He sighed, laughing, and continued to spin his silk of violet blue. The paleontologists play a game like the children’s game at Easter. Their mother, Antiquity, has hidden pretty Easter eggs for them in the earth, and now these well-behaved children look and sniff around everywhere. When their mother cries “Cold!” they make a sad face; when she cries, “Warm!” then their eyes glow.

But it is an entrancing game, this science. The Neanderthal man was found fifty years ago, and the enthusiasts cried out that here was the missing link, here was the ape-man. This was the most beautiful Easter egg in the world and was made king by the one who found it. But the envious ones said that he wasn’t a genuine king at all; he was morbid, they said, and abnormal—names which, in all ages, the stupid have given to that which they did not understand. And they disputed, and the end of it was that they were both wrong: the Neanderthal man was a real man, but he wasn’t the missing link! It was a lovely Easter egg but not the big golden one. He was not the link of transition; that must have come long before his time, a matter of a million years.

It was certainly in the tertiary rocks, and one would have to look for it there. They sought and found all kinds of Easter eggs, but never the one that had been promised them. And so, to pass the time, they looked at these more closely. All the Neanderthal folk resembled the men of today in one respect: the formation of the teeth. However, the absence of a chin was ape-like, and ape-like too, were the huge protuberances over the eyes. Therefore, one reasoned, the creature that really formed the transition and which one was seeking, must have been more ape-like in these respects too, must have had a powerful, gorilla like snout and mighty eye-teeth.

Ah, if one only knew where that precious egg lay!  Since no one found it, one reflected further and advanced a good bit. It was discovered that the normal human set of teeth was the original, and this welcome rule was found to be confirmed everywhere. The mammals had begun with a normal set of teeth and the main branch of the genus had kept it. It was only in the side branches that some special adaptation favored the development of one or another kind of tooth; the eye-teeth or the molars or the incisors.  In this way it was ascertained that man had the simple, original set of teeth, and the orangutan an abnormally developed one, and therefore man is the father of the great ape and not vice versa.

And it was concluded that, if this was so, the treasure to be found in the tertiary must be still more ape-like than the Neanderthal man—but must have a human set of teeth. That is how, then, our original ancestor must have looked: with features like an ape, but teeth like a man. The sons of this primeval man-ape, however, went separate ways. The well-bred Abel kept the teeth and laid aside the ape-like features; the wicked Cain, on the other hand, developed the powerful teeth even more and, as a punishment, lost in the direction of his skull and brain.

The good children who played at paleontology painted pretty little pictures to represent the way the golden egg would look—if they ever found it; and since they were so very good, their mother called them to Heidelberg and said:

“Warm—warm!”

And it was there, really, that they found the egg, and were infinitely proud and happy because it looked exactly like they had prophetically delineated it. They found the Heidelberg man: he was much more ape- like than the Neanderthal man and yet had the simple, human set of teeth. The good children said: “Aha!” and put their fingers to their noses in derision at the others who had painted the wrong little pictures. Now the man of Heidelberg was the infinitely primeval ancestor. And from him and his brothers all the rest were descended: The Cro-Magnon giants; the people of Galley Hill, those of Grimaldi and of Neanderthal.

Ah, those Neanderthal people! How often, as a boy, he had climbed into that cave, the old ladder was decayed and broken and the rope had rotted. That only heightened the charm, for it all seemed immensely dangerous. He had sat there and dreamed that he was the Neanderthal man; that he was being hunted and dared not stir from his hiding place.

And in order to make his imaginings more real, he sang aloud the hymn of the persecuted:

“Praise ye the Lord, the mighty King of all honors; praise Him, O soul, at one with the Heavenly choirs—”

Then, hearing voices below, he broke off and thought:

“There are the Sbirri!”

But it was only his mother who was very much vexed because every climb into the Neanderthal cavern cost a new pair of breeches. Later on he had given up all interest in the pious hymn writer, but had all the more for that primitive creature whose name the poet bore. Then he borrowed a shovel and a spade from a farmhouse, or a hammer and an axe from the stone-breakers on the roadside. If there was one ape-man, he thought, why shouldn’t there be more? And he dug and sought zealously after the golden egg.

He found nothing at all and stopped sadly when twilight fell. But he remained in his cavern when the shadows grew long and his little wax candle flickered restlessly. He always looked at the narrow fissure in the side walls; no human being could force his way through, but one could throw stones far inside. And he imagined that this cleft was infinitely long, and that one could creep along it for many hours into the bowels of the earth. Then it opened and grew more spacious and ended in a gigantic cavern. And from out of this cavern one emerged into a deep valley.

This was round like an ancient crater, and the cliff walls spanned it like a roof and grew pointed in the form of a cone; only in the middle a hole showed the blue sky. Beneath it was a small lake; mighty blades of razor grass grew on its shores and forests of ferns extended to the slopes. Here the Neanderthal people dwelt. They had remained for thousands of years, fishing and hunting and fighting for their lives with the mighty saurians. Ah, if one could only get through that cleft some day! Frank Braun drew strange things on his paper with an unskilled hand. He had to write under each figure what it was meant to represent, or he would not have recognized it himself.

So he wrote “Brontosaurus” and “Plesiosaurus” and “Neanderthal.” But he found after all this time, that one of his primitive folk bore an extraordinary resemblance to Pietro Nosclere, and that the other was not unlike Girolamo Scuro. Only the farmhand’s set of teeth was stronger—he had departed from the type and become more ape-like.

The guard stayed away for four days. Frank Braun lay in bed writing and dreaming. And he enjoyed this quiet happiness of being a convalescent without really being ill. At intervals he got up and went slowly through the streets of the old village. When the guard came back he was leaning out of the window.

“Well, did you make a good haul?” he called out to him.

Aloys Drenker jumped from his horse.

“Oh, pshaw!” he growled. “We lay in the rain for four nights just for nothing, absolutely nothing! Those fellows got wind of something—and we didn’t see so much as a louse. But we’ll get them yet!”

Frank Braun remained a few days longer with his host. He felt quite well again, but the guard didn’t want to let him go; he said one shouldn’t interrupt one’s cure before the proper time. And he filled him with wine and punch and, out of comradeship, partook vigorously of these excellent medicines. One morning early, he came to Frank Braun’s bed.

“Now,” he said, “if you want to, you can ride with me. I have to go to the city and can take you along.”

Frank Braun hurried to get up; the maid brought him his breakfast. The horse was tethered in front of the house, but he did not see the guard.

“Where is Herr Drenker?” he asked the maid.

“Gone ahead,” she said. “I was to tell you that you were not to hurry and to breakfast in quiet; you will catch up with him by and by. He is waiting for you. His horse knows the way.”

He rode slowly up the mountains; only after a full hour did he overtake the guard, who was afoot and gasping mightily.

“Well, where is your horse?” he asked in astonishment.

Drenker laughed.

“You are sitting on it. I am traveling on foot.”

Frank Braun wanted to dismount, but the guard would not allow it. He took the horse by the bridle and led it.

“Well, old beast, you’ll be quite satisfied to drag fifty kilograms less than usual up the mountain. But don’t worry! By the time we get to Val di Scodra I’ll be lighter by some kilograms too.”

He gasped and sweated, but he took great strides in his heavy boots.

“It would be a fine thing if an old Emperor’s Rifleman couldn’t climb these hills anymore! We went on many different marches, I assure you, and in full field gear.”

They rested under the peak of Peldo; then they went on. On the road above the Scodra valley Frank Braun dismounted and the guard lifted himself into the saddle. They shook hands with each other.

“Give my regards to that damned hole!” the guard laughed. “I’ll be there within a few days and you’ll see then how I show those good people what’s what.”

Then he rode away. Frank Braun sat down on the stone on which Sibylla was accustomed to sit. And so he was going back once more to the valley of Scodra. To where he had fled almost five months before—to a quiet hiding place in which he was to be lost. And then once more he had fled, fled from himself. Ah, even in this most remote corner the enemy had found him. What more did he want in the village? He must drive away by the next stage. Every stone reminded him of his wretched defeat. Away! Just pack his trunks and get away! Anywhere—the devil hunters—? How indifferent they were to him. And he had wanted to play a part in this affair?

Teresa?—Ah, well, Teresa—slowly he climbed down.  Were they still shouting? He heard the dissonant sounds of the American’s music and recognized the fasting song.

“Always—the fasting song,” he thought. “Can’t they sing anything else at all?”

But the noise did not come from the barn; it came from below, close by the lake. Were they going in a procession? He hurried his steps. Now he saw that they were all standing around Raimondi’s house. Men, women, and children stood in a semicircle. The tailor, Ronchi, stood on a table and led the music; at his feet little Fiammetta Venier was playing. He made his way through the crowd but no one paid any attention to him.

“What is it?” he asked hastily.

But they went on singing. In the doorway he met young Ulpo and grasped his arm.

“What’s going on here?” he asked.

The fellow looked at him in astonishment.

“Going on? We are adoring the Saint!”

Then he ran out. The people stood thickly packed on the steps. In the guest room, Raimondi was filling large glasses with milk and raspberry juice, handing them around, and receiving nickel coins in exchange.

“Where is Teresa?” he called out to him.

Raimondi looked up, did not understand, and nodded blankly. But a woman who stood in front of him gave him a look of hatred and said:

“Saint Teresa is upstairs.”

With difficulty he made his way upstairs.

“Let me through!”  he begged. “I must see her.”

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Chapter Ten

 

“What good is it: the high

Priest’s prayer for rain;

If the Rabbi Chaninaber

Dosa can counteract it?”

TALMUD, JOMA FOL. 53,

TAANITHQ 24.

 

Frank Braun threw a glance at his disordered bed. He was certain that he would not be able to sleep any more. Morning came, and its consumptive pallor blended with the green light of the lamp.  Oh, this pale glimmer of the early morning before the sun was up! Oh, this cold, disconsolate light born before its time! He dressed mechanically, trembling and fever shaken. Then he went down the stairs. Where should he go? He did not care as long as it was away from Val di Scodra. He went into the guest room and wrote on a piece of paper:

“I have gone to the city.”

No, he would not delay any longer. He would go at once. On foot; he could always have his things sent for. He laid the paper on the table and passed through the door. The light hurt him and he closed his eyes. He sighed deeply and went on his way: he felt empty, full of aches, and thoroughly wretched, like this limp air which the early wind brought. He climbed up the mountains, hastily and mechanically, step by step. He scarcely knew where he was going and why he was going—he went on. It was mere motion and nothing else, a climbing and striding, upward, upward through the dew drenched bushes. There was a fog around him that laid itself on his breast with a chill pressure. It pained him to draw breath.

Then he stood still and thought. But he had difficulty collecting his thoughts and did not know what it was that he was trying to think about. Finally he noticed that he had passed by the mountain path a while ago. He had to turn back, for this was the way to Cimego. But he had no desire to go back.

“Then I’ll simply go to Cimego,” he thought.

He did not look to the right or to the left, but ran on. Silently, unthinking, breathing heavily, he merely followed the path, for hours. Day came, but the sun did not shine forth through the thick clouds. It was cold up there, and yet a hot perspiration drenched his skin. Then he recalled that the guard had spoken of a charcoal-burner’s hut. But he could not find it. So he ran on. He saw a goat trail run down a ravine to his left and followed it.

“It will shorten the way,” he thought.

Then he ran around at random and lost the path. He crept down the slopes and descended into the valley, down again and then back up. But his feet ached and he felt sharp pains in his lungs at each breath. He sat down under a stunted fir tree. He just wanted to rest for a moment and leaned his back against the tree trunk. A white wheel revolved in his head and he fell over on one side.

When he awoke he was miserably cold. A drizzling rain fell and wet him through to the skin. It seemed long past noon and he hastily jumped up. Now he ran to warm himself a little and began to seek the path again. Since he could not find it, he determined just to go straight ahead and to keep, as far as possible, the same elevation which he was presently on. In this manner he dragged himself onward. Once it occurred to him that he might call for help; perhaps some shepherd might be near. But he forgot the notion immediately.

Weary, unthinking and worn out, he dragged himself along for hours and hours. Then twilight fell and he made his last effort. He leaped and ran; now he called out as well, but no one heard him. When it was dark, he sat down on a stone.

“It doesn’t matter,” he thought, “whether I sit or run now. I will wait here—perhaps someone will come.”

From far below in the ravine there came a soft sound. He listened intently and recognized it: goat bells. Then he cried out again, but received no answer; not even an echo repeated his own words.

“I must get down there,” he thought.

He arose, but his limbs had grown so stiff that he could scarcely move them.

“I must get down there,” he repeated. “I must get down there.”

He climbed down. It was very dark; this helped him and made him blind to any danger. He caught hold of the edges of the cliff and of spurge bushes; sometimes his foot slipped and he would slide for long distances, sometimes he fell too. Once he fell on his forehead and cut himself so that the blood came; he tore his hands and face on the prickly broom. At the bottom there were more bushes; he made his way through them as well as he could. He cried out again; but he heard no answer. The herd of goats, too, must have long ago passed on its way.

The ravine was narrow and descended rapidly; he came upon a torrent and stepped into it. He shoved and groped his way forward, sometimes creeping on all fours. Then suddenly he saw, not far below him, a few lights. He looked to the right and to the left and at last found the goat path which ran parallel to the brook. He followed it, and then emerged from the narrow ravine.

He beat at the door of the first lonely hut and begged for shelter. But the old woman would not open the door and cried through the window at him to go away.

“What’s the name of the village?” he asked.

But she closed the window. He continued, and on the road he met a peasant with an ox cart. From him he learned that he was very near Cimego.

“Then drive me to the border guard’s house,” he said.

The peasant was unwilling; until he put his hand in his pocket and gave him money. It was only then that he noticed that his garments hung from him in tatters. But he did not even laugh any longer.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” cried Herr Aloys Drenker. “I’ll be damned! Is it you? I thought I was getting a tramp of the worst sort as a lodger.”

He assisted him from the ox cart and put his hands under his arms when he saw how he faltered.

“What ails you?” he asked, frightened.

“I believe I have a little fever,” said Frank Braun.

The guard nodded.

“It looks like that to me, too!”

He helped him in and called for a maid-servant. He set the sick man on a chair and carefully undressed him. Then he washed away the dirt and the blood with hot water which the maid had fetched in a wooden pail. He gave him a clean shirt and helped him to bed. Frank Braun saw nothing but those large, clumsy hands which touched him here and there, tenderly, almost maternally, with infinite care. They were red and hard, but kind, strong hands that were suited for any work. And he felt secure and well cared for in those hands. The guard stepped to his bedside and gave him a tall glass.

“Here!” he said. “Grog! That’ll do you good. Drink it while it’s hot.”

He was not satisfied until his friend had emptied the glass. He brought him a second glass and a third and made him drink without stopping.

“It’s the best remedy,” he laughed. “You can stake your life on that, it’s the best.”

Frank Braun sank back; he wanted to thank him, but his tongue was heavy and refused to work. He stammered a few sounds; then he fell asleep.  The guard was sitting beside his bed when he woke up. The fever seemed to have vanished and he felt fresh enough. But when he tried to get up he staggered and had to lie down again.

“We’ll have dinner in a moment,” said the guard. “I’ll see whether the food is done. You are sure to be hungry.”

He was—wildly and fiercely. He looked around; his bed occupied one wall of the small one windowed room. In the middle stood a table and a couple of chairs, against the other wall was a clothes press, on which two stuffed owls gathered the dust. The walls were closely hung with old swords, muskets and pistols, between which pipes and powder-horns showed up bravely. Aloys Drenker brought him some chicken soup.

“Cooked it myself,” he cried proudly.

He served eggs and chicken, and with them, strong red wine. And he was happy to see his patient enjoy it so much.

“I must ride out now,” he said. “But you must promise that you’ll continue to lie here quietly.”

Frank Braun promised. The fever returned; now he would sleep a little; now lie bathed in perspiration. Toward evening he grew a little quieter; yet he remained restless and almost sleepless during the night. Then once more he became unconscious and remained that way for two days. When he woke up he saw that the guard had put cold cloths on his forehead. Drenker told him that he had been quite anxious and had called the priest. The latter had already paid two visits.

“It’s always the best thing,” he excused himself, “in any event! And then, too, he knows a little medicine.”

Soon after that the priest appeared, a fat, bloated man, who took snuff and squinted. He said it seemed to be pneumonia but that it was now almost conquered. Frank Braun didn’t like him; he closed his eyes and pressed his ears against the pillows. When the priest had gone he begged the guard not to admit him again.

Aloys Drenker laughed:

“I’m willing! If he’s not needed, so much the better.”

He really wasn’t needed any longer. The fever went down and with it the sharp pains in his chest. After a few days Frank Braun could get up daily for a few hours. The guard did what he could for his patient. He told him anecdotes about smugglers and never tired of mixing fresh punch or hot spiced wine. And his remedies cured; that was not to be denied. Frank Braun told him about the miraculous healing of Sibylla Madruzzo and also of the confession of Venier’s wife.

The guard burst out:

“The dirty slut! And she even beat the child?”

He was enraged, and declared that he would ride over at once and set things to rights. Frank Braun advised him to put it off for a while; but it was hard to make the guard realize that he could only do the child harm at the present.

“Oh, nonsense!” he cried. “All this damned devil hunting rot! Unburned wood-ashes—that’s the best cure for the whole craziness. I am certainly no scholar, but I know what the apostle says:

‘Shall I chastise you with a rod?’”

Frank Braun replied:

“Well, you’d only awaken their jubilation with a rod; that has become their daily bread in the Valley of Scodra.”

Aloys Drenker shook his head thoughtfully.

“What is a man to do then?”

Then he told about his affair with Matilda Venier.

“They made a fool of me, that’s what they really did,” he roared. “She kept me in that damned hole of Val di Scodra through the nights and in the meantime her husband smuggled fat bales of goods from Sanpiglio to Brescia. He knew very well indeed what his wife was doing, and I was the one who was taken in and not he! She certainly didn’t tell him any news in Mr. Peter’s barn, not him! But I’ll crack her skull if she so much as hurts a hair of the child’s head.”

Frank Braun tried to calm him: he believed that Venier was much more kindly disposed toward little Fiammetta than the mother herself. But the guard was not to be turned from his determination. He would ride there on the very next day and set things to rights in that confounded sty . . . But an official telegram prevented him; he was commanded to ride at once to Spologna, a little village close to the border.

“That means Faluppio’s band,” he cried, “the very one that Venier used to belong to. Our captain is going to carry out some plan, you will see!”

He slipped into his boots; five minutes later the iron shod hoofs of his horse were rattling along the small, water washed stones of the street. Frank Braun was alone. The old maid-servant took care of him; the guard had laid his sword on the pillow; it was to serve as a call bell. He rattled it strongly on the floor when he wanted the maid. He procured a smooth board with some difficulty; this served him as a table while he was lying down.

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Quickly he bent over her and lifted her head. He pushed pillows under it, so that she might lie high; then he addressed her.

“Do you hear me, Teresa?”

She murmured, “Yes.”

He put his mouth close to her ear. He spoke in whispers, but swiftly and commandingly. He often repeated his sentences, speaking them over again more slowly and with more decision. Then once more he would interrupt himself.

“Do you hear me?” he would ask.

Or:

“Will you will do this?”

And always came the well trained, obedient:

“Yes.”

Sometimes her lips smiled, and then at other times they were distorted in fear and horror. But with her assent she received with equal gratitude and humility the raptures and sorrows of all eternity.

He stopped and corrected himself; then bent over her again to add some detail. And at the close he repeated all his commands once more, briefly and incisively.

Then he said; “Now I shall awaken you—but you will be tired, very tired. Your eyes will fall shut and you will go to sleep at once.”

He blew lightly upon her face and her eyelids opened. She looked at him, and with a smile stretched out her hands toward him. He was sure that she knew nothing of all that he had just said to her. Her half raised arms fell back, her eyes closed. She slept.

He put the lamp away and blew it out. Slowly he went to the door. And vehemently, against his will, the words came from his lips:

“Now it begins—”

He went to his room and went to bed.

“I am a victor,” he said. “I am a king. I am a god.”

Somewhere Something laughed—but he would not listen. He spoke defiantly and proudly:

“I am a god. I create. I am creating a great and strange world.”

He felt that something was rustling and whispering, somewhere, under the bed, in the corner—or in his brain. And he cried in a loud voice:

“Drive the rats away from me—I am omnipotent!”

He did not want to think any longer—not then. He wanted to sleep—to sleep at once, at that very moment. He wanted to sleep. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. He desired to sleep. Therefore he fell asleep.

A hundred rats crept out of his skull. The curtain was raised and the stage showed the hall of the prophet. They all appeared: Pietro and Sibylla, Ronchi, Ulpo and Matilda Venier. Where was Teresa?—He did not see her. Girolamo Scuro approached from the back—a single, huge, blood-red goiter, like a balloon filled with blood. Pietro Nosclere was a black, long-haired monkey, his lower jaw protruded far out and his arms touched the ground with their fingers. Sibylla Madruzzo was curved like a round wheel; her teeth bit her toes and she rolled around. The tailor, thin as a thread, drove her with his whip . . .They all took their stations and waited for their cue.

He sat below them, in the prompter’s box. And this box was the roof of his own skull. A hundred rats sprang out of his skull. They ran across the stage and the people vanished. And the rats rustled and whispered and smiled. They smiled. They wanted to say something. But then they sat up on their haunches and each took its long tail between its teeth and bit it off. And the tails turned into a hundred long, naked worms which crept toward him. Wherever they crept, they left a trail of soft, glowing slime, and the whole floor gleamed with this slime. But he knew that the worms were creeping up to him, closer and closer. They would creep, creep—into his mouth and ears, into his eyes and nostrils. A hundred long, naked, slimy worms—

He screamed—

When he awoke his temples burned and their pulses hammered on his brain. The covers lay on the floor and the sea breezes soon cooled the hot sweat of fear that broke out of every pore. His teeth chattered, he shook with chills, took up the covers and wrapped himself up tightly.

“I am sick,” he murmured, “and this is turning into a fever.”

He scolded himself: how stupid it had been to sit for hours on the girl’s bed, clad only in his thin silk pajamas! Why had he done that? Now he would be unable to sleep. They came—more and more of them, rats, worms and thoughts. There was no hole in which he could hide; he was naked and bare and all his faith had been shattered into fragments. Without that faith he was a beggar and his kingdom went up in smoke. He knew it so well now: he was no miracle worker. He was only a sorcerer, and a poor one at that.

He thought: Miracles are lawful magic performed through spiritual power. But sorcery is unlawful miracles performed through the power of the abyss. The abyss is the human brain. He was a black magician and would never learn the white magic which he despised and envied at the same time. —It alone could offer salvation with its belief in happiness.

He knew very well that there was no limit to the power of the spirit. Each human was a creation of the Lord and must have Its power within as well. Anywhere he wished to go, the spirit was there as well and there was no separation between the spirit and nature.

There was just one thing. A terrible wall of belief enclosed this happiness and if someone once escaped this tight enclosure they could never again return. Once they thought outside of this rigid wall they would wander around miserably in the void and find no ground upon which to set their feet. One could easily escape this ashlar of belief, but not even the smallest path ever led back inside.

Today, to be sure, he had thought that the girl’s hand might lead him. If he believed in himself, then he was a god, and the World was his. And in those hours he had believed in himself. Now it was at an end.

He thought over all that had happened. They had been in the American’s barn. Mr. Peter had done everything that he had suggested: and the success had been great and proved that the dolls would dance, and that he was a good and clever stage director. Pietro had wrestled with the Lord as Jacob had with the angel:

“I will not let thee go until thou bless me!”

And he had forced the Lord to bless him and to change the wine in his hand into blood, and by his blow to heal the paralyzed Sibylla. Everyone saw it and everyone believed it. Why was he alone not permitted to believe? Why did he have to know that the wrestling with the angel was just a beautiful phrase of the Orient, its meaning simply “to have convulsions,” and that the author of the Pentateuch had merely meant to say that poor Jacob was an epileptic? Was it not much more beautiful to let him struggle with the angel of the Lord, as all the Christian donkeys did?

All the people of Val di Scodra believed Pietro’s drink to be blood. Why was his own tongue forced to perceive that it was good, clear wine? They all took the healing of Sibylla Madruzzo to be a true miracle. Why could he alone not see anything in it? Why did he alone have to be acquainted with a hundred such healings and know how easily they were to be explained away? The grave of St. Francis of Paris alone produced dozens of such cures: Anne Maria Couronneau was so thoroughly twisted and lamed by rheumatism that all physicians had given her up as incurable-—yet she carried her crutches away from that grave across her shoulders.  Mademoiselle de Coirin suffered for twelve years with a cancer in her breast and in her leg, and the holy grave of St. Medard healed her in a moment. Don Alfonso di Palacios was incurably blind in both eyes, but the dead St. Francis made him to see in a second. And so things had gone on for a dozen years! The holy coat of Treves caused the Baroness von Drost-Vichering to throw away her crutches and dance.

Lourdes and Knock, Kevelaer and Valle di Pompeii competed in white magic. To be sure their miracles grew less, fewer and ever fewer in this age. And now black magic took its turn and Apollonius of Tyana became a close competitor of the Nazarene.

All the jests that the Egyptian magicians at Pharaoh’s throne produced for the benefit of Moses, any traveler could have performed for him to see daily in the fish market of Cairo or the fair at Tanta. The Saidije dervishes could lure snakes out of all corners, could make them as stiff as the staff of Aaron and walk around with them. The begging Ilwanije monks plunged swords into their bodies, drove long nails deep into their flesh, held their arms in the fire, devoured glowing coals and thrust iron thorns an inch deep into their eyes. The soothsayers of Ultranghi became clairvoyant over a cup or over a drop of blue ink, and showed in it the clear images of the persons the beholder desired to see. The Indian Yogis lay in the earth in deathlike sleep for sixty days; the priests of Alvinthra caused blood to be spewed out of the air; and the Belgogs of Annan were, like Mephistopheles, lords of the mighty armies of fleas and bed bugs and lice. The Ysdra magicians of the Parsees wrote the seal of Solomon, the seven cabalistic words, on the palm of their left hand, and the names of four archangels on an egg. Then they laid the egg on their hand, muttered their incantation, and caused it to stand up, or hung it, like a ring, to their ears. The magicians of the Afghans caught their Devas in the air, just as the yellow men of Thebes and Luxor compelled the spirits of the dead, and the ancient monks of Yemen floated around in their temples and laughed in scorn at all the laws of gravity. They were all black magicians; their miracles crept out of their brains. They were mere men and each master taught his pupil.

But they could be happy, for they had something in which they believed: the mysterious power of their secrets. But he had nothing. He knew many secrets; but since he knew them, he also knew how pitiable the great magnificence of their miracles really was. And he knew very well that it was far more difficult to manage a motorcar than to accomplish all the miracles in the world. His dream now filled him with disgust; Val di Scodra, this great giant of all the fools on earth, whose king he was!

This tremendous hoax which was to throw billions at his feet! He realized that he must be a deserter from this camp as he had been from every other.

“Now it begins—” he had said.

No, it was not to continue to work. Ah, he would not even be able to laugh! He would remain as empty as he was, and even if the whole world rode along in this witches’ Sabbath of madness, yet his own life would remain without inner contentment. For he, he knew that it was all just an empty and noisome bubble! He thought of Teresa. How she lay and slept a dreamless sleep. But tomorrow that which he had commanded would come to pass . . . She would become one who bears the stigmata—another saint added to the hundreds of them!

What was remarkable about that? Weren’t there enough of that kind? And was it something so very extraordinary that he had made her that way through his post-hypnotic suggestion? The joke wasn’t even new. If it had not been performed in public, it had still been performed in the medical laboratory. Nancy and  Salpétriere knew it well, and had observed many such bleeding wounds of blood among hysterical patients. Pshaw! He might just as well have used a little iron oxide and sulfur cyan ate of potassium to produce the bloody scars!

“No, no,” he cried, “I must make an end of this!”

He jumped up and went over to her room. He sat down on her bed and listened to her calm, quiet breathing. Then he shook her violently; she started up in fear.

“Teresa!” he cried.

“Yes,” she answered drowsily. “Yes, what am I to do?”

“Teresa, you are not to do what I told you! Nothing of all that is to happen! Nothing, do you hear?”

She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes:

“What am I not to do?” she asked, astonished.

He repeated, “You must not—”

But he stopped the sentence abruptly. Ah, he had forgotten that she was awake! Quickly he took her hand and violently pressed the hypnotically sensitive spot. She fell back at once. And he repeated to her what he had just said. And he commanded that never again, whether in waking or in sleeping, was the thought of that which he had commanded to emerge into her consciousness. It was to be extinguished and driven forth forever. He spoke swiftly and waited for no answer.

He almost breathed with relief. Then he quickly awakened her, let her lie there and went back into his own room. The corners of his mouth drooped bitterly.

He thought:

“Now the priest will say that I have done a good action. But my virtues are my worst sins and my greatest sins are always virtues. Ah, if I only knew the difference between them!”

And he was overtaken by an infinite pity for himself.

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“Tell me more,” she begged quickly, “Tell me about those pious women.”

He said, “The Savior once came to St Catherine of Siena, and said:

‘I will fill your life with such surprising miracles that ignorant people and those bound by the bonds of the flesh will refuse to believe them; I will adorn your soul with such a fullness of grace that even your body will feel the effects thereof, and continue to live in quite an extraordinary way.’

And for many years until her death this saint took neither food nor drink. She was nourished by the light of the Redeemer alone. So, too, it was with Louise Lateau—she received only the Holy Communion and refused all earthly food. Every Friday her sacred wounds bled: all around her forehead, on her left side, and on her hands and feet. Then she saw the Lord. This is how she relates it to us:

‘I am seized in those moments by such a powerful feeling of the presence of God that I do not know where to turn; I see Him in such greatness, and myself in such smallness, that I do not know where to hide. And I see a bright light, but it is no light that touches the eyes of the body; it touches the soul in the manner of lightning; it is a light, the end of which one does not see; it shows me the greatness of God and my own nothingness. I then find myself in another world; the same light which separates me from all external things, unites me to God without interruption or any intervening medium.’

She saw the Redeemer, His garments, His wounds, His crown of thorns and the cross; she saw Him kneel and fall, she saw how the men at arms nailed Him to the cross. And she suffered with Him and fought the fight of death with Him. Then, however, after His last sigh had fled, she saw the clouds part and saw how in a sea of heavenly light the Father received His Son into His Arms.”

Teresa’s eyes glowed. “It must be glorious,” she said.

He nodded.

“It is the highest bliss that man can experience,”

He continued, “And the strangest thing is, that when it happens the most frightful suffering is transformed into the highest rapture. If you understand that, you will begin to understand why the scourges of Pietro and the rest do not bring pain but rapture to them. You know them all very well and you can easily understand that they would never grasp the thorns of their own accord, if the Lord did not compel them to. Here, read what the Mother of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Maria Marguerite Alacoque, has to say concerning the rapture of pain.”

He sought the book and handed it to her. She took it and read softly:

“‘It is quite certain that without the cross and the Holy Sacrament I could not live nor bear the length of my banishment in this vale of tears. I have never desired an alleviation of my sufferings. The more oppressed my body was by them, the more my spirit rejoiced, and the more freedom it enjoyed to unite itself with my suffering Savior. The Lord of my soul never withdrew from His unworthy sacrifice, of whose own weakness and inability he was well aware. At times he said to me:

‘I show you much honor, my dear daughter, by using such noble means for your crucifixion. My eternal Father delivered me into the hands of the executioners that they might crucify me, and for you for this purpose I use priests consecrated to my service. I want you to bring to me, for your redemption, everything that you will suffer.

Thus spoke the Lord. But I now speak of the bliss of suffering with such satisfaction that it seems to me as if I could write books full without satisfying my desire.’”

He took the book away from her.

“It is in this way, do you see, that the highest happiness grows out of suffering; how that comes to be, no one can say. But this happiness, which is a union with God, rises far above all human rapture and blessedness. Everyone who learns how to experience this rapture, is in God and is God himself. When the pious Sister Katrei thus became God, she reached a point at which she forgot everything finite, and was lifted so far above herself and all created things that she lay still for three days and was thought to be dead.

Only then did she come to herself and say:

‘How wretched I am to be here again!’ But what she felt she was not able to communicate to any man . . . Would you like to experience such happiness, Teresa?”

She sighed again:

“I am so full of sins—”

Then he interrupted her:

“There is only one sin in the eyes of God.”

She asked, “Only one? And what is that?”

“Not to be in God. That is the one great sin. If you are in God, as St. Teresa was and Katharina and Louise and Marguerite and Katrei and so many other pious women—then you are free from all sin for a short period. But when it is over again, when you wander on earth again as a human being, then that is the greatest sin and it is not well to distinguish between one sin and another, which may be greater or smaller. They all vanish in the mighty sea of the one great sin of not being in God. But you will not understand it and can come to no recognition of it, if God’s hand does not someday snatch you away from this earth in the storm of His fire and lift you high into His glory.”

The girl said dreamily, “I don’t understand it, but I really believe that I could come to feel it.”

He took her hand and caressed it.

“It is so difficult to speak,” he said. “Your language is not my language, and your words are not my words.”

He interrupted himself, “Oh, no, Teresa, I don’t mean the German language. But you see, the world in which you live has a different language from that where I come from. Words are the same everywhere, but we put another meaning into these words than you do. For that reason I took these books and read to you what these women have said. For they speak the language of your Church, which has sounded in your ear, too, all your life long. In this way, I thought, you might perhaps understand it.”

She lifted her arms and wound them around his neck.

“Beloved,” she said, “speak in your own language, Even if I understand nothing, yet I will feel it and grasp it ardently in my heart! Beloved, I know that you live deep in me!”

He sat in silence and stared into space, lost in dreams.

Then he began:

“One who was my ancestor sought greatly after the highest happiness. He built a magnificent temple to the Godhead in his heart, but he forgot that one dare never neglect the devil, who is also part of the eternal God. And the devil revenged himself and shattered the young body of the poor visionary, and delivered his beautiful soul to the jeering of the street boys. Listen, Teresa, to what he sang.”

His voice trembled and he was certain that his soul clothed itself in the exquisite Hymn of Novalis.

Fervently he spoke:

 

“Few live who know

The deep secret of love,

If knowing insatiableness

And eternal thirst.

The Holy Supper’s

Divine significance

Is to their earthly minds mysterious;

But whoever

Draws the deep breath of life,

From hot, beloved lips

And to whom a sacred glow

Melts the heart in trembling waves,

Whose eyes are opened

So that he measures once

The immeasurable depths of heaven,

He will feed of His body

And drink draughts of His blood

Eternally.

Who has guessed the

Earthly body’s High riddle?

And who may say

He understands the blood?

All bodily vesture is one,

One body,

In heavenly blood

Swims the blessed pair—

Oh, that the eternal sea

Were once incarnadine!

That the hard rock would melt

Once into fragrant flesh!

That sweet meal never ends,

Never will Love be sated:

Who cannot have his own

Beloved deeply enough

For his own!

By ever more delicate lips

The food is turned to spirit

Closer and nearer.

More ardent the desire

Thrills in the soul,

Thirstier and hungrier,

Grows the heart

Thus Love’s delight endures

From eternity to eternity.

Ah, had the most sober of soul

Tasted of this but once!

They would abandon all,

And take their seats

At the table of yearning

Which never grows bare.

They would recognize Love’s

Most infinite fullness

Praising the mystical food

Of flesh and blood.”

 

He spoke—and yet it was a sweet singing. Soft words came from his lips—but they dropped into her hands like the fragrance of warm linden blossoms. And her bosom heaved and her eyes saw a silver light.

“What do you feel?” he asked.

Then she said softly, “I feel as if my soul were about to flee into the arms of the Bridegroom.”

He nodded, “Yes, that may well be!”

He kissed her eyes quickly and said, “So, now you may sleep!”

Swiftly he grasped her left hand and with his fingers gently stroked the hypnotically sensitive spot on the cushion of her thumb. She resisted for several seconds; then she fell asleep. Quickly he closed her eyelids. He put the books away. He sat on her bed, motionless, reflecting and dreaming—

“Yes, it will work!” he cried aloud. “It must work.”

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He spoke very honestly and with much sincerity; and the girl did not notice how merrily the irony flickered within his words.

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“Something that concerns you,” he answered. “I’ll tell you about it by and by. He is a kind saint and I was always so wicked to him.”

He went up to the lamp and blew out the light.

She was frightened.

“What are you doing?”

But he was serious.

“He must sleep. Don’t you believe that he ever gets tired, if the light burns there continually?”

He took her arm and led her out of the church. But she stopped at the door.

“No,” she said firmly, “A Saint does not get tired, and this is only his image and the perpetual lamp burns in his honor. Please let me light it again.”

He laughed.

“I didn’t know you were so enlightened.”

He gave her matches, and she ran back and ignited the wick again. Then she returned.

“Why didn’t you put fresh water into the holy water basin?”

But she replied:

“Who is there to bless it?”

They went through the door and closed it. The street was silent and deserted; but a confused noise of music and singing still resounded from the American’s barn.

When they stepped into the house he asked, “Do you know the life of the saint whose name you bear?”

She shook her head.

“Then I’ll tell you about it,” he continued.

They mounted the stairs.

“Go into your room,” he said. “Undress yourself and go to bed. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

He went into his bedroom, undressed, bathed and put on his pajamas. Then he knelt before the heavy book trunk, opened it and hunted around in it. At last he found what he was looking for—a stout volume and a couple of pamphlets. He opened them, turned the pages and nodded with satisfaction. Then he went to her. Her room was dark.

“You don’t have a light?” he asked.

He brought in his lamp, drew up a chair and set the lamp on it. Then he sat down near her on the bed. She noticed the books and sighed. She closed her eyes and stretched out her arms toward him.

“Do come,” she whispered, “I’m so tired.”

“Don’t you want to hear what I’m going to tell you?” he asked.

She nodded obediently.

“Of course. Go on.”

She took the stout volume, and spelt out the title curiously: Acta Sanctorum.

“Are you going to read to me out of this?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’m going to tell you the story of Saint Teresa, whose name you bear. I will tell you of her and of other pious women.”

She caressed his hands.

“Wouldn’t you rather sing?”

He said, “No: I will not sing. No one shall sing anything in Val di Scodra unless it is the songs of the American.”

He took one of the little pamphlets.

“Have you ever heard of Louise Lateau?”

“No,” she answered.

She sighed; she still resisted whenever he wanted to discuss sacred things. But he would not let her off.

“Surely you know the picture of St. Francis very well?” he continued. “Do you know what it represents? That moment in the life of the holy man in which the Mother of God appears to him and in which he received the stigmata of our Lord.”

“Yes, I know,” said the girl.

“Very well, this wonderful grace of the Lord was vouchsafed not only to him, but too many other faithful hearts, especially to pious women. The stigmata were borne by Maria of Mörl and Katterina Emmerich of Dülmen; the last one, however, whom the Redeemer’s hand marked with the scars of His wounds, was the virgin, Louise Lateau, from Bois d’Haine in Flanders.”

In a soft, ingratiating voice he told his stories. Only from time to time did he glance at the book. He held her hand and noted that her resistance gradually disappeared; she listened, and very slowly that calm, mystical mood arose in her which made her tremble in strange raptures whenever she sat at her confessor’s feet. Here once more was this sweet, musical mist, which she had not breathed in so long.

He told her of Jeanne des Anges, of Sister Katrei, and of Marguerite Alacoque, who had founded the Adoration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He told her that the latter had been healed by a miracle, just as Sibylla Madruzzo had been. That her life had been richly blessed with pious visions, as was that of St. Teresa, to whom all the seven heavens had been opened even on earth.

“What is a vision?” asked the girl softly.

He answered:

“I cannot tell you in my own words, which, after all, you would not understand. I’ll read to you the words of that saint whose name you bear:

‘There comes about a sleep of all the spiritual powers, which are neither wholly lost, nor yet is one completely conscious of their activity. Joyful excitement, sweetness and rapture then grasp the soul; but it cannot yet go on any farther, and does not know how it is to return. It would gladly enjoy that great splendor. It is like a dying man, into whose hand one has already placed the taper, and to whom little is left to die the death he longs for; in this death struggle one feels the highest rapture which one can express. It seems to me like an almost complete dying to all the things of the world, and the soul does not know whether it is to speak now or be silent, whether it is to laugh or to cry. It is a madness full of glory, a divine folly, and for the soul a condition of the most miraculous delight.’”

He interrupted himself:

“Do you understand what the saint says, Teresa? Can you imagine this condition?”

Her eyes closed, but she opened them slowly and looked at him.

“Yes,” she whispered. “It is, like—like when I am lying in your arms—”

Gently he caressed her check.

“And yet, Teresa,” he continued, “all this is but the beginning. The delight of the soul in lying, as a bride, in the arms of Christ is far greater than anything man has to give.”

“And what does one see?” she asked.

He said, “Oh, it is so difficult to say. Listen to what Anna Katterina Emmerich, who also bore the scars of the Lamb, said in this matter.”

He took another one of the pamphlets, turned the pages and read:

“‘I have seen an infinity of things which cannot be expressed in words. And indeed, how is one to express by word of mouth what has been seen otherwise than by the bodily eyes? . . . I see this not with my eyes, but it seems to me rather as if I see it with my heart here in the middle of my breast; and indeed, it causes me pain in that place.’—do you understand, Teresa, that one can see with the heart and not with the eyes?”

She said softly, “Oh, yes, I understand it very well. When I lie quietly at night and everything is dark, nevertheless I see you. I feel that you are here and that you are alive in my breast. Sometimes it seems to me as if two hearts are beating there.”

His glance was almost reproachful.

“Must you always be thinking of me, Teresa? The women of whom I am telling you thought of no man and only of God.” “They were saints—” she objected shyly. “The Holy Spirit dwelt in them.”

“And how do you know,” he cried, “that He does not desire to dwell in you? Do you believe that God would ask you for permission? This is what St. Teresa says:

‘God comes when He wills, openly and without interference. Even if we oppose ourselves, He lays hold upon our spirit, as a giant might grasp a wisp of straw; our opposition does not help at all. Who could believe that God, when once He wills, will wait until the puffed up worm flies of its own accord?’”

She was frightened and there was fear in her voice:

“I am full of sins—” she whispered. “Do you believe He might come to me in spite of that?”

He said seriously, “Yes, I believe that. Didn’t God breathe the soul of Elijah into that of Pietro Nosclere? The book of Jalkuth Rubeni teaches us that the souls of nine hundred and seventy-four generations went into Laban’s sheep, from there they returned into the bodies of men—which is the reason Israel was so fruitful in Egypt. And the Lord’s favor rests visibly upon Val di Scodra—who knows whether your saint may not become alive once more in you?”

The image of the assembly awakened in her again; all peace left her. She trembled; she saw once more those wild, half-naked people with their whips and rods; she saw once more the bloody wounds in the red glare of the pitch torches—But she also saw Sibylla Madruzzo lift herself up slowly and grow and stand, healed through an awe-inspiring miracle, towering over every other man—

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Chapter Nine

“Doves nest in many cathedrals

The world bends its knee in front

Of a legend,the pious blind faith

Of the Middle Ages,

I know it well Even if it is poetry.”

-Arno Holtz, Book of the Times

The cool lake breeze blew in their faces. Teresa staggered like a drunken man who emerges from a damp cellar into the street, and only becomes conscious of his intoxication at the moment when the fresh air reaches him. He almost had to carry her, and helped her move her feet with difficulty. They went the shortest way through the village; He sought in vain for a bench on which she might rest.

When they passed the church it occurred to him that one could rest there. He turned the knob of the door, which was not locked and they entered; the moonlight fell through the long panes. There were no benches anywhere, only low stools at the sides; he led her to the altar and set her down on one of the steps. He wanted to cool her hot forehead; went to the holy water ewer and dipped his handkerchief into it. But the water was foul and stank.

He returned to the altar, sat down next to her and gently stroked her temples and her hands. She slowly became calmer. For a long time they sat silently beside each other. He expected her to arise and pray. A picture of the Madonna hung above the altar; she bore the child in her arms and seven silver swords pierced her heart. At her feet lay many fresh roses, and he knew that Teresa had brought them as an offering. But the girl did not even look up. She didn’t even seem to be aware that she was in the church.

Frank Braun thought:

“Poor Madonna, the prophet has dethroned you.”

He felt a profound satisfaction. This was all his work; the marionettes danced and gave the performance which he had inspired in them. The rehearsal had been held and had gone well. He was a good stage director, and meant to produce his piece so that it would attract attention on the mad stage of the world’s history.

His head was a good property room; all the masquerades of history lay neatly piled up there, well arranged according to peoples and centuries. The roles were distributed now, and he would dress his dolls gaily and wildly for a carnival such as the world had never seen.

And Teresa was to have the star part—despite the prophet. Why shouldn’t he charge an entrance fee? Wasn’t the business of a theatrical director just as good as any other? This was a good job and it could bring in many, many millions. Ah, wasn’t Val di Scodra as beautiful a name as Delphi had been, and Kevelaer and Lourdes and Valle di Pompeii? Even today Bartolo Longo was the richest man in Italy, and yet his wretched “Mother of God of Pompeii” hadn’t been worth three francs when he bought her!

But he was beginning here with a whole troupe of miracle performers and had talents of the first order in his cast. Frank Braun reflected. One would have to buy Val di Scodra, all the houses and all the land. That could be done easily enough, and would only cost a few hundred thousand, and then three times as much for advertising—he would scarcely need a million; that would absolutely suffice for the beginning. To be sure he didn’t have the million. But he had friends who were undoubtedly intelligent enough to give him credit in this matter. He would form a company with limited liability and with a beautiful title:

“Companions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Co., Ltd.”

And this much was certain: he would only have Jews as stockholders in this Christian company, capable people that knew something of business. Then the various developments would come. A dozen large hotels to start with, halfway up the slope in a semicircle around the lake, eight for Germans, two for Englishmen, one for Italians, and one for Slavs. Should there be one for Frenchmen to? Oh, no, that would scarcely pay, the French were heathens and wouldn’t come anyhow, and a series of gigantic inns for the pilgrims and a basilica, compared to which Bartolo Longo’s would sink into insignificance, also a sanatorium and charming little chalets. All around about the lake he would have a gallery carved into the rock and thereby create a circular path. Bath houses would be anchored everywhere, and the lake itself would be a great tub and fountain of health for all ills.

As for miracles—he had no fear at all! He had one that hundreds of people had seen with their own eyes! How many miracles a year did Lourdes have? And even the absurd swindler of Valle di Pompeii succeeded in having quite a good number of them! Where five hundred people believed, fifty millions would do so too—and so he would have his weekly miracle!

The industry must be organized from the start. There was the water of the lake, which one could export in huge quantities; it would outsell its competitors, the water of Jordan and Eau de Lourdes, by tens of thousands. One could plant sacred olive trees around the basilica and every leaf could sell for a crown. The little souvenirs, the rosaries and all the cheap trash for the pilgrims, would have to be manufactured on the spot.

Near the road, half an hour from the village, there was a flat space as well as a torrent. So that was the logical spot for the factory, near water power. A master mechanic would have to be brought from Saxony. The Fiave River would furnish electric light for the entire settlement; it had power enough for ten valleys like Scodra.   The passenger traffic to the city would be taken care of by hourly motor cars. The pilgrims, to be sure, must come on foot: that would serve to heighten the suspense and would be very fruitful in the matter of miracles.

The takings would be enormous! A stranger could not go a step without opening his purse. There would be a fee for a general cure and a fixed price for each bath. Devotional leaflets and souvenirs would be for sale at every house. People would not live for nothing, in this holy city which was to open the pathway to heaven.

But of course one would give their money’s worth! Enormous processions calculated to hit the vulgar taste, the brotherhoods of Seville newly decked out in the style of Barnum and Bailey. Passion plays of sophisticated silliness, nicely adapted to produce teary eyes and weeping; plays of flagellants which would make howling dervishes look like nothing at all; choirs of castrates, so charming that all hearts would swell in godly delight.

And a gambling hall—why not that too? Wasn’t the purpose an exceedingly holy one? And would the authorities of this pious country refuse their permission, considering the purpose, provided they received a decent percentage? Ah, they would grasp the opportunity with both hands.

The Church? Oh, it would give its full backing, say “Amen” and give its blessings. Hadn’t Bartel received their full blessings and he was still Master in his house? They would all run around so pretty in their Roman togas. The Church would close both its eyes to the little escapades. On the contrary, they would be happy to help in the holy work and the Bishop himself could play his little role.

The chief roles, to be sure, were already distributed. There was Pietro, the prophet, the greatest attraction, who alone was worth the price of admission. And the tailor Ronchi, who would have to be Enoch—for where Eiljah was, Enoch had to be as well. Then there was Girolamo Scuro, the farmhand, who carried all possible piety in his pumpkin like goiter, and Matilda Venier with those fiery eyes of hers, which fairly threw out sparks of fanatical faith. There was Sibylla Madruzzo—how admirable that she had been in Innsbruck Hospital! One would have to send there for her medical history, as well as procure the written testimony of the pastor of Cimego and the authorities. He would have a little book printed with a beautiful title:

PARALYZED FOR THIRTY YEARS

OR

SIBYLLA MADRUZZO

Cured by the Miracle of Val di Scodra

Her picture would appear on the front cover and on the back cover: before and after recovery—just as you advertise a hair—restorer. The little books would sell for a crown apiece, and one could sell hundreds of thousands. Young Ulpo, too, would develop by and by, and one scarcely knew how many talents were asleep among the God fearing crowd in the mountain village. And this would not be the only source of successors, of course—the crowds of pilgrims would furnish him with ever new surprises. What material! Pious persons and hysterical ones, ardent believers, epileptics, spiritualists, idiots, fanatics, nervous patients, mystics, neurasthenics—a treasure trove of ingredients for the dough that he wanted to knead! All the little fishes would jump into the great kettle of Val di Scodra of their own accord; stew in incense and in holy wine, in praying and singing, in fasting and scourging. All their poor senses would be stung and stimulated, until the last vestige of reason was drained from their marrow.

What? Every week? He would have his miracle every day—and his village would become the greatest madhouse in the whole world. But Teresa remained his trump card. She must become a saint, a prophetess, compared to whom the Delphic priestess would hide in shame in the furthest crevice of her Pythian cave. All the pious frauds of history would have to drip from her shining teeth, and her blue eyes would be the honeyed bait to catch the simple minded of all continents.

He was to be the great ruler over all the madness of the world. He would form a monopoly of madness as had been done with tobacco, matches and alcohol! Here, to be sure, was virgin soil, scarcely trodden by mystical highwaymen who wandered about, barefoot and blind. He had all the knowledge and all the cleverness of his age, and he knew this land of the twilight thoroughly from end to end. He alone could bring its immeasurable treasures to the light. Ah, the world was beautiful and the greatest charlatan was its king.

“Long live King Charlatan!” he cried.

His voice resounded in its echoing joy through the empty church; Teresa started.

“What—what is it?” she asked.

He remembered. Oh, yes, they were still sitting at the foot of the altar.

“Do you feel better?” he asked. “Shall we go?”

She nodded and got up.

“Everything’s all right again.”

His eyes fell on the red lamp which was suspended from a buttress under the picture of St. Francis.

“Do you supply it with fresh oil?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “He is my patron saint.”

It was a wretched, tattered chromo. The crowned Madonna with the child appeared to St. Francis in a vision and blessed him with the stigmata of the Redeemer. In order to show all this, the position of the saint was a highly complicated one: a curious mixture of standing, falling, and floating. He bore the stigmata on both his hands and his feet; and a hole was cut into his brown Franciscan robe in order that one might also see the scar in his side.

“So he is your patron saint?” he repeated thoughtfully. “He who bears the stigmata?”

He looked at her for a moment and in that moment caught a vision of the role she was to play in his great spectacle. An arrogant wantonness and a great desire came over him; swiftly he approached the picture.

“Dear Saint Francis,” he said. “I thank you with all my heart for the excellent idea which you have just given me. You are really an excellent saint, who returns good for evil. We are old acquaintances, you and I, and were neighbors in my native city on the Rhine: the garden of your cloister bounds my mother’s garden there. And you know very well how wicked we boys always were to you and what mischief we perpetrated against the pious fathers of your order. We invented long confessions and told the good fathers lengthy falsehoods of murder and sudden death. We used to wash our hands in your consecrated water, or put toads and fat leeches into it.

And when Father Cyprian and Father Barnabas and the others walked in the garden, their rosaries in their hands, we howled and shouted and pelted them with potatoes. But when they were not there, we stole their cherries and apples and grapes—and never, I believe, did anything ever ripen in that beautiful garden. They scolded and were enraged and ran after us—but one cannot run very well in the brown robe of your order, dear Francis of Assisi! Ah, never did fruit taste like that which I stole from your garden. But now, I assure you, I will never do it again, nevermore, I can promise that. This is in gratitude for your bearing me no grudge and for telling me now what I am to do with this girl, who stands under your protection.”

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Then he spoke hastily, fanatically, stretching out both hands far into the air.

“Brothers! Sisters! God has granted you a rich grace and given to you all the sacred blood of His Son. But he demands more of you than this mere praise of your lips, more than prayer and song! We want to serve Him with body and with spirit, and for His Son’s blood which He gave to us; we will give Him of our blood. The Lamb of God was jeered at and beaten, the blood dripped from His sacred body under the blows of the scourge! Well, then, let us follow his example, let us castigate our bodies and give up our blood for Him, who shed his blood for the sake of the world’s sins!”

He went behind his seat and with Scuro’s help dragged forth a sack from the wall. He untied it and emptied its contents on the floor. Cudgels and thorny branches fell out, short dog whips, birch rods and hazel switches. He grasped a strong bundle of rods in which willow switches were mingled with acacia branches with their long, hard thorns. Then, directly under the image of Christ, he took off his coat and his shirt. •

He stood there naked but for his trousers. His body looked black, even the arms were covered with hair. Long strands hung from his chest; he seemed like a strange ape rather than a human being.

“I will set you an example!” he cried.

He took another rod from the floor and lifted them both high in the air.

“O Lamb of God, redeem us!” he cried, and let the rods descend in mighty strokes.

They struck his back and his shoulders and the sharp thorns penetrated his flesh. He raised them up again; immediately one saw red drops of blood ooze through the long, black hair. And again the heavy black rods whizzed through the air, and descended sharply on his arms and chest. A protruding thorn hit his left cheek, scratched clear across it and left a scarlet line. His features became distorted; the strokes fell more and more swiftly. In the dull silence this whizzing and whistling could be heard through the air, and the loud impact of the switches against his naked skin. His trunk rocked to and fro, his pallid lips moved in quiet prayer without interruption. Suddenly he stopped. His chest heaved and fell; his lungs worked mightily to expel his breath. He stretched out both arms; he held the rods like palm branches over the congregation.

“Here, my brethren!” he cried. “Here, my sisters! I will give you the sign that the Lord God revealed to me. He wants to save you, all of you, from the torments of eternal death. And for that reason He breathed into my body the spirit of His most faithful servant:

“I am Elijah, the prophet!”

He leaped into the air as if he were about to fly, turned to the Crucified One, hopped up and down before Him and cried:

“O Lamb of God Who takest away the sins of the world, save us, O Jesus!”

And down over both shoulders the thorny rods hissed in sharp blows and plowed into his bloody back. Venier’s wife jumped up high from her knees. Hastily she stripped off her blue blouse and tore her shirt into shreds from her shoulders.

“Beat me!” she cried passionately. “Beat me! You are Elijah! You are the prophet! Beat me! I will suffer for the Lord who gave us His blood!”

Ronchi, the tailor, grabbed a whip and held it between his teeth while he pulled off his coat with his hands. Girolamo Scuro followed his example, his gigantic fists grasping two slender hazel branches.

Again the American turned to the congregation.

“Brothers! Sisters! The devil goes around in this world and jeers at the Lamb that gave His body for our sins. He builds his hellish home everywhere, but especially in the bodies of poor human beings. But we will drive him out! We must get at him, and if he will not yield to prayer and song, then we must take the rod and the scourge! Then he will flee, like a stench, and the victory will be ours. Up then, my brothers and sisters, sing and pray! Follow me into the battle against the minions of hell; follow him who precedes you in the combat, Elijah, the Prophet! I lead you: strike me, lash me! May my blood flow for Jesus Christ our Lord!”

He turned to those who were standing nearest him, but none dared to lift his arm against him. Then he cried out to them:

“Why do you hesitate, you slothful ones? Do you not believe that the Lord will be jeered at? Do you not hear Satan laugh on account of your weakness? Strike me, Ronchi; strike me, Girolamo, and you, Matilda Venier. Take the rod and strike me.”

The woman lifted a bundle of rods from the floor but she did not strike him. The men hesitated as well and stood there with raised arms.

Then he cried:

“You are to scourge me, do you hear? I command it, I, the prophet Elijah! My blood shall flow in praise of the Lord! Strike, strike, Sister Matilda, strike!”

The woman closed her eyes and struck, and the tailor struck, and Girolamo Scuro struck with his two heavy fists.

“Harder, harder! “cried Pietro.

The strokes clattered down and fell thick as hail. The woman howled:

“Beat me too, me too! I want to suffer for the Lord!”

The farmhand gave her a blow with a hazel rod which left a sharp red line from her shoulder to her hip. She howled out with pain and almost fell to her knees. But she immediately raised herself up again and shrieked:

“More, more, beat me more! Drive Satan out of my body!”

At the same time, with wild energy, she brought her thorny rod down across Scuro’s chest.

Pietro Nosclere cried:

“Sing and pray! Hear, brothers, the thirty-eighth verse of the seventy-eighth psalm:

 

‘But he, being full of compassion forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time he turned his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.’”

 

He repeated the verse, half singing, again and again, and the congregation repeated it after him in the same rhythm. The rods and whips beat time on the naked bodies. Girolamo’s reddish-brown skin was covered with blood. A blow of Pietro’s struck the huge goiter, which seemed to swell even more and hung like an enormous reddish blue pumpkin over the mighty breast. The tailor was thin, his ribs showed through the tight skin, over which crusts of blood and dirt were forming. But the most frightful picture was presented by Venier’s wife. Emaciated, pale from her illness, her hot eyes gleamed with fanatical ecstasy. Her arms were thin as a child’s, her small breasts hung down like empty pouches. But she raged around, leaping and dancing, and cried:

“Beat me! Beat me! Drive the devil out of my body!”

The two-year old child howled, the farmhand shoved it aside with his foot. Little Fiammetta snatched it up and, in her fear of being struck, held it in front of her like a shield and pressed herself close to the protecting wall. Behind her someone cried:

“Let me through, let me through!”

They drew closer together and made room. It was a young, bull-necked fellow; he tore off his coat and shirt quickly in the middle of the hall and threw them among the assembly. Another followed him, an old man, and the youth helped him take off his coat. Frank Braun knew them; they were the Ulpos, father and son, neighbors of the Veniers. Each one took a whip.

Teresa did not take her eyes from the spectacle. She did not move. Only her hands pressed the hand of Frank Braun, and her body seemed to tremble at every blow.

Suddenly he heard her cry;

“Let her through, let old Sibylla through!”

She was frightened at her own voice and pressed up to him more closely. He saw how the old beggar woman was trying in vain to make her way through the crowd. She tore at coats and jackets, and thrust with her staff, but no one paid any attention to her; they all stared in front of them as if enchanted. She stood before a living wall. No one heeded Teresa’s cry; it seemed lost in the tumult of the music and in the rhythm of the prayers and blows.

But the American looked toward her and cried out immediately in a clear voice:

“Make way for Sibylla Madruzzo!”

They formed a lane and the old beggar woman crept through. She shoved herself to the very front, into the midst of the bleeding men. The singing fell silent and the arms were raised no more.

“What do you want, Sister Sibylla?” asked the prophet.

She moved her lips and pointed with her staff to her back. The American hesitated and stepped a pace backward. But the old woman crept after him, and grasped the rod with both hands and kissed it. Then he came to a decision and gave her a gentle stroke over her crooked back. But she was not satisfied; she raised her neck and turned her head up sideways. Her dumb lips moved ceaselessly.

“You are old and sick,” said Pietro.

She did not release his hand and pleaded silently. He pretended not to understand her. Then she turned around and made a gesture of writing. Someone gave her a bit of paper and the tailor took a pencil from his trousers’ pocket. The old woman crouched on the floor and wrote. Then she held the paper up. The farmhand took it and glanced at it, but he could not read. Then the young Giovanni Ulpo took it and read aloud:

“You have said that we are all to pour out our blood for Christ’s sake! Why do you thrust me back?”

He handed the paper to Pietro and added:

“Yes, that’s what you said!”

Still the prophet hesitated. He held the paper in his hand; the dark drops of blood from his cheek fell on it. Sibylla approached Venier’s wife, slowly she unbuttoned her dress in front and beckoned to the other to help her. The woman lent a hand and with difficulty disengaged one arm from her sleeve and shift, so that one shoulder and a part of her back was bare.

Pietro looked at her.

“Strike her,” he commanded.

And Matilda brought down her rod on the back of the old Woman. But Sibylla pushed her back. She threw herself on her knees in front of Pietro and embraced his feet.

“She wants you to do it,” said old Ulpo.

And the tailor cried:

“You must do it! You are the prophet!”

The American knelt beside the beggar woman. Both lay in fervent prayer before the Crucified One.

“Lord, help me! O Lamb of God, hear me!” groaned Pietro.

Then he jumped up and his right hand gripped the thorny rod firmly. He closed his eyes, and swiftly, repeatedly, the heavy blows fell on the poor old woman. Her paralyzed body writhed and turned at his feet, her lacerated shoulder shone crimson. And he struck and struck, blind and raging.

Then it happened—

Sibylla Madruzzo stretched herself up. First she knelt, then she drew herself up to her full height, and her body, which had been contorted in a hideous cramp for thirty years, raised itself until she was taller than the prophet by a head. He stood before her, trembling; the rod dropped from his hand.

And her lips opened, and the words came forth loud and clear:

“The Lord has blessed me by your hand. May you be blessed whom the Lord sent!”

And she bent down and took his hand and kissed it humbly. A terrible silence fell upon the hall; no one dared to open his lips. Even Pietro was silent.

Then Giovanni Ulpo cried:

“A miracle! Pietro has performed a miracle!”

But Ronchi the tailor, interrupted him:

“Be silent! Elijah has done it. It is Elijah; it is the prophet! Elijah, the prophet, has performed a miracle!”

Then all cried and shouted in confusion.

“A miracle! A miracle!”

They shoved, they pressed forward; each wanted to see the healed woman; the women screamed and the children howled aloud. Then the voice of the prophet was heard:

“Down on your knees, brothers and sisters, down on your knees! All give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ! It is not I who did the miracle; God did it by my hand! Pray and thank Him and sing His praises to all eternity!”

He intoned the Easter song and they all joined him:

 

“O ocean of delight,

For Thee, O Lamb, to fight!

Satan sinks down undone,

And the great battle’s won!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

As Thou didst rise from the dark grave,

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy children save!

Hallelujah!”

 

And the song rose as if it would break the walls and crash the ceiling into ruins and make its way out of the Valley even to heaven.

“Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Frank Braun lifted the girl from the chair, and she let herself be led without any will of her own. He had to support her and hold her by the arm; every moment she seemed about to fall. Finally he succeeded in getting past the wall, and in reaching the door between the lines of kneeling people. He threw back one more look. They all lay upon their knees in prayer; only Pietro stood beneath the crucifix and next to him, very erect, was Sibylla Madruzzo. The red gleam of the pitch torches fell upon her thin, sharply cut face; her large gray eyes lay deep in their sockets. Oh, yes, she must have been beautiful once! Far behind, in a corner, crouched the deaf and dumb Gino. He had found the copper kettle and was greedily licking out the last drops.

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