Part II - XIII
When alone on the street, Frederick felt some disgust with himself for lacking humour. Were those innocent men to blame if he happened to have rasped nerves? Since it was Frederick's way, as soon as he perceived that he had done a wrong, to set resolutely to work to undo it to the full extent of his ability, he decided, after coming to the conclusion that the fault had been his, to lunch with his shipmates after all. He had been walking about eight minutes. He now turned back, accelerating his pace, and within five minutes the sign of the Hoffman House was again in sight. Broadway as usual was crowded, and the two endless chains of yellow cable cars with short spaces between were perpetually moving by each other. It was cold and windy. There was a great din and bustle on the streets, and into the din and bustle Frederick saw his friends of the Roland and the Hamburg step from the bar. As he was about to wave to them, he slipped and stumbled on a piece of fruit on the pavement.
"Don't fall, Doctor von Kammacher!" a woman's voice cried. "How do you do?" On regaining his equilibrium Frederick found himself face to face with a beautiful, dignified young lady hidden behind a veil and wearing a fur hat and coat. He slowly recognised Miss Eva Burns. "I'm in luck," she said. "I very rarely come to this part of the city. It just so happened that I had to buy something near here, and I am on the way now to my restaurant. I always take my meals in a restaurant, because I loathe boarding-houses. By chance, too, I am later than usual. A little lady whom you know, Miss Hahlström, visited the studio with Mr. Franck and kept me three quarters of an hour longer than I am accustomed to stay."
"Do you take your meals alone, Miss Burns?"
"Yes," she said, somewhat taken aback at the abrupt question. "Does that seem strange to you?"
"Oh, no, not at all," Frederick hastened to assure her. "The astonished expression on my face was merely due to my stumbling and to this unexpected meeting with you. The reason I inquired whether you eat alone was because I wanted to ask you if you had any objections to my lunching with you."
"I should be very glad if you were to, Doctor von Kammacher."
The stately couple attracted much attention from passers-by. Frederick was tall and rather broad and carried himself well, and his hair and beard may have gone rather too long without the application of the shears. Eva Burns was almost as tall. She was a brunette, suggesting in her face and figure, which bore no resemblance to the wasp-like figures of the American women, a race and type more in accordance with the Titian ideal of feminine beauty.
"Would you mind waiting here a minute?" Frederick asked. "You see those people over there getting into the car? Some of them God in his inscrutable ways destined to be fellow-passengers of mine on the Roland, the others my rescuers. I should not like to meet them again." When the little company was safely aboard the car on the way to Brooklyn, he said: "I am profoundly grateful--" and stopped.
"Because you were rescued from those men in the car?" Miss Burns laughed.
"No. Because I met you, and you rescued me from them. I admit I am ungrateful. There's that captain--when I saw his ship come steaming toward us from across the waters and saw him standing on the bridge, he seemed to me to be an instrument of God, if not an archangel. Awe-inspiring repose, solemn, awe-inspiring grandeur rested upon him. He was not a man, he was the man, the saviour man, and beside him there was none. My soul, all of our souls, clamoured for him, worshipped him. But here he has dwindled into nothing but a good, commonplace little workman. On the trip, Stoss's liveliness was a relief. Now, in the treadmill of his daily occupation, he has turned from the finer thoughts of his leisure moments. Duty, while deepening Captain Butor and temporarily converting him into a useful, even an important personage, acts as a leveller on Stoss. Stoss merely seemed to partake in the life on the sea, while in actuality concerned with nothing but himself. And there's my colleague, the ship's surgeon. I was completely upset to find what an empty vessel he is. I really thought he was more interesting." As if sluices in his being had been opened wide, Frederick began to speak freely of the shipwreck, to which he had never before more than merely alluded.
"What particularly frightened me to-day was the fact that a man can, as it were, digest an oak-tree twice within less than forty-eight hours. I keep discovering myself in the act of doubting the wreck of that giant steamer, every corner of which was familiar to me. I saw something, but I am so infinitely remote from it that I still cannot grasp it. I am only just beginning to feel the ship coming to life in my soul. Four or five times within the past twenty-four hours, I experienced the whole accident over again. Last night I started up actually bathed in cold sweat, and did not know where I was. The confusion on board, the tooting of the distress signals, the bloody, distorted faces, the floating human limbs, all was so frightfully appalling. If I keep on seeing such visions, I'll go down with the Roland again.
"It may be morbid to feel as I do. A man in my condition may say to himself, 'Go down and stay down, if once you have sunk.' But those people who got into the car do not even say that, Miss Burns. The whole thing has gone down for them once for all. They have digested the whole of the Roland and everything that happened to the hundreds of human beings it was carrying. They have digested the whole affair and almost forgotten it. That ability of theirs, enviable though it may be, insults my general humanitarian instincts. It is loathsome to me. And their clumsy phrases revealing the indifference, the obtuseness of their souls make me shudder. In their eyes I see that calm selfish sense of their own security to the damage of another person's security which is at the bottom of a murderous madness that I myself experienced. Those men are cold men, they are murderous men. And a brutal state of self-defence but slightly veiled and suppressed is their permanent state."
"Your friends, it seems to me, must have behaved very badly," Miss Burns said, laughing.
To this Frederick could not truthfully assent. He merely repeated:
"The way I feel about it is that they have taken the ship between their teeth, the ship with all its timber and iron and its immense human cargo, and chewed it to a pulp, and swallowed it down without leaving a trace behind." He removed his hat and ran his fingers through his hair.
"If you really do wish to lunch with me, Doctor von Kammacher, you must not have high-flown notions, like Mr. Ritter," said Miss Burns halting in front of a tidy little restaurant.
They entered a low room with a red brick floor and panelled walls and ceiling. Owing to the enormous timber resources of their country, the Americans make a very free, though refined use of wood. The clean little room was frequented by German barbers, riding-masters, coachmen, and clerks. An inexpensive lunch and the usual American drinks were dispensed at the bar. The corner where the proprietor sat was decorated with a small collection of sporting pictures, well-known jockeys with their horses, acrobats, and baseball champions. Something in his appearance suggested that at night he had different customers to deal with than in the daytime, that his athletic figure--he was neatly dressed, but in his shirt sleeves--was meant to inspire respect in his clients. Frederick still suffered from too much breeding, and he was secretly astonished that Eva Burns ventured into such a place.
"You are late, Miss Burns. Aren't you feeling well?" inquired the host, with an immobile mask-like seriousness of expression.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Brown. I'm always all right," Miss Burns answered brightly. "Bring me my regular lunch. But the gentleman, I am afraid, will not be satisfied with it. Perhaps you have something special for him?"
Frederick, however, insisted upon ordering the very same as Miss Burns.
"I give you fair warning," she said when they were alone, "I really don't think you will be satisfied with my diet. I never eat meat, I want you to know, and you surely do."
Frederick laughed. "We physicians," he said, "are also coming more and more to give up a meat diet."
"I think it is horrible to eat meat," said Miss Burns. "I have a handsome fowl in my garden. I see it every day, and then I go and cut its throat and eat it up. When we were children, we had a pony which had to be killed, and the people in the East End ate it." She drew her long kid gloves from her hands without removing them from her arms. "People eat dogs, too. I adore dogs. But the worst thing is the frightful, endless shedding of blood which human meat-eaters deem necessary for their preservation. Think of all the butchers in the world, think of those immense slaughter-houses in Chicago and other places where the machine-like, wholesale murder of innocent animals is constantly going on. People can live without meat. It isn't indispensable to their welfare."
She said all this in a tone of seriousness tinged with humour, speaking a correct, though somewhat laboured German.
"For various reasons," Frederick said, "I still hesitate to form a definite opinion in regard to meat-eating. As for myself, I can do very well without meat, provided I have my steak regularly every day for lunch and my roast beef for dinner."
Miss Burns looked astonished, then laughed merrily.
"You are a physician," she cried. "You physicians are all animal torturers."
"You refer to vivisection?"
"Yes, to vivisection. It's a shame, it's a sin. It's a horrible sin to torture innocent animals to death just for the sake of adding a few days more to the life of some commonplace person."
Frederick did not reply, being too much a man of science to concur in her opinion. Miss Burns detected this, and said:
"You German physicians are horrible men. When I am in Berlin, I am in a constant state of dread that I shall die unexpectedly and before my relatives can prevent it, I shall be taken to your dreadful laboratories for dissection."
"Oh, then you have been in Berlin, Miss Burns?"
"Certainly, I have been everywhere."
The conversation now turned on Berlin. Miss Burns spoke of it glowingly, because it offered the greatest opportunities for hearing good music and seeing good plays.
"I have a number of friends among the Berlin professors and artists. One of them is a Polish pianist. He brings back money by the bushel from his American tours. He owns an estate near Cracow, and has asked me to visit him there. Unless I accept his invitation sooner than I expect to, I shall not see Berlin again for a long time."
The host served the lunch, consisting of baked potatoes, cabbage and fried eggs. Though at any other time this would scarcely have satisfied Frederick, he ate with a hearty appetite and, like Miss Burns, drank American ice-water.
Miss Burns's manner in talking was thoroughly unconstrained and sprightly. She had observed that the foundering of the Roland was still too vivid in Frederick's thoughts, and bearing Peter Schmidt's warning in mind, purposely turned the conversation away from it. But Frederick, for some reason dissatisfied with himself for his criticism of his fellow-passengers, tried several times to revert to the shipwreck. His whole demeanour showed that something was gnawing at him and tormenting him.
"We speak of a justice imminent in the plan of the world. But why was such a pitiful collection of men saved, while hundreds of others drowned? Why did that splendid Captain von Kessel drown? I shall never forget him. Why did all those splendid picked men of the crew of the Roland drown? Why and for what purpose was I myself saved?"
"Doctor von Kammacher," said Miss Burns, "yesterday you were an entirely different man. You were full of brightness and life; to-day you are all gloom. I think you are wholly wrong in not being simply grateful for your good fortune. In my opinion, you are not responsible either for the quality of those who were rescued, or for your own rescue, or for the number of those that sank. The creation was planned and executed without regard to you, and you have to accept it as it is. After all, to accept life is the one art the practice of which is really of permanent use."
"You are right," said Frederick, "only I am a man. Besides I inherit a most unnecessary instinct for ideal rather than practical activity. 'The time is out of joint,' says your Danish Englishman, Hamlet. 'O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right.' I cannot get rid of that absurd megalomania. To make matters worse, there is the Faust in me that sticks in every good German who thinks anything of himself. 'I've studied now Philosophy and Jurisprudence, Medicine,' and so on. As a result, a man has all the more chances of being disillusioned at every turn, and so would rather pledge himself to the devil. Strange to say, the first thing the devil usually prescribes is a blonde Gretchen, or something like her."
Miss Burns remained silent, and Frederick felt himself under the necessity of continuing.
"I don't know whether it is of interest to you to learn something of the remarkable adventures of a German scholar and ideologic bankrupt."
Miss Burns laughed and said:
"A bankrupt? No, I don't think you are a bankrupt. Of course, whatever concerns you and whatever you wish to tell me is of interest to me."
"Very well," said Frederick, "we'll see whether you are right. Conceive a man who, until he was thirty years old, was always going the wrong way, or if not that, then, at least, the trips he took, no matter along what way, always ended precipitately in a broken shaft or a fractured limb. That I escaped the real catastrophe, the shipwreck, is really most peculiar. Nevertheless, I think my ship has been wrecked and I with it, or I and my ship are in the midst of foundering. For I see no land. I see nothing solid or firm anywhere near me.
"I was kept in a military school until I was ten years old. The desire came upon me to commit suicide, and I was punished for insubordination. There was no fascination for me in being prepared for a great carnage. So my father, though it meant that he had to give up his pet idea, took me away from the school, and I went through the much-discussed humanistic Gymnasium. My father is a passionate soldier. I became a physician, but I had scientific interests outside of my profession, and I devoted myself to bacteriology. Broken shafts and fractured limbs again. Good-bye to medicine and bacteriology. It is scarcely likely that I shall ever work in those fields again. I married. Beforehand, I had reared, as it were, an artificial structure of the whole matter of marriage--a house, a little garden, a wife and children, children whom I intended to educate in a freer, better way than most people do. I practised in a poor country district, being of the opinion that I could do more real good there than in Berlin West. 'But, my dear boy,' everybody said, 'with your ancestral name, your income in Berlin could be thirty or forty times larger.' And my wife absolutely objected to having children. From the very moment she knew a child was coming until its birth, there was one desperate scene after the other. Life became a veritable hell to us. It was no rare thing for us, instead of sleeping, to argue the whole night through, from ten o'clock in the evening until five the next morning. I would try mild persuasion and comfort, I would urge every conceivable argument softly and loudly, violently and gently, wildly and tenderly. My wife's mother, too, did not understand me. My wife was disillusioned, her mother was disillusioned. She saw nothing but craziness in my avoiding a great career. Then there was this--I don't know whether it occurs in all young marriages--each time before the child was born, we quarrelled over all the minutiæ of its education, from infancy to its twentieth year. We quarrelled over whether the boy should be educated in the house, as I wished, or in the public schools, as my wife wished. I said, 'The girl shall receive instruction in gymnastics.' My wife said, 'She shall not receive instruction in gymnastics.' And the girl was not yet born. We quarrelled so violently, that we threatened each other with divorce and suicide. My wife would lock herself into a room and I would beat against the door, because I was frightened and dreaded the worst. Then there were reconciliations, the consequences of which were only to increase the miserable nervous tension in our home. One day I had to put my mother-in-law out of the house as a way of securing peace. Even my wife realised that it was necessary to do it. We loved each other, and in spite of all that happened, we both had the best intentions. We have three children, Albrecht, Bernhard and Annemarie. They came inside of three years, one very soon after the other, you see. My wife had a nervous tendency which these births brought to a crisis. After the very first child was born, she had an attack of profound melancholia. Her mother had to admit that Angèle had been subject to similar attacks from childhood up. After the last child was born, I took her on a two months' trip in Italy. It was a lovely time, and her spirits actually seemed to brighten under the happy sky of Italy. But her sickness progressed below the surface. I am thirty-one years old and have been married eight years. My oldest boy is seven years old. It is now"--Frederick reflected a few moments--"it is now the beginning of February. It was about the middle of October last fall when I found my wife in her room slashing to tiny bits a piece of not exactly inexpensive silk which we had bought in Zürich and which had been lying in her drawer more than four years. I can still see the costly red stuff, that is, as much of it as had not been cut, and a loose mountain of patches lying on the floor. I said, 'Angèle, what are you doing?' And then I took in the situation. Nevertheless, I cherished hopes for a time. But one night I awoke and saw my wife's face close above me with a ghastly far-away look in it. At the same time I felt something at my throat. It was the very pair of scissors with which she had cut the red silk. 'Come, Frederick,' she said, 'get up and dress. We must both go to sleep in a coffin of linden-wood.' It was high time to tell her relatives and mine and convoke a family council. I might have protected myself, but it was dangerous for the children.
"So you see," Frederick concluded, "it was not very far along the road of marriage that I travelled with my talent for life. I want everything and nothing. I can do everything and nothing. My mind has been over-loaded, and yet has remained empty."
"You certainly did go through a hard time," said Miss Burns simply.
"Yes," said Frederick, "you are right, but only if you use the present tense instead of the past and if you fully gauge the extent to which the trouble with my wife has been complicated for me. The question is, am I to blame for the course that my wife's mental suffering took, or may I acquit myself of all blame? All I can say is, that the suit in this case, in which I myself am plaintiff, defendant and judge, is still pending, and no definite decision has yet been rendered.
"Now, Miss Burns, do you see any sense in the Atlantic Ocean's having refused to take me of all the persons on board the Roland? Do you see any sense in my having fought like a madman for my mere existence? Do you see any sense in my having struck some unfortunate creatures over the head with my oars because they nearly capsized our boat? I struck them so hard that they sank back in the water without a sound and disappeared. Isn't it vile that I still cling to life and that I would rather do anything than give up this botched and bungled existence of mine?"
Though he had spoken in a light conversational tone, Frederick was pale and excited. It was long since the plates had been removed, and Miss Burns, perhaps to avoid a painful answer, asked:
"Shall we take coffee here, Doctor von Kammacher?"
"Whatever you will, to-day, to-morrow, and forever, provided I do not annoy you. I am a gloomy companion, I fear. I fancy there is no other person in the world troubled with such petty egoism as I am. Think of it, my wife locked up in an asylum is occupied every moment of the day with proving her own selfishness, weakness, unworthiness and wickedness toward me. Because she is so unworthy, as she says, and because I am so great, so noble, so admirable, they have to watch her all the time, I am told, to keep her from inflicting injury upon herself. A very pleasant fact to be conscious of, isn't it, Miss Burns, and haven't I good reason to feel proud?"
"What you need," said Miss Burns, "is rest. I never thought--I beg your pardon for saying so--that a man who outwardly makes the impression of such strength can possess such a wee, trembling soul. What you ought to do now, I should think, is simply cover up your past as much as possible. All of us have to do some covering up in order to be fit for life."
"But I am altogether unfit," said Frederick. "This minute I am feeling strong, because I am with someone in whose presence, for some reason or other, I can wash myself in clean water--excuse me, I am speaking euphemistically."
"You ought to concentrate on something, you ought to work," said Miss Burns. "You ought to make yourself physically tired to the point of exhaustion."
"Oh, my dear Miss Burns," cried Frederick, "how you overestimate me! Work! I am no better than a tramp. The thing I thought to cure myself with was laziness, idleness. Here I sit in a land discovered and conquered as a result of the tremendous will power of the Europeans, with my oars gone, my rudder gone and my last bit of free will. It is this that distinguishes most men of to-day from the men of that time."
Coffee was served, and for a while Frederick and Miss Burns stirred the sugar without speaking. Then Miss Burns asked:
"How did you come to lose your free will, as you say?"
"Theridium triste," said Frederick and suddenly recalled the simile of the spider that Doctor Wilhelm had used in reference to Ingigerd. Miss Burns, of course, did not understand him; but Frederick broke off, and though she questioned him, refused to explain. She promptly withdrew her question, saying she thought it was quite right and good for him if the conversation lost its German philosophic cast and descended to the level of a superficial person like herself.
"I advise you," she added, "no matter how sharply you may criticise yourself for having travelled so many roads without reaching the end, to strike out into a new road, and do so quite cheerfully. Confine yourself to something that makes an equal demand on your hands, your eyes and your brain. In short, return to your old love and try your hand again on sculpture. Perhaps in a few months you will be the creator of a world-famous Madonna in polychrome wood."
"You are mistaken in me," Frederick rejoined. "I do nothing but blow soap bubbles. Leave me to my illusion, that there is a great artist in me awaiting the moment of self-expression and development. What I am really much more fitted for is to be Mr. Ritter's coachman, or valet, or at best his business manager."